What I am reading – So Far Away

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”  – Havelock Ellis

Meg Mitchell Moore tells a story within a story in her novel So Far Away, seamlessly integrating the past with the present. This is a book about women. The men are consigned to play supportive roles. The writer effectively captures the voice of each generation even though these voices span more than a hundred years and cross social classes.

A story of mothers and daughters, one who has lost her child and one who is losing hers. This book will ring true with any mother, but especially single mothers, who have raised a teenage daughter alone.

Kathleen Lynch, the main character, is an archivist working at the Massachusetts Archives in Boston when Natalie Gallagher, a lonely teenager from Newburyport, walks into the Archives looking for information for a school project. Kathleen lives a small life that is centered around her job, and her aging dog. She is not getting any younger herself and is haunted by the loss of her daughter, Susannah. A loss she feels is somehow her fault. In her mind, she is constantly trying to figure out what she should have done differently.

The character of Natalie brings to the reader a chilling insight into the devastating impact of cyberbullying. I felt myself overwhelmed by the desire to do something to help this girl but at a loss as to what I, or Kathleen Lynch, could do.

Sprinkled throughout the book is the story of a “bridget” the name by which all female Irish servants were called. The character’s name is actually Bridget O’Connell. A fact her employer finds vastly amusing. Bridget’s story captures the immigrant struggle and accurately depicts the hardships of the life of an Irish serving girl in Boston, as well as both the good and bad characteristics of human behavior that never seem to change.

Apart from the excellence of Moore’s writing, there are personal reasons that So Far Away caught my eye. The main character and I share a first name, I was once the single mother of a teenage daughter, and my grandmother, Catherine O’Connor, was a “bridget” in a large house in Boston.

So Far Away is a nuanced book. Look a little deeper when you read it. I thought the actions of the minor character, Elsie, were especially interesting.  A great book, I strongly recommend it.


Another great cover...

Why I Love Visiting Book Clubs

“The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.” — William Butler Yeats

Last week I was invited to meet with the FOSL Book Group in Merrimack, New Hampshire.  I love talking to book groups because it gives me the change to meet with people who have read MacCullough’s Women and to hear what they thought of the book. People are refreshingly candid which I very much enjoy. It also gives me a chance to ask questions that help  me with the work I am now doing on the second book.

Talking to the FOSL Book Group in Merrimack, NH

I have now had the pleasure of meeting with four of these groups. I thought I would share a few of the questions that I have been asked.

Why did you make the background of the story an Irish bar set in New Hampshire? Did you have to research Irish history to write the book?

My maternal great-grandfather, Patrick Sheerin, owned a bar in Boston at the end of the nineteenth century. My paternal grandmother, Catherine O’Connor, was born in County Kerry. I am married to  a man whose grandparents on both sides came to America from County Roscommon and my daughter is married to an Irishman and currently lives in Dublin. Irish History was my area of concentration when I studied for my undergraduate degree. The idea of creating an Irish bar in Lynton as the backdrop to the story seemed like the logical and fun thing to do. I had to do very little additional research with the exception of trying to come up with an elementary grasp of the Irish language. For that I took two sessions of Beginner Irish taught by a nun over from Galway. Even with that, I had a lot of help from my son-in-law’s mother. Irish is not for the faint of heart.

Where did you get the idea for the story?

I was widowed suddenly when I was thirty-five. I spent the next year attending grief support groups. I never forgot how almost everyone I met at these meetings mentioned there was something that they didn’t  know about the person who had died. I thought it was an interesting idea for a novel. The plot of MacCullough’s Women was born from that experience.

Why did you decide to make Brid and Franny become friends?

The idea of a wife and an ex-wife being friends has long intrigued me. If you consider it from the perspective that they have both been drawn to and loved the same man, it makes sense to me that they would have other things in common that would allow them to become friends. What usually prevents a friendship from forming between these women is the presence of the man they both married. In the case of Brid and Franny, Drew MacCullough is dead so that obstacle no longer exists.

I also loved the idea of Brid helping Franny to grow into a women no longer dominated by as she calls it in the book “The Gospel According to Drew MacCullough”.

When writing the book got hard, what kept you going?

I loved my characters. I felt that they deserved a chance to be given life. The great joy I get from attending book groups like FOSL comes from hearing a reader tell me. “I loved Brid.”  Or even, “ I hated Drew MacCullough.”  I gives me great satisfaction to know that I have created characters who are real enough to evoke that kind of reaction in a reader.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a novel?

Read as much as you can, join a writer’s group and establish a daily writing practice.



What I am reading – Seating Arrangements

Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.” –Source Unknown

Weddings and funerals never fail to bring out the best and the worst in people. Maggie Shipstead’s delightful novel, Seating Arrangements, is no exception. Written from the point of view of the bride’s father, Winn Van Meter, the novel is about a WASP wedding set on an island, Waskeke, off the New England coast. Done before? Certainly, but Seating Arrangements brings its own twists and turns to a story that has been used so often it is a cliché. I promise you that Shipstead’s plot will keep you from being bored.

The bride, Daphne, is gloriously and unrepentantly pregnant – about seven months – which requires last minute alterations to the wedding dress. It is not, however, Daphne’s pregnancy that causes the angst in the novel, but the much-discussed abortion of her younger sister, Liva. See what I mean?

There are lots of elements of satire here, at times veering close to slapstick. The names alone take you to a place where I have never lived: Biddy, Oatsie, Piper, Greyson and Mopsy. Really. Naturally, everyone went Ivy, predominantly Harvard and Princeton. And of course, there is the drunk but very witty aunt of the bride, Celeste, to keep things from getting too stuffy. Throughout the book, Winn’s main preoccupation is being accepted as a member in the Pequod, the private golf club on the island. A prize that, despite his obviously stellar  (at least to him!) credentials, has so far eluded him.

It would be easy at first glance to dismiss this book as so much fluff, especially if you consider things like the exploding whale, but I urge you not to. The book’s appeal lies in the search for happiness that can be seen in all the main characters. A search that strikes a cord, even if you have never known anyone who actually wears red pants embroidered with white whales. Maggie Shipstead, as every writer should, shows you which of her characters are able to adjust in ways that allow them to seize happiness when they see it and those who can’t. No matter where you come from, this should feel familiar to you.

Who doesn't love a wedding?

(I apologize for the lateness of this post. As they would say on Waskeke, I was “indisposed” for a few days.)




The Other Guys


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and conveniences, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King

This past Sunday we celebrated Father’s Day. Last year, I posted a blog about my father, Bud Ferrari. In reading it over, I found that I really had nothing more to say. He was a great father. I was lucky to have him for my dad.

I thought I would write a few words about all those other guys who step up, step in and, on Father’s Day as they do on other important days in a child’s life, are gracious enough to take a step back.

If there is a role more difficult than that of a stepparent, I don’t know what it is. No one comes into that job prepared for what will be asked of him or her. A stepfather arrives in a child’s life because of a loss, either of a family through divorce, or of a person through death. It is a relationship that is built upon the fact that someone that child loves is no longer there every day or at all. To say that it is overshadowed by memories of the past is an understatement.

“You’re not my father!” is the ancient battle cry of every stepchild. (Even the man who led the donkey on the road to Bethlehem heard this.) Stepfathers are there when Dad isn’t.

Stepdads apply a band aid, run beside the new two-wheeler, drive the carpool, coach a team, scare away the monsters from under the bed, carry a child into an emergency room, write a check, (or slip a twenty into a willing hand) prevent the mother from killing the kid, arrive just behind the tow truck, run through the streets of Boston in the heat of a late August afternoon to obtain a critical document before the place it needs to be closes, and lug a steamer trunk up five flights of a college dorm.

There. Rarely complaining and often taken for granted. “Not Dad.”

These guys are easy to pick out in pictures taken at family events. You find them standing in the back or off to the side because as they are well aware, they are NOT Dad. They are gracious and self-effacing. They do not presume or assume but make no mistake their contribution can’t be minimized.

What the kids whose lives they helped repair and complete will remember about them is that they were there and in the end what name they were called didn’t really matter. What mattered was that in good times and in bad, they were always ready to reach out a helping hand or offer a word of encouragement.

One of those guys... (Photo Credit: Tom Gibbons Photography)



Happy Father’s Day to all the stepdads, uncles, older brothers, godfathers and friends who step in and make a difference in a child’s life.



What I am Reading – Wife 22

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” — John Steinbeck

Facebook has become one of the most polarizing forces of our time. People are convinced that society is either being completely connected, or destroyed by the use of social media. No doubt advanced degrees are being earned from dissertations built around it as I type this. I have found almost no one who is either neutral or unaware of it.

Alice Buckle, the heroine of Melanie Gideon’s novel, Wife 22, is lonely. Alice feels that she is becoming invisible. She worries that her marriage to William, an advertising executive, is growing stale. Their sex life certainly has. She begins to realize that most of their communication is now taking place on Facebook through comments, likes, and chat.

Shortly after Alice conducts a Google search on “Happy Marriage”, a request turns up in her email from the Netherfield Center asking her to participate in an anonymous survey examining the state of marriage in the 21st century. Alice is in, and Wife 22 is born.

The novel is based around what Alice, as Wife 22, reveals to Researcher 101. Their relationship moves from email to Facebook where each sets up a page using the names of fictional literary characters to meet up and chat.

I don’t enjoy books consisting of strings of email messages. However, I found Wife 22 to be an engaging novel containing enough actual prose between the email messages and Facebook postings to keep me reading.

Gideon’s characters are good. It would be hard not to like William, who is fighting his own midlife demons. Nedra, Alice’s best friend, provides the voice of reason as she pulls Alice’s head down from the clouds where it usually floats.

This is a light-hearted book but if you take a second look, it does ask deeper and somewhat disturbing questions. Are we becoming disconnected? Is communicating with the people we love who live in the same house or city with us through social media a good thing? As a writer, I admire Melanie Gideon’s clever use of the tools of social media to create both a good story and to prod the reader to ask those questions.

Last night I went to out to dinner with my husband. We did not have our phones with us. At the table next to us two young women were sitting across from each other, busily texting. I wondered if it was to each other. Either way, they were not talking.

Read Wife 22. If you are on Facebook, you will enjoy it. If you are not, it will give you more ammunition.

Get off Facebook and read it.



The Eleventh Hour

“Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them?” ― Kenneth Grahame

This weekend I found myself alone with two perfect June days to spend doing exactly as I wished. My partner in crime had gone off to an academic conference leaving me with the gift of forty-eight unobserved hours.

My initial plan, after dropping him off Saturday morning at the Park and Ride, was to be very productive. I had a list. It was long. It had things on it like wash the kitchen floor.

Returning home, I let Grace out before I officially commenced to get to work. Grace will be eleven in January and she is failing. She suffers from progressive disk disease in her spine. It hurts me to say it, but I suspect this may be her last summer.

She was blissfully unaware of my dark thoughts as I watched her gambol through the grass, nose down in search of Fink, the woodchuck, who grudgingly allows me to have a leaf of lettuce when I beat him into the garden. Satisfied that her fierce presence had forced him to retreat to whatever dark fortress he hangs out in, she threw herself on her back in the sun and rolled back and forth, obviously delighted.

Grace looking for Fink the woodchuck

I thought, “Why not?”  I took my list and ripped it in half. I spent the two days meandering. I deadheaded the roses, and I went for two long walks, one with Grace and one with a friend. I read the book I plan to review this Friday. I sat in the sun and did nothing at all.

The perfect spot

I thought about possibilities for plot twists in Francesca’s Foundlings and about the essay I am thinking of submitting to a magazine competition later this summer. It was an unhurried two days of not doing anything I didn’t want to do. It was wonderful and I highly recommend you try it.

A lot is written today about living in the moment. Sitting on the patio reading and writing, I kept one eye on Grace remembering the advice the dog nanny had wisely given to me when I told her sadly that we were almost at the twelfth hour with Grace.

“We’re not there yet. It’s only the eleventh hour. There will be plenty of time to mourn later, now you should just enjoy the eleventh hour with her while you can.”  So often in my life, focused on the future, I have missed it.

This summer watching my sweet old Gracie, I intend to savor ever moment.

Grace enjoying her eleventh hour

What I am Reading – Abdication

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” – William Shakespeare

The strength of historian Juliet Nicolson’s novel, Abdication, lies not in the plot but in the sense of  the very specific time and place it brings to the reader.

The story opens with the death of King George V and the passing of the throne of England to his son Edward VIII known to his friends as David. Like most historical fiction, Abdication, is a story layered within a story, written in a way that the fictional characters merge seamlessly with those who were actual people.

Nicolson introduces us to the fictional Evangeline Nettlefold, Wallis Simpson’s childhood friend from Baltimore. Evangeline, an overweight spinster who has come to England to stay with her godmother, Lady Joan Blunt, serves as a foil for the new King’s married mistress. Wallis Simpson is portrayed true to history as brittle and scheming as she plots to find a way to land the most sought after man in England. This friendship, initially cast in a positive light, sours in a way that does not flatter either of the two women.

Nicolson uses the fictional characters, May Thomas, Sir Philip Blunt’s driver and the idealistic Oxford student, Julian Richardson, to flesh out the portrait of an England ripe for change in the years just prior to the Second World War.

Abdication skillfully weaves British Nazi sympathizer, Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, and the growing fear of the Nazis into the story providing insight into why the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as David and Wallis would later be known, would long remain controversial figures on the world’s stage.

Seventy-six year have passed since Edward renounced his throne in order to marry the American divorcee from Baltimore. Having lived through the saga of Charles and Diana, it is difficult for us to imagine what the flap was about.  Abdication provides a window into the morals and temper of the time in which their story unfolds.

As a young teenager, I read A King’s Story, the memoirs of the Duke of Windsor. (I told you that I read anything and for some reason the book was on the shelf in my home when I was growing up.) So of course I had to read this book.

If you like Downton Abbey...





The Start of a New Year

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Les Brown

Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday. I realize blogging about it might at first glance seem a little narcissistic but I do have a point to make connected to my writing.  So I am asking you to indulge me.

A year ago, we were getting ready to launch the e-book version of MacCullough’s Women. The plan was to go with the e-book in August and follow in October with the paperback.

I was a wreck. As I poured over the final edits alone in my office night after night, I definitely heard voices – all negative.  I wondered if my dream of being a writer was a foolish pipedream. I was terrified nobody would like the book.Was I kidding myself by thinking it was a good story? At one point, no doubt tired of listening to me, my husband said, “Then don’t do it.”  I will always love him for being generous enough to make that offer after all the work we both had done in order to publish the book.

I found that I couldn’t abandon the book. You may not understand this if you are not a writer, but it was not about me, it was about them – Brid, Franny, Neil, Drew, and the others. I felt they deserved a chance.  So we pressed on with the plan.

Last Friday, I was invited to join the Wilson Training Language Book Club at their monthly meeting. It was the third time I met with a group of readers who had read MacCullough’s Women. I have had a wonderful time chatting with each of these groups. I can’t tell you how thrilling it is as a writer to listen to what my readers have thought about my book. The ladies I met with at Wilson understood the characters and they also understood the theme that I hope will be present in all my books: the amazing willingness of seemingly very different women to help one another. And they told me that they really enjoyed the book.

In looking back on this year, I am thrilled with the success of MacCullough’s Women. I am happy to have found that it has touched women of different ages and life experiences because that was my intention when I wrote it.

Publishing and promoting MacCullough’s Women taught me a lot of things that I didn’t know about myself. I hope that I am a better person because of that. I am grateful for the support of so many people: family, friends, friends of friends, women in my neighborhood, women I went to high school with and many others. This was hard for me and their support is what has gotten me through this exciting and challenging year.

There are years and there are years. This was a good one. I received a note this morning from someone who is very dear to me, whose friendship I will always view as a precious and unexpected gift. This is what she said:

Today I am reflecting on what a magical year it has been for you. It’s quite impressive to see you realize some of your significant dreams – and expand on them! I know the next year will be even better. May you have continued good health, happiness, laughter and love!

I do consider this to have been a magical year. Notice that I didn’t tell you which birthday I am celebrating. I considered it. If you have been reading this blog, I have given you enough clues to figure it out. I decided that in the end, how old I am doesn’t really matter. I am old enough to know that some years are NOT magical which allows me to savor this with one. My goal for this upcoming year is to continue to improve my writing and to finish Francesca’s Foundlings, the second book in the Lynton Series.

I am also old enough to look back and realize that I have been given many gifts and blessings in my life. On my birthday, I always think of the one that in the end probably for me made the difference. I had two wonderful parents. They were the best.

Thanks, Mom and Dad for everything.


In case you were wondering what was in the box: garden shears and pearls. What can I say? I have a great husband.













What I am Reading – Beach House Memories

To me, the glass is half-empty some days and half-full on others. Sometimes it’s bone-dry. Or overflowing. – Mary Alice Monroe

The first of June has always meant summer to me even though I realize the official start signified by the Summer Solstice is later, not until June 20th here in North America. I thought I would recommend a delicious beach read from Mary Alice Monroe. Beach House Memories is the prequel to The Beach House, first published in 2002, followed by its sequel, Swimming Lessons.

Beach House Memories slowly unveils the answers to the questions the reader is left with after reading The Beach House. The trilogy is set against the background of the plight of the endangered loggerhead sea turtles on the Isle of Palms, one of the barrier islands off the coast of South Carolina. The story centers around the passion of the main character, Olivia “Lovie” Rutledge, to rescue them. It should come as no surprise that saving the sea turtles is also a passion of  the writer, Mary Alice Monroe. The story is filled with fascinating facts about these noble creatures and the lengths they will go to ensure their species survives.

Lovie is an elderly lady, as she was in The Beach House, when this book opens but very soon the reader is back in 1974 and we meet Lovie when she was a young Charleston matron living a very correct life as the wife of Stratton Rutledge. Stratton is the son of an old and very proper Charleston family with a home on Tradd Street and everything that comes with it.

This is women’s fiction at its best. Mary Alice Monroe is a master of  the genre. Beach House Memories explores the relationship between Lovie and her husband, her two children, her mother, and her friends.

This is also a love story. Stated more clearly, it is a story about the people and the turtles that Lovie Rutledge loves and it explores the decisions she makes in order to remain true to those loves.

Beach House Memories stands alone. You don’t have to read the other two books in the series to understand and enjoy it. I bet you will though. Once you meet these characters you will want to know more about them. You can read it anywhere but, if you can, take it to the beach. The sound of the ocean is the perfect soundtrack for this story.

I hope you like it as much as I did. Prepare yourself to fall in love with the sea turtles.

A great book to take to the beach