Montana Women Writers March meeting had an open discussion in an attempt to answer the question, what makes a book good . . . or not? Karen Wills started us off with her thoughts on components of a good story. She believes mystery, suspense, love & sex, doubt, and resolution should be included. Participants explained why they either liked or didn’t like certain books, both fiction and non-fiction. Following is the list of books and authors mentioned, with member comments: The Alienist by Caleb Carr and The Stand, by Stephen King were favored for those who relish the dark side of mystery and murder. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller appealed to romantics because the reader could feel like she was there, and it had love and sex. Patti Smith’s The M Train caught the reader’s imagination with the explanation, “the mind train goes to any station it wants.” Bob Newhart’s I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! represented humor. As far as sci fi, Mirabile a collection of short stories by Janet Kagan has a connection among characters with clear voices, even when written in third person.
Refuge by Dot Jackson was a favorite because the author wrote human characters with flaws, poetic well-chosen detailed observations of nature, and the events and characters rang true. It also has all five of Karen’s good story components. Shadows of Home by Deborah Epperson and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing gained praise because they demonstrate excellent descriptions of location and characters’ dialects.
For readers who like stories with motivations and causes happening below the surface, The Dinner by Herman Koch would meet their criteria. It also has simple language, development and depth of characters, and backstories that explain why characters act as they do. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk has characters with dimension that made the reader curious about them and we liked that it had “weird” story and/or character arcs.
One participant said that the first time she read The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, she couldn’t visualize the story, as it was written in epistolary form. But after seeing the movie and rereading the letters, she understood and appreciated the story.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is especially loved by several readers. Favorable comments included the author’s choice of poetic language, and readers were impressed with the main character’s reaction to his circumstances, especially the way he handled his constricted situation. The Count’s life motto “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” was meaningful to readers. Everyone who had read the book agreed that it incorporated all five of Karen’s good story components and that the imagery used by the author was excellent. The best comment sums it up, “Amor Towles writing of A Gentleman in Moscow was literary deliciousness.”
Participants also spoke of authors who they think write particularly well. These include Ursula K. Le Guin in the Sci fi genre; in non-fiction, John McFee because he explains nature in beautiful language and Robert Caro for well-told facts; Wally Lamb received kudos for getting a woman’s perspective correct; and Pat Conroy for flowery prose that makes the readers feel they’re in the space he creates.
On the Not-so-good side, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was said to be well-written but has too much depressing hard times. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham was not engaging even though it’s written in first person, and Confessions of a Pagan Nun by Kate Horsley was found to be too extreme and dreary. And one unanimous thought was that Larry M. McMurtry has not written a satisfying sex scene from a woman’s perspective.
Meet Madge Wood, a sixty-something widow as she tells her story of interrupted plans throughout her life that have stolen the self-confidence she’d once known. But feeling unusually brave she sets out to experience her last plan. A trip to Monaco, a ride up the “To Catch a Thief” cliffside road, wearing a long, pink, Grace Kelly-like scarf that catches the sunlight as it flies in the wind, and a visit to Princess Grace’s Palace. What could possibly interrupt that?
An antique ring, thugs accosting her, enigmatic men offering assistance, and an opportunity to change ancient history. As Madge says, “You’re not going to believe it. I wouldn’t either—except I lived it.”
Based on the personalities who created America’s Early Colonial Period, Footprints in History, combines imagination and historic events to tell of the author’s seventh great-grandfather, blacksmith and indentured servant, James Fitchett. James and his neighbors toil in the new land for the twenty-four Scottish investors, known as proprietors. These men control East New Jersey hoping to amass fortunes from the sweat and tears of their tenants, indentured servants, and slaves. Not all settlers share the same hopes and beliefs.
Footprints in History reveals the winners and the losers.
Leslie is also delighted to announce the May publication of Carried to the Grave and Other Stories, the 6th book in her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in fictional Jewel Bay, Montana.
Erin and the Villagers return in five contemporary short mysteries, tales of secrets, envy, revenge, and murder, seasoned with humor, good food, and creative problem-solving. And in a historical novella, set in 1910, the year Erin’s great-grandmother Kate arrived in Jewel Bay as a new bride, we see that Erin’s sleuthing skills and her desire for justice may well have been inherited. Find out more on Leslie’s website. www.LeslieBudewitz.com