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Be Sure your Sins will – – -?

Jack gets to do the Monday book this week –

The Big Short –  Michael Lewis

Of course, the movie is probably just as famous as the book and I’ll have something to say about that later.

Our good friend and financial guru David recommended this to us because he reckoned it was one of the most eye-opening books he’d ever read about the financial shenanigans that led to the great meltdown of 2008. He described it as “really, really frightening” and he should know!

He also said that he saw no evidence that any lessons had been learned since then (except perhaps in Iceland, where they jailed the bankers, changed the banking regulations and turned around their economy in record time).

The book follows the experiences of a number of people who separately stumbled across an enormous flaw in the mortgage market based on a complete lack of oversight by the rating agencies. The folk involved had different motives for pursuing this: some realized they could make enormous amounts of money by betting that the market would crash, while others were more interested in exposing the crooks and getting the banking regulations changed. The book follows these characters as their paths cross and they become aware of each other, ultimately more or less working together. As they variously stumble across ever more blatant disregard for financial common sense among financial professionals who should also have seen what was wrong, they begin to home in on the rating agencies. That’s when they discover that these agencies, supposedly holding the banks to account, are actually in their pockets.

So, what of the movie?

I actually enjoyed it just as much as the book but for different reasons. Of course the movie has to be much shorter and that’s hard to pull off. You need to keep the essentials and be careful what gets cut out. I think, in this case, it was a good idea to not have the author of the book write the screenplay (in fact I think it almost always is.) I recently watched a film that was directed and cast by the author of the book it was based on, and who also wrote the screenplay – it went straight from a limited theater run to the Netflix ‘B list’ with barely a pause.

So, what’s the ‘take away’ from the book? In the case of this reader, a profound belief that human greed will always manage to dress itself in respectable clothes, attend the right Church, give to the most fashionable charities (or start one) and find the most influential politicians to bribe.

Something else I took away – potential move to Iceland – – –


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The Monday Book

Jack’s guest Monday review (on Tuesday – just) –

Ian Rankin – The Rebus Series

Not so much a book review, as an author review this week –

I’m not usually one for novels, preferring biographies and memoirs for the most part. But I do have just a few novelists I like and one of those is Rankin. I hasten to add that it’s not that I like every book he’s written, but the Rebus series do stand out, in my opinion.

It’s probably because both Rankin and his character have their roots in West Fife (my home territory) but are resident in Edinburgh (a place I know well). In the series Rebus frequently revisits Fife and the Edinburgh that forms the backdrop to most of the books is very lovingly and accurately portrayed.

The books are well written, full of believable characters and with plots that grip you to the last page. This is noir detective with a Scots accent and firmly in the world of Philip Marlowe.

The Edinburgh he describes is a mixture of the historic center after dark and the run-down housing schemes on the outskirts. His plots are always relevant to the times and clearly involve  a lot of careful research.

Rebus is a complex guy with a troubled personal life, who is looked on with suspicion by most of his colleagues and especially by his superiors. During the course of the series he moves from being a regular working cop to the branch that deals with internal matters such as bribery and collusion with criminals and gangs.

All the books except the last one have been made into TV dramas, with half being done by the BBC and the other half by ITV. The casts were different for each series and, although presenting contrasting interpretations, both were excellent.

I have read other novels by Rankin that were not part of the Rebus series and didn’t find them as compelling I’m afraid.


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The Monday Book

Jack’s Guest post – The Swan Thieves

Wendy and I listened to Elizabeth Kostova’s 17-disc novel as a recorded book to entertain us from Big Stone Gap all the way to western Wyoming and part of the way back. We like big books for big drives, and we cannot lie. Actually, I believe that the voices made a big difference and held our attention well.

As for the story – I thoroughly enjoyed it. The format is the tried and trusted multi-strings that begin as if they are completely unrelated, seem to develop without any obvious connection, and then finally resolve with all loose ends satisfactorily tied up.

The tale opens with a successful artist being arrested for attempting to damage a painting in a New York art gallery and continues through the voices of him, his ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, a 19th C. French artist and her uncle, and mainly the opening artist’s psychiatrist.

I’ve often found that this style of book loses me as I try to keep up with the different strands, but this time I had no problem and I felt gripped all the way to the end. The story is set mainly in New York, Maine, N. Carolina and Paris as well as 19th C. Normandy. Among other elements of enjoyment, the author really describes them well.

I suppose if I have any quibble at all it’s that the different threads of the story were rather abruptly brought together at the end, almost as if Kostova. got fed up and decided she’d had enough. I would have preferred a gentler landing perhaps. Then again, a book that entertains for 17 hours of driving is holding its own.

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cat on boat…. and we have LAUNCH ladies and lads! Jack and Wendy have successfully started their two-week vacation to go see Mt Rushmore and a few other sights in Wyoming and South Dakota.

This is remarkable for two reasons. First, it’s really hard to get away from the bookstore. We love it, and it’s demanding. Enter the Hamricks, specifically David, who  came to stay for almost three weeks and shopsit so we could go have a holiday. (Bless you, Crazy Cuzin Dave, and Susan for sending you!)

How did we pick Mt Rushmore? Jack turned to me one day, as we sat amiably ignoring one another using Facebook, and said, “You know what I’d like to do? Go see those faces of the presidents carved into that mountain.” Jack never expresses specific wishes. I booked four days at Custer State Park the next week.

And we’re happy to be launching because last night at 12:02 am (which technically makes it this morning) I pushed send on the final draft of the adoption and foster care book for Swallow Press. (Not cats, kids. It’s a heartbreaker tentatively called Fall or Fly.) And then packed a bag and went to bed.

Hi ho the writing life. We drove across Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois today and tomorrow we hit Iowa and end up in Sioux Falls. A change is as good as a rest. We’ll send you postcards from the road via this blog. Anything that doesn’t involve books and cats for two whole weeks. I love them all, but a chance to revalue, redefine, fine tune, and just breathe…. ah bliss.

Viva la holiday!!!!


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The Monday Book

Wendy is still on a writing deadline so Jack is standing in again –

Tsunami by Iain MacWhirter

Health warning: this is a book about Scottish politics, specifically the landslide victory by the Scottish National Party in Scottish constituencies during the 2015 UK election.

I have a great deal of respect for Iain MacWhirter, a thought-provoking political commentator who works for the BBC.  MacWhirter has a long and honorable pedigree as an observer of UK and Scottish politics, not to mention the respect of his peers. That’s not to say that he hasn’t penned a few newspaper articles with which I’ve taken issue, just that his  voice carries weight.

Tsunami is a follow up to an earlier book by the author about the Scottish referendum on independence the previous year, Disunited Kingdom.

Regardless of my occasional disagreements with him I recommend both of these books to anyone with an interest in the incredibly fast-moving political scene in the UK right now. Of course the arrival of ‘Brexit’ means that Iain will probably have to write another book about the second referendum on Scottish independence next year.

For those unfamiliar, Scotland wanted to stay in the EU and since there was a vote recently on Scotland leaving the UK, Scottish politicians are ready to take advantage of the mood and the timing to try again. Scottish voters declined to declare themselves independent of the UK, and then pretty much found that the promises made to them if they stayed had been false. As a result, the vote that McWhirter writes about in Tsunami was expected to swing so overwhelmingly toward the Scottish National Party candidates that the leaders of the party began to caution people not to have unrealistic expectations.

Tsunami captures the flow of the various parties’ campaigns in the lead-up to the UK election. A big part of its thrill is McWhirter’s description of the atmosphere in the BBC green room, and the responses of the various spin doctors, that election night, as the SNP finished with 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. Watching the events, I remember one political commentator saying, “This isn’t an election. It’s a rout.”

The book finishes with the overwhelmingly triumphant SNP members of parliament arriving at the House of Commons in London to find themselves disregarded within a parliament of 650 members, despite being the third biggest party there.

MacWhirter captures with humor and insight a strange time in Scottish politics, and sets the tone for the stranger times yet to befall the UK as the full implications of Brexit become clear to all parties.

Better read this before it’s completely out of date; books will be coming out soon on Brexit.

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Monday Book (on Tuesday)

Jack is deputizing  for Wendy this week – and still jet-lagged from his annual visit to Scotland.

Hamish Henderson – a biography by Timothy Neat (2 volumes)

Two admissions –

1 – I knew Hamish Henderson, and 2 – I read volume two before I read volume one.

I really wished I’d read the two volumes in order. The second one covers the period when I knew Hamish and when he was much better known generally as the great promoter of the folk music revival in Scotland and founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. The trouble is that anyone who had the slightest knowledge of him during that period is now vying to have been his best friend. I’m not one of these since although I admired him enormously and we were acquainted we were not close friends by any means. I say this because the second volume kind of reads as a personal appeal by Tim Neat to be recognized as not only THE HH authority, but his best friend and associate.  Now that may be true, of course, but I don’t think it needed quite so many reminders.

Leaving that aside, I greatly enjoyed both volumes but particularly the first one, which was a revelation to me. I had only the vaguest idea of Hamish’s earlier life and really no knowledge of his childhood or war career. It may be that because the first volume is based much more on research than personal anecdote there are many more voices present than in the second one and less of Tim Neat’s.

Looking back at what I’ve written I can see that I may have been a bit harsh, but that’s simply because I had such admiration for Hamish. He encouraged my (and many other’s) interest in Scottish traditional songs and ballads, he took on the establishment and he never sought personal recognition or fame.

Perhaps I was too close to the events and history of volume two to be objective in my appraisal.

If, like me you want the complete story of a remarkable life then there are a number of recent books out there and, despite my slight misgivings Timothy Neat’s should certainly be counted among ‘required reading’!



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A Novel Concerto in Frog Minor

Today’s blog is from WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS participant Lizbeth Phillips, one of three participants in this year’s weekend writing retreat. She’s being mentored through December via a grant from American NewMedia.

As I was driving home from South Carolina on June 6, the Facebook Instant Messenger on my phone dinged.  It was hard to drive in heavy traffic while puzzling over who dinged at me, so after I cleared the hurdle of a major Interstate highway junction, I found a gas station to get fuel and check messages.  Incredible message on Instant Messenger.  I had to do a double-take because my friend Wendy Welch wanted to know if I was interested in a writing retreat and support so I could finish my novel.  The message was for me and Cathie, another writer I hadn’t met yet.  Wendy ended the message with the suggestion that I mull it over and get back to her.

I got back in the car and headed for home, dreading the mix of dysfunctional drivers and the consistent malfunction of the Asheville, North Carolina highway system.  The highway still wound around the Blue Ridge Mountains when my phone dinged again. Wendy figured I had plenty of time to think about whether or not I was ready to truly commit to two or three days of serious writing, and she was right.  Two years had gone by since my first writing workshop with Write Comes to the Cumberlands, and I felt vulnerable texting her back.  When I pressed the Send button on my phone, I knew my priorities moved from wanting to write to being an author.

Eighteen days and plenty of messages later, I was on the road again.  The cabin hideout for writers was just over an hour from my Abingdon home.  When I got to our rendezvous location, Wendy and I loaded all the food and writing gear I brought along, and then we followed the road least traveled down a holler between two knobby little mountains.  When the road ran out, we followed the trail that went around a curve and up a steep hill to the Writer’s Hideout, a remarkable, rustic cabin that only a few people and God knew about.  I met and instantly liked Cathie. Twenty minutes after my arrival, the three of us started writing.

We each claimed a writing spot in the cabin and started work.  Because I started and stopped so many times in the past, I had a curmudgeon of words that required serious revisions and edits.  The afternoon was spent cleaning up the most important little messes I hadn’t bothered to tidy.

My nemesis, Stuff-I-Thought-More-Important, got tossed off the front porch and landed in the pond at the bottom of the hill.  It sank to the bottom so that its only view was the underbellies of huge fish and singing frogs.  It couldn’t have happened to a better excuse not to write.  After two years of waiting, my book characters filled me in on what happened while I was away, and I was overwhelmed because I couldn’t type fast enough and listen to all the shouting that came from the abandoned fatty folds of my frontal lobe.  Too many incidents leading to the still unknown climax, some falling action mixed in, and thanks to a chat with Wendy, the subliminal resolution and the threat of a sequel revealed themselves all at once!

At one point I stopped typing and wrote developments and questions in a little notebook using three colors of ink—past, present, future. Different plot elements had to be sorted, and writing them down stilled the cognitive backchannels.  Back and forth with this strategy that slowed the actual writing process, and if Wendy hadn’t asked me if I’d like a ride toward town to check my phone for messages, my brain might have heaved a big sigh and run for the pond to join my excuses.  Relief was not my reaction to her gentle voice bringing me back to the cabin; she knew I was in the book.  It was a gentle shake, like a sneeze or a hiccup that reset my body’s electrical system.  And it was enough to make me waver between connecting with the real world or staying in the fantasy one.  I stayed, kept the dogs company, and kept on writing.  The cabin faded away again, and I found myself traveling in time to a moment in history I must have mused over as a young child.  Time travel, generational misunderstanding, disobedient magic, and a girl trapped in a human world she does not understand.   The impossible happens, and what should have happened in the first place never enters in.  What was this madness, I wondered.


Luckily, I got to take a break and fix spaghetti for the three of us.  Dinner conversation centered on what we were writing and what we hoped to achieve before going home Sunday.  Three writers sharing thoughts and ideas in the Writers Hideout.  It felt like one of those reality show ideas a nerdy producer pitched to a TV network, and I was so glad that the only technology allowed was the use of my laptop (wifi in absentia).   Then it was back to writing, at least for me, because some plot development insisted it was the next thing to write about.  I was a slave to my imagination’s memories, so I piled up in the office armchair with my notebook, pens, laptop, and some M&Ms.  I have no idea how much time passed; I was on a roll and didn’t care.

Nature, however, knew I needed another interruption, so it began with the call of a frog on a log in the pond at the bottom of the hill.  Three frogs answered, and then it was all over.  Half the frogs in Welch Pond started singing, clicking, clucking, hacking, humming, or plopping.  I got up from the chair and made for the door so I could stand on the porch and listen to what started out as the forest backchannel and eventually crescendoed into an amphibian concerto like no other.

Wendy told me to wait for it, and I listened intently.  First, a low hum.  Then the baritone warming up sang in a vibrato so magnificent many of the girl frogs fainted into the water, the splashes adding percussion to the notes sung.  The performance was like no other.  When the lightning bugs added ambience, the mosquitoes finally drove me indoors.  I went back to the chair and finished the chapter.  Then I turned in for the night.  Sound sleep lasted several hours before the frogs woke me, and the baritone would not stop singing, so I named him Big Boss and covered my ears with a pillow.  That worked until 1:36am (according to the clock on my phone that had no signal).  At that point I decided the concert was an all-nighter, so I recorded the music—even though the windows and doors of my room were closed.  It WAS loud enough!

Morning light filtered through the window and shone pale on the wood floor, but I sensed its presence.  I hurried into my day clothes, grabbed my laptop, and hurried to the kitchen table to write some more.  I supposed I should forgive the frogs for singing so loudly because my brain had worked all night on that story.  I could hardly keep up!  I wrote an entire chapter before anyone else was up and moving around, so I was ready to cook pancakes when Wendy came into the kitchen to check on me and let the dogs out to go walkies.

After breakfast we retreated to our writing spots, and before getting too far into the next development, an odd thing happened.  The Hideout moved to the back channel, and the story became real.  A break.  Lunch.  A discussion about how the weekend was going so far.  A walk.  Then more writing until dinner, which was salmon and rice that Cathie fixed.  Refueled, my characters decided I had more work to do before I turned in for the night, so I relented.  I worked my keyboard until it was hot to the touch, typing as fast as I could to appease my protagonist and her father.  It all happened so fast, I never noticed it was nearly dark outside.  Big Boss did his deep CKerrrrrrrr-ummmmmmm mmmmmmmmm, and all the little girl frogs swooned into the water while the lesser male singers made their signature sounds. The concert lasted all night and almost to sunrise, and I recorded parts of the Concerto in Frog Minor because I knew no one would believe how talented Wendy’s frogs were.

Twice in the night I had to open my laptop and write something down so the butler would stop telling me things I wasn’t ready to know.  (You see, the butler know and sees all, and he let me know he was omniscient.)  I remember thinking that maybe I could have a taxi run over him because he didn’t look both ways before crossing the street.  He grumbled about how mean I was and left me alone, so I slept.  At 6:30 am, I rolled out of bed, hurried into my Sunday-Going-Home clothes, and headed for the kitchen table with my laptop.  Another chapter was finished before I shut my authoring laptop off.  I stowed it in my gear that was under the steps, ready for the journey home.

Over a  breakfast of French toast, I wondered and worried. We said goodbye to Cathie.   Then I worried some more.  I tossed and turned what was accomplished at the Writers Hideout and weighed it against expectations of others for the coming week.  In all, I edited my foreword and wrote 10,000 words (3 chapters, 30 pages).    The subtle change in my thinking was not wasted.  Instead of thinking about what I had to do, I was thinking about when and where I would write EVERY day.  I tried to figure out when I could return to the cabin and write for days and evenings with nothing to keep me from it.  For the first time ever, I knew that I would not skip writing, that I was committed to writing as though it was my job.  By the time Wendy and I had locked the front door and headed for the car for the ride back to civilization, I promised myself that I would work on my novel every day, that I would alert her if I struggled, that I would rely on her wisdom to get me through any pressures or doldrums.  We said our goodbyes and headed in two different directions, headed for home.

I did not listen the radio. Never checked the news to see what had happened while I was in another world. I did text three family members to let them know I was headed home.  Then I drove through the back channels of civilization and paid close attention to my novel as it continued to write itself on my brain cells. Another chapter. Another day.  It was a glorious Sunday because twenty days ago, my friend Wendy Welch sent a text message that saved my writer’s life.  My purpose was reset, and destiny moved me to take ownership of my imagination and my work.  Thanks to Wendy Welch and Debra Hallock from American NewMedia Foundation, I will finish this novel by Christmas so that it can be launched into the new year like a resolution to secure my future as an author of young adult literature.  Oh, I almost forgot!  I should also thank Cathie for sharing her work and giving feedback on what I wrote.  And for the sake of personification, I must bow to the Writers Hideout for its sanctuary and applaud Big Boss and his choir for their latest pond production, Concerto in Frog Minor.

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