Whatcha reading? Returning to Shore by Corinne Demas

Demas's previous book, Everything I Was, featured a nearly lone main character, Irene, who finds an alternate, voluminous, all-encompassing new family up the road when her own family doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. I felt deeply for her. Here, too, the main character, Clare, finds herself shunted off so that her thrice-married mother can go on her honeymoon for three weeks. That her destination is her father’s ancestral cottage, where she has neither been nor set eyes on him in a decade, only heightens her initial misery and sense of abandonment.

My favorite parts of the book so far, hands down, are the setting and the cover. “Blackfish Island” on Cape Cod sounds like somewhere I would like to move—immediately, if possible. Demas evokes the sights and sounds and smells beautifully. Clare’s father’s quest to preserve the habitat of the native terrapin turtles holds a place in my heart and makes quick inroads into Clare’s as well. Clare herself, she embodies the teenage, only-child quandary, knowing too much and too little about most things. As for the cover, rarely does one tell nearly the whole story right there and yet draw you into the story at the same time. The front matter’s layout, dark and mysterious, enthralled me as well. Clare’s story, while small, has large ripples, just as does the turtles’ place in the evolutionary march and the food chain. I hope the best for her, and for them, as they make their way.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha Reading? The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

It's so easy to judge other people, isn't it? We assess all day, every day, what people say and wear and do and are, and they are doing the same to us. The culture encourages it, nudges us to rate everyone and everything, from thumbs up to thumbs down, one to ten, white to black, choose your spectrum. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, the main character and point of view, Hayley Kincain, judges simply: zombie or freak. Anyone living his or her life falls into one category or the other; Hayley is just getting by, defying either category, as she thinks everyone should.

Hayley Kincain has it rough, no doubt: her mom and then her grandma died when she was a little kid, her dad has severe PTSD from his tours in Iraq, and it's her first time in school in five years, for her senior year, in a new school. Fair enough, she should be bummed. Fair enough, she should be wary. Fair enough, she should have the reader's sympathy for the load she has to bear as a seventeen-year-old. Somehow though I don't care.

This shocks me, because I thought Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak indeed gave a powerful, searing, and memorable voice to a girl, Melinda, who couldn't or wouldn't speak for reasons I was desperate to know and hung on every word on the page until I found out, and then I rooted for her even harder as she made her way back from the brink. Here though, with Hayley in The Impossible Knife of Memory, I'm having such a hard time caring, as much as I want to care. She pushes everyone away, and that includes readers. She judges everyone, and that includes the people in her life who are nice to her, judges them so harshly that I wondered at times (many times) why they (or I) continue to bother. Why does her best friend stay with her, for nostalgia? Why is the nice hot guy interested in her, and how in the world does he continue to be? And even, most troublingly, does her father never ever call her to task, even when he is having a "good" day? I still want to find out though, so I guess The Knife has itself at my throat after all.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.

Laurie Halse Anderson http://madwomanintheforest.com/


Whatcha reading? The Star Dwellers by David Estes

The second installment of a trilogy can be tricky. The author can’t assume too much about what readers remember from the first one, but there may be readers who pick up the second one, not realizing (or remembering) that it is a sequel. That balancing act must teeter between boring old or confusing new readers. At the other end of the novel, a “middle child” can’t have a true ending either, because the third and final installment lurks right around the corner. At worst the second of three feels like nothing more than a bridge between the first and third, a necessary journey to travel to get to the real action. The best trilogies manage these challenges with style and grace, and perhaps most impressively, a truly great second act.

The Star Dwellers by David Estes takes a popular approach to the first concern and combines old and new material seamlessly in order to get the action going. Estes as usual has plenty of action. I also like his characters, even though dystopian is oddly beginning to feel a bit dated to me, despite its futuristic aims, perhaps because of its very plentitude. A quick glance at the multiplexes over the past year yields six—yes, six—dystopian film versions of dystopian novels, all trilogies. Three is indeed the magic number (unless you are The Hunger Games franchise, and then the magic number is apparently four). Back to Estes’s characters, of which of course Adele the rebel and Tristan the elite are primary, but I actually prefer the supporting cast, namely Tawni, Cole (boo hoo hoo), Roc, Elsey, and Ben. Then there are the missing mothers—three of them, no less—and I am a sucker for missing mothers. What I do like about Adele and Tristan is their literal physical bond, that electricity that we have all felt in a new relationship made actual and truly painful, like a third party in the room without the need for a love triangle.

What I think is really clever about this trilogy? Setting each book in a different realm of the Tri-Realms gives new purpose and forward momentum to each installment, plus it changes up a number of otherwise fixed elements such as locale and what and who to expect in said setting, which propels the story in addition to the action. Did I mention that there is plenty of action?

Will I read The Sun Dwellers? Absolutely.

For more on dystopian trilogies from an earlier blog entry, see here.

If you want to see my rating you can follow me on Goodreads. I’ll do each installment individually. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha reading? All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

You know how I like the adolescent point of view. In All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr juxtaposes the stories of blind, inquisitive, French Marie-Laure and orphaned, analytical, German Werner at the time of the second world war; you know that they will intersect. This should feel forced and predetermined, but somehow it doesn't. Part of it is the beauty of Doerr's language, poetic yet intricately accurate at the same time. Another part of it is the intimacy of each story, the way that each young person yearns and grows and mourns what s/he cannot have right before our eyes, as a person we know well enough to touch and fear for almost immediately. The last part must simply be magic.

I have read and seen seemingly a million stories of the wars of this world, and some of them have stayed with me, and others pass away as soon as I am on to the next book or movie. A few that have embedded shards of themselves in me include: The Things They Carried, The Kite Runner, Atonement, The Remains of the Day, Life if Beautiful, The Madonnas of Leningrad, Graham Greene, John Le CarrĂ©, and The Invisible Bridge. That is not to say that others weren't better overall, because some were, but flashes of those crop up vividly for me in other contexts, some for many years now. The image of Marie-Laure touching the edges of the model houses of her neighborhood—which her father has painstakingly built for her so she can learn to navigate on her own—as the bombs fall or of Werner making the first connection in his first primitive radio and hearing a voice in a far-away land speaking of science's wonders as the Hitler youth movement rises may well join those flashes.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



What Comes Next?

There is a game I like to play (no, nothing dirty—usually), and I call it What Comes Next. I'll read something, say a headline, or I'll observe something, say an interaction, and I'll spin it out for myself. My mind will create a mini-story or sometimes a full-blown one, based on what I "know" so far.

Here's an example:
I saw this headline, "Search for boy, missing for 38 years, resumes in Lawrence." This is where my mind went—Where has he been? Did he go willingly? Did he go alone? What brought the search back to public attention? Is he healthy? Is he sane?

Another example:
I heard this comment, "I have never been a porn guy, so for me this is a little weird." And my mind said this—What is a porn guy? Is there a good way to be one? Is "porn guy" and "a little weird" an oxymoron? What's "weird," having an in-person interaction? Did he sound embarrassed because he was "a porn guy" or because of whatever was "a little weird" or because of the look on the other person's face (which I couldn't see)?

And then I say to myself, is there more to this story? How much do I want to know? How much might readers want to know? It's all fiction, of course. (wink, wink)



Whatcha reading? Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

The nature/nurture debate fascinates me: are we more our genes or our environment? Some people even believe we are exclusively one or the other, that we are born as is, without possibility of true change, or born a blank slate, everything ahead. Though I fall somewhere in between, I do feel that we skew more toward genes, that we come out an entire person who can be encouraged or pointed in certain directions, not to become entirely other people. Perhaps that goes some way toward explaining schizophrenia for me, that someone pushed that person to become so different that s/he became two? 

In Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson, her main character Nonny has resided all day every day in the literal between, a nothing town between Athens and Atlanta—between two families, between two mothers, between two warring camps, between her genes and her upbringing—and if you ask me, it’s making her more than a touch schizophrenic. Between itself is between, both a literal place and a fictional place, a barest place on a map and a dead-end state of mind. Nonny both straddles the two and pings back and forth to extremes, some days more successfully than others. Her adoptive Mama is a deaf, blind, artistic, and articulate Frett; her birth mother is a teenage, raging, careless, and absent Crabtree. Their two families each love fiercely but violently, and so often a child or another innocent gets caught in their war. 

Nonny, now an adult in name, is only one in a long line of casualties, but the state of her life reflects this chaos in her unfinished degree, her languishing and toxic marriage, her childlessness, her inability to make clear decisions, and even her fear of true commitment to anyone or anything but her adoptive Mama. I have my fingers crossed for her, but it’s going to be a struggle to come out the other side, and if it’s like Jackson’s other books, my true sorrow will be when the struggle resolves , leaving me with a book hangover of the best kind.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha reading? The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Boy meets girl, and it's love, except that the boy doesn't know it. His dating experience has been negligible and unsuccessful, perhaps owing to his difficulties with social and emotional cues. The "boy" in question is almost forty-year-old Don Tillman, a genetics researcher who appears to be well along on the autism spectrum, buy he may or may not know that either. Don is also not good at friends, but he is game to keep trying. Don has a project, the Wife Project, and then he meets Rosie, who has a project, the Father Project, so then Don has two projects. Don is happy about this because he is good at projects, because he can look at them logically and scientifically, even though love and families don't often proceed along logical and scientific lines.

What I like best about this book so far is how funny it is. I wasn't expecting that. It's like a screwball romantic comedy of old, where you are pretty sure how it's all going to turn out, and both projects really, but the journey is a lot of fun along the way. I think one of the reasons it's funny is that it isn't possible socially, at least as an adult, to laugh at someone actually on the autism spectrum. I know two boys, one with Asperger's and one with autism, and it would be horrible to laugh at them when they make a common social faux pas, though I have seen kids do it and then cut an eye at the teacher or other adult to see if s/he caught it. I have pitied these boys, marveled at, learned from, and widened my eyes at them, but I have never ever felt like laughing. Somehow, in this book when Don gives a lecture on Asperger's to a room full of boys with that diagnosis, and they decide together, rationally, that the best theoretical course of action to produce life-preserving silence is to kill the crying baby, I could laugh—and did, many times.

Rosie has her own issues, as we all do, but I appreciate how she treats Don as "normal," as friend and maybe more material, because I like Don, and while she may shake her head at his foibles, she doesn't denigrate him for them. We should all be so lucky. Maybe they will be, too. I think it's likely.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha reading? Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt

A train friend asks me this with no preliminary every time she sees me. What is a train friend? Someone that you see only in the context of your daily commute to work or school or wherever, but at that intersection of your lives you have a certain habitual banter. Ours is books. This is not a surprise since I am always reading, and so is she. Honestly the only surprise is that either of us ever looked up simultaneously in order to engage that first time. Anyway, it occurred to me yesterday that book blogs are often reviews of books once the reader has finished and assessed. I think it's interesting to hear what people think about books as they are going along (without spoilers, of course!). So without further adieu, here's what I'm reading. I'm halfway through.

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt tells the story of Ava and Lewis,  a tiny family living in Waltham, Massachusetts in the 1950s. Ava's husband left her, left them, for reasons neither of them understands, and the fact that Ava is also beautiful and Jewish with a string of boyfriends does not help their cause to fit into their new neighborhood. Lewis befriends the only other fatherless children in the area, or they befriend him, and he and Rose and Jimmy spend most of their childhood hours together, until Jimmy disappears. This loss rips the fabric of friendship and of the neighborhood, revealing over time the superficialities and petty jealousies and deeper traumas. My quick descriptions of these character dynamics miss the essential truth that I see at the heart of this novel though, which is that we are all essentially alone, and it is impossible to ever truly know another person. Is is in the trying to know one another that grace an happen. This might sound depressing, but it isn't, because it's beautifully written and also true. Each character has his or her own goals and self-delusions, successes and failures, as we all do, and so I care for them.

My favorite books usually have an adolescent point of view, an element of exploration of what it means to be a teen or a young adult, wanting desperately to be older, to understand the secrets of life as an adult. I like the rawness and honesty of this; adults generally camouflage themselves much better. In this book we get to see deep into Lewis's mind and into Rose's; Jimmy's we see only from others' points of view but learn so much about him as well, even in absence. As a side note I read plenty of young adult, but coming of age is what most speaks to me. I don't really think books should have labels at all, whether for so-called genre or for age or for reading level, because I think labels pigeon-hole both books and readers as least as much as they can help guide. I read all over the place, as you'll see.

And if you want to know what I thought of the book once I finish, and I read about a book a week, then you can check out my rating and sometimes my review by following me on Goodreads. I rate every book that I read, even those rare ones that I don't finish. I read from my own TBR list, from reviews and reader-friend recommendations, and don't take review requests. My comments are strictly my own opinion, unpaid and solicited. But if you are an author and see your book on my TBR list, know that I will get there sooner or later. I generally read books next that have been on my list the longest, but sometimes I jump around, for fun. You know those crazy book people...the life of every party :)



Harder to Be a Girl

A girl I know only by association, three degrees removed, was murdered. She haunts me nonetheless. At first she was classified as missing, with much information about where she was last seen and with whom, but after that first week, I asked myself where could she possibly be besides dead? There is the occasional case like Elizabeth Smart, where she was taken and held, but the great majority of girls taken either never resurface or are found, as Hannah Graham was, within a few miles of where she was last seen, abandoned, flung aside like so much rubbish. In fact with recycling now so prevalent, trash is probably treated better than this lovely, bright, vibrant college student in her final moments.

This story hurts my heart. Every day that she was gone, I thought of her, her mother, her family, her community, and her newly adopted community of the University of Virginia and Charlottesville. I prayed for her, for them, and for all of us, because what happens to the least of us, happens to us all. And when I say least, I mean most powerless. Why do I say that Hannah Graham was powerless? I say it because after thousands of years of human history, of development and progress and some might say regression as well, it is no more safe and possible for a pretty nineteen-year-old girl wearing party clothes to be walking alone at 1:30 am than it is for me to attempt to fly under my own power. 

There has been a great deal of media coverage of this story, and the usual people have said the usual things about poor judgment and poor apparel choices and poor choice of companions. But why should any of those things matter? Why shouldn't she or any girl be able to do as she likes, so long as she is not hurting anyone else?

It is not fair that a girl in our world cannot go where she likes when she likes dressed as she likes. It is not fair that a boy can do much more of what he likes without consequences, without predators often stalking him, without horrible harm a likely result. That is not to say that bad things don't happen to boys, of course they do, and that is also regrettable, but the overwhelming majority of them happen to girls. Predators primarily target girls. While I also understand that no one ever said life would be fair, why is it still so much harder to be a girl?

With the suspect in custody and the case tied now to several other missing and abused girls' cases, I wish every kind of peace and justice for the families and communities involved, but above all I wish that peace and justice for girls everywhere, anytime, any place.



Who Are Your People?

We all like our own people best. Now, the people in your life may include your family, friends, colleagues, community, or others, but your people are the ones you choose to spend time with, those for whom you are willing to make sacrifices. (This is unlikely to be all your social media "friends," great as they may be.) My people, for example, I work for them, I support them in their efforts, I feel their pain, and importantly, they mine.

That all sounds great, right? The problem comes when my people conflict with your people. We care much less about anything or anyone outside of "my" or "our." With seven billion people and counting, my people are a pretty small number, as are yours, most likely. As the world, the human world anyway, becomes more global, the smaller a percentage any group of people becomes. 

I'd like to believe that everyone is part of a my people, but evidence of human isolation fills the news. I'm trying everyday to offer kindness and gratitude outside of my people. Join me?

P.S. In order to focus on my fiction writing and spreading the word to a larger audience, I will be refocusing the blog this month but not posting. I am only one person, and I need to sleep sometimes ;-)


Is the world really going to s***?

It sure feels like it if you look at the front page of the newspaper. Two more dead animals found in Blackstone home (The Boston Globe).  ISIS Video Shows Execution of David Cawthorne Haines, British Aid Worker (The New York Times). You may say to yourself: those are not even from today's paper. True. I try to avoid the news because it is so depressing, and every time I do look, this is what I find.

We are exterminating species from this planet at a rate a thousand times higher than before humans existed.

We are multiplying at a rate far beyond the capacity of the planet to support us; sometimes I think we are a plague.

We live the theme of my high school English class, "man's inhumanity to man," and extend it to every living thing, as well as the very air, water, and soil.

We are apparently content to let 15+ million US children go hungry and almost 3 million US animals be euthanized (and not call it murder).

And yet, don't we have a responsibility to try and do some good, however small? What about just putting some sunshine and positivity out there? I know it's hard, and sometimes we have to really look, but here's the thing: we don't have to really look to find someone or something that needs our attention and our help and our encouragement.

As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."



What if you’re shy?

How does a shy person get noticed? I ask because I have never been a person who seeks attention; rather, I prefer to read or to observe. Sometimes I am forced to the front of the room, for example for my graduation speech, but mostly I hover on the sidelines, not a wallflower exactly, more a rover. Sometimes I wait so long to get up my nerve to participate in an activity or group that it is over before I have the chance. Why should I care? I am also a writer, and to be a writer, especially these days, one has to want to be noticed; one has to wave one’s (often digital) arms preferably at least once a day and demand notice beyond what one has written. One has to share. Well, the thought of that gives me hives, not actual hives because those might draw attention but mental hives, hands clenched and my eyes closed, hoping it will all just go away. I am well aware that if I don’t wave my arms, send out some signals, make some noise, many other authors—and singers and entrepreneurs and dancers and actors and whatever it is that Kim Kardashian does—will make more than enough noise to compensate for me. I have on my list to read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Maybe it will give me some tips. Or maybe it will tell me to embrace who I am and trust that the world will discover my books all on its own.  A girl can dream, right?



Best of summer books (according to me)

Okay, I already miss summer. You?

During the year, and by that I mean the school year since I do work and have often worked in a school, I read an average of a book a week.   During the summer though, I read as many as a book a day, which can make for a very good day indeed, especially if said book is read at the beach.  What did I read this summer?

Most memorable

Shadow and Bone
The Usual Rules

Least memorable

A Visit from the Goon Squad
The Invention of Wings

Best surprise

Faking Normal
Shadow and Bone

Biggest disappointment

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Will read more by this author

Mary Kay Andrews
Martha McPhee
Jennifer Brown

Total read June-August


And awesome beach read finished Sept. 7 to prolong the summer: The Matchmaker. You can see all my book ratings at Goodreads.



On the Way to Everywhere

The day has come—my second novel has hit the shelves!

Though she’s nicknamed for the magical Harry Potter, six-foot, dreadlocked Harry Kavanaugh doesn’t find any wonder in her daily life at an exclusive girls’ school outside of Washington, DC.  In fact she wants nothing more than to chuck her lot and enter the wilds of public school—too bad she didn’t reckon on a trip to the hospital, a runaway, and a renegade or three, which just might show her a different path to everywhere.
On sale now!
Available in print in my e-store
and from Amazon in print or e-book


Thank you for the weekend

I watch very little TV (the last show I watched slavishly was Friends, though I do admit to Sherlock, Downton Abbey, and House of Cards), but a recent viewing, perhaps even of House of Cards, brought me an ad slogan I’d not heard, “From the people who brought you the weekend.”  As I understand it now, this is a reference to labor unions, since people who worked in factories and on farms only had one day off, the traditional day of rest, Sunday.  Of course there have always and still are many people who have schedules other than M-F 9-5, people who work at night or people who work weekends and have weekdays off or people who have on-call schedules, etc.  However, the ad made me think of the new changes that modern life is bringing to our time, sometimes faster than it even seems possible to record, never mind process, and to me that change isn’t always positive.  With the internet, and with it email, cell phones, texting, and the like, many of us now can and indeed are expected to work—to be available, to be on call—every day of the week, every hour of the day.  From a personal standpoint this doesn’t seem like progress.  We all need breaks.  We all need “weekends,” whatever form they take. Thanks to those who made it happen and those who work to preserve free time, as we all should.  Take back your weekend, even if it’s only for an hour, and smile.

The New Weekend


Harry’s coming (no, not that one)

As I fret over this comma placement  and that cover detail, I try to keep in mind the big picture, the thrill that it is for me (and hopefully some readers!) that my second book is almost ready to hit the shelves, actual and digital.  Sometimes in our modern world it feels as if there is no real difference between the actual and the digital, and if you ask a teenager, there is in fact no difference.  But I still like the feel of a book in my hands.  I haven’t gotten an ebook reader yet either, despite the imagined convenience of not having to give over half my suitcase to books when I travel, though I am tempted.  So Harry will be coming to both.  She’s the main character.  Here are a few hints of what to expect.

Great Dane Love

Got dreads?


Writing social

In some ways for me at least those two nouns—one ancient and one newly coined—are antithetical.  Writing is a solitary activity, unless you count the company of one’s characters, who can honestly feel more real to me than people in the next room do when I am engrossed, either in my own work or in the work of authors I admire.  Yet writers need to engage with the world more than ever before, more than book tours of finite term or occasional media interviews, and certainly more than the writers who worked as recluses and only ever spoke to their editors, as Salinger ultimately did.  Now writers are expected to post and tweet and to consider singing on YouTube, anything to build their following, to engage with their audience, to sell.  I never wanted to sell anything, yet I want to find readers.  So here I am.  I don’t tweet yet, and I only sing in the car, but you never know!

Singing for My Supper by Phyllis Fluharty


The Beyond

I had a close relative pass on recently.  It was neither entirely unexpected nor even entirely unwelcome, given age and circumstances and health.  Now the myriad details that require my attention focus it firmly in the here and now, as the mind will do to navigate rough waters before the bow.  Still, I expect when the waters calm that my mind will return to the question that niggles at me: where is he now?

The Beyond


We can find you anywhere

I saw a billboard for a cellular company: we can find you anywhere.  Hmm.  Well, I don’t want to be found everywhere, thank you very much.  I don’t think anyone should.  I don’t think it’s healthy or smart or necessary.  But here we are.  And we want to be found in an emergency, but it’s tricky how different people define emergency.  For some it’s life in the balance.  For some it’s a lost item.  For some it’s a broken fingernail.  You get my drift.  Expectations.  A tricky business.  A friend says, in the Buddhist tradition, expect nothing, because then you are never disappointed.  So how can I meet the demands on me, from family and friends and coworkers and community members and people I don’t know yet, in a reasonable way but still preserve a modicum of personal space, of time, of privacy?  We all hear that privacy is dead, and perhaps that is true, but perhaps it is just hiding out, waiting for a safe moment to emerge.  I will do my best to help it along, one unplugged moment at a time.  Maybe it will become a trend.  One that no one talks about.

Now that's private!


What a character

When most people say that, they mean, oh, how funny or how eccentric or how quirky.  I'd like to put another meaning out there: when a character in a book feels so real that you can envision his or her story continuing on after you read the last page--and want to so desperately--that's a character.  There are characters in my head from books I've loved that feel more real to me than some of my family members!  Ha ha, but not kidding.  This is why people write fan fiction, I'm guessing, and read it as well.  I haven't been tempted to try writing it, and the few I've read haven't wowed me, but I saw one today that intrigued me: James Potter.  It would be hard to follow in Harry Potter's footsteps, wouldn't it?  Harry has some pretty big shoes after all.  James's adventures would likely either be quite interesting or simply dull, depending on if he felt drawn to top his father's exploits somehow or opted to have a quiet humdrum life as his father had earned for him and for everyone, saving the world and all.  I have wondered this about "real" famous people's sons and daughters, who often don't seem to amount to much, but is that because they live their lives under intense scrutiny and would be thought perfectly normal people if not for their famous parent(s)?  Children of famous characters hadn't occurred to me though, hence my interest in James Potter.  That curiosity alone might be enough to get me to pick up the book, just to see if he's a character.



21 days out

Remember GMEJK?  Been following along, in spirit or in practice?  I’m happy (get it, happy!) to report that it works—happiness is indeed within our grasp, just a twist of the mind away.  Many times a day, and perhaps many times a night, I consciously turn my seething, writhing mind to calm, to gratitude, to the breath, to a happy memory, and then I can proceed.  The running helps, too.  What works for you?  My favorite part is the kindness.  And it does rebound.  Onward.

Kindness Rebounds


The Virtues of Summer reading

Kids hate that phrase.  It brings to mind books they haven’t chosen themselves and will have to report on in some way when they get back to school in the fall, which they don’t want to think about anyway.  But I love it.  I read year-round, often as much as a book a week (you can see what I read on Goodreads if you are so inclined), but summer reading is better.  Why?  Several reasons:  I can read outside for the most part, I have more vacation time, on the best days I can read at the beach, and I can put aside any thoughts of what I should read or what would be good for me to read and read what I want.  I want what I always want:  characters that speak to me and stories that I wish would never end.  My to-be-read list is ever-expanding, and I have few greater thrills that opening the front cover of a new book and beginning.  Ah, that’s summer.



Oo! Ah! Oh!

Happy Fourth of July!  Happy Fourth!  What we rarely hear nowadays though is Happy Independence Day, and that’s what it really is.  This is my favorite holiday and has been for many years.  Why?  Well, it’s in the summer, there are no gifts involved, the whole celebration takes place outside, and there are fireworks.  What could be better really?  But a recent episode of House of Cards got me thinking about democracy, or so-called democracy, and about independence, and where we have that and where we don’t in this country.  There is so much to be thankful for here in America, and so much of it is due to those who fought and died for our independence.  People are fighting still.  And whether you think actual fighting is the way to go or not, me, not so much, still the fact remains that here we are thanks to them.  Raise a sparkler, will you?

Raise a Sparkler, Give Thanks



Catchy, right?  I think if LMFAO can get away with it, so can I.  I read an article in Forbes today that got me thinking about happiness.  Because we all say we want to be happy, but so many of us say it as if it’s a future project, a “someday” prospect, rather than a present-day reality.  Hence the appeal of this article: it promises that happiness is just five simple daily steps, and in twenty-one days, voilĂ , you will be visibly, noticeably, actually happy.  This I have to see.  I started yesterday.

Gratitude.   What are two or three things you are grateful for today?  No cheating, they can't be the same things every day.  A friend says that she thinks of what she is grateful for that day “before she puts her feet on the floor.”  More wisdom here and here.    

Journal.  Take two minutes and write down a happy experience you’ve had.  I’ve read that writing with a pen/pencil and paper actually implants information more deeply and well in the brain for recall later than any sort of typing.  This makes sense to me, given the hand/eye/brain connection and the actual effort involved in forming the letters and applying pressure and control to writing.

Exercise.  Everyone knows about endorphins by now, I have to think.  They’re that lift, that thrill, if you will, that getting the blood pumping quickly through the heart with even fifteen minutes of exertion a day brings.  That’s less time than we all spend waiting in line daily.

Meditation.  The article asks for two minutes of deep breathing (no list-making!).  Anyone can spare two minutes.  My other favorite two-minute deal is that if you can accomplish whatever the task is—say sorting the junk mail from the bills—then do it right now so you don’t have to spare another thought for it.  But that’s not meditating; no fair double-tasking (and studies say we’re not nearly as good at that as we think anyway, that timed studies show it’s best to do one thing at a time).

Kindness.  AKA Pay It Forward.  Take another two minutes and do a kindness for another soul on this planet today.  Your karma will thank you.

And that’s it—simple!  Happiness, solved.  I’ll let you know in twenty-one days, give or take a few.  I may be smiling too much to remember to post ;)



Wherever life allows

What a season, what a day, what an hour!  Carpe diem has certainly been overused in recently years, but the fact remains, though these are the longest days of the year, they too will pass, and we should seize them!  I've made a list of plans for my summer days, big and small:

  • Get my newest YA book On the Way to Everywhere out there in the world
  • Visit as many beaches as many days as possible
  • Read a few dozen books, find a new favorite or two, beachside
  • Eat seafood whenever that is an option 
  • "See some old friends, good for the soul" (thank you, Bob Seger)
  • Listen to live music, preferably outdoors
  • Have an outdoor experience that's new to me
  • Wear small clothing and be happy about my particular body in it
  • Go barefoot wherever life allows
  • Submerge myself in every body of water in my radius
  • Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Again.
  • Smile.

And you?  Happy Summer 2014!

Summer Love
Image from Goodreads


Fathers, real and imagined

Many people will have recognized some father in their lives yesterday, whether that was a "real" father or an adopted one.  Fathers come in many sizes and shapes, from the hands-on to the so hands-off that it's hard to believe they have hands!  Some of my favorite fathers are fictional, but don't tell them (or me) that, since their influence has been felt by millions:
  • Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Horton, Horton Hatches the Egg
  • Prospero, The Tempest
  • Mr. Murry, A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Man, The Road
And the winner of the worst father in literature award?  I'm going to go with Jack Torrance in The Shining, because you know, you shouldn't actually try to kill you kid, even if somedays you want to.

Happy Father's Day, a day late, just like many a dad out there!

Warner Brothers / Everett Collection


The Great Amazon Debate

Amazon has been good to me.  As an independent author, Amazon helped me easily, seamlessly, and inexpensively get my work out into the world for others to read.  For that I am eternally grateful.

What I don't like is the predatory impulse seemingly in play in the game of publishing.  (If you haven't heard the uproar about Amazon and Hachette facing off on e-book proceeds, then this may not be a subject of interest to you.  But maybe it should be.)  Some will say this is the way of business not only in America but throughout the world, that the bigger, stronger, richer, perhaps wilier company prevails, and in prevailing, feels the need to stomp and stomp hard on every company in its wide wake on its way to dominance.  Our history is rife with examples.  However, the fact that the examples are plentiful does not make them good.  Random House was no better in its squishing of many smaller, historic, and notable publishing houses and by extension literary agencies and perhaps ultimately authors in its rise to hugeness.

Me, though, I prefer diversity: diversity of ecosystems, diversity of species, diversity of business structures, and diversity of thought.  I am getting my next book ready for publication.  This is exciting but now also troubling, for now I feel the need to explore other options, which may in some small way help to make sure that other options continue to exist.



Planting season

The time of death is finally over.  Mother Nature has said so.  And so it is time to stick a finger in the ground and feel the life there, the passing of the frost, the coming of the warmth and the growth.  Every year I plant tomatoes and basil and parsley in order to make pesto and tomato sauce.  That is the obvious reason.  The less obvious reason is to grow something, to be part of the larger cycle, beyond the one that taunts us minute by minute in traffic or at work in a difficult meeting or in line at the grocery store.  This cycle says that we are just a tiny part of life on this planet, life that has gone on for millions of years before us and will go on millions of years after us--provided that we don't actually succeed in ruining the conditions for life here.  Join me in making something grow.  Here's to life!



Do it anyway

How to write when you don't feel like doing it?  When you don't have anything to say?  When you'd rather just go back to bed?  Do it anyway.  The same is true of anything that you want to get better at: do it anyway.  I once heard Yo Yo Ma responding to a question about how it felt to be a genius.  Now, he may well be, but that is not the point, his point anyway.  He said, to the best of my recollection, You'd be pretty good, too, if you had practiced--and still practice--six hours a day, every day, since you were six years old.  That's a lot of hours.  Think of the hours you've wasted doing whatever, or doing nothing, or doing things that you hate, when you could have been practicing what you love.  Maybe you've heard about Malcolm Gladwell's theory of greatness, the need to practice something, anything for ten thousand hours.  It all starts with one hour.  The great news is that there is still time.  That time is now.  Pick up that pen or trombone or tap shoe or paintbrush or instrument of choice and get to work.  I am!



Salt Life

I heard a term this weekend that was new to me but immediately struck a chord, Salt Life.  Some of you may tell me what I've since learned, that it's really an ad for a company that sells beach apparel, and that's fine, but that's not why it spoke to me.  Salt Life says to me essential, elemental, organic, tidal, and oriented toward the sea.  It's the best encapsulation I've heard to date of the pull I feel in my nose, my blood, and my spirit.  It says to me that so much that we fret about is beside the point, is pointless, is futile.  The tide will go out, the tide will wash in.  Some months, some years, the tides will be higher than others, but the cycle will continue.  Rather than making me feel puny, which I suppose is an option, it makes me feel part of something larger, something better, something more lasting than the structures we erect, be they in our minds or in front of our eyes.  Feel the pull?  Say aye.


Howdy, y'all!

Why are people so much friendlier in the south?  I spent four days driving three rental cars (don't ask; it's not a pretty story) around Virginia, DC, and Maryland, and given the number of troubles and wrong turns I accumulated in that time, I was amazed and gladdened and downright thrilled by the hordes of kind souls who assisted me in ways big and small.  Everyone says hello.  Everyone makes eye contact.  Everyone is willing to take a moment of precious time to hear your request and then fulfill it.  A waitress offered to take me home with her because she was afraid I was too tired to drive.  A man broke the speed limit (and perhaps the space-time continuum) to get to me to jumpstart my car so I could get to my appointment.  Three different people walked me to the places I was seeking, though perhaps that speaks to my general air of befuddlement at that point, but still, they walked me there.  People who didn't know an answer to my question looked so mournful that I feared they might cry.  Another man gave me a guided tour since the assigned person was sick, and this meant that he had to leave the information desk unattended.  On the flip side people did not honk when I was in the wrong lane, again.  People did not flip me off when I made a u-turn, again.  More people wished me a happy holiday than I swear would have if I'd been in a roomful of people I have known for years, perhaps driven by Boston's ultra-PC consciousness that this might not be my holiday, but honestly, who cares?  It was nice to hear it.  It was nice to experience it.  It's a good thing that the warmer weather is finally coming here, or else the siren call of the south might just be too loud to ignore.  Happy May!



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Boston Strong, even when it's weak

I went out to watch a friend run the Boston Marathon for the first time.  This year for obvious reasons there was more hype, more coverage, and more fear than in any year that I can remember, but that wasn't the feeling at all on the sidelines.  As I watched that shifting, sweating, straining "sea of humanity" pass in front of me, what I saw and heard instead was the diversity and the forward thrust of it all.  It was the push to the finish line, sure, but it was more than that:  it was a body of people saying that we will not let a few very bad apples spoil the harvest.  Of course Ghandi said it much better: ''You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.''  Now, the fact that ocean is in fact getting dirty, thanks to said humanity, is a post for another day, but today, what I saw was perseverance and determination and hope.  It was somehow appropriate as well that an American won the race for the first time in twenty years.  Run on, Boston, run on.



Coming of Age movie bonanza

I've had a good run of movies lately, something that rarely happens to me; my usual pattern is something like pretty good, dud, dud, liked it, dud, ah! this is why I watch movies, dud.  So to get three goodies in a row is a lot of sunshine and rainbows for me, a double bonus after the winter we've had.  Here's what I watched, thank you, Netflix.

What Maisie Knew.  First of all, she knew everything, and she shouldn't have had to.  They took Henry James and ran with it, all the way to fantastic, and I wanted to scratch Julianne Moore's eyes out (Steve Coogan deserved much, much worse).

The Spectacular Now.  Spectacular indeed, and I'm doubly glad I saw it before Shailene Woodley exploded onto big screens everywhere.  But it was Miles Teller who really took off with the prize, one drink at a time, and did the novel proud, some say prouder.

Ruby Sparks.  You could feel the love between these two from several states away, but the best part was Paul Dano's writer acting like a real writer and wanting love so badly that he created it.

All "small" movies, two based on books, so those should be lessons to me, right?  Not so easy, friend, since I've seen so many duds in both those categories (The World's End, alienation from you hometown NOT, or The Golden Compass, couldn't be more shallow, could go on here all day, but that's another post). 

What did I like about these?  They were real people, people who grew and changed and learned and shone out from their hearts to reach mine.  And I do like "big" movies, too, with Ironman and Fast & Furious coming to mind, and I dare you to tell me that those don't have real characters.  Not coming of age, I realize, but maybe Robert Downey, Jr. and Paul Walker never will, RIP.

Yes, I know they aren't really real, but to a reader and a writer, characters are sometimes more real than the people I know in "real" life.  We could go down the what is real path, but perhaps we'll save that for another day.  Today I'm happy with the sunshine and rainbows.



Is Dead the New Sexy?

Is it my imagination that the body count of main characters in books has gone way up, and we like it?  Take a gander at this list of recent bestsellers, all of which I've read and many of which are excellent, and see if you agree.  I do wonder, like the song says, if we do like to "watch the world burn," then is it also true that "we are the arson?"  Check out the whole song, by Trivium, "Watch the World Burn" here and the lyrics here.  Back to books.  Caution, possible spoilers.

13 Reasons Why Hannah Baker killed herself and then explained.

Divergent Despite the excellent Four in her back pocket, Tris sacrifices herself, martyr that she always was.

The Hunger Games The whole idea here is to kill as many other characters as possible, with Team Peeta or Team Gale as just a sideshow.

Before I Fall Sam Kingston died seven times before she got it right.

Atonement As if the little sister didn't do enough damage, then the war had to go and kill Robbie before Cecilia got there.

The Sandman Morpheus is done, leaving little sister Death behind.

The Road A man and his son seem to be the only two people left.  Maybe the Earth is actually happy about this.

A Song of Ice and Fire  EVERYONE dies, as we all do, of course.

Twilight Isabella Swan chooses death of a different color in Edward Cullen, life as undead.  Is this an improvement?

The Fault in Our Stars Hazel Grace and Augustus find love for a minute before the big C reinserts reality.

Sure, Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, and And Then There Were None are all classics, so the death of main characters isn't new, but it doesn't seem to be that tragic anymore either.  Are there just too many of us?  Are we inured to it by constant overexposure?  Or have we tried everything else at least once, so death it is?



How I Killed Off Your Mother?

The online outrage over the How I Met Your Mother finale got me thinking about whose characters are they anyway, when a story is much beloved.  In this case it seems that fans certainly feel that they own the characters, Barney and Ted and Robin and the rest, because the "right" endings are all over YouTube—Ted and The Mother should have lived happily ever after.  But they didn't.  And that sucks.

So who's done it best?  I'm not the world's biggest TV watcher, mostly because I hate the ads and because there is so much dreck—hello, reality TV? just a scam to pay nothing to develop programming and get millions of viewers anyway—but here are my top picks as they occurred to me.

Friends.  Ross and Rachel are together.  Forever.  Finally.

M*A*S*H.  We're going home.  We will always love each other, but we are going home.  Tell me you didn't cry when you saw those stones.

ER.  Emergency! Stat! Noah Wyle is back, so we can all save a life together, and we got a photo of George Clooney to take home.

Frasier.  Analyze this.  And that.  And then call it a day, with Miles and Daphne married in a vet's office, since Eddie was the star of the show anyway.

The Sopranos.  It just ended.  Bam.  As all things do.

Breaking Bad.  Yeah, he broke bad, all bad, all the time bad, as promised.

Newhart.  The original and best "it was all a dream" ending, stolen so pitifully by Roseanne, but done perfectly here.

Cheers.  Sam was never leaving the bar.  Never.  And he didn't.  Not even for Diane.

Seinfeld.  I hated this show, such a downer about nothing, but I loved the end—jailed and on trial for being horrible!  Perfect!

24.  It didn't end well for Jack, as you knew it couldn't, but the best news here is that it didn't end!  Jack's back.



Just Like Jimmy Says

It was hang-time in Olde Key West, but then it's always hang-time there.  I hadn't been back in years, though my memories of it were strong and resilient enough to fuel my second setting for No Alligators in Sight.  I wanted to see what had changed, and so I set off down the highway from Miami and got ready for some sights.

The strangest thing about Key West, and there are many, is that the beaches aren't very good.  You might expect swathes of fabulous sand, but you'd be wrong.  Remember, it's a coral island.  That said, the water is a lovely, every-shade-of-turquoise palette, so long as I don't have to touch the peaty bottom.

There are enough characters here to fuel a million novels--and have!  I even met another iguana guy and a heck of street magician named Dale.

I can still hear the cheers that go up at sunset.  You have to love a place that celebrates a natural act that occurs each and every day, and celebrates it heartily, variably, and each and every day.  Whatever else may have changed, and the island is more commercial, more filled with chain stores, more built up, no mistake, but that spirit remains.  Isn't that something to treasure?

Here are a few of my photos.  Yes, I have a thing for palm trees.

Palm 1 © Kirsten B. Feldman 2014

Palm 2 © Kirsten B. Feldman 2014

Palm 3 © Kirsten B. Feldman 2014


The true meaning of chaos

I know, I promised I'd think about something bright and cheery and not dystopian, but I'm still thinking about chaos.

The word chaos always flashes me back to Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, when his face lights up as he is talking about systems and how eventually they all devolve into chaos.  If you asked me to name the one way that humans are different from other species on this planet, other than our seemingly boundless capacity for destruction, I would say our fear of change, specifically negative change, which we often see as lack of control and which I call chaos.  We like control.  We like systems.  We like to think that we control the systems.  But the recent spate of tremendously popular dystopian and downright apocalyptic books and movies and video games might suggest otherwise, both that we also like chaos and that we know we don't actually control anything.

One definition of chaos is: complete disorder and confusion.  Its many awesome (if you like words, and I like words) synonyms include disarray, mayhem, bedlam, pandemonium, havoc, and and maelstrom, to name a few.  Now granted, most books and movies bring a degree of order by the end, but have you noticed that the ends have gotten darker, less shipshape, less over the rainbow?  Take the end of The Hunger Games trilogy, or the Divergent trilogy, or Elysium?  Dark.  Very dark.  Do we deserve it?  In my mind absolutely, we absolutely do.

What I like about it?  Mother Nature is fighting back.  We've treated her so badly, and it looks as if she has had enough, hence the seas rising, the tornadoes blooming, the typhoons blowing, and the weather shifting here, there, and everywhere.  That one little tendril of kudzu vine?  It can pull down a skyscraper given some time.  And unless we actually blow up the planet, not out of the question of course, then Mother Nature has time on her side, just like Mick whines.

As the incomparable Mary Oliver said, "life's winners are not the rapacious but the patient;" see the shark, the alligator, and the snapping turtle, for starters.  Yup, we're the rapacious, if history is any judge.  I'm not proud.




Dystopian Pause

Over the course of a year, I read six dystopian trilogies, and while I had favorites (will share later), the reading experience overall made me think more generally, more globally, about our current society, our current existence on this fragile planet which we have treated so abysmally.  It's not a pretty vision.  We have made a far-reaching, endlessly deep mess of the gift we as a species were given.  Whoever gave it, whatever you personally call it, has got to be pretty ticked off at this point, whether that's Evolution, God, Mother Nature, or simply Chaos.  And who could blame Him, Her, It, Whatever?  Okay, chaos is probably fine with how everything is going.

**Warning--major plot spoilers of many books if you haven't also finished myriad dystopian trilogies of late.**

I went on a tear in the last year or so and read in their entirety or finished six dystopian trilogies, and that doesn't even count Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games set.  Let me say before anything else that I preferred the span of her Underland Chronicles, with the moody setting below New York City rife with more drama than Shakespeare could have dreamed.  While I liked Katniss and company, I thought that they were good in descending order, meaning I liked the first one best, and the third one least best, way least best.  Why?  Not because of the classic Peeta versus Gale debate, though for the record I much preferred Gale for Katniss but could see that she might not be able to get past his blowing up her little sister in the name of the cause.  And not because I got tired of Katniss this and Katniss that, though I did; I badly wanted her to make a true mistake or just generally not be so saintly.  I didn't like the third one because by the end it was all just so dirty and pointless.  That may make it more realistic, but I like my apocalypses with a little more utopia and a little less dysfunction, thank you.

First, I finished Ally Condie's Matched set, whose titles I really liked: Matched, Crossed, Reached.  I kept thinking game, set, match.  And she scores!  If only I had liked the main character, Cassia, past about half the first one.  What kept me going here were the two guys, Xander, excellent, and Ky, not so bad, though a little too down on himself.  I kept reading to find out what would happen to Xander, and I was thrilled that he didn't end up with Cassia.  The premise here was a good one, let a computer pick our mates because the family unit has fallen apart, and it played out well in one little program essentially being the downfall of the new society.  Unfortunately I didn't care much that Cassia had made it, and I just felt sorry for Ky.

Second, I finished Lauren Oliver's Delirium set, also clever with the three titles Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem.  While I was waiting for the third one to come out, I guessed possible titles and had settled on Equilibrium, but Requiem is good, too.  Set in Portland, Maine and up into the wilds of New York and Canada, this series got points with me for how recognizable and eerily close to our present New England idyll its setting was, making the story feel right around the proverbial corner, plus I like the "love is a disease" premise.   This one, too, I liked the guys, Alex, and later, Julian, better than Lena, the girl-who-looked-nothing-like-the-covers-to-me, and I preferred many of the lesser characters in the outlaw band.  The ending also worked but not in a thrilling way.

Third, I finished Patrick Ness's the Chaos Walking trilogy, very cool titles, the only one with a central male protagonist and one who, for me, outshines his female counterpart in every way.  This set is for every reluctant, especially male, reader, because I dare him not to love Toby as much as I did, spewing his and his fabulous dog Manchee's thoughts for us like the best kind of backwash, not that you ever knew there was such a thing until he began.  I didn't care for Viola, and couldn't imagine why Todd or anyone would, but he sure liked her.  The Reverend Aaron bad guy was way over the top, comic-worthy, but Todd persevered. The ending of this one worked for me, too.

Fourth, I finished Veronica Roth's Divergent set, such a cool premise with the sects, but let me just say that I hated the third one, hated the ending, and hated the character of Tris so thoroughly by that end that I wanted to shake the lovely and lovable Four for mourning even a single day and tell him to get on with his excellent life.  I'll still watch the movie though, because I like Shailene Woodley, though I wish she wasn't also in The Fault in Our Stars, and I want to see the sets and the scenes on the Ferris wheel (I have a thing for them) and the zip line.

Fifth, I finished Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam set, with a nice upward-facing parabola here, adored the first one Oryx and Crake, eh on the second one The Year of the Flood, and applauded how she pulled it out on the third one MaddAddam, almost as good as the first.  Toby (female here) absolutely rocked.  Probably in my mind Atwood will never top The Handmaid's Tale, also dystopian, probably my favorite ever even including 1984, but all kudos that she keeps trying.  She is so clever, and she is the best writer of all of them.  I heard her speak once at MIT, and she explained that all the science that she uses to build her stories actually exists, so that is a new night terror for everyone who thinks that global warming and overpopulation and mass extinctions are just the liberal media pontificating again.

Finally, I finished Into the Still Blue, the cap to Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky set.  This one has the best matched girl-boy set, even if the final resolution isn't the one that I would have chosen, and held my interest the best across the storyline.  I prayed for Roar to have a happy ending the whole way, and I thought he and Aria were better suited than she and Perry.  But Rossi's ending still totally worked for me.  The premise of saving the few (in pods) and leaving the rest to rot (out in the open) was plausible, and the settings were cool and well-realized.  Now if only Roar and Aria had gotten together, and if only they'd used the cover image below instead of the ones of Aria in a weird unitard; okay, I'll let it go.

And the verdict, by a hair above Patrick Ness's because of Aaron and Viola's annoyingness, is...as a set...Veronica Rossi's, looking forward to seeing what she will do next.
However, for the moment, for a long moment, it is time to move on to sunnier, warmer, less depressing climes.  Classic screwball comedy, anyone?