Spotlight on Indie Authors Jan – June 2022

Hi Everyone! Today I want to give special recognition to these indie authors and their books! Click/tap on their names to meet them.

From left Bjørn Larssen, Leon Stevens, Mark Paxson, Geoff Le Pard

From left, Darlene Foster, Christina Consolino, Anne Goodwin, Thomas “Buddy” Bardenwerper


And while you’re at it, take a look at some of the books they’ve written!


Would you like to be featured on Who’s That Indie Author? Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

Have you already been featured? No problem – share your author news on Book Club Mom’s Author Update.

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

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Book Review: French Braid by Anne Tyler

French Braid
by
Anne Tyler

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I had to wait a long time to get Anne Tyler’s twenty-fourth novel from the library, but it was worth it! Back in the 80s and 90s, I read a lot of her books. Despite the time lapse, I’ve found it easy to fall back into the familiar rhythm of Tyler’s writing style.

As with her other books, French Braid is about marriage and family relationships. Set in Baltimore, Tyler looks at three generations of the Garrett family and asks the question, “What is a normal family?” Because the Garretts seem anything but normal. They’re disjointed and noncommunicative, even when they’re together. Past hurts remain buried, but show themselves in unexpected moments. Many of them have solitary personalities. Others don’t know how to connect. Robin, for example, adores Mercy, but he’s awkward around her. And Mercy is too caught up in her painting to notice.

French Braid isn’t a chronological story. Tyler jumps around and readers get to know the family through a variety of situations and points of view. She begins with Serena in 2010, returning from Philadelphia with her college boyfriend. On the train, they argue about families. The boyfriend is baffled by Serena’s detached comments, especially after they’d run into a cousin she’d barely recognized at the train station. She tries to explain why they don’t see that side of the family much. “It’s Uncle David, really. My mom says she can’t understand it. He used to be so outgoing when he was a little boy…”

Soon we’re back in 1959 when Robin and Mercy take their three children on their only family vacation This first generation of Garretts are all a little detached. Mercy spends her time painting, leaving the meals to Alice. Lily meets a boy. Robin heads to the lake and David, just seven years old, seems happy to stay out of the water and play by himself. He does not want to learn to swim and grows quiet at the suggestion.

Next it’s 1970 and David heads off to college. Robin and Mercy talk about their empty nest and what they will do together, but Mercy has her own plans, edging bit by bit away from her husband.

I don’t want to give more away, so I’ll stop here. I’ve had to think about this book to let it sink in. The Garretts are frustratingly distant, especially Mercy. At first, it seems to be only a bunch of unrelated snippets of time, but then you begin to see a connection between generations. For example, I didn’t like Mercy because I thought she was selfish, but later when I saw how she connected with her granddaughter, Candle, I felt I understood her better. Still selfish though, in my opinion!

Over time, the family reassembles in haphazard ways. Interestingly, it’s a couple of the in-laws who smooth the rough edges and help their spouses understand. What it all comes down to is that there is no real definition of family. Tyler also seems to suggest is that the Garretts need to define themselves as individuals, alone.

French Braid is a deceptively simple story that explores uncomfortable family dynamics. In the end, I felt understood the Garretts better. Like everyone, they’re just looking for happiness. At the finish, Tyler brings us to the present as David and his family manage during the pandemic. David’s heartening connection with his grandson makes you feel full of hope for the whole group.

This sounds like a depressing story, but it’s not! It’s full of both touching and amusing moments. Tyler’s ability to see into the complex ways families relate to each other comes through time and again. I enjoyed French Braid very much and recommend it to readers who like stories about marriage, families and relationships.

Check out my reviews of these other books by Anne Tyler:

The Beginner’s Goodbye
Breathing Lessons
A Spool of Blue Thread

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Good news about my spam!

This is just a quick follow-up to let you know that the steps I took to tighten the security on my WordPress account have greatly reduced the number of spam comments on my blog. This morning I woke up to about 20 spam comments, easily deleted. I continue to get them throughout the day, but not nearly as many as I was (about 100). Hurray! Hopefully this continues. My fingers are crossed. 😊

I think the Two-Step Authentication may be the best thing I did. But I also changed my password and made it so I have to approve all comments. If you are having similar problems and want the details on what to do, you can check out my earlier post here.

Phew! Now I can go back to reading!

Thanks for reading about my spam angst!

Book Review: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

Presumed Innocent
by
Scott Turow

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With so many new books out there, would you consider reading an old courtroom thriller? I did! Presumed Innocent was published in 1987 and the movie starring Harrison Ford followed in 1990. So 35 years ago, it was a hot book and a hot movie.

This excellent story is about its narrator, Rusty Sabich, Kindle County’s chief deputy prosecuting attorney who has been arrested for the murder of Carolyn Polhemus, an ambitious attorney in Sabich’s office. Rusty and Carolyn had a brief affair and his fingerprints are found on the scene. This is all on the heels of Raymond Horgan’s lost bid to another term as chief P.A. Rusty, loyal to Horgan for twelve years, had one day hoped to succeed his boss. Now, everything has changed. Nico Della Guardia (whom Rusty had once fired) takes Horgan’s place and Rusty’s a pariah, fighting for his freedom. What does his young son think of him? Will his wife, Barbara will stand by his side? Readers have more questions. Did Rusty murder Carolyn? And if he didn’t who did?

Sandy Stern, a shrewd and sophisticated defense attorney, gives Rusty hope. That and the fact that Judge Larren Lyttle, Horgan’s best friend, will preside at his trial. Lyttle’s twenty years as a defense attorney could favor Rusty in rulings during the trial, but the ultimate decision rides on the jury.

Sound complicated? It is! Add police corruption, politics, a tangled web of relationships and a lost file from years ago, containing incriminating information, and it will take a book to figure it all out.

I liked Presumed Innocent for a lot of reasons. At 453 pages, and close to one hundred characters, this is not a book you read in a couple day. Its length made me think about all the pieces and wonder about the characters. Turow does an excellent job with his main characters. Readers get to know Rusty best of all and learn about the key players through his observations. Several characters with questionable motives muddy the waters and reflect the complexities in police and legal work. My favorite character was Sandy Stern. His composure and skill in the courtroom would make anyone want him on their side. But he plays his cards close to the vest and keeps his strategy to himself, a frustration for Rusty.

Presumed Innocent is Turow’s first of eleven books in the Kindle County series. Book 11, The Last Trial was published in 2020. The one criticism I would make about the book, which is obviously dated in the sense of crime scene investigations, is the author’s use of stereotypical ethnic characterizations, some of them cringe-worthy. I’m taking a star off for that reason, but would otherwise recommend this first book in the series, especially if you want to read the rest.

Have you read Presumed Innocent or seen the movie? Leave a comment!

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Blog views and other obsessions – keep your blog secure!

Please forgive me! I promised I would not talk about my spam comments any more, but I have a few tips that might help other bloggers who are struggling with this same problem. A special shout-out to Hugh’s Views & News for offering moral support and tips. He’s an expert blogger and very willing to help so be sure to pay him a visit!

First of all, to clarify, these comments never make it into my comments. That would be a disaster! They go right to spam, but I can barely keep up with deleting my spam folder. Why do I bother? I let it go for a while, but I’m uncomfortable with all those questionable sites and links connected in any way to my blog. I just finished deleting 40,000 comments. It took me a week. I got 1200 more overnight so there was more work for me this morning!

Here are some tips that can help keep your blog secure:

  • First, reach out to WordPress. I got a response within an hour. The advice was pretty general. They didn’t address why I was getting so many spam comments, just steps to block spam. But it’s an open conversation, so I’ll continue to ask questions.
  • Change your password. Always good advice for all we do.
  • Change your settings so that you have to approve all comments. This could help my problem, but I’ll have to wait and see.
  • Activate Two-Step Authentication. This will give you an extra layer of security. You probably already do that with your online bank accounts. You can read how to do that here.

Some bloggers close comments after a certain period of time or don’t allow comments at all. I’ll never do that. I mean, comments are the heart of the blogging community!

So I hope these tips are helpful to you. Maybe you think these steps aren’t necessary because it’s just your personal blog, but I’m not going to take any chances.

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Common grammar mistakes that make a bad impression

Image: Pixabay

When my kids were little, they liked to play an arcade game on our computer. This was before the age of cell phones and tablets for every person over 5, so the family computer was where they played. The game had been a birthday present for one of them and was a low-budget addition to something else they’d received. The first time they played, when the game was over, the results appeared on the screen: “Winner” or, if things didn’t go well, “Looser” – that’s right L-O-O-S-E-R. I’ve always thought it was pretty harsh to call someone a loser, but we had a big laugh over how the makers of the game needed a spelling/grammar lesson. Years later, this little joke still comes up in conversation.

This article on cnbc.com about common grammar mistakes (written or spoken) made me think about that computer game and sure enough, lose vs. loose is on the list. Here are some very basic explanations. Some may be obvious to you, but I like having a refresher!

  • UNNECESSARY APOSTROPES: Resist the urge to add an apostrophe just because a word ends in “s.” Apostrophes are for contractions like can’t or to show possession. “I can’t go to the movies because I have to pick up my sister’s dress at the store.” I don’t usually go wrong with this one, except when showing possession for a person whose last name ends in “s.” Then it seems as if anything goes. Some people put an apostrophe with no “s” and other people put an apostrophe and another s. As in Ross’ book or Ross’s book. Which is it? Is that a regional thing?
  • EVERYDAY VS. EVERY DAY: This one’s not too hard. “These are my everyday shoes, as in the ones I wear every day.”
  • I VS. ME: Use I when it’s the subject of the sentence. Use me after a preposition. “I went to the store.” “Those cupcakes are for Joe and me.” Now, here’s a question for you: do you say, “It is I” when you’re calling someone or knocking on their door? It sounds so formal! I break the rule and say, “It’s me” and hope the grammar police aren’t on the other side of the door!
  • IT’S VS. ITS: For this one, think contraction vs. possession. Back in the days of yore when the landline rang and you were expecting a call, you’d run to the phone before anyone else could get it and on your way you’d call out, “I’ve got it. It’s for me!” Use its with no apostrophe to show possession, as in, “The storm reared its ugly head.”
  • LESS VS. FEWER: The general rule is to use fewer when it’s something that can be counted. Think about the signs at the express lanes in the grocery story. They often say “20 items or less” but that’s wrong. They should say “20 items or fewer.” Use less when the number can’t reasonably be counted (like snowflakes in a snowstorm) or when the number is part of a total unit like “less than 50 percent.” 
  • LIE VS. LAY: I’m not gonna lie 😉, I work hard to avoid using these words altogether, especially lay. But here’s what to do. Say “I want to lie down” if you’re tired and need a rest and “Lay that book on the table” when you’re referring to an object.
  • LOSE VS. LOOSE: Lose refers to a competition or simply misplacing something. Loose means the opposite of tight.
  • THAT VS. WHO: That refers to things and who refers to people. What about book characters? Are they people or things? Does anyone know the rule for that?
  • THEN VS. THAN: Then refers to a period of time. Use than when you’re comparing things.
  • THERE/THEIR/THEY’RE: This one’s easy. There shows direction, their shows possession and they’re is a contraction for “they are.”
  • YOUR VS YOU’RE: Also easy. Your shows possession and you’re is a contraction for “you are.”

I often refer to Grammarly, a free site that helps me set things straight. If you’re looking for more, you can check out this article, “15 Best Online Grammar Checker Tools for 2022” from firstsiteguide.com. Some of these are free but others are paid.

I always had a hard time with grammar and tenses when I studied French. I can’t imagine keeping this straight if I were learning English as a second (or third) language. Have you had the same experience when learning another language?

I’ve made many grammar mistakes over the years, including a recent misspelling in a literacy tweet I did for work. Talk about embarrassing. I think I caught it before anyone noticed, but I’ll never know for sure. If it ever comes up, my plan is to blame it on autocorrect! Would anyone else like to join me on the grammar/misspelling wall of shame? Leave your confession in the comments! And if you see an error in this post, typo or otherwise, let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it!

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One-word book titles – can you make a sentence with them?

I’ve always been interested in book titles and popular trends. We all know about “The Girl” and “The Woman” titles and books with the word “wife” in them. There are so many others too! Besides these, some are a person’s name like Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk, a place like Coffin Road by Peter May or a phrase like Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Here’s a list of a bunch of one-word titles. These are all books I’ve read and reviewed on my blog. I’m sure I could find many more if I really dug into it.

I wanted to make a big long sentence by arranging each of these words into something meaningful, but I couldn’t make it work. I did come up with a few good-advice phrases, like “wonder more” and “roar less.” And although this is a politics-free blog, I couldn’t resist what could be a headline, “candidate caught.”

So here are the books I’ve read with one-word titles. Can you make any phrases out of these? Here’s a word bank to give you a start!

MayflowerPremiereCaughtTwistedDry
EducatedWonderHerLessLooker
ThunderstruckSonBrooklynOutsiderCandidate
YouRoarRunSadieMaid
StiltsvilleLotComaExposedRebecca

If you’re interested in my reviews, you can follow the links below!

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Candidate by Tracy Ewens

Caught by Harlan Coben

Coma by Robin Cook

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Educated by Tara Westover

Exposed by Lisa Scottoline

Her by Harriet Lane

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Looker by Laura Sims

Lot by Bryan Washington

Maid by Stephanie Land

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Outsider by Linda Castillo

Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Roar by Cecelia Ahern

Run by Ann Patchett

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Son by Lois Lowry

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

You by Caroline Kepnes

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Five thrillers I want to read

I think summer is the best time to read a good thriller. Here are five I hope to get to soon. All descriptions are from Goodreads.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – I’ve always liked Margaret Atwood’s books, but I’ve never read this one. I read The Blind Assassin (which I think is catagorized as suspense) years ago and thought it was excellent.

It’s 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories?

Captivating and disturbing, Alias Grace showcases best-selling, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood at the peak of her powers.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – I’ve been meaning to read this for a couple years. A lot of these titles blend together. I actually thought I’d read this but I had it mixed up with The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner!

Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson – I remember seeing this when it first came out and wanting to read it. Somehow it slipped through the cracks.

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 psychological thriller from the author of Eight Perfect Murders.

Abigail Baskin never thought she’d fall in love with a millionaire. Then she met Bruce Lamb. But right before the wedding, Abigail has a drunken one-night stand on her bachelorette weekend. She puts the incident—and the sexy guy who wouldn’t give her his real name—out of her mind, and now believes she wants to be with Bruce for the rest of her life.

Then the mysterious stranger suddenly appears—and Abigail’s future life and happiness are turned upside down. He insists that their passionate night was the beginning of something special and he’s tracked her down to prove it.

Does she tell Bruce and ruin their idyllic honeymoon—and possibly their marriage? Or should she handle this psychopathic stalker on her own? To make the situation worse, strange things begin to happen. She sees a terrified woman in the night shadows, and no one at the resort seems to believe anything is amiss… including her perfect new husband.

No Exit by Taylor Adams – I have this one on my shelf! Loaned to me by my son. It’s been a few years, so I need to read It soon!

On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers. Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate. Who is the child? Why has she been taken? And how can Darby save her? There is no cell phone reception, no telephone, and no way out. One of her fellow travelers is a kidnapper. But which one?

Trapped in an increasingly dangerous situation, with a child’s life and her own on the line, Darby must find a way to break the girl out of the van and escape. But who can she trust?

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith – This year I read Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks and ever since then, I’ve wanted to read this.

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—is up to his tricks in a 90s film and also Rene Clement’s 60s film, “Purple Noon.”

Do you like reading thrillers? Which ones are your favorites? Leave a comment!

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Book Review: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Love and Ruin
by
Paula McLain

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

You may know that I’m a big Ernest Hemingway fan. I’ve read all his books except To Have and Have Not and many of his short stories. I’m also a little obsessed with the person behind his books, how he started out and his relationships, especially with his four wives. I’d read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain years ago and liked it very much. That’s about Hemingway’s early career and his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. During those years, he wrote The Sun Also Rises, his first novel. Love and Ruin is the story of Hemingway’s marriage to Martha Gellhorn, his third wife. I didn’t know about her, but she was a novelist, travel writer, and a famous and fearless war correspondent, the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day and report on the invasion first-hand. For sixty years, she covered every world conflict that was out there.

Hemingway wrote what may be considered his best book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, while he was married to Gellhorn. Before they were married, they had spent time in Spain reporting on the Spanish Civil War, while Hemingway was married to Pauline Pfeiffer. That’s when their affair began.

Love and Ruin is the story of two very strong egos. It’s about Hemingway’s overwhelming and selfish personality and Gellhorn’s insistence on having her own career, which meant being away from home for long periods of time. Hemingway hated that, felt abandoned and behaved poorly. In this account, Gellhorn was just as stubborn as he was and there was a competitive vibe between them, especially when his books did better than hers. I got the feeling that they both acted selfishly in part to one-up the other. It was obvious to me that Gellhorn was a formidable opponent, not the kind of domestic wife Hemingway really wanted. She was also a trailblazer for women and careers.

I liked Love and Ruin, but I didn’t think it was as good as The Paris Wife. The first half reads more like a history book and I had a harder time getting to know Gellhorn, even though it’s written from her point of view. I liked the parts that helped me see the early seeds of For Whom the Bell Tolls and I learned a lot about Gellhorn’s impressive career. I also learned some new things about Hemingway and his sad decline. McLain did a tremendous amount of research to write Love and Ruin and it shows. Gellhorn burned all her personal papers before she died, so McLain had to piece together what she could about their marriage. I enjoyed the second half of the book, which really dug into the meat of their marital conflicts.

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Check out my review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

Like Hemingway? Me too! Check out my reviews:

The Sun Also Rises

A Farewell to Arms

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Old Man and the Sea

A Moveable Feast

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

“Hills Like White Elephants”

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

Book Review: One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One
by
Ruth Ware

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

After reading a few long books, I was in the mood for a good thriller and One by One fit the bill. I’d read Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 a few years ago and thought it was a very readable suspenseful story. There’s something about the premise of a group of people stuck and alone in a dangerous situation that I can’t resist.

One by One takes place in the French Alps where ten members of a tech startup gather for a retreat. The company, Snoop, run by extremely hip twenty-somethings, owns latest music app that enables subscribers to listen in on the music other subscribers are playing, real time. The key players are Snoop’s co-founders, Topher and Eva. They come from money and privilege, as do Elliot, their programmer and Rik, their accountant, who both went to boarding school in England with Topher. These four own nearly all the company’s shares. The last two percent belong to Liz, a former employee who has been invited to the retreat. Liz is the opposite of cool. Shabby, frumpy and awkward, she didn’t fit in at Snoop and left the company. Added to the mix are Carl the lawyer, Miranda from PR and Tiger from marketing. As personal assistants, Inigo and Ani try to keep Topher and Eva happy.

Right away, tension is thick because, although the company is hot, it’s out of cash. Eva surprises the group with news of a lucrative buyout offer, but Topher is furious because he doesn’t want to lose control of the company. An early vote shows a 50-50 split between the four shareholders. Liz will need to make the deciding vote.

Warnings of heavy snow and avalanches prompt the group to get in one good day of skiing before they’re snowbound. But Eva, an expert skier, doesn’t return and then, as predicted, the avalanche hits, crushing the area and knocking out power. Then, one by one, members of the group turn up dead. Readers will need to sort out the details of Eva’s disappearance and of the other deaths. Snoop’s remaining members, plus the chalet’s employees, Danny and Erin, must all rely each other, but trust no one. Very loosely based on And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Ware provides all the backstories that help you figure out just enough to take you to the finish, which of course, true to a thriller, is full of dangerous action.

I find that with thrillers, you need to be a little forgiving with loose details and accept them as a way of keeping the story flowing. I liked the high-tech aspect of the story and how Ware included details of what music the Snoopers listened to. I recommend One by One to readers who like suspense and intrigue.

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