Sunday, December 8, 2019

Finding Books via Facebook



I suspect most of my readers would agree that Facebook can be a huge time-suck.  You vow to take a quick look, and before you know it, an hour has passed.  For me, that would be time much better spent reading a book, writing a column, or continuing to work on my next book.

Still, I can’t help myself, and I’ve found one big benefit to FaceBook beyond the delights of connecting with high school and college friendsdiscovering new books. We’ve all read about Facebook algorithms and how the munchkins that run the site choose what to show us. Well, the munchkins show me plenty of dog and cat videos and pics because I can’t resist clicking on those, but I also see tons of posts about books.
 
I stumbled across a British readers group called Book Connectors and through them have discovered all kinds of books I never would have heard of.  Most of these books are available only from Amazon, not from my local library, either because they’re written by British authors who haven’t made it big in the USA or they’re earlier titles in a series. 

One thing leads to another, and because I often google these titles and wind up on Amazon, I’ve started getting FaceBook ads about other British books. And, of course, after checking Amazon, similar titles appear in my regular Amazon emails.  It’s never-ending.

I order most of these British books as e-books, and one series I enjoy is the Inspector Hilary Greene saga by author Faith Martin.  I’m on book five of seventeen and was addicted long before I made my visit to Oxford last year. Now I get a further kick out of recognizing towns and street names in this series set in an around Oxford.

I also downloaded book one in the Martha Gunn series by Priscilla Masters. The main character is a coroner who resides in Shrewsbury in the Cotswolds, and though I didn’t make it to that town when I was in England, I’m enjoying recognizing names of neighboring towns I did visit. The good news is that my library has some of the later books in this series, so after a few more Kindle downloads, I can switch to paper.

Another Kindle boxset I’m enjoying is the Beatrice Stubbs series.  I’d seen it mentioned in Book Connectors and then started getting ads about it.  The icing on the cake was when an author friend who lives in France recommended it. The Amazon description reads, “Beatrice Stubbs of Scotland Yard: detective inspector, metaphor mixer and stubborn survivor. Battling crime by day and her own demons by night, the question remains: justice or the law?”

As in all experiments, not all of the books I’ve tried have been winners.  I only made it through book one and part of book two in Rebecca Tope’s sixteen book Cotswold Mysteries series.  Despite the pleasantly familiar towns and settings, the plots didn’t grab me. Still, if there are sixteen books in the series, others must see something in them.

I’ve just realized that all of these books have strong female protagonists.  Lest you think me sexist in my reading habits, please be assured I’ve read plenty of mysteries with men as the lead characters.  The DCI Banks series by Peter Robinson come to mind. I’ve read all 25, in order of course, and am eagerly awaiting the next one.

Enquiring minds would like to know. Have you ever read a book because you saw it on Facebook? Let me know at inkpenn119@gmail.com.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

People say the funniest things


Have you ever noticed the funny things people say?  I think my pet parents say the strangest things, and I  never have any idea what they mean. I wonder whether they do.

Let’s start with “burning the midnight oil.”  Who burns oil?  Turns out the phrase originated in the days when folks used oil lamps and staying up late to write or read meant keeping the oil lamp going.  I had a good laugh at one explanation that said the phrase isn’t used much by young people.  Ya think?

Another phrase my mum is fond of is “no rest for the weary.”  I want to know who decided that was some kind of rule.  Mum and I turned to google to find out where this saying came from and discovered it first appeared as “no rest for the wicked” in a 1935 mystery novel and then appeared as no rest for the wicked or weary in another book 1979.  That still doesn’t tell me why it’s so.

I don’t often tell Mum she’s wrong, but when I’m weary, I just flop down wherever I am and snooze.  I think she gets the message that this silly rule does not apply to me.

Dad is the one who says, “Loose lips sink ships.”  I’ve come to understand this is a reference to my lower lip, which droops a bit.  Mum and Dad think that’s why I sling dog food nuggets on the floor when I eat—sometimes just a few, often lots.  When Dad sees the nuggets, he always mentions sinking ships, but I don’t know why. Well, this is one saying for which they both knew the meaning: Careless talk “could” sink ships if the information fell into the wrong hands.  The phrase originated during WWII and could be found on posters in the US.

The words Mutt and Jeff came up when Mum shared the story of one of her childhood dogs.  Now I ask you, how many folks today know who Mutt and Jeff are?  I sure didn’t.  They were cartoon characters in a comic strip that ran from 1907 to 1982. Mutt was tall, and Jeff was short.  I’m pretty sure there aren’t many young people who know what the reference means either.
 
When Mum was a girl, her family had a small dog named Pudgy, and Pudgy had a Doberman pinscher friend named Franz, hence Mutt and Jeff.

Do your pet parents say funny things? Do you know what their sayings mean?  If my readers send me enough examples, I’ll write another column on the topic. For now, though, this weary dog plans to get some rest, no matter what Mum says.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Travel Bonus: Making New Friends


Originally published in the Dunwoody Crier

I enjoy meeting new folks when I travel, and I’m always fascinated by their stories. It’s a bonus when they become friends, if only on Facebook. A few, those with whom there’s a special connection, have become email friends too.

Years ago on a bicycling vacation in Maine, a friend and I met two women from Manhattan. This was before Facebook, so we stayed in touch the old fashioned way. My Atlanta friend and I visited NYC, and they visited Atlanta. The four of us took additional cycling trips together. I saw them when I visited NYC on business, and they even came to my 1999 wedding.

In 2014, my husband and I took a Normandy cycling vacation and had possibly the best tour guides ever. Alan was especially knowledgeable about WWII history and appreciated my husband’s enthusiasm for the subject. Alan and his wife Marie live in Brittany part of the year and New Zealand the other half. We get annual New Year’s emails from them and dream of visiting them in both locations.

That same year, we met Rob and Alison on Amelia Island. When Rob discovered I was a columnist, we couldn’t stop talking about writing and his ambition to write a memoir honoring his dad’s military service and how it inspired Rob to go to West Point. Facebook and email kept us connected, and five years later, he asked if I’d edit the memoir we’d discussed. I was honored.

Next was the California family we met on a river cruise. We wound up together on many of the tours and often for meals, and we were always laughing. My email correspondence with Denise and the Facebook connection with both her and her daughter continue to make me smile.

On last year’s trip to England, we met a couple from Malta. Marilyn and I couldn’t stop talking about books, writing, and work. I knew she was a lawyer by day, but little did I know she was also a rock star. Seriously.

In 2009 on a whim, she started Cruz, an indie-pop band. With the band, she wrote and performed all over Malta and the sister island of Gozo—from the Great Beer Festival to MTV Music week. A crowning achievement was being chosen as the supporting act for Malta's number one band, Winter Moods, at a 2010 concert with 10,000 fans in the audience—a massive crowd for tiny Malta.

As her legal career took off, her music took a back seat. And so it went from 2013 until this year when she created Juno Valdez as an artist name for herself and returned to the recording studio. A lyricist before all else, the 31-year-old recorded material she’d worked on for several years and released “Muse,” the first track, to major online platforms—Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music—on September 30.

Suffice it to say, I’m in awe not only of the talent but also of the energy. You can enjoy the music video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C34E9i4OTtw.  It’s charting in the top ten in Malta and has been picked up by a station in Milan. I’m clueless as to what it would take for her song to get air time on an American station, but when it does, I’m looking forward to saying, “I knew her when.”

I wonder who we’ll meet on our next trip. I have no doubt we’ll encounter interesting folks. The only question is whether we’ll get to add them to our list of friends.