Hooray for New Subscribers!

Great blue heron flying across a lake

Welcome New Subscribers! This post is for you!

It’s an apology for not getting many reviews posted this week, along with an explanation.

Here’s the story: I recently finished writing a book about Psalms called Praying with the Psalmists: Open Your Heart Using Patterns from Psalms in Your Prayers. It’s a complete study of all 150 Psalms, looking at ten types of Psalms, telling how my own story has been woven with Psalms, and above all encouraging readers to write their own psalms of prayer.

I thought I’d look for an agent before I look for a publisher — but have quickly learned that both agents and publishers want you to have a platform. I thought, I’ve got a website! But let’s just say, they want numbers bigger than what I have.

So — last Saturday I made a new Info page, highlighting all the different content I’ve developed since I started writing Sonderbooks in 2001. Check it out if you haven’t seen it yet! I spent a good bit of time on it and am happy with how it turned out.

Then I posted about the new page on Facebook and Twitter, hoping to get new subscribers. I’m asking people to subscribe on my Sondermusings Substack or on the blogs, Sonderbooks blog, Sonderjourneys, or Sonderquotes.

So imagine my dismay when I read a comment from my friend on July 4th that the Subscribe button gives an error message!

It turns out that it didn’t work on any of my blogs. No wonder I haven’t been getting subscribers! It works for me because I subscribed the day I put in the Subscribe2 plug-in. But it won’t even send the confirmation email for new subscribers, and no one could sign up.

Well, I stayed up late Tuesday and Wednesday, trying to figure it out, with no luck at all. Wednesday night, after failing to fix the old plug-in, I tried to find a new one that would do what I wanted. I’m not after a fancy mailing list — just subscribing to my blog. I finally found that MailPoet does what I want. I installed it last night, and a few people tested it — THANK YOU! — and now I’m writing my first post to hopefully get sent.

Today I tinkered with it more. I now have two subscription options from the Subscribe page. One is get posts in your inbox as soon as they’re published. The new one I added tonight is a Weekly digest. It will send you an email once per week with the latest posts. So if you want to switch subscriptions, you should be able to do it on that page.

All this tinkering and I haven’t been able to do book posts, which is frustrating me. So I’m hoping to get a book review posted tomorrow, and on the weekend fix the subscriptions on the Sonderjourneys and Sonderquotes blogs.

And I have an awesome story about my encounter on Tuesday with the great blue heron pictured above that I’m dying to post on Sonderjourneys. So I hope that will happen this weekend, too.

Meanwhile, thank you ever so much for your interest in Sonderbooks!

Great blue heron posing in shallow water of a lake with grass behind it

Catching Up

I am writing reviews faster than I can post them.

The result is that I always feel behind and don’t like to let a day go past when I don’t get a review posted — and I’m still not going to catch up.

This is not sustainable.

I have the illusion that I can catch up — because in 2018, when I was on the Newbery committee, I did!

But how did I catch up? By not posting any new reviews for a full year! Or at least no reviews of Newbery-eligible books.

And even posting zero new reviews, it did take me the entire year to catch up on posting back reviews!

I currently have 219 reviews waiting to be posted. And I keep writing reviews faster than I can post, so I’m getting more and more behind.

Now, when I say “write” a review — I’m using drafts on the blog to keep reviews ready to post. When I say “post” a review — I mean make a webpage for my main sonderbooks.com site. And then I add the new title to the index, add links to books by the same author, and update “Previous Book” and “Next Book” links for the books before and after it. All this takes me 30-45 minutes per review.

Now, I recently revised my website to be more mobile-friendly — *and* to make it easier to post new reviews. However, I’ve already got a few thousand reviews posted, and until they get moved to the new format (takes about five minutes each) — it still takes a good amount of time to post a new review.

So, I need to change my habits.

My first thought was after a review is a year old, I need to just delete it and forget about it. But that makes me sad.

And then I realized that all it takes to publish the reviews on the blog is hit the Publish button. So instead of deleting the old reviews, why don’t I simply publish them on the blog? I can make getting a review page on my main site a little more exclusive.

In fact, it would be nice to get to the place where I write reviews and immediately post them to the blog — then simply make webpages for my favorites as time permits. Though I’d have to really keep a good list of what’s posted and what’s not.

So — let’s see if I can catch up on those 219 back reviews! Going forward, I’m going to try to publish one blog post per day, starting with the ones I wrote the longest time ago. I will also keep trying to post review pages on my main site, but I hope that will take off some of the pressure.

Meanwhile, happy reading!

Review of Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

dept_of_speculation_largeDept. of Speculation

by Jenny Offill

Vintage Books, New York, 2014. 179 pages.
Starred Review

I began reading this book today while waiting for my son’s dental appointment. I finished tonight before doing anything else. Couldn’t look away.

Dept. of Speculation is the story of a marriage. But it’s also the story of how it feels when your husband has an affair. And that’s why I couldn’t look away.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, so I can’t say it brought it all back. I was oddly detached, looking at it in some ways like the wife in the story is looking back on their history together, numb.

The story isn’t coherent and ordered. It’s from the perspective of the wife, looking back on their marriage. I like the way it changes from first person when the marriage is good to third person while the affair is happening, talking about herself as “the wife” in this scenario.

Her marriage and her husband’s affair weren’t very similar to what happened to me at all — and yet — the emotions of the time, that detached, crazy feeling, the sense of incredulity — so much here that I can’t put into words — It was all so, so recognizable to me.

Just yesterday, my cousin expressed surprise that after her ex was nice to her, she was feeling down — and I remembered that feeling so well. While reading this book, I found myself actually jealous of the protagonist, that she ultimately kept her marriage — even though staying with the person who hurt you so incredibly deeply has its own sort of horror.

This isn’t a book about rational thought. It is a book about feelings.

I’m not sure it was therapeutic to read this book and remember what that horrible time felt like. But since I didn’t cry, I think that shows I’ve gained some distance, thank God. I think something was gained to see that I could look at an affair from a new perspective. And be thankful that time is past.

I do have to say that my heart bleeds for this wife in sad recognition. The way she finds something she did wrong that she thinks set him off. Her simple bewilderment that the stars in the sky have changed position. Sigh.

This part:

People say, You must have known. How could you not know? To which she says, Nothing has ever surprised me more in my life.

You must have known, people say.

The wife did have theories about why he was acting gloomy. He was drinking too much, for example. But no, that turned out to be completely backwards; all the whiskey drinking was the result, not the cause, of the problem. Correlation IS NOT causation. She remembered that the almost astronaut always got very agitated about this mistake that nonscientists made.

Other theories she’d had about the husband’s gloominess:

He no longer has a piano.
He no longer has a garden.
He no longer is young.

She found a community garden and a good therapist for him, then went back to talking about her own feelings and fears while he patiently listened.

Was she a good wife?
Well, no.

Evolution designed us to cry out if we are being abandoned. To make as much noise as possible so the tribe will come back for us.

I find myself hoping that anyone who’s thinking about having an affair will read this book and realize that the utter devastation it brings to multiple lives is not worth it. But it’s not a message book; it’s a story.

Spoiler alert: The book ends happily, and I’m glad for that. It’s an exploration of feeling, an exploration of the fragile thing that marriage is, and the bewildering process of holding on when life falls apart.


Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/dept_of_speculation.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Another Tip for Finding Online Dating Scammers

A year ago, I posted some tips on dealing with online dating scammers.

Today I discovered another scammer, so I have another tip: Reverse image search!

Ctrl.org has a Reverse image search. You upload an image, and the site searches the web for matches of that image.

Here’s the situation: A year and a half ago, I “liked” someone’s profile on OKCupid, and was told that he had “liked” me. So I sent him a short message. Then he never was online again. I figured he’d found someone else, but why didn’t he delete his profile?

Anyway, a couple days ago, he answered my message! But when I asked what the story was behind the year and a half absence, he said something about a long trip! Ummm, that’s a long trip.

On top of that, though he’s answering more quickly than a year and a half, he’s not exactly forthcoming or eager to talk with me.

And then I thought to do a reverse image search.

Sure enough! His picture comes up — on a Romance Scam site. The original photo is from a modeling agency. (I had thought he was maybe a little too good-looking to be real.)

I strongly suspect he’s a scammer with multiple profiles and had let that one rest for awhile.

I’m going to be doing this a little more often, any time I have any doubts at all.

I’m now torn between triumph and frustration. Triumph that I figured out this guy. Frustration that someone who seemed nice — isn’t.

But in the long run, I think I’ll go with triumph.

Some Tips for Dealing with Online Dating Scammers

how_to_avoid_falling_in_love_with_a_jerk_largeOkay, I’ll admit I don’t have vast experience. But I’ve been doing online dating for about a year now, and just the other night I figured out someone I was corresponding with was a total fake.

I thought I would imitate my friend, who when she gets an email scam letter, posts the letter on her blog, with addresses, to warn others away.

I am on OKCupid. I like that dating site a lot, because I like that *you* choose what questions you have answers to, and you tell the program which questions are most important to you. There’s no “patented match formula” that’s mysterious and magical — and didn’t turn out to seem terribly good in my case.

I will say, right up front, that I met one man through OKCupid whom I dated for two months and liked tremendously. I’m still friends with him, and I am still friends with his friends — and meeting him feels like a huge win for online dating, even though I’ve communicated with some scammers since.

My first tip, which would have ruled out the first scammer I communicated with, “Dejan Dimitrevi,” supposedly from the Netherlands but living in Virginia, is this:

1. Don’t correspond with anyone who hasn’t answered at least 100 questions.

That sounds like a lot, but these are multiple choice questions. It is easy to take a little time and answer them. I have a draft response written out which I paste into a message for people who correspond with me who haven’t answered very many.

Commonly they’ll say, “ask me anything,” but when you’re asking in a message, they can answer what they think you wish to hear.

I’ve answered many, many questions and marked the ones important to me. If someone has some of my dealbreakers, why go on? It’s the beauty of OKCupid to know up front where they stand. However, if they don’t answer the questions, you don’t have any of that information.

Now when I say “communicated with some scammers,” no one has ever asked me for money. I have corresponded with some people who probably would have asked for money eventually — but we didn’t get that far, because I followed the principles in the book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, by John Van Epp.

It’s a wonderful book that my sister gave me last year for my 50th birthday. I really hope some day I’ll get to apply the principles to a dating relationship, but for now, they have stood me in good stead for dealing with potential scammers.

And this last experience, with someone who calls himself “Ron Francher” (I use the name in case he still is trying to scam other women with this identity.) consolidated in my mind some more Tips for Dealing with Potential Scammers:

2. Don’t make any commitment to someone you don’t know and haven’t met.

This one is straight from the book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. It was this principle that eventually made “Dejan” lose interest.

“Ron” sent me this long paragraph, when we had only exchanged a few emails and had certainly not met:

Since we met on Okc, will you still be on the site checking out other men and corresponding with them? If so, then I am not your man. I think it only fair that if we are to truly find out if we are the one for each other, then we need to concentrate on each other without the distraction of others emailing us for our attention. If you are not in agreement with this, that is truly fine and you must follow your heart to search for the one right for you but please do not do it at my emotional expense. For two people to truly experience the wonderment that is defined by falling love, then love can only happen when no others are involved. Building trust, for me, is the core foundation for a long, loving, lasting relationship. If I found out you were corresponding behind my back or seeing another, my faith in you would be gone and our budding relationship finished before it got started.

Ummm, excuse me? We had not even met!

Yes, we would need to build trust — but I am not going to trust you until I find out if you actually are who you say you are.

I confess, I still hadn’t figured him out. Then after a few more emails exchanged, when I said, if you want me to commit to you, let’s meet first, he said, oh, we could not meet for a few *months* because he was preparing to be deployed to Damascus for a classified mission with the US Army.

And I *still* didn’t quite get it. But I thought the whole situation felt fishy, so I ran it by my friends. And that’s my next tip:

3. Run everything by your friends!

I explained the situation to my friends, and that I was cautiously optimistic about this man I was corresponding with. He grew up in France (so he said) but had been in America for 40 years and in the US Army for 35 years.

I wasn’t going to commit to him, but I was okay with corresponding a couple months…

However, a friend who is former military heard the basics and got very alarmed. He pointed out that someone in the military should not and would not mention a classified mission to someone they’d never even met — but a scammer certainly would.

I admit, I had been a bit flattered “Ron” would tell me about his mission. I had emailed back that I’d pray for him (but that I would not commit to him exclusively while I was waiting).

Another friend who is a romance novelist told me that the character sounded suspiciously like a character written for a romance novel, to be attractive to women — French accent, special forces, widower, lost his only son, grandson in Paris.

Their concerns made me start thinking harder. Even if he *were* telling the truth, wasn’t it rather deceptive to tell me he expected an exclusive commitment and only later say, Oh by the way, we won’t be able to meet for a few months?

4. Use common sense.

My former military friend also pointed out that given the description “Ron” had given me in an early message, he would have to be a general officer. Here’s what “Ron” said:

I completed the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the national war college. I also completed the Army’s Ranger School.

I was commissioned in the U.S. Army in June 1979 as an Armor/Tank 2nd Lieutenant. Later, I received a Master of Science in Systems Management from the University of Southern California. I have commanded units at every echelon from platoon to division, with duty in Germany, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and the United States. After my first assignment with the U.S. Army Europe, I was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C, where I commanded a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha in the 5th Special Forces Group and an Infantry company in the 82nd Airborne Division. My retirement is due by the end of July and then the would will be my oyster.

My friend had some contacts still in the military who would have to know someone in such a position. Would I like him to check?

I also know enough about the military that I knew an officer commanding divisions would make the news when he takes command. I googled “Ronald Francher” and didn’t get anyone who fit this description. I checked a library database, RefUSA, and he still didn’t come up. If he were really such a high-ranking officer, this was highly unlikely.

He went six days without emailing me, so I thought I’d discouraged him by not promising commitment. However, then I heard from him again. I had asked about his late wife. He told me they met in France (when did he have time for that?) and dated two years before marrying (earlier he’d said one year). They were married for 11 years. He’d already said she died 7 years ago.

So how on earth does he have a six-year-old grandson living in Paris?

Okay, with all that I was awfully sure he was telling me a story. Where I finally became absolutely sure this was the case was when I thought to do this:

5. If only one part of his background is grammatical, google keywords from that description.

In “Ron”‘s case, I googled: June 1979 Armor/Tank 2nd lieutenant

Bingo! I got the biography of Major General Seward, with about half of “Ron”‘s bio copied verbatim.

Googling from what’s left: “every echelon from platoon to division”

I found the rest of the bio he cobbled together into his “own” from General John F. Campbell.

I no longer have any doubt. I’m not going to answer any more of his emails (coming from rfrncher16@gmail.com) — unless he asks for money, in which case, my answer will be: LOL

So — today someone contacted me who said he grew up in Lyon, France.

I refrained from letting him have it and instead sent him my standard response for those who have answered fewer than 100 questions.

There are some good men out there. I know it’s true.

But I’m going to have to meet you before I will make even the slightest commitment to you, thank you very much.

New Year Review Blitz

For all of 2014, I felt like I was far behind at posting reviews of the books I’ve read. So this year, my plan is to be all caught up posting reviews of books read in 2014 by the end of January.

Why don’t I just post the reviews on the blog? Well, that’s what I’ll do if I run out of time. But what I like to do is get the cover image, make a new webpage for each review, post it on my main site, and feature the book on the main page, sonderbooks.com, and on the page for its genre and age level — Fiction, Nonfiction, Teen Fiction, Children’s Fiction, Children’s Nonfiction, or Picture Books.

However, for these reviews, instead of each getting featured, I will just post the reviews as they will end up after all of their genre are posted. Tonight I’m going to work on the fourteen Children’s Fiction reviews. I’d like to think I can get them all posted tonight, but, well, let’s just see what happens, shall we?

My plan is to start with the Three Investigators books that I read last year. I wanted them all to be featured separately as an Old Favorite. But, well, here goes —

End of the Year Review Blitz

Happy Old Year!

As the year draws to a close, I find myself a little frustrated with my website. I have 45 reviews that I’ve written but not yet posted, and about 15 that I need to write. What’s more, I’ve been behind all year long — with reviews I wrote and meant to post that didn’t get posted for months.

So — I want to start fresh. But rather than give up and just trash those reviews — I’m going to try to do a blitz and post them all, one category at a time.

Mind you, the books I’ve read for the Cybils I will wait to post reviews for until January 1st, when we announce our list of Finalists. This is also when I plan to announce (and choose) the Sonderbooks Stand-outs for 2014.

Of course, I’m also still reading. I have four days off for Christmas! And I’ve finally finished reading for the Cybils — so can indulge in the books I preordered which came in when I didn’t have a chance to read them.

Usually, I like to vary the books I review. For example, I read a bunch of Three Investigators books and P. G. Wodehouse audiobooks. Normally, I like to mix those up and alternate them with other reviews. Now, however, I just want to get them posted! So let’s see if I can get caught up in the next couple weeks.

Ready, Set, Go…!

Comments Are Working Again!

I had wondered why I hadn’t gotten comments in months. (Duh!) My statistics had gone way down, too. It turned out that my comments table and my statistics log table were corrupted. The usual repair process didn’t work at all.

So, now I have Good News/Bad News.

Good News: My blog will take comments again! 🙂
Bad News: ALL the old comments are gone. 🙁

I also want to note that Yahoo! Web Hosting was NO help at all. If I had it to do over again, I’d definitely choose a different host. They just said they provide a platform for MySQL and WordPress, but don’t provide any support for those.

But I did decide that being able to comment in the future is more important than saving all the old comments for posterity, even though it makes me sad to lose them.

Comments Glitch

I just figured out that my blog hasn’t been taking comments for months. I’m so sorry! When I type in a comment myself, it simply disappears. It’s *not* that I haven’t been approving comments — they just don’t work.

I’m going to *try* to fix this. Yahoo Web Hosting was no help at all. It used to work, and I don’t think I changed anything… But I will try some different things to try to get them going again.

Review of Chestnut Street, by Maeve Binchy

chestnut_street_largeChestnut Street

by Maeve Binchy

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014. 368 pages.
Starred Review

Maeve Binchy died in July 2012, so this is a posthumous publication. Her husband, Gordon Snell, explains at the front:

Maeve wrote the stories over several decades, reflecting the city and people of the moment – always with the idea of one day making them into a collection with Chestnut Street as its center. I am very pleased with the way her editors have now gathered them together as she intended, to make this delightful new Maeve Binchy book, Chestnut Street.

This book reminds me more of Maeve Binchy’s earlier books than the later ones – it is composed of many short stories, all including someone who lives on Chestnut Street. Her later novels are similar, but have longer stories, with more of the threads intertwined between stories. A few of the characters do appear in passing in additional stories, besides the ones where they are featured, though there’s definitely not the unity of theme found in her later books.

That said, these are some truly delightful stories. Maeve Binchy knows human nature. So many of these stories, short as they are, leave you with a smile or an insight or just a good feeling that someone made a great choice. I liked that they are short, since that way there are more of them, though it did make it take longer to read – because after a few stories, I found myself wanting to give an appreciative pause rather than barrel on to the end, as I will with a good novel.

A wonderful chance to treat yourself to Maeve Binchy’s characters one more time.


Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/chestnut_street.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!