Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Books I've Read: The Darling


I've long been a fan of Russell Banks so it was a nice surprise to find a book of his that I hadn't yet read when I went to the library last week.

Based on real events, The Darling follows Hannah Musgrave (AKA Dawn Carrington) through two decades as she escapes the US where she is wanted for her political activities with the Weather Underground and makes a new life for herself in Liberia.

I knew very little about the history of Liberia, so I found this book fascinating in that regard, but I did find Hannah to be a very difficult main character to like.  She's a very cold woman, perhaps because she learned to supress her emotions to be able to do the work she had to do as a political radical.  She has more compassion for the chimpanzees she looks after in Liberia than she does for her own family.

The books jumps around in time quite a bit, starting in the 1990s when Hannah has returned to the States and is living a quiet life on a farm in upstate New York.  It's a place we return to several times, even as Hannah travels back to Liberia in search of the sons she left behind in the war-torn African nation and becomes mired in memories of the past.

We see her life in the 1970s, pre-Liberia as she lives in hiding from the US Government, still contributing to the radical political causes she has been devoted to since her college days.  We see her arrival in Africa and eventual drift into Liberia where it is not long before she meets Woodrow, the low-level government official she eventually marries.

Hannah's introduction to Woodrow's family in a remote village does not go well, and is perhaps a hint at what the marriage will be like.  Woodrow is not faithful, either to his wife, or to the president he purports to work for.  

Charles Taylor, the man who will set Liberia's bloody revolution in motion is present as part of Woodrow and Hannah's social circle from the start, but it is not until well into the book that his true colours begin to show.  And by then, his life and Hannah's are, intrinsically, if superficially linked, and with them, the fate of Liberia and its people.

I found this book fascinating, even though I can't say I particularly enjoyed a lot of it.  Hannah's lack of emotional engagement with the people around her made it difficult to empathise with even the most horrific things she experiences.  Yet she is not objective in her coldness to what unfolds, which made reading her account challenging.  I have never experienced a narrator like this, which is again, interesting, even if I didn't particularly enjoy the approach.

But if you are at all interested in Liberia and its recent history, this gives a pretty good insight into what happened there.  It's not a bad book by any means - it's well written and the characters remain consistent throughout - it's more that I just didn't enjoy spending the length of the novel with the narrator.  It might just be me...

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

Set in Liberia and the United States from 1975 through 1991, The Darling is the story of Hannah Musgrave, a political radical and member of the Weather Underground.

Hannah flees America for West Africa, where she and her Liberian husband become friends of the notorious warlord and ex-president, Charles Taylor. Hannah's encounter with Taylor ultimately triggers a series of events whose momentum catches Hannah's family in its grip and forces her to make a heartrending choice.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Weekly Goals 28-6-21

 My goals remain persistently the same I'm afraid...  Just to keep working on Juliet x2.  I've actually made some progress, which is good.  I just need to find the time and inspiration to do some new writing toward the start of the book.  And at the moment inspiration is something I'm struggling to find.

We seem to have reached that part of the winter where it rains all the time and is overcast and grey for weeks on end.  So my other goal is to do things that cheer me up - other than eating which seems to be my go-to in the winter.  But that just ends up depressing me more when I can no longer fit into my favourite clothes.

Which leads to my final goal, which is, as usual, to go the the gym more.  It's a little trickier with the city still in Level 2 COVID restrictions, but fingers crossed they will be lifted by Wednesday.  There have been no cases so far, despite the number of places that Australian went last weekend, and how busy they were.  I feel like we may have dodged a bullet there.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 25-6-21

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

What am I celebrating this week?

A few things actually.

My son got mugged on Tuesday, so I'm celebrating that he wasn't hurt.  It's a messy, complicated situation, but I'm celebrating the fact someone saw it happening and called the police before things escalated.

I'm also celebrating the fact the same son passed his first big math exam.  It can only be a huge (and much needed) boost to his confidence.

I'm NOT celebrating the fact we're back in COVID alert level 2 after some guy from Sydney came over here for a weekend and then tested positive when he got home.  He went to a lot of places, many of them very crowded, so the entire region has gone into level 2.  The only plus side of this is that so many people are working at home, the buses are almost empty and it's super quiet in my office.  I've been the only one in my team the last two days...

I have made some progress on Juliet x2.  Hoping to get through more over the weekend.  Once this latest COVID alert is over, I might take a day off and do a writing blitz in an attempt to try and fill in the holes I've identified in the structure/plot.  I feel like I need a dedicated day to do that work and it makes sense to go back to the library where I wrote most of the first draft to do it.

One of my friends became a grandma last week, so I'm going around to her house tonight to have a drink to celebrate.  Or maybe commiserate...  I'm not sure what's appropriate when you become a grandma at such a young age.  Makes me feel old because the daughter who had the baby used to work for me when I ran a cinema.  I know that was many years ago now, but it doesn't feel that long.  

Damn!  I'm getting old...

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, June 22, 2021


This was a fun, quick read that I enjoyed far more than I was anticipating. I read the whole thing in a single afternoon!

Hugo has just been dumped by his girlfriend and as a consolation prize, she gives him the trip across America they were planning on taking together.  The problem is, all the bookings are in her name and they're not transferrable.  Itching to get away from his large, loving, but somewhat claustrophobic family, Hugo decides to find another person with the same name to travel with.

Mae is about to go to college but isn't looking forward to it much after not being accepted into the film programme she's been dreaming about for years.  When the opportunity to travel across the country by train pretty much drops in her lap, she jumps at the chance to leave her life behind for a few days.  Who knows?  She might even find the inspiration for a new film out there.

This is a dual POV book and the two voices are quite distinct in that Hugo is English and Mae American.  While they seem to understand each other perfectly well, their vernacular is distinct and I loved this about the book.

I also loved that Hugo is a sextuplet.  His journey through the novel was my favourite because I felt like he grew the most.  His conflict between wanting to find out who he is on his own, and the love and comfort he gets from being part of a large group of siblings really resonated with me.

Which is not to say that Mae's journey wasn't compelling too.  She's a filmmaker struggling to find her voice, and obviously that's something I understand too.

The setting, mainly a cross-country train, is the perfect setting for a romance.  There is something very romantic about the idea of being trapped in a small space with someone for a long period of time.  Especially if that space is pretty private and maybe a little uncomfortable.

As I said, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh, breezy romance.  It's the perfect summer read!

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

Having just been dumped by his girlfriend, British-born Hugo is still determined to take his last-hurrah-before-college train trip across the United States. One snag: the companion ticket is already booked under the name of his ex, Margaret Campbell. Nontransferable, no exceptions.

Enter the new Margaret C. (Mae for short), an aspiring filmmaker with big dreams. After finding Hugo's spare ticket offer online, she's convinced it's the perfect opportunity to expand her horizons.

When the two meet, the attraction is undeniable, and both find more than they bargained for. As Mae pushes Hugo to explore his dreams for his future, he'll encourage her to channel a new, vulnerable side of her art. But when life off the train threatens the bubble they've created for themselves, will they manage to keep their love on track?

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Weekly Goals 21-6-21

 It's my younger son's birthday today - can you believe he's fourteen?  I can't.  It feels like just yesterday that he was a toddler and always under my feet.  Now he's over six feet tall and still growing.

But this is not a celebrate post.  It's a goals post.  So this week's goals....  Much the same as last week's.  Keep working on Juliet x2.  I didn't do much over the weekend, I'm afraid.  The weather was horrible and it was far too tempting to curl up in a chair and read under a blanket instead of shivering over my keyboard.  But this week I'll do some more.

The weather looks set to stay horrible most of the week, so I think a lot of this week is going to be about staying as warm and dry as possible.  Thankfully we have proper heating at the office this year, which makes going to work much more pleasant, even if I do get soaked on the way there.  Both the kids already have colds, so I'm going to have to work hard not to catch it.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 18-6-21

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

What am I celebrating this week?

Fried cauliflower.  I just had some for lunch and it was ridiculously delicious.  If that's not something to celebrate, I don't know what is.

I've also seen some good films this week, which always makes me happy, one for work and one for fun  I also saw one I didn't love, but you get that sometimes.

I haven't done as much work on Juliet & Juliet as I wanted to, but I'm hoping to get some time with it over the weekend.  I also hope to get some sleep over the weekend because I'm feeling quite exhausted.  My son's sick and kept waking me up coughing and on top of that, there were a bunch of boy racers hooning around the neighborhood in one of those super grunty cars all night.  Grrrr.....

And that's about it for things to celebrate this week.  What are you celebrating?

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

This book was an absolute joy for someone who loves books and reading as much as I do.  I devoured the whole thing between waking up on Sunday and lunch.

Aaron Stein and his father Ira run a bookstore in a small town outside of Seattle.  A family tragedy has left his father barely able to cope so the store has been signed into Aaron's name.  But Aaron doesn't really want it. He hasn't even read a book since the tragedy which sent his mother running from the family and his father spiralling into panic attacks.

A broken bookshelf and the discovery of just how much debt the store is actually in send Aaron over the edge and he decides to sell the store.  He just can't quite tell Ira.  Yet.

When a chance encounter with an old school acquaintance leads to an unexpected friendship, and meeting Hannah, the girl who might just be perfect for him, Aaron's life changes.  So does his outlook which has always been gloomy.  Suddenly things are looking up and for the first time in a long time, Aaron starts feeling hopeful about the future.  Even the future of the store.

But unless he can find the money to buy back the store, there isn't a future for it and when everyone around him finds out what he's done, the hope he was beginning to harbour crashes around him. 

I loved this book.  Aaron's troubles felt to real to me, and so insurmountable.  No one should be dealing with so much at nineteen, and it's no wonder Aaron feels overwhelmed by the responsibility.  Yet once the tragedy his family has faced is revealed, it's completely understandable how and why he's wound up in this position.

The supporting characters are delightful, even if they are drawn with a pretty broad brush.  They are enough to re-instate your faith in the inherent goodness of people.

If you're looking for a quick, fun read that will leave you with a smile on your face, I would recommend this one.  It's not exactly a romp, but there's certainly a lot of humour in there and it certainly put a smile on my face!

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

'I got this whole-body feeling... it was like a message from future me to present me, telling me that in some way we weren’t just bound to happen, that we had, in some sense, already happened. It felt... inevitable.'

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein.

While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Weekly Goals 14-6-21

 Can you believe it's the middle of June already?  Crazy!  My youngest son will be turning 14 in a week.  

Once again, my goals remain stubbornly similar this week - do some work on Juliet & Juliet.

I have revised, to some degree, through chapter 19, but there are a couple of places I need to add new scenes and I need to figure out what they are and how they will drive the narrative forward. 

Other than that, I don't have any other goals, other than the usual one to go to the gym at least 5 times during the week.  I'm kind of in a routine now, so I think that shouldn't be too hard.  I'm not loving the 6am classes, but I do like having it out of the way early in the day!

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 11-6-21

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

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I love a four-day week, even if it does mean cramming the work in.  In a perfect world I'd love to be able to work a four-day week every week and have a full day to devote to writing.  Once day, maybe...

I haven't done as much work on Juliet & Juliet as I had hoped to, but I have done some, so I'm calling that a win.  I hope to have a bit of free time over the weekend to do some, and a little more time next week.  I'm giving myself until the end of July to get it into some kind of shape so I can send it to readers.

I have family coming for dinner on Sunday and am going to try a classic recipe - chicken piccata.  I haven't made it before, but I've eaten it in restaurants and it's delicious.  I'm hungry as I write this and just thinking about it is making me hungrier.

My partner and I are going to the movies tomorrow night and I'm really looking forward to it.  I've been hanging out to see In The Heights since I heard it was being made into a film and they've got some previews on at my local theatre this weekend, so I'm going to pick up some tickets on my way home from work tonight.

And that's about all I have planned for my weekend other than chores and laundry and reading.

What are you celebrating this week?  Got any plans for the weekend?

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Books I've Read: In the Key of Nira Ghani

I have read a lot of books recently which deal with the immigrant experience and one of the things I've noticed is that regardless of where the family has come from, the struggles they face in a new country are the same.  In this book the family was from Guyana, but the challenges Nira faces are not unlike those experienced by families in other books from countries as diverse as India, Iran, Korea and more.

All the teens in these books face discrimination from their peers and the general public whether it's because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, their accent or anything else that makes them in some way different.  In this book Nira feels like McKenzie, the popular girl at school purposely misunderstands everything about her and makes derogatory comments about her diet or religion just to humiliate her.

On top of this, Nira has to deal with pressure from her parents to succeed at school and to get high enough grades to become a doctor.  And to make things worse, her cousin Farah now lives in the same city and the parents like to get together to compete over whose daughter is the best.  And Farah always seems to be one step better.

Nira doesn't even want to be a doctor. She loves music and is a talented trumpet player, even if her trumpet is not the best available.  When the opportunity arises to try out for the school's jazz band, Nira knows this is her chance to shine.  But first she needs to get her parents' permission and that's not going to be easy when her parents consider music to be frivolous.

On top of this, Nira's best friend Emily is suddenly including McKenzie in everything they do, causing a fracture in the friendship Nira has always counted on.  And there's Noah, the gorgeous boy who suddenly takes in interest in Nira once she starts talking about music.  Things get even more complicated when Farah inserts herself into their expanded friend group and starts cozying up to Noah.

Suddenly Nira's only ally seems to be her grandmother, but even she won't always stand up for Nira in the face of her parents' demands.  With her world pulling her in too many directions with its demands, Nira can't figure out how to keep all the people she cares about happy without hurting herself.

I really enjoyed this coming of age story.  Nira's struggles to find herself and her place in the world are not unique to the immigrant experience, but universal and every teen will be able to see themselves and their struggle for independence in Nira's story.  The cultural references included give the story added flavour and create an immersive and realistic world against which Nira's story plays out.

I would recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a good coming of age story.

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

Nira Ghani has always dreamed of becoming a musician. Her Guyanese parents, however, have big plans for her to become a scientist or doctor. Nira's grandmother and her best friend, Emily, are the only people who seem to truly understand her desire to establish an identity outside of the one imposed on Nira by her parents. When auditions for jazz band are announced, Nira realizes it's now or never to convince her parents that she deserves a chance to pursue her passion. 

As if fighting with her parents weren't bad enough, Nira finds herself navigating a new friendship dynamic when her crush, Noah, and notorious mean-girl, McKenzie "Mac," take a sudden interest in her and Emily, inserting themselves into the fold. So, too, does Nira's much cooler (and very competitive) cousin Farah. Is she trying to wiggle her way into the new group to get closer to Noah? Is McKenzie trying to steal Emily's attention away from her? As Farah and Noah grow closer and Emily begins to pull away, Nira's trusted trumpet "George" remains her constant, offering her an escape from family and school drama.

But it isn't until Nira takes a step back that she realizes she's not the only one struggling to find her place in the world. As painful truths about her family are revealed, Nira learns to accept people for who they are and to open herself in ways she never thought possible.

A relatable and timely contemporary, coming-of age story, In the Key of Nira Ghani explores the social and cultural struggles of a teen in an immigrant household.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Weekly Goals 7-6-21

 With the extra day off, I completely forgot to write my weekly goals post!

But better late than never, I guess...

My goals aren't that different than they have been for the last few weeks though.  Keep working through Juliet & Juliet in the hope that one day it will be ready to send to someone to read.  And maybe send out a few more queries for Standing too Close.  

But after not getting any bites during #PitMad and no requests from three different versions of my query, I'm beginning to think that book might be dead in the water.  Which is making me a little despondent because I love this story and these characters.

No wonder I'm struggling to get inspired to revise...

But enough bitching.  It's not like I don't know how publishing works.  I've been doing this long enough.  I may just have to add this book to the file of other finished books that never seemed to get any traction.


What are your goals this week?

Friday, June 4, 2021

Celebrate the Small Tings 4-6-21

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

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!  And even better, it's a looooong weekend.

We're not going away or anything exciting like that, but just having that extra day off will make a difference.  It's the last long weekend until October, so I'd better make the most of it.

I have made some progress with Juliet & Juliet.  Not a lot, but some.  So I will keep going.  I really must stop calling it Juliet & Juliet because that's not actually going to be the title and it's misleading because the two girls aren't both called Juliet.  One is called Iris.  As usual, I haven't really settled on a title, but I'm leaning toward something like Guide Us...

I'm going up the coast to visit my friend tomorrow, and another friend is coming along too.  It will be great to see both of them because it's far too infrequent.  Other than that, my long weekend plans are pretty open.  The forecast isn't great for Sunday and Monday, so I will have to try and get all the chores done on Saturday.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Insecure Writers Support Group

 It's the first Wednesday in June, so it's time for the IWSG!  

The awesome co-hosts for the June 2 posting of the IWSG are J Lenni Dorner, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, Lee Lowery, and Rachna Chhabria!

This month's question is also a good one: For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

For me this depends on the book.  Sometimes I know what changes I want to make to a story almost as soon as I finish the draft, so I go ahead and make those before I forget what they are and just keep going because I'm on a roll and my head is firmly in that story's world.

Other times I've left books for years before going back to them.  Two years or more, even.  

The book I'm currently querying is one of these.  I wrote most of it during NaNo one year, then dropped it for some reason - maybe because I had a book releasing and needed to focus on that for a while - and came back to it about 18 months ago.  After so long without looking at it, I'd completely forgotten most of it and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.

Unfortunately in that case, I hadn't written the ending and there were some quite large pieces missing.  It took me a ridiculously long time to actually finish it because I'd left it so long I could no longer remember what I'd intended.  These are the times I kind of wish I did at least a little outlining so I had a record of what I'd been thinking.

On average though, I'd say I leave my books between one and four months before going back to them.

My dream is to one day be able to write full time and work to a draft one, revise one, draft one, revise one schedule.  But that is not on the cards right now.  And I'm supposed to be revising one at the moment - my 2020 NaNo novel - which I left for four months without looking at because I was busy with the release of Chasing the Taillights

I think that was a good amount of time.  I already knew it was going to be a lot of work because I left myself notes while I was writing so I'd remember to look things up and fill in details I was unsure of in the drafting process.  And since reading through it, I now know there's even more stuff that needs fixing.  The pacing isn't quite right at the start, so I feel like I need to add a couple more chapters.  I also think my MCs need a few more friends around them to feel real.

Unfortunately revising never seems to get any easier.  On occasion I've worked chapter by chapter and revised thoroughly before moving on, but this isn't the best process for me.  I like to draft fast and get the whole story onto the page before I revise anything - even when I decide three chapters in that some major plot event I thought I was aiming for isn't the right one after all.

At the end of the day, whatever works best for you.  If you lose interest in a story if you leave it alone to too long, work out what the optimum length of time for leaving it is for you.  If you work better with a year or more to let it settle, make your schedule work with that.

But I'm interested in other processes.  How long do you usually leave something?