Category Archives: publishing

The Monday Book: THE DOG MERCHANTS by Kim Kavin

dog-merchantsKavin wrote Little Boy Blue, the story of acquiring her puppy and tracing his trail from her house back to how he became a rescue dog. I could not bring myself to read this book for a long time, and I’m still inching my way through it. It is not for the faint of heart.

But Kavin’s journalistic style is well-suited to the one-step-removed-personally nature of THE DOG MERCHANTS, which investigates the big business of dogs in breeding, buying, and rescue. Yes, rescues can be big businesses. In fact, big businesses pit some rescuers against breeders in order to ensure dogs are big business. That’s just one of the many stories Kavin uncovers in her research.

Kavin’s style of writing, like that of any good journalist, disappears inside her subject. A book one reads for the information it contains rather than its fine writing, Kavin nevertheless is a fine writer. So good that she gets out of the way and lets her story tell itself.

One reviewer said DOG MERCHANTS would become The Omnivore’s Dilemma for pet lovers. This is pretty apt; if you read this book, you’re going to look at your puppy, and your friends’ puppies, the same way you started looking at diamond wedding rings – yours or anyone else’s – once Blood Diamonds had enough publicity.

But this book is not all doom and gloom and “you don’t want to know” voyeurism. Kavin lays out some compelling arguments for how to make things better, and some hopeful stories of how they are becoming so. More for information than entertainment, THE DOG MERCHANTS will leave you changed. Educated. Perhaps even motivated for more change.

I don’t often warn people off reading books, but I will tell you, you might not want to read this one unless you’re ready. The mysteries of dog business are deep and ugly. Be prepared to become the person others edge away from at parties. The next time you ask a friend where they got their dog, you might mean something different.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: SLOW LOVE by Dominique Browning

I really like memoirs, so when Browning’s came in with the charming title, “How I lost my job, put in my pajamas, and learned to enjoy life” I packed it on a recent flight. (It is also smaller than the average trade paperback.)

Although following a predictable pattern – NYC insider gets the boot because of hard times – what I liked about the book was Browning’s meta-writing: slow, lyrical sentences to illustrate how her life slowed down, picked up on music and gentle living, and added some herbs.

Granted, Browning is wealthy. Even though she wrote about the fear of the plummeting stock market harming her retirement savings, well, she had savings. And another house to move into that she could afford to renovate. Etc. This is a yuppie memoir.

And beautifully written. Her lazy, gentle sentences don’t meander. They are densely packed with words you might have to look up every now and then. Her observations are pithy but not concise. I found myself following her for the way she told the story, not the story she was telling.  Browning is a writer’s writer.

Following my quest to find how other writers handle making the inaccessible (or at least the non-experienced) interesting to readers who don’t share the passion of the book, I read Browning to the end, and enjoyed it. If you like lyrical writing and peeking at others’ strange lives, this is a good one for those of us who don’t live, and don’t care to think about living, in Manhattan.

A full bouquet of home-grown roses for Dominique Browning’s SLOW LOVE.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, VA, writing

The Monday Book: I BELIEVE YOU by Jeanne Grunert

grunertJeanne Grunert requested a review of her self-published book I Believe You, a family crime thriller. Requests to review books are not uncommon, but hers had a nice benefit: she’d send three copies of I Believe You to the bookstore and sales would go to the Appalachian Feline Friends.

Well, heck, yeah….

But then one fears reviewing books on a benefit basis because what if you don’t like it?

Not to worry this time. Unlike many self-published authors, Grunert is a master not only of writing, but of editing and graphic design. Her book is visually pleasing, well-formatted, and lacking in those extraordinary typos that make people want to take pot-shots at self-published authors.

And then there’s the story line…. put a close-knit dysfunctional family into a company business, add the mysterious death of the protagonist’s wife, and go. Grunert has some really nice turns of phrase in the writing, like this:

“Tibor Majek entered rooms like a tornado ripping across the plains.”

But mostly the story is told through dialogue rather than description. It moves quickly, with just enough characterization to make you care but not enough to slow the action. You sympathize with the bereaved David and his sons, get a kick out of his interaction with his sister Eva (who is keeping the house afloat via her maid service) and watch the elusive woman Turquoise slowly land like a butterfly in their midst.

For all that it’s a thriller, the book turns less on unexpected whodunit than on the development of why. You know me, gentle readers: character-driven plots are my thing. So I can totally say I believe in I Believe You.

And we have three copies here if you want one. I probably should have asked Jeanne the price….

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The Monday Book: QUICK, BEFORE THE MUSIC STOPS by

janet-carlsonThe test of a really good book is when the author makes you interested in something you don’t particularly care about. This book was left in our cabin at some point by someone staying there, and on a writing weekend, just to have a diversion, I picked it up.

Mostly I wanted to see how Carlson would handle a subject not everyone can connect with, but the writing style and her very gentle use of dancing as a metaphor for human relationships reeled me in. Yeah, dancing couple as married/courting steps is not a far stretch, but her blunt writing with the delicacy of describing human emotions were a nice juxtaposition.

Carlson tells how her marriage dissolved, how dancing kept her busy and diverted her attention toward other men, for good or ill, and how she got her groove back. And she makes it interesting – not too much technical information, but she she needs to describe how she had a head-on on the dance floor, she gives you just enough detail to be able to see it in your mind.

And although she uses a very obvious allegory as the overall premise of the book, there aren’t many cliches in her. Dancing backwards in high heels is not recurring as “pity me” stuff. The Russian Dance Master who is slightly mysogynist is not a straw man for all men.

I really enjoyed this book, as much for the writing as what she was writing about. Jack and I ceilidh dance socially, but that’s a far cry from this world. So kudos to Carlson for bringing her readers into her world with such elegance. She made it look easy. :]

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Nothing is Scarier than a Blank Page -except maybe an Untold Story

blank-page1Jack and I are holed up at the cabin this weekend so I can get back to my book. It’s been so long, it feels like starting over in some ways. And it’s true, there is nothing scarier than a blank page.

The good thing about the cabin is, no Internet. Which means I don’t fritter time “checking facts” and otherwise pretending to write when I’m really online. The only way to get online is to drive five miles down the road to the Lonesome Pine Grill, buy a cup of coffee, and piggieback on their wireless. Which we do once per weekend only.

Now is a good time to be off the Net anyway, as post-election vitriol turns into fingers that point, names that fly, and tit for tat that makes kindergarteners look mature. It’s all over but the shouting used to mean something was finished; now it’s just descriptive.

Never mind. I’ve gone back to writing. The world may or may not be going crazy. Books to sell, cats to rescue, safety pins to wear, life goes on. What’s scaring me is that damn blank page.

I’m trying not to  make it a metaphor for America. For all the people who felt they weren’t listened to before the election, for all the people who fear their voices may be drowned out after.

There’s just this blank page in front of me, one I need to write on, to tell my story. That’s what comes next. Tell my small, sweet, simple story: cats, books, Jack, life.

Because we’ve all seen the power a good story wields. And what happens when stories go untold for too long. Tell yours. Nothing is scarier than a blank page. Fill it.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday TV adaptation of a book: JOHNATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke

Eddie MarsanSo when this book came to me as a pre-publication edition, sent to several bookstore, I couldn’t get into it. Timing probably had a lot to do with this, but I didn’t give the fantasy novel a second shot.

The other night, in a weird frame of mind, I was looking for something to crochet by on Netflix and saw “Season 1” of the BBC adaptation. And thought, “Why not?”

It’s so much fun, watching this. I’m sure the special effects of written magic have something to do with it – reading about sand horses and ships made of rain only works in some writing styles, but watching them appear? Oh yes, very nice.

For those unfamiliar (the book was a bestseller, after all) this is a novel about two magicians bringing magic back to England during the Georgian era. They play fast and loose with history timelines, but oh they’ve got the fops and pageantry down. The series is a visual feast with lots of cultural insider jokes and brilliant acting moments. The story that I found clunky on the page comes alive in cinematography.

Not that Clarke doesn’t write well, just to each their own. The plot is character-driven. Mr. Norrell is afraid of his own shadow. Johnathon Strange is two degrees off a nitwit. And all their supporters and detractors are very well drawn. There aren’t any paper thin people in this production.

So if you are inclined, pick up the book or tune into the series, whichever suits you better. Read about the King of Lost Hope, the would-be musicians who decide to open a lunatic asylum and wind up with more than they bargained for, the enigmatic Childermass, and the other unexplained mysteries of a world bound by rules that suddenly gets to break them all.

It’s fun.

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The Monday Book: SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky

The Monday Book falls on a Tuesday this week due to Celtic Festivals and kitten spays.

suiteIrene Nemirovsky was a Ukranian-born Jewish woman who lived in Paris and enjoyed a successful writing  career. She planned five short novels to be part of a book titled Suite Francaise, but she had only written two and drafted the third when she was rounded up, deported, and murdered.

What’s amazing about the first novel “Storm in June” is how accurately it describes something ongoing. Nemirovsky never got the luxury of time to contemplate what she saw, so her characterizations of the upper class family, the pompous writer, the sweet middle-class couple, and the nasty antiques dealer fleeing (or trying to flee) Paris sprang almost fully formed as she watched it unfold in front of her. I wonder who (or how many) of her colleagues she skewered in the darkly hysterical portrait of the famous author and his mistress as they flee, first in pomp and style, then with whatever diminishing wits they can gather about them.

Then there’s “Dolce,” from which a film is/has been made. It’s more of an expected war story: women whose husbands are prisoners in Germany house German officers as occupiers; add community sentiment and stir. It’s fairly predictable. But “Storm in June” is amazing in its details of what human hearts turn into when combined with fear, breakdown of social order, and a few sudden chances to change everything. Nemirovsky saw through a lot of veneers.

The manuscripts were finally published in this century, when her daughter opened the suitcase and read them, realized they were novels rather than journals, and sent them to Denoel, a large publishing house. “Storm in June” is pretty much genius, making you laugh and sob at the same time.

How many people did we lose in that storm, who would have made us laugh or cry today?

 

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Filed under book reviews, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing