Monday, January 3, 2022

Reviewing Your Reads

I was searching through some of my old blogposts and came across my photo of a slide Gary Metivier used in a presentation at the Children’s Literary Festival in 2016. I liked the concise way it framed the essence of plotting with five Cs:

“Create a Character readers care about, in a Conflict with stakes, making Choices, whose Consequences build to a Climax.” Cheryl B. Klein, author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

I thought of using this framework for a review when I was given a copy of Bee in Her Bonnet by Jannifer Powelson.  

First draft:

Bee in Her Bonnet is Powelson’s fifth book in the Nature Station Mystery series. The first chapter introduces the character of Kristen Matthews as the owner of the Nature Station, a natural resource education and event center. It’s a business that has grown over the first four books, as has Kristen’s reputation and talent for amateur sleuthing in her central Illinois hometown of Eklund.

There is nothing better for conflict than a murder discovered the day after a bridal shower was held at the Nature Station with a visit to its brand-new pollinator garden as one of the party activities. The stakes couldn’t be higher when the white-haired relative of the soon-to-be groom appears to have fallen victim to a severe reaction to a bee sting.

Kirsten’s choices are limited. She has questions to ask. Leads to track down. Because the nice old lady’s past harbored some not so nice secrets. But Kirsten has so much help streaming in from the many locals who have come to expect great things from her detective skills. The consequences of all that help and ego boosting praise just might compromise Kirsten’s ability to make the best decisions. Who’s telling the truth? Who’s holding out on her. What is she missing?  The answers to these questions can mean life or death as she nears the climax of the action. Readers will want to know if they solved the mystery or not. I certainly didn’t. Jannifer Powelson has created a fine addition to her Nature Station Mystery series.

Second draft:

     I was introduced to Jannifer Powelson’s Nature Station Mystery series when I was given a copy of Bee in Her Bonnet to review. This is Powelson’s fifth book in the series, so I was meeting her protagonist, Kristen Matthews, at a high point in her personal life; she is engaged and has a winter wedding in her future. Kristen’s business, the Nature Station, is doing well as a natural resource education and event center. In fact, as the action opens, it is summer, and she is hosting the bridal shower for Hope Johnson, co-worker and best friend. We are introduced to a lot of people: family, friends, citizens of small town Eklund; all have potential as either victim or villain. A visit to the Nature Station’s brand-new pollinator garden is turned into a bridal shower party activity.

     The next day, Kristen and Hope are first on the scene when the white-haired relative of Hope’s soon-to-be groom appears to have fallen victim to a severe reaction to a bee sting. The stakes are high for Kristen, time is in short supply for her to find the murderer and save her best friend’s wedding day.

     But Kristen’s reputation and talent for amateur sleuthing precedes her every move. She has questions to ask. Leads to track down. It seems the nice old lady’s past harbored some not so nice secrets. Kirsten has so much help and information streaming in from the many locals who have come to expect great things from her detective skills that it just might compromise her ability to make the best decisions. Nothing is easy. Who’s telling the truth? Who’s holding out on her, and why? What is she missing? The answers to these questions could mean life or death as the murderer prepares to strike again in an ending I did not see coming.

     Friendship, family ties, and the chemistry of small town Eklund are key themes for this book. As is the author’s respect for native plants and prairies. Jannifer Powelson has created a fine addition to her Nature Station Mystery series.

 

Book reviews and star ratings are important gifts for authors. I always try to write something about the books I read and then post to Amazon and Goodreads. The more popular titles of well-established authors don’t need as much help as local, regional authors of small presses or the self-published. For those, I make an extra effort.


Sunday, December 26, 2021

A Christmas Gift and Seasons Greetings

 

A Christmas Gift

By Mary R. Davidsaver

 

I wake in the hours before dawn

Three days shy of Christmas.

This day holds plans for a car trip,

A mission to deliver a gift. 

A gentle soul made a request

That’s going to be answered

With a present from his past: toys.

Building blocks brought down from a shelf

Beginning a new life,

Or continuing an old one

That was waylaid for many years.

My being here is its own gift.

To have lived long enough to see

How this story completes a loop—

Beginning, middle, ending—

With the same toys.

 

 

Seasons Greetings

By Mary R. Davidsaver

 

Christmas cards lay on the table.

Fewer this year.

They arrived unbidden.

My half-hearted quest for cards

Found nothing satisfying.

I came away empty handed.

So many voids in my mailing list:

Dear friends, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles.

Last year a brother suddenly gone.

I expected no notice of my lapse.

Wrong again.  

However—

One name drew my attention

It didn’t register. Who’s this Helen?

Inside, a view from a high vantage point

Overlooking a scenic river

Dressed in seasonal greens and golds.

Only one answer to the question.

Only one couple climbed river bluffs

For pictures, poetry, and purpose:

To honor the Driftless magic

Of the river in our own backyard,

Too often overlooked and bypassed in haste.

I found my copy of BLUFFING by Dick Stahl,

Eminent emissary of the Mississippi River.

I read it again with fresh eyes

And discovered its spirit anew.


Monday, December 6, 2021

Review: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

 

This read for Bettendorf Public Library's Mystery Book Club presented me with two obstacles right from the beginning. Chapter one starts with an italicized summary of what to expect within the first eighteen pages. It’s pertinent information, but was it necessary? I’ve only run across this technique once before and was not impressed with it at the time. And what is it called? Certainly not an epigram, where a pithy saying or a snippet of poetry can entice a certain mood. I looked up definitions of foreshadowing and that came closer, I think, to how the author used the plot device to build anticipation. It must have worked on me because I didn’t quit reading.

 

My second obstacle, the nephew’s role as narrator. It was annoying at times to have Poldi’s dialog, her seemingly smooth narration of important events, interrupted by the junior novelist whining over his unstructured story and incomplete life. I felt it as an intrusion and not helpful for the present story. It was more of an aid for delivering historical background on Poldi and the family.

 

I did not take the time to look up all the food and beverages mentioned. That’s my loss. However, I can appreciate how the author portrayed and developed the local character of the place and the people.

 

I was not able to guess the villain, too many worthy suspects. And just when the ending felt like it was being overly drawn out, it was saved in a most unexpected way. At least for this tourist who hasn’t been to Sicily, yet.

 

It was a good choice for the Mystery Book Club. I might look for the next installment of Auntie Poldi.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2021

 

I discovered John Scalzi’s books first and his blog, Whatever Scalzi, much later. I don’t know when he started giving his blog over to other writers, publishers, and artists for a Whatever Holiday Gift Guide, but it has been a great opportunity and a nice gift all on its own.

I’ve submitted posts the past two years. It’s a late start for me, but sometimes that’s just how it goes. Last year, I went with Charities. I directed readers to the Bishop Hill Colony Store and the Bishop Hill Heritage Association. They both work to preserve the history & culture of the 1846 Swedish communal society.

This year I read and followed his rules for posting and came up with this entry for Non-Traditionally Published Books. Park Square Crafts Press definitely qualifies.

 

 

 Thank you for this opportunity, John.

 

“Shadows Over Bishop” Hill has recent Knox college graduate and amateur sleuth Shelley Anderson back in action. She must deal with arson, kidnapping, and a wild nighttime chase along Henry County, IL backroads as she follows a trail of shady money deals to find out who killed her best friend’s fiancĂ©. It’s a cozy mystery with humor and an attitude.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Over-Bishop-Hill-Mystery/dp/0578908255/

https://bookshop.org/books/shadows-over-bishop-hill-mystery/9780578908250

 

 

 


 


Sunday, November 14, 2021

Last Thoughts on Radio Time

I’m amazed at how used to video I’ve become during the pandemic. At one point in my RADIO interview with Don Wooten for WVIK, he asked a question about the cover of Shadows Over Bishop Hill and I held up the book cover. It was a head-slapping dumb moment. He was asking about the blood. Again, I should have my regained my composure and used the moment to say the blood was more symbolic than an actual representation of action within the novel. Cozy mysteries don’t deal with huge amounts of violence and, therefore, what bloody scenes there are, tend to be described in minimal detail, they are not dwelt upon.

If holding up a book that couldn’t be seen by the audience wasn’t bad enough, then I had to go on and mention the background with the obsolete currency of Bishop Hill that my cover artist, Kaitlea Toohie, had partially obscured and toned down. But I must excuse myself because I was so happy with how close the cover art came to meeting all my expectations. I wanted to use the blood-red trail on the book cover to draw attention, make it eye-catching.

This radio-time faux pas made me think about my relationship with audio books. When I’m listening to an audio book, I often find myself wishing I could see the words. I’d like to read along and take in how the author crafted the sentence. Linger over the experience for longer than the mere moment of each spoken word.

I think that goes to the difference between a “magazine read” and “reading like a writer” as explained to me in a past novel writing workshop I took back when the Midwest Writing Center had its office in the Bucktown Center for the Arts in Davenport. Our instructor, Amy Parker from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, told us you do the first type of reading for pleasure, while the second helped build an awareness for the craft of writing. Studying how other writers solve the problems of constructing sentences and such will build confidence and strength in refining one’s own skills.

Something I continue to pursue daily. 


*Scribble is a weekly radio feature hosted by Don Wooten and Rebecca Wee at noon Saturdays on WVIK 90.3 FM Quad Cities and 95.9 Dubuque. The hosts “muse about writing, poetry and the craft.” All books are fair game for lively commentary. Book reviews are welcome. Contact information: contactscribble.1014@gmail.com

*Midwest Writing Center is “the only organization in the Quad Cities dedicated solely to the literary arts.” Writing is often a solitary task, it’s good to find kindred spirits and help along the way. For more information go to: https://www.mwcqc.org/


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Radio Time for Bishop Hill (Part 2)

 

Now that I’ve recorded my second Scribble* interview at WVIK in Rock Island, I have had time to think, and ask, what do I wish I would have included? My answer: Stories. I wish I’d talked about my use of stories within the story.

When I laid out the basic plan for the second novel, Shadows Over Bishop Hill, I knew I wanted to include some invented stories to develop the background and to move the plot along. I just hadn’t a clue about how readily they would proliferate and evolve.

First up was a depression era saga of bootlegging types loosely based on John Looney of Rock Island fame. I ended up using more than one version of this tale, since a story can change after it gets passed along from person to person, generation to generation, before settling in with a self-serving type of opportunist.

Then I included a spooky yarn my husband crafted for our children when they were youngsters. It was left rather incomplete as I tried to remember more of it and failed. However, what I had still paired nicely with my story of a shadowy figure looking for buried treasure on moonlit nights. That one formed a nice link to a central theme about money.

Crafting an all-new story around Bishop Hill’s obsolete currency took time, but it came together nicely with some other plot points involving money-making schemes within the time frame of the book. (Being a less than perfect planner, or a pantser in NaNoWriMo terms, isn’t all bad.)

Of course, I had to continue the colony-era love story I put together for the first book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill. This time it involved a major shifting about in character roles, as in who would become a victim and to what degree.

I wasn’t sure if I should have used all these stories, that maybe I was over doing it. Then I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. After that, I was pretty sure I was on the right track.

I wish I’d seized the opportunity to discuss all this with Rebecca Wee, a teacher of creative non-fiction at Augustana College. She might have found it interesting. Or not. But that would be in the nature of a having a conversation and joining an ongoing discussion.

 

*Scribble is a weekly radio feature hosted by Don Wooten and Rebecca Wee at noon Saturdays on WVIK 90.3 FM Quad Cities and 95.9 Dubuque. The hosts “muse about writing, poetry and the craft.” All books are fair game for lively commentary. Book reviews are welcome. Contact information: contactscribble.1014@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Radio Time for Bishop Hill

 

I recently recorded my second Scribble* interview at WVIK in Rock Island, IL. It has not aired yet. However, my memory of it tells me I need to fill in some holes, those few blank spaces where I didn’t offer enough explanation.  

For instance, my answer to the fundamental question: Where can readers find my new book, Shadows Over Bishop Hill?

I can’t recall exactly what I said, and I do know I got “marydavidsaver.com” in at one point near the end of my answer, but I think I missed the opportunity to elaborate on the importance of mentioning my website.

Earlier this year I decided, for better or worse, I would not mail out my books on my own. Amazon was my primary book source for online orders. But I wanted a more personal touch for my region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. I wanted to make use of local independent booksellers and in doing so I would support them, promote them; therefore, we could help each other. I spent months making the rounds and placing my books. I posted those businesses on my website.

They are:

The Artsy Bookworm, 1319 30th St., Rock Island, IL, is a new business that’s found a home in a lovely house near the Augustana campus. It features used and new books, art, toys, gifts, yarn, and community events. It has a gallery atmosphere with creative inspiration on every wall and around every corner. Be sure to ask for their local authors’ section.

Wordsmith Bookshoppe, 235 East Main St., Galesburg, IL, is another new business with a renovated space near the Knox campus. It’s bright, airy, and well stocked with reading material, gifts for all tastes, and is very welcoming to local authors. They can even accommodate online shoppers at: https://bookshop.org/shop/wordsmithbookshoppe

Prairie Arts Center, 203 Bishop Hill St., Bishop Hill, IL, located in the Colony Blacksmith Shop is situated across from the centrally located state park. The large brick building is an old standby for me, practically a second home at one time. It’s renovated upper floor contains antiques and collectables, while the spacious first floor is filled with arts, crafts, and a book nook set aside for local authors. I’m honored that my books have a place on the shelves.

The Colony Store, 101 West Main St., Bishop Hill, IL, is a venerable colony-era brick building that, like others, has seen many uses over its long life. It’s the “candy store” to many children. Other folks can appreciate the old-fashioned feel of a general store with a serious Swedish flavor. Where else could my Bishop Hill based mysteries share shelf space with Stieg Larson’s crime novels?

The Brewed Book, 1524 N. Harrison, Davenport, IA, is in a building finishing up an ambitious expansion project. Visitors will find friendly faces and shelves filled with new and used books. The espresso machine is waiting to make everyone feel welcome and energized. My books share space with other local authors near the front door, over the piano.

River Lights, 1098 Main St., Dubuque, IA, is another bookstore in a vintage brick building. This one is on an easy-to-find corner overlooking the Mississippi River’s collection of casinos and museums. It offers an intimate shopping experience and a wonderful showcase for my books.

Prairie Lights, 15 South Dubuque St., Iowa City, IA, is an iconic landmark for the Iowa campus and for me. I’ve come for readings from favorite authors, such as John Scalzi; and on interesting topics, such as the history of Buxton, Iowa. I’ve stopped by for lunch and latte. Now I can drop in to check on my Bishop Hill books, and perhaps meet some friends and relatives.

As I worked on this project, placing my books next to those of other local authors, I became aware of how often I recognized names of people I knew, had met, or worked with through the Midwest Writing Center*. It’s a testament to how vital that non-profit organization has become to our region. A resource, in fact, to so many of us who embrace the written word as authors; writers, at all levels of engagement; and readers, of all manner of genres.

 

*Scribble is a weekly radio feature hosted by Don Wooten and Rebecca Wee at noon Saturdays on WVIK 90.3 FM Quad Cities and 95.9 Dubuque. The hosts “muse about writing, poetry and the craft.” All books are fair game for lively commentary. Book reviews are welcome. Contact information: contactscribble.1014@gmail.com

*Midwest Writing Center is “the only organization in the Quad Cities dedicated solely to the literary arts.” Writing is often a solitary task, it’s good to find kindred spirits and help along the way. For more information go to: https://www.mwcqc.org/