Author Archive

“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman

Friday, October 10th, 2014

FYI to those who find this book in the comic shop, this is not an all-ages tale.

Longtime readers know I have a complicated reader relationship with Neil Gaiman. I like most of his stuff, love some of it, and don’t care for some of it. These on their own would be fine, but what bugs me is how he is well nigh deified by geek people who embrace all he creates uncritically. I have some criticism of this book.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a fantasy tale set in Scotland, invented by Gaiman from a myth about a cave, and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. It began as a live show, and morphed into this book over time. The narrator is an unnamed man, a little person, who hires another man to take him to the mythic misty isle where there is allegedly a cave of gold.

The story of the two men, and their journey and its end, overall, is a good one, and Campbell’s illustrations, both paint and pen, are great at conveying the story, which is sometimes an illustrated text, sometimes a comic. There are secrets and lies and surprises.

The problem is with the female characters. One is beaten and raped by her husband while the other men listen and do not act. Another is killed which sets the story of one of the men in motion. A third is an old fortune teller. They fit too easily into one of Gaiman’s favorite tropes, mother/maiden/crone.

While reading reviews of this book, I learned a term called “women in refrigerators” coined back in ‘99 by comic-book writer Gail Simone about how minor and under-characterized women were so often brutalized and murdered so that a man’s story may then unfold. This is not only a common trope in comics, but in books, movies and tv.

One character’s sole purpose is to set the two men’s stories in motion. She is not characterized though she is given a name (unlike the poor raped and beaten wife, who is not).

Women are objects of violence in this story, and while that happens in real life, and isn’t something that should be silenced, I feel it’s a poor, poor thing to use violence against women as a plot point to further a male character’s story.

So while the male characters stories are interesting, and the art is arresting, the whole of it left a nasty taste in my brain. Female characters should be more than tropes.

If you’re going to include violence against women in your work, make your character complex, and don’t use her as an object of horror, or the catalyst for some guy.

Laundry Advice

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

I am working on edits to my young-adult manuscript in progress, and letting myself take laundry breaks but other than that, trying to focus.

Which, as you can see, I’m not doing very well. But, writing is writing, right?

So anyway, a brief housewifely post.

My advice on laundry: When you don’t want to do laundry or are hopelessly behind, do two loads a day. Eventually you’ll catch up but not burn out.

My friend Becky’s advice: When you don’t want to do laundry, do a load of pants. They’re easy to fold.

This guy named Steve I used to know’s advice: When you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It probably won’t make you feel better, but you will have a load of laundry done.

My current nemesis is that my boys have dark patches on their shirts that I can no longer ignore, because they get greasy hands then use their shirts as napkins. Gah. Need to find a non-toxic solution to get rid of them. Tried Dawn; too stinky floral. Tried Motsenbocker’s; too stinky industrial. Tried Dr. Bronner’s peppermint; cussing useless. Wondering if I’m doomed to having to treat every single stain on every single shirt.

Odyssey, Ulysses, anyone?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


I’m nerdishly obsessing over reading Odyssey and Ulysses with some friends, and have roughed out an outline. Any readers out there interested in joining us? This is for December 2014 through June 2015.

The copy of Odyssey at hand is the Harper edited by Lattimore, and 374 pages total, trade paperback, includes glossary and intro, actual work is pages 27-359.

The Ulysses copy I have to hand is the Gabler Vintage trade paperback edition, and is 650 pp plus an 6 pg preface and 4 page afterword. a 17 week read is 30ish pages a week.

Here are page breakdowns for an 8 week Odyssey read, about 45 pp a week:

12/1 start reading

12/8 1-3 41pp
12/15 4-6 48pp
12-22 7-9 44pp

break for holidays/catch up

1/12 10-12 49pp
1/19 13-15 45pp
1/26 16-18 45pp
2/2 19-21 42pp

2/9 22-24 53pp Odyssey done woo hoo!


2/9 Start Ulysses which has 18 parts of various lengths

2/16 sections 1, 2= 32 pp
2/23 sections 3, 4=29 pp
3/2 sections 5, 6=40 pp
3/9 section 7=29pp
3/16 section 8=28pp
3/23 section 9=30pp
3/30 section 10=31 pp
4/6 section 11=31pp
4/13 section 12=45pp
4/20 section 13=31pp
4/27 section 14=37pp

5/4, 5/11, 5/18–section 15 (150 pages in my ed.)

5/25 section 16=44pp

6/1, 6/8 section 17 (65 pp in my edition)

6/15 section 18=37pp

6/16 Bloomsday!

“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright

Thursday, September 18th, 2014


Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief began as a long article in The New Yorker, and was expanded to book form. Sometimes, this type of expansion works, e.g., Bradley Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, though I know some wouldn’t agree with me on that. Sometimes it doesn’t, as in Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein, which seemed stretched thin at book length.

Going Clear, though a densely formatted 372 pages with many endnotes and a lengthy bibliography, was a thumping good read I found hard to put down.

Starting with the biography of founder L. Ron Hubbard, Wright carefully relates details and background that make it possible to see how the magnetism and energy of a charismatic man was able to draw people in, first to Dianetics, and later to Scientology. Hubbard began his writing career, though, as a writer of science fiction for pulp magazines, and became skilled at creating a lot of content in a little time, which he did until the end of his life.

Science fiction invites the writer to grandly explore alternative worlds and pose questions about meaning and destiny.

One interesting question Wright poses is that if Hubbard didn’t believe, and only wanted to make money, why would he continue to work until his death to shape the religion he’d begun?

An easy, facile way to read this book is to dismiss Hubbard and Scientologists as “crazy” and to marvel at some of the astonishing details and anecdotes.

But more interesting, I found, was to ruminate on legitimacy questions of new religions versus older ones, messiah and prophet figures, those who start religions and those to carry it on, and why Scientology has been so alternately demonized as a cult and embraced by followers. (I am reminded of the band Coldplay here, irreverently). Someone in the book comments at one point that the Scientologists seem like such decent people.

What made Wright’s book an entertaining read for me was the history and anecdotes. He structures it around the difficult separation from Scientology of writer/director Paul Haggis. In this area, though, I think the book sometimes falters. Some of the anecdotes are told out of sequence, and some transitions are jarring. Plus, it’s clear from the endnotes that so much of Haggis’ and others’ testimony is he said/she said. The people speaking against the church would be psychologically more likely to exaggerate negatives after departure in order to internally support a difficult decision.

I highly recommend the book as a way to learning more about a controversial subject. It’s impressively detailed and researched, and makes me continue to think about who and why and when certain individuals would be drawn to Scientology, or psychiatry (which Scientology disputes), or any religion.

Best Intentions: Kid Readalong

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Making this post even more pathetic is how late it is.

At the beginning of the summer, I was all full of vim and vigor and determined to be a good summer parent. “We are going to have a family reading project!” I announced.

The enthusiasm was not infectious.

The idea was that my two boys, 8yo Guppy and nearly 11yo at the time Drake would read a book then write its title, author and a sentence about it in a notebook. I would read the same books, and we’d talk about them.

Great idea, right? Except that they both devoured all five Percy Jackson books in a week, not possible for me to follow suit given that I’m in three books groups AND FLIRTING WITH TWO OTHERS, WTH?

So I managed to re-read both Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.

All three of us liked them, we even dragged my husband G. Grod in, but the idea of all four of us reading the same books over the summer was ______

Like Mad Libs, let’s fill in the adjectives: bat$shit crazy? Crazytown bananapants? Well intentioned? Misguided? Delusional? Dumb? Silly?

And that just addresses the “all read the same book” premise. I surprisingly didn’t get much pushback on “let’s all read novels so you put down those stupid Garfield and Foxtrot collections” aspect. What I did receive floods of complaints on was the writing three things in a notebook. A couple samples:


This is Drake’s. He obviously NEEDS practice on his handwriting. Translated:

The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin. Well, Westing/McSouthers/Eastman/Northrup was right; I would not buy something called Windkloppel toilet tissues!

He correctly used a semicolon, but cannot capitalize correctly.


This was from 8yo Guppy. Translation:

The Sea of Monsters. Rick Riordan. Percy sails over a a title (sea of monsters).

While using the title as a noun is clever, this is merely restating the picture on the cover. Nice try, Guppy. It was better than this one, though.


A Wrinkle in Time graphic novel. Madeleine L’engle. It is science fiction. There are people.

And that was what eventually got me to give up. At which point they stopped reading novels.

So, thanks to me, the road to hell has yet another brick.

I won’t give up, though. I’m biding my time, gathering my strength, like that titan in Percy Jackson does (I just started #4). Novels, and loving them, are just too important to give up on.

And, Drake’s handwriting still needs work. As does Guppy’s smartassery.

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014


A book is a depth that presents itself as a surface.

Yes, I re-read Moby Dick. On purpose. I’d like to say it was a complete success, and that I’m glad I did. What I will says is that it was culturally useful, intermittently entertaining, and I don’t regret it. Am I damning it with faint praise? Hard to say. Then again, who am I to say about such a monolith of culture. It’s a classic for many reasons, and I can agree on lots of them, like the beauty of the prose, the slippery narration of Ishmael, the devilish character of Ahab, and more.

Whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.

A group of Twin Cities reader friends and I read about 35 pages a week over several months, then blogged or tweeted about them afterward. It was a reasonable pace, mostly easy to fit into life. Like I did with Bleak House and David Copperfield before it (both of which I read with some of the same people), I usually set aside Sunday to read the pages. While I found that a treat with Bleak House, it was something less of a treat for David Copperfield (which I half-joke didn’t really pick up until about page 485) and Moby Dick.

warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs

I’m going to put forth an idea that many will find heretical and offensive: I might have enjoyed and appreciated Moby Dick better as an abridged book. I felt similarly when I read Les Miserables and The Grapes of Wrath. All three books interrupt the narrative with informational chapters. They were the opposite of today’s writing mantra of “show don’t tell,” and instead very deliberately showed AND told.

the bread contained the only fresh fare they had. But the forecastle was not very light, and it was very easy to step over into a dark corner when you ate it.

Perhaps this makes me an immature and inexperienced reader, a cretin or philistine, but I love to learn things via story. The herky-jerky nature of these particular books, in which the authors insert information dumps along the way, isn’t conducive to reading pleasure or learning for me. I want what Ahab does in the chapter “Leg and Arm”: “Spin me the yarn” already!

In Noah’s flood, he despised Noah’s Ark; and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood, spout his frothed defiance to the skies.

But the story, a smattering of the pastiche style, and the prose among other stellar attributes, drew me through, as did the accountability of reading in a group. Am I glad I did? Yes, mostly. Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Maybe. There are so many books. Another classic might have suited me just as well or better.

Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.

I feel bad about being so ambivalent, but to be otherwise would be dishonest. To counter my concerns, though, I’m including some of my favorite quotes, and as you can see, there are many. One thing most people don’t mention is that Moby Dick can be a very funny book at times.

Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head.

As I read the book, I mentally chastised myself for my immature mental snickering at phallic or homo-erotic passages. That’s right, I’m a 46-year-old woman who considers myself a decent human being, and I kept feeling like I was laughing at penis jokes.

Then when I went to the Introduction after I finished (which I was so glad about–since it gave away the ending, and the ending doesn’t happen till the very end. No such thing as denouement for Melville.) Tony Tanner wrote that the homo-eroticism and phallic imagery was intended, and even meant as humor:

the sense or the suspicion of homosexuality, or at least of homo-eroticism, is unavoidable….Erotic feellings are engendered toa point which reads like a mixture of orgasmic ecstasy and comic exaggeration….in his ludic, hyperbolic way Meliville is inscribing a reminder of how the erotic imppulse is crucial in gnerating insticncts and impulses towards inter-connectedness, inter-subjectivity–indeed, inter-penetration. No man is an island….

Melville’s belief [is] that phallus-worship is somewhere at the source of all religions.

Does all that make it OK that I stifled snickers at the penis jokes?

Probably not.

Passages such as:

Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-labourers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally, as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill humour or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.


Ahab’s harpoon…remained firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch…; the sea…had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire…like a serpent’s tongue

Writing this post made me feel like a very poor reader and human being. I’ll keep trying.

“Smile” and “Sisters” by Raina Telgemaier

Friday, September 12th, 2014

smile sisters

I read Raina Telgemaier’s second book, Drama, before I read her first, the comic-book memoir Smile. I liked Drama, but didn’t love, and figured I’d check out Smile at my leisure.

In the comic shop a few weeks ago, they had a box set of Smile plus Telgemaier’s new book, Sisters. I hemmed and hawed about buying them. You know the drill–not supposed to spend money, not supposed to buy more books, not sure I’ll like them, blah, blah, blah. Then, to absolutely no one’s surprise, I bought them.

To MY surprise, however, I was not the first one to read them. 11yo Drake and 8yo Guppy tore into them as soon as we got into the car, then traded, then re-read them. I’d bought them for me, hoping the boys might, maybe, be interested in these books even if they were about girls. Both boys had read both books multiple times by the time I got to them.

And they’re just lovely. Smile is the story of Raina’s childhood accident when she loses her two front permanent teeth, and has to navigate dentral trauma and drama in her early teens. Sisters is another window that focuses on her relationship with her younger sister Amara, and a cross-country car trip in a van.

The art is well done and accessible, the stories and emotions full of stuff to relate to. It was a joy to visit Raina’s childhood both times, even when it was difficult and sad.

A few days later, one of Drake’s friends down the street borrowed the books, then returned them. Apparently his mom and older brother had also read and enjoyed them in the meantime.

I’m not sure I’ve ever bought books that were so loved by so many, so quickly! A definite win.

“Dune” by Frank Herbert

Thursday, September 11th, 2014


I feel like I’ve been writing a lot about the banter between my husband G. Grod and me over book recommendations.

Lo and behold, when I went to search my blog whether I’d already written about Dune, I found this post from 2007 about recommended books.

Ha! Seven years ago! That was even before he started bugging me about Cloud Atlas.

I met G. Grod at a bar in 1995. I’m pretty sure that’s how long he’s been recommending Dune to me. We got married in 1998. He joked that he was marrying me even though I hadn’t yet read Dune. Finally in 2014 I got around to reading Dune because I chose it for the book group I lead so I’d have to read it. I tore through it, and had no trouble at all admitting he’d been right, that I’d really liked it.

Dune is the giant science fiction masterpiece about a messiah figure on a desert planet with sand worms. It’s also about dozens of more things. The reason it endures, deservedly I think, as a classic is that it’s got so much going on, including but not limited to religion, philosophy, class structure, and this all on top of it being a ripping yarn.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Further, it continues to be timely because of its ecological focus, while Herbert cannily got around becoming dated by not putting that much actual science into it. Arrakis is a stand in for Iraq, which is still a point of world contention for its oil, which is allegorized in Dune as the spice that rich people come to depend on.

A few things bugged me a lot about Dune. One, the villain Baron Vlad Harkonnen, is fat and homosexual (and to boot in the Lynch movie, a redhead and with boils). Since no one else is fat or homosexual those become the markers of evil. Unacceptable.

Women’s roles in the world were somewhat troubling, too. One the one hand, characters like Jessica were powerful, and Fremen women fought alongside the men. On the other hand, all female characters were attached in some way to a male character. None of them acted freely without male authority or direction.

Finally, the world shown does not transcend a feudal structure. Yes, Paul becomes the leader and messiah but not only because of his greatness, but also because he’s the duke, and women aren’t shown in positions of power, other than in the Bene Gesserit, where they’d constantly called witches, an implication of fear of their sexual power.

If an author is going to imagine “A World Where…” then s/he can damn well imagine a world where violence against women isn’t accepted, men and women are equal, ancient boundaries of money and class break down, women aren’t called whores, and appearance and sexuality aren’t markers of character.

My husband and I watched the David Lynch film, which we found initially interesting, but eventually boring. We tried to watch the more recent mini series, but couldn’t manage, though we did watch some of the extras, which were worthwhile. If you’re going to read Dune, perhaps a better movie to watch after is Lawrence of Arabia. Paul Atreides shares a lot of similarities with that portrayal.

Belated Blog-a-versary

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

I forgot to mark my blog-a-versary this year.

In June is was twelve (12!) years since I started writing at Blogspot with Girl Detective, continued with Mama Duck, then merged and came here.

G. Grod and I toss around ideas about making a new site under my real name, of which the Girl Detective blog would be a part, but so far, I’m still here blogging about mostly books, with movies, motherhood, food, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Glad you’re still along for the ride.

Any thoughts, encouragement, discouragement, on the new-blog/real-name idea would be most welcome.

And Now for Something Completely Different: Fiction

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

This is an excerpt from a piece of fiction I’m working on. The Replacements are playing Midway Stadium in St. Paul this Saturday, and everyone around here is blah, blah, blah, Replacements, so I’m risking posting something I’m not sure is good or not because the timing feels right.

Name That Tune

I think I’ve had sex to this song, Nicole thought, then turned up the volume in the car. It was an old memory, she thought, at least fifteen years ago. Who had it been?

Mary Lucia’s voice followed. She never talked over a song, beginning or end, one of the reasons Nicole liked listening to her. “That was ‘I Will Dare,’ local music from the Replacements, off the album Let It Be from 1987.”

The details emerged from the haze of memory. Not fifteen years–more like twenty. It was Julian, saying the Replacements were a great band to have sex to.

He used to say those kind of things when they’d go out drinking after work. Then, she thought it was because they were buddies, and she hoped he was flirting. He asked what music she liked, then mocked her answers as songs about sex, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ and INXS’ ‘The One Thing,’ rather than songs that were good to have sex to.

Nicole wilted as his criticism. She’d never heard of the Replacements. They must be on WHFS, the station Julian and his friends listened to, not the classic rock she favored at the time.

Then she rallied, and stood her ground. It wasn’t because the songs were about sex, she said, but that they had strong base lines. She liked music with a back beat.

Julian admitted, somewhat grudgingly, that the Replacements had a good bass line, too. He continued to bring up sex, like how he always slept with girls at their places, so he could be the one to leave. He asked her if she knew what ‘coyote ugly’ meant.

Of course she knew. She’d been friends with guys for years, and knew some of their secrets.

It took a long time to realize Julian was neither being her friend nor flirting with her. He was taunting her. He knew she liked him, knew she wanted to sleep with him. So he went out drinking with her and talked about sex until she felt ready to rip off her clothes. She probably knew Julian wasn’t to be trusted, though, because she never did. Rip off her clothes, that is.

Until that one night. When she finally heard the Replacements.

Cranberry Ice Cream Pie

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

So, I made a pie


For an article I was writing elsewhere, I called my mom for the directions to cranberry ice cream pie, a staple of our holiday table when I was growing up. In a strange turn of events, this is a not a recipe posted in a zillion other places. In my usual fashion, I tinkered with it. And that’s what I am posting here.


Easy-Peasy Cranberry Ice Cream Pie
serves 1 to 8


Pre-made 9-inch graham-cracker crust (a homemade gingersnap crust* is delightful, but not easy-peasy)
1 15-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I increased to 1 teaspoon.)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into 1” cubes
16-ounce can jellied cranberry sauce (can make whole berry cranberry sauce** but I haven’t tested, so can’t guarantee results.)
Optional: Whipped heavy cream for garnish

In food processor or blender, thoroughly combine condensed milk, lemon juice, vanilla and cream cheese. Fold or pulse in cranberry sauce. Pour into crust. Freeze till firm. To serve, let soften for ten minutes at room temperature. Garnish with whipped cream, or not.

*Quick-ish homemade crumb crust: in food processor whiz 6 ounces gingersnaps or graham crackers. Pulse in 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter. Press crumbs into 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Cool pan to room temperature on wire rack, then fill.

**Quickish homemade cranberry sauce: Combine 2/3 cup water with 2/3 cup sugar, bring to boil in medium saucepan till sugar dissolves. Add 8-ounce frozen cranberries, return to boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

TBR Piles

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

You guys all know what a TBR pile is, right, since you’re my people? It’s To-Be-Read pile. Or, in our case, piles.

The other night my husband G. Grod says that Steve Brust linked to a site that has maps of all the Aubrey/Maturin voyages. “ALL OF THEM!”

He was really excited.

For the not-as-nerdy readers, this means the fictional voyages of Aubrey and Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s series.

When he noticed I was not excited, he said snidely, or perhaps mock-snidely (sometimes it’s hard to tell) “Oh, yeah, you haven’t read them.”

See, they’re part of this ongoing squabble about how he recommends books then I don’t read them. And when I eventually do, then I gush about how great they are, e.g., Cloud Atlas.

In response, I simply gestured to my TBR pile on my bedside table.


G started to laugh. Then, I pointed to his TBR “pile,” which is the top of our radiator.


And, for fun, here’s a detail. Notice the cobwebs and thick layer of dust?


And finally, because I’m letting it all hang out, here, I’ll admit the bedside table is only my most recent TBR. I had to take all the others and create a wall of books because we’re balking at buying new bookshelves.


In my defense, the wall has become a sort of book catchall, accumulating things that aren’t To-Be-Read. Also, there are a few more stashes here and there throughout the house of things to-be-read.

Yes, we have a severe book-buying problem.

“Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel” by Jason Padgett

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


I first saw Jason Padgett’s Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel reviewed in Entertainment Weekly. The premise fascinated me. In his twenties, Padgett was a muscle-built party boy. One night he got beat up outside a bar, and after that is a different person, interested in math, and able to see mathematical patterns in everyday sights like water in the sink, or dew on leaves. As he fought to manage the post-traumatic stress disorder and emotional repercussions from his brain injury, he comes to embrace his new love of and interest in math, and goes on to have a very different life than anyone expected and becomes the first documented case of acquired savant syndrome with mathematical synesthesia

Padgett narrated the book to the co-author, Maureen Ann Seaberg. It felt sometimes as if the book needed a tighter editor for some of Padgett’s anecdotes. But the story was so compelling to me, as was the insight into brain and cognitive science, that these far outweighed my quibbles with style.

“Blessed are the Meek” by Kristi Belcamino

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Kristi is a friend of mine, and one of my writing buddies, so I am predisposed to like her books. Blessed are the Meek is the second in her Gabriella Giovanni series, which began with Blessed are the Dead.

Gabriella is a newspaper reporter in San Francisco from a big Italian Catholic family. She’s got an Irish Catholic cop boyfriend, so things seem to be looking up from the challenging ending of Blessed are the Dead until the boyfriend’s ex turns up. Then a lot of other people start turning up dead.

In Blessed are the Dead, we knew who the bad guy was, but didn’t know how things would play out. In this sequel, we don’t know who is causing the trouble, or why, so there’s a strong “what happens next” factor that kept me turning pages to the end.

I enjoy spending time with Gabriella. She’s kind of a mess, but tries to keep it together at work and with her family. There’s also a lot of well-described food in the books, and I love a good book with good food. If you’re a mystery fan, this is a compelling page turner.

“Embroideries” and “Chicken with Plums” by Marjane Satrapi

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

I followed up my recent re-reading of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis with two of her other memoirs about her family, Embroideries, and Chicken with Plums.


Embroideries expands on the life of Marjane’s grandmother, and stories are told by her and her friends in regular women’s gathering for tea. The stories are about marriage, sex, love, and its lack. The intimate setting of a small living room contrasts with the oppressive regime outside in Iran, and makes this small book a real gem.


Chicken with Plums is the story of one of Satrapi’s great-uncles, a musician in an unhappy marriage. In flashbacks, we learn his history in music and love. This is the second time I read the book, and both times it failed to connect with me emotionally as Satrapi’s other books did. Neither the story nor images remain with me, as they do from the other books.

“Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie” by Gaiman/Vess

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


After I finished re-reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I felt ambivalent, meaning torn, not indifferent. My favorite part of the book was the Hempstock family. A friend told me that the Hempstocks appeared in two other Gaiman works, Stardust and The Graveyard Book. I took my lovely edition of the graphic novel off a dusty shelf and dove in, probably for the first time since I read it in the individual issues when they came out in 19xx, and subsequently earned a World Fantasy Award. After that, Gaiman made a prose novel out of it, and after that it was turned into a movie. But before all that, it was a four-issue comic-book series, and that is what I re-read.

The tale starts with a young man named Dunstan Thorn, but soon shifts to the future and Dunstan’s son Tristan, who makes a rash promise to a pretty girl. An adventure in the land of Faerie begins, which includes murder, mayhem, witches, unicorns, falling stars, prophecies, a weird small farting creature, truth, and lies.

Gaiman and Vess have obvious affection for a good fairy story. Gaiman’s market is straight out of Christina Rosetti’s poem The Goblin Market, and Vess’s illustrations hark back to Arthur Rackham’s classic fairy drawings. While Tristan’s tale is fun and interesting, the only Hempstocks that appear are dull and conventional, nothing like their sparkling sistren in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

This is an entertaining diversion, made better by its illustrations. Thus, I can’t see the value in seeking out the prose novel, but I remember the movie was pretty good.

“Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home” by Nina Stibbe

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014


Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe is yet another recommendation from my husband via Caitlin Moran, whom he follows on Twitter (@caitlinmoran). He kept laughing aloud as he read Love, Nina, which was recommendation enough in itself. Then he thoroughly qualified it, saying I should only read it if I wanted to, it was good, but not Cloud Atlas or anything.

Love, Nina
is a series of letters written by the author to her sister in Leicestershire. At twenty, Nina moved to London to be nanny for two clever, opinionated boys. They’re sons of a famous film director and the director of the London Review of Books. Nina’s letters feature walk-ons from some of London’s creative intelligentsia, observed through Nina’s her critical eye.

Nothing much happens, and I can see why some readers might be bored with it, but I found Nina’s letters and details of ordinary family life in a creative family both charming and fascinating.

Everyone keeps saying how great yoga is and that we should all go and learn to relax and let go of things that are thwarting us in life (i.e. turkey mince) and breathe properly and stretch and so on…

I’ll think about going (to yoga). But ‘m not sure I want to be that relaxed. I am who I am and I might not do so well as a relaxed person. (86)

It helped that Nina doesn’t gloss over her own shortcomings as a bad cook, a lazy housekeeper, and a teller of fibs to cover her butt, as when she “pranged” the car, or “nicked” a particular towel.

In between the lines we get glimpses of her sister’s life, hilarious as when the neighbor showers outdoors, but also Nina’s own self doubts as she applies to university, begins classes and moves on from being the official nanny and becomes one of the revolving guests at what she calls simply, “55.”

The book reminded me of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. I’m an anglophile, a book geek, and I like letters, so this was definitely my cuppa. If you’re looking for a plot, or a kinder narrator who doesn’t curse so much, this might not work for you.

Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Bike version

Monday, September 8th, 2014
This is not Bridge #9

Bridge #9? Who knows?

Realized yesterday that “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” could work for me as a blog title, blog subtitle, or epitaph.

Things yesterday that seemed like a good idea at the time:

1. Wearing a skirt to ride my bicycle, hoping to demonstrate the triumph of the ‘penny in yo’ pants‘ hack.

Alas, maybe its my skirt, maybe it’s my generous thighs, but I just cannot get this hack to work for me. putting the coin through both layers, back and front, does not stay, then looks like I’m shitting a coin when it falls out plus then my skirt rides up when I’m biking, and while I wear underwear and am thus not flashing my pink parts at anyone, still, it’s not the image I want to project.

2. Taking a long ride for the first time in a long time. Today, I am saddle sore. Not sure that skirt was a good choice there either, though it is dang cute.

3. Thinking I could depend on my phone’s navigation rather than carefully plotting the route to someplace I’d been to years ago, especially because it advised going over a bridge I’d had trouble finding before, PLUS a bridge in the vicinity of an area of city road washed out earlier this year by a landslide and still closed to traffic. Why yes, I am embracing run-on sentences today.

Getting there: followed phone’s directions. Instead of going way I know pretty well, I was confident I could find elusive Bridge 9. Not so. End up on rocky dirt path, and when Google maps (which still insists, years later, that bike directions are in beta, for good reason, I discover, but still, let’s get it together, already!) tells me to turn left on a bridge, the bridge is over my head, with neither end in sight.

I followed detour signs and ended up on the opposite side of river, and thought, this is wrong (which is was) but just kept going. I did finally arrive at my destination, having to re-cross river, after an hour 25 instead of the predicted 50 minutes, sweaty, late and feeling like an idiot.

Then, on way back, directions said to go straight for 5.4 miles and turn right on elusive Bridge #9. Easy, I thought, and maybe road is not washed out. BUT road is washed out, so took detour, and phone kept telling me to do impossible things like turn left into a building. I followed a nice U student who said he didn’t know which bridge was #9, but that he was going across river, so I followed him, got across river, bonus: stayed across river (yay!) and eventually found my way home.

Later, looked at map to determine I’d probably gone across Washington Avenue bridge, and have yet to get to #9.

So, what did I learn?

1. Wear pants. Possibly padded ones.

2. Bike more, so I am not going on a long ride, woefully out of shape.

3. Take a day in which I have no goal and am not hungry or tired or angry or overheated and figure out where the heck this bridge is. I had a similar problem once finding the Cedar Lake Trail entrance off the River Road (because it’s crappily marked, and almost literally a hole in the wall.)

Problems: 1. costs money. 2 and 3 sound fine, but experience shows more biking = less writing AND more eating and money spending. Solution to 2 is to moderate and alternate, and 3 is to just bike and stop biking to food destinations.

And thus, I sit in my coffee shop, writing. Not biking.

Attention, reader Kitty

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Dear reader Kitty, who lurks, and is perhaps the first fan of my writing:

I keep getting spam from HostGator. Isn’t the the company someone you know works for? While I adore that someone, I do not adore the spam.

If so, can you find a way to get this site off the spam list? Spam makes me feel bad about the blog, which makes me blog less so I get less spam. But I want to blog more!

Any help with this, from any readers, would be greatly appreciated.


GD aka KB

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell

Thursday, September 4th, 2014


Holy cats, people, why didn’t anyone tell me how awesome David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was?

Oh, right, everyone did, including my husband. He doesn’t urge books on me often, thus he gets really annoyed when I put him off. Cloud Atlas I put off because it’s over 500 pages and looked dense and intimidating. Imagine my surprise when I tore through it in less than a week, a busy week at that. It’s the kind of book that makes me resent anything and everything that makes me put it down

There are five novellas that stop mid-story on cliffhangers, with a sixth one in the middle before returning in reverse order to the previous five, taking up where each left off. I could begin to detail the many connections and overlaps, but I’d be here all day. I have a whole list of sites to visit to nerdishly obsess over this book once I get various deadlines met. I don’t nerdishly obsess over just any books, you know. If you, like me, have started it before and put it down pick it back up, and keep going. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop.

The novellas are written in different styles, with different but overlapping characters. This book is clever, thoughtful, intelligent, and a great, great read. Which means I’ll want to go back and read everything he’s written, because apparently all his books together overlap, just like this novel.

Oh, this is going to be a fun ride. And Cloud Atlas has earned a spot on our “books we like so much we own multiple copies” shelf. Because we are obsessive nerds.