Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bloodstains with Bronte Review

“For I too liked reading.” –Charlotte Bronte

Emily Cavanaugh is a former literature professor who is remodeling her Victorian home on the Oregon coast into a writers’ retreat. Despite inheriting a sizable chunk of money—not to mention the house itself—from her aunt, expenses do pile up. So with the assistance of her housekeeper Katie, she arranges a murder mystery night to raise funds for a local clinic she’s pledged to help. Unfortunately, what is supposed to be a staged death turns out to be all too real. Worst of all, Katie is found standing over the body, bloody knife in hand. Emily’s conviction that the single mother is innocent puts her at odds with the town sheriff, who just happens to be the love of her life.     

Bloodstains with Bronte is the second in Katherine Bolger Hyde’s Crime with the Classics series.  As is true of Arsenic with Austen, Hyde’s second novel is full of literary references. I’m a huge fan of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, so I thoroughly enjoyed the Bronte quotes at the beginning of each chapter, as well as the other allusions in the novel. Although I somewhat disagree with Emily’s estimate of Wuthering Heights, I liked the parallels between Heathcliff and Roman, a construction worker whose love for “Katie” borders on the obsessive. Like the Bronte sisters’ books, this novel definitely broaches some darker themes, albeit with a light touch.  

The humor sprinkled throughout the novel can be charming and the setting is enticing. Windy Corner is a colorful coastal town, the sort of place I often daydream about living in. I also wouldn’t mind being in Emily’s predicament. Who wouldn’t want to find herself suddenly wealthy, with a gorgeous old house, a stocked library and a long-lost flame vying for her attention? There are a few drawbacks to the book, however. The characters aren’t exactly three-dimensional and they sometimes feel as if they belong to another era, not the 21st century. Though it picks up in later chapters, the plot takes its own sweet time to get underway and is a bit predictable. There is also a slight Christian undertone readers should be aware of, though I didn’t find it off-putting.

Having recently read more than a few high-octane thrillers--my perpetual addiction--Bloodstains with Bronte was a refreshing change. This novel will likely appeal to niche readers of cozy mysteries, especially those who prefer a slower pace and lighter characterization.  Three stars.

Much thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

New Poems

I've got poems up in Pif Magazine's October issue and in Shot Glass Journal. In other news, my romantic suspense novel, written under a pen name, will be available on NetGalley in two weeks and my novella will go up on the site in November.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kate Chopin & Cancer

“The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies”  - Kate Chopin 

I realize this is probably a misleading headline because it implies Kate Chopin died of cancer. She didn't. After visiting the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 she suffered a brain hemorhage and died at the age of 54.

No, I'm the one who had cancer. Last year I spent a hellish Christmas in the hospital after back-to-back operations that left me temporarily unable to get out of bed because of an epidural. I still remember the thrill of walking from one side of my room to the other with the help of my daughter, a walker and a nurse. But the thrill was short-lived when my biopsy came back and I was diagnosed with high-grade neuroendocrine cancer. Happy New Year...

Needless to say, things didn't look good. But in a strange twist of fate worthy of a novel, that diagnosis changed last winter after I became a patient at Dana-Farber. I was actually hooked up to the infusion machine when my oncologist rushed in and stopped the chemo before my first treatment for neuroendocrine cancer. He told me that after examining my biopsy slides the Dana-Farber pathologists had changed my diagnosis to "regular" stage III colon cancer and that my changes of survival had jumped from not very good to "you actually have a chance to beat this damn disease." Weird as it seems, I celebrated my stage 3 cancer with champagne that night. Still, there were six long months of chemo to follow. I finished treatment this summer and as of August 14, I am NED. There's a long way to go, however, before I can be sure the cancer won't return and I have many CT scans ahead of me.

How does Kate Chopin play into all this, you're probably wondering. Well, I'll tell you. One thing that cancer does is force you to think about your life. I mean really think. So, like Chopin's Edna Pontelier, I had an awakening of my own. Like Edna, I felt myself rebelling against some of the trivial things that I was doing in true zombie fashion. I didn't start painting in a pigeon house, but I did realize I needed to make changes so I could devote more time to what has real meaning for me. My daughter, for one. Writing, for another.

There's something else I've realized I need to focus on and that's other people. Not just the ones I'm close to, but others as well--especially those who are in the same situation I've been in over the past year. Today I read Julia Louis-Dreyfus's statement about her cancer and felt like a coward. This past year I hid my illness from many people. I didn't even tell the colleges I work at, in part for fear that revealing the information would negatively impact me in some way. That seems wrong to me now. Cancer is not something to hide and, as Louis-Dreyfus points out, the last thing a person should need to worry about is health insurance. I'm lucky because my ex-husband's insurance plan covers me. If it weren't for that, I would not have been able to benefit from the brilliant surgeon at Mass General who operated on me or to receive treatment at Dana-Farber. Even so, the insurance company denied the request for my PET scan three times before it got approved back in January. These not-so-pleasant facts have made it clear to me that we as a country must implement universal health care for the millions of people who don't have coverage or can't afford the high co-payments and deductibles. The more people that advocate for that, the better chance there is Medicare for all will become a reality.

Last but not least, in googling Kate Chopin for e-texts of her stories, I came across the Kate Chopin International Society. Membership is free to anyone who would like to join, although they request a nominal 10-dollar contribution. Edna Pontelier wasn't the only one to rebel against convention. The author who created her did the same, living life exactly as she chose. I hope to follow her example.     

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bronte Country

Came across this Atlantic article about the Brontes, which is worth reading. It argues that - contrary to Woolf's ideas about needing $ and a room of one's own - the sisters' struggles to make a living gave them their best material, along with incentive to write.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thought for the Day

Took this on my way to see my aunt's painting at a Concord art show.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival

Just found out that a short film about one of my poems is on the Long List for the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival this year. It's a pretty long list, but it's still cool. My artist aunt Yvonne Lamothe put it together.

Check out the site.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

New Netgalley Approvals

Got approved for two more novels this week - Intensity and The Liar's Girl - so I'm adding those to my TBR list. And since I'm mentioning Sherrilyn Kenyon, I'm going to post to a link to her piece, "The Road to Publication," which appears on her website. If you've ever doubted whether you should continue in your chosen field, read it.