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An author muses about many things as well as the writing life.
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|Where I write books and book reviews. |
|Books I love to read.|
Today I was writing a book review (that you can read next door at my other blog, Victorian Scribbles
) and it got me to thinking about what makes a good read in fiction. I read lots of books, and I review books in various genres, but the ones that stick in my mind seem to share certain characteristics, no matter what their genre.
1. Some kind of a problem to be solved. Yes, "the story problem" that creates the story arc for the protagonist, etc. The plot. Still, reading it that
way, it seems so . . . pedantic. For me, "plot" or "story problem" boil down to some kind of a puzzle or challenge that needs to be worked out--one that engages the reader as well as the protagonist. You really want to know how it will end. One of the appeals of a good mystery is that you find yourself hot on the trail, trying to solve it along with the protagonist.
2. Interesting characters that can make me suspend disbelief enough to go along for the ride. For me, they don't have to be the p.o.v. character. Watson, purported teller of Sherlock Holmes tales, is the perfect filter to make me suspend belief regarding Sherlock Holmes's astounding mental and physical prowess, because Watson is believable, and he believes in his friend. Nick, in The Great Gatsby,
pulls the reader into his awe of Gatsby so that a reader is invested in the outcome for this tragic figure. In The Lightning Queen,
a YA novel about gypsies and Mexican-indians, the author, Laura Resau, makes us care about the dignity of both groups and their traditions, while pulling us into their world of fate and magic and healing through the eyes of two endearing characters.
3. A reader learns something they didn't know, even though it's fiction. This is true in all of the above. But let me add Cara Black's Aimee LeDuc adult mystery series, where every new mystery is a free trip to Paris, and Kate Morton's novel, The Secret Keeper
, where a reader travels back and forth in time to unravel a dying woman's story behind the mesmerizing event witnessed years ago by her daughter--a secret going back to World War II. Right now I'm reading a gripping middle grade novel by Julie T. Lamana, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere,
that takes a reader into the terrifying lead-up to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Many of us read about
Katrina in 2005 when the storm hit New Orleans, but this book makes you live through it.
4. Emotional involvement. I love a book that plays on my emotions, and all of the above books do that. A special emotional aspect I enjoy, though, is humor--witty humor, not slapstick. For me, one of the simple pleasures in reading is to find myself chuckling, or even laughing out loud. The Sherlock Holmes mystery I reviewed next door--Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Ruby Elephants--
was one such book, but library shelves and bookstores abound with good, humorous fiction, and for those of you who write, I would advise you to find a way to inject a little humor in your story. It's almost irresistible to re-read a truly funny book.
How about you? What do you find the most important elements in a good read? Can you tell me the titles of some good reads you think I (and others) might enjoy?
Yesterday after lunch, my husband and I took a little trip to 57th Street Antique Row, a cluster of shops in town that sell antiques and/or second hand things. (The latter is what draws us, as we can't afford genuine antiques and would feel like we had to walk on eggs if we had them in our home.) We like old things and the histories they suggest, My husband loves old cameras and I love old books, so we are always on the prowl for those. Yesterday I struck it rich: One of our favorite shops on Antique Row is The Picket Fence, and that's where I came upon a whole set of Nancy Drew mysteries for $5.00 each. Not only that, the store was having a 30%-off sale, so I emerged happily with four books that came to a total of just under $14.00.
These are the original Nancy Drew series, too, the ones I read when eleven, the ones published between 1930 and 1959. You can see in the example above the old blue cloth cover with a silhouette of Nancy and her Sherlockian microscope. It's true what they say in the publishing industry: kids "read up". I checked every adventure I could find from the public library when I was eleven. I wanted to be
Nancy Drew--enterprising, clever, fearless, able to handle whatever difficulties emerged from the crises that had a way of finding her. No matter that she took trips to faraway cities with her friends and drove a car--obviously not only a teenager, but in the high teens at that--she inspired me to start my own detective club and search for mysteries everywhere.
Being eleven in the fifties, and white, I was also oblivious to the racism embedded in many of the stories. In the sixties, revisions of the old mysteries and writers of new adventures started to address the racism and have continued to do so ever since. This was a much needed change for a series so popular. Popular literature not only reflects
culture; it influences
culture as well, giving attitudes the "okay" at a subliminal level where they seep into a reader's unconscious and take up residence. So I applaud the decision.
Sadly, though, in the series since 1959, Nancy's character has been watered down, a change that makes no sense to me. While subbing in a friend's classroom a few years ago, I picked out a fairly current Nancy Drew mystery from the classroom library and thumbed through it over lunch. This was not the Nancy Drew I remembered--spunky, adventurous, fearless, ready to take on what mystery she encountered. Instead I found a sort of "Oh, no!" Nancy, just short of a hand-wringer in the face of trouble. In an era of heightened awareness of social issues, including women's issues, what went wrong when so much was going right?
Here's what I would like to see happen: Keep cleaning up the racism and
bring back the spunky Nancy Drew, the girl detective who inspired young girls for decades to believe they were smart enough to handle life.
How about you? Did you have a favorite mystery series when you were growing up? If not a mystery series, did you have a favorite series that had you waiting for the next adventure and the next?
|From our house to your house.|
|German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment pose with men of the Royal|
Warwickshire Regiment in 'No Man's Land' on the Western Front in
December 2014. Photo is in the Public Domain. You can read the
I am returning for a third time to an earlier post about a film that still moves me deeply: Joyeux Noel
, the 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. This has become my favorite Christmas movie, and I watch it each year.
The individual stories highlighted in the film were fictitious, but the over all story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire, and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve. Bonds were formed. The next day, troops even warned each other of planned shellings and offered refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred.
On Christmas Eve, German soldiers began playing music familiar to both German and British soldiers. Soon an informal truce was struck. Troops visited each other, gave each other food and small gifts. Some played games. For a little while, Peace broke out. Afterwards, as in the movie, army generals made sure it would not happen again. In the following war years, at Christmastime, generals stepped up the fighting to ensure no one would even think of a truce.
Last year, the Sacramento Bee published an article about this phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurred in several places across Belgium and across the Western Front. One such place was Flanders Field, (the site of John McCrae’s famous poem later, comparing the blood of slain British warriors to red poppies.)
For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure such an event wouldn't happen again.Joyeux Noel
is a remarkable film--a reminder that we are human first, and that the human impulse is toward peace. It is the political impulse that moves nations to war.
So here it is, the New Year ion its way, the Christmas message hovering still. We still live in a troubled world, wondering how to meet the challenges.
Best wishes for a time of true peace, when people can be united again in their common humanity.
What is your favorite Christmas movie?
|Pacific Grove in the afternoon.|
I've been meaning to post ever since we got back from Spain, but life and work intruded -- in a happy way. I'm working on a new story, to be included in an anthology coming out next year.
Though I've kept my nose to the grindstone, it's made my blogging lackadaisical. Then Thanksgiving came -- a wonderful communal gathering with my beloved god family -- and after that we went to Pacific Grove for the weekend. Pacific Grove, Monterrey, and Carmel have long had a shared place in our hearts. We come back when we can, like homing pigeons, to walk the beaches and visit the art galleries in Carmel.
We spent both mornings in Pacific Grove, driving, then walking along the sea wall, enjoying the slate-blue of the distant waters, the foamy white ruffles of incoming waves, the soft hush-sh-sh of waves rippling and splashing on rocks, the muffled roar of larger waves, and the kwee-dkwee-kwee of the seagulls that soared and swooped from rocks to shore and back again.
|A distant boat on the endless waters.|
|A lone seagull, taking it all in.|
|Rocks that jut up like sculptures.|
|And a rock littered with roosting gulls.|
That was the ocean view.
On land, the ice plant that makes a fuchsia-colored carpet across the sand in spring was bereft of flowers, but it glistened in green and red tones like stained glass.
|A path of beauty.|
|Fall colors like stained glass|
|Someone staring out to sea.|
For years I've wanted to visit the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, an "overwintering" spot for monarch butterflies, November through February each year, free for viewing. This time we did. Look closely. Nature has truly devised a great safety system for these delicate creatures;
At first we thought they were only dried
|Hundreds of butterflies with folded wings, looking like|
so many dried leaves in their wonderful camouflage.
leaves hanging from trees--and not
pretty leaves, at that. And then a little
kid pointed them out to us! "They're
in camouflage," he said. (Smart kid!)
We looked again, and were amazed.
Hundreds upon hundreds of folded
wings. Camouflage indeed!
|One butterfly opened its wings|
Both afternoons, we drove into Carmel to enjoy the many art galleries. We have certain galleries we particularly like: One is Classic Art Gallery.
One is the Carmel Art Association, a collaborative gallery that features work by local artists and puts out a lovely small catalogue each year that is like a book of art gems. You can visit them HERE
. We also like Jones & Terwilliger Galleries.
But actually there are so many good galleries, an amble through them is like an amble through several fine art museums.
Because Rajan is into black and white photography, we stopped by two photography galleries we've always enjoyed.
One is the Weston Gallery.
They are featuring a color show in one section at present, but they specialize in the art of some of my husband's favorite black and white photographers: Ansel Adams (his hero), Edward and Brett Weston, Yousuf Karsh, Michael Kenna, Imogen Cunningham . . . . You can click on the name of the gallery above, and, once there, click on the artists and see wonderful samples of their work. The other is Photography West Gallery
, featuring some of the same artists, all working in black and white film (my husband's first love) rather than digital.
Both afternoons we stopped by a charming restaurant/bar called Grasings
on 6th and Mission, and had a glass of crisp Chardonnay. The place had a soft, warm atmosphere and a friendly staff, and it made for a nice pause in the day.
|Hubby's ear in lower left corner. :-)|
|A nice pause in the day.|
My birthday was Monday, but since we would be driving back to Sacramento that day, we celebrated Sunday evening at a little French restaurant in Pacific Grove. (Or maybe it's Monterrey: those areas run into each other, and I'm never quite sure. )
It's called Fifi's Bistro Cafe ,
a charming restaurant with a cosy atmosphere. Fifi was there that evening, as it was the restaurant's 30th anniversary. She's French, of course, and she looked casually chic,
as the French somehow always manage to do -- black dress, red scarf, hair tumbled back in a clip. We are not dessert eaters, but when she found out we were celebrating my birthday, she insisted on bring an order of flan
for us to share, and she brought a beautiful red rose to the table, scattering the petals over the white tablecloth. How French!
I have a lot of questions in this post: Have you ever seen the monarch butterflies wintering over in some location? (I understand there are quite a few; not just Pacific Grove.) Do you have a special affinity for the ocean? Do you enjoy black and white photography? What is your favorite art form?
The journey really started the last two weeks of August, when we went to India to visit our relatives for two weeks. We stayed with our 88-year-old widowed sister-in-law, Soundara, in the section of Chennai called Virukambakkam, where we usually stay. It was a long overdue visit. My husband and I visited in 2012, and then he went again in 2013, a year after her husband's death.
I have always admired Soundara. She is truly a sister. She is tinier than I am, and while we were there insisted on cooking great meals. She cannot not
be busy, and she is interested in so many things. You can see the sweetness of her personality in this picture.
Our grandnephew, Murari, picked us up at the airport, at 4:30 a.m., and we stepped outside into an amazing heat. In seconds I was glistening with moisture from the humidity. I didn't take as many pictures on this trip as I meant to, and this one, at the left, was taken when we visited Murari's parents' home a few days later. It took us about an hour to get to the house. After we showered and unpacked, she had coffee waiting for us. There is nothing like good, strong, Indian coffee.
|Vasu & his pretty wife, Srimithi.|
Notice her beautiful smile.
Later, Vasu (My husband's sister's eldest son) and his wife, Srimathi, visited
the house (at right), and still later, Murari's father, Ravi, stopped by, as well.
Distances are very far in Chennai, and the traffic is unbelievably thick. Each time we've gone back, it seems the traffic has doubled from the time before, so it is always a breath-taking ride, and a long one, to get from one place to another.
We visited Rajan's doctor brother (Parthasarathy) and his wife, Vasantha, who live with their son and their son's family. Even though he is retired, he keeps up with current medicine, and we often turn to him for his medical opinion. On the trip this particular day, I was so enamored of the garden in his son's home, that I failed to take a lot of family pictures! Here are three family photos I remembered to take this time:
|Hari, Parthasarathy's &|
|Sudha, Parthasarathy's & |
Vasantha's daughter, visiting us
at her brother's home.
|Anusha, Sudha's youngest daughter.|
Her older daughter lives in the US.
But here are three from the 2012 visit, showing the whole family:
|Me, Soundara, & Vasantha, 2012|
|Hari & his wife, Vidhya, their sons|
Aditya and Anirud, 2012.
Also, some pictures of the flower garden on this trip, that will show you how beautiful it is. there is a long passage way of flowers outside the ground floor, and then a roof garden with many potted flowers and plants.
This house is near the ocean and gets a nice breeze, so it is a nice oasis of coolness and beauty, so refreshing in the humid heat of Chennai.
On another day, we visited Rajan's brother, Narayanan, in two of his son's homes.
The first was in the home of Ravi and his wife, Nirmala. They are the parents of Murari, who picked us up at the airport. (Murari will be getting married this coming Monday, and we are so sorry that we are going to miss the wedding. We'll be disembarking from our plane home at about the time the wedding is beginning.)
|Nirmala, our beautiful niece.|
|Ravi, her husband.|
|Murari and his grandfather,|
After that, we visited the home of one of Narayanan's other grandsons, Arjun and his wife Smrithi, along with Arjun's parents, Vasanth and Nalini. I really messed up, here! I got so engrossed in the conversations, that I forgot to take pictures. Luckily, Smrithi and Arjun and Nalini came to visit when we were at another grandnephew's home, so I did get a least a picture of them when we went for an overnight at the home of Madhu and Malathi. Madhu is the youngest son of Rajan's sister, and there are pictures of her, as well. This year she had her 80th birthday, but somehow she has kept youthful and full of energy.
|Smrithi, Arjun's wife.|
|Arjun, Vasanth & Nalini's eldest son|
|Madhu in foreground; Arjun in|
|Malathi, Madhu's wife in the middle;|
Nalini, Vasanth's wife in foreground.
|Pattu, Rajan's sister in foreground;|
her son, Madhu at far left, his wife,
Malathi and far right; their son,
Rohid, next to her.
|Maithreyi, their beautiful daughter.|
The day before we left, she gave birth
to a little girl.
|Eyeshwar, Maithreyi's husband, and|
Our last family visit was to Bangalore, where we visited to homes. We stayed two nights with our nephew, Ashok, his wife Gayathri, and their two sons, Rohan and Tarun, and Ashok's mother (Rajan's sister-in-law) Malathi. From there, we visited another grandniece, Priya, and her husband, Balajit. Once again, I was so involved in the visits that I didn't take as many pictures as I meant to take. Priya is the sister of the pretty woman in turquoise above, Sudha. It was a great pleasure to see her and her husband, and I was really vexed with myself for not remembering to use the camera I was carrying around everywhere. At Ashok's home, too, we mostly visited, and then on the last day I remembered pictures. I did get some pictures that included Malathi and Tarun. Tarun had just gone to temple for his thread ceremony, a ceremony for Brahmins similar to a bar mitzvah for Jewish boys, in that he was crossing over into adulthood with spiritual responsibilities.
|Malathi, our sister-in-law on|
left, Tarun on right. You can
see how happy he was.
|My husband, Rajan on left|
with Tarun. This kid has so
We took the night train to return from Bangalore to Chennai, and then there were just two days left before we departed for Spain. Earlier Rajan developed a really serious reaction to the anti-malarial medicine we took for the trip, so he had to discontinue it after 10 days. Then we had to wait (in Spain) 21 days from the last unprotected mosquito bite in India, which was a bit stressful--all the more so as his doctor brother says he is allergic to all malarial medicine -- including the one that's used to treat the illness. I was quite worried, as there were malarial cases in both Chennai and Bangalore, and he'd been bit by mosquitoes in both places. But all was well that ended well. He made it through the incubation period, and no illness.
I mentioned that Maithreyi gave birth to a little girl the day before we left. Her father, Madhu, kindly sent us pictures of the naming ceremony. Here are two:
|Such a little doll!|
|Such happy parents. |
The last two days we rested and spent time with Soundara and packed. Several relatives came to visit, and we also walked over to visit some in-laws through my Pittsburgh brother-in-law's wife, Kalyani. Raghavan and Kalyani are the parents of the nephew who got married last June. Her brother, Raju, and his wife, Renukkah, live three short streets away from Soundara. Renukkah is an artist, and her work is really dazzling.
|Raju & Renukkah|
|Art. The flash doesn't do|
the picture justice.
|Each of these are different|
styles, and she achieves
a great deal of mastery
in each one.
And then the time drew to a close. But seeing everyone again is something I will treasure through the years, all the more so because, due to my husband's reaction to malarial protection, we don't want to risk his health in the future. At times like these, you appreciate the Internet and all the avenues of keeping in touch with family. We are thinking of them with love and prayers and are thankful that we got this visit in.
Next week I'll be moving on to the time spent in Galicia. Until then, I'll be visiting your blogs and catching up on your news.
Dear Blog Friends,
In my absence until mid-October, please enjoy this little trailer for my book. Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls
See you in about three weeks.
Dear blog friends,
I am taking a blogging break until mid-October. I know that it looks like I already took a break, but my husband and I were visiting family in India, and we didn't have regular access to the Internet for a few weeks. I didn't have time to write, either, so now I am working again on the rewrite of my mystery, and I have a deadline to meet. Please come back in mid-October, when I'll be blogging again (and visiting your blogs as well).
Thanks for your understanding, and I look forward to reconnecting in four weeks.
Happy blogging, and happy writing. Ciao for now, Elizabeth.
|The main entrance of|
For some time I have been wanting to write about the wonderful buildings we see each time we go to Braga. The Sé Cathedral is probably good to start with for two reasons: The personal reason is that my husband, who loves black and white photography, is entranced with the stone churches of Spain and Portugal, and this building is a knock-out. The more serious reason is that it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga and one of the oldest cathedrals in Portugal; some say the
oldest. As such, it shows the many architectural features seen all over the city: The entrance facade is Romanesque (notice the arches); the bell towers are Baroque, (intricately ornamental). And inside, many areas are tiled with the distinctive Azulejo blue and white tiles one sees on walls, both exterior and interior, all over Portugal.
Braga is a city of churches, given its long history as the the religious capital of Portugal. But you see the interweaving of Roman and Baroque in many of the churches, and also many of the mansions and museums. One example is the old Archbishop's Palace, where the Jardim de Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara Garden) is nestled in a back square of the former palace.
|You can see how the word "Palace"|
The new Archbishop's palace is located elsewhere and this crenelated building now houses archived material for the University of Minho. But step inside the entrance and you can see the true beauty of Azulejos:
So many insides of churches had scenes in Azulejos, too. And many an exterior is decorated in blue and white tiles. While ceramic tiles were used all over Europe and were inspired by Moorish and Egyptian, the way Azulejos are used in Portugal have become an art form. In addition, many walls in Braga often display solid or geometrically patterned tiles as well:
All the beautiful colors and textures add to the distinctive quality to each building. No two buildings are exactly alike. Some have arched arched windows; others arched doorways. Some have painted walls, others have tiled walls. Sometimes the grill work of balconies is black; other times it's painted in bright colors. I could have taken endless pictures. You've actually been spared an extensive photo album of shots! :-)
Back to the churches: You could call Braga a city of churches. As the religious capital of Portugal, there are over thirty-to-thirty-five churches, in addition to the Sé Cathedral, and all quite distinctive. There is Igreja dos Congregados on the one side of Avenida Central bordering Praça República (Republican Square (two views below).
|Seen from the Arcada, which fronts|
one end of Republican Square.
|Seen from across the triangular park|
that starts at the Arcade and ends in
Largo Senhora Branca.
There was also Igreja a Senhora Branca (Church of Our Lady in White) just across from our hotel (Hotel Senhora a Branca). A sign forbade picture taking inside, but the chapel was lovely, tiled in two shades of yellow with the main altar ceiling painted blue. The tiled facade could be photographed, and above the entrance, a statue of "Our Lady" in an alcove was lit by night: Here are some pictures by both day and night:
On this particular trip (June, 2015), we were there during the full moon, which added a veil of mystery at night.
There were other churches of note: Bon Jesus, four miles out of town, up in the hills, which we did see last fall while attending a photography exhibit. (Our pictures were mainly of the exhibit, but here is a plaque on one wall.) A small, baroque church on a street behind the Arcade, Igreja da Terceira Ordem Regular de São Francisco (Church of the Third Regular Order of Saint Francis). And inside the arcade is a small church, Igreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora da Lapa (Our Lady of Lapa).
|If you look closely, you'll|
see more beautiful Azulejos.
Then there were the museums. I'll concentrate on two that captured our attention. On our first trip, we went to the Museu da Imagem - The Image Museum, that specializes in photography exhibits. I had read of this museum in a travel article posted in the Huffington Post and was particularly interested, because my husband does black-and-white photography. Online, we made friends with the director, Rui Prata, and when we visited, we got acquainted with him and this beautiful museum. It's partly housed in an old tower of the original castle and an adjoining building that looks out on the street. Inside are current exhibits and historical photographs of Braga, and Rui Prata was generous with his time, telling us much about the history of Braga. He himself is a photographer, a curator of exhibits, and has recently retired from director of the museum to move to Finland from where he still curates exhibits all over Europe.
|Museum entrance - the red building.|
|Street view from inside the door.|
|My husband debating what|
to look at first. You can see
the complexity of the layout.
|Just one of the sections of photos. |
|This particular exhibit was |
about the 1974
|Later Rui treated us to dinner|
and introduced us to some fine
We'd often heard about the Museu dos Biscainhos, a historical mansion, originally built in the early 17th century by a noble family. Inside its many rooms are collections of 17th and 18th century European and Asian furniture, ceramics, porcelain, glass, paintings, etc. The baroque palace or manor had its own chapel, servant quarters, carriage house. But it was the 18th century baroque garden with statues, fountains, pathways between hedges and flower beds, and trees that blew me away, and I focus my pictures on its beauty. 9One tree is a giant tulip poplar, sent from Virginia to the nobleman's family 2 centuries ago.)
A 200-year-old tulip poplar and me.
Did I mention it was huge?
Moments like this give you a sense of your size in the scheme of things.
Last, but not lease, I'd like to mention our good fortune to meet Inȇs Barbosa on our first and subsequent visits. Inȇs is getting her Masters at University of Minho and was interning at the hotel where we stay (Hotel Senhora a Branca) until just recently, when she went to work for Lufthansa in Porto. She patiently answered innumerable questions about Braga, about Portugal, about Fado, etc. On our last visit she told us about some of the Folklorico groups in Braga. The group she belongs to were to perform in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, the day after we left Braga.
|In Folklorico costume. |
She kindly sent me a video of the group performing in Braga, and I'm passing it on for you to enjoy: Just click HERE.
How about you? Do you belong to a heritage or historical interest group of some kind? Do you love historical buildings and gardens?
By: Elizabeth Varadan
Blog: Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish
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Well this post is mainly about some of our favorite eateries, but a later one will hit the highlights of some special places to see. (And then we'll move on to our nephew's wedding last week.)
One of our favorite hangouts when we go to Braga is Café Vianna, a café overlooking Praça da República (Republican Square). There are tables inside and out, but we sit at an outside table under one of their giant umbrellas sipping wine and people-watching.
|Café Vianna used to be a|
hub of political activity in
the years before Salazar.
|Now it's just a popular place|
for tourists to enjoy.
|It's almost always busy.|
The square is dominated by an immense circular fountain, and on a hot day it's refreshing just to watch the streams of water shoot up and splash down. (It was hot in early June!) The square was being decorated while we were there (as was the city) for the coming Festa de São João
(St. John the Baptist), a very popular festival that occurs mid-June.
|I was surprised by a rainbow!|
|The arches are part of the decoration|
for the coming Festa de São João
|Two gracious women at|
the tourist office, Márcia
and Cristina, have helped
me a lot with my research.
The eating places in Braga are quite interesting. Each of them has a unique flair. And I don't mean just what kind of food they serve. They combine ideas
about eating. For instance, on our last trip, we discovered a wine bar called Copo. But Copo isn't just a wine bar. or a tapa
bar, although that, too.
It's several things rolled into one. Here we are enjoying our favorite small table by the corner window. But this building -- which is really two -- is full of nooks and split levels. The room next door is a wine and gin bar (with an actual horseshoe bar.) Up a flight from that is a cocktail lounge. A stairwell off of that leads to a small restaurant area. From where we are sitting in this picture, stairs lead down to a little champagne nook, which leads up to another restaurant area, and also down to yet another restaurant area. Surprises abound everywhere. And Copo does serve great tapas.
|A little dining hall.|
|Unless you prefer the garden.|
|Art on the wall, food on|
the table, books to read.
What's not to like?
A favorite lunch place of ours is Centésima Página
, The Hundredth Page, a unique bookstore and café housed in a Baroque building on Avenida Central. I can't begin to tell you how inviting it is. These pictures may help. There are numerous little side rooms, small indoor tables, a garden patio. And books, books, books, everywhere! They also offer art exhibits and guest speakers, and special kid programs at various dates and times. But the books and snacks are irresistible.
|Exterior: The bookstore/cafe is on|
Avenida Central, not
far from Praça República.
|Books, books, books! What's not to like?|
Not far from Centésima Página is a remarkable place called Casa do Professor, a home for retired teachers -- at any level: elementary to university level. It houses a library and a restaurant and bar, among other features. The goal is to make the teachers feel at home. But the restaurant is also open to outside guests and parties. We didn't take any picture of it, but here is a website that can tell you more about it .
There is a buffet dining room at street level, and both a cafeteria and a menu restaurant down a few stairs to the next level. The food was delicious and so reasonably priced. Being vegetarians, we had a vegetable-filled pastry for lunch that was so good I could swoon over it. And a party of teachers were at a group of tables near the far window, having a wonderful time.
Last spring, visiting the Museu Imagem
(Image Museum), a unique photography gallery, we were privileged to meet the director, Rui Prata, who introduced us to both the fabulous three day photography exhibit last fall, and also Casa do Professor, as well as two other noteworthy restaurants. The names of those two wonderful restaurants elude me, but we found two more in a little square (Largo da Praça Velha)
near the museum: Taverna do Felix
, and Anjo Verde.Anjo Verde
means Green Angel, and it's all vegetarian food that must be cooked by angels! Last fall we enjoyed a memorable lunch of eggplant parmigiana cooked just right. We split an order, and their portions are so generous we still were quite stuffed. I only have one picture to share, but this website can show your more
of the interior, as well has samples of their wonderful food :
Right next door, in the same largo
was a restaurant I'd been intrigued by online while doing research - Taverna do Felix
(Felix's Tavern). I want to place a scene in my book there. These pictures should give some idea of it's distinct ambience, which is both elegant and cosy.
|A great selection of wines. |
|Gray lace on white linen.|
|Combined with Marilyn!|
There was a homey quality to this restaurant, established by all the antiques placed here and there, I suppose, and the soft lighting.
Little tables were also in clusters, here and there. We were among the early guests, but were welcomed in, and "Nina" the owner, explained the wonders of Port to me as she and a warm and friendly waitress named Sandra set things in place: White Port is an appetizer, and red Port is for dessert. (I knew about the red, but not the white, did you?) In the course of the evening, she gave us a sample of each. Here's a video
that gives you more information about the restaurant and owner, and you'll encounter the beautiful Portuguese language as well. And here are some photos of the food:
as well as more pics of the restaurant. Our meal was lovely. We do eat fish, and we had broiled sea bass beautifully presented.
Meanwhile, the restaurant had started filling up, and there were couples at various tables from all parts: Netherlands, Belgium . . .
The man from Belgium recommended a hotel to us, and it turned out to be where we were staying: Hotel Senhora a Branca, reflecting the name of the church - Igreja Senhora a Branca - and the name of the square - Largo Senhora a Branca, where the hotel is located. We have stayed there all three trips and will again. It's a comfortable hotel, reasonably priced, with beautiful rooms and a friendly staff. And we made friends with a young intern who has received her Masters in cultural tourism and who took us on a tour of her Braga the last evening we were there. (Thank you, Ines!)
And then there is the mysterious young woman who is always playing her violin on one street or another:
|who is she? |
|Her playing is haunting. |
Next blog will be about the Churches, Gardens, and Museums of Braga. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, what is the best restaurant meal you've ever had? Do you like to read while you eat? Are you a vegetarian? If so, what kind? (I have learned that there are quite a few classifications.)
By: Elizabeth Varadan
Blog: Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, Mercado das Tapas
, Portuguese guitar
, Add a tag
One of the great traditions of Portugal is the unique music called tFado.
I first heard Fado
two years ago in Galicia, when Maria do Ceo sang at a restaurant in a casa rural. (
I blogged about her singing HERE
My next Fado discovery was the great Fadista
, Marisa da Luz, in Braga, Portugal.
By the time my husband and I went to Braga last year to do research on a book I am writing, we were both hooked on Fado, and we especially wanted to find a place where we could hear it. We lucked out! Mercado das Tapas offers Fado
every Thursday evening and a wonderful selection of tapas, as well as that great potato and kale soup called Caldo Verde
At Mercado das Tapas, various Fadistas
perform, but when we went last year we were fortunate to hear Marisa da Luz. We liked her so much that, when we knew we were going again early this month, we requested her. There are many things that make her such a good Fadista
: To begin with, she has a beautiful voice with quite a range. But she also pours such feeling into her songs, they wring your heart.
There are cheerful songs in Fado
, but the majority of songs deal with life, one's soul, fate. Fado
has been called the Portuguese equivalent of American Blues, and to some extent, that's true. But to me the melodies are more complex and take one by surprise. Some tell a story. Some are philosophical. Some simply express the sadness of loss at a high level of poetry. Some of the lyrics are taken, in fact, from the poetry of one of Portugal's greatest and most mystical poets, Fernando Pessoa. Normally a Fadista
is accompanied by two or three musicians. One or two will play guitar, and the remaining one will play a Portuguese
guitar, which sounds very much like a mandolin.
is an art form like no other, and Marisa da Luz's voice and delivery rise to the demands of it. We predict that she is a rising star Fado
lovers will hear of more and more.
|Elegant and dramatic|
She was the main singer of the evening, but three men took turns singing Fado, too, as many Fadistas
are men, and this seems to be tradition.
|The humorous one.|
As it turned out, it was Marisa da Luz's birthday, and she was celebrating it with her friends and family. Graciously she shared some champagne with us, and she let us take pictures of the party, as well as a couple of pictures with them! And with her! A very cordial, down to earth lady.
|The woman behind me on your|
right is one of the owners.
|She gave us champagne!|
|A wonderful group of people as |
you can see.
|I was really honored.|
Thank you, Marisa da Luz, for an inspiring evening full of wonderful song.
Next week: Some of our favorite places in Braga, and a wonderful tour guide.
Meanwhile, what is your favorite music to listen to? Have you heard Fado
? If so, do you like it?
Today was the big day!
I have so many things to blog about, but:
Hip Hip Hooray,
My book was just released today!
Here are the links: Imogene and The Case of The Missing Pearls is available from all good bookstores including The Strand Magazine, Amazon USA,Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Kindle and Kobo and will soon be on iTunes.Please do check them out.
Meanwhile, please come back Friday for the first of several blogs about the trip to Portugal.
|A school visit,|
arranged by my friend, Carla
|A fabulous Fadista, Maria da Luz|
See you Friday, if not before. Have a great week.
|Virginia Reed and the Donner Party|
For some time I have wanted to review this wonderful book, but life kept intruding (marketing my own book, travel plans, celebrations of important birthdays, a wedding.)
|Author extraordinaire |I’ve read many books about the Donner Party, but All We Left Behind has preyed on my mind like no other book about this tragic event. Told through young Virginia Reed’s point of view, it traces the trajectory of what begins as a hopeful journey to a promising new life but ends in disaster. Virginia is twelve when the story opens in Springfield, Illinois the day the family is departing, along with the extended Donner family and others, setting out for Independence, where they plan to meet up with a larger wagon train, the Russell Company. The trip has been James Reed’s idea all along, and he’s the leader of the small group. The first few weeks of the journey seem like an adventure until they reach Independence, Missouri, and learn Russell has gone on without them. James Reed misunderstood the meet-up date. This is the first time Virginia realizes that “Pa” her adoptive father, can make mistakes. Despite his autocratic nature, she has idolized him, feeling he can do no wrong. The family is Methodist, and earlier, after she visited a Catholic church with a friend, he made it clear Catholicism was the wrong path. (Virginia has guiltily been hiding the rosary the friend gave her in her pocket.) Now, she wonders if Pa can be mistaken about Catholicism, too.
This is only the first mistake James Reed will make. They meet up with Russell, but later split up, the larger wagon train taking the tried and true path; the Reed and Donner group and a few others taking the Lansing cut-off, a supposed shortcut that will make up for lost time. Reed has misplaced faith in the book by Langford Hastings, but he is a leader type with the ability to persuade, and this leads to one stubborn mistake after another. Reed is also a proud man, traveling with his family in the largest wagon with the most luxurious contents (dubbed later, by resentful fellow travelers, as “the Palace car.”)
Before the trip is over, the car’s contents will join the many things “left behind”. Virginia's grandmother dies on the the trail. Another old man is abandoned by one of the other pioneers. All along the way, they encounter household goods, wagon wheels, relics of earlier pioneers who had to leave so much of what they valued behind. One of the strengths of the author’s writing is the way she shows Reed through Virginia’s eyes: a man of flaws and redeeming virtues. Virginia’s hero worship wavers, but her loyalty never does. In the space of a little over a year, she matures from a pre-teenage torn between homesickness and adventure to a young woman with knowledge far beyond her years. The author’s setting details plunge a reader deeply into the experiences of these hapless travelers. She has clearly has done extensive research that shows in the authority of her storytelling without ever intruding as "information dump". One of the most haunting scenes is when the Reed family and their three wagons are crossing the Great Salt Desert. They are crossing alone, because the heaviness of the “palace car” has slowed them down and the others have gone ahead. Patty, Virginia’s younger sister spies three wagons in the distance. “I wonder why they’re so far off the trail,” Mama said. She added in a puzzled tone, “Their lead wagon looks nearly as big as our palace car.” I waved just as the girl beside a pony waved back. Milt waved both arms over his head in unison with a rider in the other wagon company. “They’re our mirror images,” he said wonderingly. “Even the horses are identical.” A slow chill ran down my spine. “You mean they’re us?” “Don’t look. Don’t look!” Mama’s voice trembled. “They aren’t The Reeds join up with the others, but before long, things worsen as tempers and egos flair – as of course they would among a group of travelers who once had high hopes but have to deal instead with unforeseen difficulties that terrify them. As a reader I found myself experiencing so many emotions -- tension, relief, humor, sympathy, even tears – as the writing pulled me deeper and deeper into Virginia’s world. While the story of the Donner party itself is remarkable, the author’s telling of Virginia’s story is equally remarkable. This is a book that bears more than one reading and should have a place in school libraries, both middle school and high school.
Purchase Information (Click on the sites): The author can be contacted at (Click on the sites):
Dear blog friends,
I'm taking a one-week blogging vacation on this blog (The Fourth Wish) for a trip to Braga, Portugal for research on my latest WIP and a school visit. I'll still post next door on My Victorian Scribbles blog, where I've told a little more about the trip. I'll be back here next Sunday, so please come back then.
Have a great week and "see you" soon.
I'm excited to have a guest post and a giveaway of my new book, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, on Natalie Aguirre's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles. You can read the post and maybe win your free copy HERE. Please visit her site and check it out.
Here's a teaser of the book, a trailer a friend made for me:
And at Natalie's blog, you'll find a wealth of information on agents and other authors.
Have you ever made a trailer for one of your books?
|Beautiful weather for driving along|
scenic roads from village to village.
|We love going through these small|
We arrived in Galicia exactly a week today, in the evening, and have fallen under its spell, as we always do. I'm behind in everything, including a book review I've been promising of an utterly wonderful book, Nancy Herman's, All We Left Behind.
Be patient, folks, it's coming.
But it has felt great to just relax after the hectic days leading up to our trip -- the bathroom remodel, putting the house back together before our trip, the book signing at Time Tested Books (a delightful evening), and setting up other book signings after we return. When we got to Galicia, we just gave into the trance of taking long walks and long drives for photo shoots, visiting friends and neighbors. We've been blessed with beautiful sunny days, although it's been a little windy at times, and at times there has been the usual sprinkle of rain. And at this time of year, the countryside abounds with wild broom, whole fields of it.
Brilliant yellow sprays of it, everywhere. And on the roadsides, buttercups, Queen Anne's lace, small, magenta thistles, purple foxglove, fields of white daisies, tiny blue forget-me-nots, and rose-colored alfalfa, and the all pervasive greenery.
Cuckoos call, and you see the flash of black and white wings of the magpies. And in Tuiriz, near the church, two stork nests rise atop poles that seem to be their designated area. Originally they built their next on the church steeple. Meanwhile, nearby, around the corner from our house, Eva's chickens peck the corn she gives them that is responsible for the brilliant gold of their eggs.
Still, around all the tranquility, this is a working vacation for me, and I will be back to work on my cozy mystery re-write starting this afternoon, and a book review will soon follow this post.
Also, please check out Rosi Hollinbeck's interview with me, review of my book, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls
, and a giveaway, on her blog, THE WRITE STUFF.
In addition to interviews and book reviews of children's books, Rosi provides wonderful links to other blogs sites with information on the writing process, writing career issues, contests, etc. She offers a banquet of information at her site. Go HERE
to see what I mean.
But for now, a second cup of coffee, and one last view out the galería window before I get to work.
Today I'm at Teresa Cypher's wonderful blog, Dreamers, Lovers, and Star Voyagers
, doing a guest post about persistence in her "Tuesday Two Cents' Worth
Teresa's blog has a variety of features, including her Weekend Writing Warriors
hop, where writers share 8 sentences of something they've written, published or unpublished. She also provides a great list of writer resources in the margin.
To hop on over and look around, click HERE.
Wednesday I had a book signing at my favorite bookstore, Time Tested Books, on 21st Street, between K and L.
It's a marvelous place. I have spent hours and hours through the years, browsing the wonderful selections. I never leave a bookstore empty-handed, but I usually leave this one with an armful of books. The owner, Peter Keat
, always can find what I'm looking for. His staff, Finian and Mazelle, are the same. All the books are nicely organized, and the atmosphere is gracious. It's a great place for a book lover to hang out. Once my husband even phoned me there, because he knew where I'd be when I didn't come home from one of my walks. (For a sampler of what to find, read some of the reviews on Yelp, HERE
So when I learned Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls
was going to be published in June, I knew exactly where I wanted to have my book signing. MX Publishing
sends exclusive shipments to independent booksellers who give pre-publishing signings. The signing went very well. I'll skip now to pictures of the evening. An evening of great fun, I have to add. It felt like one big party! And, you can see in the background, what a great bookstore this. (Side note: MX specializes in Sherlock Holmes-related books, so if you're a Sherlockian, you can find lots of good reads HERE
|This is Maddy (to your right). She was the perfect Imogene! |
On the right, you see Maddy Johnson, the actress who started in the trailer everyone liked. Below is her father, Steve Johnson, who put the trailer together. Steve is a magician and has a wonderful magic-and-costume shop in Carmichael, Grand Illusions.
Want some magic tricks? Wand a magician at your party? Need a costume? You can learn more about Grand Illusions HERE
|And this is her father, Steve Johnson, who made the trailer|
|Friends and neighbors|
|Fellow teachers and writers|
|JaNay and Rosi, fellow writers. JaNay|
wrote the fantastic PB, Imani's Moon.
Between them, Julie, with whom I
used to teach. Next to Rosi, Bob,
from a former group. In front, one of
my art students, Miranda.
|Nancy, David, & Naomi were in a|
former writing group. Nancy is in one
of my current groups. She wrote All
We Left Behind, which I'm reviewing
next week. Naomi's book, Landfalls,
is coming out in August.
|Then there were my super cool|
teacher friends from Elder Creek,
where I used to teach.
|Next to Rosi, another writing group|
member, Paddy, and her two boys.
Super-teacher Julie at the right.
|In pink, our fabulous house-sitter, Dana.|
She's going to have a little boy, soon.
Next to her, in maroon, Bethany, a school
librarian who's had kind things to say
|The Erica (tallest) and Vanessa|
are wonderful artists in my art
class. Sofia is still too young,
but I hope she'll join in the future
|Even my dentist came! (green shirt). That was so kind of him.|
And Kari (wearing cap; hubby Bill by her side) organized my
school visit to Matsuyama Elementary School, April 17.
That was another wonderful event. The kids were super!
And there you have it! A wonderful evening, surrounded by books and friends in a wonderful location, with my wonderful husband taking pictures. What more could you ask?
Meanwhile, check out the links above, and come back next week for my review of Nancy Herman's book, All We Left Behind,
a deeply moving story about the Donner party, through the eyes of Virginia Reed.
|German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment pose with men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 'No Man's Land' on the Western Front, in December 2014. Photo is in Public Domain |
Taken from an article HERE
Twice, now, I’ve blogged at this time of year about Joyeux Noel, a 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. The individual stories highlighted were fictitious, but the overall story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve, even warning each other of planned shellings the next day and offering refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred. For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a remarkable film, and a story I won't forget. I was reminded of it again when the Sacramento Bee published an article in Saturday’s paper about this phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurred in several places across Belgium and across the Western Front. In Flanders Field, the site of John McCrae’s famous poem comparing slain British warriors, German soldiers began playing music familiar to both German and British soldiers. Soon an informal truce was struck. Troops visited each other, gave each other food and even small gifts. Some played games. For a little while, Peace broke out. And then, as in the movie above, army generals made sure it would not happen again. In the following war years at Christmastime they stepped up the fighting to ensure noone would even think of a truce.
So here it is again, the New Year approaching, and the Christmas message hovering still.
Best wishes for the coming year, and for a time of peace, when people can be forgive the atrocities of war and unite again in their common humanity.
The long silence since my Christmas
posting was due to the exciting news that my middle grade mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, will be published in June by MX Publishing. I was busy with formatting and editing issues to get it ready. (MX Publishing specializes in Sherlock related books, so Sherlock fans can go HERE to see a wonderful selection.) You can also read more about my book next door on my Victorian Scribbles blog HERE:
Not surprisingly, I have been reading a lot of mysteries both for young people and for adults. I recently joined Capitol Crimes, the local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime, since I'm currently working on a cosy mystery for adults. I was invited there by a friend, and it's her book I want to talk about today: Flint House, by Kathleen L. Asay, published by Bridle Path Press.
Flint House is a mystery, in fact a bundle of mysteries revolving
around what happens when disparate lives intersect over what should be a tragic event and stir up past events each character would like to forget.
Liz Cane, a cynical journalist with The Sacramentan,
goes for an interview with Maisie Flint, the unpleasant owner of Flint House, a Victorian landmark in town. At one point, Maisie interrupts the interview to check on something upstairs. A few minutes later she tumbles down the stairs and dies.
Did she trip? Or was she pushed?
The tenants of Flint House are life's strays, hiding out from life in this rickety, shabby old Victorian. One mysterious tenant is called The Princess. No one knows her real name, but all the tenants seem to adore her, whereas none of them were especially fond of Maisie. The tenants also face eviction once Maisie's distant relative shows up to claim the house. The Princess claims to have a solution that will save Flint House. Then she is found in an alley, beaten nearly to death.
A random attack by a stranger? Or was she attacked by someone who knew her?
Despite herself, Liz gets drawn into their lives. She finds herself pursuing the story, partly as hard-bitten reporter, and partly because she cares about this motley collection of people who have become a family to each other. She's also obsessed with solving the mystery of The Princess's real identity.
I know it's almost a cliche these days to say "I couldn't put the book down," but I couldn't. It was an engrossing read, and the characters are memorable. Despite the events I've mentioned, it's also a heartwarming read. I highly recommend it.
And no spoilers here. You will have to read the book to answer the questions raised above.
You can buy the book HERE:
You contact the author at her website HERE:
I love a good mystery. So when Catriona McPherson -- current President of Sisters-in-Crime at the national level -- was speaker at the local chapter (Capitol Crimes), I was delighted. I was already hooked on her Dandy Gilver
series, featuring an aristocratic sleuth in 1920s Scotland.
But it’s one of McPherson’s stand alone contemporary mysteries, that recently grabbed me: As She Left It is a layered mystery that keeps unfolding in new surprises, just when you think you’ve figured it out.
In As She Left It, Opal Jones left her alcoholic mother when she was twelve to live with her father and step-family in Whitby. After her mother’s death, Opal finds the old home -- one half of a cottage on Mote Street in Leeds -- is now hers, and she moves back. At first it seems the old neighborhood really is “as she left it” thirteen years ago. The Mote Street Boys in the corner house still play their gigs. Opal used to take trumpet lessons from one of them, Fishbo, who is so happy she's come back. But Margaret Reid’s three-year-old grandson, Craig, disappeared ten years ago, on a Saturday, and the neighborhood has never recovered. And in the crooked foot posts of a bed delivered from an antique store, Opal finds secret messages that hint of a little girl's abuse many years ago.
When Opal sets herself to solve these two mysteries, she uncovers only more: Someone was paying the house bills after Opal’s mother died. Who? And why? Mrs. Pickess, the neighborhood gossip, provided brandy in large quantities to Opal’s alcoholic mother through the years. Why? On some nights, Opal hears a man crying in the other, rented half of the house. Who is he? What secret is Fishbo, her beloved old music teacher, hiding? And why does it start looking like little Craig disappeared on a Friday instead of a Saturday? I was mesmerized by both the brilliant plot and the lovely writing. The characters, some of the most endearing you’ll meet in a mystery, are three dimensional. Opal is unforgettable, by turns brave and nervous, gullible and cynical, bitter and hopeful, and thoroughly believable.
And a picture in her head, the little lost boy and the little girl -- who sounded pretty lost to Opal -- had joined hands and were walking away into darkness, maybe going to be lost forever, unless Opal followed them and brought them home.
As She Left It -- winner of the 2014 Anthony Award for best paperback original -- is the kind of mystery you read more than once. To learn more about McPherson's books, see her Amazon page HERE or visit her website HERE
You can also contact her on Facebook HERE
What kind of mysteries do you prefer? Series or stand alone? Cozies or psychological?
|Book Three in the series|
I’m always looking for new mystery authors. (New to me, that is. Some of my discoveries have actually been publishing for awhile before I’ve discovered their books.) Last spring, when I attended a panel to listen to four mystery authors talk about their writing, one of the authors was Terry Shames. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune to get hooked on her Samuel Craddock series, based in a fictional small Texas town called Jarrett Creek.
I started with book one, A Killing at Cotton Hill, because I like to see how an author jump starts their series. I liked it so much that next I had to read The Last Death of Jack Harbin. I’ve just finished her third in the series, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek (shown here), and I’m already looking forward to her fourth, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, which comes out next month. But you don’t really have to read them in order to enjoy them. Each story is complete in itself and the author deftly slips in back story and characters' gossip and memories so that you feel like you know these people right away.
The main character, Samuel Craddock, a retired police chief, is a widower who lives on a small acreage at the edge of town, and has a kindly affection for his cows. He grew up in Jarrett Creek, but developed a taste for fine art through his deceased wife. As a result, he has an enviable art collection on his walls, a collection fraught with memory, since he and his wife purchased many of the paintings together.
Craddock is a an affable sleuth, full of homegrown wisdom and sterling character virtues. He can be firm when he needs to be, and while his manner is encouraging and disarming as he makes his enquiries, he doesn’t miss a thing. He often reflects on the other character’s lives, the locals he grew up with. His voice is so authentic, I can almost hear him when I read his narrative (which is in present tense, a tense that works very well in these mysteries).
The cluster of characters Samuel deals with are also three dimensional, with voices of their own, each one a memorable personality. To name a few: Loretta, Craddock’s neighbor and friend who brings him baked goods and gossip almost daily (and tries to pry out of him facts about the current case). Jenny, a lawyer and a good friend with whom Craddock dines out occasionally -- solely for companionship, as he is still grieving his wife.
And, of course, the current police chief, Rodell Skinner: self-important, lazy, spending more time at the bar than the police station. Because of Skinner’s alcohol problems, the townspeople have more confidence in Craddock than in him. Consequently, Samuel is the one they turn to when something goes wrong. In Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, Skinner’s drying out, so once again Craddock has to solve the case.
The series is set in Jarrett Creek, a marvelously drawn small town with just the beginnings of suburbs. A few farms outside the town. A main street with family businesses. The local high school. The town hall. The café in town, called, appropriately, Town Café. The bank. The various churches. The town jail. I leave these books feeling I know this place. It feels familiar, as if I’ve been there personally, even though the place is a pure work of fiction.
Best of all, these plots are true puzzle mysteries, and Shames weaves the threads of clues back and forth with expertise. As Craddock ruminates on facts he unearths while interviewing people connected to the case, each person becomes a believable suspect until the very end. And the ending is always satisfying, evoking that combined response: “Huh? Oh. Of Course!”
I’ve posted the book cover of Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, but you can find all of her books on Amazon HERE Her Website is http://www.terryshames.com . If you hurry over and subscribe to her newsletter before Apri1 1, you have a chance to win a copy of A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge. You can also visit Terry Shames on Facebook HERE and follow her on Twitter HERE
|Win a copy of this.|
|This book is part of the|
Writer's Digest Howdunit
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve joined Sisters in Crime and the local chapter, Capitol Crimes. The local chapter meets monthly, and each month guest speakers share their expertise in either writing mysteries or being connected in some way to concerns of the mystery writer. One such concern is always whether a writer is presenting crime scenes or police procedures that are accurate. Last month we were fortunate to have Lee Lofland, the author of Police Procedure & Investigation, as our guest speaker, and he addressed those very concerns.
Lee Lofland is a former police detective, and the bad news is that much of what you see on your favorite crime show is misleading and/or inaccurate. His book, on the other hand, is a very thorough coverage of everything an author would want to ask their local police department. Blurbs by best-selling mystery writers (including two of my favorites, Rhys Bowen and Hallie Ephron) give his book high praise, and I was pleased to find that the writing – entertaining and sobering by turns – is always a good read. He presents facts that you really want to know in a way that don’t make your eyes glaze over. A few examples:
The difference between police officers and detectives; how they’re trained; what they do.
Arrest and search procedures.
The differences between homicide, murder, and manslaughter.
The difference between a crime scene and the scene of the crime.
DNA and fingerprinting
What can send you to prison and what can send you to jail.
A section on different drugs and the effects of each one.
Differences in weapons (with photos) and how they work
The book’s appendices include a glossary of terms, police 10 codes, a drug quantity table, and a federal sentencing table. It isn’t necessary to read this book straight through, chapter by chapter. There’s a thorough index that helps when you just want to look up something useful at that moment in your writing, along with good visual aids (charts, diagrams, photos of tools, etc.) throughout the book. This is a must read for any mystery writer who wants their police procedural scenes to ring with accuracy.
Lee also shared with us the Writers’ Police Academy, held in August in Appleton, Wisconsin. Yes, there really is such a thing. You can register now and have hands on experiences that will enhance your scenes. For more information about what is covered, check out their website HERE
Lee’s book is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon HERE .
You can contact the Lee Lowland at his website, The Graveyard Shift, HERE,
and learn even more about police work to enrich your mysteries from his frequent blog posts.
|The author and friendly officer.|
|A must have book.|
I promised pictures of my students' art exhibit, and here they finally are. The exhibit went up March 14th, and it's coming down tomorrow so that I can pass back the art pieces Thursday (our last class this year.) The art club is one of the great joys of my life, and I am especially grateful to the South Natomas Community Center on Truxel (Sacramento) for supporting these classes, and to University Art Store on J and 26th Streets for holding the exhibit this year. We had a little reception on the opening day (punch and cookies) and whole families turned out to see it. The students are normally 8-to-13-year-olds, but this year I had one 7-year-old and two 13-year-olds.
Enjoy: (I've only named the artists - all others are "sib", "sis", parent, etc.)
|Danielle, Edgar & their father|
|Claire (center), mother & grandm.|
|Karla with sib & friend|
|Yaritza (right, w. mother & sibs.|
|Antonio (2nd fr. left) w. parents & sibs.|
|Kailee (right), mother & sis|
|Maya (in red), Ella ( in pink), parents |
|Brennan and mother|
|Angeline (center), parents, sibs, |
|Savannah (center), mother (right), and|
|Miranda and mother|
|Madison (2nd from left) and mother|
(next to her), grandmother & sib.
|Kiley and mother|
|Ian (left), sis, and father.|
(Older sis, Kate, artist, was absent)
|Erica (in red), Vanessa (in front of her),|
mother (right) grandmother (left) and
|Kiley (left), Emma, (middle),|
and Madison (right)
|Alyssa and father|
|Reina (right) sisters and mother|
|And that's it -- for another year. |
|I hope you enjoyed|
meeting them and
seeing their work.
By: Elizabeth Varadan
Blog: Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, Caroline Stellings
, literary awards
, MG mystery
, picture books
, the Contest
, The Manager
, the Scratch on the Ming Vase
, YA novel
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|Author extraordinaire . . .|
I became acquainted with Caroline Stellings through a review I wrote of her book, The Manager,
an engrossing tale about boxing with quirky, captivating characters. You can read the review at The Children's Book Review HERE . The Children's Book Review
is an award winning, online, book review site endorsed last year by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
, published by Cape Breton University Press in 2013, is a young adult novel that won the Hamilton Literary Award for Fiction. Carolyn Stellings' middle-grade novel The Contest
(published in the USA by Seventh Generation) won the ForeWord Book of the Year gold medal in 2010. Her teen mystery, The Scratch on the Ming Vase -- which I'm reading right now and loving -- was published by Second Story Press and was included in the Canadian Children's Book CenCentre's 2013 Spring edition of Best Books for Kids and Teens . She also writes and illustrates picture books.
|Humor and boxing . . .|
|Anne of Green Gables, |
|First in an exciting mystery|
series . . .
It’s my pleasure to have this award-winning author as my interview guest today. I’ll get right to it:
Have you always been interested in writing? When did you first get into it seriously?
CS: Well, it was nearly 20 years ago, and I was in a PhD program at McMaster University, but stumbled upon a book about the life of the famous illustrator from Vermont, Tasha Tudor. She, of course, has done numerous stories about her corgies, and I decided then and there to quit the academics and write books about my dogs, which have always been Schipperkes. These are little black sailing dogs from Belgium, and very smart. First, though, I had to learn how to do watercolors.
EV: You write both YA fiction and picture books. Do you favor one of them over the other, or do you enjoy them equally?
CS: I love the picture books because they feature animal characters, not only my Schipperkes, but I have also done a series of mice books, and recently, my book about a fortune-telling cat, Gypsy’s Fortune (published by Peanut Butter Press) was chosen as a Best Bet in Canada, one of the top ten picture books of the year. I think everyone liked the traditional fortune cookie sayings! Novels are more difficult, but I have enjoyed doing a mystery series because I am a big fan of Nancy Drew.
EV: Do you approach the two genres differently? If so, what are some special challenges of each?
CS: The biggest challenge with the picture books, for me, is the art. I was not lucky enough to be born with artistic talent; in fact, it took me years to learn to paint. With the novels, the challenges come at that stage when the publisher assigns an editor. She then goes over the book piece by piece, and there is a lot of re-writing to do. With The Secret of the Golden Flower, the second book in my Nicki Haddon mystery series, my wonderful editor really worked hard to get it right. Nicki,the main character, is a female Chinese James Bond, and anytime a book has a number of clues, etc. the editing can take almost as much time as writing the book in the first place.
EV: Do you have any favorites among the books you’ve written?
CS: My two Skippers books, Skippers at Cape Spear and Skippers Save the Stone because they are about my dogs.
EV: Can you describe your writing process? Do you plot ahead of time? Become haunted by a theme or idea? Start with a character and then see where that leads?
CS: It usually takes me a few months to decide on my next project. Those are the months when my house is the cleanest, because I find it easier to wash floors than face the blank page. Once an idea hits, then my house isn’t so clean, because I can’t tear myself away from the computer. I always seem to know what my ending will be, and then I sketch out a basic plot, and a few sentences for each chapter. This inevitably changes, of course, once the characters start developing minds of their own and bossing me around. Sometimes, a book requires research. With The Manager I had to learn about boxing. Even though the book is a comedy, and boxing is just in the background, I still had to know it, right down to the last jab. EV:
The research really showed. I felt the world of boxing come alive when I read it. What was your inspiration for The Manager?
CS: One hot summer night, when I couldn’t sleep, I watched a movie called The Station Agentstarring Peter Dinklage, an achondroplastic dwarf, and a fantastic actor. I fell in love with him, and decided I had to write a YA novel with a dwarf character. I wound up with a female lead, but never stopped thinking about that film. Nothing much happens in that film, but thanks to the superb actors, it haunts you for a long time.
EV: What were some of your favorite books while growing up?
CS; The Wind in the Willows was my favorite illustrated book, and then Nancy Drew when I was a bit older. Later, of course, it was Tasha Tudor’s books, and Corgiville Fairis a masterpiece.
EV: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
CS: I keep this piece of advice on a sticky note on the front of my computer at all times: SOMEONE MUST WANT SOMETHING ON EVERY PAGE.
EV: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
CS: 1.) Don’t invent a book, experience a book and then write it. 2.) Don’t tell the reader anything; make the reader feel everything instead.
EV: What are you working on now, or can you say?
CS: I am starting a western, set in 1857 Utah Territory. Because I must learn the time period, speech, clothing, etc. I am taking longer than usual with the preparatory stages, but enjoying it. And I hope to begin editing a novel I have written about Janis Joplin called Saskatoon Blues. She came to Canada just before she died in 1970 to ride the Festival Express, and when the musicians aboard the train ran out of liquor, they made an unscheduled stop in Saskatchewan. That is where my story begins! There‘s only one problem with writing about Janis Joplin – she steals every scene she is in!
Ah . . . Janis Joplin. I can believe she would. When oldies-but-goodies come on my car's radio, she outshines all the other singers the DJ plays.
Caroline. It’s been such a pleasure to learn more about you and your work. Thank you for sharing all this.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth!
EV: Readers can find more about Caroline Stellings and her books at: