oona out of order   unhoneymooners   proposal  
separation axiety   bookish life nina hall   evvie drake starts over  
Click on individual cover images.  

It's a cliche to say reading is transportive. So I'll say it anyway—BOOKS permit us to lose track of time and place. At their most transformative, they dissolve the boundries of the self.

These six books, all fairly new, offer a little more: they'll evoke deep throated chuckles… all the way up to LAUGH-OUT-LOUD guffaws.

They're funny, which feels good right now, as we "shelter in place."

corona jokes10

We're worried if not downright panicked. So, of course, GALLOWS HUMOR is on the rise—proof once again that humans will always find a way to laugh in dire times.

Please allow me a DISCLAIMER: 
Many find humor tasteless right now—especially if they've taken ill or know someone who has. But laughter is in no way meant to denigrate the seriousness of the virus or make light of how precarious life has become.

Neuroscience tells us that laughing has a BENEFICIAL affect, triggering the release of endorphins, our brain's natural mood elevator, and suppressing cortisol, a stress inducing hormone.

Above are a few memes that have popped up in my texts and emails, brightening my day.* So please, find HUMOR, share a LAUGH, and feel KINSHIP. We're in this together.

*Thanks to my sister, Janet, who always keeps me laughing.

meeting corona

meeting corona google menuWe're all into social distancing, right? And into soap & water, scrubbing hands while singing "Happy Birthday" (twice, yes?).

Book clubs are affected by the VIRUS, of course. So if you haven't canceled future book club meeting(s), you may be doing so soon.

But don't give up. You can still meet using group VIDEO MEETINGS via Skype or Google Hangout. *

Both apps are FREE … and will accommodate up to TEN PEOPLE. Even better, they're fairly easy to set up.

Follow the app's instructions. If you run into trouble try the sites' Support or Help … or reach out to an 11-year-old (after all, they're not in school).

GOOGLE HANGOUT (see photos)
1. Go to Google's home page
2. Click on the app in the top right corner.
3. Scroll down the menu till you find "Hangout."
4. Click on the icon to open it up.

SKYPE (click on links below)
1. Go directly to Skype to download the app.
2. Watch this intro video at Tech Boomers. It's not great, but it's better than others.

No video, only text—but it's one more way to hold "meetings." If your club hasn't already set up a private a Facebook GROUP, consider doing so. Posted COMMENTS are seen only by members of the group.

Whatever you decide, BEST OF LUCK, dear readers. I hope you find a way to be together. Most important, STAY WELL—that goes for your families and friends, too.

Many thanks to my daughter, who's younger than I am… and smarter. This post was at her suggestion.

fantasy1Do the threads of your life ever feel a little worn? Routines a little DULL? Do you ever dream about "livin' large"?

What about living in a different world altogether? Ever think about that? SURE you do.

All of which is why FANTASY is so addictive: it's a portal into a wild, mysterious otherworldliness —life lived as GRAND EPIC—exactly what most of our lives aren't.

Fantasy authors get it—it's why they're scooping up readers by the shovel-load. I'm talkin' about you, Leigh Bardugo.

But here's what really tickles me about fantasy books: the TITLES, their grammatical structure (oh yeah, and "Blood"). Like these—Children of Blood and Bone… or House of Earth and Blood. Here's the format:

(noun) - OF - (noun) - AND - (noun)

Other titles aren't quite so ramped-up; their STRUCTURE is simpler. Still, they manage to pack a punch—as in Shadow and Bone… or Siege and Storm. This is the format:

(noun) - AND - (noun)

So this got me to thinking—what would it take TO REWRITE some actual book titles, fitting them to the routines and irritants that make up our days? Here's my go:

A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin)
A Bag of Ice and Fritos

Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)
Children of Tears and Tantrums
Teens of Mess and Mayhem

Days of Blood and Starlight (Laini Taylor)
Days of Traffic and Potholes
Nights of Tossing and Turning

Song of Blood and Stone (L. Penelope)
Netflix of Blood and Gore

House of Earth and Blood (Sarah J. Maas)
House of Dirt and Laundry
Sink of Pots and Pans

Eagles and Empire  (Alan Smale)
Pigeons and Poop

Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo)  
Sinew and Flab

Siege and Storm (Leigh Bardugo)
Binge and Gorge

Ruin and Rising (Leigh Bardugo)
Bedhead and Biscotti

 Book groups could have fun with this, too. See what you come up with as a group. Of if you do it individually, you might award a prize for the funniest or most creative.


oprah4Well, tickle us pink! Three of LitLovers Featured Book Clubs were selected from our line-up (of nearly 100 clubs) to appear in O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE. The groups are highlighted in an article titled "Book Clubs That Made a Difference."


From O, the Oprah Magazine
February 2019 issue

Sure they foster friendships (and a certain amount of wine consumption). But Book clubs also increase our compassion, strengthen our connection to the world around us, and maybe even keep us in shape. Join us as we explore fellowship that can be profound beyond words.

1.  Becoming Jane Austen

jane austen club2

Avid Janites in Modesto, California, read through Jane Austen's entire oeuvre—then realized there were plenty more treasures lying in wait. So they kept digging and found the likes of Victor Hugo, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Hardy, E.M. Forster, and many more. Read here to learn more about Becoming Jane.


2. The Walking Book Club

walking talking

Building muscles for both brain and body, this Elgin, Illinois, group meets weekly to walk and talk. Dividing their books into four sections means NO reading ahead: if you're desperate, then turn the book over to your husband so he can hide it from you. Read here to learn more about the Walking Book Club.


3. Speaking Volumes

speaking volumes oprah3

 "A book club for those without sight"—this Massachusetts group corals area volunteers for its weekly on the air book club. Produced by Audio Journal out of Wooster, the audio books are announced well in advance and then scheduled for on air discussion by volunteers. Read here to learn more about Speaking Volumes.

snacks not snakes4

A Tweet, and not from you-know-who. But it's so funny that we felt it was worth sharing.

The Pflugerville Library, btw, is real … as is the town. But you won't find it in Minnesota, or anywhere near Lake Wobegone. Pflugerville is actually in Texas, about 15 miles north of Austin. Go figure.

Gotta love librarians!

women in scienceThere are so many—they're the unsung heroes—WOMEN who made astonishing contributions to science and to the Allied war efforts.

For half a century or longer, their lights were hidden under bushels—but not by their own doing.

Their accomplishments went unrecognized, were dismissed, in come cases, ridiculed … and for one reason: they were FEMALE.

Thankfully, today, many are finally getting the recognition they deserved yet were so long denied. Their achievements have been heralded through a profusion of recent books. It's time.

Let's start in 2016 with Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly's book about the black female mathematicians at NASA during the early rocket age: they struggled in the face of both sexism AND racism—a doubly high barrier.

Though Hidden Figures is hardly the first book about unrecognized women, it's perhaps the most famous. In addition to reaching bestseller status, the book also became a BLOCKBUSTER FILM—earning close to a quarter of a BILLION world-wide.

This January Marie Benedict published The Only Woman in the Room, a novelistic treatment of the famous Hollywood film star, Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr led a double life: she was also a crack scientist who invented a radio-guided torpedo system.

Although dismissed by the military during World War II, Lamarr's invention later played a role in developing GPS and cell phones. Hedy's Folly, a nonfiction work on the same subject, was published by Richard Rhodes in 2011.

Also out this January is Larry Loftis' nonfiction account of Odette Samson, a female British spy dropped into Nazi territory—Code Name: Lise.

AND get this! Pam Jenoff has just released a FICTIONAL treatment of real life female British spies … dropped into Nazi territory—The Lost Girls of Paris.

THIS just in, a late entry: April 9, 2019, saw the release of Sonia Purnell's A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win  World War II.

2017 saw a number of books about female breakthroughs in male domains. CODE-BREAKING proved a big topic that year: strangely, TWO nonfiction works were both devoted to one woman in particular—Elizebeth Smith Friedman.

Elizebeth, a groundbreaking cryptologist, founded along with her husband the modern science of cryptology prior to and during WWII. After the war William Friedman went on to head up NSA's cryptology unit—and even had a building named in his honor. It took decades for Elizebeth's name to be added to the plaque—even though some considered her the BETTER coder.

Check out these two nonfiction works on Elizebeth Smith Friedman:
    • The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
    • A Life in Code by G. Stuart Smith

In the VERY same year (we're still in 2017), came Code Girls by Liza Mundy. Again, during the war years, the Army and Navy recruited women from around the country to learn code-breaking. They moved to Washington to take up the challenge, and only now, after years of secrecy, are we learning of their impressive contribution.

Also, in 2017, Jennifer Chiaverini came out with The Enchantress of Numbers, a fictional telling of Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron. More than a century passed before Lovelace was acknowledged as the developer of computer language (i.e., code). That's right, she was essentially the FIRST computer programmer—and it was the 19th century!

Finally, in 2017, moving away from math and science, Chuck O'Brien released Fly Girls, a nonfiction account of female aviators during the 1920s and '30s. The women, talented flyers in their own right, had to fight in order to compete against men in popular air races. In the face of ridicule, they managed to beat their male counterparts … a lot.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I'll stop here. There are many more books championing unsung female achievements; these are just the ones that came to mind.

So wouldn't it be a great idea to spend an ENTIRE BOOK CLUB YEAR reading about these remarkable women … and the many others I've left out?

santa poopedFavorite week of the year—the week AFTER Christmas. It's time to collapse … because we can. Finally.

I wonder how many feel the same kind of dread I do as we move into November: knowing that Christmas is getting closer… closer… closer…

And that means gift shopping, food shopping, cooking, baking, wrapping, cleaning up, washing up (bowl after pot after pan), making up guest beds, trudging up to the attic or digging through closets to drag out boxes of decorations, decorating, setting the table, more cooking, more baking, more cleaning, and more washing up.

And all this is ON TOP OF the regular tasks of our day-to-day lives—which, let's face it, are already plenty busy.

None ot this is to denigrate the deep joy the season brings, spiritually and communally—the candle-light services, the gorgeous music, and the connection with family and friends.

But when it's over—the gifts opened, the dishes done, the visitors come & gone—it's time to LIE BACK on a couch, put up those weary feet, pick up a BOOK AND READ.

So Merry (WEEK AFTER) Christmas, everyone—it's the best time of the year!

saved by the penBy guest blogger, Kathy Aspden, author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman. Kathy is in the process of wrapping up her second novel.

Early in my writing career, one of my favorite mentors dropped this pearl of wisdom: Flawed characters are more loveable.

I’m sure most writers (along with most people) already knew this. I didn’t. I was always trying to give my protagonist superhuman qualities, such as perfect motives or having a righteous cause on his or her side. The concept of a person selfishly wanting their own way simply because it’s what they wanted seemed almost evil.

What a boat I was missing! This one gift of advice changed my life completely. It was a revelation. We don’t love people because they are perfect; we love them because we love them.

It opened a whole new world to me, both in my writing and in my life. I suddenly couldn’t wait to create the next flawed character; the trick being to infuse complicated, negative traits that also generated love, sympathy, and relatable feelings. My kind of puzzle. 

I began writing about characters who did horrible things and were still worthy of love. I watched them suffer the anguish of their sins, further ruining their lives when they couldn’t make peace with themselves. I fabricated players willing to overlook the craziest of transgressions for the sake of love; or to reconcile their own unforgivable pasts. I wrote my way into the epiphany that the early life of a parent, even when well hidden, factors into the future misery of a child.

With every story I learned more about myself. I had been living a half-life, trying to hide, dismiss or spin my shortcomings into the image of perfection. It was exhausting—and unnecessary.

I realized even my opinions hadn’t been bendable. If I stated a belief or truism, fourteen years ago, it was written in indelible ink—leaving me no emotional ability to say, “I’ve changed my mind!” I was being held hostage by my own beliefs to opinions and ideas that no longer served me.

My life was a two-dimensional picture and I had no idea how to get to the depth of it without taking something back—saying I was wrong, admitting I was imperfect.

Five screenplays, two novels, countless blogs and short stories later, I’m happy to say that perfect ship has sailed. Writing about the lives of others has put my own life into perspective. I have a more genuine relationship with my children—who know beyond a shadow of a doubt I’m not perfect. My mother and I have never been closer. I laugh with my husband about the mistakes we’ve made (relationship, child rearing, financial), experiencing little to no shame. And I have to admit my siblings are relieved to have witnessed my swan-dive off the pedestal of perfection. In truth it was more of a belly flop. I’ve never been happier.

Am I a mess? For sure. Does being a mess help my writing? You bet! It’s a two-way street. My characters are now as fond of meas I am of them. We share a newfound love of deeply flawed people and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

britain learn english please2

In what amounts to a shot across the bow of our closest ally, the U.S. fired off a threat to the U.K. This one is over our common language.

According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the U.S. will institute a tariff on British words—hefty enough to discourage them from reaching American shores.

The problem turns on the issue of quality.

"You invented the damn language," said Pompeo. "Why can't you learn how to use it?"

The U.K.'s response was forceful but unclear. Prime Minister Theresa Maybe announced her intention to commence a "wah."

"What the hell is a "wah?" Pompeo asked? "Are they going to start building a WALL or start a WAR? Even our best interpreters can't figure it out."

Statesmen aren't the only befuddled Americans. Readers, too, have long been confused by writing from across the pond.

Mary Angelica Basquirk, head of the Society of Reading Engagement (SORE), speaks for millions of U.S. readers who despair over British-isms.

"Take the words 'colour' and 'honour'—neither rhymes with 'hour.' So why do they keep the u?" she huffed. "Webster pointed this out 200 years ago, and they still don't get it."

This time it's the Brits who are ready to toss the teabags into the harbor/harbour.

"Well and good," said Hypernia Flavenburst, U.K.'s trade secretary. "No more Jane Austen for Americans. That's it. And they'll have to do without Hardy, the Brontes, and Eliot—George, that is. They can have T.S., but only because he was American."

The BBC weighed in, as well. "If Americans ever think they'll see the likes of Downton Abbey again, more's the pity," said Sir Ian Bonbon, director of licensing. "And believe me: Maggie Smith will never set foot on U.S. telly again."

Given the seriousness of Britain's response, the administration is worried about a voter backlsh. A realignment is under consideration.

They'd better hurry though; the new Mary Poppins is about to open her brolly again in theaters/theatres across the country.

Cherie Belle Korteks, special to City Examiner
and LitLovers

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