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September 8, 2006

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

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Both of my sons went back to school this week. I always remember that back-to-school week in school meant writing the "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" essay. Of course, it was not called an essay because you were too young to know what that was. Instead it was a "story." I am not sure kids are asked to do such things any more and if they do, maybe they now call it "Your Summer Vacation Blog." I used to like to read the ones that my sons wrote so I could see their perspective on what stuck out to them about their vacation.

For me, a lot of my vacation is about the books I read. They set the tenor and the tone for the week. This year it also was about what I knit. And what I ripped out that I was knitting.

I started the week finishing THE WIDOW by Carla Neggers. I had not read her before, but had heard some good buzz about her. The story takes place in Maine at the beach, which seemed fitting though we were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The story goes like this. Four days after Abigail Browning's wedding, her husband was shot and killed. Now seven years later she is still trying to find his killer and avenge his murder. There are lots of layers to this one and I liked it enough to want to read some of her prior work. I look forward to our reviewing it.

I moved onto a manuscript of an novel being published next spring by an author named Sandra Dallas called TALLGRASS. It's a well-done story about a Japanese camp located in eastern Colorado during World War II and its impact on the farms and farm families that surround it. Between reading this and Marie Bostwick's, RIVER'S EDGE, a few weeks ago I have another snapshot of World War II and its impact. I want to read more by Dallas and I look forward to sharing more about TALLGRASS with you in the future.

Next up was Ricochet by Sandra Brown, who I read every summer on my beach vacation. I am going to stop here and say that the cover and dust jacket on this book is one of the most visually arresting ones that I have seen. Just visually stunning. While I love Sandra I usually have a problem that she often throws a sex scene in at the beginning third of the book where it just feels wrong. It feels forced and takes me off pace from the story. This time, none of that. I had seen her speak at Thriller Fest in Phoenix in late June and she talked about the importance of sex working with the plot instead of appearing there for its own sake. In Ricochet she does just that.

The plot is tight, fast-paced and it screams for you to turn just one more page. The characters are fully fleshed out, as well, and you can feel their terror, their despair and their evil. For those of you who have not read Brown before, but like thrillers, this is the one to read.

I moved onto TRIPTYCH (spell that one 10 times to get it right) by Karin Slaughter. This is a departure from her series which takes place in Grant County and while I love those books, I crave another stand alone from her after finishing TRIPTYCH. This book shows she is not just a single note talent. I confess that there are times that the tales of the sexual predators depressed and disgusted me, but the pacing and the fluidity of Slaughter's writing kept me reading. The story takes place in Atlanta where young women are dying and their murderer's signature is an act of mutilation that will have you bite your own tongue just to be sure it's still there! Just a bravo on how it all pulls together. And for all the surprises along the way.

THE THIRTEENTH TALE, which is in stores next Tuesday, has been getting a lot of buzz. From my reading, it's very well-deserved. Diane Setterfield has written a story that is both original and haunting. She clearly loved reading the classics and they inspire this story. The plot is like this --- a famous author, Vida Winter, asks a young woman named Margaret Lea to write her biography with her "true story" before she dies. She has spun so many stories over the years that the truth has been buried. There is a part towards the end where the story flies so fast that I found myself re-reading pages to get all the details down. It's a real delight!

We pause for a moment here for Ernesto, which blew onto the Outer Banks and was far more overrated on the Weather Channel than it actually was. There is a reporter named Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel, who from what we heard all week is pretty much persona non-grata on the Outer Banks. There's a rumor that a few towns have banned him from visiting since people evacuate when he arrives. He provided lots of amusement for us during the week since he actually seemed stressed that the storm was not bigger than it was. Seriously, the guy used the words Tropical Storm with almost disgust. He seemed to want "the big one."

By the way, when people talk about the storm arriving by name I start to think I should be setting a place at the table for it. Did I make enough dinner for Ernesto to join us? Will Ernesto hold up dinner?

What really happened with the storm? We had a rain storm Wednesday night and Thursday before Ernesto arrived that packed just as much rain as Ernesto. The "featured" storm actually came in during Thursday night with rain and some wind. By the end of it all there was a story that there were 21" of rain. Given the flooding on the roads, this just might be possible! But it was the combo of the two storms that was the problem. And NO one was talking about that. Ernesto was getting all the credit though the prior front (what exactly is a "front") contributed to the floods. But it was all over in two days and the sun was bright and shining the rest of the time!

Speaking of fronts, let's digress to knitting here before we get back to the books. I mean once one is off topic, let's keep it going for a bit. This was the trip of the tank tops. I made two and then ripped one out and began a third. There is a terrific yarn shop in Southern Shores called Knitting Addiction. As my closet is stashed with bags and bags of yarn this summer, I have been confessing that I am a yarn addict so this was the perfect place for me to spend some time.

We stopped there on the way into town so I could get some instruction in what a three-needle bindoff was. It sounds like something one would hear on ER. Aha. You use three needles to get a smooth seam. Imagine that! I also learned that some patterns actually are written wrong. Imagine that! And thus the kinda weird shape on the armhole was NOT MY FAULT! Whoa, did I like this store!

After some serious consultation with Jeanne and Brittany, the experts at Knitting Addiction, who were endlessly patient with my questions, I vowed to come back for more instruction later that week, which I did on Friday afternoon. Jeanne also is a Lieutenant with the local fire company so she told some great stories about the area while we tried to figure out what I was doing on some of these projects.

I finished one tank top and realized it was a total mistake to have made since it had a rib pattern and it made me look huge. The boys were called me Mrs. Staypuff when I put it on. Soooo...I ripped it out and made a more flattering pattern. Good lesson learned.

Back to books. I finished reading ANGEL'S REST by Charles Davis and I was crying so hard on the last chapter that I actually had to duck my head under the water in the pool for a bit. The story takes place in 1967 in rural Virginia. Charlie York's dad has been killed with a shotgun and his mom is on trial for the murder. Charlie is entrusted to an old black man named Lacy Albert Coe, who teaches him a ton of lessons about life. It's a debut and I look forward to reading more by Davis. Interestingly, Davis moved from Maine to the Outer Banks to work construction part-time as he wrote the book. I would love to chat with him about where he worked there as much as about the book and may do just that! If you liked ME AND EMMA by Elizabeth Flock and books by Charles Martin like WHEN CRICKETS CRY, I think you will enjoy this one. Truly wonderful.

I picked up a galley of a book coming out in January by Frank Turner Hollon called BLOOD AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Hollon had written a book that I liked last year called A POINT OF FRACTURE. This new book is done is interview format and it's the pre-trial interview sessions between a killer and his doctor. As you read, you are not what is the truth and what is a lie. I look forward sharing more about this book with you in the months to come.

I have never read Harlan Coben. There I admitted it. For years people have been talking to me about Coben, but I had never read him. I saw him in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair and he gave a great talk about how to write a tight thriller. He said he re-reads his work and pulls all the extra words and sentences out that are not driving the story and throws them in a file. By the time he finishes a book this file can be 150 pages long. Thus I picked up PROMISE ME looking to see how this method and yes, for any spare words that might have been left behind. I saw what he meant about fast pacing and tight. Each line and paragraph hurled me into the next.

The story marks the return of his Myron Bolitar character. It goes like this. He overhears two girls talking about getting a ride with a boy who was drunk. He asks them to promise him that if they ever are in trouble and need a ride, they will call him instead. Days later, one of them does. She asks him to pick her up and drop her at a friend's house. He does and from there she goes missing. The story is about the hunt for her --- and another missing girl. Most of the action takes place in Livingston, New Jersey, which is a town not too far from my home. Myron also has parents who live in Florida and his description of them and their lives there provided some true comic relief. I read those pages aloud to the boys in the car on the drive home and they were laughing hard. Yes, I will read more of Coben and whew, I am glad I finally read him.

So there was my vacation...many pages, many stitches and lots of floating. And lots and lots of memories.