Thanksgiving, with a side of murder

November on Martha’s Vineyard is time to gather with friends and family to say thanks for a good year (and a small break from the influx of tourists). The daylight hours are shortening, only the hardiest of tourists will visit. Year round residents feel like they’ve got their island paradise all to themselves for a few months.

November’s book choice was an easy one: Helen thinks every Thanksgiving should be a cozy one, with the obligatory hint of murder — in books, at least. What better than a cozy mystery set at Thanksgiving.:


Pick it up at Amazon, B&N, Apple Books, or Kobo.


Have you read The Diva Runs Out of Thyme yet? Yes? –proceed scrolling for some very real comments by the members of the BBG.

If not, download it before you proceed.

There may be spoilers, otherwise!


Blythe (proprietress of Blythe Cove Manor): Helen, your choices are always interesting, but this one…may I just say that I will be serving the bacon and herb stuffing this Thanksgiving? I can hardly wait to taste it, as my mouth was watering in this book. Once again, a crime is solved. You are a bit dastardly, though, as this is the first in a series and I’m going to have to buy the rest for my Kindle as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is served. Maybe even before I clean up the kitchen.

Helen (director of the local library): (chuckling). I like cozy mysteries with heroines like me. The competition for stuffing recipe reminded me of the way my mother and her sisters used to compete with their recipes for my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table. My father would sometimes have to remind them that this was THANKSgiving, not a county fair blue ribbon event.

Mudge (excursion boat owner/operator): Helen, you know what I’m going to say–not nearly enough blood or suspense. Sometimes, though, these cozy mysteries seem misnamed to me. All these kindly people just like me who have an unsettlingly dangerous side.

Aggie (owner, Sandpiper Restaurant): Mudge, you’re right. Helen’s love of cozy mystery for the book club sometimes makes me look at my customers and wonder, “Exactly what don’t I know about you that I should know?” Helen, I absolutely loved the book, and I’m trying out all the recipes one by one.

Fred (island taxi driver): I laughed out loud at this one. Like you, Helen, my sisters were very competitive at holiday dinners. Me, I just ate it all and absolutely refused to pass judgement. I knew better than that. I know my fair share of secrets around here, but these cozy mysteries are a good warning to just keep myself to myself and not try too hard to unravel any mystery lest I find myself the prime suspect.

Did you miss the other book group picks? Check them all out here.

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October Spookiness Comes to the Island

October is time to rake and can and plan for winter in Martha’s Vineyard. The daylight hours are shortening, flocks of tourists are nearly gone. Year round residents take a little time to have Halloween fun with jack-o-lanterns and autumn’s beautiful leaves.

October’s book choice was an easy one: Mudge loves coming up with the Halloween book. This year he’s going with the master of darkness himself, Stephen King. The twist is King’s co-writer is his son, Owen. Can Mudge spook the group more than last year with:

Pick it up at Amazon, B&N, Apple Books, or Kobo.


Have you read Sleeping Beauties yet? Yes? –proceed scrolling for some very real comments by the members of the BBG.

If not, download it before you proceed.

There may be spoilers, otherwise!


Blythe (proprietress of Blythe Cove Manor): Well, I’m not a King fan, as you all know. I like lighter books, with very happy endings. But I must say it was interesting to see how the world coped with losing women. And there’s something satisfying when a sleeping woman leaves no doubt that her sleep should not be disturbed. I will be sleeping with a light on for the rest of the month, as usual Mudge.

Helen (director of the local library): I love a good mystery, even if it comes with supernatural suspense. Knowing what had caused the Aurora virus and whether the women would come back. Not to mention how much the world would have changed when they did come back. I’m not sure how I’d have felt. Also, has anyone else noticed how the heater, when it turns on at night, sounds a lot like a ghost pounding up the stairs?

Mudge (excursion boat owner/operator): Knew it. Knew this book would get you Blythe. I picked it because King is the King, as you know I believe. Now that’s he’s passing on the torch to his son Owen, I want to get everyone ready for next year. By the way, I found this excellent jack-o-lantern nightlight for you all. Maybe you’ll have sweet dreams before November, Blythe.

Aggie (owner, Sandpiper Restaurant): Mudge, leave it to you. If you’re King’s #1 fan, then I’m his #2. This book made me think, jump, and look behind me every time I heard a creaky floorboard, or a rustling rush of wind. I want to be Eve Black, just so you all know.

Fred (island taxi driver): Mudge, I look forward to the October pick all year long. This one took me to surprising places. Fortunately, I don’t believe in ghosts or zombie sleeping beauties, so I’m still getting my eight hours without trouble.

Did you miss the other book group picks? Check them all out here.

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The Blythe Cove Book Group Goes Back to School With a Good Book

September is back to school in Martha’s Vineyard, just like most other places. The daylight hours are shortening, flocks of tourists are thinning. Year round residents take a deep sigh of relief that they’ll have the island back to themselves.

September’s book choice was an easy one: Aggie has a secret plan for one of the young year-round residents of Blythe Cove Manor. Here’s her reasoning for the book she chose:

Sometimes you come across a young person who is talented, smart, kind, and would greatly benefit from an Ivy League education (don’t scowl Mudge). But said young person doesn’t even know how to dream about such a thing. This book is meant to help me (and maybe you, too, Blythe) figure out how to get said young person to start thinking Ivy League.

Pick it up at Amazon, B&N, iBooks, or Kobo.


Have you read Secret Society Girl yet? Yes? –proceed scrolling for some very real comments by the members of the BBG.

If not, download it before you proceed.

There may be spoilers, otherwise!


Blythe (proprietress of Blythe Cove Manor): Oh Helen, I didn’t know much about what it meant to go to an Ivy League university before. I heartily agree that we need to help make this happen for our special young person. To think that until so very recently, these secret societies didn’t take young women is utterly disgraceful.

Helen (director of the local library): I don’t want to say who I’m speaking of, although Blythe obviously knows her. I recognize this is an unusual way to choose a book for the book group, but I enjoyed it. I had a nice, staid, state university education with no secret societies. But I’m not brilliant, and I don’t aspire to much more than enjoying life on the island and making sure everyone gets matched with their perfect next read. I think this book is just the one to get a young woman thinking about her possibilities off island..

Mudge (excursion boat owner/operator): Hmmm. Helen, I didn’t realize an Ivy League education came with so much drama, but I suppose it makes sense. I enjoyed the book, although I thought most Yalie’s would benefit from a summer at sea to teach them how to handle the real life drama the sea can throw at you.

Aggie (owner, Sandpiper Restaurant): Helen, this was an interesting choice for you, since you usually trend toward literary, or an Oprah pick. At first, I didn’t like the light tone, but then I realized that it was Amy’s self defense mechanism against a university social structure that still tends to see young women as not-quite-good-enough. It has got me thinking about whether my son should read it.

Fred (island taxi driver): I thought I was going to hate this, Helen. I usually love your picks, though, so… all I have to say is “Glad I didn’t want an Ivy League education!” But, to your point about a certain someone who could benefit from it, I agree. Let’s make a plan to see our young person not only reads this book, and others to get her thinking about the possibilities, but let’s do more.

Did you miss the other book group picks? Check them all out here.

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Real or Fiction

Real or Fiction: Where does one begin?

by Shirley Hailstock


I recently read an author’s blog about writing from or about real life. Many authors do this, myself included. However, until I read her blog, I thought most of what I wrote was fiction, made up, not associated with the real world, but of a world I created. I never use people I know in my stories. I tried using the name of a relative once and found I was making the character that person.


This is not to say that the attributes of characters I write about are not from real people. All of them are. But shortly after introducing a character, they take on a life of their own and the author can only record what they say and do.

The stories I write come from the heart, from past experiences or from emotions that I’ve experienced or can tap into, empathize with. They reveal a lot about the writer. This is why the stories we find most endearing are the ones that have an underlying truth to them. It’s not “in your face” truth, but subtle, the kind that touches the emotional nerves and basically rings our bells. As readers, they draw us in, identify the same emotions the reader has, giving the reader an experience that is safe while it can make the heart beat faster, return them to the memory of a first love, or have them living vicariously through the pages.

We all have favorite authors. For several of mine, I’ve done binge reading of their books, usually fifteen titles in a row. I do this to learn about writing, but the by-product of this method is I learn a lot about that author, their views on the world, what they read, what political stand they have and what kind of person they are.

This may seem like an audacious comment since most authors are introverts and do not want to put their lives out in the world.  However, as an author, our stories reveal that we’ve opened a vein and poured our blood into the stories. This is honesty. It’s real. It’s the truth. And it makes for vivid stories that glue the reader to her/his chair as the author takes them on an adventure. And within that adventure, in between the lines and pages and chapters, inside the world created by the author, is the truth of the author’s conscious, her/his values, her/his life.

So the next time you pick up a book to read, handle it carefully and remember you’re holding the author’s heart in your hands.


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What to Read on a Hot August Day?

August is hot in Martha’s Vineyard. The sun is high, the days are long. Year round residents drag out the fans and take it easy when the sun gets high — unlike the tourists. There’s nothing residents like more than to relax with in the shade with a good book.

August’s book choice was an easy one: Fred, who wishes the Summer Olympics happened every year, chose a thriller with an Olympic twist. Here’s why, in his own words:

The Summer Olympics should be held every year. Who doesn’t have a thrill watching those athletes compete for the gold? Next best thing is reading a book about an Olympic athlete. Especially one that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If I’m going to read a romance, it needs to have a CIA operative, a gold-medal Olympic gymnast, and an action-packed mission to keep me interested. Bet Mudge will like this one, even with the romance.

Pick it up at Amazon, B&N, iBooks, or Kobo.


Have you read More Than Gold yet? Yes? –proceed scrolling for some very real comments by the members of the BBG.

If not, download it before you proceed.

There may be spoilers, otherwise!


Blythe (proprietress of Blythe Cove Manor): Oh Fred, I loved this book. Morgan is so strong and determined. Her heart is big and her courage had my heart beating so hard I had to turn the fan up a notch. To think that a brave act twelve years in the past could put her life in danger in the present makes me hope this isn’t based on a real gymnast!

Helen (director of the local library): Fred, I had not tried any of Shirley Hailstock’s books before. The Capital Chronicles taps one of my favorite tropes — government intrigue. Even better, it has government intrigue involving two different governments, plus a jaded CIA agent ready for true love. I ordered the whole series for the library.

Mudge (excursion boat owner/operator): Okay, Fred, you got me. Yes, it has a steamy romance, but the intrigue is even steamier. And the Olympic behind-the-scenes stuff was great. If summer wasn’t so important to my business, I’d suggest you and I book a trip to the next summer Olympics.

Aggie (owner, Sandpiper Restaurant): There’s something to be said for a plot that twists and turns and keeps surprising me. There were times when I actually got so caught up in the story, a customer had to remind me I was supposed to be bartending.

Fred (island taxi driver): Another win from Fred in the reader satisfaction column. Can’t imagine what I’ll pick next time…

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July in Martha’s Vineyard Reveals Secrets

July is high season in Martha’s Vineyard. Tourists and summer folk are everywhere. Year round residents sigh, gripe, or enjoy the influx of people as their natures demand. They know the island looks nothing like it will in a few months, when winter comes. They know where the secrets are buried.

July’s book choice was an easy one: Mudge chose a thriller that is sure to give the summer folk a reason to check the shadows behind them as they walk about the island. Here’s why, in his own words:

When it is my turn, I like to pick something that will pull back the lace curtains and show a side of the island that we don’t usually talk about to the summer folk.

Pick it up at Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Google Play or Kobo.


Have you read The Caretaker yet? If so, proceed scrolling for some very real comments by the members of the BBG.

If not, download it (for free!) before you proceed.

There may be spoilers, otherwise!


Blythe (proprietress of Blythe Cove Manor): I always love it when Mudge tries to convince us that the world needs to be met with suspicion and wariness. I must admit, I will look at some of the caretakers here a little more closely, though..

Helen (director of the local library): Mudge, I will recommend this book to summer patrons. Maybe it will make them look both ways when they cross the road. Who knows, a little less complacence might prevent an accident or two.

Mudge (excursion boat owner/operator): People have secrets. If you think this piece of fiction was disturbing, you should know some of those secrets–

Aggie (owner, Sandpiper Restaurant): Okay, Mudge. Secrets are not always meant to be told. Or, if they are, they are best told in fiction. And that’s all I’ll say about this book other than it kept me up all night finishing it.

Fred (island taxi driver): I’m with you Mudge. A little more suspicion never hurt anyone. I almost missed picking up a guest because I was at the end of the book and couldn’t put it down until I finished it. She forgave me, though, when I gave her the book and turned her into a fan.

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Influenced by the Movies

by Shirley Hailstock

I loved my high school. And while my chemistry teacher was the most important influence in my life, it’s my English teachers that I have the most stories about. This blog is not about teachers, but about influences that some of my teachers instilled in me – mainly it was a need to read and learn, to research the people, places, and things that interested me.

Recently, I watched a movie about J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye. I never read this book. Like most people, my high school had plenty of classics for us to read and I read all of them (being an avid reader, this is no surprise). I also exhausted the summer reading list every year. However, there were books that never made the lists I was given. Catcher in the Rye being one of them.

Anyway, the movie (Rebel in the Rye) is a biography of J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger’s life and specifically the writing of his only published novel. I watched the movie twice and then wanted to read the book. I read some reviews that don’t really tell me why this book became a classic. So hearing my Sophomore English teacher’s voice in my head telling me (before the age of the Internet) to “go look it up,” I got the book and I’m reading it. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to separate this first-person point of view from the man I envision. J.D. Salinger has said he and Holden Caulfield, his main character, are not the same. The book is a work of fiction. However, we writers and readers know there is a certain amount of the author in every story.

This is not the first time I’ve been intrigued by a version of Hollywood that had me rushing out to find the truth. Years ago, I watched Amadeus, the biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life. After seeing that, I read three or four books on his life, and he’s not even my favorite composure (that would be Chopin & Rachmaninoff).

Since reading The Great Gatsby in high school (it made the list), I’ve been fascinated by both the story and the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.



One year for Spring Break, I convinced my children to go north instead of to the place we went every year. We visited Newport, RI. I wanted to see the mansions built during the Gilded Age, but mainly I was interested in the house where they filmed the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby. Then I watched Beloved Infidel, the story of Fitzgerald and columnist Sheliah Graham.


Of course, I had to know more about Fitzgerald. First I re-read The Great Gatsby. I wanted to know if the book would hold up in today’s world. It’s always on the bestseller list when a new school year begins. My opinion, yes it works, even today. After that, I scoured bookstores and the library for stories about Fitzgerald.

This is a short list of movies that have influenced me enough to send me in search of sources to see what I could learn about a character or an author.  I could go on for several more pages.


For my own book, Promises to Keep, the idea also came from a television program, Route 66.  Since there were so many stories that the characters brought to the screen, I was always in the library looking for books to support those stories.

Am I alone in this? Have any of you ever gone in search of a book after seeing a movie? Tell me about it.

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