A Year in the Company of Words
One of My Stories / December 31, 2015

New Years is such a peculiar holiday on the calendar.  It doesn’t have religious nor historic connotations like most major holidays although it does contain elements of both.  The drinking or party phase section of the population, commemorate it with the required bacchanalia and woozy recovery but the rest of us aren’t so sure of our role.  We can review the year end lists or re-watch  The Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller biopics that seem to appear on each New Year’s Eve TV schedule but by now I know exactly when Lionel Hampton will show up and June Allyson will tug on her ear lobe.  Nope, I don’t want to spend this New Year’s re-watching the same old movies, nor do I want to spend it kicking my poor old liver with an overdoes of scotch.  Instead I want to end the year as I’ve spent it:  in the company of words. Reading New Books – After checking various electronic records and the drain that sucks up my spare income and phone space (Amazon Kindle) I can safely say I read at least one new book every week this year, which was sort of like making a new friend every week.  Some…

Settling In with a Winter Book
I know a Good Story / December 29, 2015

Winter is the Season with the strongest ties to Home and Hearth.  Spring and Autumn may pull us to work in our yards and Summer is for Adventure and Travel but Winter, with its long nights and bleak weather, is the time when people sub-consciously pull closer to the places that comfort and protect them and settle in for the Season.  While the winds blast across the open ground and temperatures plummet, we can feel safe as long as we have dry, warm rooms, comfortable seats and a selection of Winter Books to re-read. If there are Summer Authors (and I think there are) that invite the heart toward roaming, there are also the writers that celebrate hearth and home and these are a joy to re-read.  While the Winter stories are rarely in high demand (Winter tales have pages you want to mull over, not rip through) their appeal is eternal and simple.  Winter Stories insist on a mindful awareness of the joys and trials of everyday life.  They celebrate what is real. New England is one of those places that seems to have a copyright on Winter and Gladys Taber is still one of New England’s best-loved “home-and…

A Season for Memory and Love
I know a Good Story / December 22, 2015

There’s a reason some people love this time of year; the same reason other folks hate it: family. Tradition dictates we spend part of our winter holidays with individuals tied to us by DNA or marriage and who you are determines whether you like or loathe the custom.  My husband says, there’s a reason family push our buttons faster than anyone else; they installed most of them.  Still, they are the people who define our earliest selves and even when they’re gone, their voices come back in our memories like the song of  The Grass Harp, Truman Capote’s novella about his Alabama childhood.  While it’s not the obvious choice for December, the Grass Harp is a tender remembrance of how love and family shape us all. Collin Fenwick is the narrator of The Grass Harp, a boy (like the author) cast into the care of maiden aunts.  Aunt Verena is the financial provider, the richest soul in town and, as Truman says, the earning of her wealth had not made her an easy woman.  The other aunt, Dolly, is nature-focused and terrified of all humans in authority but self-sustaining because of her homemade dropsy cure, an old-fashioned name for swelling….

Unexpected Christmas Presents
One of My Stories / December 17, 2015

Another Christmas is looming fast and I see the hordes of last-minute shoppers whenever I drive by the stores – a vision that triggers my agoraphobia.  Still, I understand the shoppers’ need to seek out each perfect present.  Those presents are for loved ones and each year we want to give them something they want or they need.  So, wish lists can really aid a holiday shopper.  Still, sometimes it’s the present that’s not on the list that makes the biggest impact. It was 1972 when we celebrated Christmas in California.  My parents drove half way across the continent so we could spend the holidays with my mother’s parents in their San Diego apartment.  California was unalloyed good as far as my sister and I were concerned.  California meant warmth, and trips to Disneyland, and time with grandparents who would move heaven and earth to gratify our every whim. I was 13 and, in Grandma’s words “too old for toys, too young for boys”, so my wish list was fairly nebulous but my sister was much younger and very specific.  She wanted Mattel’s “Barbie Surprise House”, one of the hot-ticket items that year.  Since I was “old enough to know”,…

The Mystery with a Heart
One of My Stories / December 15, 2015

People have certain expectations about the genres they favor and mystery fans expect stories driven by a puzzle.  As interesting  or well-developed as some of the characters in these stories are, they still exist to serve the central plot and very few of them are driven by ideals.  Holiday stories, on the other hand, focus much more on character and these usually have an underlying moral code.  That’s what makes Sue Ann Jaffarian’s The Ghost of Mistletoe Mary such an unexpected delight.  She balances the requirements of both genres and then blends them to create a mystery with a heart.  Like Charles Dickens, Jaffarian has a keen social conscience for the downtrodden in our society.  Dickens noticed the growth of the Industrial Age also exploited the least protected in Victorian Society – the poor and children, in particular.  Jaffarian’s story takes us to Skid Row in Los Angeles and the dispossessed of our own era: the indigent, the addicts, the emotionally troubled, and all too often, the military veterans whose return to civilian life is hijacked by untreated traumas.   Because these people don’t fit in with society’s norms and because they tend to distrust the police, they are easy…