Folly By Laurie R. King

This is one of King's earlier novels. Considering that, I was all "I bet I can figure out what the deal is before the character does!"

I failed. Well, I partially failed. I continue to be humbled by the genius that is Laurie R. King.

Folly is a stand-alone novel (there is a later companion, Keeping Watch, which I will be reading soon, but to my knowledge it is not a sequel. Do not, however, read it first or Folly will be somewhat spoiled for you.) I say this because we all know how much I love her Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli books. King does not disappoint even when there aren't several books of backstory and character development to add nuance to her work.

Folly is full of nuance and rich layers. It's full of suggestion and emotion, memories and ghosts. Rae (the heroine) is a 52 year old widow recovering from a mental breakdown. The book opens as she is being deposited - at her request - on a private island, deserted save the birds who find sanctuary there. She has two main goals: rebuild her mind and rebuild the lone structure on the island, an architectural folly built by her great-uncle...both now little more than charred remains.

Kings portrayal of mental instability and of the aching loss felt by her character is heart-rending. Here before you is a broken woman, hell bent on righting herself despite what every other person in her life thinks. Of course there are other characters who round out the world of Folly - the surviving family members, sometimes more of a drain than anything - save the granddaughter whose existence is what propels Rae to heal rather than succumb. There are the deputies, couriers, and park rangers who keep her from being completely isolated on the island. There are the shadows from her professional life hovering in the background. There is the island itself - much more than merely a setting.

King sprinkles chapters with excerpts from Rae's journal and letters, letters from her granddaughter, and the journal of Rae's great-uncle - also a person who came to Folly in need of repair.

The plot is suspenseful, but not in the nature of a traditional crime novel. Were crimes committed? Yes. Are things tense and vaguely creepy? Yes. But mostly this is a novel about a woman who needs to heal. It is eloquent and rich and well worth your time. Curl up in front of a fire and get absorbed.


The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

Unfortunately for Julie, this book is not about Eleanor Roosevelt. Fortunately for Julie, it includes a month wherein A.J. is her slave. This time around, Jacobs has published a collection of essays previously written for various magazines and since updated.

They include such shenanigans as outsourcing his life to India, living as George Washington did, and - as aforementioned - being Julie's slave. I found myself wanting to conduct some of my own immersion experiments, but given the presence of an 11 month old my only immersion is in sleep deprivation.

I think my two favorite experiments - ones which I would take on myself - are "The Rationality Project" and "I Think You're Fat" (aka: Radical Honesty.) In the former, Jacobs tempers everything with a cold sheen of rationality. It's a bit like Dr. Brennan on Bones, but with more humor and the awareness of what he's doing. The latter encompasses not only saying only truthful things, but completely removing the filter between what you think and what you say. An amusing endeavor...until you remember that society functions on niceties and white lies of omission and then things get complicated.

The beauty of all of these is that not once do you get the sense that Jacobs is trying to be funny. Or trying to be interesting. He has merely stumbled upon something that is interesting to him and is sharing it with anyone else who might have the same interest. The result is a candid look at what happens when you voluntarily change your habits and embark on what is frequently seen by others as whimsical folly.

Luckily it's lucrative enough for him that he continues to be published so the rest of us can enjoy his flights of fancy.

Here he is at TED - a little bit about the essays in this book, but also the Year of Living Biblically:

PS - The Year of Living Biblically movie is still slated for 2011...but Marlan Wayans signed on to star in it and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Hand Wash Cold by Karen Maezen Miller

This delightful little tome was hidden in the "Self Help" section of Borders...which is a bit like sticking Heathers in the Suspense section of Blockbuster (it's a comedy, people.) While the subtitle does lend itself to being a "how-to-DIY-your life into amazingness," the real inspiration lies in Miller's recollections and reflections and for that I call it a memoir.

While Miller is a mother, this is not (necessarily) a book for mothers. Or for fathers, for that matter. It's a book for people who would like to know how to slow down a little and enjoy their life as it comes to them...people who want to take care of themselves in a way that you just don't find at a gym or (ironically) in the self-help section.

Miller, a Zen Buddhist Priest and teacher (Sensei), is spiritual without being preachy. Her faith might not be your faith and that's alright because the answer doesn't necessarily lie in faith. It lies in the willingness to slow down and take your life as it comes.

There's a quote on the back by Katrina Kenison that sums it up nicely:

"Ever found yourself up to your elbows in the messy stuff of your own everyday life and wondered, "Is this all there is?" Karen Maezen Miller answers that age-old question with a resounding "Yes." Read this deceptively simple, deeply wise little book not to change your life, but to fall quietly, unequivocally back in love with the life you already have."

I feel that I will read this one again and again and every time I will glean new insights into why and how my life is perfect just as it is. You should, too. And bonus: she has a blog.

PS - a little confession, as I read I keep flashing to Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz:  "...if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?"


The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

This book is a companion to Oryx and Crake, which I liked so well that I told everyone to read it. No one has, yet, to my knowledge, so someone should get on that because I need to have a nice discussion about just how plausible that speculative future is (since 1984 was obviously bunk...)

So, this is a companion, not a sequel...which means the story lines overlap. It took me a little bit to figure it out and had I done so before starting in on The Year of the Flood, I might have re-read Oryx and Crake. But I did not and I spent a lot of time trying to recall the order of events as they happened there so I could overlay them as they happened here. I think I've sorted it out and I'm quite pleased with the overall story that has been created.

A little plot blurb: both novels are dystopian. They take place in an undisclosed year in the future (the titular year, actually, which is referred to as "Year 25") and I imagine in Canada. The stories are told through a mixture of present narration and flashbacks, and like I said before, it creates a satisfying arc. Atwood scoured news clippings and gleaned the most chilling: cloning, corporate hold over public offices, the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor...and not just the educated/uneducated, but those who are smart and  those who aren't. She looks at where we are now and follows the thread to a place where I can't imagine most people would like to be.

As I said, it's chilling. Fascinating, and chilling. The story is told from the perspective of two survivors: Toby and Ren so we actually have three points of view for this single tale. Atwood weaves everything together nicely...but leaves off the big bow at the end. I'm usually a fan of not being told what to think, but in this instance an epilogue would have been very nice. Unless she's planning a third book to round out a trilogy. In which case I'm perfectly fine with the lacking bow.

So there you have it. A vague recommendation to read two books that may or may not give you nightmares about where our society is headed. Please do and then we'll come back and have a nice chat regarding the validity of Atwood's speculation.


Enlightenment For Idiots by Anne Cushman

This one would have been a perfect beach read. If you live in a part of the world where the weather is behaving in a seasonally appropriate manner, then this is a nice book to read whilst curled on the couch in front of a fire with a steaming mug of (chai) tea...and a cat on your feet. Cats are the ultimate feet-warmers.

Enlightenment for Idiots is Cushman's debut novel. She is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal so I was already vaguely familiar with her voice and not at all surprised at the hobby and career path of the heroine. Amanda is working on her yoga teaching credentials while writing a series of "... for Idiots" books. While in the past they have been travel-oriented, eg: Napa For Idiots, her editor Maxine has a fabulous idea: send Amanda to India to become enlightened.

I have to admit that there is a bit of a cliche trap: Amanda is in the off-again cycle of a tempestuous relationship with a man she can't help loving. Her bills are piling up and she's staring at 30. She has mad-cap roommates, a best friend who is fully together, and a mother who has failed her. If the book had been more food oriented it would have been white noise and gotten lost in the crowd. Also, the fact that Amanda is so consciously desperate for enlightenment saves us all from having to pretend that she's just there to take in the sights and eat some yummy food.

There's a bit of food, but only as it relates to yogi chores at ashrams and the fact that people have to eat to live and she's in India where eating can be an adventure. More interestingly are the people she meets on the way: A sadhu who refers to himself in the 1st person plural is my favorite and I am satisfied with the way their relationship worked out. Various gurus and fellow enlightenment-seekers pepper Amanda's journey and provide a yardstick against which Amanda (and the readers) measures her life.

All of the advice given to Amanda is sound, and can be removed from its context and applied to your own life - a nice bonus for a Dessert Novel. You may (or may not) be enlightened when you close the book, but if you don't pause and reflect as you read asana* descriptions and quotations from the great Wise Men then you're not really paying attention.

While in danger of being trite at times, Enlightenment for Idiots avoids being a cliche, and lands firmly in enjoyable, heartwarming, and inspiring. If nothing else, it has rekindled my desire to visit India. Enjoy!

*asana = yoga postures.


Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

So the clip below (and many other places) will have you believe that the best part of this book is the part where she talks about pooping in space. But seriously - that's just one chapter and every part of this book is golden. (Although every time anyone says the word "residue" I will think of poop.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mary Roach
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NASA, apparently, is responsible for many, many daily enjoyments. In a footnote, there is a list. It is not a small one. For example: Natick purees. They were one of the options for food in the space. Puree everything and stick it in a pouch with a spouty-thing at the top. It messed with the astronaut's heads, but I know some toddlers who love their puree pouches when they're on the go. Also: freeze dried ice cream is now "yogurt melts" and available at your local baby food store.

We saw Mary Roach speak at SetiCon (because we are that kind of nerdcore) and I have to say that I'm not proud of my behavior when given the chance to chat with one of my favorite authors. (She on my Dinner for 8 list.) We were sleep deprived and I was more worried about losing my dignity in a word-vomit-explosion of gooeyness.  So instead I clammed up and we exchanged some pleasant-yet-awkward- drivel I (thankfully) can't remember much of. I know we talked about how my son was probably the youngest attendee. And then she signed the book to Baz (who was sleeping in my Beco) and that was awesome. She lives in the Bay Area, so the chances of my seeing her speak again are fairly high and now that I've read the book I can avoid coming across like the village idiot. I hope.

Anyway, back to the book. Roach is what sports-people would call a Super Fan. She asks the questions that most of us are wondering and then takes it a step further and THEN volunteers for that which would make most people go hmm.... (you'll just have to read to find out what, because any more of a hint than that would be a major spoiler and we all know I'm not that kind of girl.)

Read it. Buy it for the space/science/science fiction nut in your life. Trust me.

I leave you with two photos from SetiCon:

My Husband and my child in space ;-)

And the lovely Mary Roach checking her notes (second from left) in the only picture I got where no one is making a weird talking face and there's not motion blur.
 Next time I will have no shame. I am a super fan and I will take lessons from her: come prepared and ask the questions that make most people pause and wonder just how nutty you really are.


Even by Andrew Grant

Dude. DUUUUUUDE. I follow Janet Reid's blog and when she suggested this one I threw it on my library queue thinking it would be a nice Bourne/Bond/Ryan* type romp. It was all that I wanted it to be...and more.

It opens with a dead body, so you know I was totally hooked at that point. All in. Also, the main character is British (in my head he sounds like Pierce Brosnan) and Grant took his time subtly developing the character and the plot. It's not only smartly written, but he managed to make me feel smart just reading it. And the fight scenes were amazing. Jason Bourne makes me want to start running; David Trevellyan makes me want to take up mixed martial arts.

It's your basic whodunnit/mistaken identity/special ops-meets-FBI-meets-NYPD in a turf war/action thriller with a dash of Deranged Lunatic** and Evil Plot To Take Over The World thrown in for good measure. The plot bobs and weaves and twists (but not too much and not in any way that I put together until the character did) and dumps you out the way a good roller coaster does: vaguely disoriented and needing a minute to digest what just happened and then gunning for more.

This is Grant's debut novel. He's clearly been honing his craft for a while because: DUDE. That's how good it is. I keep saying Dude.

It's not a quick read but it's WORTH IT. Read it with a beer, but not too many beers or you'll get confused. If it weren't so darn heavy I'd say take it on the plane, but I'm certain that Men everywhere won't be shy about being seen reading it.

So good. It's so good. Note that I tagged it "Wish I were smart enough to have written this." High Praise.

Oh, but I'm going to throw a little spoilery warning down there because I feel it may be necessary. Look for these: **

Read it before it becomes a movie. Starring a 30-something hot British guy.

* Jason Bourne, James Bond, Jack Ryan. Although, if you don't know who those guys are - this might not be your genre.


The action scenes are well-choreographed and fun to read. But there's a scene with a deranged lunatic involving a scalpel and some poor guy's man-parts. No one will think less of you if you skim/skip those pages. I didn't, but I don't have man-parts so I wasn't feeling it like some of you might.

What's Going on in There? by Lise Eliot, Ph.D.

This bad boy took me MONTHS to read. Seriously. Because it is dense and awesome. That's subtitle doesn't lie: conception to kindergarten in 460 pages. It's not set up chronologically, though, which would have been mind-boggling. More mind-boggling, that is. Instead, Eliot had structured her text based on the parts of the brain; ie: language, vision, fine and gross motor skills. It is comprehensive (I assume) and accessible. Yes, it is dense, but so is your brain and so is what goes on in there (haha), but it doesn't read like stereo instructions and the language is suitable for those of us who watch doctors on TV but never had any desire to actually be one.

I learned SO MUCH reading this. I feel much smarter now.

And because I enjoyed it so much the last time we did this, I'm going to open to a random page or two and share some nuggets of wisdom with you:

"...researchers suspect speed as a primary difference separating 'brighter' from 'duller' individuals. Though infants in general process information many times more slowly than adults, it seems that some babies are already a little faster than others, and that this difference persists all the way to adulthood." (p. 419)

"The ability to taste begins in utero...Matthews first taste buds emerged just eight weeks after his conception. By thirteen weeks, taste buds had formed throughout his mouth, and they were already communicating with their invading nerves." (p. 174)

The last chapter is entitled "How to Raise a Smarter Child" - but if you flip straight to it you miss the fact that the answer to the question is actually spread throughout the book. Yes, Nature plays a key role in just how smart you can be, but the environment has an equal amount of influence. And the knowledge that Eliot imparts enhances ones ability to parent wholly...if only because finally you can understand what's actually going on in there (at least, a little bit.)


The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

You know a book is going to be good when it opens with this quote:

"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all." 
- Harriet Van Horne

I'm pretty sure I gained at least 5 pounds just reading this book. If not, then over the next two weeks while I try out the recipes that follow most of the chapters I certainly will. I will enjoy every second from shopping to plating, though, because unlike Flinn... I am not being graded.

At 36, after finding herself having been made redundant while on vacation (so harsh,) Flinn takes her severance, her savings, and her boyfriend (who is an enabler, encouraging Flinn to follow her dream) and goes to Paris ti study at Le Cordon Bleu. We follow along with her as she explores Paris, entertains house guests, and drops food on the floor. We meet the other students and chefs (whose names have been changed) and Flinn manages to give us a peek into the classes while not revealing anything that the school would rather people enroll to learn. Even the recipes are Flinn's personal contributions or adaptations.

I devoured (haha) this book on a plane ride, and now I need to go to Paris and Culinary school. Flinn paints both with a brush so attractive that even the sketchy parts, the long hours, and the angry chefs come across as character building and endearing. In fact, the only thing that bothered me at all about her journey was that it wasn't longer. I wanted just a little bit more...but even as I say that I'm not sure where I wanted it to come from. The story is complete and just thorough enough. Perhaps what it I'm wanting is to read the next chapter - how much longer did they stay in Paris? What did she do with her newfound skills (aside from the book, obviously.) What is Mike doing? Her sister? What ever happened to the awful houseguests? Her classmates?  I want a sequel. And a movie. Thankfully, when you ask...the internet delivers.

Go, read, cook, eat.


101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

This book is awesome. It's one of those pick-up, put down books - but I read it cover-to-cover. It ostensibly for Architecture students and hobbyists, but I read it with a broader view of "Architecture" so that in my head it applied to any project - from setting up my son's soon-to-be-toddler room to finally getting to the re-writes on my novel.

Examples of how to do this (chosen by randomly opening the book and looking at a page):

page 48: "If you can't explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms she understands, you don't know your subject well enough."  Apply to query letter and any synopsis ever required.

page 8: "Architecture is the thoughtful making of space." - Louis Kahn. Ever stared at a blank page? A blank room? A blank website? You're "making space" and hopefully - doing so thoughtfully.

page 82: "True architectural style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely - even accidentally - out of a holistic process." AMEN.

rinse, repeat. If you create anything from scratch - science projects, skirts, business plans, buildings, characters - this needs to reside on your shelf.

The only thing I'm left wondering is why I took so long to read it.

Bonus: there's whole series.


Hornby Rocks My World

I love Nick Hornby (obviously) and I love Ben Folds (what's not to love?) and Pomplamoose has been in heavy rotation since I discovered their rendition of My Favorite Things last winter.

And then you put them together and get awesomeness.



Hipster Shrugged

If you've read Ayn Rand...or seen any number of press clippings about people of one party or the other "Going Galt" (eye roll, please)...then you're familiar with Atlas Shrugged.

 If not, stop right now and read it. I'll see you in a month or so.

Ok, you don't have to read it and - full confession here, I *GASP* skimmed and even skipped parts of the Galt monologue. (Note to Rand, when Kerouac signs up for his "how to edit" class, please join him.)

But I loved it. I immediately connected with Dagny Taggart. Maybe it was living in a house full of incompetent men who thought they made the world turn. Maybe it was being surrounded by the same in college. Maybe it was her (impeccable) style or complete disregard for the status quo. Rand once described Dagny as "myself in a bad mood" and I felt that's accurate of me, too. Get me wound up and I'm not afraid to stomp all over toes and then check out because I'm infuriated at your complete incompetence.

Anyway...so then there's the Hipster movement. You know those guys. You don't? You've missed the "Hipster" trend?

Enlightenment can be found at google, my friend.

At any rate...the two have combined to produce an amazing twitter feed:


with some of the best here:


and my favorite:

@normative Who is John Galt? Oh, you probably haven’t heard of him, he’s really obscure. #HipsterShrugged


Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Ok, it's no secret I love this series and by this point, if you're on the bus then you KNOW and if you're still waiting for the bus I really don't want to spoil all of the greatness that develops over the course of the 1st fifteen books by over-sharing for the latest installment.


Let's just say that this one contains Morelli being off-again but maybe not for long, Lula wearing inappropriately appealing clothes, Ranger being...yummy, Connie being all kinds of kick-ass, Vinnie finding amusing new lows and Grandma Mazur made me laugh so hard I fell off the couch.

And now, Gentle Readers, I have a question...if *you* were casting for the silver screen adaptation of the series, who would you pick?

I'm on board with everyone but Katherine Heigl.... Anne Hathaway is the right age/looks/body type ...Jeanine Garafalo or Sandra Bullock, had it been filmed when Evanovich sold the rights (1993) but you know who would be great (even though she'd have to dye her hair?) Alyson Hannigan.

Is it just me, or does she look like someone who keeps a pet hamster and her gun in the cookie jar?


The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison

I am lucky to have found this book while my son is still so young. Kenison is at the other side of parenthood: one son entering high school as the other prepares to leave it. She throws another wrench into the works by determining that *now* is the perfect time to move from the only home their sons have ever known.

We follow the entire family on their journey from cozy home in a familiar and friendly neighborhood through a period of unrest; the old home sold before they had a new one picked out and Jack (the younger son) rebels in a way that only 13 year old boys can.  There are flashbacks, anecdotes, revelations and insights. I found myself pulling quotes to keep in the back of my head, most timely:
"The thoughtful life is not rushed."

Before long, Henry, the oldest, starts looking at colleges. Kenison starts taking a long hard look at what nurturing means when your children no longer need nurturing.

Ultimately, the family lands in a small town in the mountains, in possession of a house they're not entirely sure what to do with and surrounded by strangers. Well, they are strangers until a shop keeper becomes a friend and points out that there are partners all around, waiting to help...and by the close of this particular chapter in the Kenison's lives there are new friends and partners filling it. 

This book does not drip with sentiment, or preach about how your life should be lived. This is a woman sharing her journey towards balance. I do not think that you need to be a parent yourself to read it. I think anyone who has...well, lived, can relate to the events and emotions. And everyone can relate to how charming life because when even ordinary days are viewed as gifts.


Generation A by Douglas Coupland

I love Douglas Coupland. I have since my (old boy)friend told me to read Generation X because "the dude who wrote that writes like you speak." Have you read Generation X? No? I'm sorry, I can't be friends with you anymore.



Ok - so here's why I love Coupland (and this book) - in a numbered list:

1: he's not afraid to give one of the main characters Tourette's and then put us inside her head.

2: and then he puts us inside the heads of the other main characters so we can see how they react.

3: he gives characters "normal" jobs (Harj works in an Abercrombie and Fitch call center in Sri Lanka) and then he makes them LOVE them.

4: he uses healthy/healthful correctly.

5: he takes a concept like "the bees are dying" and speculates about what happens when they've been gone for half a decade and then 5 unrelated people get stung.

6: he goes there. The things the rest of us think about for half a second and then dismissed are fleshed out into actual plot points of brilliance. (example: brain masturbation.)

7: rapier wit and keen perception and a complete disregard for maybe offending some people (or groups of people.)

8: he keeps giving and giving and then just when you think "aaahhh....I see where you're going" he opens a conversation that wasn't on your radar.

9: he commands the English language in a way that is modern but not trendy and will therefore still be relevant decades from now.

10: he's just awesome. Need proof? Have you read Generation X? Jpod? Shampoo Planet? No? What are you waiting for?

You can start anywhere, really. But this is the newest and so it is fresh. Falling into a Coupland hold wouldn't be a bad thing. Operators are standing by!

Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs by Blaize Clement


Dixie Hemingway is back!

Sorry, I couldn't resist. I do enjoy this cozy little series...if that isn't so demeaning "little" - but in my defense there are only a handful of titles so far so the word is somewhat accurate. In addition to the quirky animals, the will-they-won't-they love interest (I do so hope they WILL), the endearing leave-it-to-modern-Beaver brother and brother-in-love (don't you love that phrase?), Clement has introduced a sullen teenager, potential gang members from the left coast, a very talkative parrot, and, of course, life on a Florida Key that makes you want to pack up and move.

I really want to write a review worthy of the book, but I'm having a hard time putting sentences together.

So: read this if you like animals, ex-cops with broken hearts who are open to maybe loving someone again, a bit of suspense and intrigue...and reading in the bath (which is where I read most of it.)

But start with the first (Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter) so you're up to speed - even though Clement does the "this is my name, this is my story" update with the best of them.



God of the Hive by Laurie R. King

Read. This. Book.

Ok. Really, what you need to do is start with the first in the series (Beekeeper's Apprentice) and read in order of publication. At the very least you need to read The Language of Bees because this one starts literally minutes where the prior leaves off.

And it is so so so so good.

I'm not sure how to talk about this book without giving away major series spoilers. MAJOR. So let me say this for those of you who aren't caught up: go read the prior books and then read this one. Trust me.
Laurie King makes Robert Downey's Holmes look like a buffoon. Her adaptation is respectful, well researched, and intelligent. 

"The great marvel of King's series is that she's managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes's character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy, and compelling enough to be a partner of his mind as well as his heart." - Washington Post Book World.

There. And at the risk of being redundant: read this.


We left with the family split apart - arrest warrants, Mycroft has been questioned and then abducted, Brothers may or may not be dead (depending on who you're asking,) Holmes has fled with Damian in search of medical attention, and Russell is the unlikely care-taker of Holmes's (SURPRISE!) granddaughter. They're in the far reaches of Scotland, headed in different directions and this is a time when phones are hard to find and cell phones are unheard of. They may or may not have murderous madmen on their tails and both are hampered. Over the course of the next few days, plots are created, revealed, and cast aside. There's a funeral, a man who seems to have walked out of a fairy tale, an unlikely surgeon, an equally unlikely confidant, and a mastermind...there's also gunfights, snipers, disguises, and secret messages.

The God of the Hive is King herself.

(Ok, it's not but you couldn't have imagined that I would spoil it THAT MUCH for you, right?)



Ramona And Beezus Trailer


PS: I'm reading. I promise. Things happen slower with an infant in the house. But Sweet Mother of Abraham Lincoln it's a good book. Just you wait.


Momfulness by Denise Roy


I have already ordered three more copies of this book, because as I read different passages, I was reminded of different people and rather than just saying “go and get this book” I thought I would ensure readership by actually handing it to them and therefore removing that necessary step of getting it themselves.

    That’s how good it is.

    Roy starts out with a simple definition of the title (a word she coined): “Momfulness is the spiritual practice of cultivating a mindful, compassionate, mothering presence.”

    As I noted in the open letter to the author - this spoke to me in a moment when I felt this was exactly what I was looking for. Obviously I feel that other mothers will benefit from her wisdom - but I also feel that ANY caregiver could learn and be reassured by the meditations and reflections put forward by Roy.

    She starts with meditations to help bring your into your present life and actually be present. Recognize the happiness of simple moments and stop taking them for granted. She moves us to gently reminders to be attentive, compassionate, to embody grace by embracing (literally) the bodies in our lives, and to find the sacred that so often hides in plain sight. Finally, we are reminded to include the community in our lives and as part of our family.

    All of the meditations and reflections naturally follow memories, anecdotes, and confessions - because again Roy allows us to be flawed humans who are forgetful, short tempered, remorseful, and hopeful.

    I have a feeling my little copy will be dog eared and well-worn before my child’s first birthday...unless I keep giving it away and replacing it.

    I think an entire collection of “-fulness” books is warranted: “Dadfulness,” “Childfulness,” “Teacherfulness”… none of her teachings would be lost on these groups. But then, I hardly feel that grace and compassion  would be lost on anyone. 

PS: I've already implemented some of her suggestions. This one is my favorite so far.


The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen

She opens beautifully with "I love Vegetables....Call me a leaf geek if you must....I simply want to spread my enthusiasm through recipes rather than through telling you You Should, as so many magazines and medical studies to these days."

Ask and you shall receive. I ranted about the mean magazine and the library then pinged me with this gem. Chock full of comfort food (grilled artichokes) and things you'd never thought of trying before (pickled brussel sprouts) and cheerfully illustrated and described...I must add this one to my collection.

Bonus - she lives in Berkeley. Think we could be friends?


It's only NSFW if you say it outloud.

My sister sent me an old Chinese Proverb in the email today:

Confuscious say, if you're in a bookstore and you can't find the book you want, you're obviously in the:

Happy Wednesday!


My Monastery is a Minivan by Denise Roy

***I published this on my other blog - it's only vaguely a review, but I was moved in this manner by this book, which is more honest than me just saying: "it's great. Read it." ****

Dear Denise,

    Can I call you Denise? We’re both adults, and after reading My Monastery is a Minivan, I feel like we’re friends.

    My son is 3 months old. 15 weeks. It’s such a short amount of time - not a full season for any sport, not a full semester, only a 3rd of the amount of time it took me to make him. And yet in that time I realized several very disturbing things. First, I am psychotic. I’ve worked with a lot of young children over the course of the past 20 (egads!) years and the one thing that every mom has ever told me is: “it’s different when they’re yours. You’re more patient.” They. LIE. After twenty years of what I considered to be “helping to raise” children I thought I had the baby thing IN THE BAG. It took ten days to knock me off that horse. Second, I am not nearly as calm and composed as I’d like. I know there are hormones, but the tears, the frustration...it’s like puberty all over again only this time it’s being triggered by an infant. These two things left me feeling very out of my depth.

    So I started to look for some guidance. If you want to lead a more calm and balanced life there is a guide for that - many, actually. I started with mommy blogs (perfect window dressing but few willing to actually post that their child had them up all night for God-knows-why and what they really want is a martini) and moved on to montessori review (I’ve studied this as education and child care training, but not as a mother) and it’s still just as dry a read as it was when I was eighteen...I watched a documentary on the Dalai Lama (I follow him on facebook as well) and that was helpful and inspirational...but he’s not a mom. He doesn’t get it.

    And then, I’m in our local children’s bookstore just browsing and I see your book. On the shelf directly below “Once Upon a Potty” is the exact word I didn’t know was missing from my life: Momfulness. I picked it up and allowed it to fall open in my hands. This is something I often do with books - allowing the universe to guide me to recipes, essays, inspiration - and it opened to the Thich Nhat Hanh prayer*. Needless to say, I purchased it.

    But I read My Monastery is a Minivan first. I’m just starting on Momfulness, and I so far I’m glad I’m reading them in this order. I needed to know more about you as a mother before I started to learn from you. Although, really, I don’t think one needs to be a mother to enjoy your stories. One just has to have a mother. One just has to have a family.  On 35 separate occasions I was moved to tears, laughter, and deep contentment. I am inspired to be more present, to recognize that we are happy, to have more patience with myself and my son. Just hearing your experiences helps me find peace with mine.

    I do want to particularly address the story entitled “The Mother of Men.” For reasons too lengthy to go into here, I was (and am still, to a lesser extent) very apprehensive about raising a son. Everywhere else I looked were platitudes but you got to the heart of it: what men need is a rite of passage wherein the older men say “you are important and what you say is important.” I finished the book and immediately re-read that essay. In 13 years my husband (and our close male friends and relatives) will take our son into the Redwoods for a weekend and they will welcome him to manhood.

    Your 35 stories (and now your second book - so far, at least) has given me hope and reassurance that even though I’m not perfect, I don’t need to be. That as long as I practice compassion and mindfulness and respect - not just for my family but for myself as well, which is often harder - that it will all be ok.

    So really, I just wanted to say thank you.

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.


Noah's Garden by Sara Stein

   Way back in January I read a review of this book here, at a garden blog that I follow. I am I glad I took her advice and read it. Even though Stein wrote it seventeen years ago, it still has relevance today. It’s maybe MORE relevant today, considering the state of things.

    From chapter one, where she “unbecomes” a gardener, you know that the woman who wrote this book loves her land. And not really just the land that she and her husband own properly, but the American landscape as it used to be before everyone decided they needed English gardens surrounding their homes. Her attitude is one that New England should look like New England and California should look like California - it’s what made our country so appealing in the first place.

    If Stein had her way, the only foreign plants that would be allowed would be the ones who could get along with the natives and be contributing members of their habitat. And that’s where the unique part of her recollections lies: her yard isn’t just a place for a flat of emerald grass, some roses, and a shade tree or two - it’s a place for the entire circle of life to take place under her interested and caring gaze. The lowly aphid is just as welcome as the ladybugs who eat them and the birds who then feast on ladybugs.

    Like Pollan’s approach, Stein arrived at her present opinion through a series of trial and error. She didn’t set fire to a woodchuck’s home, but she did take part in the wholesale spraying of trees which led to the destruction of more than just the pest she was trying to save the trees from. Now (well, seventeen years ago) she doesn’t preach that you completely let your lawn go wild - what appears will not always be what you want to see - but that you understand the stages at which things happen, plant judiciously and with a vision of what it will look like in seventeen years rather than seventeen days (or months, even) and know that once you’ve restored the habitat to the balance it knew before the developers had their way with it...well, then you can sit back and watch the party. (By the way, I found the chapter in which she used the “Lawn As Party, Gardener as Host/Hostess” metaphor particularly charming.)

    It’s not quite “Zen” gardening because even that feels like it requires more maintenance than Stein’s garden probably needs today. But it is certainly more relaxed in its upkeep (though not in its establishment) than what my house is currently surrounded in and I am truly inspired. Unfortunately, as renters, we can only do so much; no prairie grass will grace our front lawn...but then, that wouldn’t have been what graced this valley when it was inhabited by Ohlones who embraced it’s natural resources.  I can say that the snails will live in the succulents so that the birds can have something to feast on and their shells will disintegrate to enrich the soil with minerals. I also have a new respect for our compost heap.

    PS: I tried to google to see if I could find a picture of her garden now, but to no avail. I would love to see how it’s grown.


Nail Biter by Sarah Graves

* I read Tool and Die...but I’ve had really bad sleep since then. I know I loved it...but I don’t remember it well enough to review it. On the plus side, this means I can re-read it!

It’s fall in Eastport when Nail Biter opens up and we discover that Jake and Ellie have purchased - and are currently renting out - a fixer-upper in one of the neighboring towns.  It’s not an entirely out-of-character move for our daring duo, as Jacobia likes biting off more than she can chew and Ellie is infinitely capable. But Ellie has a baby, a doozie of a fall storm is on its way, and Jake has...well, her family, her house, and a list of repairs as long as her arm.

So it only makes sense that the story opens with a murder, and then Graves throws a missing person into the mix, as well as her trusty conglomeration of hooligans, ne’er-do-wells, helpful citizens, suspicious strangers, suspicious old acquaintances, weather, leaky plumbing, boats, and pets.

At this stage of the game, it feels like the murders and missing persons are almost the b-plot. I would go so far as to say that they’re really just an excuse for us to catch up on the lives of our favorite fiction Eastportians. I’m also a fixer-upper junkie, so the state of her projects and - ultimately-  her house - are of great interest to me. I sit in my rental and read vicariously about things like new porches and double hung windows and a justification for power tools.

This book - which is set in October - has it’s share of chilling moments and things that make you go hm….it also serves as a gentle reminder that we don’t always know what something means, not everything can be explained, and not everything makes sense.

And that’s all I’m saying because otherwise I’ll spill a whole boatload of spoilers and no one likes that. Luckily, there are 3 more of these before I get to the one that’s coming out in May. Also Luckily - my TBR list never shrinks.


New Little Box

there on the right. In case you're bored.

More reviews on their way. Typing one handed is slow business.


Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

* For some reason blogger is not letting me upload the image of the cover. Which sucks because it's a great cover.

    Subtitle: “The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities.”   

    Basically, this little green book is a field guide to destructive, dangerous, fatal,  and/or illegal plants. It’s chock full of little gems regarding each entry, like: “Kudzu is a legume; it is related to such useful plants as soybeans, alfalfa, and clover.”  Kudzu is listed as “destructive.” Drive through the South and you’ll see why.

    So - an entire book on ways to off someone in a manner which could look entirely accidental? Wouldn’t you know I’ve got a section on my bookshelf for just such resources.

    If you’re vaguely morbid and also currently going through an “it’s spring! Time to garden!” phase...this book is for you. Even if only to have odd facts to pull out at dinner parties.

    And a Holy Week warning for those of us who have furry loved ones living with us: EVERY part of the lily is fatal to cats. If you decide to decorate, let your kitties know that the flowers aren’t for eating.


Not a Book Review

I have another blog (shocking, right?) and today's post is the slideshow of our son's birth. It's safe for work.


Happy Tuesday!


Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips


 This is a beach read if I’ve ever encountered one. It’s also good for reading in the bath and while nursing, if it happens to be winter still and you’re not on the beach.

Here’s the basic premise: despite all of the other religions that have come and gone, the real one is that of the Ancient Greeks and a handful of their gods have been displaced from Olympus to a grimy old house in London, where they spend their days being bored, bickering, meddling in each other’s lives, and trying to keep the planet going. The problem is, they can’t have every Tom, Dick, and Mortal knowing about them so they’re relegated to crap jobs like walking dogs (Artemis) and hosting x-rated phone calls (Aphrodite.) They also have lots of sex. Consider yourself warned.

Of course, that would get boring quickly, so Phillips has thrown into some mortals to move the plot along. Alice and Neil find themselves inexplicably intertwined with a love-stuck Apollo (I told you the gods were bored and meddling with each other) and his entire family.

Like I said -this is a beach read so there aren’t any great epiphanies, although Phillips appears to have done her homework and what little there is to fact check is accurate. It’s a fun little romp through what might have been had the Greeks gotten it all right. (And really - who’s to say they didn’t?) I did get little kicks here and there from the lows the gods went to over each other, but Alice’s demureness started to grate after a while. The other little beef I had was that there was a lot of set up and then the thick of the plot felt rushed at the end. I could have used more epilogue, too.

There doesn’t feel like there’s room for a sequel here, but that’s ok. I’ll pick up whatever Phillips publishes next and make sure I have a nice little cocktail to drink while I read it.



I was going to link you to an article in the current Vanity Faire about audiobooks and then recommend that you pick up any of the Jeeves/Wooster books by Wodehouse because he is awesome and you can see his influence throughout a significant amount of modern literature.

But I was denied. Please note what is NOT a hyperlink:


Point of curiosity: what's your opinion of audiobooks?


Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Just when you thought the nerdy fun couldn’t get any more nerdy or fun...you’d be wrong. Assassination Vacation (the end of our trip down Vowell lane) focuses her obsession and wit on the first three American Presidents to be assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.

    Once again she travels around the country looking at graves, childhood homesteads, jail cells, and historical markers. She drags friends, colleagues, and her infinitely patient sister and nephew along with her - the bonus of this for us is that we get their opinions as well as hers, which is always colorful and amusing.

    Ok, so you’re thinking “everyone knows that Lincoln was shot by Boothe at the theatre” and “wasn’t Garfield only in office for a minute and a half?” and “McKinley? Really? WHY DO WE CARE?” And you’d be mainly right. What makes it all so interesting is that Vowell doesn’t just cover the event itself - she delves into the political climate surrounding it and the lives of both assassinator and assassinated. For example: the Republican party started to become the party we know today around the time of Garfield’s candidacy - much tantrum throwing and manipulation and backfiring of plans.

    We learn the Lincoln’s poor son (Robert) is in the vicinity for each assassination, even though he’s not involved with any of them...he’s just a good luck charm for the man with the gun. We learn about the odd life and times of Charles Guiteau (Garfield’s assassin) and are taken on a tangent that is too good for me to spoil here. Furthermore - there are interesting tidbits about how Roosevelt actually made it into power and laws that were enacted as reactions to the assassinations that are still in effect today.

    All of this fairly text-book like information is delivered in Vowell’s distinct voice. Wry humor and insight coupled with vigorous research and a willingness to divulge her own character quirks make every character (satellite or otherwise) seem more real to even the most disengaged reader. She also draws very nice parallels between what happened then and what was happening at the time of writing (03-04) - searing commentary cloaked in historical anecdotes. It’s downright delightful.

    Of course, it’s Sarah Vowell, could it be anything other than delightful? I’m actually a little sad I’m at the end of her published works. (Ok, technically there’s one more, but my library doesn’t have it. I’ll keep my eye out at the bookstores, though. Not to worry.)

    And I’ll leave you with her interview with Jon Stewart when this book released. It’ll give you a nice little taste of what’s in store.

PS: Happy President's Day!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sarah Vowell
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis


Take The Cannoli by Sarah Vowell


    That’s right, folks, the rut continues. But who can blame me? Take The Cannoli is every bit as masterful as the other works I’ve read - essays full of insight and humor (even the dark ones have that sardonic twist that so many writers aspire to and few actually achieve.)
    The theme for this book is “Sarah Vowell: This Is Your Life!” It’s comprised of essays that have appeared in other places first, This American Life being chief among those other places. We learn about her father’s gun habit and how she held her first (and only) gun at the tender age of six. (I feel the need to add here that this is the one of many places in her books where I say “Me, too!” to either her experience or opinion. It’s yet another reason we should be BFF’s….Sarah, are you reading this? BFF’s. For real.)

    Reading these essays feels like sitting at the table with an old friend shooting the breeze over coffee at 3am: confessions, confidences, and the hard stories that shape who you’ve become spill out, ready to be told and peppered with insight and humor. You walk away feeling like a better person - more enlightened and compassionate.

    Ok - that is mostly referring to her essay “What I See When I Look at the Face on the Twenty-Dollar Bill” where she and her sister go on what might be the most depressing road-trip ever: a Heritage Tour of the Trail of Tears. Vowell is part Cherokee, so this bit of history is made that much more real. As much as she makes me laugh - this essay moved me to tears.  Not “I need a box of tissues” tears, but the more subtle, touching “aw you’re crying!” tears. Because it’s personal to her, it’s personal to us.

    But don’t worry - it’s not all White Guilt and nerdery. She also stays in the most infamous hotel in New York (and we all need a shower,) makes mix-tapes, goes to Disneyland, shares her love of the Godfather, and gets a goth makeover. (That last one particularly speaks to me - I showed up to a get-together once with my hair streaked black and in dreadlocks and with smokey eye makeup only to be told that no matter what I do I’m always a little “crunchy.” Normally I embrace it, but I was going for mysterious. Sigh.)

    Anyway - all of this is to say that even when it’s all I’m reading, Sarah Vowell doesn’t get old. Part of me wishes I’d eeked these out in the interest of not running out of her work to read, but the other part really likes diving in and being imbued with the insight and amusement. 


Don't Read This Book

Just a head's up: Umberto Eco Fail. (Yes, I trust his taste.)

PS - not to worry. Houseguests + baby whose sleep schedule is thrown off means that while I'm still reading in ten-minute bursts, writing isn't happening nearly so reliably. Example: He was asleep when I started this post and is now...not.


Sad Day, Folks.

A Moment of silence for the dearly departed J.D. Salinger. In his honor, I say we all swear profusely and have crisis of character and then write the next Great American Novel.

RIP, sir.


The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

Full disclosure: I am in a Sarah Vowell Rut. Not that it’s a bad rut to be in. In fact, I’m finding it to be a most enjoyable rut. Given that this book is one of essays, it is perfect to slowly work my way through while feeding my newborn, which happens with greater frequency every day.

    I have decided that I need to be friends with Sarah Vowell. Anyone who can make a valid argument for “If Al Gore were more like Willow from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, he might have won the election” is tops in my book. She then goes on to cover such topics as why Tom Cruise makes her nervous, visiting Salem to remind herself that no matter how bad life gets, it could be worse, Gettysburg, arcade basketball, The Wonder Twins, and Tom Landry.

    While it’s not a straight-forward memoir, Patriot allows us more than a passing glimpse into Vowell’s inner space. We learn why she likes the Underground Lunchroom and why she feels that Clinton could learn a thing or two from Nixon. She makes no bones about her nerdiness, her love of America and it’s history, and her eager embrace of the online political community - if only because it lets her vent to like minded people. (Which is really why we all like it, right?)

    All of this is delivered with the articulate candor of an author comfortable with both her own intellect and the subject she’s romanticizing. Luckily, even if you’re not a history buff, even if you pay not one lick of attention to politics, you will still find yourself entertained by Vowell, because she manages to be both ridiculously smart and a self-deprecating “everyman” who is infinitely relatable and accessible.

    Like I said, I’m in a rut. I finished this one and immediately picked up it’s predecessor: Take The Cannoli (with a title like that, who can resist?) which I am slowly working my way through as I did with Patriot. I happen to agree with David Sedaris, who feels she is a national treasure.


...and we're back.

Mostly. My beautiful little boy was born without incident Monday the 11th (at 9:59) and we holed up in the hospital for the better part of the week.

My mom has been staying with us since we got home (she flies back to Dallas tomorrow) and so I plan on resuming regular blogging when the week renews.

I have two books backlogged to review: How to Read a French Fry and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. The latter of which I started writing earlier today, only to be laughed at when my computer inexplicable shut down without saving. We're blaming the wiring in our 60 year old house. At any rate, I can't remember the brilliance well enough to just spin it back out again...for this I blame sleep deprivation. I'm working on it, though. Promise.

Until then, Happy Reading!


A little heads-up

I'm scheduled to give birth next Monday morning at 9:30 (I'm having a c-section due to a previous surgery. This is the best route. Trust me.)

I will be in the hospital for four days and then hosting a virtual revolving door of relatives in from out of town.

I will be reading. I will be taking notes so I can review what I have read.

I have no guarantees they'll get posted before February. Please don't think less of me, I'll have an infant at home and I've never done that before.

I hope everyone had amazing Holidays, and that your Januaries are as fulfilling as mine promises to be.

Happy Reading!
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