Book Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law
Sally Hepworth

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed The Mother-in-Law, an engaging family drama about money and secrets and a look at how adult children deal with problems. Set in Australia, the story opens with Lucy Goodwin, a stay-at-home mom with three children and her husband, Ollie. From the beginning, Lucy has never had a close relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana, who is cold and controlling, especially when it comes to the family’s vast fortune. And Diana has made it clear that Lucy doesn’t measure up. She’s also hard on Ollie and his sister, Nettie, denying them loans that would help them in their adult lives. She frequently points to the struggling women refugees she helps with her charity, her life’s passion. In contrast, Diana’s husband, Tom is friendly and generous, and has secretly loaned Ollie and Nettie money, setting up a complicated family dynamic.

When police discover Diana Goodwin’s body, the evidence suggests that she took her own life. Her family tells detectives that Diana, newly widowed, had breast cancer. But investigators think there’s more to the story.

In alternating chapters that jump between past and present, readers learn more about Lucy and Diana and begin to understand why Diana feels so strongly about withholding money from her children. After she denies Ollie a loan, Diana tells her husband, “I think Ollie could do with being a little hungry. A little hunger is good for young people.” She reminds Tom, “It was the making of you.” Readers also learn more about how the adult children regard their future inheritances and how the family relates to each other.

Despite its 340 pages, this is the type of book you can finish quickly because of its interesting storyline and characters. I especially liked seeing how the relationship between Diana and Lucy changes, offering an insight into how seemingly opposing characters are more connected than they realize.

I was less satisfied by the tie-up at the finish and how the big reveal omitted details about the investigation and its resolution. I think this book fits better in the women’s fiction and family drama genres and is less of a thriller or mystery. A couple grammar problems (the old “between he and I” mistake) detracted from its polish, which was otherwise excellent. I would definitely read another book by Sally Hepworth.

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On YouTube today: Short Story Share

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to tell you I’m over on YouTube today, showing you all the places where I find great short stories and a couple books to help you write them!

Hope to see you there 🙂

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Book Review: The Home Place – Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

The Home Place
Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature

J. Drew Lanham

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The best way to describe this book is to begin with the author. J. Drew Lanham is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist. He’s also an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University. Lanham’s essays and poetry have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. The Home Place is his memoir is about growing up in rural South Carolina and how he fell in love with nature, especially birding. Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk, says it best when she describes the book as “A groundbreaking work about race and the American landscape.”

Lanham talks about growing up with his three siblings in Edgefield during the 1970s. In addition to teaching high school, his parents ran a produce farm to make ends meet. Lanham and his brother and sisters were all expected to help on the farm and it was during these times that Lanham grew to love nature and the outdoors. “All that and the land were mine back then. I was the richest boy in the word, a prince living right there in backwoods Edgefield,” he writes.

Family relationships shaped Lanham in complex ways, from a commanding father who insisted on obedience and respect, to his widowed grandmother, Mamatha, who lived in a ramshackle house on their property and where Lanham spent many of his days and nights. Mamatha practiced both traditional black Baptist Christianity and her own form of spiritualism and herbalism. Lanham also talks about his brother and sisters. In a chapter titled, “A Field Guide to the Four,” he describes his siblings and how they each represent different birds: raven, falcon, swallow and hermit thrush.

Of equal importance are his experiences of being black in the deep south and how subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices have affected him. He talks about being a black birder, a rarity, and about feeling threatened out in the field, while observing birds in their habitats. He writes, “But my choice of career and my passion for wildness means that I will forever be the odd bird, the raven in the horde of white doves, the blackbird in a flock of snow buntings.” The impact of his prose lies in its gentle assertions, which are not argumentative, but deliver a powerful message about race in America.

Lanham writes beautifully about nature and about humans being just one part of a greater world. I like that idea and relate to both the words and the sights he describes. I attended a webinar this week where Lanham was a guest speaker and I enjoyed hearing him talk about his love of birding and nature. I highly recommend this book to those who like memoirs about nature and as a field guide to treating others without prejudice.

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YouTuber here!

Hi Everyone,

I know I’ve been talking a lot about YouTube, so please forgive one more post about it. I spent the weekend working on my channel and cleaning things up, including updating my YouTube page here on my blog.

I learned some cool things. If you’re also a YouTuber, you may already know them, but I thought I’d share them here. I’m definitely not trying to be an expert.

I basically went into the YouTube world knowing nothing. Just like blogging, really. And I have been learning as I go along. My videos were kind of all over the place, but working on my channel forced me to define myself and my brand more. That’s also just like blogging, isn’t it?

I’m really lucky to have kids who are way more in touch with YouTube and social media because they have helped me tremendously.

One of the things I learned yesterday was that you can design your own thumbnails instead of using the best of three possible ones YouTube gives you. I haven’t learned to edit my videos yet, so this was a great discovery because sometimes my face looked crazy in all three! I designed the thumbnails in Canva and I spent the whole day yesterday doing that, plus uploading them to YouTube, then putting them on my YouTube page here on my blog. It’s so tedious, but very satisfying once it’s done. And, thanks to the family member who gently reminded me that they are thumbnails, not thumbprints! Getting old is tough.

Last week I learned how to place social media widgets in my YouTube banner because, you know, getting the word out everywhere is the goal, just like everything.

The other thing I learned was how to make YouTube playlists so that your videos get more exposure. It was fun organizing the videos into different categories, which also helped me think about my brand.

And getting back to the blog, I have to say that I think I like the new block editor better. It’s a lot more powerful and I discovered a lot of new features today. That said, it’s definitely not obvious how to do things with the block editor.

Also, I can’t believe how great Canva is. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. They figure out so much for you and the free version has seemingly unlimited options and features.

So if you’re interested in seeing all my videos and their links (plus the thumbnails), you can do that here.

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On Books to Pen: Luann Is Lying

Hi Everyone,

If you like short, short fiction, maybe you’d like to try out Luann Is Lying over on my other blog, Books to Pen. These serial fiction posts are 250 words and are easy to follow.

You can read the latest post (Episode 5) here.

And if you want to start from the beginning, visit my Luann Is Lying page here.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading Luann Is Lying. If you’d like to follow this story and other creative writing posts, you can subscribe to Books to Pen here.

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Who’s That Indie Author? Faith Wilcox

Faith Wilcox

Author Name: Faith Fuller Wilcox

Genre: Memoir

Book: Hope is a Bright Star: A Mother’s Memoir of Love, Loss, and Learning to Live Again

Are you a full-time author? If not, what’s your side gig? Full-time author

Favorite author/books: Anthony Doerr…All the Light You Cannot See and Four Seasons in Rome

What experiences or people have influenced your writing the most? My interest in writing started in college and grew when I began a daily practice of writing in a journal twenty years ago. I started journal writing after my daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. I wrote to release feelings of anxiety, loss, and fear, and I wrote to record what happened during the day and night during my daughter’s cancer treatments. After Elizabeth died, I wrote of my maelstrom of grief and the depression I struggled with. In time, I wrote of my flickers of hope for healing and eventually, I wrote about where I found places and times of comfort and peace.

Do you keep a writing journal and if so, how do you use it? Yes. I continue to write in a journal. The journal entries that I’ve written over the past twenty years are the fiber of my memoir, Hope Is a Bright Star.

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If so, describe your experience: I don’t belong to a writing group but I studied poetry with Mark Doty and memoir with Paul Lisicky at the Juniper Institute which is part of the University of Massachusetts MFA Program in Creative Writing. I also take writing courses at Grub Street in Boston, MA.

Are you up with the sun or do you burn the midnight oil? Up with the sun!

How do you get over a writing slump? I take a break from writing and spend time in nature.

Do you prefer writing dialogue or descriptive passages? Descriptive passages

What are you working on now? I’ve been writing Hope is a Bright Star for several years and am working on early publicity prior to my pub date of June 8, 2021.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about writing and publishing a book? Write about a topic that you know well and you feel passionate about sharing. As far as publishing goes, be prepared! Work with an editor and make your manuscript as good as it can be before you send it to an agent or publisher. Write a strong book proposal too. Lastly, keep on trying to make contact with the publisher or agent in your genre. Never give up!

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which podcasts do you find the most interesting? Podcasts that focus of grieving and healing, finding meaning after loss, discovering healing after trauma.

Favorite escape: Walking along the shoreline of the sea or a lake.

Have you ever tried Kombucha tea?:  No, I haven’t but I might. I like tea much more than coffee.

Do you prefer a couch with pillows or no pillows? A couch with pillows.

Would you rather rake leaves, shovel snow or weed? Weed! For some reason I find weeding cathartic.

Favorite mask – disposable paper, plain fabric, colorful print or something else? Colorful print of various blues.

Biggest writing challenge since Covid-19: Feeling more isolated. Writing is always a singular exercise but I like to gather with others and share my writings. I’ve not been able to share my writing with friends like I used to do prior to Covid-19.

Website and social media links:
Facebook: @FaithFWilcox
Twitter: @FaithFWilcox
LinkedIn: Faith Wilcox

Awards: Hope is a Bright Star: A Mother’s Memoir of Love, Loss, and Learning to Live Again was a GOLD winner in the Nonfiction Book Awards program. Faith’s publisher, She Writes Press, is an award-winning hybrid indie press. See info below:

Are you an indie or self-published author?  Do you want to build your author network? Get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author!

Email for a bio template and other details.

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Today on YouTube – vintage knitting books and a surprise inside!

Hi Everyone,

I’m over on YouTube today and showing you some vintage knitting books and a surprise! I hope you’ll stop over and see!

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Book Review: The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight
Julie Clark

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Claire Cook wants out of her marriage to Rory Cook, a wealthy and influential Senate hopeful. After ten years, she’s tired of her endless obligations to the Cook Family Foundation, but mostly she’s had it with Rory’s hot temper and increasingly violent abuse. She plans an elaborate escape, with help from her friend, Petra, whose family is in the Russian mob. But a last-minute change in her work itinerary (orchestrated by her controlling husband) has her headed to Puerto Rico instead of Detroit. That’s bad, because Claire’s new identity, plus a lot of cash, are waiting for her at the Detroit hotel’s reception desk, where Rory is now headed instead.

At the airport, she meets Eva, who coincidentally, although headed back to her home in California, is desperate to escape her past. The two women trade plane tickets and identities and head to new gates. In a tragic development, the plane to Puerto Rico crashes, with no survivors. It’s possible, however, that Eva did not board the flight. Meanwhile, Claire lands in in San Francisco and, with nowhere else to go and only a few hundred dollars, heads to Eva’s house to start a new life.

This clever premise of this debut thriller caught my interest right away and I was eager to learn more about Eva and why she wanted to flee her life. In alternating chapters, Clark fills in the details of Eva’s past, with a lead-up to meeting Claire at the airport. In the other chapters, readers see how Claire manages at Eva’s house in Berkeley, a close walk from campus.

Readers get to know both women and learn of their intense need for friendship and belonging. Claire’s mother and sister died in a car crash and Eva, whose mother was a drug addict, grew up in an orphanage and various foster homes. Eva has led a secretive and solitary life and Claire, with no one to turn to, has suffered abuse in silence.

The tension in the story is driven by the dangerous life Eva longed to escape from as well as an emerging whistle-blower from Rory’s past, a threat to his campaign. In addition, as investigators piece together the events of the crash, Rory suspects Claire was not on the plane. Several unforeseen twists help explain the coincidence of Claire’s and Eva’s meeting as well as important relationships in Eva’s life.

It all comes together at the end, with a surprise explanation in the story’s epilogue.

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced thriller, although I recommend it with the standard suspension of disbelief as well as a willingness to accept that all males are evil. It would have been nice if a couple of the men in these women’s lives were decent people. A few plot holes and unresolved issues also left me a little unsatisfied. But, The Last Flight was a fun read and an nice escape and I would be interested in reading more by Julie Clark.

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On YouTube today – a book I got in Germany, a long time ago!

Hi Everyone,

I’m on YouTube today showing you a book I got in Germany, a very long time ago on a family trip. Take a look!

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Book Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
John Berendt

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This nonfiction novel is about a murder that took place at the historic Mercer House in Savannah, Georgia in 1980, the home of antiques dealer and historic preservationist Jim Williams. Williams, 50, was charged with shooting and killing Danny Hansford, a 21-year-old man who helped Williams with his antiques restoration business. Hansford was also a prostitute and Williams’s part-time lover. Williams was initially convicted, but various appeals and three retrials led to his ultimate acquittal in 1989. In a twist of fate, Williams died in his house eight months later, near where Hansford had fallen.

Berendt’s book was published in 1994, was an immediate best seller, won the 1995 Boeke Prize and was one of the finalists for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. It was made into a movie in 1997, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Berendt, an associate editor for Esquire, moved from New York to Savannah to research the story. He immersed himself in Savannah’s inner circle and his book describes both the people and downtown Savannah’s grand architecture which Williams and others helped to restore to its glory. I enjoyed reading about Savannah and its preserved community, which deliberately resisted commercial build-up. Like any place, Savannah had its politics, social conflicts and power-hungry people. What makes the story even more interesting are the colorful side-characters who play a role in the story, including a voodoo practitioner and Williams’s second attorney, who was a big University of Georgia fan and owner of the school’s bulldog mascot, Uga. Berendt also describes his unlikely friendships with Joe Odom, a fast-talking piano player and schemer and Chablis, a trans showgirl.

Williams himself was a fascinating character. He was well-known in Savannah, particularly for his lavish Christmas parties which were the social event of the year. Williams took particular delight in changing his guest list, removing those who weren’t worthy and adding new guests.

During the trials, Williams shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for his defense, but followed few of the details of the case, sure he would be acquitted. He was sentenced to life in prison after his first trial. While awaiting appeal, he ran his business from the local jailhouse phone, selling off antiques to pay his lawyers. With his help from jail, Williams’s mother kept Mercer House running, including hosting an elaborate luncheon for Savannah’s high society. Eventually, Williams was released and returned to business-as-usual, including hosting his annual Christmas party.

Even though this isn’t a new book, I’d recommend it for its interesting story and excellent writing. I knew nothing about Savannah and enjoyed envisioning its unique gardens and squares. I also enjoyed reading about the trials and how evidence was introduced, how the jurors reacted and how important this case was for Savannah’s new and very green district attorney.

Have you read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? Have you seen the movie? Leave a comment and let me know.

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