Book reviews (other authors’ books)

How Georgia Became O’Keeffe, by Karen Karbo
Night Letter, by Sterling Watson
Of Sorrow and Such, by Angela Slatter
Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King
Refuse to Be Done, by Matt Bell
The Change series, by S.M. Stirling
Violeta, by Isabel Allende

How Georgia Became O'Keeffe: Lessons On The Art Of LivingHow Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons On The Art Of Living by Karen Karbo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons On The Art Of Living is part biography, part entertaining life-lessons. Karen Karbo‘s writing style is quirky, she’s your fun friend talking to you over a glass of wine and making you laugh. The “lessons” are from Karbo’s own life, deftly presented as personal commentary, including witty asides (footnotes).

I highly recommend How Georgia Became O’Keeffe for the story of the artist who became a towering icon of the art world, a woman of passion and self-discipline who succeeded in being fully herself in an era when women were to be seen but not heard. O’Keeffe would do well as a role model for any creative person, but especially for anyone who who understands that the most valuable and powerful possession she possesses is her own Self.


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Night LetterNight Letter by Sterling Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Night Letter, by Sterling Watson, would be an ugly, uncomfortable read if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Watson’s skill with language. His descriptive passages are painted with dense and evocative strokes, capturing the sweaty, bug-ridden lushness of a Florida with societal class rules of the late sixties.

The folks who live and work in the town that Travis Hollister has returned to after six years of reform school have compelling histories and powerful desires that both limit and draw the teenager. He wants to return to the life and the sexual/emotional relationship he’d been ripped away from, but he’s seventeen now and nobody is the same anymore,especially Travis himself.

Travis is hard to like but impossible to give up on. His reasons for his actions may not be yours or mine, but they make emotional sense even as the we cry out No, don’t go there! because life is so often like that: dark, but never so easy as black and white and therefore messy. Night Letter is no fairy tale with the reassurance of a happily after ever and in that way it’s just like real life.


Of Sorrow and SuchOf Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, Mistress Patience Gideon is a witch, but more than that, she is a woman with a woman’s life and cares. And loves.

Mistress Gideon loves her adopted daughter, Gilly (who refers to her as Aunt Patience), and she loves her dog, Fenric (who is more than he seems, though even he doesn’t know it). And Mistress Gideon has loved in her past, though she tries not to think about love lost.

Magic takes different forms in Mistress Gideon’s world but it’s nothing we haven’t met before. Mistress Gideon is a healer. She gathers what she needs from lake and forest and soil, and does her best by the people in her small town. They all – almost all – have come to her for what ails them, be it broken bones, illness, infertility, or simply advice.

None of the people would admit it, of course, because the Church Elders burn witches. Along with their associates.

Of Sorrow and Such is a short book, read in a few hours, but it’s one that lingers in the mind long after. It may be about a witch in a small town, about a woman with a mind of her own, but Mistress Gideon stands for all who have ever been persecuted because of who they are, what they do, or what they believe in. This book takes place in what could be New England in the late 1600s, and yes, there is magic in it — but Of Sorrow and Such is actually about times and places throughout human history.


Lisey's StoryLisey’s Story by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If any writer can immerse us in a reality of his own making, it’s Stephen King. Even when he’s not writing horror he so subtly fuzzes the line between uber-reality and the uncanny that you never can quite put your finger on when you crossed that line — though you sure know you aren’t in Kansas anymore.

King has written many books but some I have to avoid because I’m afraid of them. King’s horror is too horrible for me. It was years before I could feel okay around certain closets, and I still can’t walk down the empty hallways of old hotels at night. I adore all the rest of his books, though.

In Lisey’s Story we get to share the lives two people: an author – plausibly reflecting aspects of King himself – as seen through the eyes and memories of his soul-mate, the Lisey of the title. This book was scary, but it was scary because the truly “bad-gunky” happens on our side of the line between reality and the uncanny.

In this book King uses what he knows – as writers are always telling other writers to do – and thus reveals truths about creativity that we all understand in our heart of hearts. He gives us the language-pool, the myth-pool, the archetype-pool – a pool that is unfathomably deep, and so dark and rich that sipping of it is as dangerous as snatching gold from a sleeping dragon’s lair. But as with a dragon’s treasure, sometimes there’s a price. Even so, sometimes the need is compelling. Perhaps irresistible.

In Lisey’s Story the hero is a woman, and King is a man who can channel a woman’s soul. King also knows about real love in its all-encompassing magnificence as well as its madness. Sometimes I wept for Lisey, sometimes I wept with her. I loved her husband as she did because I’ve loved a soul-mate, too. And dammit, I cheered for her when she did what she had to do.

In the end, we all could wish to be the kind of hero Lisey is – not a superhero who saves the world, but one who saves herself.

Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three DraftsRefuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts by Matt Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a pleasant surprise Matt Bell‘s Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts was! After reading the first page or so my immediate reaction was that it was just another for dummies book, too elementary to be useful. But I kept reading and I’m glad I did. My mind was changed for me pretty quickly.

The back cover uses the word “practical” and that’s what we have here: practical tips for the novelist (and, really, any writer) that apply to first ideas through to releasing the book to the world. So many really great ideas all in one slender volume! I was pleased to discover how many of the strategies Bell offers I already use. I was reminded of a few I’d left behind, and boy howdy, you bet I immediately applied them to my current work in progress. So glad I got to that chapter before I reached the deadline to send my manuscript to the editor!

The book’s title confused me in the beginning, until I realized how right-on it was. A novel doesn’t go from the author’s imagination to the shelves of a bookstore like magic. Writing a novel is a process that requires dogged effort and a level of determination that isn’t talked about much — except when authors whine about having to do one more torturous edit. Writing a book-length document, like any hero’s journey, requires Refusing to Be Done.



Dies the Fire (Emberverse, #1)Dies the Fire (book 1 of The Change Series) by S.M. Stirling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

S.M. Stirling‘s Change series & associated novels are my favorite post-apocalyptic books ever. Incredible world-building highlights a variety of cultures based on the various sub-cultures we’re familiar with in today’s world, and the clashes between the various groups that develop in order to survive feel inevitable when resources are scarce and technology limited by unknown forces. The series follows recurring characters that are not only interesting but likable. True, some are pretty awful — but many are heroic, and when it comes to post-apocalyptic, we definitely need heroes.

Most post-apocalyptic books are dark and scary. The world that Stirling has built is not. Oh, there’s dark and scary stuff in them but they come from the extremes of people of different lifestyles and belief systems that exist now (both real and fictional). Satisfyingly, from chaos develops stability, and the new world is one in which humanity will survive. It just takes a lot of books to get there.

The best part of the Change series: It doesn’t raise anxiety about the likelihood of that apocalypse happening in the real world. Fiction that takes my mind off of what’s going on in the real world is good fiction for me.



Violeta by Isabel Allende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore everything that Isabel Allende writes, but Violeta stands out as one of her best. The book is one long love letter to someone Violeta loves dearly, recounting the events of her life, and what an extraordinary life it is, as is the life of anyone who lives a whole century.

Fiction or not, accurate as to actual historical events or not, memories of a fictional person or not – one person’s view of a world that few can know of through direct experience is always enrichening. When that view is expressed as beautifully as Allende does in all her novels, we all are blessed.






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