I probably will never need to buy another book. I’m a popular reviewer. When I worked at Doubleday, I was extremely popular there, too. Probably because I read the books. So many reviewers don’t read the books they review. You can tell when you read their reviews that all they did was skim the first couple of pages and work from the publisher’s summaries. TV critics seem to be doing the same thing these days. Sometimes movie reviewers, too. It’s why we read a book or see a movie, then check reviews and wonder if it’s the same book or movie.

english-writersI remember at Doubleday I would discover that the publisher’s summary was factually wrong. Wrong names for major characters. Wrong relationships between characters. Incorrect plot description. It was clear whoever wrote the summary had not read the book.

So … who did read the book? Did anyone read it? That was in the mid 1970s, when most people did read, at least sometimes. Now? Does anyone read books before they are published, and has the reviewers read the books they are praising or panning?

Until this year, I was a judge for a major book award. I did it for more than a decade. It started out as fun. You’d get a bunch of books, read, review, and rate them, picking a few to move on to the finals. A few years ago, they started sending me more books … so many I could not possibly read even half of them in the allotted time. Last year, I think I had almost 100 books to judge with an average of more than 300 pages per book. And just five weeks to read them all.

It was hopeless. A couple of books were more than 500  pages. These were books that needed considerable stage-setting before the story began. Depending on genre, authors may devote a couple of hundred pages to explaining how their world works. If there’s magic. Rules of the physical world. Some geography. Who and what gods are extant — or were. What languages are spoken. A bit of history, so characters don’t walk onto an empty stage.

Tolkien was a genius at world-building, which is why he remains the gold standard for the fantasy genre.


If you only have an hour to give each book you’re judging, how can you, in good faith, even get a sense of what the book is about, much less if it’s good? Were you to put J.R.R. Tolkien to this test, you’d never get out of Hobbiton. More than 300 pages of Lord of the Rings is geography, language, history, and demographics.

All history books require substantial background, as do historical novels and time-travel books that are historical novels in science fiction garb. A lot of writers use “the wormhole in time” to get readers to be “in the time” rather than looking back at it. It’s been a popular ploy for generations.

quill penSo this year, I said no to judging. It wasn’t fair to the authors to judge them without giving them a proper reading. I have to wonder how many other “awards” are done this way, with over-burdened judges who have too many books or whatever to review without adequate time in which to do it. I’m sure I was not the only one who got down to the wire and was unable to even skim several books before “judging them.” I wouldn’t do it again.

For all of these reasons, I’m diligent about reviewing books — or anything else. I’m not getting paid and reviews won’t make me famous or rich. They won’t even buy me a quick meal at Mickey D’s. But it is a big deal to authors. Reviews make or break books, even for established authors.

I suspect all authors are perpetually being judged. Reviewed. Each book is a trial by fire. A book doesn’t sell and suddenly, your publisher forgets your name. The industry wants nothing to do with a failing author. Even if you have written a string of major best-sellers, you are only as good as the sales figures of your most recently published volume.

I doubt any of the great authors of the past would thrive under these conditions. Can you imagine Hemingway doing his own PR? Or Capone? Can you imagine Shakespeare dealing with focus groups and fighting for his contract to be renewed?

75-BookStory HPCR-1

So I do my bit. Not for money or glory, or even for the authors, who I love. I do it because if no one cares about the quality of books being published, eventually it will all be pulp and garbage. There will be classics from days of yore and nothing new worth reading.

I have had people tell me I’m stupid for doing so much work for free, but authors don’t have money — and publishers won’t pay. Even successful authors — unless Hollywood has bought their books — aren’t financially secure. Maybe Stephen King and Michael Crichton don’t have to worry about where the next check will come from, but every other author I know — and at this point, I know more than a few — are scraping by. Many still keep their day jobs because there are mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

You have to love writing for its own sake. As a profession, authoring is a hard and rocky road. Glory and riches come to few.  Maybe publishers get rich. I hope someone is making money, because as far as I can tell, most authors don’t.


Me in Obfelden

Martha Kennedy

Why do you have a typo in the title of your novel? Shouldn’t there be an apostrophe?

There’s no typo. There is a path through the forest that is very important to the story, and its name is The Brothers. The novel takes its name from the path. The Brothers Path.

Switzerland is far away. Why don’t you write about your own country?

The events in The Brothers Path were the opening shots that led to many Swiss leaving Switzerland 200 years later. The Reformation was the beginning.

Several hundred thousand Swiss have emigrated to America over the centuries. Some of the earliest settlers were Amish and Mennonite Swiss who came here so they could freely practice their religion. That’s where The Brothers Path might touch home for many Americans and stimulate curiosity about their own ancestry.

The family that populates The Brothers Path is based on my own family, people I didn’t even know about until four or five years ago. Two of the brothers named in this story are mentioned in Swiss historical records as having been in these places at these times. I don’t want to say more and spoil the story.

The sixteenth century was a long time ago.

True, but America was already being settled by then. The Protestant Reformation — which seems like it was long, long ago and far, far away — would actually be the force that led to mass colonization during the 18th century. After 200 years of persecution all over Europe, a lot of those people were willing to risk their lives to get out of there.

Are there historical figures in the novel?

Yes. There are leaders of the Swiss Reformation, predominately Huldrych Zwingli, and early leaders of Anabaptism, Felix Manz and Pilgram Marpeck.

How come I never heard of them?

The history we learn in the US is very England-centered even though England was only one country in which all this chaos was going on and only one of the countries from which people were emigrating. My research led to one shocking, eye-opening revelation after another.

You write about Christianity. Are you a Christian?

I was raised Baptist. My grandmother — the one with the Swiss ancestry — was probably raised Mennonite. Other than that, I believe (and my belief has been intensified by the research I’ve done for my novels) ones religion is about as personal as anything can get. Like my Anabaptist ancestors, I believe that religion and government should be separate, that taking up arms against another is wrong, and that an individual’s faith is between that person and God.

Who has influenced your writing?

Truman Capote has had the biggest influence on my writing style; in fact, he is the force that awakened me to the idea of style. I learned so much from reading Capote’s stories and from his discussions about writing. I write about some heavy topics and because

  1. I don’t want to tell my readers what to think, and
  2. I want my characters to live their own lives in the world that is between the covers of my book, I believe a minimalist style that is heavy on dialogue makes that happen best. I don’t want to come between my readers and the story.

What’s your process as a writer?

I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes I start from a scene that is particularly vivid in my imagination. The Brothers Path began with a scene in the middle of the book when Thomann and Andreas are in Zürich, and Felix Manz is about to be executed.


The story radiated from that moment. I like it best when I know how a story will end. Then I can write toward the ending. The most difficult part of a story is the beginning. It can’t just “begin.” It has to hook the reader and that is something beyond just “starting” a story.

The Brothers Path has a lot of characters with difficult, German names. Weren’t you worried that readers would be confused?

I respect the intelligence of my readers. I think they can handle the names of six brothers in one family. The brothers were real people and the names they have in The Brothers Path are their real names and they each have very distinct personalities. I also organized the chapters with a brother’s name and the year of the events as a chapter title to help people follow the story more easily.

How many revisions did you do for The Brothers Path?

I have no idea. The fact is, I revise constantly. The novel is a kind of organic life form that crawls toward a uniform finished state. I like revision, however. For me, revision is the REAL writing. That’s where an author can go in and make the words, the sentences, the dialogue, the description what they really WANT it to be. It’s my favorite part.

Proofreading, though, is difficult for me because I’m dyslexic. When I think I have a finished story, I usually share it with a couple of friends for comments. Then I revise. Then I hire a professional editor, Beth Bruno, with whom I’ve worked on two novels. We work well together. Professional editing is a critically important step in the process for me, and it’s another revision.

72-The Bros Path Cover PromoThe world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

martha-at-the-jungfraujochMartha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression by going on Crusade. Her newest novel, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same family three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly. 

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language.

For many years she lived in the San Diego area, most recently in Descanso, a small town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. She has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley with her three dogs.

You may also enjoy these articles by Martha Kennedy:






According to the dictionary, an elegant solution is as follows:

“Refinement and simplicity are implied, rather than fussiness, or ostentation. An elegant solution, often referred to in relation to problems in disciplines such as mathematics, engineering, and programming, is one in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort.”

I’m all about elegant solutions. I would add “least expensive” to “smallest, or simplest” because for me, elegant includes not having to buy it on credit.

Today, my elegant solution was delivered from the Microsoft store.


It is a NuVision 32GB Windows 10 tablet. It cost (minimally on sale) $99 with free shipping.

I need some kind of compact tablet that can do email, a bit of blogging, and make an occasional typo correction. And listen to audiobooks. Not just the audiobooks in my library — all you can do on a Kindle.

I am one a judge for the Audies, kind of the Emmys for audiobooks. The genre I’m judging varies from year to year, but books for judges live in a separate judges library. Which I can’t get to using my Kindle. I can, of course, get there on this laptop, but I don’t always want to haul the whole laptop with me to listen to a book.

I looked at the iPad Mini, but that’s a lot of money for something I am not going to use a lot. I looked at the Galaxy S and liked it, but it’s also pricey. There are full size computers available for the same (sometimes lower) prices. I was all set to order the Galaxy because I also have a Galaxy phone and the two would be able to communicate … and I know how the system works, more or less.

Then, I saw this. The NuVision Windows 10 tablet. I wanted to give Win10 a run anyway and see if I can live with it. Because if I can’t, my next computer will be a Mac. Yeah, I know, but Microsoft is going in directions I don’t like, making everything proprietary. Meanwhile, this tablet has all the stuff you expect a tablet to have … except the big price tag. My kind of elegant solution.

The Windows 8 and 10 user interfaces are butt ugly. From a design point of view, I don’t think there’s a less attractive user interface anywhere. It’s also awkward and counter-intuitive. Win10 is not quite as awful as Win8, but Windows 7 is so much better in every way. I still don’t understand why they are off in this direction and why, even in this direction, they can’t make the interface smoother, more intuitive, and easier to understand. And less ugly.

There are also nasty rumors about Microsoft’s plans to make using their operating system a “rental” rather than letting you own it. I flat-out will not do it. I refuse. That’s my line in the sand.


So, for now, my elegant solution is an 8″ Windows 10 NuVision tablet that — much to my surprise — works. After it finished installing updates, it settled down and did whatever I want. Cortana, the assistant … well. It think it’s  the replacement for Clippie, the aggravating know-it-all dancing paperclip. And about as useful.

The Win10 interface is not happy on an 8″ screen. It wants more real estate. However. With some sleight of hand and on-screen juggling, you can get it to do what you want. I’m sure with a bit more practice, I’ll be doing everything without any conscious thought.

I also managed to pair a small blue-tooth speaker to it. I’ve had this speaker for a while. It would not pair with my computer. Absolutely would not recognize it as a computer. Insisted it’s a pair of headphones and remained silent. It also thinks the tablet is a pair of headphones, but it plays anyhow. Which is fortunate because whatever it is that passes for speakers in this tablet should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m pretty sure this will do the job I need done and let me see if I can live with this operating system. I’m not ready to give it a thumbs up or down yet, though i will say that for $99, this is a nice little tablet. It has pretty much everything you want a tablet to have (except usable speakers). Nice screen resolution. No one makes a proper case for it, but for the price, I’ll live without one.

The virtual keyboard is much more responsive than the one on any of my Kindles or my phone and praise the lord … there’s NO AUTOCORRECT!

I’ll let you know how it goes.



I have loved every book Gretchen Archer has written, but with Double Knot, she has outdone herself.


Hearkening back to classic mystery writers of earlier decades, Double Knot is a taut, complex, witty, smart mystery with twists and turns that will keep you guessing … while keeping you charmed and amused. Although the characters are sometimes thoroughly wacky, the story has many serious points to make.

Breast cancer and its ravages and survivors. The relationship between mothers and daughters. The vulnerabilities of security in the real world. Tension builds from page one to the final word on the last page. I was not ready for the book to end. I wanted it to go on for many more pages.

This is the book in which Davis Way becomes fully realized. Gains dimensions you knew were there, but had never been revealed. Emotional issues she must face and work through. With her mother along for the ride, it’s time for both to confront their shared past and the painful secrets they have feared to acknowledge. They do it all under the most terrifying circumstances and with everything … life and death … at stake.


In Double Knot, Ms. Archer has dived into deep water. If, like me, you’ve been wondering “Who is Davis … really?”- this is your golden opportunity to find out.

This is no mere caper. Surviving this will require every ounce of Davis’s creativity, intelligence, training, and techno-savvy. She’s going to have to use it all to save her own life and the lives of those she loves.


Gretchen Archer’s ability to create an intricate story is hugely augmented by her ability allow her characters to evolve, develop previously unsuspected depths.

The story is not merely exciting, complex, and deliciously edgy, it’s also poignant and heartfelt.

Do NOT miss this one!

DOUBLE KNOT is available in hard copy, paperback, Audible, and for all eReaders


I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 12.1 MP Digital Camera with CMOS Sensor and 24x Optical Zoom from Adorama in September 2014. It cost me $457 two years ago and you can buy the same camera on Amazon today for $100 less. Since I bought this camera, it has been a constant companion. It isn’t my only camera, not by far, but it is my most versatile camera. If I’m unsure which camera or lens I may need — or I don’t want to haul a lot of equipment — this is the camera I choose.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

I have a lot of equipment, both cameras and lenses — and I use them. But this particular camera remains a favorite. Simply put, it’s a keeper.

The Leica lens on this camera is spectacular. Not only does it go from moderately wide to amazingly long (in 35mm terms, 24mm to 600mm), but it delivers surprisingly good quality throughout its range.

It’s fast, too … f2.8 all the way, beginning to end. Amazing for a super-zoom. The camera focuses quickly, recycles fast. It has a good  built-in viewfinder and  flexible LCD screen. It has more controls and refinements than I will ever use. Some, I don’t even know what they do and probably will never bother to find out.

In the gallery of birds, most of these were taken from a considerable distance. The herons were on the other side of the river. The birds were a long way away and I was hanging out my bathroom window to take the pictures. Guess which camera I used? You betcha!

Does it give me the same quality as my best Olympus lenses? Not quite, but surprisingly close. In any case, I could never afford a telephoto lens of this quality for my Olympus rig. Not that Olympus makes a comparable lens.

If you need a super-zoom camera and you don’t have megabucks to spend, this is the camera to buy. There are newer models available — but none of the newer ones are better. Some have a longer zoom, but all the longer lenses are slower and not as sharp. This remains best-of-breed. I paid about $100 more for this camera in 2014 than it’s selling for now on Amazon. I have never felt I overpaid. I haven’t checked prices elsewhere, but it isn’t a the latest model, so you won’t find it everywhere.

If I have any criticism to make, it’s that the batteries don’t last as long as I would wish. If you use the zoom a lot, you need to have spare batteries. I have four and more wouldn’t be out of line.

It’s a great camera. If you are trying to decide between this and one of the newer Panasonic super-zoom models? Buy this one. It’s a better camera. It’s a bit big, a bit clunky, and wonderful.

I hope it lasts forever. So far, so good.

NOTE TO FRIENDS: We’re gone for the day. My cousins are in town, so we’ll be away until evening. Catch up with all of you tomorrow or late tonight! Have fun. We’re going to try, too.


Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. I finished it last night. Each time I read it — this is the 5th or 6th time — I learn something new. It is one of those books that doesn’t get old. Always funny, always wise. And always worth the effort and time.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no discernible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, other sheep do. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A very few will walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, it comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.


This is part two about Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Where To Invade Next.” In the movie, Moore travels around the world and reports about something wonderful from each country he visits. Last week, I wrote about the great working conditions for middle class Italians and Germans. Here I’m going to talk about some elements of the educational systems in Finland and France.

Michael M poster2

Apparently Finland had a mediocre education system in the 1970’s. It ranked 29th in the world along with the United States. The Finns decided to make some extreme changes in their K-12 system and over the years they have worked their way up to Number 1 in the world in quality of education. We are still Number 29.

What did Finland do that worked so well? For one, they cut school hours and days back and now they have the shortest school week and school year. Yet they are Number 1 in performance. They also cut some other things – homework and standardized tests. This would be anathema in the U.S. But in Finland, the education system is now based on the premise that the best way to educate kids is to let them be kids. It is believed that kids need plenty of down time to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

They also need to spend time playing with others to learn social skills and coöperation. Experimenting with music and art, baking, sports, carpentry, etc. are considered important parts of the curriculum. Why? Because they help kids discover what they like to do and what makes them happy. And that is the primary goal of Finnish teachers – to produce well-rounded and well-adjusted kids who have the ability to make themselves and others happy in life. It seems to be working. Remember, these kids tested highest of any country in the world.

Michael M FInland

Another amazing fact about the Finnish school system is that every school in the country is the same. There is no shopping around for good school districts. Private schools are prohibited so the wealthy have to make sure that every single public school is up to the standards they want for THEIR children. I understand that this is possible to achieve in a small, relatively homogenous population like Finland but is probably impossible to achieve in America. Nevertheless, the achievement is life changing for the Finns and truly enviable.

The French also have something awesome in their curriculum that made my jaw drop. Lunch. For all French children, even in the poorest school districts, lunch is a gourmet affair and a big part of the school day. Teachers and kids eat together around large tables set with actual china and glassware. Lunch is a full hour and consists of four courses – an appetizer, an entrée, a cheese course fit for a fancy restaurant and a dessert. Water is served with the meal (French kids rarely drink Coke.) The food is served at the tables to the children by the cafeteria staff. The dishes are all well-balanced and look and sound like they are from Michelin Star restaurants. Yet the food budgets in French schools are similar to school lunch budgets here. They do not spend more money than we do.

Michael M France

The faculty talked about the importance of teaching children what a balanced diet is and to be particular about what they put in their mouths. What a concept! No wonder the French have lower obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes than we do. No wonder they grow up into discerning foodies who see food as a sensual and enjoyable, as well as a necessary part of life. I don’t blame the average American as much now for being a food troglodyte – where are they supposed to learn anything about nutrition, vegetables or balanced meals? Certainly not in American schools. Good food is a major part of French culture. Fast Food is a major part of ours. Why should our schools be different than the rest of the society?

Michael Moore’s documentary gave me great hope for the world. Problems that we see as insurmountable, someone else has solved. Things that we think can’t be changed, have been changed for the better somewhere else. Moore shows that humans are capable of great things when the climate is right.

Opening minds is the salvation for the world – one issue at a time, one country at a time.