Short Story Review from: The Best American Short Stories 2004 – “Written in Stone” by Catherine Brady

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The 2004 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore.

I found myself immediately immersed in this story about an Iranian husband and his American wife, who separate after twenty years of marriage and try to navigate their new relationship. The narrator, a surgical nurse at a hospital in San Francisco, has told Hassan to leave because she cannot bear the thought of his betrayal. He’s moved in with a younger woman, an aspiring opera singer.

Hassan works as a liaison for a nonprofit that connects government, scientists and business and his overly gregarious nature has gotten him in trouble. He’s not being inappropriate, he tells his wife, he’s simply misunderstood. His behavior has gotten him into trouble before. Early in their marriage, they’d moved to Iran and lived with his family, during the fall of the Shah’s regime and the Ayatollah’s takeover. He’d talked too much, told too many jokes, and was picked up for questioning. They’d had to leave the country illegally.

Now, at Hassan’s insistence or maybe feelings of guilt or longing, he returns to their apartment once a week so they can have dinner together. Lately he tells her about his problems between him and the young singer. Some are because of the age difference, but one of the biggest problems for her is his drinking. The girlfriend doesn’t understand him, he complains to his wife. It’s a new dynamic between the narrator and Hassan, in which they analyze this new relationship. The reader sees them move back towards each other, through the routine of preparing meals together and talking companionably.

I enjoyed this story very much because of the contrast and similarities between Hassan’s marriage and their experiences in Iran. The author provides strong images of freedom, family loyalty, lush gardens with climbing roses, Persian cooking and dangerous political unrest. Hassan’s history and their marriage left me uncertain about their future together because I couldn’t quite decide if they would try or what concessions she would make, or even if they were concessions. I felt that they understood each other very well, but I wondered if that would be good for their marriage. I read this story twice and felt it even more the second time.

I highly recommend “Written in Stone” which the author wrote soon after 9/11.

Catherine Brady is an American short story writer. Her most recent collection, The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories, was published in 2009. Her second short story collection, Curled in the Bed of Love, was the co-winner of the 2002 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and a finalist for the 2003 Binghamton John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Brady’s first collection of short stories, The End of the Class War, was a finalist for the 2000 Western States Book Award in Fiction. Her stories have been included in Best American Short Stories 2004 and numerous anthologies and journals.

Brady received an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Hollins College and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts. She was elected to the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs in 2005 and served as Vice-President (2006) and President (2007). She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco.

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Books on my radar for 2021

It’s that time of the year – you know, when we look to anticipated books of the new year. I found these in a recent post by The Bibliofile: The Best Books of 2021 (Anticipated). Here’s what I picked from Jennifer Marie Lin’s list. All blurbs are from Amazon:

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson (March 23,2021)

I love psychological thrillers and this one caught my eye.

A bride’s dream honeymoon becomes a nightmare when a man with whom she’s had a regrettable one-night stand shows up in this electrifying psychological thriller from the acclaimed author of Eight Perfect Murders.


Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (May 25, 2021)

I enjoyed Reid’s debut novel, Daisy Jones & The Six so I was excited to see that she’s written a new book.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six . . . Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.


The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (February 2, 2021)

I’ve read and enjoyed two books by Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone and Firefly Lane. I also have The Nightingale on my TBR shelf. I like when I find an author I enjoy because of the promise of new books to read.

From Kristin Hannah, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone, comes an epic novel of love and heroism and hope, set against the backdrop of one of America’s most defining eras―the Great Depression.


I don’t always like to line books up to read because I get discouraged when I can’t get to them right away. The publication dates of these are spread out so I’m hoping to be able to fit them in. I’ve also requested them on NetGalley so we’ll see if I’m lucky enough to be approved.

What books are you looking forward to reading next year?

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Book Club Mom’s Author Update: Deborah A. Olson, RN, M.A. LPC

Deborah A. Olson

Author name: Deborah A. Olson, RN, M.A. LPC

Genre: Nonfiction/Self-help

Book: The Healing Power of Girlfriends: How to Create Your Best Life Through Female    Connection

News: In my work as a psychotherapist working with women’s mental health issues, I often get asked “How do I make new friends?” The desire to make new friends and nurture existing friendships is almost ubiquitous. Especially now during the pandemic when so many people feel alone, disconnected, isolated, a circle of friends to support us, encourage us, and share life with is vital.

My book, The Healing Power of Girlfriends: How to Create Your Best Life Through Female Connection, equips women with ideas and practical tips on how to make new friends and develop deeper bonds of friendship.

It’s very exciting to share the news that my book has won three awards since its release in March 2019!

  • Gold award in Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards in the Nonfiction, Self-Help category
  • Bronze award in the Nonfiction Book Awards
  • Bronze award in the Living Now Book Awards in the Nonfiction, Self-Help category

It is my hope that many more women will benefit from the tips in the book and come together in an even stronger bond of friendship as we weather the storms of life.

Website/blog link: https://deborah-olson.com/

Are you working on a new book? Have you won an award or a writing contest? Did you just update your website? Maybe you just want to tell readers about an experience you’ve had. Book Club Mom’s Author Update is a great way to share news and information about you and your books.


Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

Open to all authors – self-published, indie, big-time and anything in between. Author submissions are limited to one per author in a six-month period.

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What’s That Movie? In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I recently watched In the Heart of the Sea, the 2015 film by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth. It’s based on the excellent book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick. Philbrick’s account is the true story of the Essex, a whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which sank in the Pacific Ocean when it was attacked by a sperm whale. Survivors jumped in three whaling boats and drifted aimlessly for months, with little food or water. Of the twenty-one men on the ship, only eight survived. This is the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.

I liked the book very much and was looking forward to watching the movie but I was disappointed in the movie version of this story for a couple reasons. The Essex was indeed attacked by a whale which caused it to sink, but in the movie, the whale chases and attacks the smaller whaling boats (think row boats) with a vengeance, all around the Pacific. And with the way Chris Hemsworth becomes obsessed with this whale, I kind of felt like I was watching Moby Dick. In addition, while I have no knowledge of how to harpoon a whale, it seemed unrealistic to me that Hemsworth could throw one harpoon, let out the line and that would be enough to wear it down and bring it in, something that happened earlier in the movie,

Otherwise the movie was enjoyable to watch and what comes out clearly is the power of nature and how vulnerable these men were thousands of miles away from land. There was nothing glamorous about life at sea in the 1800s and the movie does a good job showing how difficult it was.

So all-in-all an okay Hollywood movie with the typical clichés. With a $100 million budget, the movie was a bit of a flop and has a 43% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can read more about the movie here.

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Audiobook review: Inside Out by Demi Moore

Inside Out
by
Demi Moore

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When you’re a celebrity, your image is a product of the media and what you want to share about yourself, and those things are often at odds. I recently listened to Demi Moore’s memoir, Inside Out to find out more about an actress who was very present in the entertainment world beginning in the 1980s. I knew all about her movies, including St Elmo’s Fire and A Few Good Men and of course her famous marriages to Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher. But I didn’t know much about her childhood and how she became an actress.

It turns out Demi Moore had a pretty bad childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and her parents fought constantly, and they moved a lot, to get away from creditors. This unstable childhood forced Moore to live her life in survival mode, a mode she carried with her into her adult life.

Unfortunately, her confidence was only on the surface, but it was so believable that it led people to think that she could handle tough situations. Underneath, she desperately needed taking care of. Because of her father’s alcoholism, she was determined to avoid the devastating effects of addiction, but she could not and her memoir covers these years with honesty. She openly discusses her relationship with alcohol and later other drugs, and how these dependencies nearly wrecked her relationship with her family.

Having a mother who wanted to be in the limelight as much as Moore was also difficult and they had a tumultuous relationship because of it. In the end, Moore found a way to forgive her mother and love her.

I enjoyed listening to Moore’s memoir, which she narrates and which makes much of her story relatable. I also liked hearing about her marriage to Bruce Willis and give them credit for keeping their split amicable. But it’s also the point in the memoir where Moore seems to make a lot of bad decisions. She talks about her marriage to Ashton Kutcher who was only twenty-five when they met and fifteen years younger than Moore. There’s a lot of bitterness in that story.

There seems to be a shift in the later part of Moore’s tone as she talks about the years when her daughters refused to speak to her. By then, Moore was in her fifties, still drinking and using drugs and readers and listeners might think it was about time she held herself accountable.

But in the end, the point is that all anyone wants is to be happy so I was glad to hear that she was able to pull herself out of the mess even though you can’t help but think she made much of it herself in the later years.

Inside Out is a very fast listen. It’s not full of substance, but it’s intelligently told and I’d recommend it to readers/listeners who like celebrity memoirs.

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Blog views and other obsessions – the block editor

After a lot of talk and several blog posts about the new block editor, I finally made the switch. That’s why my blog looks a little different. I have to say, I mostly like it, but I’ve been frustrated about a couple things. I figured one out, but I’m pretty sure there’s no way to do the second one.

Shortlinks

Anyone have trouble finding where they are? After clicking around and around I finally looked it up and discovered it’s easy:

In Edit Post, click on the greet Jetpack icon located in the upper right of your screen. The Shortlink is about half-way down the vertical scroll sidebar. Problem solved!

Look for this icon.

Wrapping text around images

This has really puzzled me. That was one of the features in Classic Editor I used a lot. There’s a block called Media and Text that lets you put text next to an image, but it doesn’t wrap when the text runs below the image. Here’s what happens:

Here’s a nice image of a Thanksgiving turkey that I downloaded from Pexels. I used the Media and Text block. I selected Normal size font and you can see that once the text block becomes longer than the image, it doesn’t wrap around it.

Has anyone else run into this problem? How would you fix it? I’ve tried looking it up and after about twenty minutes, I gave up. I’m wondering if I care enough to figure it out or if I should just adapt to the new way of doing things. I guess you could end your text block just as it reaches the end of the image…

In general, I like the block editor and I really like the star rating block. That comes in really handy and I like how you can use the half stars.

What has your experience been? Leave a comment below and thanks for visiting!

Checking in

Hi Everyone, just sharing this NaNoWriMo update – I’ve been busy tapping away on my keyboard and haven’t had as much time to read other bloggers’ posts. I’m easing back in now so I’ll be seeing you soon!

Books to Pen

Hello! Just checking in with anyone else who may be participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Phew – I’m half-way through my 50,000 word goal and having a lot of fun, but I’ll admit that, despite staying on pace with the 1,667 words per day, the first week or so was a bit of a mess. I’ve finally found a plot and I’m working on some characters!

I don’t expect the results to resemble anything worth publishing, but it’s a great way to escape and to exercise my mind.

So, who else has taken on the NaNoWriMo challenge and how’s it going for you? Leave a comment and tell me how you’re doing!

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Audiobook review: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty narrated by Caroline Lee

Nine Perfect Strangers
by
Liane Moriarty

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Here’s a very different story about nine people who sign up for a ten-day cleanse at Tranquillum House, a pricey boutique health and wellness resort in Australia. Its guests expect mindful eating, meditation and a break from their bad habits, unhealthy lifestyles and failures. Some of the guests just want to lose weight or cut back on alcohol, one couple wants to work on their marriage, and others have more specific issues. The director promises a complete transformation.

“Right now you’re at the foot of a mountain and the summit seems impossibly far away, but I am here to help you reach that summit. In ten days, you will not be the person you are now,” promises Masha, Tranquillum House’s director.

“You will leave Tranquillum House feeling happier, healthier, lighter, freer,” she continues.

The attendees are indeed strangers, but as expected, they will soon learn a great deal about each other. Frances Welty is a successful romance novelist, but she’s been burned in a relationship and she may be losing her touch as a writer. Ben and Jessica are a young couple whose lives should be great after winning the lottery, but their marriage is in big trouble. Napoleon, Heather and Zoe Marconi are there to brace the third anniversary of Zoe’s brother’s death. Tony Hogburn, a former football star, is divorced and out of shape. Carmel Schneider is a single mother of four young girls, whose husband left her for someone new. And Lars Lee is a handsome divorce lawyer struggling with relationship problems.

The cleanse includes the expected smoothies, fasting, massages and meditation. Masha and her assistants Yao and Delilah also impose an unexpected “noble silence” which forbids talking and eye contact with each other. And there’s more to come.

Frances knows that some of the practices at Tranquillum House are unconventional. Her massage therapist warned her and said, “Just don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.” But other than fasting and silence, which is pretty uncomfortable, Frances feels pretty good. And so do others. They have all put their trust in Masha, mostly.

Here’s where the story gets interesting because Masha isn’t an ordinary health resort director. She’s a Russian immigrant who’s undergone her own major transformation. Once an aggressive corporate star, she didn’t take care of herself and nearly died. Her eventual awakening motivated her to reinvent herself and  teach others how to do the same.

What comes next for the guests is indeed unconventional.

I downloaded Nine Perfect Strangers on a whim, looking for something to listen to while I walked. I’d listened to Truly Madly Guilty a couple years ago and liked it. And I read What Alice Forgot in 2014 and enjoyed that story too.

Nine Perfect Strangers is described as a mystery, suspense and thriller and that is basically true. But it’s a bigger story about flawed people who change in some ways, but also embrace who they are. I enjoyed listening to this story and the narrator does a great job with the voices. I think the audio version is all the better because of her portrayal of Masha, who to me is the most interesting character in the story. I recommend Nine Perfect Strangers to readers (and listeners) who like a good, long story about relationships, overcoming grief and personal and family crises.

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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

Hi Everyone – I was just talking about In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick with a work friend and thought I’d share this post from 2014, an actual account of a whaling ship in the 1800s, an event that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.

Book Club Mom

In the Heart of the Sea
In the Heart of the Sea

by
Nathaniel Philbrick

Rating:

I had a general idea about what life as a whaleman was like in the 1800s. Things were a lot harder for everyone back then, so in my mind, I added the risk of being on a ship in the high seas and trying to harpoon a huge whale while standing in an open row boat.

That sounds hard enough, but after reading In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, I came to understand that while whaling was a lucrative enterprise for the ship owners, captains and officers, it was also a seriously dangerous business for everyone on the ship. Nantucket whalers were out at sea for long periods of time, and once the whaling business had exhausted the local supply of sperm whales, ships had to sail all the way around South America and into the…

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Who’s That Indie Author? Michelle Cameron

Author Name: Michelle Cameron

Genre: Historical Fiction. Jewish historical fiction, to be more precise.

Books: In the Shadow of the Globe – a verse novel about the life and loves of William Shakespeare

The Fruit of Her Hands: the story of Shira of Ashkenaz – about my 13th Century rabbi ancestor

Beyond the Ghetto Gates  – about Napoleon’s freeing Italy’s Jews from their restrictive ghetto during his 1796-7 military campaign. Awarded a Silver Medal in Historical Fiction from the Independent Book Publishers Awards.

Are you a full-time author? If not, what’s your side gig? I wish I could be a full-time author! Maybe when I retire…. But my side gig complements my own writing – I am a director of The Writers Circle, a NJ-based organization that offers workshops and events in creative writing to children, teens, and adults. With the pandemic, we’ve gone completely virtual, so our instructors and students come from all over the world.

Favorite author/books: I read (and re-read) daily, so this is a tough question. I am the ultimate Jane Austen fan, however – with the t-shirt to prove it, bought during a Janeite pilgrimage to Bath! And since I wanted to immerse myself in that time period while writing Beyond the Ghetto Gates, I happily re-read every book she wrote while working on my own.

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? I learn something from every book I read ever since I began to “read like a writer.” And the fact that I attended high school in Israel means I received a far more in-depth education in Jewish history than I would have in the US, something that comes in handy while writing Jewish historical fiction!

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? I don’t keep a writing journal. My limited writing time goes to my current project.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: I used to belong to a writer’s group when I was just getting serious about my writing and was very much encouraged by my fellow writers. Now that I’m working at The Writers Circle, I don’t have time for a writers’ group myself. However, I have many writer friends who are willing to beta read my work – and I’m happy to return the favor!

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? Up with the sun, definitely! When I was still working a full-time job and had a young family, I would wake up at 4:30 am to write – and did that for some five years. These days, that’s not necessary, but I do try and fit in some writing first thing every morning.

How do you get over a writing slump? By sitting down anyway and writing terrible, terrible prose. I call these my “chipping rock” days. Whether I find a kernel of goodness inside that I can further develop or end up throwing the entire section out, I still keep my date with the muse.

This, by the way, is a phrase borrowed by my youngest son, who is himself a talented writer. He called his muse Angela and had a set time of day when he kept his own date with her. Sometimes she’d stand him up, but he always kept faith.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? I’m definitely a dialogue girl – it comes naturally to me and I love when my characters speak to one another (and to me). Description comes harder and in fact, I always add a descriptive pass during revision, when I focus on more fully fleshing out the setting. As a historical novelist, getting the place right is critical.

What are you working on now? A sequel to Beyond the Ghetto Gates. Napoleon’s next adventure was a curious military and scientific expedition to Egypt and Israel, mainly undertaken to harm British interests in the region. He gathered some 126 savants – artists and scientists – and brought them along with his loyal troops. He triumphed until he reached Acre (Akko) when a combined Turkish and British force handed him his first defeat.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? Find a community of like-minded writers to share the work with and get it into the best possible shape possible. Publication can be a hard and discouraging road these days, so it shouldn’t be the only goal. Loving to sit down and write (or, at the very least, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, loving have written) has to be any aspiring writer’s ultimate reward.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which podcasts do you find the most interesting? I love podcasts about books and craft in particular. And a dear friend, Susanne Dunlap, is recording an amazing series about historical novels, It’s Just Historical. I was honored to be one of her early guests.

Favorite escape: Reading. Best done while soaking in a tub.

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea? I have not.

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? With just enough pillows so I can recline comfortably. Not too many to prevent me from sitting up.

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed? I used to love raking leaves on a sunny autumn day, but I don’t do it much anymore. I do still shovel snow out of sheer necessity, but I don’t enjoy it. And I never liked weeding.

Favorite mask – disposable paper, plain fabric, colorful print or something else? I have all three and wear them interchangeably. I think my plain fabric masks feel the most comfortable and cover the nose and mouth most securely, but they do fog up my glasses, which the disposable paper is less inclined to do. So it depends on what I’m doing out in the world. But I’m fortunate that I’m an introvert anyway and all my work and promotion these days is done virtually. I don’t go out except for walks and to the supermarket.

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: Ironically, time to write. This is because a lot of planning went into moving all of The Writers Circle’s in-person workshops, summer programs, and events virtual all of a sudden in mid-March. TWC’s response to the pandemic was to offer even more writing programs – an entire new schedule of shorter-session virtual workshops to help combat isolation. Coordinating all of this took a great deal of planning and was complicated by the fact that my novel was published in April. So all of my promotional events had to be either offered via Zoom or rescheduled, and I had to invest much more time into my social media efforts.

Website and social media links:
Website: https://michelle-cameron.com
Facebook: @michellecameronauthor
Instagram: michellecameronwriter
Twitter: @mcameron_writer


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