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Authors We Lost in 2019.

Monday, December 30th, 2019


Authors We Lost in 2019.

By Vicky T. (VickyJo)

The end of a year is a time of reflection for most people. We think about the past year, the highs and the lows, and we look ahead to a new year full of promise and new beginnings. For me, as a reader, I have a tendency to look back on the authors who left us in the past year. 2019 was a rough year in that we lost some bright stars.

So, in alphabetical order, we must say goodbye to:

Dorothea Benton Frank (Sept. 12, 1951 – Sept. 2, 2019): I’m not sure South Carolina was even on the map before Ms. Frank came along and shared her love of this beautiful area with all of us. Her 20 novels bring to life Charleston and surrounding areas, and the families living there. Her last novel was Queen Bee, but she was also known for Plantation, Sullivan’s Island, and Shem Creek, just to name a few. Just by opening one, I think I can smell the sea and feel the sunshine of her beloved Lowcountry.

Ernest J. Gaines (Jan. 15, 1933 – Nov. 5, 2019) : Mr. Gaines wrote of the struggles of African-Americans in such novels as A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, focusing on a time before the civil rights movement in this country. He wrote eight novels and many short stories, and was honored with numerous awards, culminating in the National Medal of Arts bestowed on him by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Tony Horwitz (Jun. 9, 1958 – May 27, 2019): A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Mr. Horwitz authored several books, and is probably best known for Confederates in the Attic. He took us all over the world: Australia, Bagdad, the deep South, islands in the Pacific. His books embodied the best of armchair travel combined with history and a peek at various cultures, some foreign, and some perhaps very familiar.

Judith Krantz (Jan. 9, 1928 – Jun 22, 2019): She started out by giving us Scruples in 1978, and she really didn’t let up for almost 20 years. Her first novel was published when she was 50 years old, which should give every aspiring author a great deal of hope. She retired from writing at age 70, after the publication of Spring Collection.

Johanna Lindsey (Mar. 10, 1952 – Oct. 27, 2019): If you are of a certain age, I can almost guarantee you started your career in romance reading by picking up one of Johanna Lindsey’s 50 novels. She started with Captive Bride (1977) and not only gave us wonderful love stories set in various historical time periods, but who didn’t love the Fabio covers?? I remember my grandmother catching me reading one of Ms. Lindsey’s books—and after confiscating it, and reading it herself, asking me if I had any more.

Robert K. Massie (Jan. 5, 1929 – Dec. 2, 2019): My love of Russian history and the tragic story of Nicholas and Alexandra came directly from Mr. Massie’s powerful biography of the two doomed rulers. His biography Peter the Great won him the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1981, and his final book, Catherine the Great, earned him the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography.

Vonda McIntyre (Aug. 28, 1948 – Apr. 1, 2019): Ms. McIntyre began her career in the early 70’s, winning her first Nebula Award for Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. This novelette soon expanded into the novel Dreamsnake (1978) for which she won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. She was a trailblazer in the field of science fiction, and is probably best known for writing several Star Trek and Star Wars novels.

Toni Morrison (Feb. 18, 1931 – Aug. 5, 2019): Words fail me here. From The Bluest Eye, her first novel, through her last novel,
God Help the Child, and up to her last book, a work of non-fiction titled The Source of Self-Regard: Essays, Speeches, Meditations, Ms. Morrison enriched our lives. The list of her awards is incredibly long and impressive. She will be missed.

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Nov. 12, 1928 – Mar. 12, 2019): Every beginning reader from the early 1970’s on has picked up a Nate the Great book and been thoroughly entertained by the boy detective. Ms. Sharmat is the author of over 130 books, and the Nate books alone have been translated into 24 languages.

Gene Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – Apr. 14, 2019): Not only was Mr. Wolfe an accomplished science fiction author, best known for his multi-volume work The Book of the New Sun, but he had an amazing life. He had polio as a child; he was a Korean War vet; he was an industrial engineer, and we can thank him for the machine that makes Pringles potato chips! His final novel, Interlibrary Loan, is due to be published in 2020. And of all the authors in this list, he has had the most books written about him.

Herman Wouk (May 27, 1915 – May 17, 2019): That’s not a typo. Mr. Wouk almost made it to 104, bless him. He gave us  The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and the sequel War and Remembrance, and several works of non-fiction. His final work was Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author (2015). Now that seems like a book worth reading, and it has been added to my TBR pile.

And so we say goodbye, and thank you. Thank you for the sound foundation of reading, for the history, the romance, the imagination and the glimpses into other cultures, other times, and other worlds. We will be forever grateful.

Audiobook Review – Her Final Breath (Tracy Crosswhite Book 2)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

Her Final Breath (Tracy Crosswhite, Bk 2)

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Tracy Crosswhite is back in the second novel of the Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. Her Final Breath picks up not too long after book one, My Sister’s Grave. You can check out my review for My Sister’s Grave here.

Her Final Breath takes the reader back to the case that was playing out in the background of book one. A murdered dancer’s case has been sent to cold cases, but a recent murder has brought the cold case back to the forefront. Unfortunately, clues are stacking up to make it look like these murders are the work of a serial killer.

At the start of the novel Tracy is left an eerie message with a noose hanging from the fence at the police’s firing range. Despite this threat, Tracy is assigned to lead the task force to catch the murderer who has been nicknamed The Cowboy. The killer leaves few clues and the task force is trying to put together a puzzle with very few pieces. Butting heads with her captain, Tracy does her best to keep following any leads, but she ends up placing herself closer to the noose of the killer.

I am curious how Tracy’s character will develop further in the series. Just two books in and she seems to be a target for the creepy characters, and I am already weary of it. I hope there is more dimension in the future books of the series as I do plan to continue reading.

I am glad Dugoni didn’t dismiss the case that was introduced in book one and that he concluded that mystery in book two. Some revelations were surprising and disturbing and I didn’t find Her Final Breath to be predictable; however, some parts were rather hard to follow. The main issue with the audiobook was the flashback portions were hard to navigate because the listener wasn’t aware when there was a break in the writing to indicate a new section within a chapter. Overall, I would recommend Her Final Breath, but would probably recommend reading, rather than listening, to the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Nonfiction Review – Beyond Belief

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017


Beyond Belief
by Jenna Miscavige Hill (with Lisa Pulitzer)

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Several months ago I read Leah Remini’s autobiography Troublemaker (check out my review on the blog) and she exposed many of the questionable practices of Scientology.  I was intrigued by Remini’s book and wanted to learn more about Scientology and the experiences of others who had also managed to escape the Church.  I found Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of the Chairman of the Board of Scientology David Miscavige.

Jenna was raised in the Church when her parents joined when she was just a small child.  Some of her stories of her childhood in California and her jobs for the Church sounded like nothing more than child labor. During much of her childhood, while Jenna and her father were in California, her mother was in Florida.  The separation of children from their parents (and the rule that members of the Sea Organization can’t have children) seems to be part of an elaborate isolation and brainwashing scheme on the part of the Church.

As Jenna describes her various duties in the Church, her auditing sessions, her limited friendships, and monitored interactions with her family, she voices what seems to be doubt but she stays in the Church, even when given an initial chance to leave.  What she experiences seems to be nothing more than systematic brainwashing and separating of individuals from any support system outside the Church.  There were obvious mixed messages from the Church through their words and actions and even directly from her uncle and aunt, David and Shelly Miscavige. When Jenna questions the Church over some practices or requirements, she is met with hostility, degrading accusations and punishments. Her final frustration that pushes her to leave the Church was a long time coming based on her life story.

In Beyond Belief, Jenna goes into great detail regarding her experiences and she comes across as genuine and honest. While the delivery is a bit simplistic and the writing style is not very sophisticated, I think a reader who is wanting to learn more about the practices of the Church will find this book engrossing and, honestly, quite disturbing.  Beyond Belief gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Fantasy Review – The Paper Magician

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Ceony Twill is the lucky daughter in her family.  She was selected to attend Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined.  She was a success at school, graduating at the top of her class, but even the most successful students have to select one medium to master, you cannot work with them all.  Ceony has always wanted to work with metal but due to a shortage of magicians who work with paper, the choice is made for her. Ceony is disappointed and frustrated and doesn’t know what to expect when she arrives at the ramshackle dwelling of paper Magician Emery Thane to begin her apprenticeship.

Two unlikely allies, Twill and Thane, being Twill’s apprenticeship with a distance between them that eventually gets crossed and takes them both down a path with dangerous and forbidden magic.

When I started reading The Paper Magician I had no idea what to expect.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but the cover is what drew me to the book in the first place.  The plot and story line of the various characters was unlike any other fantasy book I’d read before; I liked the use of one type of medium that the magician can use and manipulate.  I thought there was some drag during the middle of book one while Ceony is on her ‘quest’ but that’s really the only negative thing I can say about this debut novel by Holmberg.

I was intrigued so much by book one that I quickly went on to The Glass Magician and The Master Magician, the final two books in the series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  There was successful character development and all of the story lines had appropriate conclusions.  While I don’t have kids, I think this would be a good book (and series) for parents to read along with their young adult readers so they can discuss the characters, themes, and situations together.  I would give the entire series 4 out of 5 stars for ingenuity, interesting characters, and an ability to keep my interest.

      

 

 

 

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Audiobook Review – The Litigators

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

The Litigators by John Grisham

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I have really been enjoying listening to John Grisham audiobooks lately.  On a recent whirlwind road trip I listened to The Litigators.  The version was abridged and, while I usually prefer unabridged, this was a decent abridgment.  And there were times my husband and I were both laughing out loud, which is always a good sign.

David Zinc has had it at work.  He wants out of his high-powered, high-stress job at a law firm where he is being worked into the ground.  David reaches the end of his rope and leaves his job in dramatic fashion and, afterwards, he finds his way to the law firm of Finley & Figg.  Finley & Figg is a totally different kind of law firm than the one he left. He finds himself in an unconventional law firm with lawyers who can’t agree on how to get new business or how to handle clients.  David gets his footing and confidence while pursuing a case that changes everything for him and Finley & Figg.

I thought The Litigators was a legal drama with heart and humor.  It has a fair share of twists, cut throat lawyers and just enough doubt to make it interesting.  One recommendation: definitely read (listen to) the epilogue!

 

 

Fiction Review – Winter Street

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

This past holiday season I was looking for a new holiday book and found Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand.  I have read (and listened) to other Hilderbrand books and one thing I like is that she can make her locations seem almost like additional characters to the story.

Enter Winter Street and the Quinn family. Kelley and Mitzi Quinn own and operate the Winter Street Inn, a bed & breakfast in Nantucket. Mitzi drops a bombshell on Kelley just before Christmas and his children rally around him to provide support and encouragement.  But little does Kelley know, his children are dealing with various crises of their own.  And what about Kelley’s ex-wife Margaret, where does she fit in?  Mitzi has never liked her but do her children and Kelley need her now?  And what about Bart, the Kelley’s son with Mitzi and new Marine who recently went to the Middle East? All calls and emails to him are unable to be delivered. Is he safe?

Everyone gathers at the Winter Street Inn for the holiday and to support Kelly but does he really want to keep the bed & breakfast after this holiday heartbreak?  The Inn is a Nantucket staple but Kelley might not have the heart to keep it going himself.

Winter Street is a holiday novel about the function within a dysfunctional family and the power of moving on and accepting things you cannot change. It was a quick read that is lighthearted and great for a cold (snowy) winter’s day. I’m looking forward to joining the Quinns again in Winter Stroll.

 

 

 

Hello, 2015!

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Hello, 2015!

By Mirah W. (mwelday)

Every year it seems more and more things get in my way as I try to get through my ‘to be read’ shelves.  At present count I have 6 shelves (about 80 books) on my living room bookcases of books I want to read.  I can’t stop myself from getting more books, even though I already have plenty.  And based on some of the fellow PBSers I know, I don’t think I’m alone in this affliction.  I have several books that have moved to the top of my ‘to read’ list.  Here are my top 5 I hope to get to this year:

1)   All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – This novel is a National Book Award finalist and I enjoy books about World War II so this book quickly made the list.  A young French girl and a German boy become connected while trying to survive the atrocities of the war.  I’ve heard from others that the novel is beautifully written and reviews indicate it is well-researched.

 

 

2)   Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult – Picoult has written another best seller and in her typical style, she has the readers guessing and doubting what they would do when faced with questions of conscious.  A mother disappears and a daughter lives her life constantly wondering about her mother and questioning if she was abandoned by choice.

 

 

3)   The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion – The sequel to the funny and insightful The Rosie Project. The first book was a great reminder that love can be a reality for everyone. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters and can’t wait to see what happens to them in the next stage of their relationship.

 

 

4)   Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin – I am totally behind the times.  It seems everyone has read the books or watched the TV show except me!  Several friends and my husband have all recommended the series and I’ve yet to read book one.  Time to catch up, I think.

 

 

 

5)   Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – Every year I try to read at least one classic and I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while.  I am a huge fan of the BBC mini-series and love the characters created by Gaskell.  The plot is full of misunderstood characters, unrequited love, and a questioning of the standard roles of men and women.

 

 

 

Hopefully I’ll be able to get to all of these (and many more) this year.  Fingers crossed!  I’d love to know what books you have on your ‘to read’ list for the coming year; please share your top picks in the comments, I may want to add some of your choices to my list!  Happy reading in 2015!