Monthly Archives: February 2017

Power of choice, forgiveness at the heart of new novel by Margaret Locke

I’m excited to offer this book review of my friend Margaret Locke’s third novel. A romance author, she writes strong female leads who are hoping for a second chance at love — and in life. Enjoy!


In this third installment of the Magic of Love series, author Margaret Locke continues an epic adventure of love and time travel, made possible through the magic of writing. 

The cover of

The cover of “A Scandalous Matter,” by Margaret Locke

Having read Locke’s first two books, I think this is a fitting third chapter.

In the first one, A Man of Character, bookstore owner Catherine Schreiber discovers she has the power to write real life love connections when she realizes she’s been unknowingly dating men she wrote into existence years ago.

In the second book, A Matter of Time, Cat’s best friend Eliza James has a second chance at love when Cat writes her a love connection with a duke in 1812 England.

The third book, A Scandalous Matter, brings the story full circle by sending Eliza’s new sister-in-law Amara Mattersley to the bookshop to live with Cat and forge a new life for herself in 21st-century America.

Though it isn’t necessary to read the first two books before this one (each book can stand alone as its own story), I think it’s probably more fun reading them in order.

Amara, we learned in Book 2, is quite a spitfire, so it’s fun following her into the future (our present) and watching her discover the wonders of things like indoor plumbing and refrigeration.

But Amara doesn’t come to the future for its technological advances. She comes to escape the oppression of scandal that has ruined her chances at love and happiness in her own era. She wants independence, she wants an education previously reserved only for the men in her life, and most importantly she wants a second chance in a place where society’s cruel expectations aren’t (usually) as damning as they are in Georgian England.

Thankfully, Amara gets all she’s looking for and more as she finds a sympathetic friend in Cat, an unexpected love interest in university professor Matthew Goodson, and a new world of opportunity in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It’s a fun little story of love and independence — but its real magic is in how it actually achieves so much more than that.

This book offers a wonderful social commentary on the way things have — and maybe haven’t —  changed over the last 200 years, but I love its largely optimistic view on life and our seemingly infinite number of opportunities for forgiveness and the chance to make things right.

In the 1800s, Amara made one foolish choice to sleep with a man she thought was going to propose to her — who turned out to be married already — and for years afterward she was slut-shamed by her social circle. Even worse, she can’t forgive herself. But in 2016, Amara learns that mistakes don’t have to define us, and that women, though maybe not as equal to men in society’s view as they would like to be, can still in many ways “have it all.”

This offers a remarkable juxtaposition for the reader to experience through someone like Amara — a forward-thinking young woman who’s just escaped a world that viewed her as little more than property. While we in the 21st century can, reasonably, find ways to mourn how long it’s taken for women to make it this far — earning the right to vote in 1920, but still, nearly 100 years later, unable to secure equity in the workplace — Amara celebrates that here, in contemporary America, she has access to a world-class education; she can choose, without shame, whether or not to marry; and she can be master of her own future — whatever challenges life throws at her.

It’s a refreshing reminder of all we have accomplished, regardless of how far we might still have to go. But maybe most stunning of all is how this novel calls to action any woman who feels pigeonholed into one path in life because of the choices she’s made.

Tomorrow is a new day, Locke tells us through her characters. It may not feel like it now, but the sun will come up. And when it does, we all get to decide what we’re going to do next — who we’re going to be and how we might challenge ourselves on to greater things.

Because here in 2017, women can do anything.

But more importantly, they have the choice.


A Scandalous Matter, by Margaret Locke, is available at Amazon or at www.margaretlocke.com.

My rating: Five Stars

Full disclosure: Margaret Locke and I are members of the Shenandoah Valley Writers, and I was a beta reader for this book before it was published. She gave me a free unedited copy to read, and, in thanks, she also gave me a free published copy. However, I did purchase the Kindle edition. As a beta reader, I offered her edits and opinions I thought would help her in completing her book. After publication, I read the book a second time before reviewing it.

I am planning a second review for Goodreads and Amazon in the next couple days that focuses more on the plot and characters, and less on the book’s themes.

This review is my own opinion of a book that I realized, while attempting to write a review, deserved a deeper look at its themes of love and self-forgiveness, and its commentary on society. I had already, before beginning my review, planned on giving this book five stars based on its plot alone, as I felt this is the best of Locke’s books so far.

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A world of subtext in SNL sketch

I’ve been more than a little obsessed with last Saturday’s SNL sketch depicting Kellyanne Conway and CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Normally I’ll watch a sketch once — or if it’s really good, twice. I think I’ve watched this one 15 or 20 times. So, yeah, not normal.

If you haven’t seen it yet, view it below. If you have seen it, watch it again.

I think what works so well here  – besides the nods to Fatal Attraction and Death Becomes Her – is that the characters’ motivations make the startling escalation so believable.

Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne is so desperate to get back on the news, she’s willing to up her game each time Beck Bennett’s Jake refuses her – eventually resorting to assault and death threats.

Jake wants her to accept his decision not to allow her on his show, and he’s willing to give her some latitude if it lets her accept the truth on her own without him having to force some sort of result. But reasoning with her is futile, and ultimately he’s forced to give in to her demands.

But that’s only one level of this story. Another level pits them against each other on opposite sides of a public war.

Jake is a journalist and Kellyanne is counselor to the president – and not just any president, but one who’s highly suspicious of the media.

You can see the weight of that truth come into play at minute 1:15, when Jake wants to remove himself from Kellyanne’s grasp. He lifts his right hand but seems to think better of the action. He realizes he can’t place hands on her, even in a defensive move, and risk the possible outcome – like, say, any assault charges she might bring against him should this exchange get any more physical.

Maybe it’s a stretch that Jake considers all the potential outcomes of his actions in the span of a second. And, yes, his hand raise could be merely a gesture of frustration.

But he does it again at minute 2:08, when Kellyanne catches him on his way to the front door and shoves him against the wall in a one-handed choke hold. He lifts his left hand as if to stop her, but resists the urge – at least until she lowers her hand and he can kind of brush her away rather than push or grab at her.

It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it explains why he seemingly lets her get away with so much. She’s a small woman. He could have easily guided her by the shoulders and attempted to shove her out the door. (He doesn’t know she has a second knife hidden on her.)

But he doesn’t throw her out, maybe in part because he’s a decent guy or he’s just so overwhelmed in the moment. But I think it’s also because he can’t risk the possible hellstorm she could rain down on him. She has an office at the White House, and since, with every passing second, she seems to become more and more unhinged, there’s really no telling how she might use her public platform against him.

In the sketch’s final moment, she seals that implication. Unflappable and unbreakable, she can’t be stopped. And now that she’s forced compliance from Jake, she owns him.

I find this whole thing fascinating from a storytelling standpoint. Every line, every action works so well.

At face value, this is stunning, biting, well-crafted satire to rival SNL’s best. But below it all is a world of subtext that I think sets this one apart.

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The Mind of a Procrastinator

In the movie Groundhog Day Phil tells Rita he spent four or five hours a day for six months learning to flick playing cards into a top hat.

“Is this what you do with eternity?” she asks.

Short answer? If you’re a procrastinator, yes.

I’m one of the worst procrastinators I know – always have been. I’ll find almost anything to occupy my time other than what I should be doing. If you know the feeling – or even if you don’t – here’s a brilliant video that perfectly illustrates the mind of a procrastinator:

If that’s you in a nutshell, and you’re not sure Tim Urban’s presentation is enough to kick your butt into gear, then this might help:

Stop saying this: “Sorry, I don’t have time.”

Say this instead: “Sorry, it’s not a priority to me.”

 

Imagine telling your niece, “I’m sorry I couldn’t make your dance recital, it wasn’t a priority to me.”

Or telling your best friend, “I’m sorry I haven’t looked at your website yet, it isn’t a priority to me.”

How did that feel? Painful, right? It should feel painful, because it’s honest.

And that’s the problem with the phrase, “I don’t have time.” It’s a lie. Or, at least it’s mostly a lie.

Just the other day, I was all set to cancel my gym membership, because “I don’t have time to go to the gym,” and my husband told me, “If working out isn’t a priority to you, then go ahead.”

Damn.

So I kept the gym membership.

Maybe, we can’t be expected to do everything, but we do actually have more “time” than we think. But that won’t be true forever. So let’s look at those priorities again. That way, the next time we tell someone, “Sorry, that isn’t a priority to me,” it’s not only honest but also something we can live with.

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Loving the life well-lived

“Loving life includes loving the fact that it goes.” – Rick Brookhiser, critic

I came across this remarkable quote while reading about the staying power of the film Groundhog Day – a highly acclaimed movie I watch every year, usually more than once, because it leaves me with a feeling of such inspiration that I immediately want to run out my front door and change the world.

But, in spite of the effect Groundhog Day has on me, that quote is such a foreign idea, I can hardly wrap my mind around it. And considering the popularity of the recent nostalgia boom, I would imagine it’s just as foreign to most other people trying to resurrect wonderful things about the past that they wish were still true today.

I find myself doing that all the time – trying to make aspects of my world today mimick parts of my childhood. Or else longing for the feelings I associate with former times, which I fear aren’t possible anymore.

But that’s a dangerous game, because if you ignore the present to live in the past, then one day you’ll wake up and wonder where in the world the last 15 years went.

Plus, memories are deceptive. We can remember things being better than they were, focusing on the good and glossing over the bad. We start living for the past and ignoring our present, and that gets us in trouble. Because the present can never live up to the past we’ve built in our mind, and dragging the past into the present doesn’t let us live with honesty.

So I think that’s where that quote I mentioned above becomes so important.

If you were truly happy right now, this very moment, would you happily let go of that feeling so that tomorrow you could experience something else? Something new? 

Would you be okay packaging away today’s experiences and leaving them in the past? 

How do we even go about living for the present and not longing for that moment to last forever?

And when it all ends, can we really expect to love “the fact that [life] goes” and embrace death as the next great adventure?

Well, yes, I suppose that’s exactly what we’re meant to expect, isn’t it?

“Don’t be afraid of death,” Natalie Babbitt wrote in her book Tuck Everlasting. “Be afraid of the unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

And that’s one of the conclusions of Groundhog Day as well.

Bill Murray’s Phil Connors is a cynical man who doesn’t realize how very stuck he is in life until he gets trapped in a time loop on the worst day of his life. He eventually learns from the experience not only to embrace living, but also to be a hero for others whose misery and pain might have gone unnoticed by others if not for him.

“The curse is lifted when Bill Murray blesses the day he has just lived,” Brookhiser wrote. “And his reward is that the day is taken from him.”

I guess it’s an idea I’ll have to mull over. Because for me, the idea of devoting one’s life to others sounds a whole lot easier than loving the passage of time – and the changes that come with it.

But I don’t suppose great ideas like this are meant to be understood easily. Otherwise they wouldn’t be meaningful.

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