Book of Words: “If the Creek Don’t Rise” by Nancy Hartney

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 If the Creek Don’t Rise, Tales from the South by Nancy Hartney.

Eighteen stories make up If the Creek Don’t Rise, each offering a glimpse of the deep south. They speak to the hardness of life, the goodness of life, and both the blessings and cost of love. What’s special about the stories in Hartney’s collection is her ability to layer in complexity in so few words. Complexity in the characters, complexity in the relationships between the characters, and complexity in the details of setting a scene. The tales come together quickly with careful precision of a truly talented writer who provides a satisfaction for the reader unheard of in most short stories. Think I’m kidding? Check out the short “postcard vignettes” where Hartney tells a story in just a few sentences.

One of my favorite tales in the book is King David and the Bookstore. I love the reminder of the goodness we gain for ourselves by being kind to others, and the thought of what missives we may leave behind to change another’s thoughts of our memory. Hartney’s expert weaving of words maximizes the emotional impact of her storylines. I loved the compassion I couldn’t help but feel for the plight of a prostitute and a man she befriends and loses in The Trickster. But every story pulled me in. Good writing makes for mesmerizing reading.

Reading If the Creek Don’t Rise makes me want to pick up Washed in the Water, Hartney’s first short story collection. Both of Harney’s books are published by Pen-L Publishing, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Just a Few Words from If the Creek Don’t Rise:

Withers: noun. Plural. The highest part of a horse’s back, lying at the base of the neck above the shoulders. The height of a horse is measured to the withers.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 3: From separate vantage points they watched the jockey carefully balance his weight above the withers, grab a handful of mane, and will himself one with the chestnut colt for the thousand-pound jolt out of the gate.

Shedrow: nounA row of sheds; especially referring to a row of barns for horses at the start of a race track.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 5:  After the final race, with the track emptying, Lady shuffled toward shedrow.

Mucking: noun. Dirt, rubbish or waste; Farmyard manure, widely used as fertilizer. verb. (muck up) informal. Mishandle (a job or situation); spoil (something)

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 23: Up every day before 4:00 a.m., Belle struggled to keep her grooming, rubbing and mucking covered while she tended Charles Allen.

Pirogue: noun. A long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk, especially in Central America and the Caribbean.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 38:  Kenetta Broussard, an olive complexioned girl-woman, had grown up on the edge of Chokeberry Bayou poling a pirogue through cordgrass and across open channels, first with her father, and later, only the hound.

Patois: noun. The dialect of the common people of a region, differing in various respects from the standard language of the rest of the country; the jargon or informal speech used by a particular social group.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 39: While they worked, in his soft patois, he explained the shallow-water pathways, great blue herons, bull gators, and water moccasins.

Coquina: noun.1. A soft limestone of broken shells, used in road-making in the Caribbean and Florida. 2. A small bivalve mollusk with wedge-shaped shell which has a wide variety of colors and patterns.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 99: Before Jackson could respond, a grey Blazer crunched across the coquina shell parking area.

Minced: verb.1. Cut up or grind (food, especially meat) into very small pieces, typically in a machine with revolving blades. 2. Walk with an affected delicacy or fastidiousness, typically with short quick steps.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 143:  She minced into the church meeting hall behind her sister and waddled toward tables groaning under casseroles, whole hams, deviled eggs, and baked sweet potatoes.

 Definitions are typically fromThe New Oxford American Dictionary.

Nancy Hartney, author and poet

FULL DISCLOSURE: Nancy is a beloved friend. We share a writing critique group, a publisher, and a love for the craft. She’s also a recently retired librarian for the Fayetteville Public Library, where both my daughters were lucky enough to work part-time as library pages while students in Fayetteville, Arkansas. But don’t let that diminish a word I’ve said about this fantastic storyteller or you’ll miss out on a great reading experience.

 

“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, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

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Book of Words: The Math Tutor by Robert Laurence

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 The Math Tutor by Robert Laurence.

Laurence’s main character, Sam Butler, is a retired professor of law and a widower who finds his life turned upside down after agreeing to tutor a home-schooled neighbor. Ellie, the sheltered young girl, takes to Butler’s life of caring for off-the-track Thoroughbreds and his enjoyment of state university track events. But Butler is also asked to mentor a law professor struggling to be published in his field. Laurence does an excellent job pulling the reader into the character’s psyche without overdoing it. We feel Butler’s emotions as he confronts difficult people, becomes injured and dependent on those around him, gains respect for Ellie’s young curious mind, and as he loses a very rewarding part of his life. This isn’t my usual mystery/thriller read, but I loved the story and Laurence’s ability to keep your attention glued to the page.

Just a Few Words from The Math Tutor:

  • Punctilio: noun. (Italian & Spanish; Italian puntigliopoint of honor, scruple, frm Spanish Puntillo, from diminutive ofpuntopoint, from Latinpunctum) (1596) 1 : a minute detail of conduct in a ceremony or in observance of a code 2 : careful observance of forms (as in social conduct) The adjective, punctilious: marked by or concerned about precise accordance with the details of codes or conventions. Synonym: careful   The Math Tutor, Page 140: “’Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive.’ But I’m not sure Gwen would agree that the not-honesty-alone part would apply to her. I don’t believe she thinks she has any higher obligation to tell the truth than the rest of us.”
  • Perspicacity: noun. The quality of having a ready insight into things; shrewdness. The adjective perspicacious is defined as “of acute mental vision or discernment: keen.” Synonym: shrewd.  The Math Tutor, Page 160: Rose raised his eyebrows to Lynda, who said. “I’d believe her. I’ve stopped being surprised by her perspicacity.”
  • Pedagogic: adjective.Of, relating to, or befitting a teacher or education.  The Math Tutor, Page 298: “I said that factoring was just like picking all of the oranges out of a basket full of apples, oranges and plums, which I thought was nearly brilliant pedagogic device, though she didn’t, probably because you didn’t say it.”
  • Dreadnought: noun.1 : a warm garment of thick cloth. 2 (Dreadnought, British battleship) : Battleship. 3 : one that is among the largest or most powerful of its kind. The Math Tutor, Page 233: “By the way. I looked up the origins of the word ‘dreadnaught.’ There was a British warship First World War vintage, of that name. H.M.S. Dreadnought, O-U-G-H-T. But Webster’s finds A-U-G-H-T an acceptable variation, though perhaps archaic. I thought you’d want to know.”
  • Entropy: noun.1 : a measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system’s disorder and that is a property of the system’s state and is related to it in such a manner that a reversible change in heat in the system produces a change in the measure which varies directly with the heat change and inversely with the absolute temperature at which the change takes place; Broadly: the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. 2 a : the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. b : a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. Synonyms: chaos, disorganization, randomness  The Math Tutor, Page 216: Sam shrugged. “Things fall apart. The universe is winding down. Eventually that dike will fail and the water will head downhill. If you want to be precise, entrophy is on the increase.” 

“What was that word?” “Entropy.”

“Which is…?”

“A measure of the disorder around us. Which is increasing. Everything tends toward confusion and collapse. Every crystal vase on the Earth is destined by the Second Law eventually to break.”

 

Definitions are typically fromThe New Oxford American Dictionarythrough Kindleor Wikipedia.

“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, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

Book of Words: November’s Past by A.E. Howe

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 November’s Past, the first in the Larry Macklin Mystery Series by writer A.E. Howe. Howe released November’s Past along with December’s Secrets in May, 2016, and since has produced another five books in the series: January’s Betrayal, February’s Regrets, March’s Luck, April’s Desires, and May’s Danger. Mystery fans are eating it up and sending Howe to as high as #18 in Kindle Police Procedurals, according to Amazon ranking information.

Cover image provided by Author A.E. Howe.

I’ve read several in Howe’s series and love the sometime reluctant detective Larry Macklin. November’s Past introduces Macklin as an investigator in rural Florida, whose father is the local sheriff. That connection doesn’t always work in the detective’s favor as he faces criticism from co-workers and his own undeserved lack of confidence. In this first book, Macklin investigates the murder of a mutilated stranger and finds a connection to a recent arson investigation. He then links both crimes to a local group of former high school friends that includes his own dad. One by one, he eliminates suspects and wonders if the crime can be solved. Howe does an excellent job building his characters and helping the reader feel for them despite their flaws, especially Macklin. I plan to continue making my way through this series and may catch up with Howe before he fills every month in the calendar with intrigue and fascinating characters.

Words from November’s Past:

Macadam: n. broken stone of even size used in successively compacted layers for surfacing roads and paths, and typically bound with tar or bitumen. <Special Usage> a stretch of road with such a surface.  “This macadam makes it hard to pick up any tire tracts, but, on the good news side, if you can find the vehicle sooner rather than later, we might find some of the macadam stuck in the tire treads.”

 Valkyrie: n. each of Odin’s twelve handmaidens who conducted the slain warriors of their choice from the battlefield to Valhalla. <Origin> from Old Norse Valkyrja, literally ‘chooser of the slain.’  “He was very glad that we had excluded him from the morning visit from the Valkyrie.”

Flakka: n. Pyrrolidinopentiophenone is a synthetic stimulant of the cathinone class developed in the 1960s that has been sold as a designer drug. Colloquially, it is sometimes called flakka or gravel.  “Of course molly was already being replaced by flakka and whatever else someone wanted to use to get high.”

 Tar Baby: n. A dummy made of tar, which cannot be struck without getting oneself hopelessly stuck to it from the story Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox by Joe Harris, as told by his fictional narrator, Uncle Remus. Tar baby has become short hand for a situation better avoided than confronted. (from the online Urban Dictionary)  “I was beginning to think this was turning into a Tar Baby situation.”

Debonair: adj. (of a man) confident, stylish, and charming.  “Mauser dragged me over to her, making it impossible for me to act suave or debonair.”

Harridan: n. a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman: a bullying old harridan.  “’Yeah, I’ll call Tim and see if he can be there to help control the harridan.’”

 Autocratic adj. of or relating to a ruler who has absolute power. <Special Usage> taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions; domineering.  “Dad can be a bit autocratic.”

 Nepotistic, adjective form of Nepotitism: n. the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.  “I could tell that he wanted to make a snide remark in a nepotistic vein, but was resisting the urge with difficulty”

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?

BOOK OF WORDS: Almost Dead by Lisa Jackson

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 Almost Dead, one of dozens of novels New York Times best-selling author Lisa Jackson has under her belt. In researching for this blog, I was surprised to learn that she and another author I love to read, Nancy Bush, are sisters.

Almost Dead is the story of a young mother who’s awash in grief at the sudden loss of her grandmother. Cissy Cahill thinks that grief is making her lose her mind when she hears footsteps and senses strange shadows in the family’s San Francisco home. Then other members of the affluent family suffer sudden brutal deaths. Cissy is forced to dig into the family history to find answers and hope to discover the killer. Almost Dead kept me guessing until the surprise twist in the end, like Jackson’s writing often does.

 

A Few Words from Almost Dead:

Rabbit-Warren: n. a series of underground tunnels where rabbits live; a building or place with many connected rooms, passages, etc., where you can get lost very easily.  “The real work took place behind a solid-core door that led to rabbit-warren work spaces, of which Sybil Tomini’s was one of the largest.”

 Disabused: v. persuade (someone) that an idea or belief is mistaken  “‘It wasn’t all that terrific,’ Cissy disabused them. ‘We Cahills seem to have trouble in the happiness department.’”

Progeny: n. a descendant or the descendants of a person, animal, or plant; offspring.  “They all knew that was wrong, all realized that her father, and all of his progeny, had been scammed by that vile grandfather of Cissy’s.”

 Stygian: adj. of or relating to the Styx River. <SPECIAL USAGE> Poetic/Literary very dark.  “All the while she eyed the shadows and stygian umbras; the wet, shivering plants; the dark sheltered nooks where the exterior corners of the house met.”

Umbras: n. the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object esp. the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse.  “All the while she eyed the shadows and stygian umbras; the wet, shivering plants; the dark sheltered nooks where the exterior corners of the house met.”

Moue: n. a pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste.  “Marla made a moue of distaste at the memories of her mother-in-law.”

 Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or internet research, including Wikipedia.

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

“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, On Writing

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

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?