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Monday, March 26, 2012

I Keep Discovering Great Reads

I just spent 24 hours straight reading "A Fatal Inversion" by Barbara Vine.  The Wall Street Journal occasionally has a noted author list a few books they recommend and this was in such a blurb last week.  It's a terrific story, classified as a mystery but much more than that, a psychological thriller, an historical, literary piece [the action is mostly in the 1970's, reflected upon ten years later - the book was originally published in 1987], a love story and a social commentary.  Now I'm finding out that this British writer [who also writes under the name Ruth Rendell] has dozens of books. How come she's barely known in this country?  Again, I marvel at how many good books are out there, but it takes some work to find them.  This author deserves much more attention - she writes beautifully and is certainly far more gifted than many of the authors currently on the market.  I shall probably follow the WSJ's advice more frequently now and I shall certainly be purchasing more of this author's books! Well done!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wacky Spring

Normally, it's still chilly and raw at this time of year where I live in rural Virginia. Not this spring! We've had scary 80+ degree days almost the whole month of March causing everything to pop out 2-3 weeks early.  Daffodils that usually aren't blooming until early April are already spent, blossoming trees are in full flower and gardeners are scrambling to do now what in a normal spring they'd be doing next month.  Everyone in my area is talking about it and worried this bodes badly for summer, too hot for too long.  In addition, we've had practically no rain on top of no snow to speak of through the winter. As a matter of fact, we didn't really have winter at all because I can count on my two hands the number of days we woke to frost...
Climate change worries and disturbing trends:  Bat colonies are being decimated by a fungal problem; sadly our bat house is empty and there was no sign last year of  the  bats we used to enjoy watching all summer at dusk as they looped and lunged after insects.
Most worrisome is the plight of the honeybee. Beekeepers out in my area are very concerned about what we are doing to the health and well-being of this crucial pollinator.  Two books I have just purchased upon a friend/beekeeper recommendation tell the story of the dangers we face if the honeybee colonies collapse: Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen [visit his website at] and Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop, both available from Amazon.

So as I prepare to plant my summer vegetable garden, I'll be thinking about the balance of nature and the wonderfully mysterious ways everything is supposed to work together. We humans have messed things up for too long, lacking respect for nature and this wonderful planet!!  Let's hope it isn't too late to set things right...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Aren't These Books on the Best Seller Lists?

I continue to be baffled by seeing the same old books and authors on the fiction best seller lists.  If you're reading this, you know who I mean.  Two books I've read recently should be inching their way up the lists and getting the attention they deserve, but the stale stuff is entrenched and blocking the way!
The first one is The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt which is a marvelous story set during the brutally lawless Gold Rush days in the American west.  It's got four stars on Amazon and this is what I wrote as a comment on that site:

I really enjoyed reading this very well-written book. What talent to be able to bring the West of the Gold Rush era to life the way deWitt has. In our somewhat sterile, digital age, we forget the brutality and lawlessness of parts of our American history and deWitt has pushed it to the surface in its rawest form - hapless gold panners, pitiless killers, abject whores. The brothers are no better nor are they worse than their peers as they try to scratch out a living in a menacing, unpredictable world. But this is not just a tale of two killers on a mission; there are many scenes of heart-breaking tenderness as Eli, the younger more sensitive of the brothers, seeks connections, understanding, and finally, really, the warm cocoon of love. The scenes where he discovers the joy of tooth powder to brush his teeth are unforgettable and there are many more such examples of his childlike efforts to connect with a higher level of human awareness. His flashes of deep-hearted remorse over his horse Tub or his shy generosity to 'low-life' women he meets show his repressed sensitivity even as he is capable of fiendish acts. The book ended just as it should. An outstanding story and very gratifying read. Thank you! 

The other book is Carol Birch's novel, Jamrach's Menagerie which is part The Life of Pi, part Moby Dick - one scene of whale hunting  is excruciating - how'd she write that sitting in her study somewhere in England?!

So many wonderful books out there, we should boycott the sales figures and make an effort to search out truly good reads!  Just my opinion...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

I've been thinking about the Kirkus Review I requested [and paid for].  The reviewer hints the appeal of my book is limited to "college-educated Baby Boomers" who want to take a nostalgic trip back to those crazy few years of the Viet Nam war protest era.  While I agree the time period is essential to my story,  periods of tumultuous history are often the backdrop to a novel and should or could appeal to people whether or not they lived through it.  A few non-boomers who have read my book said they liked it [at least that's what they said to my face!] and learned things about that era they didn't know.  And, on the other hand, lots of fellow boomers wouldn't choose to read about that time again if their life depended on it - too much bad karma, man [I've heard that one too].  But it was a time, an incredible time, of great change brought about by a restless, involved generation, working in some kind of chaotic solidarity for heart-felt causes before facebook brought us all together.  We shouldn't forget the influence that time period has on society even now, and I'm pretty happy my book brings it  to life. As the reviewer stated: "Schiffman’s colorful descriptions of hippie culture, living spaces and nature evoke images so vivid that the reader will easily see and feel them."  It was so much fun for me to let my imagination run wild with the memories, and present a story inextricably connected to that incredible period in MY generation's lifetime. Right on? Yeah, baby!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I just read that Ricky Martin has over three million followers of his tweets, Steve Martin over five million. It's hard to believe that many people are into this but for celebs, it's obviously gold.  I neglected a twitter account  that some very good people set up for me when my book's web page was created - my webmaster designer and my wonderful daughter - and was surprised to find that I am following people [ten] and being followed  by, well, eight people, two of whom are related to me :).   Now I just need to work on following and getting followed by like-minded folks and understanding the medium and something about "plug-ins" where the blog [this one], twitter and facebook are all together. Yikes - would anyone really be interested in that much info? TMI, methinks but I have to give it a whirl if I want to promote this novel at all, yes?  And then I've heard something about "hashtags"...So much to learn - wish I were twenty again so I could absorb all this easily!  But it doesn't hurt anyone to dive on in and see what some of this produces.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Post- Mardi Gras Trip to New Orleans

"San Francisco"

The beautiful gardens at Houmas Plantation
Yes, that's a limb, 500 year old live oak!

Yes, we just spent a few days in New Orleans, right after returning from Brazil.  Normally, we wouldn't plan back to back trips like this - we'd miss our cats too much! - but we were invited to a wedding in New Orleans and our beloved son Jeff lives there, so off we went. We always love spending time in the Big Easy even when weather is cold and gray as it was post-Gras.  We  tacked on three days to tool around plantation country and, as usual, found southern Louisiana to be an intriguing part of the state. First, the Mississippi River has got to be considered the heartbeat of America. We drove up one side and down the other of the "River Road" between New Orleans and Baton Rouge; it's completely industrialized - plants specializing in fertilizer, chemicals, oil, natural gas, gravel, grains - you name it - riverside and ready to be loaded onto barges or tankers and whisked to wherever. Trains come and go at all hours of the day and night and no sound is lonelier than the far off whistle of a train in the fog-shrouded night...It's a hub of constant activity.  Easy to see why Louisiana's unemployment rate is way below the national average. Who knew?
Our goal was, however, the plantations, and we were not disappointed. We saw four and stayed in two that are now B&B's. We learned so much - about Cajuns [Acadians], Creoles, the French presence, the Louisiana Purchase, slave life and hardships, especially disease, sugar cane [no, no cotton here] and the extraordinary local efforts to preserve and protect what is left of this bygone era.