Monthly Archives: January 2015



Congratulations to the winners!

Betsy H. Michigan
Nancy S. Florida
Mary Ann P. Florida/Michigan
Susan C. California

Thanks for the comments. Thanks for the views. A copy of a recent issue of Poetry, Ploughshares, Rattle, or North Dakota Quarterly will be in the mail as soon as I receive all mailing addresses. Happy Reading.




This week is the first meeting of the Summerhouse Winter Book Club. The season begins with a discussion of Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood, a novel published a few years ago. It’s worth knowing about if you missed it.

This post was prompted by a reader’s comment. Many of us like to know what book clubs other than our own are reading. So, here’s rundown of the Summerhouse List for 2015. This time I share a professional summary or book blurb rather than one I wrote. This will give readers a different look at a book from what I previously posted on this blog about the book. Hope this gives you some ideas for your book club or your own reading.

Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood
From the back cover of the paperback edition. “After surviving a near-fatal accident, thirty-year-old Lizzy Mitchell faces a long road to recovery. She remembers little about the days she spent in and out of consciousness, save for one thing: She saw her beloved deceased uncle, Father Mike, the man who raised her in the rectory of his Maine church until she was nine, at which time she was abruptly sent away to boarding school.”

Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
From the back cover of the paperback edition. “A powerful, sweeping novel, inspired by real events, The Invention of Wings is a vivid evocation of the American deep South in the nineteenth century and the story of an impossible friendship against all odds.”

The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
From BookPage. “A spirited sales rep and an abandoned baby bring hope to a widowed bookseller in this emotional story that is also a tribute to the power of books.”

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
From Goodreads. “Bestselling author Diane Chamberlain delivers a breakout book about a small southern town fifty years ago, and the darkest—and most hopeful—places in the human heart.”

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
From Amazon. “Orphan Train is a gripping story of friendship and second chances from Christina Baker Kline, author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.”

Your book club has perhaps read some of these books. Do share ideas from your book discussions. I’m sure blog readers would like to hear about the book list of your book club. Click on “Leave a Reply” and let us know.




Because it’s winter.
Because it is the season to expand reading opportunities.
Because I appreciate your loyalty and interest in

I’m giving away issues of top literary journals to 5, count ‘em, five lucky winners.

Here’s how to enter:
Click on Leave a Reply (Replies) at the top of this post and comment on this blog by completing the following sentence in a way that best describes you.
I enjoy reading a. fiction, b. poetry, c. essays, d. non-fiction, e. all of the above.

And…entries will close on Monday, January 26 at Midnight.

Literary Journals (Magazines) offer a smorgasbord of reading opportunities. Easy to carry on a plane or to the beach. Easy to read curled up before the fire. Easy to enjoy anywhere.


Win a copy of a top-notch literary journal. Five winners will be drawn from the names of those who comment. Winners will be contacted by e-mail and journals will be mailed to winners.

Try your luck. Hope you are a winner! Hope you enjoy your journal reading.

In case you missed it, find a post on the Writing page from Dec. 30 about literary journals. Scroll down about three stories to find it.



Some Luck
Author: Jane Smiley
Genre: Fiction, Family Saga, Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Alfred Knopf
Hardcover Edition: 395 pages
Source: Personal copy

Reading this book is pure joy. It’s also a clinic on how to write a novel, how to fit together the pieces of a story so character is revealed. Characters drive this story. The structure of the book allows readers to see characters, not through a glass, darkly, but in the clear daylight.

Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and this, her latest book, is the first volume of a trilogy. It follows Walter and Rosanna Langdon, a young Iowa farm couple, beginning in 1920 and tells the adventures of their family for the next 30 years. Potential readers might ask: What could be of interest? And answer: I know farming is hard – weather, weather, weather. Those readers will be pleasantly surprised at the adventure and the nuance found in this story. Though the saga begins in Iowa, Smiley has said she knew as the children of Walter and Rosanna Langdon grew, different settings would come into play, and they do.

Every line of prose possesses grace. Smiley’s remarkable characters live, think, love and grow, always interesting, so much so it is almost maddening. How does she do it? Smiley creates characters of all ages, living, breathing, loving, disappointed, lonely, and more. Each of the five children displays a different personality. Their story grows in unique and fascinating ways, yet is universal. Amazing thoughts, ideas and observations live inside baby Frank’s head and so readers learn the details of life inside the farmhouse and the people who are Frank’s parents. Multiple viewpoints and multiple narrators keep the reader interested and thinking. Soon the reader is privy to more than baby Frank’s viewpoint.

Each chapter tells a year of the Langdon story––never a summary, always action packed and vital with detail. A line from the book jacket describes the story well: “taking us (readers) through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals among characters we come to know inside and out; it is a tour de force that stand’s wholly on it’s own.” This literary adventure is not to be missed. As Smiley has said in an article by Charles McGrath, and I paraphrase, …in real life things come and go. In many novels things come and come and come and then end. From Smiley “dramatic things happen but then you live through them, you go on. This novel builds plot on real life and creates an extraordinary world of wonder and suspense. If people are your passion, you will love this book.

This reader wonders if any other book can top it as my fiction favorite of 2015? I’ll be surprised if it does not remain at the top of my list. The second book of the trilogy is expected in the spring of this year. I’m ready and waiting.





Oh the stories this doll might tell! She resides in the family living space on the second floor of the Ximenez-Fatio House, now a museum at 20 Aviles Street, St. Augustine Florida. This lodging in the Old City is furnished to reflect its use as an elegant inn from 1821-1860. Constructed of thick coquina rock, it was first built in 1798. As I visited the different rooms I imagined encounters with characters from long ago living the boarding house lifestyle.

Rooms for Boarders

Dining Room
Exceptional food provided an important element to the business of sisters Margaret Cook and Eliza Whitehurst who operated the boarding house business. The punkah or fan over the table kept flies from the food.


Cards in the parlor corner, one of several games available.


A camp desk in the room of a military boarder with bed and washstand.


A doctor’s stethoscope is one of many artifacts on a fireplace mantel.


Visiting naturalists paved the way for an increasing tourist trade.

Family Rooms


Family enjoyed music in the parlor.




A place to work a sampler




The beds in each room were different sizes whether for family or boarders, plenty of beds for children as over the years owners provided for extended family.





Inside the detached kitchen building furnished as a 2nd Spanish Period kitchen (1784-1821).


Tart Seville oranges in the windowsill.

Other kitchen scenes




Our talented docent and the store manager Gili Lockner spoke in a musical voice, well-modulated to give us insights into the daily lives of those who might stay in this place as she lead us from room to room. I’m not sure when I’ve enjoyed a guided tour more. She made me long to come again to the house, perhaps on a sunny day and sit in the pleasant and inviting courtyard.

Here in the yard one more clearly sees how the buildings are arranged: the el shape of the main building with the bedrooms to the back, and the kitchen building and the wash house with an outdoor fire to boil the clothing on washday.




Other Information
Do visit the website

Daring Daughters by Karen Harvey gives more information on the women who lived here and ran the boarding house.

If you would like to read more about this interesting historic house, see my essay, “At Ximenez-Fatio House” written after a previous visit and posted soon on the writing page. You may also find interesting information on construction and dating of the house at Wikipedia.




Note: This month some of my book club colleagues are reading the novel Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood. This is a repost of a short essay posted on the Writing page on July 10, 2014. Monica Wood is an author worth meeting. I hope Book Club members and other blog readers, who may have missed this post, will enjoy meeting Monica Wood.

“There’s no such thing as wasted writing.” From Monica Wood

Because I recently read her novel Any Bitter Thing, because I expect to read more of her writing, and because I hope to learn something about her, here’s a short information piece on author Monica Wood.


Monica Wood was born in Mexico, Maine into a devout family of Irish Catholics who worked in the paper mills. She has said she believes in the importance of a person’s first family––the family one is born into. She is a reader and she advises writers to read. Now that’s a song I love.

Ms. Wood recently wrote a short piece for Oprah Magazine titled “My Sister, The Best Person I Know.” It exemplifies the best of her writing. Her characters and in this case her sister kick against the heart, crawl under the readers’ skin and live in the reader’s memory for a long, long time. She writes varied characters so clearly it is as if she carries a torch to light the way, and they arouse deep sympathy and empathy. The unexpected turns of the plot in Any Bitter Thing may startle the reader. The places she writes rise from the page and allow the reader to enter. Often-falling snow muffles and softens some of the hurt she writes so well. Perhaps the story’s resolution is her strongest arena. This is realistic fiction at its best.

Her latest book, a memoir When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, won the May Sarton Memoir Award for the best woman’s memoir published in the United States and Canada in 2012. She has also written Ernie’s Ark, a book of connected stories, My Only Story, a novel and The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing.


She conducts events and appears at speaking engagements, often in the Portland Maine area. Find more information at her website It includes a section: Tips for Writers.

I recommend her work. Choose the book that’s right for you.



Readers packed Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College in St. Augustine this week to hear well-known author Pat Conroy along with Janis Owens, Bernie Schein, and Mark Powell. There were plenty of laughs as well as insights into the world of writing and publishing at this event sponsored by The Florida Heritage Book Festival.

Conroy is an accomplished storyteller whether writing a novel or relating an anecdote to a live audience. His most recent book is The Death of Santini: A Story of A Father and His Son. He’s proud to be known as a southern author, and in his work he unites people and place in a unique way.

Not long ago he was named editor-at-large with Story River Books, an imprint of South Carolina Press. This strengthens the university press commitment to publishing outstanding regional fiction. Conroy mentors and spotlights emerging writers. Learn more at

Three authors of note, friends and colleagues of Conroy, shared the stage with him.


Janis Owens is the author of the popular book The Cracker Kitchen: a Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed, Down Home Family Stories and Cuisine. She also talked about her book American Ghost: A Novel. She lives in Newberry, Florida and knows small-town life, Alachua County and the Panhandle. I can’t wait to read these two books because of the excitement of her story and her pride in her home place.


Bernie Schein is a long time friend of Conroy. Both had early life experiences in South Carolina. Bernie’s remarks on small-town life were illuminating and funny. He has written a novel, Famous All Over Town, and now is writing a memoir. His Jewish heritage made him stand out in his hometown in South Carolina. He skillfully blends both the dark and the light sides of living into his story mix.


Mark Powell read a powerful and touching excerpt from his novel The Sheltering, just out this year from Story River Press. This story of a drone pilot and the contradictions of his life has received excellent reviews. It sounds like a gripping tale.


The banter among these four authors generated lots of fun. They talked about how ideas for stories start and about small town life, especially in the south. One insight concerning writing about community caught my attention, the idea that in a small town or tight-knit community everyone knows everyone in many different ways: whose car is parked behind the minister’s house, whose shoes are showing beneath the white sheet of a Klan member, whose mother used to be married to …… At the same time, there are secrets, things nobody knows or maybe only one or two people know. Those secrets often drive people’s lives and lead to more stories. This group knows how to tell those stories.

I’m off to the library to pick up some new books based on what I heard from these authors. Then, the bookstore. I’ll keep searching and learning more about the books this group has written. Small-town life is a particular interest of mine. I know Conroy’s work and now he is introducing us to other writers through public appearances and his work with Story River Books.

If Pat Conroy or any other of these authors is already a favorite of yours, let us know. Do you enjoy regional literature? Most of us like a good read no matter if it might be called regional literature or not. But a writer who knows how to make place come alive, how to make place the major character, how to make us feel like we’ve lived in that place and can see it’s beauty and its sorrow, that is special indeed.




Director: Angelina Jolie
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson
Actors: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Film Editor: William Goldenberg, Tim Squyres
Awards to date: Critics Choice Award Nominee for Best Picture, Critics Choice Award Nominee for Best Director, Critics Choice Award Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, Critics Choice Award Nominee for Best Cinematography,

The opening scenes show airmen flying a bomber over Germany in World War II. These scenes are extraordinary, certainly some of the best of this kind ever filmed. They are riveting in their clarity. One reviewer likened them to the work of Clint Eastwood. As a movie-goer of some experience, I’ve never seen such scenes better executed.

The photography throughout this film is excellent. Every frame is beautiful. Through much of the movie, this viewer was enthralled by the beauty of the shooting and could think of little else.


The movie is based on the gripping account of the life of Louis Zamperini as told by Laura Hillenbrand in her best-selling non-fiction Unbroken. Louis was a troubled teen who became an Olympic runner and then a bombardier during World War II. Shot down over the Pacific he endured 47 days adrift at sea and later internment in Japanese prison camps.

For moviegoers who have read the book, they know the emotional content of the story. For those viewers who have not read the book, the telling on screen may well seem sterile, uninteresting, cold. There is a certain ho-hum, let’s go through the events, quality to the telling of the story, though the events are horrific. Where is the drama and heightened feeling among the three men trapped on a raft for 47 days after their plane is shot down? What of the relationship between Louis and his older brother, who sees his athletic potential. What of the difficulties of his teen years? What about the grit he showed as he developed as a runner? The deep feelings and emotions of some facets of his story seem to be missing.


There is more drama to the horrors of the conflict between Zamperini and his tormentor the prison official known as The Bird. Both actors are at their at their best with this conflict. Details of torture are not sugar-coated. And yet, the source of Zamperini’s strength, the underlying fears he must have known seem strangely absent.

The writers and the director must take responsibility for the coldness of the movie. It seems overlong in places, even uninteresting. The emotional drive of the narrative is lacking. This will be felt more keenly by those who do not know Zamperini’s story as told by Ms. Hillenbrand. Others may like the objectivity, and not miss a strong dramatic edge to the narrative.

Many will see this movie. The book is very popular. News of the movie has been everywhere. Angelina Jolie is a director to watch. It will be interesting what part word-of-mouth may play in its box office success, and how it may or may not be effected by the awards ceremonies on the horizon.

Join the conversation. Let us know what you think of this movie.



Interview conducted December, 2014

Welcome to another installment of the popular readeatlive series: Reader Interview. This is a fascinating one. Thanks so much to Mary Ann for talking with us about her reading. She starts off by telling us about herself as a reader.

Reading is an integral part of my life. I always have one or more books going. I read everything: periodicals, fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, cook books, and I love suspense and mysteries. I even read bad books like I eat bad cookies. It is an addiction. I have learned to stop reading a bad book, but it took a while. “If a novel seems like an ordeal, quit; you are not being paid to read it…” That’s Thomas Foster in How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I love to find quotes in books that relate to my life and make me think. I often read with a yellow marker. I want a book to make me think outside of the box and of course, I also I like to just have fun reading!

What have you been reading recently?
The book I am reading now is titled One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. It is about living fully right where you are. It is very humbling and encourages you to live a lifestyle of gratitude, to slow down and to appreciate the now. I just finished reading Missing, by Susan Lewis. It is a suspenseful book about a missing wife and the difficulties her husband and daughter face.

What book excited you or moved you in an unusual way?
A book that really affected me was The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. The writing was outstanding, “like a storyteller transforming life into a shimmering river where trouble and boredom vanish far below the water.” The story had many parts that hit deep into my experiences and made me stop and contemplate my life. There are so many books over the years that really made a difference in my life and I hope to keep finding more.

What books are in your waiting-to-be-read stack?
I am looking forward to reading The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins, a mystery that was reviewed favorably in many magazines. Also, the memoir Publishing, by Gail Goodwin, Someone, by Alice Mc Dermott, a novel about a woman and her neighbors over 30 years, and The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters are waiting to be read.

What authors would you like to invite to lunch?
I think the authors I would like to have lunch with are some of the successful women who have written their memoirs or autobiographies. The stand out would be Maya Angelou. I am absolutely in awe of her inspiration and creative ability.

How did you become a reader?
Growing up in a small home with three siblings was a challenge. My escape was reading in my bedroom away from the chaos. I read the Nancy Drew series as well as biographies of successful women. The biographies were so important to me that when I retired as school principal, I asked the PTA to use the money designated as a gift for me to stock a shelf in the Media Center dedicated to biographies of successful women.

My parents were readers and my mother belonged to the Readers Digest Book Club as well as the Book-of-the-Month Club. Reading her books was a special thing as a young person. One that stood out was Marjorie Morningstar. Some time I need to go back and read it again to find out if it really was that good.

How do you decide what to read?
I probably am like everyone else in the selection of books. My friends certainly influence my reading as do references in the NY Times and other periodicals. I also use Bookbub. They list free and inexpensive books. Yes, many of them are not worth reading, but I have come across some excellent books. Amazon gives many book lists to choose from and books that are chosen by my two book clubs help widen my horizon.

The thoughtful responses in this interview help broaden all of us as readers. Mary Ann brings enthusiasm and a forward-looking view to her reading. She reminds us of old favorites like Marjorie Morningstar and point us toward new books, and important genres. Thanks to Mary Ann for such an enjoyable interview.