Have you ever noticed how often the books we read include characters who (or is it that – someone please tell me the rule!) are writers? Some are novelists, poets, journalists or podcasters. Some are based on real-life writers. Many are struggling with their careers. They’ve either made it big and are losing their touch, or they’ve written one successful book, but haven’t written a second. Still others have made it big but struggle with the fame. These characters aren’t always the main part of the story, but many are.
I wonder if I’m just drawn to this kind of book? Here’s a list of what I’ve read:
Are you enjoying your summer reading? Get some help filling out your Adult Summer Reading BINGO card! Join us on Tuesday, August 3 at 1 pm as we share lists and information about fairytale and folklore retellings.
Amber Reynolds lies in a hospital bed in London, in a coma. She doesn’t remember what put her there and she might not be able to open her eyes, but she can hear everything her visitors say. As she tries to piece together what happened that Christmas night, she listens for clues from her husband, Paul and her sister, Claire. Thinking Amber can’t hear them, Paul and Claire speak freely, but many questions remain. As Amber slowly remembers the events that led up to her accident, readers learn a complicated back story about Amber, her job as a radio presenter, her family and childhood and a best friend named Taylor.
Feeney presents this thriller in a then, now and before format, including a girlhood diary, depicting a lonely and forgotten child whose parents drink and argue. The story inevitably leads to Amber’s return to consciousness, to a world where lies abound. A series of multi-leveled twists present the reader with a surprising, shake-your-head finish.
I enjoyed reading Sometimes I Lie because it fits right into the entertaining thriller genre in which readers don’t want to figure everything out ahead of time. There’s also the typical requirement of the reader’s suspension of disbelief. If you’re a medical person, don’t question the diagnosis or hospital rules and procedures. If you’re a logical person, don’t question why someone would do things or how they could get away with them. Just go along for the ride.
While I enjoyed the story, I felt that the last few chapters were not just surprising and over-the-top, but too confusing and manipulative. I’m all for leaving out crucial details because they’d spoil the ending, but the author dumps a lot of these at the end and that’s what led to me shaking my head.
All in all, however, Sometimes I Lie is an entertaining read, good for summer because it’s fast and doesn’t require deep reading.
Here’s what some other bloggers are saying about Sometimes I Lie:
Brief bio: Tabitha (Tobey) Forney writes books to appease the voices in her head. She’s a mom, attorney, and yoga devotee who lives in Houston with her three kids and a husband who was on the 85th floor of the North Tower on 9/11 and lived to tell about it.
What got you started as a writer? As a child, I inhaled books. But when I was ten, my mother married the austere son of a Pentecostal preacher who disapproved of my reading. He dismissed books and higher education as useless endeavors and tried to teach the six of us (half his, half hers) that manual labor and the ruthless pursuit of money were the only worthwhile endeavors. I spent hours in the reading nook of my elderly neighbors, who provided me with lemonade and cookies while I would read to my heart’s content.
Even though I processed the world through books as a child, I never thought I could write one. I started to explore writing in my twenties, just before having children. I’m also a practicing attorney, though, and once I had kids I had little time for anything else.
I did finally start writing in 2007, and in 2009 I met my best friend who is also a writer. At the time, she was further down the road than I, and we instantly bonded over our love for writing. She was a huge inspiration to me, and showed me that with enough effort and determination, I could be a writer too.
What difficult experience has helped you as a writer? Ironically, getting an agent in 2017 and then parting ways with her in 2018 was not only one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life, but it showed me that when something doesn’t feel right, it’s not, and to follow my gut rather than conventional wisdom. With my agent’s direction, I spent over a year gutting and re-writing my novel to introduce a new character. We were about to go out on submission when she left her agency and told me she couldn’t take me with her due. In the end, I unraveled everything I did, restored the book as it was meant to be (Paper Airplanes), and rewrote the story of the new character, Rosie, into a book that is better than before. So now instead of one book written with somebody else’s vision, I have two books that I am happy to launch into the world. Ultimately, parting with her was the best thing to happen to me.
Have you ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, how many times and what was your experience? I have! Paper Airplanes was actually birthed during NaNoWriMo 2015. I am planning to participate in 2021 with a new project I’m very excited about. While the book that you write in a month may not be even close to the final project, NaNoWriMo gives writers momentum and propels books into being.
What advice would you give a new indie author hoping to publish a book? Never. Give. Up. Keep writing until you’re happy with your work. And make sure you surround yourself with people who will be honest with you. It might hurt, but it teaches you how to fix the problem.
What has been the biggest challenge for you during Covid? Learning how to work and manage three kids’ school schedules and still have time to write was tough. I developed new respect for teachers. Not being able to see my elderly mother was also really hard. And confronting an existential threat every single day was no joke, as we all know!
What are you reading right now? I am listening to the audiobook of Blow Your House Down by Gina Frangello. It’s gripping. I’m impressed with and inspired by her bravery and honesty, and her writing is crisp and original.
Would you rather laugh or cry over a book? Both! I think a good book will have me doing both in the course of an hour. I strive to bring humor into my books, which is more difficult to achieve than one would think.
Have you ever climbed a tree to read a book? Yes, definitely.When I was child, it was another way I escaped from my abusive stepfather. He wore boots all the time and never looked up.
Have you ever dropped a book in the tub, in a pool or in the ocean? Not in the ocean, but many times on the sandy beach, and once in the toilet. Oops!
Could you live in a tiny house? For about a week, yes. Maybe.
What are the small things that make you happy? Yoga, French fries, dark chocolate, good coffee, The Lumineers, comfortable shoes, happy people, and staring at the sky, whether cloudy or starry.
“The Casual Car Pool” by Katherine Bell from The Best American Short Stories 2006
Rating: 4 out of 5.
When a parachute jumper snags his chute on the ropes of the Bay Bridge that leads to San Francisco, readers get a look inside the lives of three strangers in a car pool. The driver, Ian, has picked up his passengers in Oakland and they are stalled just near the end of the Yerba Buena tunnel. A woman named Hannah sits in the front seat and Julia, fifteen, sits in the back. In the beginning, they follow ridesharing’s unspoken rules. No conversation except maybe the traffic and weather.
Ian, Hannah and Julia may not say much, but their actions and their thoughts tell their back stories. Ian is married, but just that morning backed out of their driveway and thought, “If I wanted to, I could leave today and never go back.” Hannah holds in her lap a thick manilla envelope with sperm donor candidates. Annoyed that morning at her lover, Kate, she grabbed it before showing it to her. Julia has skipped school and is headed to meet a Mormon runaway named Isaac, where they will panhandle for money that she will hand over to him at the end of the day.
Meanwhile the jumper hangs and realized that “somehow, by jumping, he had stopped the morning.”
I’ve always liked how short stories reveal just a segment of people’s lives. Here, I like the details the author decided to include. By including only a few details, Bell shows how her characters act in that moment and with only a hint of what will happen after the story ends. Bell’s story touches on relationships and parenthood, privilege and need and the impact strangers can have on your thoughts.
About the Author (taken from the back of this 2006 edition and from Ploughshares):
“Katherine Bell grew up in Cardiff, Wales, and New Jersey. “The Casual Car Pool” was her second story published in Ploughshares. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently works as online managing editor at Cook’s Illustrated, teaches writing at Harvard Extension School and Lesley University, and blogs for the Huffington Post. She is also working on her first novel and a book about quilting.
I highly recommend these collections of Best American Short Stories. I’ve never been disappointed by the stories I’ve read.
Brief bio: I began my career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board after graduating from Penn State and later studied German language and literature at the University of Delaware. When I decided to stay at home full-time with my children, I began writing fiction.
What got you started as a writer? I wrote constantly when I was on my high school’s yearbook staff and also while I was a student of German. When my youngest went to kindergarten, I started a genealogy project that took on a life of its own and became a novel.
What difficult experience has helped you as a writer? Parenting two very different children has helped me become a more empathetic person and has taught me many valuable lessons about human nature. Understanding people is the key to creating complex, believable characters.
Have you ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, how many times and what was your experience? I haven’t yet. It’s on my bucket list.
What advice would you give a new indie author hoping to publish a book? Query agents for at least a year before you approach an indie press or self-publish. I received so much helpful feedback while querying and ended up making major revisions to my novel. All those rejections helped me grow as a writer.
What has been the biggest challenge for you during Covid? The biggest challenge was having my husband and kids at home. I’m used to writing in a very quiet house with my dog at my feet, so I got very little accomplished during quarantine.
What are you reading right now? I’m reading The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff and listening to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
Would you rather laugh or cry over a book? I’m always up for a good cry.
Have you ever climbed a tree to read a book? Yes! When I was in elementary and middle school, I used to read in trees all the time, but only on the low branches. I have a fear of heights.
Have you ever dropped a book in the tub, in a pool or in the ocean? I have never dropped a book in the water, but the wind blew my favorite bookmark into the pool just a few weeks ago. It’s a drawing of Jabba the Hut and Salacious Crumb that my son made for me when he was ten and thoroughy obsessed with Star Wars. Luckily, I fished the bookmark out with a skimmer before it sustained any real damage.
Could you live in a tiny house? I could probably live in a tiny house if I only had to share it with my dog.
What are the small things that make you happy? Snow, cherry blossoms, pumpkins, and dogs always put a smile on my face, but nothing beats watching my kids play baseball and soccer.
How do you review a 700-page book that many people have already read? I’m not really sure, but I’m going to give it a try. I’m very late in the game in reading The Thorn Birds, so if you haven’t read it yet (or watched the miniseries-next up for me) and are interested, I’ll try not to give too much away.
Wow, you can’t really tear through a book as big as this, but I have to say, I enjoyed every word of it and looked forward to reading it every chance I got. So in that sense, I did tear through it, but it took about two weeks. Reading this big book reminded me of how satisfying it is to really dig into a story and feel invested in the characters and the plot. So yay for big books and too bad we’re so afraid of them these days.
The Thorn Birds is mostly set in the outback of New South Wales, Australia, but includes storylines in North Queensland, New Zealand, Italy, and England. I very much enjoyed McCullough’s descriptions of the story’s main setting, the fictional area of Gillanbone and the family’s sheep farm called Drogheda. To give you perspective, this is not a small sheep farm. It encompasses a massive amount of land, two hundred and fifty thousand acres, and carries about one hundred and twenty-five thousand merino sheep, whose wool is the finest wool out there.
The story begins in 1915, spans fifty years and follows three generations of the Cleary family. Early in the story, Fee Cleary, whose great grandfather had come to New Zealand from England as a prisoner, and her husband, Paddy Cleary, an Irish immigrant, move from New Zealand to Australia where Paddy will have a job working on the farm owned by his older sister, Mary Carson. The Clearys have five sons and one daughter, Meggie, who becomes one of the main characters in the story. More children follow but Meggie is the only girl. And already at four years old, she’s remarkably pretty, with golden red hair and beautiful eyes.
Another central character is Father Ralph de Bricassart, a young priest who has been assigned to Gillanbone after insulting a bishop. When Father Ralph meets the Cleary family, he’s particularly drawn to young Meggie and, without understanding it, takes her under his wing.
Something important to note: Father Ralph is tall, dashing, athletic and a gorgeous human specimen. These features are also his private curse as he tries to keep his vocation as a priest in front of his earthly existence as a man, particularly as Meggie grows into a young woman. Meggie, too, has developed strong feelings for Ralph.
The Clearys endure many struggles during the Depression and World War II, and emerge from them changed. What’s curious is how none of the Cleary children feel a need to leave Drogheda, and those who do suffer greatly. It takes the third generation to branch out beyond the farm.
Building romantic tension and Ralph’s inner conflict make this story a hot page-turner and the storyline kept me interested from beginning to end. I won’t give the ending away, which surprised me, but when I think back, I see a few hints at the way things develop.
I highly recommend The Thorn Birds for readers who enjoy family sagas and stories about relationships and conflict. It’s worth the effort and in my mind, is one of those books that younger readers should take a look at, even though it was popular decades ago.
Books: Do Not Disclose (8/24/21), Keep Her, When She Sleeps, Juvenile Court
Brief bio: Leora Krygier is a former Los Angeles Superior Court, Juvenile Division judge. She’s the author of When She Sleeps, praised by Newsweek, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus. When She Sleeps was also a New York Public Library Selection for “Best Books for the Teen Age.” She’s also the author of Juvenile Court: A Judges Guide for Young Adults and their Parents and Keep Her, a young adult novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, David.
What got you started as a writer? I started writing little stories, poems and micro-autobiographies when I was in third grade. I loved going to my local public library and sitting on the floor in between the stacks. It was there that I started dreaming of seeing my name one day on a bookshelf. It felt like something magical and permanent to write a book, something that would outlast me.
What difficult experience has helped you as a writer? As writers, we absorb and observe everything around us – people, places, events, along with all our good and bad experiences. I started writing fiction so I could make up the stories I wanted to read. Much harder was to write a memoir, my current book, with real people and real events that happened to me and my family. Knowing the truth about my family, learning that my best friend from childhood was actually my sister, was a difficult but freeing experience and writing about it was hard but also cathartic.
Have you ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, how many times and what was your experience? I haven’t participated in this.
What advice would you give a new indie author hoping to publish a book? Publishing used to be a sort of “old boys club” where few writers were chosen by a small, select group of New York City publishers. We are luckier today with the advent of self, hybrid and boutique publishers. New voices can now be heard and this democratization of books is good for everyone. That said, because of the new (and large) influx of books on the market, it’s not easy to be found or heard, even once a book is published. You have to be prepared to work as hard or maybe even harder at marketing your book than writing it and you have to have realistic expectations. Also, it’s a good idea to contribute to the general conversation out there – pitch articles, personal essays or your own expertise. Every article you write, every IG or Facebook post you make is a piece of the publishing puzzle.
What has been the biggest challenge for you during Covid? Hardest for me, like many others, was not to be able to see and hug the people I loved. Also, not to be out and about to plan, look for and find new experiences. Yet, Covid was certainly a time for reflection and gratitude and an understanding of what is important. Time seemed to stand still and melt away quickly, both at the same time. Covid gave me more time to read, walk and think. I think we will all incorporate some of the lessons we learned about ourselves and the world post-Covid.
What are you reading right now? I’m actually rereading a classic – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Every once in a while, I go back to the classics I read in high school, especially the ones with female protagonists and female writers. I’m blown away by the fact that despite the fact that Jane Eyre was written in the late 1800’s, the novel has not only stood the test of time but continues to be relevant, beloved and appreciated today.
Would you rather laugh or cry over a book? I think I’d rather have a good cry, even though I always hope there are some lighter moments in a book.
Have you ever climbed a tree to read a book? Not exactly “climbed,” but my parents had a large tree in front of their house that had a little half-wall around it where I would sit, play “imaginary kitchen” and read until dark.
Have you ever dropped a book in the tub, in a pool or in the ocean? Well, almost. Does spilling an entire large cup of coffee count? I’ve got a few older, but treasured books with coffee stains that I don’t have the heart to throw away. A few stuck-together pages don’t seem to bother me.
Could you live in a tiny house? Hmmm, a tiny house. I’ve lived in tiny apartments in Paris and Saint Tropez, so the thought of living in a tiny house is both challenging and intriguing. I do love the notion of paring down and living only with what is absolutely necessary. But my tiny house would have to be on a piece of land that included a creek, a forest or a mountain within sight.
What are the small things that make you happy? Reading, starting to think about and writing a new book, taking photographs, shopping, (especially after a year of Covid) traveling, hiking, and chocolate.