Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Books I've Read: Virgil Wander


I discovered Leif Enger's first book, Peace Like A River on the bargain table outside the discount bookshop that used to be in the same mall as a cinema I ran, and it soon became one of my all-time favourite books.  I sought out other books by the author, but there did not seem to be any.  Until ten years later, Virgil Wander appeared on bookstore shelves.

You better believe I snapped up a copy as soon as I saw it.  Especially when I discovered Virgil lives above a fading and failing movie theatre.

Set in a small midwestern town, Virgil Wander begins with its titular protagonist being rescued from the frigid waters of Lake Superior after his car plunges from a bridge.  Concussed, Virgil has problems with speech and memory even after he goes home from the hospital.  Because of this, the narrative has a slightly dream-like, fractured quality.  We're never quite sure what Virgil is actually experiencing, and what might be the result of his damaged brain.

So when a kite-flying stranger shows up in town to try and discover that happened to his missing son, we're not sure if he is real.

The book features an eccentric cast of characters that reminded me somewhat of the residents of Fannie Flag's Elmwood Springs.  Like that fictional town, this one is also fading and down at the heels, the population largely aging as the younger people depart for opportunities in bigger, more exciting locales.  The people here are stoic and survive the best they can, but can't help reminiscing about the days in which the town thrived and grew.

It is a town more accustomed to people leaving, than those arriving, so when Rune arrives with his kites and zest for life, and the wealthy film producer whose house has long stood abandoned both turn up, the community begins to feel the whisper of change and new life.

I really enjoyed this book despite the fact it's very quiet.  The characters are delightful and so well drawn I felt like they could be my neighbors by the end of it.  It would be so easy to make fun of these simple people and their simple lives, but Enger has such obvious affection for them that it's impossible to.

I would definitely recommend this one.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals--from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil's oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a "formidably gifted" (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Weekly Goals 29-3-21

 Can you believe it's the end of March?  This year seems to be racing by!  It's Easter this weekend.  I have to say I am very much looking forward to the four-day weekend, especially since daylight savings ends and we get an extra hour to sleep in on Sunday.

But before we revel in the luxury of a long weekend, what are my goals for this week?

I plan to start reading through Juliet and Juliet so I can get a feel for what I wrote and what needs changing.  I know it's a lot...  Then I'll start working through it, chapter by chapter, rewriting, adding, changing until I have a revised version I'm reasonably happy with and can send to critique partners for feedback.

The weather has packed in so it looks like biking to work might be over for the year.  Once daylight saving finishes it's too dark for me to ride home in the evening.  So I will have to get back into the habit of going to the gym at lunchtime three or four days a week.  It's a shame.  I was enjoying getting my exercise and commuting at the same time.  It feels so much more efficient!

What are your goals this week?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Blog Tour - Chasing the Taillights by Kate Larkindale - hey! that's me!

 Chasing the Taillights

Chasing the Taillights

Lucy and Tony share nothing except genes. Tony’s the champion diver destined for greatness. Lucy’s biggest concern is getting Cute Guy from the burger joint to ask her out.

After an accident kills their parents, the siblings are forced to rely on one another—and decide whether to reveal their secrets.

Lucy can’t tell Tony what she knows about the accident for fear of destroying the tentative bond between them. If she doesn’t confess, she might lose her mind. If she does, she might lose the only person she has left who loves her.

Tony has problems too. Between diving practice, classes and concealing the crush he has on his best friend Jake, Tony needs to find room in his life for his sister, but his own stability dwindles with every passing day.

As the siblings struggle to overcome a lifetime of past conflicts and jealousies, they discover they might have more in common than a love of rock music.

Add Chasing the Taillights on Goodreads.

Or purchase at any of these retailers.

Some reviews:

"A heart wrenching story of survival, of hidden truths, of loneliness, confusion and guilt as two teens struggle to overcome both their loss and the barriers that have kept them strangers. Emotionally charged, filled with great dialogue, both inner and outward, the struggles feel real and powerful." - Tome Tender

"Packed with plenty to keep you gripped, this is impossible to put down." - Bibliophile Ramblings

"I absolutely loved this novel, and once again I was not disappointed. Tony and Lucy are two very interesting and loveable characters and I got attached to Tony very quickly." - Book Me Some Time 


And then he’s there.

He steps into the room, his huge frame filling the doorway. He starts toward the bed then stops, his lips pressing together into a thin, white line. He drops his brilliant blue-eyed gaze to the floor for a moment and swallows hard before he looks up again. The scruffy beginnings of a beard shadow his chin.

“Hey, Lucy.” He tries to smile as he crosses to the bed, but his lips tremble too hard for it to be convincing. A muscle jumps in his jaw like a tiny fish trying to escape. “Thank you for being here, Peter.”

“I wish I didn’t have to be.” Peter gets up and gives Tony a brief hug. My brother’s arms don’t move, just hang stiffly at his sides, hands clenched into fists. 

Peter lets go and moves aside to let Tony sit next to me. “I’m going to get some coffee. I’ll be back soon.”

Tony watches him go, not turning back to me until Peter’s tall, lean figure has vanished into the hallway. When he does, his eyes are red-rimmed and exhausted. Purple crescents lie beneath them. He looks like shit, but something about the way he’s studying me makes me certain I look worse.

“Oh, Jesus, Lucy.” He shakes his head, a pleading expression on his face. “I have no clue what I’m supposed to say right now.”

I blink up at him. I need him to tell me what happened. I need him to explain it to me. I try to form the words, but they won’t come. My mouth, stitched up like a quilt, won’t shape what I need to say.

“Dad?” I manage after a long battle. “…Mom’s…” I can’t say it. If I speak it aloud it’ll be true.

I’m holding my breath. My chest aches and I let it out in a gasp. The pain is back, sharp and stabbing at my side, a dull throb in my neck and shoulder. Tony reaches out and touches the side of my face. I flinch, hating myself for it when his fingers are as gentle as rain.

“They’re dead, Lucy. They’re both dead.” His eyes lock onto mine and I know he’s telling the truth. The bleak, stunned look on his face tells me more than any words could. A sob escapes him and he starts to turn away.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 26-3-21


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's been a long and very busy week, so I'm celebrating the weekend, even if it does feel like it's going to be a busy weekend too.  Sigh...  At least next weekend is a long one because of Easter.

Chasing the Taillights got another really good review, which has made me happy, and some of the work I did chasing book bloggers seems to be paying off because a few more are starting to trickle through.  There are also some giveaways happening, so if you want to win yourself a copy of Stumped, An Unstill Life or The Sidewalk's Regrets, you can enter and win!

I haven't really started working on Juliet and Juliet yet.  I've been thinking about it, and listening to the playlists that I made for the book to get me back into the mood and mindset, but actually opening up the document has been beyond me.  Next week, I think...

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Books I've Read: Bones of a Saint


I'm not sure I'll ever get used to books set in my lifetime being considered historical fiction, but here we are.. Bones of a Saint is set in the 1970s in a small California town.  The protagonist, RJ, is the oldest of several siblings, all of whom have different fathers.  At one point he calls them souvenirs of his mother's past relationships, something that struck a chord with me.  With his mother scrabbling to make enough money to support them all, RJ is left in charge a lot of the time, and when he's not looking after his sibs, he's left to roam about unsupervised.

It's little surprise that he catches the attention of the local gang, The Blackjacks and is quickly pulled into their world of petty crime.  Hoping that if he does what they want, they'll leave him alone, RJ agrees to vandalise the house of an old man living on the outskirts of town.

But of course it doesn't end there.  The Blackjacks keep asking for more and their threats - toward him and his family -  grow increasingly violent when RJ pushes back.  

And RJ doesn't understand why the gang is attacking the old man so relentlessly.  He seems pretty harmless.  RJ is pulled into his world too, sharing stories about his past with the old man and receiving little pieces of his life in return.

As things begin spiralling out of his control, RJ is forced to make some big decisions that will impact not just his own family, but the future of the whole town.

I found this book a little hard to get into.  I was completely lost at the beginning and it took a few chapters to really ground me in the world and the character's head.  Possibly this is because I was reading an ARC on my phone and the formatting was a little funky, but I think it was also because of the writing style.  It was first person, but I never felt like RJ was drawing me into his head and his world.

The book also felt episodic in parts.  I liked the glimpses into RJ's past we got through he stories he told the old man, but they didn't always tie in with anything else that was happening so while they gave background to the character, it didn't help understand the why of what he was doing at that moment.

I did like the ending and how it made sense of the book's title, but I almost felt like it was too late by then.  A few more clues seeded along the way would have been useful and would have made the last chapters' revelations more satisfying.

So I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to everyone.  It was engrossing enough once I got into it, but it just wasn't as moving or as exciting as I really wanted it to be.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read it early.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his dead-end hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks still rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone…until now.

When the Blackjacks come knocking, they want RJ to prey upon an old loner. But RJ is at his breaking point. It’s not just about the gang who rules the town. It’s about Charley, his younger brother, who is disabled. It’s about Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach. It’s about the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. If RJ is to resist, he must fight to free Arcangel of its past.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Weekly Goals 22-3-21

 I think I've done all the publicity work I can do for my new book now.  At least as much as I can do without having to spend any money.  So now I'll just wait to see if anything I've done has any effect, and then I'll try something else.

So this week I want to get back to actually writing and revising.  I haven't even looked at Juliet and Juliet since I finished writing it in December, so I should be good and fresh to read through it and figure out where I need to make changes.

And there are going to be a lot of changes!  I remember going back and writing myself notes to change the entire beginning of the book because what I wrote no longer made sense once I got about three chapters in.

So I have a big job ahead of me.  But I'm looking forward to it.  Editing and revising isn't my favorite thing, but it's necessary and rewarding once you see the story you intended to write start to emerge from the messy words you did write.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 18-3-21


This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

It has been one of those really long weeks at work again, so I'm looking forward to a couple of days off.  Especially since I have nothing huge planned for the weekend at all.  Just the usual housework and more hustling to get reviews and promotional opportunities for Chasing the Taillights.  

And hopefully a little time to read.  My queue of stuff that needs to be read from NetGalley is getting quite long!  I've been riding my bike to work which means no commute time to read e-books and when I'm at home, I prefer to read physical books.  

But that's only going to last another week or so.  Daylight saving ends over Easter and with that, riding to work.  I will have to start going to the gym in my lunch breaks again.  And reading those e-books on the bus.

What are you celebrating this week?  Any wins?

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Introducing: Cruel Summer by Bernard Jan


All he wants to do is skate. But they have other plans for him.

Michael Daniels is seventeen and dreams to enter professional skateboarding contests. But beneath New Manhattan, a city under the oppressive shadow of climate change, exists another world altogether—secret laboratories which threaten society as he knows it.

Those with power will get what they want. No price is too high, even if it means making someone special or robbing them of their dignity, freedom . . . or life.

The price is too high for Michael, though. He has endured his stepfather’s abuse and mind games for almost as long as he remembers. Until one day he takes matters into his own hands, ruining the lives of those he loves most. And his skateboarding friends, Alien and Victor, are his only hope for freedom.

When there is no hope left, friendship is what remains.

Cruel Summer at Amazon: https://amzn.to/3aJAGKk

About the Author:

Bernard Jan is a pen name of an award-winning novelist and a poet from Croatia, and he has released four books in English.

A World Without Color is a true story of the last three days he spent with his cat, while Look for Me Under the Rainbow in a unique and gentle way sheds light on the plight of harp seal pups in Canada. It warms the heart of all readers concerned about our planet and its treasures. January River is a heartwarming cross-genre novel about five friends, one dog, and one river carrying a secret. His latest YA cross-genre novel, Cruel Summer, is a gripping story of an abused teenager from New Manhattan who only wants to skate, but they have other plans for him.

His first two books were written at the beginning of the war in Croatia in 1991 amidst air alerts and illusory attempts when he wanted to believe and think that life is normal, that everything is all right with the world. He has published five novels, two novellas, and one book of poems in Croatian. Four of his books, including the book of poems, were translated into English.

For more information, visit his website www.bernardjan.com.

Social media links:

Twitter https://twitter.com/BernardJanWorld 

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/profile/bernard-jan 

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1028921.Bernard_Jan 

LinkedIn https://hr.linkedin.com/in/bernard-jan-197a50112 

AllAuthor https://allauthor.com/author/bernardjan/  

Steemit https://steemit.com/@bernardjan 

booklife https://booklife.com/profile/bernard-jan-20785 

Biopage https://www.biopage.com/public/bernardjan 

YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHByu2NTBJD7Ayy7Nz5qAIw

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Weekly Goals 15-3-21

I'm still busy trying to get reviews for Chasing the Taillights, and following up avenues for publicity.   It's such a long, slow process and the results are so meagre.  But I keep going because I know it just takes the right review, in the right place, from the right person to kick sales into high gear.

Unfortunately I'm not sure who that right person is yet...  I'll let you know when/if I figure it out.

It's starting to feel like a really long time since I wrote Juliet and Juliet and I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever get a chance to re-read it and figure out how to revise it.  Maybe over the Easter weekend.   I might set that time aside to start that process.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 12-3-21

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

That it's Friday.

It's been one of those painfully long weeks and I feel utterly exhausted as a result.  You know it's bad when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and you actually look as tired as you feel!

So I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend.  I have nothing much planned except maybe going to a movie on Sunday afternoon and dinner with my parents that night.

Of course there are the usual chores to be done too, but I'm hoping I might at least get a little bit of time to lie around reading a book.

What are your plans for the weekend?  And what are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Books I've Read: How to Build a Heart

I really enjoyed Wrecked, the author's previous book, so when I saw this on the shelf at the library, I had to have it.

This was a very different story, but I enjoyed it.  The characters are very real and the issues and problems they face felt authentic and fresh.  I particularly liked the way the main character, Izzy, curates her life at school and with her boyfriend so they don't see the truth about her poverty.

At the same time, I also appreciated the way Izzy's wild friend from the trailer across the way is wholly unapologetic about who she is and where she comes from.  The contrast between the two makes for an interesting and volatile friendship dynamic.

Izzy's family also feels very real with the struggles to survive and thrive at the forefront of the story.  The contrast between her mother and brother at home and her dead father's extended family in the south makes for another interesting contrast.

The relationship between Izzy and her new boyfriend grows organically and the way she pulls together the various groups of people she cares about into a supportive community is something we can all learn from.  The backdrop of Habitat for Humanity and what goes into building these houses for those that need them most is particularly relevant.  Especially given the housing crisis where I live right now.

I did feel like the boyfriend was perhaps a little too good to be true, but Izzy points this out herself.  No one can possibly be that perfect.  But maybe she just hasn't known him long enough to see his flaws.  Or isn't looking for them..

But overall, I enjoyed this.  I read the whole thing in a single afternoon which is generally a good sign that I like something.

But don't just listen to me.  here's the blurb:

One young woman’s journey to find her place in the world as the carefully separated strands of her life — family, money, school, and love — begin to overlap and tangle.
All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

How to Build a Heart is the story of Izzy’s journey to find her place in the world and her discovery that the choices we make and the people we love ultimately define us and bring us home.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Weekly Goals 8-3-21

 I'm dreadfully predictable, I'm afraid...  This week's goals are the same as the last couple of weeks.  Promotion and marketing for Chasing the Taillights.  I have no clue if it's selling at all, but its Amazon ranking looks way better than that of any of my other books, so I have my fingers crossed!

I've had a few positive responses from reviewers, and there have been a few good reviews posted on Goodreads which is great.  It's so nice to know people are reading and enjoying it!  I'm just hoping I can generate a few more in the next couple of weeks.  

Given the amount of work I'm finding I need to put into promotion, I think my long-suffering NaNo novel will have to wait until April.  As will any more querying of Standing Too Close.


One of these days I'll have enough time to do everything I want to do...  At least I keep hoping that will happen.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, March 5, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 5-3-21


This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

Being safe, actually!

There was a big earthquake in the early hours of Friday morning, and then several more, all centered around the Kermadec Islands which are just north of New Zealand.  The biggest of these quakes was an 8.0 and triggered tsunami warnings for most of the East Coast.  

Luckily I don't live on the East Coast, and while we do live close to the sea, I feel a lot safer from tsunami threats here than I did at our old house.  The blue line that marks the tsunami safe zone is only a minute or so away on foot.  Not that I think water knows it's not supposed to go past the blue line.  If there is a tsunami warning here, I think I'd go further up the hill than the line.  Just in case, y'know?

The COVID cluster in Auckland seems to be well contained, so we're heading down alert levels again from tomorrow morning.  Fingers crossed there won't be another outbreak.  The vaccine roll-out is moving to the families and household contacts of border workers next week, so that should make infections coming across the border less likely to happen.  Not that any of the recent infections can be linked to the border in anything but the most tenuous ways....

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group.

This month's question is an interesting one:

Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

I pretty much write YA contemporary.  I have dabbled in other things over the years, especially when it comes to short stories, but when it comes to novels, even if I think I'm writing something else, I always seem to end up writing YA.

And because I write YA, I tend to read a lot of YA too, but certainly not exclusively. I read quite widely, but there are certainly some things I don't read.  I'm not a huge fan of fantasy or most science fiction, so I tend not to read much of that.  I don't read a lot of thrillers or mysteries either, but every now and then I pick one up and enjoy it.

But I do like a good horror story...  Not gross, gory horror, but the kind of unsettling horror that leaves you sneaking peeks behind every door before going through.

I tend to be guided a lot in what I read by what is on the shelves at the library when I go.  Even if there are things I'm interested in reading based on reviews or other media mentions, I don't often reserve books.  There's something about browsing that appeals to me.  I love picking up things I've never heard of and diving in.  Sometimes it's disappointing, but sometimes I discover something I adore.

I prefer reading physical books to e-books, but because I review books, I sometimes get e-books from NetGalley to review.  Again, this is kind of a pot luck way to read because while I sometimes request books, I don't always get everything I ask for, and I sometimes get sent things I haven't requested.

What about you?  How do you choose what to read?  Are reviews a big motivation or do you prefer to take recommendations from friends and family?