Thursday, December 28, 2006

Those of you in Utah have almost certainly heard about the mother and two children killed by a drunk driver on December 24. Cheryl Ceran, 15-year-old Ian and 7-year-old Julianna died in the accident. The remaining family members, Gary and his two children, 19-year-old Clarissa and 12-year-old Caleb, spoke to the Deseret News this week. I'm including a link to the article for two reasons.

First, because I know Clarissa and Caleb. Two years ago I performed in the LDS church presentation of "Savior of the World." During the months of rehearsals, the cast was separated into "families" of between 5-7 members. We were staged together as families and spent lots of time talking during rehearsals. Clarissa and Caleb were in my family. I loved them both from the moment I met them. I knew their mother a little and watched Julianna, 5 at the time, run around the green room during performances while her siblings were on stage.

Second, because I've rarely read a piece filled with more faith and hope and true charity than this one. Gary Ceran says that during the first 24 hours, when they were flooded by more than 500 visitors, he kept wondering who was praying for the young man who was in prison. This is a family I desire to emulate.

I will continue praying for them, especially Clarissa who is a dance major at BYU and whose legs were badly injured in the accident. The link to the story is below.,1249,650218223,00.html

Sunday, December 24, 2006

What To Say About A Christmas Gift You Don't Like
(Not original to me)

10. Hey! There's a gift!

9. Well, well, well ...

8. Boy, if I had not recently shot up 4 sizes that would've fit.

7. This is perfect for wearing around the basement.

6. Gosh. I hope this never catches fire! It is fire season though. There are lots of unexplained fires.

5. If the dog buries it, I'll be furious!

4. I love it -- but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.

3. Sadly, tomorrow I enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.

2. To think -- I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.

And the Number One Thing to say about a Christmas gift you don't like:1. "I really don't deserve this."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


WHY can a five-year-old go from dancing around and perfectly happy to throwing up in the car ten minutes later?

WHY can that five-year-old be holding an open plastic bag and still manage to throw up only on himself?

WHY do I have mono for the third time? Right before Christmas?

WHY did I lock myself out of my cold storage room?

WHY are all the Christmas presents in the cold storage room?

WHY haven't I read a really fabulous book lately? WHY do the ones I've read either confuse me or bore me?

WHY do I not feel the slightest guilt about buying pre-made sugar cookies, ready for my kids to decorate? Am I missing a piece of Mormon mom DNA?

WHY are newborns so intoxicating? WHY am I so lucky to have a brand-new niece (my first!) right before Christmas?

WHY do I love my family so much?

WHY am I as excited for Christmas as my children?


Friday, December 08, 2006


Last night was my favorite book club meeting of the year, the dinner where we plan what we'll be reading for the year to come. Good food, good friends, lots of good books to anticipate . . . topped off by cheesecake and chocolate!

We're beginning our 8th year as a book club. (By the way, we've been looking for a good name for a long time--any suggestions, please comment!) Fourteen members, five of us original. The first couple of years, we didn't plan more than a month in advance. We calendared who would be hosting a given month, and then the host would have full discretion of what we read. The second year, we assigned themes to each month (YA, mystery, biography, classic) and let the host choose within those themes.

At the end of two years, we needed a radical change. We were reading far too many self-help books, far too many depressing books, and far too many books that made us feel bad about ourselves as mothers. Thus was born our December tradition.

On the first Thursday of December, we meet for dinner. Every member who wishes brings recommendations. We sell our books, much like editorial meetings in a publishing house, and then we vote by secret ballot. The eleven books with the most votes are on our schedule for the next year.

There have been slight modifications to this system over the years. For one, we now ask that every book you recommend be one you have actually read. (This after the disaster of a book that shall remain unnamed which we chose because "it sounded really interesting." It wasn't. It was one of only two books I haven't finished in book club. Both of those books had the word "Red" in the title. Coincidence?) For another, we now limit recommendations to two or three per person. This avoids having those who read more than others dominating the choices. I plead the fifth on whether I am one of those :)

The selling of our books is not for the fainthearted. As we've grown closer to each other, we've grown more outspoken as well. One book that made it on to this year's list (no, I'm not telling which one) I don't like at all. Presenters are peppered with questions and comments. "It sounds like a soap opera." "I don't like science fiction." "What exactly is a changeling?" But it works. Each year we have a wide variety of genres, lengths, and subject matters. We never entirely agree. I don't think there's ever been a book that absolutely everyone loved or detested. (Except for the aforementioned unnameable one with "Red" in the title.) But watching everyone last night, laughing and enjoying themselves and each other, I was struck by how lucky I am to have a group of friends who trust each other so entirely that disagreement is never mistaken for a personal attack. (Okay, so there was the book-throwing incident. But I plead the fifth on that as well.)

Books for 2007:
Among the Hidden—Margaret Peterson Haddix
Freakonomics—Steven Levitt
Wuthering Heights—Emily Bronte
Stolen Child—Keith Donohue
The Chosen—Chaim Potok
Night—Elie Wiesl
Speak--Laurie Halse Anderson
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging—Louise Rennison
The Sparrow—Mary Doria Russell
The Four Feathers—A.E.W. Mason
Beekeeper’s Apprentice—Laurie R. King
Nobody Don’t Love Nobody—Stacey Bess

Monday, December 04, 2006


I had no idea these fun little information lists were called MeMe's--but it's certainly appropriate. Filling it in makes me feel like I'm four years old waving my hand in the air shouting, "Me! Me! Me! Ask me!" But it makes for an easy blog entry and I love all things Christmas.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate. With whipped cream. Or little marshmallows. Yes, I have very sophisticated tastes.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Wraps. With the same paper everyone else in the house wraps with. My oldest son came to the rescue a few years ago when the second son asked about that coincidence. While my mind was still stuck on "Now what?", the oldest son said, "You don't think Santa can afford wrapping paper for every gift, do you? He uses the wrapping paper at whatever house he's at."

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Ah, a true example of marital diplomacy. I'm for colored lights, my husband is for white. So we two trees, one of each. And house lights? Are you kidding? Not as long as my husband holds his current job, in which November and December are his busiest months.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No, but I'm gonna! Right over my bed :)

5. When do you put your decorations up? Day after Thanksgiving.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Honeybaked Ham. It's yummy and requires nothing more of me than providing it refrigerator space.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child: Coming down the stairs every Christmas morning. The tree was in the living room right off the stairs, so my dad made us come down single file with our eyes closed so we could turn to the left and go into the family room and open our stockings first before we saw the tree and presents.

8. How and when did you learn the truth about Santa? What truth? There's a truth? Fingers in my ears: "Nah, nah, nah, nah . . . I'm not listening."

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Mrs. Claus brings us pajamas. (She also wraps with our household gift wrap.)

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Two trees: one white lighted and elegant, with glass angels and silver and blue snowflakes and glittery balls; one color lighted and sentimental, with all the kids' handmade ornaments and olive wood ornaments from my husband's trip to Jerusalem and the felt and plush ornaments made my grandmother that used to hang on my family's tree when I was a little girl.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? Depends on whether I have to drive in it.

12. Can you ice skate? No. And I don't plan to. Some things should probably not be attempted after the age of 35.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? As a child: the year I was 12 and my dad gave me pierced earrings. It was his way of giving me permission to get my ears pierced. As an adult: my husband always surprises me with wonderful things. A laptop two years ago. A new cell phone last year. A diamond solitaire pendant on New Year's Eve 2000 (that's close enough to count as Christmas, right?)

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Watching my children and making people happy.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Trifle. Or the newly-discovered Raspberry Cream Cheese pie that I'm making for Christmas Eve this year.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Opening gifts one at a time on Christmas morning. After watching my 8-year-old daughter tear through her birthday gifts last week in 45 seconds flat, the wisdom of doing one present, one person at a time was reinforced. It makes Christmas last longer, everyone gets to see what the others receive, the giver enjoys the experience of the givee, and we can savor each individual gift.

17. What tops your tree? Both trees are topped by silver, three-dimensional stars.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Giving. But I don't mind receiving, either :)

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? For the True Meaning of Christmas: "O Come All Ye Faithful" as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Welsh tenor Bryn Terfel. Strictly for fun: "The Twelve Days After Christmas."
"The first day after Christmas,
My true love and I had a fight.
And so I chopped
The pear tree down
And burnt it just for spite.
And with a single cartridge
I shot that blasted partridge
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me."
And on from there, through boiled French hens and gold rings that turn green and one particularly cute drummer.

Friday, December 01, 2006


CHILDREN OF GOD by Mary Doria Russell: a follow-up to THE SPARROW, which you all should know by now is one of my favorite books ever. In this book, Emilio leaves the priesthood, falls in love, prepares to marry--and ends up back on Alpha Centauri without his consent. Because of the time it takes to travel, more than fifty years have passed by the time he arrives to find that one of the party they thought lost actually survived. Civil war has erupted, the oppressed have become the oppressors, and Emilio struggles for personal redemption in the midst of negotiating a better future. A satisfying conclusion to the characters and story from THE SPARROW.

CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME by Mark Haddon: I grew curious about this book about after the Salt Lake County Council caused a firestorm by choosing it as a countywide adult book selection. Yes, there is swearing in this book. Yes, there is the f-word. But honestly, after all the criticism I'd read in local papers, I was surprised to find how little it actually appeared. It didn't bother me, and the story itself is quite interesting. Told from the POV of an autistic teenager who finds the body of a dog on his neighbor's lawn. He decides to detect what happened, which leads him into secrets about his own family and a terrifying journey to London. The most compelling part of this book is the look at the world through someone who processes everything differently than I do. I recommend it for that experience.

BLADE OF FORTRIU by Juliet Marillier: my favorite fantasy author, Marillier writes fantasy set in actual historical times and places. This is the second in her trilogy about the Picts in southern Scotland in about 500 A.D. Like all second acts, this one has several different storylines going--from King Bridei who is about to launch an ambitious attack to retake Pictish land from the Dalriadans (Irish) to his most trusted spy, Faolan, whose current job is to deliver a royal bride to a secretive forest leader in order to cement a treaty. The focus is on Faolan and Ana, the bride, and the mysteries they uncover while at her betrothed's court. Marillier has never disappointed me yet, and my only regret in finishing this book is that I'm not Australian, where the third book became available in September. I, alas, shall have to wait until May.

FALLS THE SHADOW by Sharon Kay Penman: the second in the trilogy that began with HERE BE DRAGONS (see last month's reads.) This is primarily the story of Simon de Montfort, the rebel baron who married Henry III's sister, Nell, lived an indecently happy 27 years with her, fathered seven children, and led England into its first serious rebellion for the people's rights. He defended the Magna Carta, demanded that the king be subject to its principles, and believed that rulers were responsible to their subjects. He was also arrogant, unforgiving, inflexible, and unlucky. His rapid rise, capped by the miraculous battle of St. Albans, was succeeded by a dramatic fall, ending with his death at Evesham in battle against the army of Prince Edward, later Edward I. His body was mutilated, his head and limbs hacked off and sent around the country as battle prizes. One son died with him, one was dangerously wounded but later escaped to France, the son who failed to get to his father in time with a relief army never forgave himself. His wife, Nell, held Dover Castle for three months against the king's army before accepting surrender and fleeing to France with her only daughter. I knew next to nothing about Simon de Montfort before reading this book, and now he's one of the men I admire most.

THE DEVIL'S FEATHER by Minette Walters: a Reuters reporter thinks there are links between serial murders in Sierra Leona and Iraq. She suspects a former British soldier and begins researching the story. The day she is set to leave Iraq, she is kidnapped and held for three days. When she is released, she refuses to speak about her capture, fleeing to England where she rents a quiet house in the country to escape the questions of reporters and her parents. But quiet English houses have their own secrets and she's soon thrown into the mystery of an old woman's being left to die in the cold. And what happened to her in Iraq most definitely doesn't stay in Iraq, for some demons cannot be outrun, only outfought. Powerful psychological novel of fear and hostages, though I was mildly disappointed in the very ending which leaves unanswered the question of what really happened to the bad guy.

AMERICAN GOSPEL by Jon Meacham: this book was given to me by a neighbor. I usually avoid all poltical/religious/current events topics, since I deplore rigidity and intolerance. But this non-fiction piece, by the current editor of Newsweek magazine, was a pleasant surprise. Meacham goes back to the founding of America to uncover the Founder's real thoughts and intentions in the separation of church and state. Using contemporary sources, Meacham makes an excellent case for our current society having strayed too far on both sides of the debate of where religion belongs in public life. I enjoyed this thoroughly.

UNDERWORLD/RECALLED TO LIFE/ARMS AND THE WOMEN by Reginald Hill: another orgy of the Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries. Now I'm all caught up with the series, and have to wait until spring for a new one! I definitely prefer Hill's later entries in the series, which get deeper and more complex, both in plot and character. My favorite of these three was ARMS AND THE WOMEN which deals with a threat to Pascoe's wife, Ellie. The police believe it's some bad guy from Pascoe's policing past come to threaten him, so Ellie takes her daughter and retreats to the country at Pascoe's insistence. Unfortunately, Ellie is the true target and she's just put herself straight into the middle of the most dangerous situation of her life. Ending with a killer storm that literally sends a building falling into the sea, I liked it tremendously. Although I still don't like Ellie Pascoe and wish her husband had chosen a wife with more care ;)

HISTORIES OF THE HANGED by David Anderson: I bought this for my husband before our trip to Kenya last June. A history of the British colonization in East Africa, beginning in 1900, and an examination of the events leading up to the Mau Mau rebellion, the most serious and bloody colonial rebellion against Britain in the 20th-century. It helped bring independence to Kenya, but at an awfully high cost in both African lives and British ethics. There's plenty of blame to go around here--from the Mau Mau rebels who killed women and children without compunction to the British justice system which pretty much threw out the concept of rule of law and, well, justice. THE HANGED are those who were executed by colonial courts with occasionally less than circumstantial evidence. No one really comes out looking great, except perhaps Jomo Kenyatta, who endured years of imprisonment before becoming Kenya's first president.

ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LOST COLONY by Eoin Colfer: I'm an Artemis Fowl fan and I don't apologize :) In this newest installment of the Irish boy genius who used to be a criminal mastermind, Artemis stumbles upon the fact that a lost colony of demons is breaking down and may soon disappear altogether. With the help of Holly Short, Foaly, Butler, and a pretty and equally brilliant 12-year-old girl, Artemis must make a dreadful sacrifice to save the colony. I did not expect the end of this book, was very surprised in a good way (unlike so many of the YA books I've read this year), and can see that Colfer is ready to take a leap with this series. I can't wait until the next one.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Because Thanksgiving is over.

Because my kids are back in school. (Yesterday I said to my family, "It's time for you all to get out of my house." My ten-year-old said, "It's our house, too." To which I replied, "Not during school hours it isn't!" This conversation was done in a very loving fashion. Truly.)

Because my house is now decorated for Christmas. I love Christmas trees and Christmas lights and Nativity scenes and snowmen and all the darling crafty things my friend, Angie, makes me because, let's face it, I am her service project.

Because it snowed today and I didn't have to go anywhere.

Because I don't have to think about cooking for another four weeks. (Christmas Eve, to be exact.)

I do not like to cook. I CAN cook. I DO cook, if only because my children just keep waking up every morning hungry again. But I do not like it. I do not enjoy baking. I do not enjoy roasting turkeys. I do not enjoy mashing potatoes. I do enjoy making my family happy and so, since there were no family dinners on offer this year, it was up to me to provide Thanksgiving. Eight days ago, as we talked about the Thanksgiving week ahead, we planned what we would do on Wednesday. Making pies. And pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. And everything else, since we had decided to have our dinner on Wednesday night. (Face it, we're rebels.) Every single child, from the 8th-grade cooking class boy to the kindergartener, said, "I want to help! I want to help!" My reply? "I'm so excited! This will be mom's favorite day ever! Spending all day in the kitchen with my four children helping me do everything!"

The sad part of this story? My 13-year-old said, without missing a beat, "You're being sarcastic."

Yes, I'm a bad, bad mom.

But I try. We did spend Wednesday in the kitchen. They did help make pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes and baste the turkey. I did not lose my temper. The food was yummy. Everyone enjoyed themselves.

I will never be Martha Stewart. I will never be my mother-in-law. My children won't learn from me how to make pie crust or french onion soup or anything more complicated than roasted turkey. My husband will never come home to a three-course meal kept fresh until the moment he walks in the door.

But they magically seem to love me anyway--unless they're all much better actors than I give them credit for.

And that's what I'm most grateful for today.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I have a new sister-in-law. Seeing as I only have one brother, that's quite a big deal! Paul and Kelly Sudweeks were recently married and I couldn't be more delighted to have another woman in our family. She's smart, she's pretty, she's well-read, and she's articulate. In other words, she fits right in. Welcome to our family, Kelly!

Monday, November 06, 2006


Humans like praise.

Writers are human.

Ergo . . .

Praise is a rare commodity for a writer. That's why I had a wonderful day last week when I received praise from someone I've never met. My parents are serving a mission in Nairobi, Kenya and their next-door neighbors are also American missionaries. My parents have copies of some of my writing. They loaned my Tudory alternate-history book to the woman who lived next door. And then she proceeded to write me an e-mail about how she read it in two days and hated having to stop to eat and sleep and work and what an amazing book I'd written and how much she loved the characters and how she cried through the last twenty pages . . . well, is there anything better calculated to win a writer's heart? Okay, if her e-mail had ended with, "I just happen to know a senior editor at Viking or Random House and could I please send this book to so-and-so", that would have been perfect, but I've managed to go this long without finding a single person with publishing connections so it's no great surprise.

I wrote back to her today, and I don't think she'd mind if I share part of it.

"You have no idea how wonderful your email was for me. Praise is few and far between in the writing/publishing business--and so far, praise from the publishing side has not gone beyond "I liked such and such part but it's not quite right for us" or "Here's what you could improve and I'd like to see other writing from you". No one falling over themselves to offer me six figure contracts yet.Still, the kind words make it possible to forget the others: the form letter rejections, the agent who said of this book, "I love the idea but wasn't enthused about the writing" (How's that for a knife to the heart?), or the other agent who said, "It's not historical fiction. Historical fiction is whatmight have happened." (Yes, I thought, this is what might have happened if Anne Boleyn's son had been born! She didn't see it that way.)
So you can see how gratefully I accept any kind words that come my way. I'm not a quitter, fortunately, so this book is still making its slow way through the unfriendly world, as well as some short stories that can't seem to find a home and the early chapters of another book. And I just keep writing. Since I've been a much happier wife and mother in the three years since I began writing, I figure I'll just write until I die and than maybe someone will want to publish it when I'm dead."

Of course, if anyone out there wants to publishing a living author, I'm available.

Friday, November 03, 2006


You'll notice (or maybe you won't) a new look to my blog. It's a long story, beginning with the simple fact that I wanted to add links. My friend, Ginger, had links on her blog. So Ginger, I asked, how can I do the same? Turns out she chose a blog template that already had a space for links. I didn't. After playing around with the directions for adding such a space (involving lots of template code and copying and pasting and ending up with the same lack of link space every time) I finally just chose a different template for my blog. One that already had links.

For now, the links are to the blogs of several personal writer friends of mine, all of whom are more prolific in their blogging and/or much funnier than me. This is how much I like these friends and support their writing--that I'm willing to lose my few readers to better bloggers. In future, I'll probably add links to some of my favorite websites, writing or otherwise. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 02, 2006


TO THE POWER OF THREE by Laura Lippman: a new-to-me author of a contemporary mystery series. This is a stand-alone novel that was nominated for multiple awards last year. Three girls, best friends for years, are shot in the high school bathroom just weeks before graduation. One is killed, one (the apparent shooter) is in a coma, and one is the only witness to not just what happened but why. And she's not telling everything. A twisty novel that keeps the reader guessing and caring about all three girls right up to the truth of how a friendship ended in blood.
THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale: A sweet pre-teen fairy tale that I'd never read and thought I should. I liked it okay, but not well enough to be anxious to read her others. I'll put it on Emma's shelf for a few years in the future.
THE END by Lemony Snicket: the 13th entry in The Series of Unfortunate Events, a series we have devoured in our home. The Baudelaire orphans come more or less to the end of their adventures--although the last chapter does send them out into the world again and also leaves some questions frustratingly unanswered. But how can you not like a book that introduces a character named Ishmael in the following way: "Call me Ish," said Ishmael. I've loved this series for its use of language and humor, which continue strong in this final entry.
THE KINGDOM KEEPERS by Ridley Pearson: this was my month for YA books. Jacob asked me to read this one after he did, about mysterious goings-on in Florida's Magic Kingdom. From the Pirates of the Caribbean to Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, characters are coming to life and starting to affect the real world. A group of kids has to cross over at night to stop them. The real fun of the book is the things the kids get to do alone in the park at night--fight off maniacal puppets in It's a Small World, climb through the dark interior of Space Mountain, learn the tunnel system by which Disney World keeps garbage out of sight. Fun for pre-teens.
ALL MORTAL FLESH by Julia Spencer-Fleming: the fifth in the Claire Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series. This is the one I've been waiting for. Episcopal priest Claire and Sheriff Russ are meant for each other--but he has a wife of twenty-five years whom he also loves. When Russ finally confesses his feelings for Claire, his wife Linda throws him out of the house. Shortly after, she's found battered to death in her kitchen. The ensuing investigation is a mess of secrets, personal loyalties, town gossip, and church discipline. Through it all are the real emotions and tangled hearts of two people who have tried to do the right thing. But the book comes back with twists at the end that change everything you think you know--twists that will throw this series in an unpredictable direction. I can't wait!
IT'S JUST ME, GRAMMA by James Roscoe Leard: a memoir of growing up on a small Mississippi farm in the 1920's. The author is my grandfather, though I've never met him. (His daughter, Sandi, was my birthmother.) I naturally loved the book for the personal history and family photos, but it is also a remarkably well-written account of farm life and he has a gift for making things visually clear. I now have a pretty good idea of how to catch fish and eels with a drag line and how to butcher a pig. My grandfather just turned 90 years old and is still writing. (He also has published a book about life as a Marine in WWII South Pacific, and several books of photography.)
THE ART OF THE NOVEL by Henry James: a book I took from Sandi's bookshelf as she lay dying. She wrote her doctorate on Henry James and did a lot of underlining and commenting in the margins of this book. It's a collection of prefaces that James wrote for the reprint of his most famous works. He covers everything from how specific stories came to him to the role of the artist in society to the importance of truth in storytelling. Like most of his work, the reader must pay close attention but it's well worth the effort for the wisdom of one of America's greatest novelists.
HERE BE DRAGONS by Sharon Kay Penman: this is a reprint first published in the 1980's, proving the enduring popularity of historical fiction. This is the first in a trilogy, opening in the late 12th-century and continuing through King John's reign in England and the succession of his young son. When John's illegitimate daughter, Joanna, marries the Welsh prince Llewellyn, she hopes it will be the means of preserving peace between the two men. But history knows better, and Joanna must choose between loyalty to her father and love for her husband. Penman is a brilliant historical novelist and I envy her work. Anyone who loves history, romance, intrigue, or human relationships would do well to read this book. I have the next two on my shelf and can't wait to begin.
WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER by Elizabeth George: in George's previous book in the Inspector Lynley series, a main character was shot and killed in what proved to be a random and unplanned crime. George has taken a detour from the series (Lynley doesn't appear at all in this book) and the title expresses it all--she goes back and tells the story of the 12-year-old boy who is eventually arrested for murder. Joel Campbell is the middle of three siblings with a disastrous past: their father was killed by the police, their mother is in a mental institution for the criminally insane, their indifferent grandmother has just left them literally sitting on a doorstep while she catches a plane for Jamaica. Dropped into the arms of an unprepared aunt, the Campbell children are mostly left to fend for themselves. From teenage Vanessa and her disastrous involvement with a street thug to 8-year-old Toby's damaged mental state, the story coalesces around Joel and his attempts to keep his family safe. But he's only 12 and his choices lead him inexorably to Lynley's front doorstep and a murder that will shake George's series to the ground. A hard book to read, but George managed to make me feel for every person in this book and regret the society that helps make criminals out of children.
THE GREAT INFLUENZA by John M. Barry: a book club selection (at my recommendation), this book chronicles the rise of scientific medicine in the early 20th-century and its greatest test--the influenza pandemic of 1918. In 24 weeks in the autumn of 1918, a virulent strain of influenza killed more people than AIDS has killed in 24 years. Estimates now range between 50-100 million people died as WWI was ending. The book is a treatise on how communities react under great stress, on the effects of a pandemic that will almost surely come again, and on the individual efforts of scientists to learn what they could in a race against time. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


1. It's the start of my favorite time of year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, early darkness so kids are indoors and reading and going to bed because they have school the next morning . . . ah, autumn.
2. The Great Pumpkin. At our house, the children count out a certain number of pieces of candy and leave the rest for the Great Pumpkin (who brings them each a book in return.) Less candy, more reading. My kind of holiday hero.
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas. "This is Halloween, this is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween . . ."
4. Chocolate. (The Great Pumpkin has to dump all that candy somewhere!)
5. Costumes. I throw a party every year just so I can have an excuse to dress up. No bag ladies or corpses or sumo wrestlers for me--if I'm going to dress up, I'm going to be more glamorous than usual. Apparently, that is a sign of being a Capricorn. "Dignified Capricorns love the royal treatment, so dressing up like Marie Antoinette or King Henry VIII might appeal." Thus claims the following website (for which I'm indebted to my friend, Katie.) Follow the link to find out your zodiac costume fate.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Earlier this week, I heard a great line from the TV show STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. One of the actresses said: "I have a vivid imagination and I get paid a lot of money for it." My husband said to me: "That's what it is--you have a vivid imagination." To which I replied: "And I haven't been paid one cent for it yet!"
Paid or not, imagination is central to who I am. I have always lived stories in my head. It's nice to find an acceptable outlet for that at last! As I raise my children, there are three traits I most want to instill in them: faith, humor, and imagination. Thus far, I seem to be succeeding with each (child and trait!). My two older boys read lots of fantasy--ERAGON and CIRQUE DU FREAK and PENDRAGON. All of my children make up plays and act out situations with their friends or by themselves. My 7-year-old daughter was frustrated last spring with how slowly I was reading HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE to her, so she started taking it to bed. She's now started the fifth book in the series, having read the previous four on her own. She has said that she can't wait until she turns 11 and receives her letter to Hogwarts. And do you know, I honestly can't tell if she believes that or not. At 7, I'm not going to ruin it for. She'll be pulled into hard reality soon enough, let her have her months of dreams.
My 10-year-old son has been known to ask "Do you believe in . . ." anything from Lord of the Rings elves to alternate worlds to vampires. I give him my Fox Mulder/X-Files answer: I want to believe.
There's no need to flood me with comments on how I'm deceiving my children, even lying to them. There's no need to give me your opinion on how children need to trust their parents. I am quite confident in my children's ability to hang on to both trust and imagination. After all, I've functioned 37 years in this world without having to be locked up for my own safety--and just maybe my vivid imagination will pay off someday.
As for illusion, that's what people with vivid imaginations create: in words, in images, in stage roles. Last night we saw the film THE ILLUSIONIST about a stage magician in turn of the century Vienna. Illusions abound in the film and the beauty of it was that I believed for two hours in what I experienced on screen. It's a magical, brilliantly-written, subtly-acted film that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the very best of what movies can do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY by Alan Paton: Amazingly, I'd missed out on this one until we read it for book club. Having lived in Haiti and been recently in Africa, I was in the perfect frame of mind for this story of a black South African pastor whose son kills the son of white farmer during a robbery. With its distinctive style and structure (including no quotation marks), it took me a while to get into the story. But the story is powerful, a meditation on apartheid South Africa and the responsibility of those who know better to do better. The last section of the book is beautiful and uplifting and I'll keep it on my bookshelf forever.
EXIT LINES and CHILD'S PLAY by Reginald Hill: more Dalziel/Pascoe catch-up books. The first deals with the seemingly-unrelated deaths of three elderly men on the same night. Of course, everything's related in a mystery--at least, in a good mystery. The second is the story of an old, rich woman who dies and leaves her estate to the soldier son who went missing in Italy forty years before. How far will other members of the family go to get their hands on the fortune? And is the man who appears at the funeral really the lost prodigal?
PASTWATCH by Orson Scott Card: a friend lent me this alternate history tale in which a future Earth civilization, on the verge of utter destruction, sends three travelers back in time to make the alterations that will preserve humanity's future. Their key event? Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean in 1492. Good characters, vivid settings, intricate plot--but somehow, the whole was not as good as the sum of its parts. Not my favorite Card by a long shot.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson: Jackson is best known for her short story "The Lottery" in which a town draws lots to see who . . . well, if you haven't read it, you really should! I read HILL HOUSE because I'd seen several movie versions and was curious about the source material. It was much more psychological than horror, but I couldn't quite sympathize with Eleanor as the main character. On the other hand, IN THE CASTLE is brilliant: domestic and creepy and innocent and twisted all at once. From the back flap copy: "17-year-old Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Once there were seven Blackwoods--until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl. Acquitted of the murders, Constance returned to the big old house, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villageres. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp . . ." A great read for Halloween :)
HALF-BROKEN THINGS by Morag Joss: a new to me British crime writer, this is a stand-alone psychological suspense novel. Again, the back flap copy does the story more justice than I can: "Jean is a house sitter at the end of a dreary career. Steph is nine months pregnant and on the run. And Michael is a thief. Through a mixture of deceit, good luck, and misfortune, these three reluctant, damaged loners have come together at a secluded country home. Living off the manor's riches, tending its grounds and gardens, they leave the outside world far behind them . . . Until the first unexpected visitor arrives." A wonderful writer, a compelling story, but with that sense of seeing a train wreck coming for these people and knowing you can't do anything to stop it. I will read more by Joss.
BIRTH OF BRITAIN by Winston Churchill: in between saving Britain, Churchill wrote about its history. I just read volume one, from the Celts to the Tudors. The writing is lucid and clear and helped make sense of lots of twisted family trees and timelines. I even now have a decent idea of who Alfred the Great was and why he's Great. My only quarrel was with the final chapter on Richard III. An ardent Ricardian myself, I took issue with Churchill's admitting that Thomas More was a biased source, and then going ahead to accept More's Tudor-revisionist history at face value. Other than that, a wonderful book for anyone interested in British history. I will read future volumes.
THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova: this manuscript, the author's first, sold at auction for 1.6 million dollars. As jealous as that makes me, I'll freely admit that this is the second time in a year that I've read this book and I enjoyed it just as much the second time through. "To my dear and unfortunate successor . . ." thus begins a story of Dracula, communist Eastern Europe, a teenage girl without a mother who is trying desperately to understand the things her father is hiding from her, a chase through history and old parchments and older churches to save a friend before he becomes undead. I loved this book, far more than Dan Brown's antiquities chase, and I suspect I'll read it again in the future.

Friday, September 29, 2006


Sandra Lee Lindsey
March 4, 1942-September 20, 2006
My mother died last week.

Already, I feel the need for a qualifier. Yes, Sandra Lee Lindsey was my mother. She conceived me in Pittsburgh, gave birth to me in Oregon, and took good care of me the nine months in between. But two days after my birth, she signed the papers that relinquished her parental rights and sent me to my own adored family. The family I grew up with, the family I know best, the family who will always and forever be mine.

But that would never have happened--I would never have happened--without Sandi being my mother first. In one of the very first letters she sent me after I located her four years ago, she wrote, "I have always said you were my gift to the world, and the best thing I've ever done."

That's no small praise, considering the brilliant and accomplished woman she was. Over the years, Sandi acquired a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate in English. She taught college English and writing for fifteen years. After that came a master's degree in Theology, including a semester spent at Notre Dame. At the age of 57, she received her Juris Doctorate from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.
The first week of law school in 1995, Sandi was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Her graduation four years later was the last time she walked. By the time I met her in 2002, she was mostly confined to bed with occasional forays in a wheelchair. She endured years of crippling pain, surgeries and hospitalizations with grace and optimism. Until this last year, she never talked about "if" she would walk again, it was always "when."
She was hospitalized this summer with pneumonia, where doctors discovered she had rheumatoid lung disease. It's a terminal complication of her illness, with no treatment except comfort care. I've made the twelve-hour drive to Portland three times in the last six weeks--once to take her four grandchildren to see her one last time, once to bid her goodbye as she started drifting quickly away, and a week ago to speak at her funeral.
I've returned home with a trunk full of books, papers, notes from the classes she taught, her dissertation, both masters' theses, letters, pictures, and journals. Sandi is gone, but she lives in me and in my children and in generations yet to come.
Thank you for my life, Mother.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

August Reads

TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH by Julia Spencer-Fleming: the fourth in the mystery series featuring Clare, an Anglican priest, and Russ Van Alstyne, the married police chief she feels more than polite friendship for. Spencer-Fleming did something unique with this book--it takes place entirely within one day. An heiress has gone missing in the November woods. Hunters and search and rescue are on the lookout for her, while the foundation she has willed her family's land to is wondering if she'll return in time for the night's signing ceremony at the local resort. Spencer-Fleming deals with enviromentalism, logging, hunting, kidnapping, and corporate greed without going overboard on any one element or pushing a particular moral conclusion. Still, this was not my favorite of the series. I was a bit too aware of the artificial, which is to say fictional, structure of this mystery-in-a-day. But I like the characters and I'm eagerly awaiting the next in the series.

NEGOTIATING WITH THE DEAD by Margaret Atwood: the subtitle is "A writer on writing." I love Atwood's novels, particularly ALIAS GRACE and THE BLIND ASSASSIN, and I liked this book. Rather than a traditional how-to-write or this-is-how-I-write book, Atwood deals with rather more ephemeral questions about writers and art. Chapter headings include "Orientation: who do you think you are?", "Dedication: Apollo vs. Mammon, at whose altar should the writer worship?", and "Communion: the eternal triangle--the writer, the reader, and the book as go-between".

THE DARK BACKWARD by Julia Buckley: a contemporary mystery/thriller that opens with a compelling prologue in which police officer Lily Caldwell sees the face of her attempted killer during the few minutes that she is clinically dead. After losing her job and her husband over her stubborn refusal to drop it, Lily is threatened again when new evidence arises against the man she believes killed her partner and tried to kill her--the governor. I would have liked the setting to be more detailed and grounded, rather than just the generic "Capitol City", but Lily is a fiesty and memorable character against which some of the other characters, unfortunately, are not as fully realized.

AN APRIL SHROUD, A PINCH OF SNUFF, and A KILLING KINDNESS by Reginald Hill: three of the earlier entries in the Dalziel/Pascoe mystery series set in Yorkshire. Having come upon this series late in the game, I'm catching up a few at a time and thoroughly enjoying each outing of these memorable policemen. Hill writes wonderful characters and tricky plots and it's not knocking these books to say that he has gotten better and better over the years.

THE STRANGER HOUSE by Reginald Hill: a recent stand-alone from the Dalziel/Pascoe author, this book was utterly brilliant. The Stranger House in question is a guesthouse in Northern England which finds two determined researchers on its doorstep on the same weekend. Sam Flood is a take-no-prisoners mathematical genius from Australia who's trying to find out how her 13-year-old grandmother came to be pregnant years ago in this village and then shipped out to the nuns in Sydney. Miguel is a Spanish almost-monk who has just lost his calling to the priesthood and, while waiting to see what God wants him to do next, continues his research into the Elizabethan persecution of Continental priests. The plot is intricate, winding its way from past to present until Sam and Miguel find their stories are part of the same whole. Stunning, beautiful, absolutely recommended.

SONS OF DESTINY by Darren Shan: I've covered this pretty well in my entry on endings. Loved this YA series about a half-vampire boy and the vampire/vampaneze war waged on the edges of our own world, but hated the ending of the series. The author pulled the rug out in the last chapter of this book and ruined an otherwise great series for me.

THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS by Nancy Pickard: read this after numerous recommendations on DorothyL and I'll be forever grateful that I did. Seventeen years ago, in the midst of a Kansas blizzard, a young woman is found dead in the snow. Since then, the grave of the unidentified girl has become a place of pilgrimage for the ill and suffering. But who is she? What happened the night of her death? Why did 17-year-old Mitch Newquist leave home the next day? What secret are the town judge, sheriff, and doctor hiding? When Mitch returns home suddenly, long-silent questions are asked and long-hidden secrets are revealed, leading up to the truth about the Virgin of Small Plains. An absorbing book that I finished in almost one reading. Highly recommended.

NO NIGHT IS TOO LONG by Barbara Vine: I thought I'd read everything by Vine/Rendell, but found this little gem and devoured it whole. Behind his quiet, unremarkable life, Tim Cornish hides a dreadful secret: he killed a man. Or did he? As Tim writes out his confession, we begin to suspect that not everything is as it seems. A beautiful little novel with wonderful structure that will keep the reader guessing about the outcome until the very last page.

THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell: this may just take over POSSESSION as my favorite book of, well, ever. In the year 2019, a message in music is received from the Alpha Centauri system. Without fanfare or notice, the Jesuits send their own exploratory party: four priests, a doctor and her husband, an engineer, and a computer expert. In 2059, the sole survivor of the expedition has returned to earth accused of terrible crimes. A novel of friendship, love, exploration, wonder, fear, and faith--if you shrug aside this book because it's found in the science fiction section, you'll be missing out on a experience that cannot be duplicated. Read it!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why do I read them, why do I write them?
The second question is the most easily answered--I write what I like to read. I've been a fan of mysteries since my childhood, beginning with the inimitable titian-haired sleuth, Nancy Drew. Also the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, the Bobbsey Twins and, when I'd devoured those, I moved on to Agatha Christie.
But the turning point in my love affair with mysteries was my senior year of college. For my senior seminar, I chose The Mystery Novel. We read far and wide across the genre. I read Dame Agatha and Ross McDonald and Ellery Queen. I was introduced to the historical mystery with Ellis Peters and Anne Perry. I fell in love with Peter Wimsey and his Harriet in BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON. I met John le Carre through THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. I felt the delicious creepiness of Henry James' TURN OF THE SCREW and threw myself into 19th-century Russia in Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.
Last night, I dug out a paper I wrote for that class, most impressively titled "Moral Complexity in the Mystery Novel." I had hoped to find some profound line or paragraph, something I could use as a springboard for this post, but I'm afraid what I discovered is that, when I was in college, I wrote like I was in college. Not bad, you understand--I did get an A on the paper--but nothing terribly insightful or original. So I'm left to my own devices to explain why I read mysteries.
I read mysteries for the characters. The inherent tensions in a criminal investigation goes a long way to revealing characters--and character. I'm not a puzzle fan. I don't read for the intellectual element of trying to figure out what happened. I read to find out why and how it effects those involved. I read for motivation and resolution and judgment and mercy. I don't require happy endings--only satisfying ones. An ending in which loose ends have been collected and unanswered questions are rare.
An ending, in short, which only exists in fiction.

Monday, August 07, 2006


WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys: a re-read for book club. It’s the story of Bertha Antoinette Mason, the mad wife in the attic from JANE EYRE. Part I is her childhood in the West Indies, with a dangerously unstable mother and personal poverty. Part II is the story of her marriage to Rochester, the well-blooded but unmoneyed Englishman who’s been lied to about his intended bride and her family. Part III is a brief look at the events in JANE EYRE through Antoinette’s eyes. I love this book, probably even more this time than when I first read it in college. It changed the way I read all books—now I’m always aware of the untold stories hovering behind the corner of every book I read.

GREGOR AND THE MARKS OF SECRET by Suzanne Collins: the fourth in the Overlander YA series. Jacob’s a big fan, and I’ve followed right along with him. In this installment, Gregor gets swept along as Luaxa tries to discover what’s happening to the Underland’s mice population. By the time the book ends, war is no longer threatening but at the very doorstep of the human’s kingdom in the Underland. A well-realized fantasy, with unique features and compelling characters. Can’t wait for the next one.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER by Jacqueline Winspear: the second in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, set in 1930 in a London that is still dealing with the devastating effects of WWI. The mystery of three dead women leads Maisie back into the early days of the war—the “feather” referenced in the title is the white feather that some women handed out to men in England who were not in uniform, a mark of cowardice and a means of trying to guilt them into the military. I love Maisie herself and Winspear is a master of setting, class, and characters of the time-period. I’d love to do half as well as she has done in this series.

CHARLIE BONE AND THE HIDDEN KING by Jenny Nimmo: another YA fantasy, about children in England endowed with gifts as diverse as calling up storms, talking to animals, and learning about people by touching clothing. This is the fifth in the series and Charlie Bone, whose father disappeared when he was a baby, is dealing with other crises in his home. From his mother’s bewitchment by a sorcerer to his grandmother being frozen and left in the bathtub until they can figure out to thaw her, Charlie and his friends search for the Red King himself, who has spent a thousand years in the form of a tree. Not as good as Harry Potter, but intriguing enough to have kept me reading thus far.

PAST POISONS edited by Maxim Jakubowski: a collection of mystery short stories, all historical. I read it for obvious purposes. There were several standouts, including Anne Perry’s tale of Scotland’s Queen Gruoch, also known as Lady MacBeth. A pleasant way to spend research time and see what can be accomplished in the short form of historical mysteries.

DECLARE by Tim Powers: A book I picked up on recommendations from DorothyL. In 1963, Andrew Hale is 40-year-old English tutor at Cambridge. But one phone call pulls him back into the world of British Intelligence which he served throughout WWII, ending on Mount Ararat in 1948 with the death of a team he’d led up the mountain to kill a colony of djinn. A combination spy thriller/paranormal story, with the real-world figure of British double agent Kim Philby playing a key role, I loved everything about this book. This is a fabulous, fabulous book that I would recommend to anyone.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER by Leif Enger: a bestseller upon publication in 2001, this is still a popular book-club choice (which is why I read it.) Eleven-year-old Reuben Land is the narrator and, as he calls it, the witness of his father’s miracles. This book has everything: a shooting that may or may not have been self-defense, a little sister who writes epic Western ballads about a cowboy named Sunny Sundown, a father who performs actual miracles, a posse searching the Dakota Badlands in the middle of winter, and a penultimate chapter that left me in tears. Highly recommended.

Titles and Friendships

I have the best circle of friends in the world. Women who are my sisters in every sense but blood . . . and being adopted, I don't rate blood all that highly. We are known amongst ourselves and to our significant others as The Bluestocking Posse.

I've never had friendships that merited a title before. The posse bit came first. One night, one of the husbands said, with a tinge of awe and/or fear in his voice: "They're like a gang!" We thought gang didn't have quite the connotations that we as women of wit and elegance were going for, so we chose posse instead. A posse of six, ready to ride at the drop of a hat and the sheriff's call. To bring in dinner, to decorate houses in celebration, to attend funerals and lend books and make costumes and watch children and show up uninvited with candy and shoulders ready to be cried on.

Bluestocking was my contribution to the title. Several years ago, my neighbor e-mailed my husband with a definition from one of those word-of-the-day calendars. "Bluestocking: a woman of intellectual or literary interests." As the neighbor said in his e-mail: "That's Laura." I am not immune to flattery and I can think of worse "B" words to be called. Thinking of myself as a bluestocking was a balm against long suburban days of homework and laundry and piano practice. It gave me permission to take my literary interests seriously, both reading and writing. And I thought it sounded really cool in connection with posse--and so the title was set.

Naming my first book was much harder. For a long time I called it LAMENTATION without being entirely happy about it. Then one day I was reading the Book of Common Prayer, 1662 edition, doing research into the Anglican service for the dead. There's a beautiful passage that reads: "I held my tongue and spake nothing, I kept silence; yea, even from good words, and it was pain and grief to me." From that, a title was born--KEPT SILENCE.

The best titles, like the best friendships, are magical, hinting at the depths to be found if one is brave enough to open the cover. My titles, like my books, may never be counted among the best.

But my friendships are.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

More than anyone ever wanted to know about me . . .

Number of husbands: one

Number of children: four (3 boys, 1 girl—ages 5 to 13)

Daily goal: to have the same number of husbands and children at the end of each day that I had at the beginning

Best thing about 2006: a tie between our Africa trip in June and my baby starting kindergarten

Favorite book: yeah, right, like I can pick one! So we’ll subdivide the topic . . .

Favorite mystery: a duo by Elizabeth Peters, THE FALCON AT THE PORTAL/HE SHALL THUNDER IN THE SKY

Favorite historical novel: a quartet by Ellis Peters (no relation to above) about the last true prince of Wales in the 12th –century, THE BROTHERS OF GWYNNED QUARTET

Favorite fantasy other than the obligatory LOTR: Juliet Marillier’s DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST

Favorite mainstream novels (afraid to use the very loaded term "literary"): A. S. Byatt's POSSESSION

Favorite non-fiction: READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN by Azar Nafisi

Favorite classic: Charlotte Bronte’s VILLETTE

Authors whom I always buy in hardback: Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Elizabeth Peters, Minette Walters, Juliet Marillier, J.K. Rowling (I think that last goes without saying!)

Favorite film in the last year: tough call, what with GOBLET OF FIRE and NARNIA, but I’m going to have to go with the film Orson Scott Card called the “best sci-fi film ever made”—SERENITY

Favorite TV show ever: the too brief, brilliantly written, superbly acted, emotionally resonant 15 episodes of FIREFLY

A brief history of my writing (all-too brief as of yet): I've had one short piece accepted for publication in an anthology titled LETTERS TO MY MOTHER. I also have a drawerful of rejections, ranging from form letters to cutting indictments to encouraging optimism. Last year I submitted an alternate-history novel to several publishers and that's where the encouragement came in--though no one was encouraging enough to want to see the entire manuscript. I've just submitted query packages on a mystery novel, KEPT SILENCE, set in 1899 Yorkshire. Below is my query letter blurb that makes it sound like I'm writing late-Victorian soap opera.

QUERY: In the summer of 1899, Susannah Garrett returns from four years of medical school to her Yorkshire home in order to marry her cousin, David. When she discovers a girl’s body the very hour of her return, a cascade of secrets begins to unravel—from David’s involvement with the dead girl to the mystery of Susannah’s sister who vanished without a trace seven years before. Inspector Simon Grey tries to focus on investigating the murder at hand, but his heart has its own secrets and time is running out to reveal them before Susannah’s wedding. In a world balanced between past traditions and future possibilities, Susannah and Simon both work to uncover the secrets long since kept silent.

WHEW! To anyone who made it this far, congratulations. I wish I had a prize to offer, but the satisfaction of a good deed accomplished shall have to be your reward. Now that we've covered me, I'll turn my attention in future to topics of (perhaps) more general interest.