Lessons of Hope and Light

A Collection of Inspirational Short Stories by Marlo Berliner

Lately I’ve been preparing a second book of poems and short stories myself so, with the thought of checking out what sort of books are already out there, I borrowed this one through Kindle Unlimited and enjoyed it enough that I want to recommend it to you.

Lessons of Hope and Light has only three stories, all short and easy to read — took me about twenty  minutes. The first is about finding the silver lining in life’s clouds; the next is a religious parable of sorts, the third tells of an intriguing second chance. Practical, upbeat endings such as I like.

Of Internet and E-mail Issues

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my husband has switched internet providers. This involved a change of e-mail addresses, which has now been effected. While everything was in upheaval I decided that I’d set up another g-mail account, so as to have one for personal and one for WordPress mail.

Once we had our new service hooked up, I set up an e-mail through that provider, too. And our Xplornet account hasn’t been cancelled yet — so I now have FOUR e-mail addresses. 🙂

I’ve opted to use one g-mail for various sale ads and FREE BOOK stuff: Book Bub, Book Sweeps; Book Cave; Book Gobbler, InstaFreebie, Reading Deals.com. You may wonder why on earth I’m subscribed to so many, but if and when I have more books to promote, I hope to use one or two of these author services. Some are obviously better than others for my kind of writing. So I’ll call it Research, but it gives lots of e-mail I don’t need filling my personal In-box.

I really do like the “everything in its own section” idea. WordPress and other blogging-related stuff, with the many notifications, are coming to the other g-mail account, which frees up my new e-mail In-box for personal mail. I’m getting a handle on managing this three-way split and hope I haven’t missed anything really important in the last few days.

Otherwise, we’re enjoying our beautiful summer days. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you are, too. Have a great day — or evening, if you’re in Europe. 🙂

Book: To Have, To Hold

© 2017 by Darlene Polachic

This is the first in the Ever Green series and is available through Kindle Unlimited for those who are subscribers.

When Janet O’Grady’s wheeler-dealer husband Marty dies in a car crash, she learns that he’s put everything they own under ownership of the company he and his brother own. Looking through his desk, hoping to find a bank account with funds she can access, she discovers evidence that he’s been shifting company funds into an offshore account. Marty’s brother soon learns that millions of dollars are missing from the company’s account, he’s sure she’s been party to this deception. He wants his money and she m us know where it is.

Janet packs up what she can and leaves in the wee hours with her six-year-old boys, running scared, headed for her parents’ home in Washington. She’s hoping they’ll forgive the past, take her in and give her shelter until she can get on her feet again. She doesn’t want — but needs — help from a kind stranger en route.

Though she’d ignored their warnings when she ran off with Marty, her parents refrain from, “I told you so.” But they think she’s a rich widow now — and she doesn’t tell them the truth, fearing her father’s health is too precarious. Her sister Christa soon shares the news of her upcoming wedding to banker Grant Brooks — who turns out to be the kind stranger who paid for Janet’s gas a few hours before.

Grant, a generous man with an inkling about Janet’s true financial state, offers to let her live in his grandfather’s house in exchange for cleaning it out — his grandparent saved EVERYTHING — so he can sell it. Janet appreciates working with Grant to clean up the place and Janet’s twins, starved for a father’s attention, just love him. She’d like to, too — but Grant’s taken. She’s not about to snitch her sister’s beau.

There are so many things I like about this book! It’s a clean story and well written. The main characters are mostly mature, considerate people; the ones who profess to be Christians do try to practice patience and kindness. It’s not your stereotype modern romance punctuated by screaming matches all the way through. (I’ve grumbled about these enough in earlier posts!)The plot is interesting, believable, dramatic in places but not a high suspense.

The only thing I couldn’t quite see was Grant as a banker — or a successful banker with Grant’s easy-going nature. He’s personable and conscientious but to my mind a banker would have more clearly defined goals in life and be prudent in his spending. Would a professional money manager, at age thirty-four, let himself drift into an engagement with a woman who loved to spend his money. (We have a former banker in the family. 😉  )

That aside, overall, this is an upbeat, enjoyable read.

New Culinary Cozy Mystery

A few days ago I wrote about P G Wodehouse and his quirky characters, his humorous turns of phrase. Well, as chance would have it…
A week or so ago I downloaded a mystery through Book Bub and finished it last night. The author has created a main character, Chef Maurice, reminiscent of Hercules Poirot and humor that echoes tones of Wooster and Jeeves. Zany, delightful, and a mystery right to the end!

Chef Maurice. and a Spot of Truffle
a Chef Maurice Mystery

by J. A Lang

I’ve heard of truffle-snuffing pigs before, also temperamental French chefs. When Ollie, the local forager and mushroom supplier doesn’t turn up with the needed omelet ingredients one day, Chef Maurice goes to collect and discovers in Ollie’s fridge, in the guise of potatoes, some rare and precious mushrooms. And they carry the scent of an English woods. Where did Ollie discover these? Are there more nearby just waiting to be unearthed?

Chef Maurice adopts Hamilton, a micro-pig who proves himself well able to snuffle a truffle, and they check out the local forest, with good friend Arthur along to temper the exuberance of the chef. Searching for this valuable variety they come across Ollie’s body.

Now they need to know if Ollie’s death was the result of a secret truffle turf war. Or was it because Ollie had a little business on the side selling another species of mushroom to local teens?

With his up-beat, well mannered disposition, Hamilton is a hit with the staff. Everyone is horrified when he’s pig-napped and the Chef receives a package of shrink-wrapped bacon and a warning note.

The only minus point, which may bother some readers: clues aren’t all revealed up front. On the last day Chef Maurice does some investigating, the results of which remain unknown to readers until that evening when he explains his conclusions and reveals the guilty party. I didn’t mind this — it made the ending more of a surprise. I couldn’t guess before he actually named that person, who it would be.

This is one case where you really can judge a book by its cover — kudos to the artist. When you see Hamilton’s jolly grin you know the story is going to be funny.

Negative Self-Talk. Delete, Delete, Delete

A Reader’s Opinion

While I’ve been laid low with back problems this week, I took the opportunity to read a novel by P G Wodehouse. Like all his novels, Jill the Reckless is a great story! Six stars out of five. The author has created a memorable cast of characters and, like Agatha Christie, has such a delightful way with words and phrases.

Writers like D E Stevenson, Wodehouse, Sayers, Christie, etc., used strong story lines and an interesting cast of minor characters to showcase their heroes. There was a STORY in their story. Even in tales with a romance woven in, the overall focus was as much on the main character’s triumph over adverse circumstances as on their relationships.

Have modern genre formulas become like a corset, rigidly holding writers to a specific shape deemed to be attractive in our day? Stories tend to be so focused on the conflict between the two love interests. Furious outbursts, insecure characters full of negative self-talk, a lot of internal dialogue use up word count without adding variety. I read one novel awhile back where I’d estimate 75% of the word count was spent on the MC’s conversations with himself — basically why she’d never have him anyway so forget it.

I find almost no negative self-talk in those older novels. Miss Marple doesn’t constantly berate herself for snooping. Lord Peter may babble about his silly curiosity but the writer doesn’t devote long paragraphs to his self-chastisement. Wodehouse’s characters act and react in a lively way; they spend little time mentally rehashing their own actions and reactions.

In real life negative self-talk is usually destructive. It’s the devil on our shoulder that berates us for how we are without giving us any power to change. Sometimes we do need to admit faults and make changes, but negative self-talk rather tends to paralyze.

So, in our age of promoting self-esteem and ridding ourselves of guilt, why do we allow our book characters to indulge in so much self-criticism? Do readers really find it that appealing?

Imagine yourself standing in a long supermarket checkout line and striking up a conversation with the customer in front of you. You notice she has two boxes of Exquisite Caramel Ice Cream. You’re quite fond of it yourself. You say so, and she replies:

“I really shouldn’t be buying this. I know it’s not the best for me; it’ll only go to my hips and I really should lose weight. I can hardly resist the delicious taste but I know I shouldn’t indulge and it’s so foolish of me to be buying it. My best friend’s brother’s such a hunk and I wish some romance would take off between us but he makes fun of me for eating it and says I’m turning into a dumpling. Well I don’t like him anyway. But still, even if the taste is exquisite and I can hardly resist, I am just getting fat eating it every day. What kind of a wimp am I? I need to develop some backbone and not ever touch the stuff again. But then I might as well eat because no guy’s ever going to look at me anyway.”

Worse luck, every few days you visit that same supermarket, stand in line beside the Exquisite Caramel Ice Cream addict, with another two boxes in her cart, and hear her recite her insecurities again.

Welcome to the modern novel. No, not all. But too many. Recently read another one myself.

Let’s say you’ve been asked to edit some current book — your choice. So you open it in a new window, start at Chapter Two and delete all the negative self-talk. How much will be left?

Can you fill in those gaps with ACTION? An outside CRISIS they must deal with? Other issues going on apart from main character blow-ups. Maybe leave just a phrase here and there to let the reader know those feelings are still in the background. Once in every  chapter is often enough, IMO.

Can you add some ENVIRONMENT? In one story I read, the female MC and her parents had joined a wagon train. Though they would have been crossing amazing new territory, scenic description was scant. (Saves research, I guess.) Pages were filled with how she was attracted to/ couldn’t let herself fall for/ the scout or he was attracted to/ couldn’t let himself fall for/ her.

What about adding a new CHARACTER? A jolly old auntie or uncle to give readers a break from the intense focus on the lovers’ spats. Wodehouse added the smooth-talking, conniving Uncle Chris who squandered Jill’s inheritance in poor stock market investments, but was always ready to fleece some new lamb. The author devotes some paragraphs to Jill’s assessment and acceptance of her uncle’s nature and weaknesses; these in turn show Jill’s compassionate nature.

Maybe you could add a nosy neighbor? If the story already has one, write in another and have the two interact with each other and with the main characters. Sprinkle in their WRY COMMENTS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE and each other. Have them play “Pass the Rumor.” Display your hero’s nature in the way they deal with these minor characters.

I believe these subplots are what made novels so memorable and writers so successful in years gone by. As a reader, I’d like to encourage all writers to loosen the constrictions of formula and put more STORY in your stories.

Thrift Store Finds

Here are a few writers and titles books you might watch for if you’re in a used book store. I highly recommend all of them as good reading:

Three Came Home, by Agnes Newton Keith © 1946, 1947
Published by Little Brown and Company, Boston, MA, USA

When the Japanese army took over Borneo in May 1942, Agnes and Harry Keith and their 18- month-old son were taken prisoner along with others from the British colony there. The men were put in one prison camp; women and children kept in another. This insightful book reconstructs the scene immediately before the invasion, the two years and four months they were interred, and their trip home.

With clarity and charity Mrs. Keith details life in the two prison camps, their ways of coping with abuse and starvation rations. She describes guards, prison commanders and interpreters as well as her fellow prisoners. In her opening she says, “The Japanese in this book are as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us… If there is hate here, it is for hateful qualities, not nations. If there is love, it is because this alone kept me alive and sane.”

She has also written WHITE MAN RETURNS, BAREFOOT IN THE PALACE, and LAND BELOW THE WIND, which describes their life in Borneo (an English colony in the South Pacific) before the war.

Hot off the press…

HOT APPLE CIDER, © 2008
A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider
, © 2011
A Taste of Hot Apple Cider  © 2014
Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon  © 2015
Christmas With Hot Apple Cider © 2017

These “Stories to stir the heart and warm the soul” have been compiled by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Elaine Nelles and published by That’s Life! Communications, Markham, Ontario, C anada. Each book is a collection of stories by Canadian writers, sharing experiences of divine guidance and comfort, short fiction, and poems.

And three interesting books about the Depression years in Canada

THE WINTER YEARS by James H Gray
Published 1966 by MacMillan of Canada,
reprinted in ‘66, ‘67, ‘68 and ‘72

James Gray, born in Whitemouth, Manitoba, was working as a clerk for the Grain Exchange in Winnipeg during the Twenties. They were good years; credit was easy and work easy to find. He married, bought a home, and in the late 20’s he left the Grain Exchange to go into business on his own. Several things he tried didn’t pan out, then he started up a mini- golf business in 1930. This shut down that fall and he found himself in debt and out of work.

In February 1931, almost out of food and fuel, two months behind in their rent, with a wife and daughter plus his parents to support and absolutely no hope of finding work, he finally swallowed his pride and took that long walk down to the Relief Office. No one dreamed that this depression would last eight years!

Mr. Gray shares his own personal struggles; he also gives the overall picture of what was happening on the prairies and in Canadian society in general during those years. As the back cover says, “The Winter Years is a story of hobos and housewives, radicals and aldermen, farmers and judges. It’s a moving tribute to the courage and resourcefulness of the human spirit.”

The Great Depression
©1990 by Pierre Burton, published by Anchor Canada

This is an overall analysis of the 1930’s in Canada, starting in 1929 and going through the decade year by year. As well as covering the overall political scene, the author gives very interesting personal experiences, details about weird weather, plagues of insects, families applying for relief, prejudice and deportations, etc.

Apples Don’t Just Grow
© 1956 by Maida Parlow French

Widowed at the beginning of the Great Depression, with three small boys to raise, Maida Parlow found her earnings as an artist didn’t pay the bills. She chose to leave Toronto and take her sons back to the abandoned farm her grandparents had owned. It was still in the family, the old apple orchard sadly neglected, the house totally run down.  Still, she was determined to bring it back into production and sell apples.

Before she left the city a friend advised her to keep a diary of this new adventure. Years later she published it as this book detailing the highlights in their day-by-day struggle to survive and all the mistakes she made trying to grow and sell her produce. A compelling memoir!

Books: Honeymoon Cottage

Honeymoon Cottage
© 2012 by Barbara Cool Lee
First book in the Pajaro Bay Series

Camilla Stewart’s fiancé, Dennis Hutchins, bought a little cottage for them, left his eight-year-old son Oliver in her care, and disappeared. A short time later she was arrested — and discovered the truth. He was a con man.

From a great job in the accounting dept in a high-tech CA firm, she’s hit bottom. She’d trusted the sweet guy who waltzed into her life one day and won her heart, then used her computer to get access to her and the company’s bank accounts. She was finally cleared of the charge that she’d been the embezzler, but now she’s obligated to pay the company back. She needs to sell that cottage.

Out of money, out of gas, she’s come to Pajaro Bay to claim the house locals still refer to as, “Honeymoon Cottage.” But first her car needs to get them all the way to the door. She’s forced to sell her engagement ring — and the woman in the antique store is stalling.

Ryan Knight, in charge of the Pajaro Bay Sheriff’s Dept has been called by the owner of the town’s antique shop, who was suspicious as to why this stranger’s trying to sell such a valuable ring. Must be stolen. Running a check on Camilla’s ID, he discovers the real reason why she’s driving an old clunker and trying to sell a diamond ring bought new only the month before.

He escorts her to the house and she gets her first look at the place. She won’t be paying any bills with what she gets for this tiny, tossed-together mess!

“It looks like it was built by a drunken leprechaun,” she finally said.

I read this first book in the series and quite much enjoyed it. There’s the mystery of what happened to the lowlife who left her and his son with this place — and obviously some romance as Captain Knight tries to help her sort out her legal situation and the house repairs that must be done. The romance is light, the behavior of all characters decent and considerate.

Camilla’s efforts at drawing Oliver out of his shell and respecting his feelings for his father are impressive. There are some tense scenes as it becomes apparent Camilla and Oliver are being set up for some kind of “accidental” death.

A well executed plot by a skillful writer. I’d give it 5 stars and look forward to reading the next book in the series.

According to the book blurb:

“The Pajaro Bay mysteries are filled with light and breezy, heartwarming fun, and always leave you with a happy ending. Each is a stand-alone novel so can be read in any order.”

Swiss cheese

Just-for-fun haiku:

mice in the pantry
the cheese is all Swiss
sculptors at work

Great Book:

Book Blurb has just informed me that Going to Green is being offered for free right now.  Do check it out.

I read this book last winter and thought it was a good and inspiring story. Chicago news desk reporter Lois finds herself an heir in the will of a colleague who just died of leukemia. She inherits the small-town newspaper he’d just bought in the South. For his sake she ventures into an unknown place and discovers her calling — and a minefield.

I’ve just read the second book in the series, Goodness Gracious Green and found it equally enjoyable. (Spoiler alert: Loved the ending!) Judy Christie is a skillful writer and weaves a great tale.