WAR and PEACE: My Thoughts on Tolstoy’s Saga

War and Peace is a masterpiece. It’s Leo Tolstoy’s epic, epic account of the history of the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Russian society as seen through the lens of five Russian aristocratic families. It clocks in at 587,287 words.

Why I read it

Call it a personal challenge, my bucket list book. Over the past year, I’ve received a series of nudges from the good reading angel who sits on my shoulder:

  • Author Gayle Bartos-Pool wrote a thoughtful post, prompted by a TV news story about teachers who no longer wanted to teach the classics. She makes a good case for keeping the classics alive and offers examples of the authors we would do well to discover, or re-discover—Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury. E. Phillips Oppenheim. She doesn’t specifically mention Leo Tolstoy or War and Peace, but that’s the title that buzzed through my mind as I read her post.
  • War and Peace is all about Trump. Who Knew?” Naturally the title of Fred Hiatt’s article in the Washington Post intrigued me. Now I won’t comment on our leader but, love him or hate him, understanding him could only be helpful. Mr. Hiatt states that War and Peace is not only about Donald Trump, but that it can guide us in responding to his presidency. Interesting reading.
  • About a year ago my sister told me she was reading it. Sibling rivalry, perhaps?
  • I remembered how I loved Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
  • It’s a classic.

Why I didn’t read it sooner

  • It’s, well, long. I’ve read other long tomes—The Fountainhead, Middlemarch, the aforementioned Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Gone with the Wind, and Atlas Shrugged—but that was before I took up the pen and turned out my own much shorter tomes, giving me less time to read. The idea of devoting two-plus months to one book didn’t appeal.
  • I did try to read War and Peace back in the seventies but quickly got bogged down by the long Russian names that all seemed with start with K.
  • I would have to abandon my runaway TBR list.

Still, the good reading angel persisted …

It was time.

I started War and Peace on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23, 2017) and read THE END on January 29, 2018. Okay, I’m a slow reader, plus I took a break a couple of times to review a book as a favor for an author friend.

What do I think of it?

I won’t offer a literary critique. That’s been done many times.

I will say that it’s magnificent. Tolstoy uses his characters to explore issues of life and death, seeking higher meaning and purpose in both. Some characters are likable, some are not, but they’re all well-developed and compelling. Unlike with my first attempt in the seventies, I didn’t have a hard time keeping track of them. They are not consistently named—a character may be addressed by his/her first name, nickname, various surnames, or title. And my seventies memory tricked me about the names starting with K. I didn’t find that pattern this time around.

The story of the French invasion of Russia and its effect on the country is fascinating. The aristocratic families, with their drama, intrigue, and romance captivated me.

It’s easy to read. The chapters aren’t long, but there are plenty of them. Interestingly, despite the title, there is little peace.

The downside: I guess I’ve mentioned that it’s looooonnng. The plot dragged at times. Tolstoy now and again abandons the characters and lapses into tedious ramblings on philosophy or military strategy. I’d rather read a story from the point of view of the characters. The man really needed a good editor.

As for the president, do I understand him better? Let me think about that one.

As I approached the last pages, I got a catalog in the mail from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and learned of an upcoming exhibit: Napoleon: Power and Splendor. What timing! I’ll be there. June 9-September 3.

A while back I wondered how War and Peace measured up with other long books. The Blah Story (interesting title) by Nigel Tomm is 3,277,227 words and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past is 1.5 million words. And no, I have no plans to tackle either. With a word count of only 587,287, War and Peace is a mere novella.

Do I recommend that you read War and Peace?

Definitely. Despite my harping on the length, I heartily recommend this classic and sweeping saga of history and romance. On February 2, the groundhog predicted six more weeks of winter. Perfect time to get started. If you’re in a warmer climate, camp out under a tree with the beverage of your choice.

And what am I reading now? Short stories. Really. And there’s that TBR list.



Women, Men, Money, and a GIVEAWAY!

Today my guest is Frances Aylor, author of Money Grab, a financial thriller. Frances is not only a terrific writer, but she knows the world of investing. She’s giving away 1 copy of Money Grab to a lucky winner. Just leave a comment … it could be you.

Here’s Frances:

Can women manage money? Many men don’t think they can. A lot of women aren’t too sure, either. They think investing is too complicated or too boring.

Check out Money Grab, my fast-paced financial thriller that explores the cutthroat business of managing money, where fear and greed are primary motivators, and advisors will do almost anything to attract and keep clients.

Robbie Bradford, the heroine of Money Grab, is a financial advisor who manages money for wealthy clients. In her mid-thirties, she’s smart, ambitious and very good at her job, which puts her on the fast track to partnership. She’s also a wife and mother, struggling to balance the needs of her family with the demands of her firm.

Then a family tragedy changes everything. Robbie is overcome with guilt and grief, and directs all the blame toward her colleague Vivian. When Vivian is killed, Robbie becomes the primary murder suspect. Can she find the killer before she’s the next victim of a malicious money grab?

Why did I write this book? Because I love investing. I love travel (part of Money Grab takes place in the Caribbean). And I love mysteries.

I hold the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and worked in the investment industry. My job took me to conferences in New York, New Orleans, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco and Vancouver. I interviewed company managements and Wall Street analysts. I toured an electrical power plant in Argentina and spent a day on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Not exactly boring, right? Then my company downsized following the 2008 financial crisis. Suddenly unemployed, I decided it was time to follow up on my dream of someday writing a novel.

It was a lot harder than I thought. James River Writers, a local organization, provided good information on both the craft and business of writing. Sisters in Crime, a national organization of female mystery writers, helped me understand the criminal mind. My writing critique groups inspired me to revise and revise and revise, until I had a manuscript that I thought was ready for publication. The book came out in May 2017, and I am thrilled and humbled by the warm responses I have received from readers, many of whom have invited me to speak at their book clubs. I have also won IngramSpark’s 2017 Rising Star Award for new authors.

Money Grab is the first in a series of Robbie Bradford novels. I’m working on the second now, which will include several of the characters from Money Grab. The new novel is set in Switzerland, where the family of Robbie’s client is squabbling about their inheritance. Like Money Grab, it is fast-paced, full of action, and will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Connect with Frances:

Website/blog: https://francesaylor.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ FrancesAylorAuthor/

Amazon Author Page:  http://amzn.to/2mYcniu

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/francesaylorauthor

Money Grab buy link: http://amzn.to/2rpSzJD

Sue Grafton: My Tribute

I discovered Sue Grafton back in the early 90s. Up till then my mystery reading was limited to Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. The writing leg of my career was a distant dream. I started with E is for Evidence (I never was one for reading series in order) and Sue had an instant fan. To this day when someone asks, “Who’s your favorite mystery writer?” I don’t hesitate: “Sue Grafton!”

I identified with Kinsey Millhone in many ways: I’m a loner, a non-conformist of sorts, and care little about material possessions. But I’m not very neat and I do have pets and houseplants. I love Santa Barbara and enjoyed seeing it through Kinsey’s eyes.

I loved the laugh-out-loud asides. And this from A is for Alibi is a favorite passage:

She was a chatty little thing, full of pep, and I wondered if she wasn’t about perfect for Henry Pitts. Since Charlie Scorsoni was keeping me waiting, I took my revenge by eliciting as much information from Ruth as I could manage without appearing too rude. She told me she had worked for Scorsoni and Powers since the formation of their partnership seven years ago. Her husband had left her for a younger woman (fifty-five) and Ruth, on her own for the first time in years, had despaired of ever finding a job, as she was then sixty-two years old, “though in perfect health,” she said. She was quick, capable, and of course was being aced out at every turn by women one-third her age who were cute instead of competent.

“The only cleavage I got left, I sit on,” she said and then hooted at herself. 

Sue admitted that her inspiration for A is for Alibi came from her fantasies of murdering her husband during their divorce proceedings.

Over the years I eagerly anticipated each installment of the series. There was only one that I didn’t like and one that I didn’t like that much (no, I won’t tell which ones), but 2 out of 25 is a damn good record.

I recently read Y is for Yesterday and loved every word of it. Kinsey resolved some issues and seemed to be settling into a satisfying life with a ragtag adopted family. So, while we won’t get Z, Y ended on a good note for the series.

It’s almost like Ms. Grafton knew her alphabet would end in Y.

I cried when I heard the news on NPR almost two weeks ago. I didn’t even know she was ill.

For a while I’ve been entertaining thoughts of creating a private investigator. Maybe Sue’s given me a sign that there’s no time like the present to put my thoughts to paper.

Godspeed, dear Sue. Thanks for Kinsey, Henry, Rosie, Vera, and all the gang.

Sue Grafton’s website

NPR announcement









What’s Real in My Fiction?

Today I welcome mystery author Heather Weidner. Her latest, The Tulip Shirt Murders, is out and you’ll want to put it at the top of your TBR list. Heather tells us what’s real—and what isn’t—in her fiction. Enough from me. Here’s Heather:

Thank you so much for letting me stop by and chat with your readers about my writing and my new book, The Tulip Shirt Murders. It’s the second in my Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series.

Recently, I was asked, “How much research do you actually do for fiction and how much of your work is true?” There’s quite a bit of research that goes into writing mysteries. I want to make sure that my stories are plausible and as accurate as possible. Readers notice when writers make mistakes.

I mix quite a bit of “real” in my short stories and novels. All of my settings are actual places. I tend to put my works in Virginia cities and counties because I write what I know.  If a crime occurs, I make up that location’s name. I wouldn’t put a horrific or violent event at a real restaurant or store. But if you’ve been to the cities, you’ll recognize landmarks, neighborhoods, and street names.

I get ideas for crimes and capers from real cases, but I usually take liberties with the details. In my short story, “Washed up,” in Virginia is for Mysteries, a beat up suitcase washes up on Chick’s Beach, and it’s filled with some mysterious contents. Back in the ‘80s, there was a real crime where suitcases filled with body parts did appear on beaches along the East Coast. In my story, I thought it would be interesting for beachgoers to find something old and sinister in an unexpected place.

I base some of my characters on combinations of real people. I blend characteristics of several people to make an interesting fictional person. And phrases that family and friends say frequently appear in my stories. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go, and I am always jotting down names, interesting tidbits, and snippets of dialogue that might one day make their way to a story. I have two co-workers who keep asking me to make them villains. I haven’t done that yet, but I do hint from time to time that unruly team members will end up in a dumpster in a future story.

I use friends and family member’s names for minor characters. In The Tulip Shirt Murders and Secret Lives and Private Eyes, my sleuth, Delanie Fitzgerald, gives herself all kinds of aliases in her investigations. These are usually names of friends and family. And every once in a while, you’ll find police, EMTs, or FBI agents named after my favorite authors, rock stars, or actors.

My sleuth is named for one of my favorite American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald. And she names her company, Falcon Investigations, in honor of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

I am also very fortunate to be a “CK” (Cop’s Kid). My dad, now retired, is one of my best sources of information on crime and law enforcement. He helps me make sure that the crime scenes are described as accurately as possible. I email him all the time with questions like, “Hey, Dad. What’s a meth lab smell like?” or “How much damage would this type of bullet do at close range?” I am also very fortunate to be a part of Sisters in Crime. Our local chapter (Central Virginia) offers a variety of programs with professionals in criminology, law enforcement, and forensics. Over the years, our chapter has had an arson investigator, a CSX railroad investigator, a forensic psychologist, a search dog trainer, and an alcohol beverage and control officer as guests. These speakers are so knowledgeable and willing to share information. I also appreciate that they answer all my weird, author questions without giving me too many funny looks.

Even though my short stories and novel are fiction, they also contain some truth and reality. And research is important, so that the work is interesting, accurate, and close to true life.

The Tulip Shirt Murders 

Private investigator Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in The Tulip Shirt Murders. When a local music producer hires the duo to find out who is bootlegging his artists’ CDs, Delanie uncovers more than just copyright thieves. And if chasing bootleggers isn’t bad enough, local strip club owner and resident sleaze, Chaz Smith, pops back into Delanie’s life with more requests. The police have their man in a gruesome murder, but the loud-mouthed strip club owner thinks there is more to the open and shut case. Delanie and Duncan link a series of killings with no common threads. And they must put the rest of the missing pieces together before someone else is murdered.

The Tulip Shirt Murders is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations such as larping and trading elbow jabs with roller derby queens.

Author Biography

Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers. The Tulip Shirt Murders is her second novel in her Delanie Fitzgerald series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan College and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.

Author Links

Website and Blog: www.heatherweidner.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherWeidnerAuthor

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/HeatherWeidner1

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather_mystery_writer/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/crazyforwords13/

Book Link: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Lives-Private-Heather-Weidner/dp/1633932567

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8121854.Heather_Weidner

Book Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077CSZ53X

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1310643581

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-tulip-shirt-murders-heather-weidner/1127425899?ean=2940155054696

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-tulip-shirt-murders

Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/363967058/The-Tulip-Shirt-Murders-The-Delanie-Fitzgerald-Mysteries-2

24Symbols: https://www.24symbols.com/book/x/x/x?id=2468512

Playster: https://play.playster.com/books/10009780999459812/the-tulip-shirt-murders-heather-weidner

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36591325-the-tulip-shirt-murders?from_search=true


Author Giveaways for the Mystery Lover on your gift list (that includes you!)

Need the perfect gift for that crime fiction enthusiast on your list? Look no further than the Sisters in Crime Central Virginia chapter. Our members pen tales of mystery and romantic suspense.

GIVEAWAY! A few of us are giving away print and e-book copies of selected works.

Leave a comment below for your chance to win and be sure to include your e-mail address.  This is a grab bag of sorts, with winners and titles picked randomly. GIVEAWAY ends Monday, December 11, at 10pm EST. Good luck everyone!

Frances Aylor, author of the Robbie Bradford financial thrillers. Frances is giving away two print copies of Money Grab, #1 in the series. US only.

Mollie Cox Bryan has 1 print copy of Death Among the Doilies, a Cora Crafts Mystery to give away, along with 1 e-copy of A Crafty Christmas, a Cumberland Creek Mystery. US only.

Mary Burton is a New York Times bestselling author. Mary is giving away a print copy of one of three titles from The Forgotten Files series: The Shark, The Dollmaker, and The Hangman. US only.

USA Today bestselling author Tina Glasneck‘s giveaway is an e-copy of her Spark Before Dying Book 1, Angels Cry. 

I’m giving away 1 print copy of the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology and 1 e-book of Murder at the Moonshine Inn, #2 in my Hazel Rose Book Group series.

Win a print copy of Tiger Heart: A Chesapeake Bay Mystery by Vivian Lawry. US only

2 lucky winners will get e-copies of Agatha Award-nominated author LynDee Walker‘s Front Page Fatality, the debut title of her Headlines in High Heels series. US only.

Heather Weidner is giving away 1 print copy of The Tulip Shirt Murders, the latest in her Delanie Fitzgerald series, set right here in Central Virginia. US only.

Enjoy! And we love reviews.

Happy Holidays!