Remarkably Excellent Reads

Remarkably Bright Creatures

On Mother’s Day, I was feeling a little weepy since it was my first since I lost Mom. But I did have some pleasant moments, too. My kids called and I learned how to “merge” their calls so the three of us talked together. My husband and I went for an early morning walk before it was hot.

We went to our favorite Carefree Coffee Roastery for breakfast. We got there early, believing we’d beat the crowd. No, there was a line waiting for the cafe to open! We got a table and didn’t have to wait too long. I had an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox. It was delish!

We had a lap swimming reservation later in the day and we had the pool to ourselves. The hour was booked with six swimmers, but we were the only ones who showed up! That was a treat in itself!

With nothing planned the rest of Mother’s Day, I dove into “Remarkably Bright Creatures” which was recommended to me by no less than three bloggers I follow. THANK YOU for the recommendation!

WOW! I was reading stretched out on the sofa in the casita with Olive the cat purring on my tummy. At eight o’clock I finished the book and walked into our bedroom in tears.

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked.

I sobbed and said the book was so good.

I’ve read two debut novels in May that were excellent. The other was “Black Cake” that I wrote about HERE.

Of course, I also loved Cheryl Oreglia’s “Grow Damn It” weeks before. A debut book by blogger of Living in the Gap fame.

Book by Cheryl Oreglia called "Grow Damn It."
“Grow Damn It” by Cheryl Oreglia

I’m looking forward to reading the debut novel by Eve Marie from the blog CupCakeCache called “The Bayou Heist,” available on Amazon.

Other bloggers that I follow with books either coming out soon or released include Victoria, who has the blog Victoria Ponders and Wynne Leon of Surprised by Joy. Both write for The Heart of the Matter.

Victoria’s book called “Surviving Sue” is about her mother and will be released soon.

Wynne’s book about her father and her faith, “Finding My Father’s Faith,” is available on Amazon.

Eilene Lyon of Myrocopia has a first book coming out in September. It’s called “Fortune’s Frenzy: A California Gold Rush Odyssey.”

I’m looking for more remarkable books to read, so please give me ideas.

Also, if you’ve published a book, please tell us the title and a bit about it.

Black Cake

I finished reading “Black Cake” yesterday. I highly recommend it. Without giving away the story, I will say I loved the characters — and the story. The story opens in what was called the West Indies with a half Chinese, Black young girl who loves the ocean and swimming.

She learns to cook black cake with other women in her village. Black cake is a traditional cake at weddings in the Caribbean and plays a central role throughout the book.

The characters are all strong. The story covers three generations of the same family. The children are in their 40s when they discover secrets about their family’s past.

“Wilkerson debuts with a shining family saga that stretches from the 1960s Caribbean to present-day Southern California….Readers will adore this highly accomplished effort from a talented new writer.”

–Publishers Weekly

What books have you read lately that you can highly recommend? I need more good book ideas.

Strange weather day

I saw these beautiful flowers at a neighbor’s house. I’d like this plant in my yard.

Does anyone know the name of this flower?

After feeling stronger, post Covid, I’ve been enjoying my morning walks. I’ve also spent time in my backyard reading and enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Sometimes we walk in the morning and afternoon. Yesterday was a very windy afternoon. Then this morning the temperature dropped to the high 30s. That’s after a few days in the high 70s.

Adding to the blustery cold temperature, my iphone told me the air quality is dangerous. That must be due to the particulate matter in the air because of the strong winds.

So, I am skipping my walk today.

I’m anxious for the weather to get back to normal — warm sunshine and no wind.

Random thoughts:

I stretched and did my crunches this morning for the first time since I was sick.

I broke a three-day streak of Wordle in three tries. Today it took five.

Yesterday, I got a pedicure and was shocked at the price. I paid $24 in Palm Springs, but I was charged $47 yesterday in Scottsdale. I did agree to a “deluxe pedicure” so there is that.

I’m trying to get a hair appointment because I don’t want to drive five hours to my old hairdresser. A neighbor recommended her hair dresser. I’ve been texting this new hair dresser for more than a week and don’t have an appointment yet. Apparently, she’s very busy and doesn’t usually take new clients!

I’m reading “Our Last Days in Barcelona” by Chanel Cleeton. I normally love her books, but this one is dragging. I liked “Next Year in Havana” and “When We Left Cuba.” It has the same characters, so you’d think I’d be enthralled, but it’s slow on action and long on dialogue.

What books would you recommend?

Have you read Chanel Cleeton and are you a fan?

Rewriting Roald Dahl

I’m not a fan of rewriting literature. Even for kids.

Apparently, Puffin Books has been changing language in Roald Dahl’s books to make them more acceptable for today’s culture. Here’s an excerpt from a NBC News story called “Critics blast ‘absurd’ rewrites of Roald Dahl’s children’s books:”

A half-century after being published, several children’s books by world-famous British author Roald Dahl are being revised to change language that may be offensive to some, sparking accusations of censorship.

Some words related to weight, gender and race were omitted or replaced.

The “enormously fat” 9-year-old boy in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” became “enormous,” and the “Cloud-Men” from “James and the Giant Peach” became “Cloud-People.”

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper first reported the changes Friday, laying out the hundreds of changes Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, and the Roald Dahl Story Company made to the books since 2020, even adding paragraphs never written by the late Dahl.

Award-winning author Salman Rushdie called the changes “absurd censorship.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/roald-dahls-children-books-matilda-charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory-rcna71427

I read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” dozens of times as a kid. I didn’t find anything offensive about it and fell in love with Charlie and his quirky grandparents. I enjoyed watching movies based on Dahl’s books like “Matilda.” I also remember when my son was young, he read every Dahl book at school.

This reminds me of the censorship of some Dr. Seuss books. I had taken a collection of Dr. Seuss books to the local thrift shop prior to moving. I wished I hung onto the books. I tried to buy some on Amazon and I got a letter from the book seller that they couldn’t sell the books to me or they’d face a lawsuit from some outside group.

What are your thoughts about the revised Roald Dahl books? Do you think it’s okay to update books with what’s acceptable in today’s culture, or should we leave literature alone?

What I’m excited about

cactus bloom
A cactus in bloom in my yard.

After taking time off from submitting stories, I finally did it. I dusted off the story I wrote about my mom and submitted to two publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. Two so far.

It made me really happy to do that. The process has changed through the years. I used to mail my printed manuscript with a query letter and an SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.) Then I’d anxiously await for the publisher or agent to reply by snail mail. If I was lucky, I’d get a letter that was encouraging. Or, in the case of a novel, I’d send in the first three chapters and the editor would ask for more. I even got a few acceptance letters from magazines and newspapers.

The funniest thing was I did get an offer to publish my “mom” story. At the time, I didn’t think the offer was good enough. It was from a small publisher who said they’d do an initial run of 500 or 1,000 and see how it did before another print run. How I wish I would have said yes! That’s why I’m excited to try again, all these years later.

On the down side of submitting manuscripts, I’d get a form letter or postcard in my SASE with a generic phrase, “We’re sorry but your manuscript doesn’t fit our needs.”

Now, we submit by email or through a form on the publisher’s website. They have submission guidelines and say if you don’t hear back in so many months, they aren’t interested. You’re not guaranteed to get a response.

Doing more research on publishers, I renewed my membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I downloaded the market survey for small presses and discovered quite a few still use the old snail mail method with SASEs. I bet that cuts down on the number of submissions!

I received an email from one of the two publishers so far and it stated they are interested in my story and will give it careful consideration. I guess I passed the first hurdle. But, the email ended with “if you don’t hear back from us within two months, then we are passing on your manuscript.”

Eh, wait and see. In the meantime, I’m pleased to be back in the game.

What are your thoughts about submitting your writing?

About forwards and prologues

I was excited to read my third Shirley Jackson book “The Road Through the Wall.” I read two Jackson books on my beach vacation and loved them.

I took the time to read the forward — something that I don’t always do.

Compared to the “Haunting of Hill House” or “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” Jackson’s masterful late novels, “The Road Through the Wall” is a slighter work.

Ruth Franklin, book critic and contributinG editor at The New Republic

The two books I read on vacation were the ones mentioned. This latest book was Jackson’s first novel, so yes, it is a lesser work. But reading those words dampened my enthusiasm to read the book. I wondered if I should even bother.

I now wish I’d read the forward AFTERWORD. I’m almost finished with the book and I’m enjoying it, but I felt this feeling of doubt when I started. Ruth Franklin’s forward is detailed and explains a lot about the story. I will finally read the Forward again — after I finish reading the book.

What are your thoughts about Forwards and Prologues. Do you read them? Do you think they add or detract to the story?

What I read on the beach

Books I read on the beach.

My beach chair has a pocket on the back with a zipper. That’s where I keep sunscreen and books. I selected two books by Shirley Jackson and my goal was to get through them while I sat on the beach.

I adore reading on the beach.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is one of my favorite books. I’m thinking of assigning it to Book Club when it’s my turn — if book club survives. The last book club turned into a disaster more on track with “The Real Housewives” than a social evening to discuss literature. A spat broke out between two ladies. One woman went way over the top — and the other countered by sending a certified letter telling her she was out of the group.

Since then, two months of book clubs have been cancelled. In August only one person RSVP’d. September’s book club is off because the woman hosting said she needs a break. After that last episode, we all need a break!

Back to the beach. I LOVED reading both Shirley Jackson books. She is such an excellent writer. “Come Along with Me” is the beginning of a novel she never finished due to her death.

In 1968, Jackson’s husband released a posthumous volume of her work, Come Along with Me, containing her unfinished last novel, as well as 14 previously uncollected short stories (among them “Louisa, Please Come Home”) and three lectures she gave at colleges or writers’ conferences in her last years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Jackson

Although I’ve hauled “Come Along with Me” from Washington to California to Arizona, I’ve never read it. It was the perfect beach book. I read one short story or a lecture each day at the beach and finished it the day before we left. Her unfinished novel “Come Along with Me” was a joy with a very quirky character who was clairvoyant and communicated with the dead.

At the beach house I had a Liane Moriarity book I was reading but didn’t finish. “Nine Perfect Strangers” may remain strangers to me.

The contrast between Shirley Jackson and authors today was stark. I felt almost smug reading such a talented writer and forgoing my usual beach romances. I have five more Jackson novels yet to read. I can’t wait!

What type of books do you like to read on vacation?

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Have you read Shirley Jackson’s stories or books besides “The Lottery?”