Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “writers”

Movie Musings: Genius


During my weekly library stop I loaded up book titles and found some possibilities on the free rack. Now to find the time for them all. Stocking up on movies for the weekend I focused on the “G” section at our library pulling old favorites such as The Giver and found Genius next to it. Realizing it was about the friendship between an author and an editor I added to my fare. Good choice.

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I know nothing about Thomas Wolfe beyond him being a well-known writer who couldn’t go home again. Oh yes, he was also tall enough (6’6″) to use the top of his refrigerator as his writing desk. I also recall something about wearing a white suit. I later discovered there are two writers by name of Thomas Wolfe. This Thomas Wolfe is the writer from the Jazz Age, not the writer of The Right Stuff. This Wolfe did not wear white, but he proved fairly distinctive in his own way.

The 2016 film Genius added much more to that knowledge. Yet, the film isn’t so much about Tom Wolfe (played by Jude Law) as it is about Max Perkins (Colin Firth), his editor at Scribner’s. Apparently Maxwell Perkins was a legend amongst the publishing community having discovered Hemingway and Fitzgerald, among other writers.

As the movie unfolds we understand that Max and Tom form a bond that goes much deeper than a working relationship. Max loved his five daughters, yet wanted a son. Tom, losing his father earlier in his life, needed another father figure. For a time these two men met each other’s needs and also produced some brilliant books that are still referred to today.

Often books are sourced to become movies and less often a movie inspires a book. In the case of Genius, I am intrigued enough to find the books of Thomas Wolfe and read about the man who encouraged an undisciplined writer to produce laudatory prose. It makes one wonder who the true genius is in this film.

Bard Bits: All Is True (not really, Ken)


As a bona fide Bardinator I look forward to new or new-to-me versions of Shakespeare’s plays. I also appreciate Shakespeare-ish films, those films, shows, and specials that speculate about the Bard of Avon, because in actuality we really don’t know much about him or his family. Kenneth Branagh, noted Bardolator, attempted to cast some (perceived) truth on Shakespeare’s life after retiring to Stratford.

If you missed All Is True it’s no doubt because it wasn’t playing in a theatre near you. It certainly wasn’t in my secluded part of the world. Fortunately I found a copy in the local grocery DVD corner. The hubs would have preferred a Tom Cruise flick and almost checked out yet another watching of a Mission Impossible. He acquiesced. This is one of the reasons he is such a keeper–plus he owed me for my relenting to watch The Italian Job yet again.

Kenneth Branagh has provided a marvel of a supposition: what happened after Shakespeare retired in 1613 to Stratford? We don’t know, historians don’t know, but Branagh sets forth what he perceives might have, could have happened based on the tiniest scraps of historical information.

Facts:
The Globe Theater burnt to the ground in 1613 and William Shakespeare retired from the theatre to live out his remaining days (three years) in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon where he had a family: Anne, his wife, Susanna, his eldest daughter (married with a young daughter) and Judith (unmarried and the surviving twin). Shakespeare’s heir, Hamnet, died at age 11 (attributed to plague, but no one really is sure). There was some scandal connected with each of Shakespeare’s daughters. Shakespeare died on his birthday.

Fancy:
From those facts Branagh provides a family drama of a man who has been more absent than present for the past twenty years, and apparently has never recovered from the loss of his only son and heir. Branagh has Shakespeare creating a memorial garden for his son and battling out resentments with his wife and daughters.

Kudos:
The acting is superb. How could it not with Judi Dench as the long-suffering Anne, Ian Mckellen as the larger than life patron come to visit his favorite poet, and Kenneth Branagh, who has brought Shakespeare to the general public in bold and creative ways? The supporting actors hold their own as well, especially Susanna and Judith. The hubs did not even recognized Branagh as Shakespeare, being impressed when he saw his name as the director, but stunned to learn he was playing the Bard. Yes, the make up is that well done. He looks like the portrait we are all so familiar with. The costumes and time period setting is excellent–they even filmed in candlelight.

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Concerns:
I am a stickler for historical accuracy and get a bit distracted when adaptations go too far afield in interpretation. I don’t mind Henry IV being set during WWI or gnomes becoming Romeo and Juliet, but hey, taking liberties with actual history and presenting it “all is true” goes beyond artistic license. The hubs finally shuushed me during the movie, indicating he didn’t care for my pointing out of inaccuracies and inserting corrections. He said, “I liked it.” But, but, not all was true.

Takeaway:
This is facfic in extreme. It is a love letter done with excellence. It is worthwhile to hunt up a copy and watch it, not just because for its production quality. Do it because it keeps Shakespeare alive, even though he has been gone for over 400 years.

Reading Round Up: February


For a short month February provided ample time to plow through a bevy of satisfying and diverse books. Two snow days from school helped in getting some serious cozy cocoa and recliner reading done. So many great titles and discoveries to share with you!

 

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson
4 stars

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A reimagining, rather than a retelling of the Chinese folktale of Mulan, Dickerson’s version is set in 15th century Lithuania. In this version, Mulan is the illegitimate daughter of Mikolai, a warrior father who has died. Mulan serves as a warrior to save her mother from becoming homeless, and to escape from an unwelcome arranged marriage.
The first half of the plot relates Mulan’s adventures as a soldier. With realistic detail, Mulan struggles to meet the demands of fighting amongst men, while trying to hide her identity. During battle she meets and becomes friends with Wolfgang, a duke’s son. Inevitably their friendship develops into something deeper once Wolfgang discovers why he is attracted to and is protective of the young soldier known as Mikolai.
Unfortunately, the second half of the story becomes enmeshed in being more of a romance novel than the adventuresome first part. Attention to historical detail and the smooth rendering of the multiple points of view, lean this more towards a four star than a three star review.
This title refers to characters from the previous book in the Hagerheim series, yet it can be read as a standalone.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The Long Game (The Fixer #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
4 stars

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Sequels are tough. For the most part The Long Game continues the energy from The Fixer, and weaves in enough referrals to keep new readers abreast of previous action. The Long Game focuses on action instead of characters and character dynamics is what made The Fixer such a riveting story. There is not a mention of Gramps in The Long Game and considering how important he is to Tess and Ivy, it seems an injustice to drop him from the plot. Tess is one amazing young woman, yet she is a high school teen not Jason Bourne. Still, the writing is superb, the plot twists darn right surprising. Just wee bit too intense with a few plot holes holding it back.

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
4 stars

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I am not sure how this book escaped my attention as a kid. Best to make up for lost time. It is a classic and has all kinds of charm—YET—I’m not sold out on Amos. I can’t get past how only Ben could hear Amos talk, and all those other plot holes, like how does a mouse buy a hat?  The illustrations are the best part of the story, and they were actually better than the story. Just saying.

NOTE: I had to scurry and read this for our February Debatable–which was a doozy of a debate. What? You missed it? Best check it out [my choice of best mouse won with Reepicheep of Narnia series fame]

At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
4 stars

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This one of those literary novels that are Joycian in how there is no plot, rather it’s one long character study with a tableau of characters. Nothing really happens, yet there is an urgency that something might. And it takes ever so long to realize it doesn’t. Brilliantly written, of course.

NOTE: since the library doesn’t own The Bookshop, which I hope to read before watching the movie, I grabbed this instead. If this were made into a movie I would envision Bette Davies as Freddie.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
4 stars

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Avoidance of Holocaust books is my usual modus operandi, yet a based-on-a-true story about a library in Auschwitz? I pulled it down from the shelf with anticipation.
The beginning is absolutely riveting as the young Dita attempts to hide a couple of books during a spot inspection. Will she be caught?  From that auspicious start the plot veers into a medley of different characters with historical facts woven in for good measure. The omniscient present tense creates a distance, making it difficult to fully embrace the story. Dita is amazing, but she is not truly the focus.  The atrocities began to burden the story until it began to be a reading of endurance instead of interest. Of course a book set in a concentration camp is going to have tragedy; however, I was drawn in by the title—a librarian at Auschwitz? That sounded like a story based in hope.
The research and details are well-done and this, perhaps, is what creates a barrier from establishing a solid connection with the characters—a bit of a textbook mingled with a dynamic storyline is the result. It almost works and maybe it worked better in the author’s original language. Translations sometimes do lose some of the story’s essence.

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
5 star

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YA usually comes in the flavors of dystopian, supernatural, romance, strong female protagonist, sci fi, high school drama, adventure; however, the newest menu choice is political thriller. The Fixer is surprisingly addicting and amazing in how it takes the high school drama trope, mixes in some adventure, with a strong female protagonist, and tops it off with political intrigue. Unexpectedly refreshing.
Tess, who hails from Montana, suddenly finds herself planted in Washington DC in a life far different than her previous. Although shoveling muck out of horse stalls and brooking a strong intolerance for bullies are skills that serve her well in DC.
The writing is superb, as is the pacing, and the plot twists are to be applauded. This is a reluctant 5 star due to the difficulty of totally accepting the maturity and capabilities of this group of teens. Then again, living in DC is not for sissies.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
5 star

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Santos had me at Cary Grant. All the mentions of classic black and white films was a bonus to the imaginative plot, dynamic characters, and lyrical prose. To be perfectly honest though, this is more of a 4.85 rating as the ending half began to unravel a bit with tying off of loose ends. The author’s background in poetry serves her well, since the descriptive imagery practically sings, yet doesn’t overshadow the plot. A couple of unexpected plot twists, a winsome little girl, and a mystery mom, along with unconventional storytelling techniques makes this a memorable read. And it’s her first one–looking forward to more.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
5 star

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Harbor Me is in the vein of Wonder in how it brings people together with its message of acceptance. Although it is a middle read, its prose is rich and well-crafted and is, quite frankly, thoroughly amazing. A niggling concern is how in the world could a school legally get away with having an unsupervised “chat” room for students? Definite artistic license superseding legal responsibilities. Setting that aside, the conceit of ARRTful sharing works in how it opens up the world of a diverse group of children on the verge of becoming teens in a world becoming more and more complicated.

The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
5 star

634747A solid classic. Strong, memorable characters, engaging storyline, and enriching details come together to purport the tale of a young, penniless doctor who rises out of the obscurity of backwoods coal mining towns to becoming a rich, well-respected London physician. His trading out of idealism for a comfortable life comes with great costs, yet the story just falls short of moralism. Due to the style found in the time period of publication,some of the story techniques are a bit antiquated, as in the tried and true, “tell rather than show” instead of having the story evolve from the characters themselves. There is also some melodramatic moments. Nevertheless, it is still well-written and a meritable read.  It’s not surprising that the book was made into a film and a BBC series.

Don’t Close Your Eyes: A Silly Bedtime Story by Bob Hostetler illustrations by Mark Chambers
5 star

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Playfully engaging, the rhyming text teams up to the whimsical illustrations to coerce its audience to NOT fall asleep. That’s right. Instead of the usual drone of encouraging young listeners to gently enter slumber, this book keeps cheerfully reminding its readers to stay awake. The reverse psychology is fun and children will no doubt enjoy the gentle nudge to keep their eyes open wide open instead of closing them for the night.
One of those books that invite multiple reads.

NOTE: received as review copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review

The last entry is not so much a dissapointment, but it just didn’t fulfill the hope of being better:

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
3 stars
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Historical novels set around WWII easily catch the interest, especially when it’s a unique view of the war effort through work done at the Springfield Armory. The jacket blurb indicates family drama: two sisters who cannot reconcile petty jealousies and misunderstandings that fill their relationship from childhood to being adults.
What could have been a deep study of family relationship interaction became a bouncing point of view telling with several women each telling their perspective. The intermittent timeline weaving and flashbacks made it difficult to truly connect with the characters. Multiple viewpoint stories run towards the problem of thinly spreading the plot too wide. Well-placed setting, though, as it is obvious the author did her research

Writing Quotes


Usually I dedicate a chunk of time during the summer to writing projects: finishing, editing, revising, submitting. This summer writing has taken a back seat to my dealing with healing. Typing with my left hand, mainly my left thumb while my right hand passively observes, is not conducive to getting a lot of writing done. There is a deadline of 10 pages by August 21 I’m gamely trying to meet.

So–I get sidetracked. One of my more diverting diversions is looking up words on dictionary.com and I came across these quotes of encouragement. Hope one of them rings true for you:

   
               

From Super-size to Bite-size


With summer vacation officially starting for me I decided to attack my office and tidy up the mounds of paper that has been accumulating through the year. This is both a needed chore and also serves as a means of procrastination. I know I should be sitting down and actually getting back to those writing projects. Like that cow joke book…

Cows can wait momentarily, for I found treasures to share.


[Zits points out that literature, and I will extend this to quotes, is a matter of perspective] 

Every year in September I attend the local SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference. My main goal is have a manuscript professionally critiqued by an editor or agent (who will be so delighted with my writing that I am offered a contract on the spot). Another goal is network and source gather. Both are conducive to bettering my writerly skills.

One workshop handout proved too fun to toss.The idea is to take a well-known quote and make it more relatable to teens by translating into more YAish language. Here is their example:

“When today fails to offer the justification for hope, tomorrow becomes the only grail worth pursuing.” Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Here’s their translation: “Some days it’s hard to see the point of it all, so you have to wait for tomorrow and hope by then there’ll be something worth waking up for.”

I don’t know about you, but I can see this opening up a YA book that will be full of angst, humor, a touch of romance, and maybe even a bit of defiance.

YA is one genre that I would like to get out there into the hands of readers. There must be room for another John Green. I’m working on getting my YA voice down, and that’s the point of this exercise. Tell you what, rate me on whether I’m even close.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Time
“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires–we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome.”

C.Muse translation:
“If I can’t see the silver lining, I’m still gonna carry an umbrella.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.”

C.Muse translation:
“The world wants to suck your joy, just like vampires, and vampires aren’t exactly EMTs.”

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

C.Muse translation:
“Life is too short to be hanging on to bruises–get over it and go have a bagel.”

Quotes of great possibility I didn’t get to:

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever know.” 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It was actually pretty entertaining to listen to everyone’s interpretation. As I recollect my vampire translation received a few polite guffaws. Does that mean it was perceived as a home runner or just a bummer?

I do have a couple of YA manuscripts I plan on revisiting and sending out on their “please-publish-me” tour.

Blue Skies and hope your summer is also off to a spiffy start.

 

 

Author Spotlight: Shakespeare and The Force Is Still With Us


We are still in the year of Shakespeare, and exploring how the Bard has touched our lives. Ian Doescher took his self-proclaimed Shakesnerd and has done something productive about. It makes sense that Star Wars would be the next mash-up since, after all, we have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The Folger Shakespeare Library provides a nifty blog addressing all things Shakespeare, appropriately naming it “Shakespeare & Beyond.” One delightful post involves a focus on Doescher and his creation of his Star Wars series, in which he retells the Star Wars stories in iambic pentameter. Yes, he has done this. Brilliantly. On a radio interview, a podcast, he discusses how the Star Wars series came to be. His Yoda impression is not to be missed.

Ian Doescher interview

What if Star Wars was written four hundred years ago…

Shakesyear


This is a biggie for Shakespeare fans. This is the year we Bardinators celebrate the 400 years of the Bard’s influence since he left us in 1616. Usually I spotlight an author around this part of the month, but I plan I spotlighting Billy Bard every month this year as my personal salute to the guy who brought us plays like Hamlet, words like crocodile, and phrases such as “in a pickle.” So if you are not into Shakespeare plan on skipping my posties at the end of the month OR maybe I can convince you that Shakespeare is a big deal. You might want to skip down to the Shakespism video to see if you suffer from this malady.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the first Folger Summer Academy  in which thirty teachers from all over the USA came together and studied Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. It was a WOW time–Wonderful, Oh Wonderful.

Being surrounded by Shakespeare scholars and being immersed in Shakespeare culture for an entire week fortified my appreciated for the legacy of the playwright/poet of Stratford.

An embarrassing confession: it’s only been a mere fifteen years since I discovered Shakespeare. There was no Shakespeare in my home, in my schools, nor did I encounter him during my college years. Sad and shocking, I know. It wasn’t until I became an English teacher and had to teach Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet that I realized I had much to learn and I determined I had best make up for lost time.

As a celebration of  the Bard’s 400 years of influence the Folger Library is providing a first ever tour of Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is the book Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues put together after the Bard’s death and contains the thirty plus plays we associate with Shakespeare. I saw AND touched the Folio. Big ooooh factor. I also handled his lease for his Stratford house. Somehow that had more meaning because I know he actually touched that document. The folio is a more or less a tribute of his greatness, but he knew nothing about it.

However, I realize not everyone is wowed by William. Here are some videos that might help you overcome your Shakesfear or ennui of Bard Hoopla.

 

Wouldn’t You Know–A Reflection on Desks


Where writers write is almost as fascinating as how they write. Personally, I become rather discouraged rather than encouraged to read about authors with routines that involve getting up at 4:30 am, doing yoga first, downing their wheatgrass shake, writing away until noon with no breaks because they are of the “plant butt in chair” answer to the obsequious “how to be a writing success?” Quora question.

I am more interested if it’s a wouldn’t desk or not. That’s no typo.

A “wouldn’t” desk is different than a wooden one. A wouldn’t desk involves an alter ego, as in “You wouldn’t believe that when the laundry is off this couch, this is where I work on my cow joke book.” Or “You wouldn’t think that writing in bed would be comfortable or even productive.”

Both couches and beds have served as my desks. Apparently I’m in good company because Mark Twain is famous for writing in his bed. He kept a pool table in his bedroom for when he needed a break from  writing. That’s one big bedroom.

I have yet to find an author who wrote or writes on a couch, that is, a purple one. I purchased mine as my muse and placed it next to my bed. A lovely shade of deep eggplant, it’s  in patterned plush, reminding me of the old movie theatre seats in the Rialto of my childhood years. It has since disappeared into the guest room where it lives an unfilled life as a laundry sorting station.

I ditched desks a long time ago due to two factors:

1. Space

2. Clutter

Desks take up a lot of space. Plus they are so imperiously demanding. Desks can’t go anywhere and require sitting at them. My creativity is shackled somewhat to planting my hindness in that chair. Realizing sitting at a desk feels too much like being a student expected to produce something worthy of a grade, I have since ditched the desk.

Another factor for being deskless is guilt. I could not bear allocating one of the bedrooms as my office. Kids do better not being piled up like Twinkies in a box  in terms of sharing rooms. So, my desk found itself in the living room or our bedroom which led to problem #2:

Clutter is ineviable when a flat horizontal surface beckons. Bills, library books, toys, plates, cups, laundry (which finds a place no matter in the house) all land on my desk. Like Rodney Dangerfield, my desk got no respect. Hence the switch to the couch. Which is a horizontal surface, wouldn’t you know. I ditched desks, couches, beds as writing stations when I switched to a laptop from a desktop computer. My desk is now an IKEA chair. Foot rest is option. It has yet to serve as a laundry station.

Now that I am an empty nester, I have commandeered an abandoned bedroom (after 18, unless they pay into the mortgage,a progeny’s bedroom is absorbed into the household) and have a bed, a couch, a rocking chair, and an IKEA chair as muse choices. No pool table at present, but I do have my son’s lava lamp, which is pretty good entertainment.

So–about your desk?

image: Wikipedia The secret is in Twain’s plumpy pillows

Do Rah Mean Reviews


I started reviewing books about twenty years ago, mainly because I wanted a steady supply of books to read since at that time we lived out in the toolieloops, about an hour from town, and with three kids in tow this involved a spirit of adventure and a rousing case of cabin fever to shake me into organizing a “going to town” outing.

A book reviewer I became.

One thing learned about book reviewing is the art of the “do rah” as in do be a cheerleader of sorts and Thumperize a book–find something nice to say. As a writer, I can’t imagine reading a review and having to bear any slicing and dicing of my creative endeavour.

Yet, there are those who skip the do rah and just go for mean. You know what I’m talking about. Those vitriolic reviewers that pen scorn and derision that practically blame the tree for providing the pulp that provided the paper for the book.

Tsk.

Not long ago I felt compelled to comment on such a review found on Goodreads addressing a book I recently finished. I mentioned the importance of setting aside 21st century expectations when reading historical fiction. Whoa! A personal tirade was my reply. I didn’t see that one coming. Fortunately, another reader rebuffed that reply saying the writer was out of line and should be warned. Are there Goodread police who hand out “play nice” tickets?

“Don’t be a meanie, be a do rah-er when reviewing books.” morguefile.com/JessicaGale

That little episode provided the epiphany that mean reviews perhaps stem from mean-spirited people, and I try even harder to offer more positive than negative comments in my reviewing. After all, that some day of getting my cow joke book published might actually arrive and I wouldn’t want my bovine humor butchered unfairly by unfriendly reviewers.

What thoughts on mean reviews? Do they dissuade or persuade you to read the book?

Author Snapshot: D.E.Stevenson


As we know authors wax and wane in popularity. Books that eager readers  once  grabbed off the shelves now forlornly gather dust, or go out of print or end up in the free bin. That’s why it’s exciting when an author can rekindle interest and prove she still holds staying power forty years after her death and last book was published. The author? D.E. Stevenson. Her devotees are known as “Dessies.”

  Some fine facts:

  • Dorothy Emily Stevenson was a related to THE Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Educated by a governess and denied college because her father didn’t want an educated woman in the family.
  • She published nearly fifty books in her career.
  • At the height of her career, her books sold in the millions internationally.
  • A granddaughter discovered a couple of manuscripts in the attic in 2011 and they were immediately snapped up and published.
  • Being Scottish, most of her plots center around Scotland and England, with WWI and WWII’s affect on its people often being a main theme. 
  • Her books gave clear insights into the lives of those who called the countryside their home.
  • Adept at characterization, her books often overflowed and intermingled with one another.
  • Died in 1973, yet beginning in 2009, her books are slowing being reissued.

A snippet from a BBC article

Members of Stevenson’s family are amazed by her enduring popularity. Her daughter, Rosemary Swallow, remembers how her mother worked.

“She would sit down on the sofa, put her legs up and light a cigarette,” she said.

“She had a special writing board, a wooden board covered in green baize and she would just carry on writing whatever was going on around her.

“She was very, very good at character writing. There’s no rude sex or anything like that, just a good yarn with a beginning, a middle and an end.”

On a personal note: 

I discovered her books about twenty years ago when working at a public library. A friend and co-worker knew I preferred “gentle” reads and suggested Stevenson. I read everything the library owned, and even ventured into the scary overflow storage basement to retrieve forgotten copies. 

Currently I’m on a mission to read all her titles. The writing is solid, with its intriguing plots involving mysteries, light romance, and brilliant characterization. When I’m feeling a bit lost due to stress from a long week, I find myself again by reading a Stevenson novel.  

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