Tag Archives: Book

I said launch, not lunch!

Fans of Bob Denver and Sid & Marty Krofft will certainly recognize the title of this post as a twist on the opening sequence of Far Out Space Nuts, a zany live-action Saturday morning ’70s sitcom featuring two NASA janitors accidentally sent into space.

Clear evidence that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to write for television.

Or write a book for that matter.

It’s launch day for my latest memoir (you knew I was going somewhere, right?): Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul is available at major booksellers worldwide.

CSH Book Front Cover Only

Back in 2017 when I was rarely writing anything here at Minnesota Transplant, I blogged everyday over at Church Sweet Home about turning an old church into a showplace home. That raw material became a book. If you’re looking for a true story about how a Minnesota native and a Bears fan turn a sow’s ear in southern Wisconsin into a silk purse, then you’ll love this book. Plus, it’s the perfect choice in the middle of a pandemic when you need to be reminded of how wonderful home can be. Here’s the official blurb:

After buying an old Methodist church to renovate into their home, a plucky fifty-something couple who gets excited by reclaimed wood and deals on Craigslist goes to work, undaunted by risks to their marital relationship, creaky bodies and bank account.

The 126-year-old structure has been stripped of pews, the altar, even the kitchen sink. The wiring is a Frankenstein mix of early 20th century knobs and tubes, copper wire and modern Romex. And the seller discloses the 40-foot bell tower is “rooted,” which the intrepid homebuyers Tyler and Monica take to mean as “rotted.” Friends wonder if there are bats in their belfry, literally and metaphorically, as the pair spends months juggling contractors of varying dependability, wandering around a thousand home improvement stores and sanding miles of wood floors, laboring to prove the doubters wrong.

Based on the real-time memoir Monica blogged by night, Church Sweet Home chronicles the amusing, exhausting and ultimately satisfying fixer-upper follies of turning a derelict community treasure into a dream home.

Given this strange COVID-19 world, I’m not having an in-person launch party. I’m throwing a virtual one! Join me for a Facebook Live book reading at my author page. One of the main characters (wink, wink) will be there, too, and we’ll be toasting with tequila (we’ll explain why, but if you had tacos for lunch because it’s Cinco de Mayo, why not tequila for happy hour?). Here are the details:

If the link doesn’t work, try searching for “MonicaLeeWriter” on Facebook to find my author page (go ahead and “like” it while you’re there).

And if you want to read the book, well you can get Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul everywhere there’s wifi.

The paperback is $12.49 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Prefer ebooks? You’re in luck. The ebook is $4.49 and available at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Kobo.

Deep, weighty and a tiny bit too dark to be a good summer read

If you want to know the meaning of the strange imagery and predictions in the book of Revelation, do not look for it in Jonathan Kirsch’s A History of the End of the World.

kirschHowever, if you’re interested the meaning one man applies to the last book in the New Testament, this is for you. Kirsch tells you want he thinks it all means, and then you get to decide if you’re buying what he’s selling.

A History of the End of the World came out in 2006, and I finally picked it up and read it because I’ve liked other works by Kirsch, namely King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel and The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible. I intend to read his biography of Moses at some point, too.

This book is a summary of the book of Revelation’s impact on history from the time it was written in the first century until now, and how all the crazies in every age have interpreted and reinterpreted the weird visions chronicled in it. Kirsch knows his Bible history and is keen to describe meanings and alternative meanings of the original language of the various books of the Bible. But his analysis of the book of Revelation is controversial. If you’re a literalist and you believe Jesus will actually come down from the clouds on a chariot, you’re not going to like A History of the End of the World.

Kirsch argues (quite convincingly) the book was written by a man named John who was not the well-known Son of Zebedee and disciple of Jesus. Instead, the author the book of Revelation was a bit of an outlier who was predicting God’s revenge on the Roman Empire, of which the John of Revelation fame was not a fan (to put it mildly). Kirsch also states very directly, and I quote, “Neither the word nor the concept of the Rapture is mentioned anywhere in Revelation.” So if you’re a believer of everything the Left Behind series espouses, you wouldn’t like Kirsch’s book either (although, after Kirsch rips apart the concept of the Rapture, I’m tempted to pick up a Left Behind book just to see what all the hubbub is about).

I’m a questioner, and I appreciate reading Kirsch’s perspective, especially on the Devil described as über evil only, according to Kirsch, in the book of Revelation. I’ll also be even more suspect of the nut cases who insist the end is coming (because, as Kirsch points out, very adamant soothsayers have been predicting that for 2,000 years and they’ve all been wrong).

In retrospect, A History of the End of the World probably wasn’t a good choice as a summer read. It was very heavy, very deep and a little bit depressing. But I’d recommend it to fellow questioners who can take a little bit of foundation rattling.

Priorities, people

Did you miss me? I know. There’s no excuse. Two weeks without a post is just evidence of sloth. Or possibly death of the author.

How to Look Hot & Feel Amazing in Your 40s: The 21-Day Age-Defying Diet, Exercise & Everything Makeover PlanWell, I’m neither lazy nor dead. I was designing my new book on InDesign, and it was a trick, I’m tellin’ ya.

But it’s complete, and I’m back. If you’re interested in hearing more about my new health-and-fitness memoir, check it out here on my author blog here. There’s even a deal there for you if you’re interested in getting yourself a copy.

We now return you to a regular blogging schedule.

Guilty pleasure

You can’t pick up a book titled “Home Wrecker I: The Chronicles” without finding a little infidelity and drama, and author Brenda Perlin delivers it was gusto and verve.

homewrecker“Home Wrecker I” tells the story of Brooklyn, a woman presented with the difficult choice of remaining loyal and lukewarm or following her heart for love and passion. Here’s the summary of her life and philosophy Brooklyn provides at the beginning of “Home Wrecker I”:

“Throughout my life, I’ve had many disappointments, survived many losses and had more than my share of sorrow. I had my expectations crushed repeatedly, yet I was still optimistic and believed there were good things to come.”

Perlin creates a compelling if not sympathetic character in Brooklyn. I felt like I was reading the private diary of one of the housewives of Orange County. Written in first person and set in southern California, this book is filed in fiction but reads more like a memoir.

The first half meanders along a bit as Brooklyn describes her early life. This is necessary back story, but it becomes a little labored. The narrative picks up in the second half when Brooke meets Bo and, unfortunately, Bo’s soon-to-be ex-wife. Much of the second half of the book reads like a legal drama, and I devoured the last 40% in a single afternoon.

I actually began reading “Home Wrecker” when it was published with a different publisher who jacked Perlin around by setting the price at such a ridiculous level, no one would ever buy it and she would never earn a dime of royalty, so I’m glad her work has found a home with Master Koda Select Publishing. You can now find “Home Wrecker I: The Chronicles” on Amazon for 99 cents, and Prime members can borrow it for free. Can’t beat that deal.

Gabaldon’s historical fiction is strangely compelling

This strange novel with its history, magic, violence and European setting reminded me a bit of an adult version of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicle of Narnia without the Christian symbolism.

outlanderI was at first skeptical of this historical fiction novel but 50 pages in, the protagonist, Claire — a World War II nurse — is caught up in a magical time warp that flings her 200 years into the past. I’m a sucker for time travel stories.

“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon, first published in 1991, is the first in what is now a seven-book series. It’s heavy on description (lots of adventure, too, but I learned an awful lot about 18th century herbal remedies, gardening and medical procedures) and should be savored for language and the journey.

Here’s a hint of the emotion and language contained in “Outlander”:

“I prayed all the way up that hill yesterday,” he said softly. “Not for you to stay; I didna think that would be right. I prayed I’d be strong enough to send ye away.”

I loved this prayer of the Scottish hero Jamie because it reminded me of a prayer I whispered when I’d heard my brother was in a car accident and though it hadn’t been confirmed, I knew in my heart he was dead.

Interspersed in the narrative are interesting and possibly controversial theories and descriptions of fidelity, meditation, the intimacy of sleep, the eternal lure of the peacefulness of the womb and the justification for corporal punishment.

I enjoyed Gabaldon’s dry humor, here displayed in a discussion about a geneologist’s enthusiasm for minutia:

I could see that in spite of outward composure, he was bursting with the glee of whatever they had found, like a small boy with a toad in his pocket. Plainly I was going to have to go and read Captain Jonathan Randall’s laundry bill, his receipt for boot repairs, or some document of similar fascination.

I’m sure part of this adult book’s enduring appeal is its graphic, sometimes sadistic descriptions of sex. For me, the language was metaphorical brilliance: “I crashed formless against him, like breakers on a rock, and he met me with the brutal force of granite, my anchor in the pounding chaos.”

Now thoroughly hooked on Claire and Jamie and their adventures surely in store, I’ll be picking up Gabaldon’s “Dragonfly in Amber.”

Inheritance from my mother: The written word

If Minnesota Transplant readers ever wonder where I got the desire to write about all things interesting and inane, you don’t have to look much farther than my mother.

I helped an author publish her book to Amazon recently (read more about that exercise here), and it reminded me how grateful I am for my mother. The book I helped publish to Amazon is titled, “Letters From Mom: A Daughter’s Journal of Healing” and it’s about how the author, Joyce Kocinski, dealt with her grief after her mother’s death. The narrative includes several letters written by her mother.

letters momThe exercise prompted me to sift through my own manila file of “Letters From Mom.”

Most of them were written pre-Facebook in her neat, entirely readable left-handed cursive. Mom still hand-writes letters to me, but now she sends missives via Facebook email quite often, including today’s message: “We received about an inch of much needed rain last night. A wildfire burned roughly 70 acres up by Menahga this week. How’s the second novel coming?”

Mom writes about all kinds of minutia in a lovely way that polishes daily activities like gardening, decorating and visiting into precious artifacts. I aspire to that art of converting the mundane into the extraordinary in this daily blog.

I appreciate Mom’s deadpan delivery, too. She makes me laugh. Here are a few comedic gems from the handwritten letters in my file.:

“Curt is in Long Prairie running this afternoon. He said he ran fast in practice yesterday. We bought something for his diarrhea. I hope it clears it up, so we don’t have to go the doctor, but we will if it doesn’t (Kay!).

For your reference, Curt was my brother, and Kay, to whom this letter was also addressed because we were living together at the time and who apparently delayed seeing a doctor, is my sister.

Here’s a note Mom wrote after I told her I was going for a hot air balloon ride:

“I trust you didn’t fall out of the balloon. Here’s a sample of the wallpaper in the bathroom, too. I’m about 3/4 of the way done.”

Sometimes she even includes pictures:

picture momPhyllis and I lay out Sunday, and I lay out Saturday alone. I have a pretty good tan and also a pretty bad sunburn in a couple of places [drawing]. That area wasn’t exposed to the sun before this summer, I suppose.

Here’s Mom telling me about her weekend. “Bob” is my dad, and “Mills” is New York Mills, a tiny town in Central Minnesota near where my parents live:

“Sunday, Bob, Gene, Kenny, Jerome, Howard, Mark and Jay went golfing at a golf course set up in Howard’s pasture by Mills. It has greens and everything, but also sheep turds. It doesn’t cost anything and isn’t a bit crowded except for the sheep.”

Mom, I treasure you!

When I can’t indulge my child, I indulge myself

Those of us without biological children have to cater to our inner child in ways parents never do.

Today, I browsed a dinosaur display, licked an ice cream cone and posed for a picture squished between my dog and my Beloved on the couch because my stepson is in town, and we were indulging him. Would I do these things without him?

Probably no.

Author Wendy McClure says as much in her book, “The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie,” in which she recounts visiting every Laura Ingalls Wilder museum from New York state to South Dakota:

“Watching the girls with their families made me think about something else, too. I knew my decision to make this trip was in some small way informed by the fact that Chris and I had decided not to have kids. In other words, I knew if I wanted to see these places, I’d have to go for myself; I wouldn’t ever be sharing the experience with a daughter, the way Little House fans often do.”

That quote is from barely a half page of description about her childlessness, but I know from experience the reasoning behind the decision to live such a lifestyle could fill a book. (For a complete review of McClure’s “The Wilder Life,” click here to be redirected to my writing blog.)

I’m thankful I don’t have to watch “Veggie Tales” or dine on the leftovers of Happy Meals, but I also don’t get to play with Barbies or live vicariously as a 4-year-old revels in the wonder of meeting Santa. If we childless people don’t make such decisions directly, we miss catching them randomly.

It makes me grateful for the opportunity to step-parent, though I missed some of the cutest experiences of children of single-digit ages.

That double-dipped ice cream cone with a teen-ager this afternoon sure was fun, though!

Lentils: It’s what’s for dinner

In honor of Meatless Monday, I pulled out my Experimental Chef hat.

Meatless Monday, if you haven’t heard of it, is a movement encouraging people to eschew meat on Mondays in the pursuit of better health, saving money and going easy on the environment.

I’m seeing people everywhere use their iPad as a contemporary cookbook, propped up on the kitchen counter top, and I decided to do that with a meatless recipe tonight, too. I tried a very different sort of recipe from microwave wizard Wancy Ganst, Hong Kong author of 18 cookbooks more than 800 recipes on Amazon Kindle.

My choice? Chestnuts and Lentils in Thai Red Curry.

A word of warning: These are authentic recipes so an American cook may need to do some conversions. For example, I needed 100 grams of chestnuts.

Well, the supermarket (even the good one with a wide selection 20 minutes from my house) didn’t have chestnuts so I used hazelnuts (recommended as a good alternative by my friend Google). As for 100 grams? It’s about 3.5 ounces but I had 2 ounces. So I used that much.

Ditto for the microwave wattage. The recipe called for an 850-watt microwave. Mine’s 1500 watts, so I microwaved for about half the time called for.

Lentils are high in fiber and protein, but they taste like sand if you don’t prepare them right. The red curry paste enhanced them deliciously — spicy but not unbearably so.

Who knew you could prepare lentils in the microwave? Wancy Ganst, I guess. Her instructions worked like a charm.

I served my Hazelnuts and Lentil Thai Red Curry sauce over Thai rice noodles with vegetarian spring rolls. Yum!

Paranormal mystery about a green suitcase was the best suitcase on this vacation

“Everything will be fine.”

On a bit of a vacation, I spent a little time this week with an “everything will be fine” mystery, “The Man With the Green Suitcase” by Dee Doanes. Get it? Vacation? Suitcase?

The green suitcase in question doesn’t carry clothes, swimwear and sandals. Instead, it’s filled with secrets and magic.

Doanes weaves together the stories of several people who cross paths with the man with the green suitcase from the title, and their lives are changed for better and for worse. Though elements of the paranormal move the story along, it’s set in Atlanta and grounded in reality (which appeals to the nonfiction fan in me). Her use of language is evocative, describing simple characters and scenes with piercing similes:

  • “He shakes hands with a man whose big gold rings on his pinky and ring finger feel like brass knuckles.”
  • “Ralph couldn’t be more than thirty, but his face is hard and rough, like it had been dragged on a sidewalk.”
  • “He sits down stiffly, like he’s waiting in a doctor’s office.”

The beauty of the language (“he ages before Gerald’s eyes like dawn creeping into morning” — isn’t that lovely?) carries to the story itself, a story about forgiveness and redemption. Plus, any book with a character who plays Scrabble is a book for me!

I was fascinated by the use of present tense throughout, which is tricky to pull off successfully. The use of present tense effectively creates closeness with the reader. Though time transitions were sometimes cumbersome (“then,” “later”), the writing was vivid and evoked a sense of immediacy. The more I read, the more hooked I became (don’t look for a tidy ending however).

Like me, Doanes is an independent author, too, and I appreciated one of the lessons of her book was similar to mine:

“A big secret is a big burden.”

We’ll be right back after this message …

And now, a word from our sponsor (as a struggling writer with next to no income right now, I mean this quite literally).

(Listen,  I know you tune into Minnesota Transplant for pictures of my dog, stories of my exploits in the 1983 Pace Arrow and strange recipes, but into every bit of entertainment, a little advertising must fall.)

* * *

Many of you know me as Beloved, Da hubby or Monica Lee’s partner.

I am not a writer, and I promise that you won’t be seeing my writing on much of anything unless you own a company and need insurance coverage. I have a special request! While my beloved, a.k.a. Monica, has a beautiful way of expressing herself and all of you find her writings interesting (I do, too!), I am asking you a favor.

Someone out here in the blog world/friend circle/interested party universe has a connection. What I am asking of you is to take 5 minutes out of your busy day, sit back in your chair and think about who you know. It may be a friend of a friend, your aunt, your minister’s wife or a coworker’s husband. This person knows someone in the media — newspaper, radio or television — that might put “The Percussionist Wife,” Monica Lee’s book in the right hands of that media contact.

All of you know that Monica’s got something special here, and most of you know she’s not one to boast about much of anything. Modesty and warmth are two of her most admirable qualities. Her book is gaining traction, sales are brisk, interviews have started, but it has a resume similar to a new college graduate finding a job: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know to get the job.

I know that one or many of you know someone — that person could help — and I would personally be deeply in debt to you for your help. Monica won’t ask, and I basically forced her to post this on her blog, but I felt compelled to ask. If I could figure out how to do it behind her back I would.

It’s exciting times for her. As I watched her write this book, bring it to the book it is, it was like watching her come to full-term and wash away a painful piece of her past. Her excitement now comes from it becoming popular, the uplifting comments for a job well done and the joy it brings knowing that she’s help someone to review their own life decision and make a change for the better if necessary. I get great joy in being a part of her growth and “the book” has been a big part of our lives during the last couple of years.

Will you please take the moment I ask for and send her a name,an email address or phone number of the person you know.

Gratefully requested, Tyler, a.k.a. Beloved