Book of Words: Please Say Kaddish for Me by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short review, are a few particularly interesting words I found in Please Say Kaddish for Me. The definitions are followed by quotes from the story.

A particularly talented writer, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is also an artist who creates her own cover art.

Please Say Kaddish for Me is the story of a sixteen-year-old Jewish girl who escapes an attack on her home in Russia in 1899. Czarist marauders kill her entire family. Young Havah Cohen barely survives the frigid cold as she runs away in just a nightgown. She fortunately ends up in the arms of another loving Jewish family. But her struggles don’t end as more persecution of the people of her faith reigns down. The story unfolds as Havah builds her physical and emotional strength, learns to adapt to new situations, and changes her life with brave decisions. Please Say Kaddish for Me is very well-written and draws the reader in with excellent characterization of the Jewish people and the love and tragedy Havah encounters. It’s filled with layers of fascinating information of historical Jewish culture and sprinkled with just the right amount of Yiddish words, set off in italics and enough explanation the meaning is obvious. I truly enjoyed this book and plan to read Wisoff-Fields two additional books that follow Havah’s story as her new family escapes Russia and settles in America, From Silt and Ashes and As One Must, One Can.

Words from Please Say Kaddish for Me:

Kaddish: n. an ancient Jewish prayer sequence regularly recited in the synagogue service, including thanksgiving and praise and concluding with a prayer for universal peace. a form of this prayer sequence recited for the dead.  She forced her heavy mouth to shape the Hebrew prayer—Kaddish—prayer for the dead and prayer for the bereft.”

Shul: n. a synagogue.  The core of the Jewish community, the synagogue or shul was the linchpin that held them together.”

Bema: n. the altar part or sanctuary in ancient and Orthodox churches. (JUDAISM) the podium or platform in a synagogue from which the Torah and Prophets are read.  Tables had been arranged side by side like stalwart soldiers, around the bema. They stood ready for the men to study, discuss and argue points of law.”

Mitzvah: n. (JUDAISM) a precept or commandment. a good deed done from religious duty.  Ari, my boy, it’s a mitzvah, a good deed,’ said Hershel.”

Shabbes: n. the Yiddish term for the Jewish Sabbath.  “This, on Shabbes, is allowed.”

Cholent: n. a Jewish Sabbath dish of slowly baked meat and vegetables, prepared on a Friday and cooked overnight.  “Savory cholent simmered in a pot on the hot stove.”

Goyim or Goy: n. (INFORMAL, OFTEN OFFENSIVE) a Jewish name for a non-Jew.  “In America women study Torah and even appear in public with their heads uncovered like the goyim.”

Schmootz: n. dirt.  “Of course, we need to clean the schmootz off you.”

Shokhet: n. a ritual slaughterer, a kosher slaughterer, kosher butcher.  “Behind that, was a large pen where the shokhet slaughtered livestock to be prepared according to dietary law.”

Hornbeam: n. a deciduous tree of north temperate regions, with oval serrated leaves, inconspicuous drooping flowers, and tough winged nuts. It yields hard pale timber.  “Shayndel pointed to a lush hornbeam tree growing beside the blacksmith’s shop.”

Mishegoss: n. craziness, senseless behavior or activity.  “On top of everything else, she needs his mishegoss like a hole in the head.”

Minyan: n. a quorum of ten men (or in some synagogues, men and women) over the age of 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship.  “You know you’re not supposed to sing Kaddish without a minyan.”

Dummkopf: n. a stupid person, blockhead.  “Ach! What a dumkopf.”

Mien: n. a person’s look or manner, esp. one of a particular kind indicating their character or mood: he has a cautious, academic mien.  “He sauntered to the piano and with aristocratic mien, sat on the bench.”

Dreidel: n. a small four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side, used by the Jews.  “Sitting cross-legged on the floor with Tuli and Zelig, he spun a clay top called a dreidel between his fingers. He read off the Hebrew letters inscribed on each of its four sides. ‘Noon, gimmel, hey, sheen. Did I pronounce them right, Teacher?’”… “The quintessential rabbi, Zelig pointed to each letter on the dreidel, ‘Nes gadol hayah sham. That means ‘A great miracle happened here.’”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia. For this particular blog, online Yiddish dictionaries also came in handy.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

Book of Words: Finding Lizzy Smith by Susan Keene

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in Finding Lizzy Smith.

Finding Lizzy Smith is a complex riddle that perplexes the reader all the way to the surprising climax. Susan Keene’s story includes a likeable protagonist faced with major challenges, even a serious guilt complex over an incident in the past. That past comes back to haunt private investigator Kate Nash while she’s struggling with the unexplained murder of her husband. Nash is forced to search for a friend that may have been kidnapped, then other friends start turning up dead. Is all this trouble, even her husband’s death, related to Nash’s old mistake? I liked this character, sympathized with her guilt, and urged her on as she discovers the unexpected truth. This is the first book of the Kate Nash Mysteries, and the next is bound to be as exciting and rewarding with Keene’s talented writing style.

Words from Finding Lizzy Smith:

Kibitzed: v. look on and offer unwelcome advice, esp. at as a card game. speak informally; chat. We sorted the mail, answered all the phone messages, and kibitzed about the events of the night before.”

Geocaching: n. the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a Web site. Anymore, looking for reward money is like geocaching, everyone is doing it.”

Planchette: n. a small board supported on casters, typically heart-shaped and fitted with a vertical pencil, used for automatic writing and in séances. If the planchette begins to move in a figure eight, it means an evil spirit has control of the board.”

Effeminate: adj. (of a man) having or showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman; unmanly. “He was a short, effeminate man with a balding head and a potbelly.”

Rede: n. advice or counsel given by one person to another; what is your rede? / v. advise (someone) or interpret (a riddle or dream). “It’s from the Wiccan Rede, a poem, handed down for centuries.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

The Literary Citizen Has Arrived!

I’m so excited about this new magazine! And not just because I’m a featured author in the inaugural edition of The Literary Citizen. Thank you, Karen Nelson, for all your efforts for fellow writers.

Jan Morrill Writes

I first met my friend, author Karen Nelson at Ozarks Writers League. She served as President of OWL following the end of my term in 2013.

Karen is a multi-talented mom, author, photographer, editor, webmaster and entrepreneur, which brings me to my happy announcement that she has published a new online magazine, The Literary Citizen, which is a great resource for writers and readers. Inside, you’ll find lots of information about online events, tips and encouragement.


I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to introduce you to Karen and her new magazine!

Jan: What inspired you to start an online writing magazine?

dsc_0190-2Karen: As a long-time member of my local writing organization, I had noticed that there wasn’t an effective way for writers to connect with other writing groups or to isolated areas. I was inspired to take action after a presentation on what it meant to be a literary citizen…

View original post 1,288 more words

Book of Words: “Bank Notes: The True Story of the Boonie Hat Bandit” by Caroline Giammanco

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short synopsis, are a few interesting words I found in Bank Notes. The selected words are not necessarily unknown, but worth noting. The definitions are followed by a quote from the book using the chosen word.

banknotesBank Notes is a nonfiction in-depth look at a choice one man made to commit bank robbery in an attempt to pay off debt that threatened his family’s lifestyle, the prison life he was forced into, and the court system he struggled with. It’s mostly told from his point of view, but several chapters come from the point of view of the author, the woman who fell in love with him while working as a teacher in the prison system. Donald Keith Giammanco robbed 12 banks before he was arrested. The nickname “Boonie Hat Bandit” came from Giammanco’s casual hat he wore as he robbed the banks. He remains in prison today and has plans upon release to marry the author, who assumed his name for publication of Bank Notes. I found the book to be an interesting look at the Missouri court system and the emotional turmoil faced by the criminal who is apprehended and convicted.

Words from Bank Notes:

Penance: n. voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong. Separation from society and their loved ones is the penance, not the arbitrary vengeance of fellow inmates or staff.”

Recidivist: n. a convicted criminal who reoffends, esp. repeatedly, or denoting such a person. (derivative: recidivism) Concerns about recidivism (re-offense) were among the top issues for the legislators.”

Variant: n. a form or version of something that differs in some respect from other forms of the same thing or from a standard. Publicity surrounded my crime spree and it followed me after my arrest. Immediately after settling into the St. Louis County Jail, I received a variant of contact from media corporations, reporters and others interested in getting a story.”

Insidious: adj. proceeding in a gradual subtle way, but with harmful effects; treacherous, crafty. “Old jealousies and unresolved issues within the family made this more insidious than the bystanders seeking attention.”

Altruistic: adj. showing a disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; unselfish. “Finally, there was one more, altruistic, reason. I took this case to trial for all Americans and Missourians, not just for me.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

The Night Before Carnage — Thriller Adaptation

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

The living were restless. Yes, even the mouse;

The tension was rising, much higher it’d flare;

The murderous plot to become a nightmare;

The family lay helpless all snug in their beds;

While wickedness schemed of taking some heads;

Poor mamma grew nervous, and I sensed a trap,

I tried to ignore it and take a short nap,

Yet unaware, an approaching bad monster,

I embarked on a dream of life as a mobster.

‘Fore midnight we woke at the sound of a crash,

I rolled over and grunted and declined to dash.

Mama scowled yet arose as she called me an ass,

I snatched covers to swaddle, then passed a loud gas.

Yet what to my reluctant ears did I hear,

But a high-pitched scream, no doubt from my dear.

With a sigh and a smirk, I rose none too quick,

Not knowing her fright was a red dressed St. Nick.

I found her spread out and sliced up in pieces.

My love was attacked by a man who ate Reese’s.

“For, Dasher! and, Dancer! and Prancer and Vixen!

For, Comet! for, Cupid! for, Donner and Blitzen!

I seek vengeance my pets! Your plight is my call.

Now slash away! Slash away! Slash away all!”

He stopped and looked up where I stood on the stairs,

His smile a vile sneer brought me fear for my heirs.

“She ran over my reindeer, stole all the toys too.

She ruined Christmas for many, I ask if you knew.”

More candy he munched, awaiting my answer,

While twirling his hatchet, he swayed like a dancer.

Then I drew a breath and searched for some wordage,

Not sure what to say, I hunted for courage.

“I knew nothing dear Santa, if I had, my Claus,

Would have slaughtered already, without a pause,

She put the kibosh on Christmas, so I concur,

No forgiveness, nor pardon did she dare deserve.”

He stared at her carcass, stuck a toe in the gore,

Then shouldered his hatchet and strode to the door.

A wink of his eye and a nod of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He threw open the door and stepped out to go,

The wind howled sharply and blew in some snow.

On the lawn was his sleigh pulled by a strange team.

Six white huskies with wings. It must be a dream.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

Off my yard they all flew like the down of a thistle.

I stepped over the carnage to close the door.

Then went for a mop to clean up the floor.

Soon heard him exclaim, as I recovered from fright—

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

A copy of the classic I read to my daughters when they were young.

Interview by Author David Todd

I’ve known of David Todd as an engineer who works for a local firm I deal with a lot as city planner. We met recently at a panel discussion his firm hosted and realized we were not only fellow authors but Facebook friends. He’s been super supportive of the release of A Lovely Murder, the second Danni “Deadline” Thriller, and offered to interview me on his blog. Thanks, David, for the support!

Here’s a link to my interview by Author David Todd on his webpage:


Book of Words: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. The words chosen may be familiar, but used in a unique way or not commonplace.

Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in Wilde Lake, a book released earlier this year by author Laura Lippman. Lippman, a best-selling author and absolutely superb storyteller, is one of my very favorite writers.

Wilde Lake is the story of a family, a family full of secrets. It’s also a tale about prejudice and how we may try to deny its existence but cannot truly shed the ingrained natuimg_2597re of it in our society, and in turn, ourselves. Lippman’s skill at pulling multiple tentacles of a story together thrives in this tale, but she eloquently succeeds at something unique even for her. The story is told from the perspective of one character, but some of it comes to us in the first-person account of a remembered childhood, while the rest is told in third-person present tense as all those story tentacles come together for Lu Brant, a newly elected state’s attorney. The combination of first and third person from the same protagonist is so competently handled that I didn’t catch it until well into the book. It seems to bring a more intimate view into the life unfolding in Wilde Lake. The unique characterization provides a deeper grasp of what is happening in Lu Brant’s life as she digs into her own family history while sorting out the facts of her first capital murder case in her new position. The layers of revelations and connections to Brant’s past keep the pages turning. From the book jacket: “If there is such a thing as the whole truth, Lu realizes—possibly too late—that she would be better off not knowing what it is.”

Words from Wilde Lake:

Suborn: v. bribe or otherwise induce (someone) to commit an unlawful act such as perjury. “They might have been led during the interviews. But I don’t think my father suborned perjury, not over so trivial a thing.”

 Ascetic: adj. characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. “AJ stands, walks to the edge of his pool. A lap pool, he defended to Lu when she mocked this expense by ascetic.” AND “He then made his own Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage around the world, although ascetic AJ skipped the eating part.”

 Canard: n. an unfounded rumor or story. “Everyone knows the old canard that an attorney never asks a question to which she doesn’t know the answer, but that’s for court, after investigations, depositions, discovery.”

 Polemics: n. a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something. “’No,’ he says adamantly. ‘No more polemics disguised as memoirs.’”

 Ersatz: adj. (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else. “Heck, her father has had an ersatz wife in Teensy all these years.”

 Imprecation: n. a spoken curse. “The EMT guys decide to let her go home, although with muttered imprecations about concussions, and while Lu scoffs at them, she finds herself unaccountably nervous as bedtime nears.”

 Perambulate: v. walk or travel through or around (a place or area), esp. for pleasure and in a leisurely way. “’Your house? No, I just­—I just sometimes like to . . . perambulate,’ Davey said.”

 Frisson: n. a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill. “Lu feels a strange frisson of nerves when she goes before the grand jury to obtain a formal indictment against Rudy Drysdale.”

 Nascent: adj. (esp. of a process or organization) just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential. “I wish he had saved his nascent memoir. I would have loved to read his version of his life, then and now.”

 Scrim: n. strong, coarse fabric, chiefly used for heavy-duty lining or upholstery. “As the song reached its climax, a scrim depicting the Tree of Life fell and somehow it seemed as if the chorus had become a living, breathing Tree of Life.”

Pejorative: adj. expressing contempt or disapproval, or n. a word expressing contempt or disapproval. “The original ‘villages’ of Columbia are now called the ‘inner villages,’ and the pejorative echo of inner city is not accidental.”

 Dilettante: n. a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge. “During the campaign, Fred called her a dilettante, tried to suggest that she wanted his job so she wouldn’t be bored.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary.

What interesting words have you taken note of lately? What do you do when you come across an unfamiliar word while reading?

New Baby Arrives!

Two boxes of books arrived today, and I couldn’t be more excited and proud. A Lovely County was published in January last year. A Lovely Murder, the second in the Danni Deadline Thriller Series is out this week.


I’m hosting a book launch this Sunday, November 13, at the Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville, AR, from 2 to 4 p.m. to make it official. If you’re in driving range, please come.

I want to share this moment because the thrill of publication is just as strong as the first time. It’s kind of like having a baby and then the baby’s sibling. I love both books. I love the nurturing of each word to create my babies. And I love the stories still floating as embryos in my head yearning for birth.

One thing that stays strong with me is the gratitude I feel for my publisher, Pen-L Publishing. They are the VERY best! Duke and Kim Pennell have held my hand from the first pitch of my story to this past week when lining out what my bookmarks will look like. They are supportive and diligent, allowing me to have the last word on the cover and most everything, all the while providing the best in editing and professional help through the process. On top of all that, they are nearly as excited as I am to see this baby arrive.

So, come if you can on Sunday. Hear me read a little from the book, pick up a copy of my new baby, and have a cookie and punch to celebrate!

If you can’t come, check it out on Amazon or on from my publisher, Pen-L at

Book of Words: Intrusion by Mary McCluskey

Good writers choose their words carefully. This blog offers a different type of book review by combining it with vocabulary building. Included here are a few interesting words I found in Intrusion, a book released in July by British author Mary McCluskey. Some of the words McCluskey used were British and unfamiliar to me, so I included them in this blog.

Intrusion pits a woman who has hit rock bottom against a long-lost best friend with a hidden motive. Mary McCluskey deftly pulls the reader into the emotional turmoil of Kat Hamilton’s shattered life. The mourning mom struggles to support her husband’s efforts to maintain his standing in his law firm and fights to find meaning in her own life, but can barely get through each day. When she’s at her lowest, evil steps in to help push her over the edge. I found Intrusion to be an exciting psychological thriller that kept the tension high while ever increasing the stakes all the way to an end with a unexpected twist. McCluskey knows how to keep the reader guessing.

Cover pdf provided by Author Mary McCluskey

Cover pdf provided by Author Mary McCluskey

Words from Intrusion:

Cabochon: A gem polished but not faceted. <Origin> mid-16th century: from French, diminutive of caboche ‘head’. “Sara gave a small smile and looked down, twisting the cabochon emerald ring off her finger, then holding it for a few seconds, as if checking its weight, before replacing it.”

 Sepia: A reddish-brown color associated particularly with monochrome photographs of the 19th and early 20th centuries. <Special Usage> a brown pigment prepared from a black fluid secreted by cuttlefish, used in monochrome drawing and in watercolors. “These memories dropped softly, completely intact, into her mind. Sometimes, they were in strong, primary colors, occasionally in a kind of sepia, like old movies.”

Intransigent: Unwilling or refusing to change one’s views or to agree about something. “He is a lawyer. He has the nitpicky legal mind. I never dreamt he would be so intransigent.”

Janus: An ancient Italian deity, guardian of doorways and gates and protector of the state in time of war. He is usually represented with two faces, so that he looks both forward and backward. <Special Usage> two-faced; hypocritical; two-sided. “In profile, the two sides of her face could look quite different: one side so bare, the delicate bone structure clear and unobstructed, the other side hidden by a cascade of rich brown hair. A Janus face, Maggie had said once.”

 Sussed: (Chiefly British, informal) A verb meaning to realize, grasp. An abbreviation of suspect or suspicion. “Though Sister Judy may have sussed me.”

 Gobsmacked: (Chiefly British, informal) Utterly astonished; astounded. <Origin> 1980s: from GOB + SMACK, with reference to being shocked by a blow to the mouth, or to clapping a hand to one’s mouth in astonishment. “They’ll all be gobsmacked.”

Definitions are from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle.


“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use?” ― Stephen King

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

Book of Words: EXHUME by Danielle Girard

“The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.”

— J.K. Rowling

I’m using this blog to offer a chance at building a better vocabulary through the books I read. I’ll provide a short review of the book followed by a few words I think the author used in an interesting way or that might not be familiar, at least to me.


Exhume (Dr. Schwartzman Series, Book 1) by Danielle Girard

I really enjoyed this thriller and had a hard time putting my Kindle aside until the end. The protagonist, Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman, is very well written by Girard. I found myself feeling it all as the young medical examiner works to solve the murder of a woman who could be her twin. She soon realizes the killer chose the victim for that very reason. As the plot thickens and the threats mount against her, Schwartzman gains strength rather than cowering in the knowledge that her own life is in danger. I found the story gripping. Girard is an excellent writer. Check her out at daniellegirard@com.

This book, because of its medical examiner character, offered a number of unfamiliar words.

Words from Exhume:

Manubrium: The broad upper part of the sternum of mammals, with which the clavicles and first ribs articulate.  “She fingered the place where her necklace always lay flat against her manubrium.”

Parasympathetic: (adj.) of or relating to the part of the automatic nervous system that counterbalances the action of the sympathetic nerves. It consists of nerves arising from the brain and the lower end of the spinal cord and supplying the internal organs, blood vessels and glands.  “Her parasympathetic nervous system now back in control, her empty stomach ached, leaving her nauseous and exhausted.”

 Hemangioma: A benign tumor of blood vessels, often forming a red birthmark.  “Behind Stein’s right knee was another birthmark, this one a hemangioma. The hemangioma—sometimes called a raspberry—was the result of blood vessels that clustered in utero and never fully dissipated.”

 Aquiline: (adj.) Like an eagle. Special usage: (of a person’s nose) hooked or curved like an eagle’s beak.  “Plenty who were tall and thin as she was, even some with an aquiline nose like her own and others who had been born with a nose like hers and then had the hump surgically removed.”

 Whorls: A coil or ring, in particular: a complete circle in a fingerprint.  “’I’ve seen documented cases where they’ve pulled whorls off flesh.’ ‘Whorls?’ T.J. asked. ‘From fingerprints,” Harper explained.”

 Clinodractyly: A medical term describing the curvature of a digit (a finger or toe) in the plane of the palm, most commonly the fifth or little finger towards the adjacent fourth finger or ring finger.  “Her long, lean fingers, fingers like her father’s had been, like her own, their tips curved in just slightly, making them appear slightly arthritic. The clinical term was clinodactyly, a condition that caused a curvature of the digits, though theirs was mild enough to go unnoticed unless one knew to look.”

 Alveoli: A small cavity, pit, or hollow, in particular: any of the many tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. “Oxygen flowed into the bronchi, then into the smaller bronchioles and into the alveoli. Two adult lungs were the home to some three hundred million alveoli where the oxygen dissolved into the moisture-rich covering of the alveoli and diffused into the blood.”

Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or Wikipedia.

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?