Reading Life


Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Year of Cozy by Adrianna Adarme

The Year of Cozy by Adrianna Adarme is a beautiful book with some outstanding recipes.

Divided into seasons and months, this recipe books also contains helpful advice and crafts.

In the Winter section, the "Crab Grapefruit Granita Salad" and the "Orange-Thyme Upside-Down Cake" look superb. The author is from LA; thus, there's a lot of citrus recipes. 

In the Summer section look for "Aguas Frescas."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne.

This 2011 novel by Sarah Rayne is wonderfully strange and gothic.

At outset, a reporter has a mission to uncover a mystery surrounding an affluent family. He becomes compelled by the photographs that Simone Anderson displays at the Thorne gallery. 

Somehow the journalist can detect she her dark secret:

"She had been four years old when she became aware of this inner darkness, and she had been a bit over five when she began to understand where it came from.

The other little girl, The unseen, unheard child whom no one else
could see or hear, but who lay coiled and invisible inside Simone's mind. Simone did not know her name so she just called her the little girl."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Dark: a Netflix original series

Some have referred this as a more grown up "Stranger Things." The kids in this series are in high school rather than middle school. Other than that, it shares many characteristics with the other series: a small town (this one in Germany), a government facility(a nuclear power plant), woods for kids to disappear in. 

Louis Hofman (Land of Mine) stars in this series as Jonas Kahnwald. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Best books of 2017

An easy to use database (app) for finding best books by NPR. Use the filters on the left to narrow lists down:

The app features 374 books. 

Publisher's Weekly Top Ten,

Kirkus Review,

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas Book Flood

In Iceland, there's a long tradition of giving books as gifts during the holidays. Iceland book gifting tradition is called "Jolabokaflod"
or "Christmas Book Flood." 

Each Icelander receives at least one book during the Christmas season. Gifts are typically opened on December 24th. Icelanders usually spend the night before Christmas reading.

This is what I want to do this year. No regular gifts. Just books. 

If you want to read more about Iceland, you may want to try these books:

Moss, Sarah. Names for the Sea.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Seth Godwin urges us not to become cogs in a wheel. Those are not the kind of jobs that will last or that will bring satisfaction.

Instead, he urges employees to become linchpins--someone who brings something valuable and indispensable to the workplace. The employees which he also calls "artists" will be the the ones who will shape the future. 

Linchpins take an ordinary job and become innovators.

Godwin names several well-known linchpins: Steve Jobs of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Richard Branson of but he also lists less well known ones, Anne Jackson Miller at, Keith Johnson, a buyer at Anthropologie.

He explains why being good at what you do is not enough anymore. What employers need to be is more employees like Jay Parkinson, a medical innovator, Sasha Dichter, or Louis Monier who innovated their respective fields.

Though this is an older book, published in 2011. it's well worth reviewing at this time when many jobs are being replaced by automation. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Mcguire

The premise of Every Heart a Doorway is that the universe extends an invitation to certain children: a door to a new world. This new world, whether it be called Confection, or Prism, or Halls of the Dead is a magical place where the individual feels completely at home.

Some of these children are never seen again. Others are for whatever reason forced or told to return to real world for a short time. These children who have made this magical journey are heart-broken when they find themselves back in the real world

All of the students that end up at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children want desperately to find the door and the world that claimed them. 

Eleanor tells the parents of these children that she will offer group therapy and that she will shatter their delusions. Eleanor actually sees her school as a "way station." She wants nothing more than to help them find their door again, even if the odds are against it. 

Just as Nancy, a new student, learns to navigate her way around the school, the unthinkable happens. Her roommate, Sumi, is murdered, the body mutilated. 

Everyone suspect Jack (short for Jacqueline) because she has been to harsh world called the Moors. She and her twin sister were both in service to a Lord Vampire. 

When two more bodies appear, the magical fantasy becomes a mystery.

Seanan McGuire who also writes horror as Mira Grant blends genres in this slim, yet well-plotted fantasy.

Every Heart a Doorway won a Nebula award in 2016 for best novella as well as a Hugo award(2017)and Alex award (2017).

Penguin Random House debuts

Take a look at these exciting fictional debuts from Penguin Random House:

Debut Sampler

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Folk Healing

Some of the best fiction comes from Appalachia; most likely, because of their storytelling habits. I've always been fascinated by folk medicine, maybe because it is similar to what my ancestors did in Louisiana. One of my ancestors was a traiteur, or faith healer. Granted, this is different from folk healing practices in Appalachia, yet both relied on medicinal plants and faith. 

Lately,  its hard not to notice an explosion of taleneted Appalachian writers--authors like Amy Greene, Joni Agee, Ann Hite, Ron Rash, Wiley Cash, Robert Morgan, and Daniel Woodrell. 

These novels aren't simply set in Appalachia but are informed by the setting. These characters couldn't have lived anywhere else. In many cases, the folk  healing is a significant part of the story or other aspects of Appalachia--mining and its effects. 

Folk medicine:

One of my favorite Appalachian novels, The River Wife.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Soar by Joan Bauer

Listening to Joan Bauer speak about her latest middle grade novel, Soar, made me realize that I want to write hopeful novels as well.

Jeremiah in Soar faces a lot of adversity, a rocky start in life and a defective heart yet he pursues his dream of coaching a baseball team.

Bauer spoke about her days as a writer and how she got her first breakthrough after adversity--an injury that made her determined to write. She spoke of hearing the character's voice in her head. That character became the protagonist of Squashed, Bauer's first young adult book.

What the world needs, Bauer says, is more kindness and joy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney (part 4)

Flora begins to have leadership problems with her crew when she accepts a man's place in the expedition for the money his sponsors can provide--Gilbert Ashbee.

Aniguin and her begin to drift apart after he returns from America. Armitage had taken him and a few other "eskimos" are tragically put on exhibit at the Natural History Museum.

This incident is reminiscent of events that actually occurred shortly after Robert Peary's 1897 expedition. Two books that chronicle the strange incident are Give Me Back My Father's Body: The Life of Minik and Minik: The New York Eskimo.

Aniguin does not seem to be based on Minik but some of the details are the same. In any event, the experience changes Aniguin as it had also changed Minik. 

Flora feels estranged from Aniguin when he returns to Greenland. Her old friend, Tateraq, has also changed. He leaves Flora to die on the ice.

At this time, there was intense competition to reach the Pole, so much so that some scientists were willing to fake their results. Real life fraudster, Frederick Cook, claimed to have reach the North Pole before Peary. 

His photographs and his story were later revealed to be hoaxes. Penney seems to base some of Armitage's chicanery on Cook or scientists like him. 

Armitage, of course, goes a step further by not only claiming to have made discoveries he never made. By destroying Jakob and Flora's records, he tries to obliterate their work.

Flora revels in the one thing Armitage cannot take away--her time with Jakob in the valley. Though this is a doomed love story, it is an incredibly rich look at at the life of two explorers who were willing to risk so much.

Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney (Part 3)

In the last half of the novel, a novel primarily focused upon desire, Flora finds herself caught up in a love affair with Jakob. 

Their paths have crossed before. At Neqi, they felt a connection which resulted in a three year correspondence. 

In Jakob de Beyn, Flora finds and rejects the love of her life. She has a five-day affair with Jakob. Soon afterwards, when her husband becomes sick again with a paralytic stroke, Flora makes a choice. She refuses to see Jakob again. 

Here Flora resembles many of the Victorian and early twentieth century heroines literature so frequently portrays. There is a "price" she realizes she has to pay. She feels she owes a debt to her husband, Freddie, for funding her trip to the North.

Jakob, too, represses his desire for the illustrious "Snow Queen," as Flora is known. He chooses to become an engaged to a woman, Clara, who loves him as a friend. She is lesbian and will never desire him romantically.

(Part 2)
(Part 1)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney, (Part 2)

This historical novel has an undeniable feminist bent. Flora gravitates towards a mentor who brings her to London and who helps her fulfill her long held desire to return to Ellesmere island. 
(photo by Noel Bauza,

Sadly, in order to secure funding she must make a marriage of convenience with a man who shares her interests but who does not love or cherish her. 

In becoming a "new woman" like her mentor, she has had to make some awful sacrifices. 

Flora marries Freddie, for one thing, whose influence and money help her return to the Arctic. Though Flora can continue pursuing her career, Freddie cruelly mistreats her.

Though Flora is a friend and advocate of the Inuit, she finds herself removing their mummified remains. Bringing Inuit remains to Europe would raise the importance of the expedition or so she thinks. 

(continued from Part 1)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney (Part 1)

If you want to read an astounding work of historical fiction with a feminist bent, read Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney.

What attracted me to this book, at first, was the story of a daughter accompanying her father on a polar expedition.

Somewhere I had heard that story before. Pictures of Robert Peary's daughter wrapped in furs came to mind.

Flora Mackie's story isn't based on Marie Peary's but some of the details match. The press made much of Marie Peary's allure. She became known world wide as the Snow Baby, as the Greenlanders called her.

In Stef Penney's novel Flora's story is sensationalized, too, except she is called the Snow Queen. Flora capitalizes on this to launch her return to the Arctic, a move her father does not support. 


Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Royal Institute's Christmas Lectures

Initiated by Michael Faraday in 1826, the Royal Institute's Christmas Lectures on science continue to be produced in the present day. Many of the past episodes can be viewed on the web.

Learn many fascinating facts like we laugh. The 2017 lecture features "The Science of Laughter" with Sophie Scott. 

Scientific American has a wonderful article about Michael Faraday:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

This magical YA novel will have readers rooting for Bristal, an orphan raised by a cook. Bristal has a feisty, take-no-prisoners spirit that will resonate well with teens.

Even though she is kidnapped and forced into the Water, which has killed many, she refuses to lose hope.

Bristal chooses to work as an elicromancer after she is tested at the Water. Her mentor, Brack, gives her the choice which she accepts, even if there are many drawbacks. 

After training, she becomes a  a clandestine who can disguise herself as other people or animals. 

Her first assignment is to protect a princess but she soon finds herself taking the form of a boy and fighting with the Alliance against a group of rebel elicromancers.

Though being an elicromancer means forsaking love, she is taken with Anthony, the renegade Prince. 

Since she must save the lost duchess, create harmony among the warring kingdoms, and defeat Tamarice, Bristal knows she cannot allow herself to fall in love. 

Will love win out? 

Strange forces are at work throughout this novel. Bristal's past, her childhood in Poppleton, may be the key to helping her quell the evil uprising that threatens the kingdoms of Nissera, Calgoran, and Volarre.

Magic is strong but never underestimate the power of love.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Smart Clothes

Recently, Levis and Google have developed a Smart jacket that can connect to the Internet. The jacket is called a Commuter Trucker Jacket by Jaquard (

Those who wear the jacket can tap or swipe the jacket sleeve to access mobile services. The jacket can be washed (once the snap tag is removed).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Energy Action Month

October is Energy Action Month. 

What safe, renewable energy sources will be available to you in the future? Some researchers think that one day clothes--your T-shirt and jeans--may be able generate electricity. This electricity could be used to power devices e.g. cellphones. 

That sounds far-fetched but scientists at University of California at Berkeley have been working on this idea since 2010.
At the University of Georgia, Zhong Lin Wang and his team are trying to create a fabric that can harvest energy from the sun as well as motion.

Fabric that generates energy based on movement will use triboelectric nanogenerators. Fabric that generates solar energy would require photo anodes. 

Are we headed to a brave new world where our clothes will power our devices? 

More information about Energy Action Month for students and teachers can be found here, 

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Gracekeepers by Kristy Logan

The Gracekeepers by Kristy Logan is  a magical realistic novel that addresses rising sea levels--an event that will happen if the climate continues to change. 

After the sea levels have risen, colonies of people called "Damplings," permanently reside on ships. They are ostracized by "Landlockers" who trade with them but do not want to socialize with them.

A third more mysterious group of people, the
"Mer" people are forced to hide their existence. Landlockers kill "Mer" babies, who have gills or webbing between their fingers, out of fear. 

Logan pits one of these Mer people, Callanish, against the Landlocker culture that wishes to obliterate her kind. Logan also juxtaposes North, the "bear girl" from a dampling circus troupe, with Callanish.

This is a novel that expertly explores how prejudice, fear, and superstition can harm society.

Logan reserves her most biting criticism for her criticism of each group's religious affiliations. The Landlockers worship the World Tree, a kind of pagan worship, that involves processions. The damplings worship gods of the sea. 

Logan paints Christian "revivalist" ships, in a particularly gloomy light. She also decries the revivalist's image of a Virgin in blue robes.

Though there are few missteps, her overt distaste of religion, this is a captivating, powerful novel with intriguing characters that should not be missed. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Macguire

There was still something unfinished around her eyes; she wasn't done yet. She was a story, not an epilogue.

Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery a naturalist who writes for children and adults alike explores the minds of invertebrates in The Soul of an Octopus. 

Montgomery writes that Octopuses are highly intelligent and curious creatures, even if their minds are wired differently.

Montgomery discovers that octopuses, like dogs and other mammals, often have the desire to play.

Octopus display emotion by changing colors and can taste with their tentacles. They can solve problems--undo locks, create shelters, fool predators, and recognize human caretakers.

Their minds are so similar to ours that they even succumb to a similar decline in old age. 

While they live relatively a short period of time--three or more years as compared to a human's life span of seventy or more years--they undergo similar changes during the aging process. 

Before she dies, an octopus Montgomery has gotten to know well lays eggs. Though this is a bittersweet moment--all female octopuses die after laying eggs--the author feels proud of her "friend."

Though she frequently cites philosophers and scientists, Montgomery adds her own heartfelt observations. 

Montgomery has a great deal of empathy for the animals she studies. She also has a great deal of admiration for the interns, volunteers, and scientists that work with marine life.  

The Soul of an Octopus is one of several recent books highlighting animal intelligence:

Boysen, Sally. The Smartest Animals in the World.
Hauser, Marc D. Wild Minds
Virga, Vint. The Soul of All Living Creatures.
Waal, Frans. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are

Friday, August 11, 2017


In Marlena by Julie Buntin, Cat becomes captivated by her magnetic, yet tragically vulnerable next door neighbor, Marlena. After her Dad leaves them, Cat and the rest of the family move to Silver Lake, a small Northern Michigan community, where they hope to start over. 

Cat is soon spending every minute with her new neighbor and friend, Marlena. Older and more sophisticated, Marlena takes Cat down a typical wormhole of drugs and alcohol. 

An older wiser Cat narrates the story while flashbacks tell the story of her fifteenth summer. This dual perspective novel shows how complicated friendships can have lasting repercussions.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife: a DVD

The Zookeeper's Wife is beautifully shot and acted. Director, Niki Caro, used real animals and real cages rather than CGI. The rapport between Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and the animals is genuine. This in itself must have been incredibly hard to film.

The story arc is beautiful; In the beginning, Antonina wishes to save only one Jewish friend, Magda. The risks are incredible to take in even one. Nazi troops patrols the zoo in the mornings and afternoons.

Antonina and her husband rescue 300 Jews from certain death in tunnels under her zoo. She maintains a friendship with one of Hitler's most trusted men, Lutz Heck, and devises an ingenious plan. 

Chastain portrays the character's duality-- her intensity and equanimity--in such a unique way.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Awesome beginnings

"The snow had been falling for three days above six thousand feet, but it has been gentle and hte lines stayed up. At this point in the season, after a long Montana winter that showed no sings of breaking, Sabrina Baldwin considered this a gift...Then, on the fourth day, the wind rose. And the lights blinked."  

Rise the Dark, Michael Koyta.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

When this novel came out a few years ago I remember it was a juggernaut. Every book review in every professional library journal was effusive. 

Some compared it to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, where an ordinary person happens to see a crime. In this case, Rachel is a bit of voyeur who witnesses an act of infidelity.

On her commuter train, she sees a couple whose perfect life she romanticizes. She has recently divorced from her own "perfect" husband. The couple whom she names Jess and Jason becomes her ideal until she witnesses something disturbing. 

She comes forward to the police to report what she knows. Sgt. Riley thinks she is a bit of kook. No one takes Rachel  seriously because she is an unreliable witness. Rachel has had an alcohol problem even before Tom left her for another woman. Since then, its only gotten worst. 

Hawkins gives us the situation and then alternates between many characters' point of view--a difficult juggling act. What is amazing is that none of the tension is lost as she moves from character to character. She withholds just enough to keep the pacing taut and suspenseful.

Psychological fiction and unreliable narrators are hot right now; there are many read-alikes to choose from. This one happens to be one of the best. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

World War II-era fiction is popular right now but what makes this debut different is that it  portrays an ordinary German family. The incidents were inspired by the author's own family. Wiseman's mother's family lived in Germany during the war. 

The story is centered around Christine and her desire to protect her family and her boyfriend who is Jewish.

The Plum Tree is about longing, loyalty, and incredible bravery of the people who fought injustice. 

For a time, resistance was simply leaving hard-boiled eggs in places where the Jewish prisoners could find them. 

Eventually, Christine hides Isaac in the family attic. Once he is discovered, though, both are sent to Dachau.

She receives one of the better jobs and works for one of the better captors. Even so, her stay in Dachau nearly kills her. 

Wiseman explains in an afterward which historical details were altered to fit the story.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Review of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Reading memoirs is cathartic. They offer tiny glimpses into someone else's life. Sometimes they make a reader breathe a sign of relief.

Hepola, who was a writer before and after becoming sober, also found stories cathartic. She would often read about addicts with relief that she "wasn't that bad."

Eventually, however, it did become "that bad." One particularly bad episode in Paris, when Hepola was starting out as a journalist, left her mortified for years. She woke up in a stranger's room with no idea how she had gotten there.

Hepola, who had her first blackout at twelve, continued to drink in high school. Attending University of Texas at Austin, Hepola was caught in a downward spiral.

She describes the unnerving feeling of whole chunks of her life disappearing as if they were " a melon baller." 

Hepola drank to ease her anxieties about her weight and her social status in school:

I needed alcohol to drink away the things that plagued me. Not just my doubts about sex – my self-consciousness, my loneliness, my insecurities, my fears.

Later, she drank because she thought it helped her writing. After college she wrote for the entertainment section of an Austin, Texas newspaper. 

After re-evaluating her life, Sarah embarks upon a painful journey of sobriety.

We've heard this story told many times, in many different forms, but never told so well.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget was a New York Times bestseller.  

Similar stories about addiction:
Jacobsen, Lea. Bar Flower
Laing, Olivia. The Trip to Echo Spring.
Vargas, Elizabeth. Between Breaths: a Memoir of Panic and Addiction. 

More memoirs:
Parravani, Christa. Her: A Memoir.
Cahalan, Susan. My Brain on Fire.  
Mcbride, Regina. Ghost Songs: A Memoir.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hugo: A Look Back

Hugo was released six years ago. Since then its lost none of its charm. 

Hugo is a well-shot and well-acted movie that also happens to have a beautiful message.

I first became aware of the book which I always meant to read. The book is a marvelously illustrated and written by Brian Selznick.

Wonderful moments abound in this film, like Hugo hanging on to the arms of enormous clock. The scene looks like something out of the silent film Safety Last. The film honors silent films and silent film makers so this scene is so fitting.

One of the best aspects of the movie, however, is the theme.

Standing near the clear dial of the clock, which is an enormous window, Hugo realizes that the world is like an enormous machine.

If someone has lost their purpose, they are broken, just like the automaton Hugo's father found. Yet, that doesn't mean they can't be "fixed" or redeemed. 

"Are you a fixer?" Isabelle asks Hugo. Humbly, he says, "I think so."

The villain of the story and the movie has a prosthetic leg, which he needs because of a war injury.

The war has left him embittered; plus, he has had a terrible childhood. Consequently, he delights in locking up and terrorizing orphaned children.

Even this character though is "fixed," in the end, as he returns with a working leg, presumably fixed by Hugo and Papa Georges.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Darkest Part of the Forest

In a town called Fairfolk, which lies close to the woods,  mysterious things always happened.

Things get even stranger after someone breaks into a glass coffin that holds a strange, horned boy. For years, townspeople have told stories about this local legend.

Local teens,  Hazel and Ben, have repeated those stories and even created some of their own. Other Fairfolk townspeople may have doubted that he was real--stating he was a statue.

Hazel not only knows the Prince is real but she also wants to be the one that saves him from the curse.

One night Hazel does break the spell that binds him. She can't remember that night, though, because of a bargain she had made with the Folk. 

Wanting music lessons for her brother, she gave the Folk seven years of her life. As a result, Hazel is "losing time." Disappearing in the middle of the night to do errands for them, Hazel has no memories of the events later.

Mysterious, intriguing, and fast-paced, this a wonderful YA read. Even if there are some mature themes, Hazel is a hero most girls can look up to. She save a city, her brother, a prince, and most importantly herself. 

If you like this novel, you may like Holly Black's A Modern Faeries Tale series, which includes Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


"Sometimes it takes time and distance to discover what is funny about ourselves...Humiliation plus time equals humor."

Lisa Yee, author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2017. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Celine by Peter Heller

In Celine, Heller introduces readers to an aristocratic PI with emphysema. The titular character is also an excellent shot with a mind as quick as trap. 

Even though she's on the Social Register, Celine prefers reuniting birth families pro Bono. She doesn't care for any other kind of detective work, though she once worked for the F.B.I.

One of the most admirable characters in a long time is this one--gutsy and privileged Celine who sincerely cares for the underdog.

Celine is given a strange case--a woman who was abandoned twice by her own father. The woman is in her 40s now and would like to find her father so he can meet his grandchild. 

The man, a National Geographic Explorer photographer, may have faked his own death. He also may be on the run from the CIA for his involvement in political matters in South America.

Celine has her own secrets. The second mystery that unfolds is who Celine really is and what she's hiding from her "Watson," her husband, Peter, and her son, Hank. 

Based on the dedication page, it appears that Celine and Peter are versions of the author's own parents. 

Peter Heller has also written The Dog Stars and The Painter.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fellside by M.R. Carey

Fellside is another terrifying, yet gripping story by M.R. Carey, the author of The Girl With All The Gifts. 

Jess Moulson goes on a hunger strike shortly before entering a maximum security prison, Fellside. 

Though Jess nearly dies, a young boy gives her a reason to live. Alex, the ghost of the boy whom everyone believes she killed, asks her to do the one thing she cannot refuse.

Fellside is a ghost story that reads like a riveting psychological thriller and suspenseful mystery.

Jess's relationship with Alex is complicated. She wants to protect him from everything but he is also powerful. He saved her when a nurse punctured her artery instead of her vein:

"He'd brought her back from the abyss, from the mouth of the grave. She owed him everything and he owed her nothing except arguably a life for a life and a tooth for a tooth."
Alex knows, however, that the fire Jess started while she was high hadn't killed him. 

The fire she set hadn't killed him because he was already dead. So who hurt him and how did he die?  

As a favor to Alex who brought her back from the blackness, Jess agrees to appeal her case and investigate what truly happened to him. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

History of Wolves

For a coming-of-age story that transcends genre, read Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves.
One of the central questions in this tale is culpability.

"What's the difference between what you want to believe and what you do?...And what's the difference between what you think and what you end up doing," Madeleine wonders.

She's a kid surrounded by adults--her parents, Mr. Grierson, the Gardners who shirk their duties and blame others for mistakes they make.The worst offender is probably Patra who blames illogically blames Madeleine for the death of her four-year-old.

Then there's Mr. Grierson, her teacher, who may be reprehensible but is not guilty of what police and Lily charge him with. Madeleine tracks him to Florida after he gets out of prison. She writes letters to him but he seems to have forgotten her.

Though Madeleine is expert at hiking and traversing the streams in her woods, she is less expert at deciphering social cues or understanding human relationships. Perhaps that is why she is fascinated by Patra and Leo's strange relationship.

However capable she is at wilderness survival, Madeleine is strangely powerless when faced  with Leo's religious obsession or Lily's duplicity.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Shirley Jackson

“So long as you write it away regularly nothing can really hurt you.”  Shirley Jackson.

I think this is why so many writer do what they do. Writing is a snapshot of a particular time, often painful, but sometimes joyful. It's a memory, a recording, that makes the ordinary details of life extraordinary.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame, and the Death of President Lincoln by Rebecca Langston-George


This is a fascinating read for middle school and up. Langston-George highlights the two Booth brothers and the different paths their lives took. One felt he was a Northerner, Edwin Booth, and the other, John Wilkes Booth, felt he was a Southerner.

Why two brothers would have such different points of view is never really discussed. In part, it may have to do with how they were raised. Their father, Junius Brutus Booth, was a famous actor, known for his Shakespeare, who was also prone to drink.

John may have been resentful of his older brother, Edwin. Junius allowed Edwin to tour the country with him but refused to allow John to do the same.

Langston-George gives a clear, succinct summary of the events that led to the shooting and its aftermath. She related little known information, like the strange event that occurred when Edwin Booth died.

This is a historical tale full of ironies. Pictures of conspirators and pictures of the personal belongings of Booth at the end provide context.

I previewed this digital arc on

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Radium Girls

Kate Moore carefully documents many of the of dial workers' stories who worked in Orange, NJ and Ottawa, IL. In doing so, she preserves an important part of women's history, industrial history, and American history.

Lured by the glamour and high pay, these girls enjoyed their jobs until, one by one, they began getting sick. No laws protected workers from the occupational hazards of radium at this time. 

Moore makes much of the fact that these women were unwitting pioneers who paved the way for safer conditions in all workplaces. 
Undark (Radium Girls) advertisement, 1921
The product these women worked with, a radium paste, was called Undark. In the twenties, when glowing watch dials for the military were in hot demand, not much was known about the dangers of working with radium. 

By the late 1920's, the companies knew radium was harmful but still did nothing to protect its dial workers who lip-pointed. They would put the radium-tainted brush directly into their mouths to give the brush a point. This practice was encourage for quick production of the dials.

Radium's effects were devastating. Some women died quickly but some suffered a slow and painful death.

Some of these women, notably Catherine Donohue, fought courageously to win a lawsuit against the companies that employed them. Though the payouts were small, they changes working conditions for future employees.

The dial worker's cases led to the formation of OSHA. They also continued to help scientists by participating in tests at Argonne Laboratory.

Though other works on this topic focus on the physicians and scientists, Moore's work puts a human face to this tragedy by focusing on the women themselves. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Transactional Magic

"I need you to owe me something," Patricia said, "or this won't work. I'm really sorry. I tried to do it every other way, and none of them succeeded. In the end, the most powerful magic is often transactional
in some way."

Patricia to Laurence in All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

Other adult books that feature magic:

Barker, Emily Croy. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic
Flyte, Magnus. City of Dark Magic.
Grossman, Lev. The Magicians
McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway.
Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic.
Walton, Jo. Among Others.  

Young adult books that feature magic: 
Marillier, Juliet. Wildwood Dancing
Bow, Erin. Plain Kate.
Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest.
Durst, Sarah Beth. Ice.

Friday, April 14, 2017

What is "new adult" fiction or "twentysomething" fiction?

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is difficult to classify and has often been listed as genre-bending. One of the main character, Patricia, is a witch but the other character, Laurence, is a scientist trying to save the world from destruction.

All the Birds in the Sky contains magical realism, science fiction, and romance. A post-apocalyptic storm, artificial intelligence, and a ground-breaking project to create a wormhole give this novel an exciting edge.

Some of the themes in All the Birds in the Sky resemble the ones in Iain Pears' Arcadia--the ethical ramifications of creating a device that could repopulate the earth's inhabitants in another world. 

All the Birds in the Sky, though, is more tightly focused than Arcadia. It appeals to readers in their early twenties because it has elements of what Molly Wetta calls "new adult" fiction or "twentysomething" fiction. 

According to Wetta, new adult fiction follow teens "the summer after graduation, on into college, and beyond."

New adult fiction is often wildly inventive, with a focus on technology, relationships, and finding one's place in the world.

Other examples of fiction for new adults that Wetta lists are Rainbow Rowell's FanGirl and Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a strangely dark, yet funny story set in New Penzance island, a fictional island that Wes Anderson based on his trips to Naushon, off of Cape Cod.

Much of the movie operates as a framed narrative. At the film's outset we are given a glance of Suzy (Kara Hayward) looking at the world through a pair of binoculars. This scene implies that the movie will be from her point-of-view or that she is a lonely observer.

Though the narrator, another outsider, seems detached from the action in the opening scenes, he later joins the rest of the cast and interacts with the other characters.

The narrator later proves to be of vital importance. He provides key information about the possible whereabouts of middle schoolers, Suzy and Sam, who have run away. 

This is what I like best about Wes Anderson's films--an outsider whom everyone devalues suddenly rises in importance and surprises everyone.

Of course, Suzy and Sam are also outsiders. Suzy has anger issues and Sam is a bullied orphan.

By the film's end, though, the two misfits and star-crossed lovers have risen in importance. The whole island is looking for them and the search has caused adult to rethink their behavior.

Anderson claims he was influenced by Alan Parker's Melody (aka S.W.A.L.K.) and Ken Loach's Black Jack

Soucres consulted:
The Wes Anderson Collection, by Matt Zoller Seitz, Anderson

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Listed in "Best Reference 2016" of Library Journal, March 1, 2017.

AAPB: American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Primary source documents and annotation tools.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Whenever anyone became too close, Samuel Hawley and his daughter and move to a new place. Wherever he goes, he sets up a shrine for his decease wife in the bathroom.

After years of traveling Hawley finally settle in Olympus, Massachusetts, where Lilly had grown up. He has forsworn life on the run and becomes a commercial fisherman.

Readers hear about Hawley's criminal past in a series of flashbacks. Twelve chapters for the twelve bullets Hawley took while still involved in crime. 

As was bound to happen, Hawley's criminal past intersects with his present when his ex-partner Jove comes to visit.

Hawley's teenaged daughter has already suffered a break-up with her star-crossed love. Like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, Lilly and Marshall are an ironic pairing. His mother is a staunch environmentalist who opposes Marshall's relationship with Loo.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Riches in Henry James's Novels

"I call people rich when they're able to meet the requirements of their imagination." Ralph Touchett, Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.

I've always thought this one of the best quotes in all of literature. 

Ralph Touchett is rich and he's justifying giving his fortune away to a distant cousin. He wants  to see what she will do with it. It's a social experiment.

Ralph is, of course, dying of tuberculosis. Isabel is a young, vibrant American transplanted to Old World.

Isabel's father is mostly absent from the novel, albeit one line that tells readers is a gambler from New York. James implies that Isabel's impoverished condition is a result of his gambling.

Ralph, detached observer as he is, is also a gambler.  He gambles on Isabel. He wants to see what she will do--will she succeed or fail.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

These stories are about desperate, blue-collar workers. Written in 2008, these stories still seem completely fresh because it's easy to feel desperate in any age.

In "Yard Man," Jerry and his wife live in a salvage yard. She had been his high school sweetheart but they have only recently reconnected and married. 

They can live in the house rent free; in exchange, Jerry watches over the other seventeen buildings. He also works part-time as a school janitor. 

Money is tight and the man knows his wife isn't happy with the living arrangements. The junk bothers her because she looks at life simplistically. She can't see the prism of colors that Jerry can see on the skin of the snake.

The wildlife bothers Jerry's wife. Recently a bat and a swarm of bees entered the house. A red, yellow, and gold snake, that also has a prism of blues and greens, has been sliding around the garden. Something white--possibly an ermine--enters the house and spooks her.

The snake, however, is the central metaphor that carries the story. The snake stands for her--how Jerry is enchanted by her and afraid of her--afraid of losing her the way he had before.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

John Hart on the South

"I write of the South, always the South. For me, that means small towns and forgotten corners, the fields and streams and the abandoned places. There’s such history in the south: lost wars and racism, the long divide between haves and the have-nots. Memory runs deep in the South, as does the connection to family, history, and place. For a writer, that’s rich soil."

John Hart's complete interview for Criminal Element,

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

This remarkable book of essays, which critics liken to a set of Russian nested dolls, are interconnected musings on many topics--maternal love, child abandonment, memory loss, illness, fairytales, labyrinths, Buddhism, the Arctic, and of all things, apricots.

Solnit has a poetic turn-of-phrase which makes these essays extremely enjoyable. Scallops and sea urchins dragged from the ocean floor are "bright like internal organs laid bare by surgery or butchery."

In some ways, these essays are show how interconnected everyone's lives--their life stories--are. In the end, though, these essays are also a deeply moving memoir of one particular woman's life--Solnit's.

In her personal essays, Solnit divulges her difficult relationship with her mother. Strained as a child and young adult, the mother daughter bond grows stronger as Solnit cares for her mother's medical needs. 

Solnit reveals her own narrow brush with death--breast cancer--and her courageous attempt to start anew. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Last Summer of Our Youth | Tin House

Early that June, some new neighbors moved in just up the road and built a house around their trailer. We spied on the old couple until their house was done. We watched them start to collect things like tires and rusty chairs in their yard. When the swampy area behind our own house dried out, we took our adventures out back and combed the still-soft ground for arrowheads and any other evidence that the Cherokee had lived on our land. Once, Jamie found a sharp rock that we all agreed was not flat enough to qualify as a real weapon. Michael collected antique rusted bottle caps that had really been tossed aside by folks at one of our parents’ own parties. I kept a tally of the crawdad burrows, which looked like mud chimneys or tiny volcanoes. The muskrat dens were worse because they made the ground collapse, but they were harder to see.

The Last Summer of Our Youth | Tin House

I really like the voice of this flash piece by Erin Harte. So electric! So alive!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Short Story Competitions to enter

American Short(er) Fiction Contest 15 February
Bath Short Story Award 1 May
Birds of a Feather Press Travel Writing Competition 2017 28 February
Bristol Short Story Prize 3 May
CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Writing 15 February
Commonwealth Short Story Prize Oct/Nov
Costa Short Story Award July
Curt Johnson Prose Award Submissions closed
Drue Heinz Literature Prize May-June
Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize 10 April
Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction Date to be announced
Gotham Writers Past-Year Memoir Contest 20 February
Hillerman Prize Deadline TBD
John Steinbeck Short Story Award June – November
Keats-Shelley Prize Date to be announced
Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest 31 March
Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition 16 May
Manchester Fiction Prize February 2017
Montreal International Poetry Prize May
Mslexia Women’s Short Fiction Competition 20 March
Nature and Place Poetry Competition 1 March
Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest 15 May
Raymond Carver Short Story Contest 15 May
Reader’s Digest 100-Word-Story Competition 20 February
SA Writer’s College 30 April
SFC Literary Prize 15 May
Short Sharp Stories Annual Competition deadline Nov
Spotlight First Novel Competition 14 February 2017
The Caine Prize for African Writing 31 January
The Henshaw Short Story Competition 31 March
The Sunday Times Short Story Prize Date to be announced
The White Review Short Story Prize 1 March
Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest 1 April
Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize 15 March
Write On-Site 25 February
Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition 5 May
Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Closed for 2017
Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition 13 February
Writers’ Forum Fiction Competition Monthly
Zoetrope All-Story’s Annual Fiction Contest 1 July

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