What are you reading?

What are you reading? This question was posed in a  comment on an earlier blog, and I promised to respond. As I told her, I’m an eclectic reader — which only means I will read anything, even the back of a cereal box if nothing else is handy.

It’s a tough question, so I went to my bag o’ books that I toted home from my last library visit. Here’s what I found:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (almost finished)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (recommended!)

To Die But Once by Jacqeuline Winspear (yes, I’m a fan of Maisie Dobbs)

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Circe by Madeline Miller

I haven’t read the last two yet, so no comments.

Then there are the two books on my schedule for my book clubs. One club is reading The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I have it on order. The other club is reading See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I may take this one to the beach with me next week.

Speaking of the beach, my favorite beach read authors are Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary

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Alice Monroe, Elin Hilderbrand, Barbara Delinsky, Susan Mallery, and Debbie Macomber. I have probably left out a few.

I also love big, sweeping historical novels by Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford, Philippa Gregory, Colleen McCullough, and Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon is my all-time favorite. History, romance and paranormal all in one. My kind of book. The TV series is the only one I ever felt compelled to buy. I could watch them over and over, and no, it’s not all Jamie.

As for mysteries, give me Anne Perry or Elizabeth George any time. If I see their name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, it’s in my hands immediately.

Of course there are many others. And, I like to try new authors by browsing Book Bub and Ereader News Today. (I like the solid feel of print books, but also the convenience and portability of my Kindle.)

I also read biographies and other non-fiction. My son let me borrow SPQR by Mary Beard. It isn’t a book you read all in once sitting. But I am slowly getting through it.

And where do I put Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, and Pat Conroy? Also favorites.

After The Prince of Tides, I wrote Conroy a gushing letter telling him how much I loved it. I had never written a fan letter before and didn’t expect an answer. But he sent me a postcard from Rome where he and his family were staying while he worked on his second book. It was a picture of the hotel where they were staying and he even marked the window of the room they were staying in. I still have it somewhere.

So that’s what I read. Anything, even the history of ancient Rome, which is interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I won’t put it down in favor of something a little (ahem!) sexier.

And, in parting, if you are looking for something to read this summer, hop on over to my place and browse the shelves. You may find something you like.







Presto! Presto?

I’m a novelist, but on occasion I am inspired to write a short story. I was looking though my files recently and found this one.  Unlike my novels, my short stories tend to be dark. I don’t know why this is … maybe another part of my sub-conscience wanting its turn?

Presto! Presto?

By Sandra Bruney

Heeding the advice of her mother, Helen had followed the same format for Timmy’s birthdays ever since she had invited Fat Margaret to his first.  One child for each year, Mrs. Owens had said, and so far it had worked like a charm. On his second birthday, she invited Fat Margaret and Benny next door, and on his third she had added Leroy Strunk from nursery school. From then on, Timmy had chosen his own guests and, without her urging, always invited those who had attended the year before.

On this birthday, nine children eagerly awaited the promised festivities. Fat Margaret, who had been so chubby even her dimples had dimples, was now as slender as a reed and a head taller than Timmy.  Susan Givens’ parents had moved away six months ago, allowing Timmy to invite the twins, Alex and Andy, from his Cub Scout den.

Helen had hired a magician, only later wondering if the entertainment would be too tame for children recently introduced to electronic adventures of Mario and Donkey Kong.  She had more second thoughts when he arrived, clearly past retirement age, his costume faded and shabby.

She needn’t have worried: he took control immediately, corralling the guests in a circle and leaning over Timmy to exchange a few words to the birthday boy. Timmy beamed and nodded to whatever the magician had said, and then they settled down.

Magus the Magnificent took a Kennedy half dollar from Leroy Strunk’s ear and pulled yards of gaudy silk ribbon from Fat Margaret’s pocket. He even produced a docile Belgian rabbit from his top hat. He handed it to Helen, who stroked the soft fur.

“Now,” he said at last, “for my grand finale and most famous trick. I need a volunteer.” He looked about with an inquiring expression.

“Me! Me!” the children cried but, not surprisingly, he pointed to Timmy, who jumped up as if on springs.

“I will hold out my cape,” Magus the Magnificent declared in his deep voice, “and when I refold it, Timmy will have disappeared into another realm.”

Leroy Strunk looked frankly disbelieving and one of the twins snorted.

The magician held out his cloak, effectively hiding the guest of honor.  “Abracadabra! Presto!” he said, and pulled the cloak back to his body.

Timmy, as promised, had disappeared.

“Now bring him back so we can have cake,” Fat Margaret commanded.

Magus smiled and held out his cloak again. “Abracadabra! Presto!” he said triumphantly. He whirled the cloak about his body with a flourish.

Timmy was not there.

Two or three of the children giggled uncertainly. Magus looked vexed and said in a loud voice, “We will try one more time.” Again, the cloak was extended, the words intoned.

No Timmy.

Helen stood up, dumped the rabbit from her lap. “Timmy? Come on out. This isn’t funny,” she ordered.

Magus muttered, “He was supposed to hide behind the drapes and then come out when I held out the cloak the second time. I’m certain he understood how the trick worked.”

But Timmy was not behind the billowing drapes Helen had so proudly installed only a few months ago, nor was he behind the wing chair or the dining room doors. He was nowhere to be found, in the house or outside.

Helen called Roger and told him to come home from his office, where he had decided to wait out the party. She then called the children’s parents to come and collect them. And then, she called the police.

The children were questioned together and separately, but none of them could provide a clue. Magus, who in reality was Dominic Vasco, was questioned at length at police headquarters, but in the end they had to let him go. He had violated no law except, perhaps, one of metaphysics and they did not know how to charge him with that.

Volunteers spent a week searching the house and grounds, then the neighborhood and its perimeter. No trace of Timmy was ever found.

During the first year after his disappearance, calls came from all over the country. Timmy had been sighted at Disney World, at a shopping mall in Erie, Pennsylvania, at the top of the Empire State building. None of the boys was Timmy.

Unable to stand the look of puzzled grief in Helen’s eyes, Roger asked for a divorce and a transfer to his company’s west coast office. Helen never saw or heard from him again.

Fat Margaret got married and Leroy Strunk was killed in Desert Storm. The twins created a dotcom company and were almost as rich as Bill Gates.

Helen kept their letters, always sent around the date of Timmy’s birthday, in a special drawer in the rosewood desk in her bedroom. And on his birthday, she sat in her empty living room and whispered to herself, “Abacadraba! Presto!” hoping that this time when she opened her eyes her son would be standing, grinning at his cleverness, in front of her.

When realities collide

My days are still spent at the rehab center with Jim, so I am cheating and also doing some Shameless Self-Promotion by sharing an excerpt from “A Question of Time.” Nathan has been propelled from 1898 Washington, D.C., in which the United States is a monarchy, to Times Square in 1960. He learns that the currency there isn’t all that has changed.

Nathan retraced his steps. Minutes later he was seated on a round stool in front of a long bar. The day’s fare was scrawled on a chalkboard attached to the wall. When an oversized woman in a dirty white apron asked for his order, he managed to say, “Bacon, eggs, coffee, and toast,” as if he ordered such fare every day for his dinner.

“How ya want yer eggs?”


Pushing a cup in his general direction, the woman poured a stream of coffee into it. “Cream?”

“No, thank you.” Nathan took a sip. It was dark and rich and steadied his nerves. While he waited for his meal, he surreptitiously removed the bills from his pocket. Two of them pictured a gaunt-faced, bearded man on one side and the number five. The other had, to his astonishment, a likeness of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Exchequer. In that moment, he felt histories collide. No, collide was the wrong word. They brushed by each other, touching briefly and then hurtling onward on their separate paths.

The food filled his belly and he accepted another cup of coffee, more for its warmth than anything else. He gave the waitress one of his five-dollar bills and received some coins and another bill in exchange. This one had a picture of General Washington on it. So currency in the future featured heroes of the past, although he wouldn’t have considered Hamilton a hero. Political figures, then?

“Gotta problem?”

“No, I just—” He held out the bill and the other five. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with your currency. I recognize General Washington, but this man…” He let his words end in a question.

“Abraham Lincoln. President during the Civil War.”

Civil War? He filed this fact away. “And Hamilton? Was he a president?”

“Nah. Him and Benjamin Franklin on the hundred-dollar bill weren’t presidents. Grant was a president. He was president after the Civil War. You’ve heard of him?”

“No, but I know Franklin was an inventor.”

“Grant’s on the fifty-dollar bill. I never seen any bills higher than the hundred. Say, where ya from, anyway?” Her eyes lit with curiosity. “We get a lot of furrin tourists. Last week we had a whole party of Japs. Never ate a scrambled egg in their lives. Ya shulda heard ’em cluck, like a brood of hens.” She tittered.


He stood and touched the space where his hat brim should have been. “Thank you. Good evening.” He tucked the bills into his waistcoat pocket and left the coins on the counter, not knowing if tipping was still a custom. If not, she would think him absentminded, at best.

H.G. Wells was right

Time travel novels have been around for a while, even before H.G. Wells wrote “The Time Machine” in 1895. I didn’t plan on writing a time travel novel because, well, because there are such a lot of them lately, mostly involving Scotsmen wearing kilts. And not wearing much else.

Don’t misunderstand, I am an ardent fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Love it.

I also enjoyed Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn’s “Forward to Camelot” which involves a young woman going back to 1963, thinking she is to retrieve the bible used for Johnson’s swearing in on Air Force One. She quickly discovers her real purpose is to prevent Kennedy’s assassination and it’s an interesting story that kept me up until the wee hours.

Then there’s the short story about the man who travels back to Cretaceous Era on a safari to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex. All has been carefully orchestrated to minimize any impact, but when the man returns, he finds everything has changed. The reason: he accidentally stepped on a butterfly. (The story is called “A Sound of Thunder” if you want to look it up.) The “butterfly effect” is now a recurring theme in time-travel literature.

Sloate and Finn follow the rules of time travel by avoiding paradox — the heroine cannot travel back to any time in which she exists, but she is the right age to go back to 1963 since she wasn’t — won’t be– born until 1964. However, the authors use the butterfly effect to deliberately alter the future.

My hero (A Question of Boundaries, A Question of Loyalty) has the ability to travel in time, but has no concept of how to use it. As a child he used his gift to witness events, much like we would read a book. Later, it is an escape mechanism. In the third book (which is in the second-draft stage right now) he realizes the “gift” is actually a curse and although he has perfected his talent, he rightly refuses to use it because he fears that the least thing he might do in the future will affect the past–where his wife and child reside.

Yes, it’s a little backwards. I’ve always been that way.

Still, what with reading and writing time travel, it was to my mind purely a fun thing and nothing to do with reality. Until I read about physicist Ron Mallett, who is really and truly building a time machine.

Yes, that’s right. And when you read his theory, it begins to look not only possible, but that it might happen in this century.

A case of life imitating art, you might say.

I don’t know what will happen to paradoxes and butterfly effects, but it appears that we will find out soon.

Maybe very soon.




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