Category Archives: Books

The Sweet Smell of…Success!

A couple of months ago, I entered the Midtown Reader’s monthly Story Slam, but ALAS my tale was not chosen. I entered again in June, and my story was selected! Along with three other writers, I read my story (out loud! to strangers!) last Thursday night, and then sat through a Q&A with the audience. It was a ton of fun and I hope to do it again.

Here’s the story I submitted:

I am sitting on the floor outside my mother’s bathroom, a place I have occupied every Sunday evening since I was seven years old, grinding my teeth. Shortly after my dad had just about enough of my mother, she instituted “Sunday Night Spa,” which mostly involved putting on face masks, or playing with her makeup, or French braiding each other’s hair. When I was seven, this was a huge treat. Now that I’m sixteen, not so much. My mother will not allow me to make plans that conflict with Sunday Night Spa, and since I do not share my mother’s overriding interest in her own face, I sit outside the bathroom door while she dyes her hair or plucks her eyebrows or whatever. This is her idea of a generous compromise. Some nights she spends hours watching makeup videos on YouTube while I pray for an asteroid to hit the house. She can tell you all about sheet masks, but can’t identify which political party the President belongs to. Did you know you can contour your toes?, she’ll ask. God, her brows look amazing. 

The soundtrack for these Sunday evenings – and every other evening, for that matter – is a running monologue detailing my mother’s misery and bitterness at finding herself divorced. But in the last few years, the target of her ire has shifted from my father to me. When I finally hit puberty, my head transformed. Suddenly, I looked like my dad in a wig. His nose sprouted from the middle of my face, and my hair became thick, wavy, and unruly. My mother saw this as a calculated affront, like I made my face look this way for the sole purpose of tormenting her.

That’s when my mom started knifing me verbally. “You poor thing,” she’d say, “you got your father’s ugly nose.” Or “Why don’t you let me straighten your hair? It could be pretty like mine.” She offered to get me a plastic surgery when I turn 18 in a couple of years, and got very upset when I declined. The more she insults my father, the prouder I am to look like a dude in a wig. This drives her insane. I mean, more insane. My dad is just a regular guy, and I’m pretty sure the amount of time he thinks about my mother or their marriage is zero. He’s moved on in the last ten years. This also drives her insane. She’s marooned in the past – for her, every day is the day he left. The anger is always that fresh.

Even now, through the bathroom door, she’s offering to get me the same color hair dye so we can match. Remember when we used to wear matching outfits?, she asks. Remember when you loved me best? Remember when Daddy ruined the life we had planned?

She knows that I hate Sunday nights.

She does not know that I have substituted her hair color base for Nair hair remover.

It turns out that I have also had enough of my mother. I’ve had enough of being her therapist, her substitute spouse, her best friend. Over the last few weeks, I have been squirreling away my most prized possessions in my car. I’m 16, so they fit nicely under the piles of clothes and water bottles and books.

I’m going to my dad’s, and I’m not coming back.

In the bathroom, the timer goes off, and my mother turns on the shower. My heart rate picks up speed, my palms slick.

I hear the sharp breath before a scream.

I walk out.


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Reading Materials: June 2017

28. Rabbit Cake, Annie Hartnett. (Library, Book Club Selection) I actually read this in May and forgot to include it in last month’s list. Ooooops. This book reminded me of Tell the Wolves I’m Home, in that it dealt with grief from the perspective of a younger girl with an older sister. This was a thoughtful book – it’s hard to write like a child, to capture the feeling of being young.

29. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink. (Borrowed from Tyler) This is a weird book – I mean, WEIRD – yet also delightful and filled with unexpectedly beautiful moments. In what was a we-live-in-the-future first for me, Welcome to Night Vale started as a podcast and was later made into a book. It follows a fictional town in the desert where nothing is normal. It’s as though one of The X-Files‘ signature creepy small towns collided with an extraterrestrial location from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found this book a challenging, but rewarding, read. I find myself thinking about it frequently.

30. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn. (Borrowed) I enjoyed Gone Girl, and needed a bit of a palate cleanser after being immersed in Night Vale, so this fit the bill nicely. I enjoyed this twisty mystery, even if I found it difficult to like a single character.

31. The Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly. (Borrowed) A sweeping WWII novel told from the perspective of three women – two of whom were real people. My only criticism is that one of the three narrators drops out of sight for most of the second half of the book, and I kept waiting for her name to appear on a chapter title. Overall, I thought this was well-written and engaging, and gets bonus points for some awesome French food descriptions.

32. Creating Your Dream Kitchen, Susan Breen. (Library) We’ve known since the day we bought our house that we wanted to completely remodel the kitchen. It was designed by a sadist who didn’t cook – there is zero counter space on either side of the slanty cook top, for example, and the cabinets are cavernous and un-shelved. Anyway, I want to design the new kitchen myself, so obviously the first thing I did was check out a book on the subject. (And pin a bunch of things in Pinterest, duh.) This was a very basic primer, but it did have some good inspiration photos. Alas, on a personally-aggravating note, it also had a bunch of typos. Grrrrrrrr.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 27
Non-Fiction: 5


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Reading Materials: May 2017

23. All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda. (Library) This has been hanging out on my to-read list, and I finally got it from the library. I enjoyed the story a great deal, however (you knew there was a however, right?)…. The book uses a distracting format – the story is told over two weeks, but instead of going from Day 1 to Day 15, we go from Day 15 to Day 1. This is an interesting device, but ultimately I’m not sure it adds enough to be worthwhile. I enjoyed the story, though, and would like to re-read it in the right order to see how it holds up.

24. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson. (Library) WHAT a good book. It dealt with terribly depressing subjects, yet rarely felt gloomy or maudlin. The main character, Ursula Todd, dies and is reborn many times over the course of the book. The author manages to re-tell the same story, over and over, and make it feel fresh with each telling.

25. The Bad Seed, William March. (Library, Book Club Selection) I was looking forward to reading this book as a history lesson – this novel was written in 1954 – but I found myself just as captivated as I would be with a modern thriller. There were definitely moments where it showed its age, but those were brief. I am very glad I got a chance to read this.

26. The Quick, Lauren Owen. (Library) Solidly enjoyable, if a bit slow at first. I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I didn’t hate it, either. It felt a bit loose, or out of focus. It was hard to know who the protagonist of the novel was supposed to be. Spoiler alert: it’s a vampire book, but a subtle one.

27. Margaret the First, Danielle Dutton. (Library) I’m going to be honest here: I don’t remember putting this book on hold, so when I got an e-mail notifying me it was ready to be picked up, I thought What the heck, let’s give it a try. This was foolish. I’d never heard of Margaret Cavendish before this, and quite frankly, learned little of interest about her life. It is as though Margaret herself – known for her eccentricities and social awkwardness – wrote this as an autobiography. It is rambling and, at times, incoherent. I think the audience for this novel is devotees of Margaret Cavendish, people who already see her as an important and unique figure in history, who already know her story. As someone just trying to get a feel for her, or learn about her, this book was a flop.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 23
Non-Fiction: 4

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Reading Materials: April 2017

18. The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson. (Library) This book is, as they say, right up my Edwardian England alley. I find the society fascinating – why so-and-so can be invited to tea or not, why one man is a suitable prospect but another is Totally Unacceptable, and the plethora of unappetizing food names. It was beautifully written, well-paced, and swung effortlessly between the silliness of manners and the seriousness of war.

19. The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena. (Library, Book Club Selection) It would be helpful for me if all books involving babies in peril came with a big warning label on the front. This was a book club selection, so I hadn’t had the chance to read about the book before I read the book. In the first chapter, a couple discovers their six-month-old baby missing, and the rest of the book deals with the how and why. I had a hard time focusing on whodunnit because I was anxious about the status of the baby. I doubt everyone has the same problem. Otherwise, this was a well-written and twisty mystery, and I enjoyed it.

20. Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After Baby In Peril, I needed a palate cleanser. As always, this was a perfect fluffy sherbet of a book.

21. The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J. Church (Library, Book Club selection) I disliked this book almost to the point of loathing it. A few years ago, I finally read The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a weighty tome by Richard Rhodes – so a novel about one of the wives of a Los Alamos scientist seemed like it would be my thing. But this book had almost nothing to do with Los Alamos, and everything to do with the giant chip the main character carries on her shoulder. In short, at the age of 19, she marries a professor more than 20 years her senior, and ends up not going to graduate school – a fact she whines about for the remainder of the novel. She allows this festering resentment to consume her. AND ANOTHER THING. In the novel, at the age of 46, she is suddenly turned from a relatively serious person into a lust-crazed, boy-crazy twit – and the boy in question is 20 years her junior. I don’t buy it. Even in the 1960s.

22. The Rook, Daniel O’Malley. (Library) This book was tremendously entertaining, and it grabbed me from the first page. The main character wakes up on page one surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves, with no memory of who she is or what happened. She finds a letter in her pocket from herself, and then we’re off on a grand supernatural adventure. I will definitely be checking out the second book in the series.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 18
Non-Fiction: 4

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Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans

Because “Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans with Two Tweenagers and a Toddler, Thank God for Alcohol” is just too long for a post title.

Very occasionally, Jason gets to travel somewhere awesome for work. On Monday, he had three depositions scheduled in New Orleans, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and haul everyone over there. Well, everyone except Hollyn, who chose to stay behind so she could train with her crew team for the upcoming erg sprints. Noble, but foolish.

Every time we go to New Orleans, we do several touristy things requested by the kids – this time, beignets at Cafe du Monde and browsing the French Market. But I also like to try a few new things each time I go, to keep things interesting.

On this trip, we used AirBnB for the first time, and booked an apartment in the Garden District/Freret area. Overall, I was pleased. The price was reasonable and the apartment was comfortable for the five of us.

I am unable to resist a used book shop, and this trip I found one I’d never visited before. The Librarie Book Shop has a well-curated collection of used books and the proprietress was extremely knowledgeable about New Orleans and the authors who call it home (or spiritual home). I picked up A Pattern Book of New Orleans Architecture, by Roulhac Toledano.


Traditional pattern books were like DIY manuals for amateur builders, especially in areas where there weren’t established architects or designers. They are filled with sample floorplans as well as detailed drawings of architectural elements like mantels, doorframes, columns, and windows. Iconic architect Palladio published one in 1570, and pattern books were an invaluable resource to American colonists trying to build homes and municipal buildings in the wilderness.


This is not a pattern book in the historical sense, but is nonetheless a great resource. It outlines the various styles of architecture, including floorplans, used throughout New Orleans, and includes vintage real estate advertisements.


When I put it on the checkout table, the bookseller confided that it was her favorite book in the shop. For a moment, it looked like she might not let it go. I promised to give it a good home.

Monday morning, Jason boarded the streetcar for work (he reports this was an awesome way to commute) and the kids and I headed somewhere new – The Bank Architectural Salvage & Antiques. Located north of St. Charles Avenue on Felicity St., this place was packed with salvaged doors, mantels, hardware, corbels, windows, and other decorative bits from old New Orleans buildings.


I had to force myself to walk away empty-handed.


As should be pretty obvious, we love the architecture of New Orleans and seek to incorporate it (in tasteful ways!) in our Tallahassee house. This trip provided plenty of ideas and inspiration for future projects.




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Reading Materials: January 2017

1. Breaking the Silence, Diane Chamberlain. (Digital library) This book was solidly fine. It was engaging, but not gripping. There were a lot of loose ends, and all of them were neatly tied up at the end – a bit too neatly for my taste. Some of the plot devices stretched believability, especially in the age of the internet. This must be a terrible time to write mysteries or shoot horror movies.

2. Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton. (Received in conjunction with Women’s Connection Conference) Oooooooh boy. Let me start off by stating that I haaaaated Eat, Pray, Love, and have continued to be aggravated by memoirs of women who are, basically, Far Too Special To Cope With Reality. I have read both of Melton’s books, and I have seen her speak, and every chapter of hers I read sets off a tiny alarm bell. I simply do not trust her as a narrator. In fact, I might argue that the only absolutely true thing she’s written was, “I just love to shock people.” This is not to say that she is being willful about her narrative choices – I think she believes she is telling the whole, authentic truth (TM). My problem is that she has cultivated an internet following who will provide her a hit of sweet, sweet adulation any time she feels like gifting them with a Shocking Truth. Most of these truths can be summed up, “I’m a mess! Don’t judge!” When Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) got divorced in her early 30s, she coped by going on a fully-funded round-the-world jaunt. Melton deals with her various problems by moving her family to a beachfront city, checking herself into a beachfront hotel for two days of “me time,” and picking up a daily yoga practice. Most women do not have the time or money to “cope” in these ways. Most women in crisis have to continue to slog along, going to work and caring for their kids while feeling embarrassed and upset and nauseated all the time. I’d like to read their stories. I do not believe that women like Melton are actually any more sensitive or special than women like me; rather, I think many women find comfort in a modicum of privacy and in relationships that are guarded by a low wall of discretion. Anyway, that got long. If you like Melton, and Brene Brown, and Oprah, you’ll love this. If you’re vaguely suspicious of them, you probably won’t.

3. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. (Digital Library) This book was SO GOOD. As with The Martian, much of the appeal stems from the narrator, Wade Watts, who is funny and sharp. I grew up in the 1980s, so I enjoyed the wall-to-wall pop culture references. The story is a very traditional hero’s quest, dressed up in a tech-driven dystopian near-future. I found it particularly insightful in light of some recent conversations I’ve had with friends on the difference between one’s real life and the life one leads on social media. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and am going to force my 13-year-old geek-culture-obsessed son to read it too.

4. The Red Umbrella, Christina Diaz Gonzales. (Middle school student-parent book club selection) This book draws on the experiences of Gonzales’ parents, who were children during the revolution in Cuba. Along with thousands of children, they were sent to the United States via Operation Pedro Pan. The experiences of these children, and the heartbreak of their parents, makes for a powerful story.

5. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. (Friends of the Library Book Sale) This book has been on my to-read list for years. I bought it last year at the library book sale, and it’s been calling to me from my shelves since then. It is a gorgeous read, beautifully written and completely immersive. I looked forward to every opportunity I got to pick it up. The book follows a set of identical twins, starting with their unexpected birth in Ethiopia. It is also a meditation on belonging and home – the twins are half-Indian, half-English, raised by an Indian couple in Ethiopia. But though they have no other home, they are reminded frequently that they are Other. Several reviewers on Goodreads remarked on their discomfort with descriptions of medical procedures, but they didn’t faze me. I loved learning about the practice of medicine in earlier times and different places. It was a great story with a side of History Channel. I will be keeping this book, which is rare for me these days.

6. The Great American House, Gil Schafer III. (Gift) Jason bought this book for me for Christmas, and I’ve been slowly reading it cover-to-cover. It’s a beautiful book, satisfyingly heavy and filled with beautiful photographs. The first half is about creating a home and the elements that go into making that home harmonious. The second comprises four case studies: two new construction homes that were designed to look and feel old, and two historic homes that were given new life – one as a renovation, one as a restoration. My biggest takeaway is that the principles of good design – proportion, rhythm, and line – do not change based on the style of architecture. You can look at a rustic farmhouse or a Greek revival mansion, and both will be pleasing to the eye because they follow the same underlying rules. I learned a lot and got a ton of inspiration for our house.

7. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After making my way through a coffee table book, my brain needed a Sookie Stackhouse break. I continue to adore these books.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 5
Non-Fiction: 2

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Fifty Two.

Election? Whatever. Let’s talk books.

I read a lot. All the time. I am never without a book, and in fact I get edgy if I finish a book and don’t immediately have another one to start. I am the opposite of a book snob – a book slut? – and will read just about anything.

In the last few years, I have started tracking my reading on Goodreads. I’ve also joined three book clubs – one through church, one parent-student group at the middle school, and one just for fun. I thought fifty books would be a challenging goal to read in 2016.

Crushed it.

I sailed through book #50 around November 1. In reviewing my list, however, I noted that one book was a skimmer (the enormous, textbook-like Decoration of Houses) and one was a re-read (Carry On, Warrior). So, just to make things completely fair, I am reporting 52 books to complete my 2016 goal.

Of these, I only purchased two books – To Marry an English Lord and Grounded. The rest were library books, gifted, or borrowed. Ten of the 52 are non-fiction. I feel like I’m supposed to say I’ll read more non-fiction next year, but meh. There are so many glorious books out there.

Here’s my list, with some notes:

52. Razor Girl, Carl Hiaasen – Very funny. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Hiaasen novel, and I think that helped.

51. Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor – This is the sequel to #49, and I really enjoyed it.

50. Club Dead, Charmaine Harris – More delicious fluff.

49. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor – I love, love, love this series. The world-building feels complete, but the author does not belabor the minutiae of the fictional world.

48. Losing it, Emma Rathbone – I did not love this book, mostly because I wanted to shake the main character.

47. Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson – Good middle school read.

46. Mistress of the Art of Death, Arianna Franklin – Read while traveling. Glad I didn’t buy it.

45. Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris – Palate cleanser!

44. Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers – Church book club selection. Well-written but repetetive.

43. The Blessings of a B-Minus, by Wendy Mogel – Parenting book, which I enjoyed.

42. The Nightingale, Kristen Hannah – GREAT. Could not put it down.

41. Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton (re-read)

40. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris – The book equivalent of sherbet.

39. The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware – Good, suspenseful.

38. Paper Towns, John Green – Well-done but I feel I am too old for John Green novels. I was never that cool in high school.

37. Imagine me Gone, Adam Haslitt – Well done but soulless.

37. The Decoration of Houses, Alexandra Stoddard (I skimmed this one.)

36. I Let You Go, Claire MacKintosh – This one was a great thriller.

35. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan – Quick in all senses of the word.

34. Grounded, Diana Butler Bass – To quote the woman who picked it, “I wish it had been better.”

33. The Girl in the Ice, Robert Bryndza – Picked-up-at-the-library mystery.

32. The Paper Magician, Charlie Holmberg – Good, but not enough to get me to read the rest of the trilogy.

31. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel – Outstanding.

30. Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt – Also outstanding.

29. Sundays at Tiffany’s, James Patterson – Not great.

28. Edible Estates, Fritz Haeg – This book wanted to be revolutionary, but failed.

27. The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh – Sharp British satire.

26. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford – A very nice read.

25. The Gates of Evangeline, Hester Young – This one surprised me by how good it was.

24. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis – Classic.

23. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, David Lagercrantz – Good for what it was, but not as good as the original Millennium trilogy.

22. Orphan Train, Catherine Kline – Good, if sappy.

21. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Bachman – Excellent. Thought about this one for days.

20. The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Weber Hurwitz – Sunshine State book for middle schoolers.

19. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry – Despite not being the kind of person who loves Westerns, I loved this book.

18. Midwives, Chris Bohjalian – My favorite Bohjalian so far.

17. To Marry an English Lord, Carol McColl – Intensely interesting.

16. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff – I had incredibly high hopes for this one. The writing was beautiful, but it didn’t grab me like her previous books.

15. Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs – Love this series.

14. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith – I liked Galbraith’s first two novels better.

13. Faithful Place, Tana French – Good gripping read.

12. Deception Point, Dan Brown – Browntastic!

11. The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, David Herlihy – Short but informative book on the plague.

10. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie – Another classic. It has held up well.

9. Airborn, Ken Oppel – Middle school read, but I really enjoyed it.

8. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin – Aggressively fine.

7. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson – I take all memoirs with a grain of sand, but this was an interesting read.

6. Gateways, F. Paul Wilson – It’s a thriller with a whiff of the supernatural. Good series.

5. Flat Water Tuesday, Ron Irwin – Probably good for rowers and non-rowers alike, but better for rowers.

4. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doer – SO GOOD.

3. In the Dark, Dark Woods, Ruth Ware – Suspenseful and awesome.

2. At the Water’s Edge, Sarah Gruen – Also suspenseful and awesome.

1. The Haunted Air, F. Paul Wilson – Repairman Jack is a great character, and this series is a fun read.

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