Books With Impact

I read a lot of books in 2019. A LOT. So many that I didn’t post a number publicly, because I am not wasting time with people who will insist that I “couldn’t” possibly read that much in a year.

I could.

I did.

I enjoyed many, many of the books I read, including those by Arlene Kay, Alyssa Maxwell, Barbara Ross, Lauren Dane, Kate Carlisle, Juliet Blackwell, Ed Ifkovic, Mark Pryor, and more.

When it came to books I didn’t enjoy, if I wasn’t paid to read them (such as a contest entry, or for review), I put them down when they lost me. I don’t consider them books “read.”

But there were a handful of books that blew me away. Books I read for the first time in 2019 (whenever they may have been published) and to which I will return often. I want to share those titles with you here, in hopes some of you might seek them out and enjoy them, too.

UNMARRIAGEABLE by Soniah Kamal. Tagged as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in Pakistan, this lively, funny, beautiful novel made me laugh and cry and want to read and re-read. It has pride of place amongst the old set of Jane Austen novels I inherited from my grandmother. I just loved this book. The writing, the energy, everything about it is wonderful.

EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTEROUS GENTLEWOMAN by Theodora Goss. Great characters, situations, and actions. I love the way Goss turns tropes, myths, and expectations inside out. I love the characters, their interaction, their growth.

TWO SKIES BEFORE NIGHT by Robert Gryn. One of the best books I’ve read in the past few years, and one of the best world-building I’ve ever seen anywhere. This book mixes detective and fantasy in a beautiful, fascinating blend. I could not put it down.

THRESHOLD DELIVERY by Patty Seyburn. Every single poem resonated, and it’s a book I’ve re-read a couple of times since my first reading last year.

All four of these books stayed in both memory and heart. If you haven’t read, them I encourage you to add them to your TBR pile — and then, actually read them! You’ll be glad you did.

Jan. 14, 2019: Meet Historical Author Jean M. Roberts!

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I’m delighted to have author Jean Roberts as our guest today. I met Jean via Twitter, as part of the writing community.

Devon Ellington: The premise of WEAVE A WEB OF WITCHCRAFT is so interesting, because so often, the woman is the partner accused of witchcraft. In this case, it’s the man. And then she admits to being a witch. How did you find them?

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Jean Roberts: Mary and Hugh Parsons are a fascinating couple who I first encountered while doing genealogy work on my family. Something about their tragic story resonated with me and I dropped the research on my ancestors in favor of delving into their history. I was excited to find that the testimony taken at Hugh’s deposition in 1651 is still available. The testimony paints a vivid picture of Hugh and Mary and from there I tried to recreate the circumstances that led to the accusations of witchcraft against him. I believe Mary suffered from a mental breakdown which led to her own confession of witchcraft. It’s hard to believe that intelligent people could find such accusations credible, and I tried to show how innocent actions could and were misinterpreted or misrepresented, much to the detriment of poor Hugh. What a scary world they inhabited.

DE: I have to ask the same question about BLOOD IN THE VALLEY. Do you come across these wonderful characters as part of your genealogical research and they inspire you? Or are you looking to tell a particular story and search for people who’ve lived it?

JR: When I was a young girl, I read a family history book, owned by my Grandfather, about my ancestors, the Thorntons. The book mostly dealt with the male members of the family, especially the Hon. Matthew Thornton, Esq., who signed the Declaration of Independence for the Colony/State of New Hampshire. I was flipping through the book, now mine, several years ago and came across the brief story of Catherine Wasson Clyde, niece of my ancestor and his brother Matthew Thornton. The story of the Cherry Valley Massacre and her survival really caught my attention. Questions immediately popped into in my head. What was her experience of the American Revolution? How did the average woman survive without her husband for months at a time? Were her feelings taken into consideration, valued, ignored? I felt like she came to me and begged me to write her story. I hope I did her justice.

DE: What is your process, once you settle on the characters? How much time do you devote to research for each of your books? How do you vet your sources?

JR: Historical accuracy is very important to me and hopefully to my readers. I want to paint a vivid picture of life as it was, from the clothing, to the food, to attitudes and social customs. I spent an inordinate amount of time on research, which is fine as I love it, but I generally end up with way more material than I need. One thing I learned while doing genealogy is the importance of sources. For my research I look for good primary source material which comes from as close to the time period as possible. Luckily for me, the depositions and some trial information exist and I was able to get a significant amount of information for those documents, for Weave a Web of Witchcraft. I have quite a few ancestors who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, so I was already very familiar with many sources for life in early New England.

For Blood in the Valley, I combed through countless online archives included the papers of George Clinton, Governor of New York, the papers of George Washington and many others. I read at least a dozen histories of the American Revolution and of New York. I also travelled from my home in Texas to the beautiful Mohawk Valley in New York and stood on the hilltop homesite of Catherine and Samuel Clyde in Cherry Valley. It was inspiring to stand where she stood and see what she saw. It was an amazing and emotional moment for me.

DE: How much do you have to cut out from your research, because it doesn’t drive the plot?

JR: A lot! Not every reader is going to share my passion for historical details and I have to fight my temptation to overload the book with historical minutia. I want there to be enough to make the reader feel immersed in my characters world without the book reading like an encyclopedia.

DE: What are you working on now?

JR: I am really excited about my next book, The Heron. Once again, I have tapped a few of my ancestors to help me tell my story, but this time they are only bit players. This book tells the dark tale of Mary, a woman who lived in New Hampshire in the late 1600s and Abigail a modern-day college professor. Their lives intersect in a house/ B&B called Pine Tree House, once Mary’s home. There is a bit of mind/time travel, a ghost and a love story. The timeline is split about 50/50 in the dangerous period of the late 1600s and in the current time. Historical accuracy is again very important, so I’ve included a lot of details of life along the Indian frontier of New Hampshire. The central themes are abuse survival, and the enduring nature of love.

Blood in the Valley onAmazon.

Weave a Web of Witchcraft on Amazon.

IMG_20191222_130445Bio:
Jeanie Roberts, a proud mixture of English Puritan Great Migration Ancestors and Irish Immigrants, makes her home outside of Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas, Houston with a BSN. Following in her father’s footsteps, Jeanie served in the United States Air Force and married an Air Force pilot. After touring around the world, her family settled in Texas, where she worked as a Nurse Administrator for a non-profit. She has one son, a soldier in the U.S. Army.
Jeanie divides her time between writing, family history/genealogy and traveling. She is currently working on her third novel. When not writing novels, Jeanie reviews books on her blog,The Book Delight, researches and posts about her ancestors on her blog, The Family Connection, and investigates mythical Native American Ancestry on her blog, Indian Reservations.

 

Jan. 7, 2020: Guest Scott P. Dawson and THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY

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My freelance pal Paula Hendrickson introduced me (electronically) to Scott when she invited me to participate in the weekly #RemoteChat on Twitter. Scott is a fantastic host, and I love being part of a group of smart, funny, resourceful, talented, compassionate people all over the world.

I wanted to know more about Scott and his book, THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY.

Devon Ellington: What factors played into your choice to work remotely, and how long did it take for you to make the transition?

Scott Dawson: Honestly, it was a total accident. I was almost two years into my new job and I was engaged. My fiancee and I had looked at housing, commutes, and jobs, and decided that living in New York City wasn’t for us. I was honest with my boss. I told him I was about to be married and wanted to live in another area. I wanted to let him know I was going to be searching for jobs — either an internal transfer or a job with another company. I had no other angle. No other motivation. He considered what I said. After a few moments he asked, “How would you like to work from home?” I hadn’t considered that, but months later I was working out of a spare bedroom of our new Massachusetts apartment. I had a laptop, fax machine, an ISDN line (twice the speed of dialup!) and easy access to New York City if I needed to go into the office for a few days. It was couched as a 3-month trial, after which I’d return to the office if it wasn’t working out. It did work out, and I continued in that job for 17 years.

DE: Is there anything you thought was necessary before you made the switch that you discovered was not?

SD: Yes! Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. We rented a 3-bedroom apartment, thinking that I’d need a dedicated office apart from our bedroom. Another room was set aside as an art studio, since my wife loved to paint. We definitely didn’t need the third room. We didn’t have kids yet, and my wife taught most of the day. I was alone, and totally could have carved out a corner of our living room or bedroom to do my work. It’s true that having the separate room was nice, but it would have been nice to save a little money while we could, too.

DE: How has it improved both the quality of your work and your life?

SD: On the work front, I find that I can get into flow so much easier than if I were around a lot of people. I’m rather disciplined at home, and when I’m in the zone, I can be incredibly productive (I’m a web designer and developer). It’s just not the same in an office environment. The impact on my life is unquantifiable. I was there for all of those moments that mothers and fathers want to see when their kids are growing up. I got support from my family throughout the days and years, and I gave support right back. Most meals, when we’re all in the house, are at our dining room table. No commute gets in the way of me connecting with my family before and after work. All of that sums up to a lower-stress, far happier me!

DE: Do you miss anything about on-site work?

SD: I travel occasionally to the office, and so I’m reminded sometimes of the things that I miss. If you subtracted the commute, the social benefits of working alongside other people would be compelling. Going out to lunch, sharing playlists, ranting about this, or celebrating that … it’s all easier when you’re co-located. I try to fill that gap as a remote worker by being far more intentional about my social commitments. It’s important to make plans to connect with other people.

DE: Can you share one of the strangest anecdotes about working with a remote client?

SD: Sure! It’s an anecdote that, at the time, was not strange at all. Time and change have conspired to make it strange. Now, asynchronous collaboration is all the rage. Slack, social media, and other collaboration platforms vie for our attention throughout the day. These platforms enable a lot of teams to be efficiently distributed around the world. When I first started working remotely in 1998, my business counterpart and I were collaborating on a web site prototype. I updated a clickable prototype and uploaded to a server. She clicked around the prototype when she was free, and printed out the pages to mark them up with changes. Then she FAXED them to me. Yeah, it was the age of fax machines and modems, and it worked great! I made the changes, and the process repeated. She and I worked so well together, and it was the first example I can think of where asynchronous collaboration was as seamless as it could be at the time.

DE: What is your best suggestion for a person who wants to negotiate a remote work option to set out positives such as heightened productivity, better quality of work, and less sick time/lateness from commuting issues balanced against so many managers’ need to stare at their workers to make sure they’re actually working?

SD: You’ve actually cited a lot of the business benefits of remote work in the phrasing of the question. https://usefyi.com/remote-work-statistics is my go-to resource for statistics about remote work, many of which can be pretty compelling for a negotiating table. Armed with facts, you can then think about how working remotely can work in your unique situation. Perhaps suggest a trial like my manager did, and keep tabs on your output and productivity as compared to the office environment. When you do get the opportunity to work remotely, demonstrate your efficacy and highlight the big wins. If you’re more productive, make sure that they see it. Lastly, position things in terms of how it benefits the employer. Sure, you’ll derive big benefits, but the ones that seal the deal are the ones that matter most to the decision maker.

Buy Link
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733991301 or https://artofworkingremotely.com/book

— The Art of Working Remotely Excerpt

Cornell’s career center was quite an operation. New companies arrived weekly, vying for the attention of Cornell’s upcoming graduates. Microsoft. IBM. Motorola. Morgan Stanley. We were also vying for their attention! We pored over the sign-up sheets posted in Carpenter Hall. What companies seemed interesting to me? There was no real intention to this “job search.” I hadn’t thought about what I wanted so it was a scattergun approach to my professional destiny. I wasn’t prepared for some of the more technical interviews. Microsoft didn’t even call me back after my session with them. I signed up for as many interviews as I could. I knew that time spent interviewing was good practice.

I walked into the interview room at the appointed time for one of these “practice” interviews. A major bank had sent a representative to speak with job hopefuls like me. The interviewer started off with the softest of pitches over the plate. “So, Scott, what can you tell me about the private banking business?”

[… expletive]

I hadn’t prepared for this interview. Heck, I hadn’t prepared for any of these interviews. I assumed I’d talk about me, my skills, my path. Big mistake. How could I reply? As with most things in life, the truth seemed the best option and most in line with who I was.

“To be honest, I don’t know what private banking is.”

He smiled. The next half hour was surreal.

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— Author Bio
Scott Dawson lives in Trumansburg, New York with his wife Amy and two children, Elizabeth and Xander. He’s a web designer and developer and enjoys writing, acting, creating art, and making music. He’s an avid skier in the winter and runs year-round on the roads and trails of Tompkins County in upstate New York. Connect with him at scottpdawson.com or @scottpdawson.

Tues. Dec. 31, 2019: Reading Ending and Beginnings

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image courtesy of Larissa-K via pixabay.com

First of all, Happy New Year! May the New Year bring you many blessings, literary and other.

For me, the first book of the year is a huge, huge choice. I sometimes feel it sets the tone for the coming year, so I want it to be wonderful.

Well, every time I pick up a book, I hope I fall in love with it!

I often buy a new book on New Year’s Eve. Even if I haven’t finished the stack I received for Solstice/Christmas, I often buy a new book, carefully chosen, on December 31.

I start reading it a few minutes after midnight. Unless I’m at a party. Then I start reading it when I get home.

I chose my book yesterday: Blood and Blade byLauren Dane. A kickass book to start a kickass year.

Happy New Year!

Tues. Dec. 24, 2019: Jolabokflod

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image courtesy of TizzleBDizzle via pixabay.com

A few years ago, I learned about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, The Yule Book Flood.

What I didn’t know until I read it on ReadItForward.com was that, the Iceland Publishers Association delivers a catalogue of all the books published that year to every household.

People give each other books on Christmas Eve and settle in to read.

We’ve been doing that my entire life in my house, although I didn’t realize it was a tradition. I love Iceland, their bookshops, and their commitment to literacy. So it feels right to continue the tradition.

We open the bulk of our gifts on Christmas Eve anyway, European-style, and have stockings on Christmas Day. There are always books involved in the giving — both under the tree, and, the next morning, a paperback tucked into the stocking.

But it’s always been the tradition to unwrap the gifts, enjoy them, and then curl up with one of the new books. I’ve done that ever since I can remember.

A few years ago, on social media, I also saw the “Book Advent Calendar” — meant for kids, but good for anyone — where 24 books are wrapped, with tags, at the beginning of December. You unwrap the book for the day each morning. I have not yet gotten my act together to do that, but I would like to start that tradition, too.

I don’t know which book I will unwrap tonight and curl up with. I do know that it will fill me with a sense of peace and well-being.

Have a lovely holiday.

Tues. Dec. 17, 2019: WINTER SOLSTICE by Rosamunde Pilcher #ReaderExpansionChallenge

Winter Solstice. Rosamunde Pilcher. NY: Thomas Dunne Books. 2000.

I blew it this month. Instead of expanding my reading repertoire, I went back to an old favorite, Rosamunde Pilcher’s WINTER SOLSTICE.

I love winter holiday novels, where a bunch of people who don’t feel like they belong anywhere find kinship with each other. I am still trying to write my perfect version of it. I’m a sucker for the multitude of winter holiday romance novellas that come out every year (although many of them wind up frustrating me, especially when the woman’s only reason for existing is to marry and have kids).

My mother is an enormous fan of Rosamunde Pilcher’s work, and has all her books. She re-reads them regularly. THE SHELL SEEKERS is the novel that Ms. Pilcher is probably best-known for writing.

But I love WINTER SOLSTICE.

I forgot how long it takes to get to the meat of the title. Whereas if I submitted a novel structured like this, I would be told to start it about half-way through where this novel starts, Pilcher starts slowly, bringing Elfrida out of London with Horace, her new rescue dog, to a small English village and following her as she rebuilds her life there, after the love of her life dies. She goes through months of settling in, and then visits her cousin in Cornwall for a month. She returns to find that the wife and daughter of the couple with whom she made the closest friends (the husband of which she cares about a little too much) have died in a car crash. The wife left the house to the sons from her first marriage, who put it on the market and tell Oscar, the husband, to leave.

Oscar owns half a house up in Scotland, along with his cousin, and convinces Elfrida (and Horace) to join him there, while he works through his grief and tries to figure out his life. They plan to spend a quiet winter and ignore the holidays.

From there, the holiday circle grows to include Elfrida’s cousin’s daughter Carrie, recovering from a broken heart, and Carrie’s niece, Lucy. Lucy is fourteen. Her mother is off to America with a new boyfriend, her father’s new wife doesn’t want her around, and her grandmother is too busy to bother with her.

Throw in Sam, recovering from the dissolution of his marriage by going back to his wool-mill roots to revive a local mill, who meets Oscar’s cousin and gets the key to the house from him, and you have a band of kind people who need each other.

That is one of the joys of this novel. No matter what life throws at them, how life tries to break them, at the core, all of these characters are basically kind. In this day and age, when too often the cruelty is the point, reading a book where the kind characters triumph by living their kindness is uplifting and reassuring.

Modern critics would say the stakes are too low in this book, but when it comes to the heart, only the person whose heart it is can really make that determination.

I had forgotten how enjoyable and warm the book is. If you want a warming read for a cold winter’s night, I suggest reading, or re-reading WINTER SOLSTICE.

This is the last Reader Expansion Challenge. I hope you’ve had fun over the past few months. I certainly have.

Next year will be a mix of author interviews, pieces about favorite bookshops, and responses to books I read that I’m excited about. They’re not reviews, but personal responses.

Have a lovely holiday season! I will be posting over the next two Tuesdays, even though it’s a holiday, so I hope you will join me.

 

Tues. Dec. 3, 2019: GRAVE REACH releases December 5th!

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GRAVE REACH, the 4th Coventina Circle Novel

Lesley Chase fought her way free from an abusive marriage, thanks to Coventina Circle. After her ex-husband’s murder, she took a sabbatical to study yoga, meditation, and dreamwalking in Costa Rica. A passionate affair with Sam Pierce helped her self-confidence and healing, but she insisted they break all contact when she returned to New York. She’s stunned when she runs into Sam, who has an office in the same building as her therapist. He convinces her it’s just a weird coincidence, and he won’t try to rekindle their passion. But when Lesley’s dreamwalking crosses into dangerous territory, and her ex-husband starts stalking her from beyond the grave, Sam is determined to set her free, once and for all. Of course, Sam has a few dark secrets of his own, on both sides of the veil . . .

Lesley is mentioned in the first book in the series, Playing the Angles, although she does not physically appear. Originally, when the earlier version of PTA was going to be a stand-alone, I regretted not being able to explore Lesley’s story further. Once the decision was made that there would be a series, each featuring a different member of the Circle as the primary protagonists, it gave me a chance to work on her story in relation to the other members of the circle (in The Spirit Repository and in Relics & Requiem). She appears in Relics, when Phineas dreamwalks to solve a murder.

In Grave Reach, Lesley comes into her own. She is rebuilding her life, back in New York City after a five-month sabbatical in Costa Rica. She had a passionate affair there, with Sam, but they agreed to let go when they left and not be in touch. She misses him, but she needs to rebuild on her own. When she runs into him again by accident, and then their paths keep crossing as the pagan community in New York is threatened in their dreams, they need to work together to solve the crisis. Lesley realizes how little she knew about Sam before their affair, and some of his actions make her wonder what else he’s hiding.

The series is paranormal romantic suspense, so most of the fun is taking the journey with Lesley and Sam to see how they overcome their obstacles together, even when they disagree, and when others try to get in between them.

The Delacourtes are back, too — don’t worry, eventually they will be the center of their own stories. I’m happily surprised with how popular the Delacourte clan is with readers.

Here’s an excerpt from Grave Reach:

She felt beautiful with Sam. Smart, desirable, funny. She embodied the fantasy of the best self she’d always wanted to be.

Had she been a fool to cut off contact?

No. Nothing could sustain the fantasy once she returned to real life. It was better this way.

This way, returning to New York was a complete fresh start.

She walked up the graceful stone steps to the grayish-blue stone building on 18th Street and buzzed Dr. Granger’s unit. She got the unlocking buzz, and pushed the door open.
This had once been a mansion, housing one family. The graceful marble staircase still led to the second floor, and a chandelier lit the hall. Dr. Granger’s office was in the back of the ground floor, where it was quieter.

She didn’t check her reflection in the hall mirror, but she turned, trying not to flinch, as a man used a key to open the front door. The frosted glass, covered on both sides with wrought iron, hid his features.

Used a key. Nothing to be afraid of, she reassured herself.

She turned to the back of the building, wondering what she should talk about in today’s session. Dr. Granger also wanted her to participate in a group session as part of her recovery. Lesley preferred Coventina Circle as her group.

She hesitated. The person who’d entered was male, which made her wary. She was back in New York, after all. But the energy felt familiar. Comforting.

She hesitated again, just past the bottom of the staircase, near the mirror. She glanced at her reflection, and saw her own worried face stare back.

The man who’d entered had his head down, looking through his mail, as he started up the stairs to the second floor.

She’d know the tread of those footsteps anywhere.

It couldn’t be.

He promised her.

“Sam?” she croaked.

He was part of the way up the stairs. He lifted his head, looking first up for the voice, then glanced over the rail to meet her eyes. He paled, and his own hazel eyes widened in shock. “Lesley?”

“You lied to me!” Lesley burst out. “How could you lie to me like that?”

“Lesley, I had no idea, I didn’t, I–”

“You can’t tell me this is a coincidence!” She fled down the hall into Natalie Granger’s waiting area, where she burst into tears.

***

Want more? It releases on December 5, 2019 on multiple digital channels for $3.99. Visit the Grave Reach</em> page on the Coventina Circle website for buy links, or use the book’s universal buy link.. More options will be added as the book goes live on additional channels.