The Ink Penn: All About Books by Kathy Manos Penn

Kathy Penn        Lord Banjo   The Ink Penn

Kathy Manos Penn is an author and columnist. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in theEveryday,” are available on Amazon. For more information, visit kathymanospenn.com,  follow Kathy on Facebook, or write her at inkpenn119@gmail.com. Find her books locally at the Enchanted Forest gift shop.

07/05/19 Colorado Mysteries by Stephen White

Books by Stephen White are some of my favorites, but I’d all but forgotten him because he ended his series six years ago. He wrote twenty Alan Gregory mysteries from 1991 – 2013, and I was sorry to see the series end. Most of his fans are likely wishing he’d pick it back up, and for those of you who haven’t encountered his books, you have plenty to look forward to.

Alan Gregory is a psychologist with a practice in Boulder, Colorado who somehow, time after time, finds himself involved in homicide investigations. A cadre of complex well-developed characters appear as regulars in his life throughout all twenty books: his partner Diane Estevez, the beautiful District Attorney Lauren Crowder, and the cranky Detective Sam Purdy.

Gregory is a cyclist who unwinds with long-distance rides through the mountains surrounding Boulder. As someone who used to cycle more regularly and also took quite a few bicycling vacations, I enjoy reading about that aspect of his character. I, however, much prefer cycling flat areas with a hill only here and there—no mountains.

I also enjoy the descriptions of the Colorado scenery and get a kick out of plot points occasionally occurring in towns I’ve visited on vacations. And a dog—there’s usually a dog or two in the books.

One of the main characters has MS, and White says that about “50% of his mail involves readers' reactions” to that character and that “people who have MS or work with MS patients have been especially supportive.” I have a friend with MS, and I have learned a lot about the disease, how it manifests itself, and its treatment by reading these books.

As with most series, I recommend starting with the first book, “Privileged Information.” It’s been so long, I can’t recall if I read it first or not, but if I didn’t, I know I went back and started at the beginning once I discovered the author. I like to follow characters as they develop so if I stumble across a book in the midst of a series, I feel compelled to find the series start and move forward from there.

Interestingly, I’ve always assumed the 1997 novel “Remote Control” was inspired by the JonBenet Ramsey case, but have since learned the draft of the novel was completed prior to those events. It’s an eerie coincidence.

As a writer, I like to read what a novelist’s process is. White says he doesn’t always know where his characters will end up when he starts a book. Surfing his website, I found he’d participated in a six-word memoir challenge in 2009. I think most writers would appreciate his six words, “Live, read. Love, read. Write, rewrite.” Isn’t that what the writing life is all about? .

06/13/19 My King Arthur List

I bet you didn’t realize that writing about books can cause a gal a problem. That’s right, the problem is I wind up adding more and more books to my To Be Read (TBR) list. When I write about a favorite author, I may realize I’m not up to date on his or her offerings, or I when I write a column on King Arthur books, for example, I find additional books I must read. And, last but not least, readers send me suggestions. My TBR list is neverending.

In an effort to show myself that I do occasionally check titles off my list, despite constantly adding new ones, I thought I’d share my progress with you. Since December, I’ve checked eight books off the list—three in the King Arthur category. Of course, I’ve read more than eight books, but not all were on my list. How does that happen? I walk into the library to pick up books I’ve put on hold and see books in the section marked “Floating Collection.” Those are new books that can only be checked out for two weeks, and sometimes I can’t resist grabbing at least one.

Back to the books on my list, though. I’ve read two books I discovered while researching King Arthur books and one recommended by Kim, the editor of this paper. None were available at my local library. First up was “Finding Camlaan,” a novel set in modern-day Great Britain. It offers a different take on the origins of King Arthur and takes the reader on a suspenseful journey from Oxford to Cornwall, Stonehenge, and Wales. I was especially taken with it because I had visited both Oxford and Cornwall on my 2018 trip to England, and the descriptions resonated with me. And, now, after reading this book, I’m eager to visit Wales too. Many thanks to Kim for this well-timed recommendation. I keep thinking about rereading it, something I rarely do.

Next was Charlie Lovett’s “The Lost Book of the Grail,” set in the fictional town of Barchester, England, a town created by Anthony Trollope. This book moves between events happening as early as 560 AD and as recently as 2016 with a few stops in 1941. It too is a different take on the legend of King Arthur with emphasis on the quest for the Holy Grail. Reviewers describe it as a combo history, mystery, and love story. I’ve read two of Lovett’s earlier books, “The Bookman’s Tale,” and “First Impressions,” and all three were equally engaging and entertaining. If you’re a King Arthur enthusiast, you’ll want to add this to your list.

Finally, I dove into “The Forever King,” a book whose setting moves across continents and from ancient times to modern. There were times I couldn’t put it down and others where I thought, “Get to the point.” Perhaps these words from one reviewer explain my reaction: “ Reminiscent of parts of TH White’s 'Once and Future King' combined with Robert Parker's Spenser series.” That description captures the writing perfectly, and while I like TH White and Parker, I found the style combination a bit disconcerting. As yet another original take on the legend, though, the plot is intriguing.

I’ve left King Arthur behind for now and have moved on to mysteries set in the 21st century. With five library book sitting on my desk, I have my work—or pleasure—cut out for me.

05/23/19 Books, bookshops, and cats, oh my!

 

I finally got around to a few books on my To Be Read list and one was “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.” A bookshop is a central feature, almost a character, in this delightful book set in Broken Wheel, Iowa. The back cover blurb captures it well: “A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.”

Booklovers will get a kick out of the references to books and authors and be thankful for the lists in the back of the book. I was reading about one of the characters being taken with Idgie and was tickled that I finally recalled that Idgie was a character in “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

That book prompted me to think, “Gee, I think there are other books I’ve read that take place in bookshops,” and I was right. There were a few whose titles I couldn’t recall, but I’ve come up with most of them.

Years ago, I read the Carolyn Hart mysteries that take place in and around the Death on Demand bookshop on Broward’s Rock, a South Carolina island. I likely read the first five or six and enjoyed all the references to books and authors. I wasn’t surprised to learn there are 26 in the series, and I may have to get back to them.

You don’t have to be a Jane Austen fan to enjoy Charlie Lovett’s “First Impressions,” a tale of a previously unknown Austen manuscript. The heroine is recently graduated from Oxford and works in an antiquarian bookshop in London. Since I just last year took a trip to England and visited Oxford, I especially enjoyed recognizing the Oxford references.

I discovered John Dunning’s series of books featuring bookshop owner and former Denver police officer Cliff Janeway when my sister passed along “Booked to Die,” the first in the series. Now I know there are four more in the series, so they’re going on my TBR list.

I’ve mentioned Nina George’s book, “The Little Paris Bookshop,” in a previous column, but this whimsical story of a bookshop housed on a boat belongs on this list as well. Wouldn’t you love to visit a floating bookshop?

Still on my TBR list is “The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry,” about the owner of Island Books on the imaginary Alice Island located somewhere near Boston.

Another book I loved reading is “The Diary of a Bookseller,” a Christmas gift from a friend who knows me oh-so-well. This one is nonfiction, written by Shaun Bythell, who owns The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. Described as “a wry and hilarious account of life at a bookshop in a remote Scottish village,” it was a behind the scenes look at the life of a bookseller.

As for cats, as I recalled these books, I couldn’t help but think about Books Unlimited, a cozy, inviting bookshop in Franklin, North Carolina, where Nancy the cat roams from the chair to the window to the counter, perfectly at home. If you’re lucky when you visit, she may even curl up in your lap. And, if the books I’ve mentioned end up on your reading list, Nancy and owner Suzanne will happily find them for you.

04/29/19 What would you read in preparation for a trip to France?

 

Reprinted from a 2017 Dunwoody Crier column

As usual, I’ve been preparing for our upcoming vacation, a river cruise through the South of France, by reading books set in that locale.  In a few instances, I’ve ventured beyond the South of France into other regions, and I’ve also been reflecting on past books I’ve enjoyed.

There are two mystery series I return to from time to time: M. L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet Provençal mysteries and Martin Walker’s French countryside series set in set in the Dordogne region of central France. The Longworth series set in Aix-en-Provence features Judge Antoine Verlaque and law professor Marine Bonnet tangled in various crimes.  The descriptions of the countryside and the gastronomic delights are as entertaining as the whodunnit aspect.

Walker’s series features Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges, and the countryside has the same appeal. Bruno was wounded in the French peacekeeping force sent to Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo before he settled in his fictional town to become Chief of Police. In the third book in the series, I discovered that tension exists today between the Chinese and Vietnamese communities in France, and I also learned a tremendous amount about the Algerian War 1954 – 1962.

I find that readers of what they consider serious literature often diss’ mystery lovers, but I enjoy my mysteries as much for the settings and what I learn about the history of these locations as I do for the mysteries that must be solved. I plan to download at least one of Walker’s books to my Kindle to take along.

Who knows how I stumbled across Jean-Luc Bannalec’s “Death in Brittany,” the first in his Commissaire Georges Dupin series. Brittany borders Normandy, where we cycled in 2014. Because Normandy was beautiful, I’d like one day to explore Brittany as well. For now, that exploration will have to come via books. This series is set on the Breton coast in Pont-Aven, a town that Gaugin visited. The descriptions of the people, the food, and the seaside colors paint a vivid picture.

One of my favorite books starts out in Paris and travels French waterways to Provence.  It’s “The Little Paris Bookshop,” and it’s not a mystery.  I’d describe it as sad, whimsical and uplifting all-in-one.  I especially enjoyed the setting because our bike and barge trip in Burgundy sailed some of the same rivers.

Another enjoyable read was Mark Pryor’s “The Paris Bookseller,” a thriller set on the banks of the Seine.  Because I’d shopped the stalls along the river and seen the booksellers, I could envision it all in my mind as I read.

Finally, I can’t forget the many books I’ve read that are set in France during WWII.  Two stand out for me: “The Nightingale” and “All the Light We Cannot See.” I’ve read so many books that detail the horrors and hardships of that period, that I’m finding it more and more difficult to get through them.  I picked up an Alan Furst book, “A Hero of France,” and after reading fifty pages, I thought to myself, “I just can’t do this.”

Instead, I read “A Year in Provence,” an entertaining true story of the adventures you can have when you decide to live in a spot where you’ve always vacationed.  I’m ready to start my tour of Provence and perhaps even dream of living there, but I’m sure the visit and some daydreaming will be enough for me.

Kathy Manos Penn is an author and columnist. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. For more information, visit kathymanospenn.com,  follow Kathy on Facebook, or write her at inkpenn119@gmail.com.

 

04/18/19 Meet the authors who will be at Lemonade Days #2

Get acquainted with more of our local authors whose books will be available at the Local Authors Bookstore April 27-28. Imagine finding all the books you need for your summer reading without ever visiting Amazon. 

 Peter Bein is the author of the memoir, “Maxwell’s Suitcase.” When Peter discovered a hidden suitcase, concealed for forty years in his Brooklyn home, it compelled him to make an appointment with his past, and he has taken a decade-long spiritual journey to find his way home. The son of a Holocaust survivor, Peter teaches writing at a small college in North Georgia.

Jeremy Logan writes suspense thrillers.“Trigger Effect” is the tale of Two teenagers found dead behind a grocery store and how their deaths trigger a chain reaction that infects everyone they touched, revealing secrets, perversion, and violence beyond measure.

Robin Conte is a suburban mother of four who has entertained metro Atlanta readers for years with her award-winning column, Robin’s Nest. Written with warmth and wit, her essays explore family life in the 21st century. Find forty-nine of her favorite columns in the collection titled “The Best of the Nest.”

 Paul Schenk’s “Great Ways to Sabotage a Good Conversation” describes the nine “language traps” with well-known cartoonists providing fun examples of each. “The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams: Exploring Near-Death Experiences Without the Flatline” looks at one way that hypnosis can be used to help people explore the origin of an issue by means of what the author calls a “waking dream.”

Erskine Hawkins, Jr. is the author of “Stepchild,” the saga of the Gibsons, Adrienne and Josh, a fictional contemplation of love and race in America in the post-civil rights movement era. Set in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1980s, it chronicles the love affair of Josh, a dispirited soul haunted by tragedy, and Adrienne, the love of his life. 

Dunn Neugebauer is a Sandy Springs native, a Holy Innocents’ employee, and the author of “Rock Bottom, Then Up Again,” a collection of 71 essays, many of which are about HIES students, growing up in Georgia, and life as an Atlanta resident. He describes the book as “Rated G,” with the essays taking on a spiritual, humorous or sports-related tone.

Bryan Powell is the author of “Loving Miss Bessie.” Says Bryan, “Miss Bessie is everyone’s crazy aunt, spooky neighbor, beloved grandmother, and dearest friend. She can be brutally honest, painfully funny, sweet as honey and prickly as a pear.”

Eileen Cooley has written both a nonfiction book, "Newly Widowed, Now Socially Awkward: Facing Interpersonal Challenges After Loss," and a children's book, "Why Do My Feet Say YES When My Head Says NO?"

Sharon Vines is the author of “Artist Wife.”  In this story of love, intrigue, and triumph, you’ll meet Grace, a sheltered daddy’s girl from a supportive middle-class family who enters college as an art major and soon marries one of her professors.

Eugene Vezina was inspired to write “Dementia fo the Mind but not the Heart” as he cared for his wife. A celebration of marriage and faith, the book provides strength, encouragement, and useful advice for anyone dealing with Alzheimer's.

Brian Brown’s “The Heart of a King” is an ageless storybook of bravery, discovery, and love, highlighted by lush, detailed, and whimsical illustrations.

 Jennifer Wilson, our youngest author, has written her second book, “Love Letters to the NSA,” a collection of poetry that takes readers through a journey of love, loss, and coping with a psychotic mental illness.

 Do you see books that intrigue you personally or look like great gifts? Come out to the Local Authors Bookstore and find books you won’t see at Barnes & Noble.  

  

04/07/19 Meet the authors who will be at Lemonade Days

This week and next, I’ll highlight authors whose books you’ll find in the Local Authors Book Store at the April Lemonade Days Festival. Here in Dunwoody, this booth is the closest you can get to an independent book shop, and it’s only open for two days—April 27 & 28. You won’t want to miss out on this selection of nonfiction, fiction, thrillers, children’s books, and more. 

Many thanks to Jan Slimming who’ll manage the booth this year. Though Lord Banjo won’t be helping out this time, I hope to pop by Sunday to sign his book.

Pattie Baker is a writer, street photographer, organic food grower, married mom of two grown daughters, a League of American Bicyclists’ nationally-certified League Cycling Instructor (#5382), and the author of “Traveling at the Speed of Bike.”

Valerie Biggerstaff writes the Crier’s “Past Tense” column and is our expert on local history. Not many people still remember Dunwoody before the sprawl of Atlanta nor the stories told by their parents and grandparents. 

Valerie ’s historical photograph book, “Images of America: Dunwoody,” tells the stories behind the historic homes, street names, schools, and churches of Dunwoody; and includes a mix of old and new photographs.

Martha B. Boone is a private practice Urologist in an Atlanta suburb. She obtained her surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans and was one of the first one hundred women urologists in the world. “The Big Free” is her first published work of fiction and combines medical humor and historical fiction in an urban hospital.

Laura Weiner, author of “The Mysterious Dripping Drops,” is an Atlanta educator.  Her third-grade students are the inspiration for many of her ideas.  This beautifully illustrated book set on the Amazon River features ants, sloth, and other natural creatures as its characters.

Melissa Vance is a writer and yoga instructor.  Part planner, part journal,  “Choose Self-care:  90-Day Workbook For Making Yourself A Priority,” is a non-dated 90-day full-color workbook, long enough to allow meaningful progress, yet short enough to keep you focused. Through the use of mindfulness and self-care techniques, it enables you to uncover limiting obstacles as it provides guidance to address areas out of alignment. Whether you have a clear understanding of your personal growth goals or if you have no idea what you most need, this guide will SUPPORT, UPLIFT, and ENCOURAGE you.

Kathy Wilson Florence writes Southern Fiction. “Jaybird’s Song,” is the story of a young girl growing up in the 60s in Atlanta and will resonate with any Southerner, especially those who grew up in that era. Florence returns to that turbulent time with her second novel “Three of Cups,” the tale of three women whose friendship sustains them through the Vietnam era and beyond.

Camden Mays brings us the thriller “Shattered Shield,” in which terrorist threats loom as a jaded CIA Officer works with a team to stop a group's destructive designs on America.

Scott Wilkinson’s “Telecommedy” is a memoir / steamy tell-all / advice column / cathartic expression detailing one person's experience moving through the mad times of the telecom industry in the 90s, interspersed with slightly educational interludes.

Peggy Brinson’sPlatforms of Prayer “ is written for all audiences. It offers, with scripture references, Why, When, and How we can pray more confidently and effectively.

Lynne Byrd tells the story of Joyce Amacher, a true visionary and major force in the shaping of Dunwoody as it is today in “The Queen of Dunwoody.”

Have I piqued your interest? Be sure to tune in again for more tales of the authors who will participate in Lemonade Days and more titles to add to your must-read list.  

03/16/19 An Evening With Louise Penny

Whenever I write about my favorite mystery authors, I mention Louise Penny so when I heard she was going to speak in Hickory, NC in March, I immediately got tickets to see her. This was a chance to see a bestselling author whose books I treasure. It was well worth the drive and overnight stay, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The auditorium at Lenoir Rhyne University was packed, and Penny was onstage for 90 minutes, presenting and fielding questions. I was struck by how funny she is, given that her novels are serious character-driven mysteries. Her comedic timing and openness made for an engaging evening. An example? She and her husband took the advance for her first book and went to lunch—at McDonald’s.

She described herself as a fearful child who liked to be in her room, alone, reading. As you might expect, she was afraid of spiders, but what you wouldn’t expect is that it was while reading Charlotte’s Web that she realized she wanted to be a writer. She was enjoying the story so much, she didn’t immediately realize that Charlotte was a spider, and was inspired by the power of writing, the power of words, to lift her fear.

Still, she had a fear of writing and for twenty years was a journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation before she made the leap to writing fulltime. She laughingly said she endured five years of writer’s block before completing her first novel, “Still Life,” book one in the Inspector Gamache series. That was in 2008, and she’ll publish book fifteen, “A Better Man,” this August.

She credits her move from Montreal to a small village, much like the fictional village of Three Pines in her books, to helping her overcome her writer’s block. We all laughed when she told us she’d joined a ladies’ group called Les Girls who met weekly in the town’s bistro over café au lait and croissants. To anyone who has read her books, that scene will be familiar.

In that group of creative ladies—painters, writers, sculptors—she learned that the creative process can involve starting, going back, going forward again, honing and shaping. It was during that time that she had the aha to “write a book I would read.” As a writer and an avid reader, I was happy to hear her say, “Reading is as creative as writing; you must be a reader to be a good writer.”

Again, we all chuckled when she said that the first three places she put on the map of Three Pines were the book store, the bistro, and the bakery. She fielded questions about who inspired her various characters and shared the poignant fact that her husband whom she lost in 2016 was the inspiration for Inspector Gamache.

I found it both astounding and inspirational that she didn’t publish her first book until she was in her 40s. Her process? Once she sits down to write a book, she doesn’t stop until it’s done—no days off. She sets herself a daily word count goal and writes until she reaches it. The next day, she polishes what’s she’s written and moves forward. Before she starts typing on day one, she’s already spent about a year jotting down ideas and has some sense of who did it and why—who committed the crime and why they did it.

The two of us who made the trip especially enjoyed meeting other fans in the auditorium and at our hotel. One gentleman said he’d read the books four times. Four times is a bridge too far for me, as I’m always thinking, “So many books, so little time,” but still, I’m considering reading them all one more time. If you haven’t yet read Lousie Penny, be sure to start with book one and be prepared to be hooked.

02/28/2019 Visiting Greece, if only in books

Chatting with a friend who’s planning a trip to Greece made me long to visit again. I’ve sailed the Greek Islands twice, the last time in 2013, and I’d return in a heartbeat given the opportunity. With all the places on my travel bucket list, I’m not sure another trip is in my future, so I’ll continue to get my Greece fix by reading mysteries set there.

My favorite author for Greek Island stories is Jeffrey Siger. He’s an American lawyer who gave up law to move to Mykonos and write. Color me jealous. Published in 2009, “Murder in Mykonos” became Greece’s #1 best-selling English-language novel and a bestseller in Greek too. I stumbled across Siger’s series after my last trip to Greece and kept trying to picture its Mykonos night spots since I’d just been there—not to the night spots, but to the island.

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis is the main character with a supporting cast of regulars. I’ve read five of the nine books in the series and found every one hard to put down. I visited Tinos and Delos on my last trip and especially enjoyed the books that featured those islands in addition to Mykonos. The New York Times selected the fourth book “Target: Tinos” as one of its top five beach reads—quite the honor.

I picked up Anne Zouroudi’s “The Messenger of Athens” but found it a bit dark for my tastes. Zouroudi has written eight books with Hermes Diaktoros as the protagonist, a character described as the Greek Hercule Poirot. One review I read described her books as “absorbing and beautifully written” but suggested they might appeal more to armchair travelers than to mystery buffs. Perhaps, that’s why it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Next, I read Leta Serafim’s debut novel “The Devil Takes Half,” set at an archaeological dig on the island of Chios. It held my interest with its plot and its main character, Yiannis Patronas, Chief Officer of the Chios police. I discovered that Serafim has two more books in the series, so I’ll be adding them to my To Read list at the library.

As I sought additional books that might strike my fancy, I stumbled across author Luke Christodoulou. After reading the descriptions of his mysteries, also set on the Greek islands, I was ready to click buy--that is until I read the reviews. Many indicated the books were not well edited, and as a grammar geek, that’s a serious turnoff for me.

As can be the risk with the internet, I tumbled down the rabbit hole of books set in Greece and found Mary Stewarts “My Brother Michael,” a book I read long ago. It came out in 1960, and I’m sure I read it sometime in the late 60’s when I was in my Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt phase. Because I’m fond of saying, “So many books, so little time,” I rarely reread a book, but I may have to make an exception for this one.

Writing about these books has not done a thing to assuage my desire to return to Greece. This column, if anything, has only made the longing worse. Who knows? A third trip to Greece could be in the cards.

02/19/2019 What is it about boarding schools?

More specifically, what is it about boarding schools that makes them the setting for so many novels? Christopher Swann’s “Shadow of the Lions” is set in a boarding school in the mountains of Virginia. When I read reviews of the book in both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Wall Street Journal, I knew I had to get it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Though several reviewers compare it to John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace” and the movie “Dead Poet’s Society, ” both set in New England boarding schools, I found it not quite as deep, though nonetheless suspenseful. I loved it as much for the setting, which features Virginia and Asheville, North Carolina, as I did for the plot.

The lions are those at the entrance to Blackburne, the school where the mystery begins. One friend vanishes during his senior year; the other goes on to become a writer of some note, all the while haunted by the disappearance of his friend. The fast-paced plot will keep you up late trying to speed read to the conclusion.

I enjoyed it so much, I had to get copies for my friends who have a vacation home in the Virginia mountains and for a Georgia friend. That “Shadow of the Lions,” Swann’s first book, won multiple awards and was reviewed in publications like the WSJ was all the more impressive to me when I read that he teaches high school English in Atlanta.

I taught high school English, though for only four years, not his twenty. Having met many local authors who aspire to break into the big time, it warmed my heart to read of Swann’s amazing debut, and as an avid reader and former English teacher, I can assure you his success is well deserved.

Devouring his book made me reflect on the several other boarding school books I’ve read through the years. “A Separate Peace,” set at a boys school during WWII was the first followed by “A Secret History,” set in a co-ed school. Both involve student deaths.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Prep” takes place at a co-ed school in Massachusetts and is filled with the “cruelty of cool” as one reviewer describes it—the cruelty of class, money, and social norms that comes into play at a prestigious boarding school. I couldn’t put the book down but sometimes found it painful to read.

“The Lake of Dead Languages,” set in a girls schools in the Adirondacks, has more of a gothic feel with its tapestry of mythology and legend. It focuses less on teenage angst and more on mystery.

Returning to boys schools, Joanne Harris’s“Different Class” set in England is another page-turner. The Washington Post description says it all: “It’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips meets The Bad Seed…[A] rich, dramatic tale that builds to a surprising conclusion.” I was surprised to learn that Harris is also the author of “Chocolat,” a very different book that was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche.

So back to my question: What is it about boarding schools that makes them the setting for so many novels—particularly dark novels? Is it the isolation? Is it the hierarchy that’s inevitably set up among the students? Is it the humiliation inflicted on the vulnerable few? Perhaps it’s some combination of these factors and more. Whatever it is, the boarding school setting has produced some classic novels. Hopefully, another one will come our way soon.

02/06/2019 Dimestore

I don’t often read memoirs, but a friend recommended Lee Smith’s “Dimestore: A Writer’s Life,” and I felt obliged to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I’ve read many of her novels and chuckled when I read in her memoir that she began writing stories when she was nine years old. The opening of the chapter titled A Life in Books brought back fond memories for me, not because I wrote as a child, but because I too was a voracious reader:

 I was a reader long before I was a writer. In fact, I started writing in the first place because I couldn’t stand for my favorite books to be over, so I started adding more and more chapters onto the ends of them, often including myself as a character. Thus the Bobbsey twins became the Bobbsey triplets, and Nancy Drew’s best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, were joined by another character named Lee Smith—who actually ended up with Ned Nickerson! The additional chapters grew longer and more complicated as my favorite books became more complicated—Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and Pippi Longstocking, for instance.

I suspect her parents called her a bookworm, though she was also an adventuring tomboy who climbed trees and roamed the mountains of Grundy, Virginia where she grew up. No one ever mistook me for a tomboy, so I don’t have that trait in common with her, but I did read beneath the covers with a flashlight, another scene she describes. And I smiled at her list of childhood books, so many of which I read too. I think I missed Pippi Longstocking, but I did read the Hardy Boys and Nurse Cherry Ames. How many of those ring a bell for you?

If you haven’t yet discovered Lee Smith’s novels, reading Dimestore will send you down that path. If you prefer to begin with a novel, I recommend “Oral History” and “Family Linen”, two of her earlier works, or her 2003 New York Times bestseller, “The Last Girls.” Though I seldom re-read books, I may have to go back to a few of hers to see whether they read differently now that I know more about the author.

01/21/2019 A Bookaholic Problem

We bookaholics would say you can never have too many books, but I’m beginning to think I have too many on my TBR (to be read) list. I can’t help myself. I see book reviews in the paper and add books to the list; I get Amazon emails with book suggestions and add more to my list; I get BookBub emails and do the same; my friends make suggestions on GoodReads and many of those titles go on the list. Do you see my problem?

Never mind reading all these books; the way I keep my list is problematic too. I scribble titles and authors on scraps of paper by my easy chair or the glider on the screened porch. Eventually, those scraps make it to my office and then three different lists take shape. First, I check the library online to see if they have the books either in hard copy or in ebook form. Reading two books a week means the library is always the first stop. If I’m lucky enough to find the titles there, I put them on my library wish lists so I can later place them on hold. Because the library system tracks ebooks separately from hard copies, I have two lists there.

If the books aren’t available at the library, the case for books early in a series or for many of the British mysteries I like, then I visit Amazon. There too, I can add books to my wishlist. This process means I’m constantly updating three different lists, and sooner or later I have to find time to order and read the darned things.

Don’t get me wrong, I live to read. I must read for at least 30 minutes before I turn out the lights at night. Often, the time stretches to two hours, yet I can’t even begin to get to all the books on my multiple lists. Perhaps if I hadn’t taken up writing, I could devote more time to reading, but that’s another story entirely.

Curious readers may wonder, “What books are on these lists?” Let’s start with a handful from the hard copy library list, and, omigosh, there are 55 books on that one: Finding Atticus, My Sister’s Grave, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Janus Stone, The Butterfly Garden, The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars, The Wife Between Us, Let the Devil Sleep.

On the ebook list are those that aren’t available in paper or a few that I may want to take on a trip, where Kindle reading is preferable. Phew, there are only 15 there: Body on Baker Street, Sweet Little Lies, Every Last Lie, Different Class, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, A Spool of Blue Thread.

And then there’s the Amazon list: Don’t Let Go, Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Globe Murders, Queen of Camelot, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, The Forever King.

If you look these titles up, you’ll find mostly mysteries, many set in England or Europe. A few books dubbed literary fiction also show up, as do one or two about dogs or cats.

What, you may ask, is wrong with having long lists of books to read? Perhaps it’s realizing there’s no chance I’ll ever get to them all unless I cease adding new titles. Cease adding new titles? Not likely. I’ll have to resign myself to never reading all the books that interest me, and I’ll add to this problem by visiting the

Dunwoody Library Sale

January 24 – 28

I guess there are worse problems for a gal to have.

PS. Please join me February 1, 7-9 pm, in Woodstock at the FoxTales Book Shoppe where I and nine other authors will talk about our books. Lord Banjo will be there too.

01/03/2019 More Books With Staying Power

 

“All of us are readers.  Some are just still searching for their favorite books.”

That quote from grammarly.com may say it all. Last autumn when I first shared my list of ten books that have staying power for me, I heard from two readers.  One said she was inspired to start some kind of book club, perhaps not the typical one where you discuss one book per get-together, but instead a gathering where you share favorites or some variation on that. 

 Another reader shared her list of books and her thoughts on them.  Though none are on my original list, half are books I’ve enjoyed. We emailed back and forth and came up with more titles.  Discussing books is one of my favorite pastimes, almost as enjoyable as reading them in the first place.

 Reading her list brings to mind my usual lament—so many books, so little time. Here it is:

Dune – Frank Herbert

Published 50 years ago, Dune is still fresh and new. Everything about this book astounded me the first time I read it.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

My mother will tell you I thought I was Jane Eyre (and she was right). I know Mr. Rochester had a significant impact on the type of guys I was attracted to—dark, brooding, strong. I know because I married Mr. Rochester. (Mr. Darcy helped, too.)

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – JRR Tolkien

I know it’s technically 3 books, but anyone who has read them would say they were one book. I read them when I was 16. I still remember lying on the floor of my room for hours reading and listening to the Allman Brothers album “Brothers and Sisters.”

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

One of the best prescient Sci-Fi books I’ve ever read along with being a darn good story.

The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy

This is when I realized my mother wasn’t crazy….just very southern. Reading this book is where I learned to embrace being from the South.

John Adams – David McCullough

I loved this book and cried at the end. After reading it, I felt privileged to have spent time with Mr. Adams and had a greater appreciation of the odds against there ever being a United States.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

I read this book when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I didn’t read it for school. I picked it up on my own. It was the turning point for me from popular fiction to literature.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

I so wanted to be witty and smart like Elizabeth. Plus, Mr. Darcy!

The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

I read this about five years ago. I resisted it in college. Astounding book on many levels. It set me off on a journey of learning all I could about Rand and her philosophies. I immediately read Atlas Shrugged.  Atlas Shrugged is probably the better book, but I read The Fountainhead first. It has that place in my heart. (BTW I named my puppy Roark.)

The Borrowers – Mary Norton

Half Magic – Edward Eager

I’m counting these kids books as one. I vividly remember reading these and all the sequels. It was when I knew I was a “Reader.” It was when I remember wanting to be transported to another world through reading a book.

 

Which of these books brings back fond memories for you or inspires you to head to the bookstore or library? What others are leaping to mind?  This discussion could be never-ending.

 

I’ll be one of the speakers and would love to see you!

A Novel Idea

Crema in Dunwoody

January 8, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

                                                                                            A Novel Idea 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12/27/18 Books With Staying Power

Facebook all too often takes me away from more productive activities, but occasionally there’s a post that’s thought provoking. This example is right up my alley: “List ten books that have stayed with you; don’t take more than a few minutes; don’t think too hard.  They don’t have to be great works, just books that have touched you. Post your list and keep it going.”

 I’m an avid reader, so this was fun for me. I whipped out a notepad and had no trouble coming up with ten books and could easily have kept going.

 In the order they came to mind, here’s my list:

Watership Down: I must have read it not long after it was published in the US in the 70’s. The tale of a rabbit colony in search of a new home when their old one is in danger of destruction, it’s an adventure story of the fight against tyranny and evil, all the more engaging with rabbits as the characters.

World According to Garp: I read this John Irving novel while on a sailing vacation and have a photo of me standing in the galley of our tiny sailboat in my nightgown reading. I couldn’t put it down.

The Women’s Room: This tale of a 1950’s housewife discovering there’s more to life than having a husband and a spotless home fueled a few heated debates at parties in the 70’s.  I vividly recall one woman proclaiming that any woman who was raped had somehow invited it.  I can’t recall ever being as incensed as I was that evening, and the resulting argument was long and loud.

Tears of Autumn: This novel not only makes my top ten list but also ranks as the best spy novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve read plenty. 

The Camp of the Saints: Translated from the French, this book was recommended by my boss at the executive search firm where I worked during college. It wasn’t an easy read, but the unforgettable story wherein “… Third World mass immigration to France and the West leads to the destruction of Western civilization,” is eerily timely given today’s refugee situation.

The Once and Future King: This wasn’t the first King Arthur book I read, but it’s the one that popped into my mind when compiling this list. Just recalling it makes me think of all the other King Arthur books I’ve read and loved, though they’re not among my top ten: Crystal Cave, Morte D ‘Arthur, Idylls of the King, and Mists of Avalon.

The Tipping Point and Blink: Both of these non-fiction books by Malcolm Gladwell are fascinating reads, the first about how trends take hold and the second about how we think without thinking.

The Hobbit: Need I say more?

Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Types: Once I was trained in interpreting the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, this book was invaluable in understanding personality traits and how they play out in day-to-day life.  I’ve found myself dipping into this book for over thirty years and recommending it to others.

Which books are on your list? This activity was such an enjoyable trip down memory lane; I may have to compile a list of my top ten childhood books next.  For now, though, I need to update my list of “want to read” books in preparation for our upcoming Dunwoody Library Sale, opening January 24. Who knows what treasures I’ll find?

 

Meet my Mum and Lord Banjo
Book Signing at Amy’s Hallmark at the Forum
Saturday 12/15, 1 – 3 pm

12/08/18 Books for Cat Lovers

Cat ReadingIt’ Mum’s job to write about books, but I demanded to be the one to write about the best cat books. I’m sure you’re aware we kitties read by lying on reading material, preferably newspapers, but a book will do.

My Aunt Lisa gave us my all-time favorite cat book, “The Dalai Lama’s Cat.” It’s my favorite because the cat tells the story, and her beginnings are similar to mine. His Holiness’s Cat, HHC for short, was found with his siblings near a trash heap in New Dehli. As the runt of the litter, she seemed destined to return to the trash until the Dalai Lama rescued her in the nick of time.

Like a food wrapper or beer bottle, I too was thrown from a car window into a bush in Midtown Atlanta. An angel, who was forever rescuing abandoned kitties and finding them homes, plucked me from the bush. My soon to be Mum was searching for a calico kitty and, luckily for both of us, found me online. So, HHC and I I have our near-death experiences in common.

HHC learns, not at the Dalai Lama’s feet, as she says, but in his lap; and she shares her adventures and imparts her wisdom in her sweet book. I must encourage Mum to get the next two books in the series, “The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Art of Purring” and “The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Power of Meow.”

“The Story of Fester Cat: How One Remarkable Cat Changed Two Men's Lives” is yet another book written by a cat. This “feisty feline,” as Fester’s new housemates describe him, wanders into a Manchester, England backyard and stays. Paul Magrs, one of Fester’s pet parents, is a writer, like my Mum. Strange coincidence, right? It’s Paul who first encourages Fester to write, starting with reviews of cat books. I guess it was natural for Fester to go from book reviews to the story of his life.

As I write about these two books, I realize that I must have an affinity for books written by cats, not necessarily books about cats.

Mum requested I mention another of her favorites. You may remember Cleveland Amory who for many years was a television critic for TV Guide. He was also an animal rights activist, and his first cat book was “The Cat Who Came for Christmas.” It was #1 on the NY Times bestseller list for twelve weeks in 1987. Polar Bear, a little white stray, was the star of that book, though Polar Bear didn’t write it. Amory wrote two more books about Polar Bear: “The Cat and the Curmudgeon” and “The Best Cat Ever.” All three were bestsellers. Mum says that even though the white kitty didn’t write the story, it too is a heartwarming tale.

It must be something about cats that our stories are always sweet. Mum says that even though we can be demanding little things, we can steal your heart in a flash. Dad agrees and says there’s nothing better than reading in bed with me snuggled against his shoulder with my head beneath his chin. I wonder whether there’s a book in my future, a book written by me, that is. We shall see.

Meet my Mum and Lord Banjo
Book Signing at Amy’s Hallmark at the Forum
Saturday 12/15, 1 – 3 pm

12/01/18 "So Many Books, So Little Time"

Who knew that line came from Frank Zappa? I sure didn’t, though I wholeheartedly agree with him. My day is not complete until I read at least a few pages in a book—usually a mystery novel--before turning out the bedside light. Oh, I read the newspaper every day, and like many of you, I read business emails and news all day long, but that’s just not the same as reading a good book.

I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood, and I know how fortunate I am that my parents read aloud to me and took me to the library. I recall the Golden books like The Poky Little Puppy. Do you remember the Dr. Seuss books arriving in the mail? I bet many of you also read the Bobbsey Twins or perhaps The Boxcar Children, depending on your age, and graduated to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

Just writing this brings other childhood books to mind: Big Red, Old Yeller, Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe. I guess we all went through a phase of reading books about animals, but I also recall The Five Little Peppers, Heidi and the Little House on the Prairie books. Many of these are still on my bookshelves.

Perhaps it was my love of reading that led me to major in English. I enjoyed all of my literature courses as an undergrad but treasured my time in the master’s program where I focused on British literature. Diving into Arthurian legend and discovering Mrs. Malaprop transported me to other times and worlds. To this day, I prefer British mysteries to any other.

What fun to read a mystery that imagines the discovery of a missing Shakespearean play or references the friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. And if you are thinking, “Gee, get a life,” I also read all the Spenser and Elvis Cole mysteries set in modern day America.

Lately, though, it’s the post WWI era that holds my interest, so the Inspector Rutledge and Maisie Dobbs mysteries are current favorites. While I’m not one to pick up a history book on WWI or any other topic, I do enjoy learning from historical novels. I had only a vague idea of the devastation of WWI and its impact on Great Britain until I read these books. The Death Instinct, a story based on the 1920 bombing of Wall Street, just arrived in the mail, and I can tell from the reviews that it will give me a similar feel for how WWI altered life in America.

Before I move on to New York City, though, I'll need to finish The Messenger of Athens, a mystery set on a Greek island. I’m enjoying the descriptions of whitewashed cottages and bright blue doors with the Aegean sea in the background. As The Cat in the Hat says, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” I think he nailed it; don’t you?

Upcoming Events

  • Holiday Pop-Up Book Shoppe, Dunwoody Library, December 5, 4-7 pm
  • Book Signing with Lord Banjo, Posman Books at Ponce City Market, December 8, noon – 3 pm
  • Book Signing with Lord Banjo, Amy’s Hallmark at the Forum, December 15, 1-3 pm

 

Ink Penn Popup

11/11/18 For Sherlock Holmes Lovers

 I’m not only a mystery fan; I also have a special place in my heart for books based on Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but through the years, I’ve stumbled on the occasional TV productions and always found them enjoyable.

It may have been Laurie King’s Mary Russell stories that got me hooked on all things Sherlock Holmes. The first in the series, “The BeeKeeper’s Apprentice,” came out in 1994. Mary Russell, a 15-year-old girl, literally stumbles across Sherlock Holmes while out walking, and their unlikely relationship becomes the stuff of fifteen novels. I realize as I’m typing this that I haven’t read them all, so it’s time to add a few to my library wishlist. I wanted to believe the foreword to the first book, wherein the author explains finding letters in a trunk either between or about Mary Russell and Sherlock. Forgive me; it’s been almost twenty years since I read the book. Suffice it to say, I found the premise intriguing.

“The Sherlockian” is another book I couldn’t put down. It features dedicated Sherlock Holmes fans who get wind of a missing Arthur Conan Doyle diary, one which would explain the final chapter in Sherlock’s life. I found the mystery intriguing and also enjoyed learning about Conan Doyle’s life even though the facts were interwoven with fiction.

Next, I discovered Anthony Horowitz’s 2011 “The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel” through a review in the Wall Street Journal. “For the first time in its one-hundred-and-twenty-five-year history, the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate has authorized a new Sherlock Holmes novel … The Arthur Conan Doyle Estate chose the celebrated, #1 New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz to write ‘The House of Silk’ because of his proven ability to tell a transfixing story and for his passion for all things Holmes.” It lived up to its billing.

Bonnie MacBird’s “Art in the Blood” is another novel written as a continuation of the original series. I may have stumbled across it as an Amazon recommendation. If you decide to give Sherlock a try, this, like “The House of Silk,” is written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.

For a lighter Holmes themed mystery, I picked up “Elementary She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Murder.” The story takes place on Cape Cod where, at 222 Baker Street, of course, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium deals in Holmes paraphernalia, books, and collectibles. This modern day, humorous, murder mystery makes for a fun read.

Writing this column required a bit of research to refresh my memory, and I happily found yet another Holmes story to add to my list, “The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars.” It promises to be a humorous mystery. I like to mix up my reading—a book with a literary bent and way with words and then one with a lighter, witty story. Once again, I have more books on my “To Be Read” list than I’ll ever get to, but I’ll enjoy the pursuit.

Join Kathy and Lord Banjo for a Book Signing
November 17, noon – 2 pm
Consigning Women
2508 Mt. Vernon Road
Dunwoody, GA

11/01/18 Mystery novels set in California

 Though I’m partial to mystery series set in England, I also follow several set in the US. It’s hard to beat my long-time favorite, Robert Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone mysteries set in the Boston area, but two LA series also rank high on my list. Published in 1992, Michael Connelly’s “The Black Echo” introduces Hieronymous Bosch, an LAPD cop, named for a Renaissance painter by that name. Who does that to a child? Fortunately, he goes by Harry. Bosch is Connelly’s protagonist in twenty novels with the 21st coming in October this year.

In the first book, we learn Bosch was a tunnel rat in the Vietnam war. Both the war and the early death of his mother were defining experiences for Harry. In twenty novels, Connelly explores Harry’s complex personality and what drives him. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book and have binge-watched each season of the Amazon original series “Bosch” starring Titus Welliver. Fair warning, both the books and the Amazon series are dark. If Harry ever smiles, it’s a fleeting expression.

Connelly also wrote five novels with defense attorney Mickey Haller as the lead character. “The Lincoln Lawyer” was the first and was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. Bosch is a darker character than Mickey, but both series are enjoyable.

Robert Crais’s series, also set in LA, starts out a bit quirkier, a bit more humorous than Connelly’s. That’s more a product of his main character Elvis Cole’s quick wit than it is of the plots. Elvis is closer in personality to Parker’s Spenser, witty but with a code of honor that drives him to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost. In the first book, readers discover that Elvis has a Felix the Cat clock in his office, the one with the tail that wags. I see that clock as emblematic of his personality.

Spenser has Hawk, and Elvis has Joe Pike. Starting in 1987 with “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” Crais has published seventeen Elvis Cole/Joe Pike mysteries, and we learn more about the personalities and histories of the two as the series progresses. From time to time, Joe Pike takes the lead, and Elvis has his back instead of vice-versa.

When I have the opportunity, I like to start with the first book in a series. In doing so, I’ve been able to notice the Elvis Cole stories grow in complexity and seriousness. That makes this recommendation from Robert Crais intriguing:


“I always suggest [readers] begin with “L.A. Requiem, or even one of the standalones like “Demolition Angel” or “The Two Minute Rule.” It isn’t that I feel the earlier books aren’t as ‘good’ as my more recent efforts—I am intensely proud of those early novels—but my newer books are richer, broader in scope, and way more complex in their structure, so I believe them to be more representative of the work I am doing today.”

If I were reading this today without having read any of the Crais novels, I know I’d still follow my rule of thumb and start at the beginning. I often discover an author new to me by picking up a book at a library sale and starting in the midst of a series. When I enjoy the book, though, I set out to find the early ones and read them in order. Whatever your preference, if you enjoy crime novels and serious mysteries, Connelly and Crais are good authors to try.

KIndle Sale

10/16/18 Let's Talk Dog Books

Lord BanjoYes, let’s talk dog books. Lord Banjo here filling in for Mum. She’s not the only person in the family who can write about books, you know.

I have two favorite dog books, but I’ll save those until the end, as in save the best for last. I discovered all kinds of dog books on the many bookshelves around the house. The first two I found at eye level tucked in Mum’s childhood books on the bookcase. “Beautiful Joe,” like my book, is written by the dog, but unlike me, Joe had a rough life and a mean owner. Mum tells me it was one of her favorite books.

Next to that book sits a worn copy of “Big Red,” the story of a seventeen-year-old boy and his Irish Setter. I find it amusing that Mum remembers it fondly because it is about a boy and a dog hunting and fishing and all kinds of stuff she never did--topics I wouldn’t think Mum would find appealing. Did you know this and other books by Jim Kjelgaard were removed from lists of recommended young adult books years ago about the time folks were canceling NRA memberships?

In Mum’s office, I spied “Lucky Boy,” a beautifully illustrated children’s story about a lonely dog and a lonely man. Mum says she saw it displayed in a bookshop one day and had to have it.

Also on the office bookshelf, I found “Marley and Me.” Mum liked this book and the movie. I wonder whether she especially liked it because Josh Grogan, the author, was a columnist like she is. The book about Marley, a wild child of a dog, grew out of Grogan’s columns about the big galoot. Though Marley did things like eat sofas, Josh and the rest of the family loved him dearly.

Another of Mum’s favorites is “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” She says folks always ask her whether my book is like that, and she tells them my book is nowhere near as deep. Enzo is a lovable philosopher of a dog who educates himself by watching TV and focusing intently on the words of his dad. His story is sweet and sad.

The last dog book Mum read was nonfiction: “How Dogs Love Us.” Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns wanted to know what his dog Callie was thinking and whether she and dogs, in general, love people the way people love us. He used MRI imaging technology to scan Callie’s brain and figure out the answers. The story of how he got little Callie to put her head in an MRI machine and hold still is fascinating as are the results of his research. I hope Mum is reading this because she needs to know that an MRI is not something I want to experience!

Now, to my two favorite books. “Someone to Look Up To,” about a Great Pyrenees who lives in France, is my #2 favorite book. Why? Well, a Great Pyrenees tells the story, and I’m part Great Pyrenees. I learned lots about my breed and realized that not all dogs, even beautiful pure-bred Great Pyrenees, have responsible and loving people parents. The book is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Can you guess my all-time favorite? Of course, you can: it’s my book “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch.” My story is humorous, not heartbreaking, and reading it is guaranteed to put a silly grin on your face and make you LOL. What more could a dog lover want?

Meet Lord Banjo and the Royal Mum
Mansell Crossing Hallmark Shop October 27, noon - 2

PS. If you live in the Atlanta area, Mum and I would be happy to meet with your Book Club or make a presentation to your neighborhood or civic group.

09/30/18 It's All About Local Authors

Have you attended A Novel Idea in Dunwoody? Dunwoody author Kathy Florence brought the monthly event to Crema after hearing about the idea from Marsha Cornelius who organized the original series in Canton and then expanded it to Alpharetta.

Marsha tells me she got the idea from a nationwide event called Noir at the Bar and provided this description:

“Over the last seven years, dozens of Noir at the Bar events have sprung up around the country, and it has become something of a phenomenon in the crime fiction community.”

After attending a Noir at the Bar event in Lawrenceville in April 2016, she set out to build upon the idea and expand it beyond the crime fiction genre and make it more than a one-time event.

Thus was born the concept of A Novel Idea as a monthly event with a different theme each month: Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Historical fiction, Southern Writers, SciFi/Fantasy, Non-fiction/Memoir, and yes - Crime.

The first A Novel Idea was in June 2016 at an upstairs bar in Canton. By January 2018, Marsha had started a second location at Alpha Soda in Alpharetta, and in May, with the leadership of Kathy Florence, the Dunwoody location sprang up.

For Marsha and Kathy, this is a labor of love, a way of paying it forward to authors, readers, and communities. You may be surprised to learn Marsha and Kathy are not compensated in any way for their hard work organizing these events. There’s no charge for authors to participate and no charge for guests to attend. They spend untold hours lining up authors and do a yeoman’s job publicising the events. You may have seen the ads in the Crier for the Dunwoody events at Crema.

Their work brings together authors and readers. When I attend the events in Dunwoody, I feel as though I’m in one of those 1960s poetry readings in a New York or San Francisco coffeehouse, the scenes I’ve read about in novels and seen in movies.

These events give the authors a chance to get in front of 30 to 50 guests and tell their stories. The authors get about 10 minutes to introduce their book(s) and read a short excerpt. This is not a sales event, per se, though authors are invited to bring their books for the audience to purchase. In Dunwoody, I function as the local bookshop, sitting at a table in the back with books at the ready for interested readers.

Many of you already know author Kathy Florence, whose latest book is “Three of Cups.” So, who is Marsha Cornelius? As a gal who had a Dale Evans outfit as a child, I cracked up when I saw her website intro:

“The only contest Marsha Cornelius ever won was when she was eight-years-old. The prize was a Dale Evans cowgirl shirt, plaid with pearly snaps. She doesn’t remember how she won the prize, but she’s sure it wasn’t for writing.”

Things change, and today she’s the author of seven novels. The latest is her second book featuring the “wacky crime-solving husband and wife team of Rachel and Brian Sanders” in “Into the Pond.”

As for A Novel Idea, authors love it; guests love it, and the restaurant owners love it. I’m looking forward to being a guest author October 14 at A Novel Idea in Alpharetta at Alpha Soda. It will be a cross-genre evening so I’ll get to read from both my books: “The Ink Penn” and “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch.” I hope to see you there.

A Novel Idea 6:30 – 8:30 pm October 14
Alpha Soda
11760 Haynes Bridge Rd, Alpharetta, GA 30009

09/16/18 Why am I reading books set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds?

Because in addition to London, those are the locales I’ll soon visit in Great Britain. One of my greatest travel pleasures is preparing for a trip by reading fiction, especially mysteries, set in the locales I visit.

I prefer books to hold in my hands, but for international travel, only my Kindle will do. Because I read British mysteries nonstop, finding a select few set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds required an entertaining internet search. That effort netted me several authors to consider.

The first is Agatha Christie, an old standby. I’ve read her books here and there through the years, but more often watch Poirot on PBS. We’ll visit Greenway Estate, her home near Dartmouth. Several of her novels—The A.B.C. Murders, Five Little Pigs, Towards Zero, and Dead Man’s Folly—use the estate and the surrounding area as settings, and the television version of Dead Man’s Folly was filmed there.

A new to me author whose mysteries take place in the Dartmouth area is Kate Ellis. I’ve downloaded The Merchant’s House, the first book in her series featuring Wesley Peterson. From her website, I gleaned lots of ideas about sites to see while in the Dartmouth area and was prompted to write her. She wrote back and gave me an introduction to the buildings, businesses, and towns she describes in her books, only with different names. I think I’ll make a list of all of them and try to check them off as I go.

Because I’ve watched Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavor on PBS, I feel as though I already know bits and pieces of Oxford. I can’t recall ever reading Colin Dexter’s novels, though, so I’ve downloaded the first three Morse books for the trip.

Before this search, I’d already stumbled across Faith Martin’s mysteries set in Oxford. I’m still early in the series and intrigued by DI Hillary Greene living on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal. I’ve always dreamed of chartering a narrow boat—with a captain—and touring the countryside that way. So far, I’ve enjoyed Murder on the Oxford Canal and Murder at the University, and reading about her narrowboat is probably as close as I’ll get to vacationing on one.

When I googled books set in the Cotswolds, I was rewarded with Victoria Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It’s a bit of a romance and mystery blend, and its setting is a blend of Oxford and the Cotswolds.

Oddly, I hadn’t turned up any mysteries set in the Cotswolds until author Kate Ellis suggested I try Rebecca Tope’s mystery series. Every one of her books has Cotswolds in the title, so who knows why Google didn’t surface them during my search? My Kindle now contains a four-pack of the Cotswold series.

Though I don’t often read nonfiction, I’m also working my way through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. I say “working my way,” not because it’s a slog, but because I can easily pick it up and put it down, unlike the several novels I read each week. I love this description: “a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation of Great Britain, which has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.”

I’ve packed my suitcase and my Kindle, and I’m eagerly anticipating my upcoming trip across the pond.

09/05/18 Tales of King Arthur

Are there any King Arthur fans out there? It was Mary Stewart’s King Arthur trilogy that hooked me when I was in high school. I suspect “The Crystal Cave,” published in 1970, was one of the many books I snuck into class and read between the covers of textbooks. I had to wait until 1973 for the second book, “The Hollow Hills,” to come out, and “The Last Enchantment” arrived in 1979. Described as the Merlin trilogy, the books are told from his perspective

I was surprised to find that Stewart had written two more in the series in 1983 and 1995. Those will have to go on my library wish list ASAP. Before her King Arthur phase, Stewart was primarily a romantic thriller writer, and I have vague memories of reading her novels “Nine Coaches Waiting” and “My Brother Michael.”

As I was searching for details about my favorite books, I came across a BookBub article, “17 Magical Books About the Legend of King Arthur.” I can’t claim to have read them all, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few. Of Stewart’s books, only “Crystal Cave” made the BookBub list.

Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d'Arthur” is not on the list either, but it was his tales of Arthur, Launcelot, and Guinevere that became the foundation for all that followed. His compilation published in 1485 was translated from stories written in French and is surprisingly readable. I was well on the way to becoming a life-long King Arthur fan by the time I read it as an English major in college.

My enjoyment of Malory’s tales led me to T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” which is on the BookBub list. Published in 1958, it was the inspiration for the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. I must have first seen the 1967 movie version on TV, and seeing Richard Harris reprise the role on stage is a cherished memory. Of course, I have the CD.

“The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley made the list and is one of my favorites from the 80’s, probably because it was a retelling of the story from the female perspective. Reflecting on how much I enjoyed the novel reminds me that there was a 2001 TNT miniseries starring Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, and Joan Allen.

My trip down memory lane surfaced three other King Arthur films I’ve seen. First is the 1963 Disney animated “Sword in the Stone,” also based on T. H. White’s book. Skip past Camelot, and I must admit a weakness for the 1995 movie “First Knight” starring Sean Connery as King Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot. The 2004 “King Arthur” with Clive Owens and Keira Knightley was yet another fascinating retelling of the tale, this time with Arthur portrayed as a Roman officer.

Of the 17 books on the BookBub list, I found two to add to my To Be Read list. “The Forever King” trilogy is a modern fantasy tale of a young man who stumbles across an antique cup that turns out to be The Holy Grail. It even has an ex-FBI agent in it, a twist that makes it a perfect combo for this mystery addict.

Also on my list now is “The Queen of Camelot,” another retelling of Guinevere’s role in the rise and fall of Camelot. I’m anticipating reading new books, watching old movies, and winding up in a King Arthur induced coma sometime soon.

08/27/18 A Must Read for Southerners

I don’t often read memoirs, but a friend recommended Lee Smith’s “Dimestore: A Writer’s Life,” and I felt obliged to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I’ve read many of her novels and chuckled when I read in her memoir that she began writing stories when she was nine years old.  The opening of the chapter titled A Life in Books brought back fond memories for me, not because I wrote as a child, but because I too was a voracious reader:

I was a reader long before I was a writer. In fact, I started writing in the first place because I couldn’t stand for my favorite books to be over, so I started adding more and more chapters onto the ends of them, often including myself as a character.  Thus the Bobbsey twins became the Bobbsey triplets, and Nancy Drew’s best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, were joined by another character named Lee Smith—who actually ended up with Ned Nickerson! The additional chapters grew longer and more complicated as my favorite books became more complicated—Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and Pippi Longstocking, for instance.

I suspect her parents called her a bookworm, though she was also an adventuring tomboy who climbed trees and roamed the mountains of Grundy, Virginia where she grew up. No one ever mistook me for a tomboy, so I don’t have that trait in common with her, but I did read beneath the covers with a flashlight, another scene she describes. And I smiled at her list of childhood books, so many of which I read too.  I think I missed Pippi Longstocking, but I did read the Hardy Boys and Nurse Cherry Ames.  How many of those ring a bell for you?

If you haven’t yet discovered Lee Smith’s novels, reading Dimestore will send you down that path. If you prefer to begin with a novel, I recommend “Oral History” and Family Linen, two of her earlier works, or her 2003 New York Times bestseller, “The Last Girls.” Though I seldom re-read books, I may have to go back to a few of hers to see whether they read differently now that I know more about the author.

08/19/18 Which children’s books do you remember?

Seeing a Facebook post about best loved Golden Books took me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled my favorite childhood books.  High on that list was ”The Poky Little Puppy,” and a bit of research revealed that it ranks as the top-selling children’s book of all time. When I tried to call to mind other Golden Books I loved, “The Three Little Kittens” was the only additional one that popped up.

Never fear, I recall plenty of other books I enjoyed. I have fond memories of Mom taking me to the library, I think on Saturdays. “Angus and the Ducks” is one of the books I checked out repeatedly. It’s the story of a little black terrier who discovers ducks one day when he sneaks out of his house. As an adult, I thought of that book every time I saw a friend’s dog run into the lake to chase the ducks.

I have forgotten plenty of books from my early years, but I had a delightful experience surfing Amazon. It took seeing the covers to make me remember my favorites. If my memory of the covers is that vivid, I know I must have read those books over and over.  When I clicked on Angus, I was rewarded with the cover of “Make Way for Ducklings,” triggering another happy memory.

The “Curious George” series was another favorite, one that has stood the test of time.  This summer I spent the day with my high school friend Beth as she made my dog a royal purple robe—you know about Lord Banjo and his robe, right? I had to laugh when I discovered she’d been making party favors for her grandson’s Curious George birthday party just the week before.

I still have my three Dr. Seuss books. They came in the mail as part of the Beginner Books series by Random House, which also included non-Suess books: “Stop that Ball,” “Cowboy Andy,” and “The King’s Wish.”

Another book I could remember even without seeing the cover was “The Five Chinese Brothers.”  Before locating it on Amazon, I thought to myself that in this age of heightened sensitivity, it had probably been banned.  I couldn’t readily remember the story, but the description, “a dramatic retelling of an old Chinese tale,” makes it seem harmless enough.

Trigger warning! The childhood book that has indeed been banned from some libraries is “Little Black Sambo,” originally published in 1899. Because the title and illustrations in the original are considered offensive, it was reworked in later tellings. The title and the setting change, but the story remains the same: “[A little boy] encounters four hungry tigers and surrenders his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain, and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter; [the boy] then recovers his clothes, and his mother makes pancakes of the butter.”

To end on an uncontroversial note, I also spied “The Story of Ferdinand,” a book that’s now been made into an animated movie.  What wonderful childhood memories.


 

Kathy Manos Penn is a Georgia resident. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at inkpenn119@gmail.com, or both.

 

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