Listening to Books

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In the past few years, I have been listening to audio books more and more. I first began listening to them on my daily walk as it was rather dangerous to try and read a book while walking. Since I discovered bluetooth headphones, I can listen even more while cooking or performing those necessary evils known as “housework”. Last year I began to listen to them as I’m driving. I had tried to listen in the car at different times, but found my mind wandering too much to keep up with what was happening and thoughts of “where did that character come from?” were occurring too often. Then my son broke his leg, and I was spending more time on the road making daily trips to and from his school, so I decided to try listening again and was soon hooked.

I’m not sure why “listening” to books took some getting used to since, after all, that is how I was first introduced to reading. As with most people, my first introduction to the world of books was my mother reading stories to me. I also remember listening to books on a record player (you know, LPs or what is now known as “vinyl”) at school. I heard the books of both Wrinkle in Time and The Hobbit when I was in fourth and sixth grades. Though I have since read the print version of both these books, the memory of hearing them while sitting at a desk (breaking into my usual daydreaming) makes them more special than most.

I don’t believe audio books will ever replace the written word for me, but I am glad to have found a place for them. Anyone that enjoys listening quickly learns that finding a narrator you like is as important as finding favorite authors. There are also some books that lend more to listening than others. Some books are just harder for me to pay attention to without being able to go back and review who certain characters are or what actually happened in that first scene.

Books that are the most entertaining (for me) are those in a series. Once you’re in a series and are familiar with the characters, it seems easier to stay focused. Another plus is having a narrator with whom you’re already familiar (unless the series changes in mid-stream, but that’s another story). One series I’ve enjoyed over the past few years has been Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.  I’ve also listened to several books from Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series as well as Charles Todd’s two series. I’ve listened to several books from Simone St. James. Though her books have similar themes, they are not part of a series.  I also enjoyed Stella Bain by Anita Shreve; Bone Gap by Laura Ruby; and most recently, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.  I found The Sun is Also a Star enjoyable as an audio because there were multiple narrators. Some books have put me off when a male tries a female voice and vice versa; but, not always.

Every year awards are given by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) which “recognizes distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. Looking these up, as well as past winners, is a good way to find books you might enjoy listening to. For a list of the recently released finalists of 2017, check out AudioFile’s webpage: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/audies/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=20170222-nl3feb-audiestxt1

What about you? Have you jumped on the audio book bandwagon yet? Any favorite books? Narrators? Most people listen to audio books while performing other tasks. What else do you do while you’re listening?

 

The Women in the Castle Jessica Shattuck

20170127_155658I’ve read many books of historical fiction that take place during World War II, but few that are from the vantage point of German characters. (One exception that comes to mind is the excellent The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). The Women in the Castle is a new book of historical fiction coming out in April, and it is a story of three German women whose husbands were involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler during the war. What happens to these women during and after the war because of this (obviously, unsuccessful) attempt creates a story that examines good and evil in the choices that people make. How do our choices affect, not only ourselves, but also those we love and want to protect?

In spite of the inevitable sadness running through this book, I was easily caught up into the story and could commiserate with each character and the hard choices they were forced to make. The three women were distinct with their own personalities.  They came from different backgrounds with secrets to hide, children to protect, and the need to find their way through a new world after their old one was destroyed.

Shattuck was able to write her story because of the memories and recollections of others, among them her own grandmother, mother, and aunt. There really was a German resistance and because of the research Shattuck has done, we can learn much of what people endured and why they may have made some of the decisions that they did.

Lovely writing and intriguing characters set in a difficult, but important time in history. Highly recommend!

 

 

 

Sixteen of My Favorite Books from 2016

I probably should have worked on this post last week, but better late than never. I did take a few days away from writing during the holidays, but I spent the last few days of 2016 trying to start my next book which I suppose I should call “The Continuing Saga of Solomon”. Well, it’s just a working title.

So, I’ve been reading blog posts on everyone’s favorite books of 2016, so thought I would go to goodreads and find out what were my favorite books this past year. All of the books I’m going to mention were either four or five star for me but that does not mean there weren’t a few others that hit that mark. Trying to keep it down to sixteen was a challenge. Sometimes, though, I think I’m too generous with my stars (especially if I’m struggling with my own writing and feel that any writer who actually finished writing a book should receive at least two stars for that accomplishment alone), but, regardless, I will only mention books today that were either my top favorites or were by a new author for me.

For my top fiction, one of the first books I read in 2016 was Kate Morton’s The Lake the-lake-houseHouse. I loved it and wonder why I still haven’t read more of her books. But I will.

Looking over the fiction books I read, I noticed I read several books which are the first in a mystery series. This makes these books even more special as it means there are more books by these authors that can I look forward to in 2017. (And I actually have already read the second in a few of these series). These books (in no certain order): What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris; The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber; Raven Black by Ann Cleeves; The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis; and The Lewis Man by Peter May. I also read two by Tana French (the second and third in her series). I don’t think you can go wrong with her. Looking forward to reading the next in her series soon.what-angels-fear-240h

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I’m doing a reread of Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. I read both Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin in 2016. She is an amazing writer and though her books are fantasy, I feel can learn a lot about writing historical fiction from her writings. She is great at both setting and characters.

Other favorites in fiction: The Marriage of elephant-whisperer Opposites by Alice Hoffman; The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; and Beneath a Golden Veil by Melanie Dobson.

Not counting the two by Tana French, that’s twelve. Since the Robin Hobb books are rereads, maybe I shouldn’t count those, but didn’t want to leave her out.

Obviously, I can easily mention more than sixteen, but I will round this out with my top four non-fiction: None Like Him by Jen Wilkin; An Editor’s Advice by Betty Lerner; The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony; and A Woman of Contentment by Dee Brestin.

How about you? Any books that stood out for you in 2016? Have you set any reading forest for the treesgoals for 2017 yet?

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Beneath a Golden Veil by Melanie Dobson

20161207_114254In Sacramento in 1853, the gold rush is on and people are coming from all over the country to try their luck. Isabelle runs a hotel and seems to be successfully overcoming a secret in her past, in spite of the loss of her beloved aunt. When a man enters her hotel in search of his slave, Isabelle becomes involved in helping and hiding slaves in this state which has no clear laws on the issues of slavery.

From Virginia, comes Alden with a twelve year old slave, Isaac. Isabelle recognizes Alden from her past, but he does not recognize her. Soon, another man from Isabelle’s past arrives in Sacramento, and Isabelle has no doubt that this man means her harm. Isabelle becomes caught between wanting to help others who are trapped in slavery and needing to save herself. Her aunt taught her to trust in God, but can she trust Him to deliver her from this evil?

This is my first book by Melanie Dobson though I have read good things about her books and have had a couple of them on my TBR for awhile. Receiving this Kindle edition gave me my excuse to read Dobson’s newest book, and I was not disappointed. I don’t remember ever reading before of California’s stance during the time of slavery or hearing of their own underground railroad, so I found the history interesting and appreciated the details Dobson brings to her story. There is romance, suspense, and colorful characters–all helping to bring together an entertaining story. I gave this book five stars on Goodreads.

Though I received a free Kindle copy through Goodreads, the review is my own.

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody/book review

 

20161106_075045As you all know, I enjoy historical mysteries, and thanks to goodreads and the historical mystery group I’m in, I have found another series to relish. Dying in the Wool is the first of eight mysteries set in England after WWI which introduce Kate Shackleton.

Kate’s husband went missing four years before during WWI, and though most presume him to be dead, Kate has not given up hope for his safe return. In the meantime, Kate is trying to establish herself as a photographer, and she has also solved several mysteries involving missing persons. When a good friend, who is soon to be married, asks her to look for her father who went missing several years before, (wanting him to be there at her wedding), Kate agrees and is soon involved in learning the secrets of a mill town in an otherwise quiet Yorkshire village.

I usually try to avoid comparisons with other books as they are often misleading and disappointing. I don’t like to be told a book or an author is like another and after reading it, discover it’s not in any shape, form, or fashion like the one it has been compared to. In fact, it can take away whatever enjoyment I might have had if my expectations had been different. However, I do believe readers of both Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd will find this series entertaining in a similar vein. Having only read the first book, I can’t say how well the series continues, but I hope to find out soon.

How about you? Reading any new mysteries? Or have any of you read anything else by Frances Brody?

 

Carolinas WordFest Saturday October 15, 2016

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Interested in reading and writing? Want to learn more about writing? Would you like to meet some local writers? This Saturday in uptown Charlotte will be the Carolinas WordFest. Being a new member of the Charlotte Writers’ Club, I am excited about this event and am looking forward to meeting others in our community who are also interested in writing.

From their flyer: “Writers are a creative lot. We appreciate how reading and creative writing can feed the soul, and about a year ago, we let loose our imaginations. The result: Carolinas WordFest. The festival is a celebration of some of North and South Carolina’s finest writers with free, interactive programming designed for all ages and literary tastes. It is a smorgasbord that invites you to become engaged, sample something new and enjoy something familiar. Come. Be inspired. Have fun!”

This is a free event for all ages. For example, I will be spending time at ImaginOn helping children put their stories down and creating their own books. There will also be musical story telling in the afternoon which kids of all ages should enjoy.  Other events will be held in First Ward Park, Spirit Square Knight Gallery, and in the Main Library. For a list of all events: https://carolinaswordfest.com/about/schedule-of-events/

There will also be a chance to hear and meet different authors from the Carolinas. For a detailed list of the authors: https://carolinaswordfest.com/writers/

What’s an event without food? A few food trucks will also be around, so come on out and have some fun with your local writers!

 

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

 

20161007_185518“A novel is not an allegory . . . It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel.” (p. 111)

From the subtitle: A Memoir in Books, this book would seem to be about someone’s life in books–and it is, but it is more. This is a book about a book club, about a country, a culture, about women, and about civil rights.

Azar Nafisi is a professor of literature and is passionate about teaching and sharing literature with her students. However, being a woman professor in Iran proves difficult when revolution begins in Iran with Islamic fundamentalists taking over the universities and “morality squads” are everywhere looking for anything that might be tainted by the West.

When Nafisi is eventually expelled for refusing to wear the veil on campus and in her classroom, she decides to invite seven young women to come to her home once a week to discuss literature. While recounting the story of the young women and the books they discuss, Nafisi also tells of Iran–its cultural and political upheavals and how these effect the lives of these women and their families.

The events in this book begins in the 70’s and goes through the 90’s. As a young person in the 70’s and 80’s, I had heard of some of these events as one hears the news about people far away. But I only vaguely knew where Iran is located and could not tell you the difference between that country and Iraq. So, for me, this was a history and a geography lesson, as well as a look into the lives of others who love literature.

“Banned Books Week” was recently celebrated? and the events in this book made real to me the idea of books being banned and one’s reading being carefully scrutinized. Sometimes with the “I read banned books” t-shirts, it seems we don’t take this possibility very seriously, but for many people it is very real and not ancient history. There are people in the world who are not free to read the books they might choose, so let’s never take for granted our opportunities to read. Read a book! For fun!