Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Item One: Check.

Item Two: Check.

Item Three: Check.

If only life were quite that simple.

I did run, I did cook, and I did write. Queries, in fact. The first queries I've sent out in several years.

For those who don't know what queries are, count your lucky stars. For those who do, rejoice with me. And for all of you (especially, say, anyone of my acquaintance who happens to be an agent but has never mentioned that fact) I present part of my query letter:

What happens when a 21st-century teen meets a 19th-century scoundrel? Murder, love, and dangerous dinner parties. Time and Sorrows is a finished manuscript of 80,000 words, a YA timeslip romance.

Seventeen-year-old Kierra Holt is inYorkshire in 2008 when she sees the manor house of Sorrows Court for the first time. Or is it the first time?
Kierra has odd flashes of memory at Sorrows Court and is drawn to the story of former owner Colin Langlie. History records him as a spy, killer, and suicide, but evidence is tantalizingly hard to come by. When Kierra explores an ancient tunnel beneath the house on the night of the full moon, she gets more than deja vu and history books—she gets Colin Langlie himself.
1800 is not all empire dresses and candlelit balls. In France, Napoleon is rising and more than alcohol is being smuggled across the sea. Colin has an endless supply of both enemies and secrets, but Kierra holds the darkest secret of all—the date of Colin's death.
Can Kierra change the past? Should she? Caught between times, Kierra must decide which to believe: history or her heart.

Now that I've faithfully reported my progress, I have an announcement: Bluestocking Impressions is moving. Same blog, same title, different address. I explain all about it at my new home here. Check it out and don't forget to bookmark the new page, where I explain the move. See you there!

Friday, July 24, 2009


1. I have 57 books on my To-Be-Read shelves. Two of those I bought yesterday, even though I had absolutely, positively sworn I would not buy another book until I'd read at least 10 of the ones waiting for me. "Hello, my name is Laura, and I'm a bookaholic."

2. I loathe cooking. Especially in summer.

3. I have gained back five pounds of the 15 I lost last year.

4. I am days, if not weeks, behind in my email.

5. Since running the 5K in May, I haven't done a single run of more than a mile since.

6. I haven't done any writing in the month of July.

And the deepest, darkest confession of all . . .

7. I don't care.

Well, I care. I just don't care enough to fix it. Any of it. (Except the books--I do continue to read, as well as buy, books.)

But everything else takes energy--physical, mental, emotional--to get started. And it's the getting started that I've always had trouble with. Overcoming the inertia of an object at rest always seems more trouble than it's worth.

Except that I know it is worth it. And then I feel guilty. Which is an energy drain in and of itself.

Are you seeing the vicious circle?

So if I'm going to confess publicly, I might as well take shameless advantage of publicity and resolve to jump start the inertia now.

So . . .

By July 31st I will:

1. Do a 30-minute run.

2. Cook something more complex than scrambled eggs.

3. Write. Something. Anything.

See you in a week!

(The exclamation point is an attempt to care.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


The 3rd and 4th books in the series following Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. KINDNESS takes place in Philadelphia where Walt has come to visit his daughter, Cady. But he arrives to find Cady in a coma after a beating and now Walt is after the men who did it. The western tone and atmosphere survives the East coast just fine and ends with a beautiful sequence in a city park. MOCCASINS is set back in Wyoming with large sections flashing back to Walt's first murder investigation 40 years before in Vietnam. When the body of a Vietnamese girl is found alongside a Wyoming highway, Walt has to dig into the past to find the killer of today. Johnson is a wonderful storyteller and if you ever have a chance to hear him speak in person--grab it. He's phenomenal.

The pen name that Ruth Rendell uses for her stand-alone psychological suspense novels. Ivor Tesham becomes a Tory MP at 31 and seems destined for stardom. But his propensity for sexual games proves his downfall. When a birthday gift for his married mistress ends in her death, Ivor spends months trying to pretend it had nothing to do with him. But his mistress had a friend who knows too much, a twisted and difficult woman who may or may not want to blackmail Ivor. Not my favorite of Vine's novels, but she would be hard-pressed to write anything that didn't satsify as a story.

INK EXCHANGE/Melissa Marr/A-
Leslie was once Aislinn's best friend. But since Ash has started hanging out with Keenan (whom Leslie doesn't know is actually a fey and the Summer King), Leslie has kept her distance. She has secrets of her own, painful ones she'd do anything to hide. But Keenan's friend, Niall, is watching and Leslie begins to think he might be her answer. Everything changes when she gets her tattoo--a symbol that links her to Irial and his Dark Court in a terribly personal way. Leslie's choices have been taken away--can Niall help her find her way to independence? This is easily my favorite of Marr's books and I hope she plans to bring Leslie back in future stories.

Wealthy spinster Rachel Innes is persuaded to take a country house for the summer by her wards, Gertrude and Halsey. Set at the turn of the last century, this story has things that go bump in the night, a dead body, ill-fated love, a bank scandal, and a possible hidden room. What really works in this dated story is the voice--Rachel Innes is marvelously sarcastic and self-aware and refuses to take her own fears seriously. It was a fun read for the beach.

Gotten lots of word of mouth and big promotions, but just not to my taste. Liz is the girl with tattoos (the dragon being just one) who does freelance work investigating security risks. When she's asked to investigate a journalist who has just been convicted of libel, Liz can't get him off her mind. The main story is Mikael's (the journalist) who is asked by a wealthy recluse to help him discover who killed his great-niece 40 years ago and has been taunting him with it ever since. It's a classic closed-circle mystery (in this case, an island in Sweden) and Mikael's work soon stirs up threats against himself. The premise is solid, but the execution didn't work for me. It didn't help that I didn't really like any of the characters.

SONS OF THE PROFITS/William Speidel/B-
A history of the first 50 years of Seattle, starring the profit-minded men in all fields who helped Seattle evolve from a mud-swamped camp to the Northwest's biggest city. The voice is distinct and brash, but mostly worth it for the funny stories layered in. Like the men lynched by a mob--on their death certificates, the coroner listed as Cause of Death "Irate Citizens."

INTO THIN AIR/Jon Krakauer/A
In May 1996, journalist Krakauer reached the summit of Everest just hours before a storm blew in and killed 7 people, 5 of them from his team. This is an amazing adventure book and a meticulous account of a disaster that should never have happened but is in the nature of attempting the world's highest mountain. Krakauer brings to life not just the people, but the conflicts and the mountain itself. Highly recommended.

THE LACE READER/Brunonia Barry/A+
Ah, a book one will either love or hate. Towner Whitney tells the reader in the first paragraph that she lies, setting you up for a fabulous story about the past, memory, and identity. Towner left Salem, Massachusetts 15 years ago after the death of her twin sister, Lyndley and Towner's own stay in a mental hospital. Now, at 32, she comes back home when her aunt vanishes. Coming home means confronting her mother, who takes in abused women on her tiny island, a past lover, and a police chief who suspects a cult leader of more than brainwashing. The title refers to the practice of lace reading, wherein gifted women could look through lace and see a peron's future. Read it! And then let me know if you're in the love it or hate it camp :)

Monday, June 29, 2009


Is it really almost July? I suppose I should just be thankful that the faster summer goes, the faster school comes.

Here's my month in random:

1. Fish Killer. Just carve it on my tombstone. My daughter caught me at a weak moment last month and begged for permission to bring home a bala shark from her class aquarium. So I bought a tank . . . and gravel . . . and plastic plants . . . and food . . . and water chemicals . . . about which time I wanted to scream, "This is why I don't want a pet!"

But I was trying to be A Good Mom. Poor fish, he didn't know what was coming.

We duly set up everything and got Chester home. He wasn't happy about it. He didn't eat. He darted around a lot--not happy, joyful darting, more like panicked, get-me-out-of here darting. By the second night, I had a dream that Chester finally ate and I was delighted. When I woke up I thought, "Dreaming about a fish? This is why I don't want a pet!"

My husband came home from a trip four days later and said, "I haven't seen the fish. Where is he?" We walked into my daughter's bedroom (she was gone with her grandparents) and I started scanning the tank for Chester. He wasn't darting. He was floating.

"That's a dead fish," my husband said.

And so it was.

When I told my sixteen-year-old, "I killed the fish" he said, "Accidentally?"

And that is why I Don't Want a Pet.

2. Three states and one trip to Mexico. By tomorrow night, I and my two youngest children will be returning from our second visit to Idaho in June. At least this trip doesn't require 12-hours in a car and a long drive through part of Montana. Though I have to admit that Coeur d'Alene was strikingly beautiful and we couldn't beat our lakeside condo. It was a fun week with the little ones, my parents, and my best friend and her two kids. But that 12-hour drive each way . . . there's a reason I like airplanes.

Especially when the airline bumps you to first class. On our flight home from Cabo San Lucas, our entire six-person family got moved into first class (due to my frequent-flying husband). I thought my second son would burst for joy--he's been deadly jealous that his older brother got bumped to first class on a flight last year. My daughter thought it was lovely. The seven-year-old, however, took it in stride. It's the baby you've got to watch for, I'm telling you. They fly first class, they stay in nice hotels . . . they have no memory of the early years of a family when you're just glad there aren't any visible blood stains on your motel carpet.

3. Books. I love summer. I love summer reading. And I love that my revised manuscript is finished, because now I can love my reading with a clear conscience.

4. 40 Days of 40. It's my husband's turn. He's not as excited as I was. He keeps moaning about refusing to turn 40 next month. I remind him that every insult he makes about 40-year-olds lowers the bar for anything he'll get from his already-40-year-old wife.

5. Portland. Next week I'm going to Portland for four days with two fabulous friends. We have our various reasons for going--getting away from the kids, sleeping without interruption, eating out and no dishes to do--but my primary reason is simple.


Simply put, the best bookstore in the world. Five floors of new, used, and rare books. I've been there multiple times during my trips to Portland over the years, but I've never been able to spend more than a couple hours. That is going to change. This trip, I plan to spend an entire day.

The only problem is we're flying, so I'm not sure how I'm going to get all the books home. Note to self: Find the nearest post office to Powell's and plan to ship a box. Or two.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


A relatively short but utterly fascinating account of the coming of Christianity to Ireland and the subsequent spread across Europe of Irish and Irish-educated monks and nuns during the Middle Ages. The title refers to the fact that the fall of the Roman Empire wiped out many libraries and even literacy itself and that, without the Irish monastaries, even more would have been lost forever. I absolutely fell in love with this book and have been talking up the Irish ever since.

This third novel with P.I. Jackson Brodie hinges on a series of odd links. As a child thirty years ago Joanna Mason was the only survivor of a knife attack by Andrew Decker. Now he's been released from prison. Jackson, after boarding the wrong train, winds up in Scotland in a train crash that nearly kills him. He's saved by 16-year-old Regina Chase, who nannies for Joanna Mason's baby son. And in the hospital, Brodie discovers that he has the wallet of paroled killer Andrew Decker in his pocket. Now Joanna and her baby are missing, no one can find Decker, and Detective Louise Munroe is confronted with Brodie at a time when her new marriage is crumbling. I loved the multiple storylines and characters--except for Louise. I just couldn't stand her in this outing. I hope she gets over her fits of self-righteousness before the next book.

There have been several "Bloody Sundays" in Irish history. This book recounts the one in 1920, when Michael Collins' agents simultaneously assassinated 19 British spies in Ireland and broke the back of England's intelligence service. Within a year, Collins had a treaty and the Republic of Ireland was born. This book was a little dry, but gives excellent background on the final push to Irish nationhood, including the Easter Rising of 1916.

The third Matthew Shardlake mystery, set in the reign of Henry VIII. In this outing, Matthew is asked to travel to York where the king is set to visit just five years after a Northern rebellion. His job is to make sure a recently-arrested traitor makes it back to London for questioning. But then a glazier falls to his death and Matthew finds himself in the center of a mystery that stretches back to Richard III and may shake the throne of England. The great strength of this series is its ability to make me feel that I am there, in Tudor England, in all its grandeur and misery.

DUBLINERS/James Joyce/A-
I picked up, fittingly, in Dublin, this collection of short stories by one of Ireland's most famous writers. Joyce is an acquired taste and not entirely mine, but I found these stories compelling in spite of the overall sense of melancholy. Araby is in here, a story that many read in English classes.

THE YEAR OF WONDERS/Geraldine Brooks/B+
Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (for MARCH) writes about a 17th-century English village and its infection by the plague. They have a choice: run and spread the plague with them, or stay and contain it? Due to the charismatic nature of the village pastor and his beloved wife, the village seals itself off for one years. As people die, brutally and often, relationships change. The story is told by Anna Frith, a young widow who works for the pastor and helps his wife tend to the sick and dying. Nothing is as it seems in this book, especially the people. I did not like the ending, but otherwise it was a remarkably fine story.

In the 12th-century England of Henry II, four Christian children have been mutilated and killed in Cambridge. The Jews of the town stand accused. Enter Adelia, a trained physician and coroner from Salerno who Henry wants to read the secrets of the dead children and clear the Jews of the charges. Adelia hates England--especially having to hide her training from people who would burn her as a witch--but the case takes a personal turn and when royalty is involved, personal choice rarely enters into it. A strong beginning to a new historical mystery series.

Follow-up to her first novel, WICKED LOVELY, this urban fantasy returns to Aislinn who has now taken her place as Summer Queen. But she's finding it hard to balance her human boyfriend, Seth, with her duties to Keenan, her Summer King. And the pull isn't all professional--as summer warms, the temptation to be everything Keenan wants grows stronger. And as conflict threatens to become war, even Sorcha, Queen of the High Court, is taking an interest . . . in Seth. Quick read, the story worth overlooking the occasionally labored writing.

The return of Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. Sigh of pleasure. I liked this one better than the previous two, which took place outside England and with long sections from Holmes' point of view. This book sticks almost entirely to Mary and is set firmly in England (except for the end, which takes place on a Scottish island). Holmes is asked by a Bohemian artist to investigate the disappearance of his wife and 3-year-old child. It's a request Holmes, for personal reasons, cannot refuse. But those same reasons make it hard for him to be objective. So Mary has the uncomfortable task of sifting facts her husband won't. A wonderful mix of Bohemians and dangerous cults and early airplane pilots, with the voice that only Mary Russell has. I just hope the next book doesn't take too many years to be written.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009


(And you know we have actual drums in our basement, so that's not an idle threat.)

What are you doing October 13?

I'll tell you what . . .

Picking up a copy of HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick. Because you know you want to be the first to join the frenzy.

And if you want to know how to identify the book by its cover, then click away. Be sure and click on the cover itself for a larger view.

Now tell me, isn't that the coolest cover for a YA book you've seen in ages?

(Although I have to say my favorite detail is that Becca's name is in red. How awesome is that?)

Monday, May 18, 2009


Actually, 36 minutes and 31 seconds worth of pride.

Saturday, I ran my first ever 5K. It was my second son's idea, and who am I to argue with a 13-year-old who, one year ago, was undergoing chemotherapy?

My fear? That I would finish last. And be laughed at. Or possibly flogged.

My goal? To run the 3.2 miles in less than 40 minutes. I know that's not fast. But it isn't quite walking, either.

My finish? 36 minutes and 31 seconds. I didn't finish last--out of the approximately 1000 runners, I finished solidly in the middle, at 562.

But in my age and and gender group (yes, I had to join the 40-44 age group) I finished 26 out of 65.

I may not be a size 6 yet, but I never thought I'd do this. I'll take my satisfaction where I can find it.

I just finished my April Book post. And lost it.

I so don't want to re-do it.

I read good books in April. Is that enough?

Sigh. I suppose not. How about I just tell you my two favorites of the month?

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (YA set in a future American continent where the wealthy Capitol every year chooses two teenagers from each of the twelve outlying districts to compete to the death in the Hunger Games--the winner to receive food and privileges for his or her district. Katniss takes her younger sister's place and has to figure out how to survive without becoming the killer the Capitol wants to see.)

DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson (history of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, twined with the story of H.H. Holmes, America's first serial killer--the book is brilliant.)

I also read CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY by Alain de Boton in an attempt to make myself as smart as my oldest son. It didn't work--when I was complaining about the fact that my weight is not changing and/or slightly increasing in spite of my trainer and running and a good diet, my son said, "Did you read that philosophy book?" (Alluding to the consolations that philosophy provides when we think we're not good enough.)

I, however, misheard him. I thought he said, "Did you eat that philosophy book?"

Clearly I have a long ways to go, both physically and mentally.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


10. Language: I simply loved seeing every sign in both Irish Gaelic and English. But not as much as I loved listening to the Irish talk. I'm a sucker for certain accents.

9. Gogarty's Pub: I swore I'd eat in a pub, and I did. An old pub, to boot. Temple Bar is a section of Dublin on the south bank of the Liffey river full of tiny cobbled streets, old buildings, lots of music and bookstores and more pubs than any one section of any city should rightfully have. It wasn't easy choosing where to eat, but we finally settled on Gogarty's, a four-story, brightly decorated corner building. The restaurant is on the top floor with low, beamed ceilings and wonderful views of Temple Bar below. And how can you beat a recipe that's more than 200 years old? That's the claim of the Sackville Street Chicken casserole, and my tastebuds agreed with every year of its worth.

8. St. Stephen's Green: Our hotel was kitty-corner from this park in central Dublin and I went through it half a dozen times a day. It's beautifully green (naturally) and spring flowers and fountains and swans on the water added to its charm. And I fulfilled my other promise--I went running in the Green one afternoon while listening to U2. As my husband had said from an earlier experience doing the same: "Listening to U2 in Dublin is practically a religious experience."

7. National Museum: Relatively small, but stuffed with wonderful treasures. I'm not much of a gold person, but that went right out the window when I walked in the ground floor and hit the Bronze Age gold room. Everywhere I looked were wonderful gold pieces from hundreds to thousands of years old. Bracelets and torcs and dress fasteners and cloak fasteners . . . I'm surprised I ever made it out of that exhibit. But I did, onto textiles and religious artifacts and medieval treasures such as reliquaries and altar crosses. They even have one room of Egyptian artifacts (although, for anyone who's read Elizabeth Peters' Peabody/Emerson novels, you can imagine I walk through Egyptian treasures hearing Emerson's voice in my head criticizing the dating and provenance and general fitness of every Egyptologist but him . . . but that just adds to the fun.)

6. Cathedrals: Dublin has two--Christ Church, the oldest cathedral in Ireland, and St. Patrick's. The first building on the Christ Church site was built in the 11th century by the Viking Sitric Silkenbeard. St. Patrick's is next to the well where Patrick himself is said to have baptized the first Christians in Ireland (the cathedral houses an ancient carved stone that is believed to have covered that well). I love old churches and these two had plenty to love: monuments (from 17th-century gaudy to 14th-century simplicity to 20th-century war memorials), medieval side chapels with original tile floors, stained glass, organ lofts with amazing acoustics, and the perfect, soaring grace of Norman architecture. One of my favorites experiences was attending choral evensong at St. Patrick's, sung by members of the choir school.

5. Kilkenny: one of the best-preserved Georgian towns in Ireland. An hour and a half south of Dublin by train, we spent the weekend walking the marvelous streets lined with buildings going back to the Tudors and with portions of the city wall even older. There's a medieval cathedral here, St. Canice's, with a round tower built in the 9th century as a protection against the Viking raiders (we actually climbed that--me in a long skirt--quite an adventure for someone who's afraid of heights) and a genuine medieval castle. Kilkenny Castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century and for 600 years was the home of the Butler family--Earls, Marquesses, and occasional Dukes of Ormonde--until it was sold to the nation in the 1930s. (Trivia: Anne Boleyn's mother was the daughter of an Earl of Ormonde.) 12th-century round tower, 18th-century drawing room, 19th-century long gallery and kitchen . . . it was all food to my historical soul.

4. Butler House: was once the Dower House to Kilkenny Castle (where the mother would move once her husband died and her son gained the title). Just across the road from the castle, it's now a hotel. Our hotel, in fact. In this restored Georgian townhouse, we ended up with the best room(s) in the house--a two-room suite, both bedroom and sitting room being equally large with high ceilings, original fireplaces, elaborate stucco work, and half-circle bay windows with enormous shutters that closed up into the sides of the windows. I loved everything about it--although I was glad to be there in May and not, say, December. People must have spent most of their lives frozen before central heating.

3. Scones: Someone told me they'd heard the food in Ireland was awful. Not so. At least not the food I ate. Lots of fresh fish, bacon with hardly any fat, wonderful yogurt, and breads to die for. Wonderful desserts--I had creme brulee at least three times. Dozens of little cafes with homemade soups and tarts and thick sandwiches. And, of course, scones. Scones for breakfast, scones for tea, scones anytime I felt like popping off the street and buying one . . . I miss scones.

2. Newgrange: or in Irish, Bru na Boinne. Whatever you call it, Newgrange is absolutely remarkable--one of the best examples of a Neolithic passage grave in Western Europle. It's more than 5000 years old, estimated to have been built around 3200 B.C. (that's a thousand years before the Egyptian pyramids). The outside is large hilltop cairn, a grass-covered mound surround by a drystone wall with some slabs still bearing their original decorations. It does have an astronomical significance--on the day of the winter solstice, the sun rises across the Boyne valley and for approximately 15 minutes lights the interior of the tomb. As someone who's much more moved by recent history (meaning within the last 1000 years), I was astonished by how much Newgrange moved me.

1. Inspiration: Pubs, castles, cathedrals, and passage tombs--one trip to Ireland. Literary inspiration--priceless. I'm almost two-thirds of the way through my second draft of my time-travel romance set in 1800. It doesn't take place in Ireland. But for a novel set in northern England, I was struck my moment after moment of dazzling inspiration. I haven't had that experience since I went to London for the second time and had the story for The Boleyn King practically fall into my lap. Some of it was detail--like Newgrange and Butler House. But some of it was sheer, startling, force of lightning that gave me, not only the plot for the next book in this hopeful series, but the motivation for a major character in this book. Who knew? I'm just glad I was there to take advantage.

Thank you, Ireland.

And thank you, Chris. It's totally worth turning 40 for this gift.

Snapfish Slideshow

Monday, April 27, 2009


. . . for I am off to Ireland tomorrow. No, the kids aren't coming. Yes, it's just me and Chris. (Technically, for most of the time it will just be me, since Chris is going to Dublin to actually work. Not me--I'm on the Strictly Fun Tour.)

Everyone who reads my blog knows I love to travel, especially overseas. In honor of getting to visit a new country tomorrow, I thought I'd post some of my memorable moments from other overseas adventures.

1. Haiti: Gunshots in the alley behind our house. Lots of them. In the middle of the night. We always slept with our windows open, as well as the door to the balcony. All I could think of was how those bullets would ricochet around our cement-walled room if whoever was shooting aimed at our windows. Stayed awake for two hours. My missionary companion, on the other hand, sat up, looked out the window over her bed, and went back to sleep. (She'd been in the country a lot longer than I had--another couple months and I'd have just rolled over, too.)

2. Aruba: Topless beach. Our resort owned a private island that you got to by boat. Once there you could turn left, to the family beach, or right, to the topless beach. My husband wandered over there one day. Decided that most people who were topless on this beach should not have been.

3. Hong Kong: Having my mother detained at the Chinese border for an hour. My parents had come to visit, we took a day trip into China (since I am old, and this was before Hong Kong was returned to China, hence the border crossing) and apparently they didn't like the looks of my mother. We began to fear we'd spend our entire time in a border station, but eventually she was released into our care and we did get to see a little bit of China. Including pandas--that was cool.

4. South Africa: Sleeping on the floor of our hotel room because there weren't enough beds for the four of us.

5. England: Eating lunch in a crypt. St. Martin's-in-the-Fields' Church on Trafalgar Square has an aptly-named Crypt Cafe. You go down a level, pick up your food, and sit with gravestones beneath your feet.

6. Kenya: So many experiences, so little time :) But I've been dying to share this one. At the Nairobi airport the day my daughter and I flew home, we sat in the departure lounge for our British Air flight to London and watched the plane being prepped. It was the middle of the night and part of the prep apparently included a guy walking around the outside of the plane with a flashlight. What was he looking for--gashes in the side, fuel pouring out? And then he put the flashlight down and did a few pull-ups on one of the wheel struts. I'm telling you, that does not inspire great confidence when you're about to get on this plane for eight and a half hours.

7. Dubai: One more plane story. When my friend and I boarded the Emirates Air flight, we saw a very interesting notice written in big red letters to the side of the entry door. "IN EMERGENCY, CUT HERE". Imagine the emergencies that would require them to cut into an airplane. And then imagine that the rescuers need to be told where to cut.

It reminded me of a Friends episode, when Joey is building an entertainment center and his drill goes through the wall next to Chandler's head.

Joey: "Oh, sorry, did I get you?"

Chandler: "No, you didn't get me. It's an electric drill--you get me, you kill me!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Anyone besides me stuck in the midst of road construction this spring?

It's one of the drawbacks to having moved to what was, 11 years ago, little more than a few dozen houses next to the lake and is now a thriving near-city. Businesses, schools and roads have all had to play catch-up.

Which is fine. I'm not whining. (I may be whinging a bit, but that's completely different. For one thing, whinging is done in a British accent, which makes everything sound better.)

But I've noticed something unsettling as I've crawled along the road these last few weeks--all of this construction bears a disconcerting resemblance to the way I write.

In other words--it's a mess.

I would never have guessed I'd be a messy writer. After all, I'm quite neat with my belongings. My home is orderly. My calendar is up-to-date. I can find anything I need to on my bookshelves or in my closet. I almost always do the dishes before bed so the kitchen is clean when I get up. I hate piles of things and am very good at throwing out stuff.

Logically, one would expect that such behavior would carry over into my writing. One would expect that I have nice, neat outlines before I begin the first draft (or at least the second). One would expect that I would plan before starting. One would expect, at a minimum, that I would know, not only the beginning and the end, but anywhere from 2 to 8 plot points in between. One would expect I would do all my research in advance and keep it nicely filed to call upon as needed. One would expect that revisions for me would be a matter of cleaning and tidying.

One would be wrong.

I'm more like road construction--dirty, annoying, and with no pattern at all discernible to the naked eye.

Take my current WIP. You know I finished the first draft in November. You know I started the second draft in January. You would think (heck, even I would think) that after living with this story since last August and completing one and one-half drafts, that I would know precisely who does what and why.


At this point, the only thing I can say with complete confidence is that it's a timeslip romance. (Timeslip being a slightly more melodic word for time travel.) There's a girl, there's a guy, there's death and history and a first kiss. All the rest is still up for grabs.

Except the ending. I do always know my endings. To carry on my analogy, I know where my road is going, I just don't know exactly how it's going to get there.

But I've decided I wouldn't have it any other way. (Which may just be a case of making a virtue of necessity, but better that than fretting about it.) Because in the mess, my imagination is unleashed. I don't know why that is. I don't know why my mind won't wander at will before I've gone to the trouble of writing 70,000+ words. All I know is that the actual writing--not outline writing, not synopsis writing, not idea brainstorming--the actual writing of the story starting at the beginning and going on to the end is the only way I've found to discover what's going to happen.

This time (in the second draft, mind you) I'm discovering that I have some great secondary characters that are bursting to have as much fun as my heroine and hero. Which is fabulous--until I realize I need to go back 1 or 2 or 6 chapters and fix a detail or dialogue that no longer matches. Like I said, it's the drawback. The price I pay for being messy. But in the midst of the mess, I can see the straight, shining ribbon of black that is my story and it's worth all the backhoes and dump trucks and traffic jams to make it real.

Back to the mess.

Friday, April 03, 2009


What's not to love in a new Armand Gamache novel? This time, Inspector Gamache of the Quebec Surete and his wife are celebrating their anniversary at a remote lakeside inn. The only other guests are a family in the midst of a rather tense reunion. The town of Three Pines, where the first three Gamache novels were set, gets a cameo appearance, as two of the town's inhabitants are at the family reunion. Which leads to awkwardness for Gamache when he has to suspect his friends of committing murder. An ingenious method (a statue walking off its plinth) and a surfeit of bad feelings is a good backdrop for Gamache's kind of investigating. A moving sub-plot about Gamache's personal history adds depth to the entire story. What are you waiting for? Go get STILL LIFE and meet a wonderful detective and storyteller.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I adore everything written by Bill Bryson. The minus in this grade comes solely because it's not a travel book, which are my favorites. This is a memoir of growing up in the 50s in Iowa and had me, naturally, laughing out loud. From Bryson's mother, who wrote a newspaper column and didn't know her son skipped most of elementary school, to the advent of color TV, to the innocence of a time when a woman could slip away from a White House tour and not be found for four hours (while setting more than a dozen small fires), Bryson delivers yet another wonderful book.

A classic historical romance, about a mathematical Duke and the Quaker girl who saves his life. When the Duke of Jervaulx has a stroke (although, of course, no one in the book knows what it is), he winds up in an insane asylum where Maddy Timms becomes convinced that, although he may have lost his speech, he hasn't lost his wits. She becomes his advocate and, eventually, his wife, all in an attempt to protect him from his avarious family who want him stripped of his title and property and locked away for life. Jervaulx is impatient, unkind, and sometimes cruel--Maddy is self-righteous and scared of what she feels for her unexpected husband. The story took me on a lot of twists and turns before delivering a most satisfying conclusion.

THE LIKENESS/Tana French/A++
This is going on my list of favorite books ever. The follow-up to INTO THE WOODS, this novel is centered on Cassie Maddox. In the fall-out from the previous book's end, Cassie has moved from Murder to Domestic Violence. But then a woman is found dead--a woman who looks uncannily like Cassie. Even odder--she's using a name and a persona that Cassie created years ago as an Undercover officer. So Cassie once more takes up the skin of someone else's life, this time to try and find a murderer from the inside. Besides being a wonderful story, this book is bursting with questions of identity and friendship and ethics. I simply loved it. And a more satisfying end than INTO THE WOODS. I can't wait to see what French does next.

CORALINE/Neil Gaiman/A-
Totally and completely freaked me out. A kid's book, no less. One I gave my daughter to read. Coraline is a girl longing for adventure with parents who are busy being, well, adults. And then she discovers a doorway in her house that leads to a parallel world, with parallel parents who have button eyes and want Coraline to stay with them forever. Coraline prudently leaves--but then discovers that her own parents have vanished. To save them, she has to return to the parallel world, with only a talking cat and her own courage for guidance. She is a resourceful and wonderful child--but man, I had nightmares after. My daughter didn't--I'm not sure what that says about the two of us.

BAD FAITH/Carmen Callil/B+
A history of a truly nasty person in a truly nasty time--Louis Darquier who served as the Commisar of Jewish Affairs in France's Vichy government. The author had a personal connection to this history--Darquier's daughter, Anne (whom he and his wife left in England with a nanny as a baby and never saw again) was the author's psychiatrist for years before, at the age of 40, committing suicide. That led Carmen Callil to investigate Anne's background, leading her to a virulently anti-Semitic man who'd do anything for money and an Australian mother who was too drunk and drugged to protest even if she'd wanted to. It was an unflattering portrait of Vichy (the French government that ruled by Nazi permission during their Occupation of France) and a horrifying look at the sentiments that allowed tens of thousands of French Jews to be deported to death camps in the east.

A small story for fans of THE GOLDEN COMPASS trilogy, recounting the first meeting of the Texan balloonist Lee and the warrior bear Iorek who both feature heavily in the other books. Definitely recommended if you're a Pullman fan.

Joss Whedon. Quotes from 7 seasons of Buffy. What more can I say? Except, perhaps, "I laugh in the face of danger. And then I run away." Or maybe, "This is the crack team that foils my every plan? I am deeply shamed." Or even, "If you get killed, I'm telling."

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA/Nathaniel Philbrick/A
A fabulous true survival story, about the wreck of the whaleship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired Melville's novel MOBY DICK. With a good grounding in Nantucket and the history and culture of whaling life, the story picks up in the far reaches of the Pacific where, for the first time in recorded history, a whale attacked a whaling ship. Not just attacked--sunk. The 19 men aboard made it into 3 smaller boats used to hunt the whales and had to navigate 3000 miles to the west coast of South America. Only four survived. This is not a story for the faint of heart--there is stupidity and ignorance and cannibalism. But talk about transporting the reader to another time and place. Suffice it to say I don't feel the need to ever go whaling--I'll just pick up this book if the impulse strikes.

FREEDOM/Malika Oufkir/D
Sadly, after a month of one great book after another, I ended with this one. I enjoyed Oufkir's previous memoir, about 20 years spent as a political prisoner in Morocco, but this follow-up left me cold. It read more like her diary, a disjointed, disconnected series of impressions about adjusting to her new life in France. I'd skip this one and stick with the first, STOLEN LIVES.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Last night my 12-year-old son went to a school play with some neighbors. He came home and faithfully reported the following conversation to me. (Backstory: Teen was arguing with his mom on the drive home.)

Son: Why do you argue with your mom? I never argue. When my mom snaps 'No', we listen.

Teen: That's because your mom is scary.

There you go. Listen and remember.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


January started with two major revisions in my life: 1) the personal trainer and 2) the second draft of my new novel.

I've realized over the last couple weeks that the process is remarkably similar for both. Pain, inertia, pain, stubbornness, pain, mental blocks, pain, endurance.

And pain.

Revising a manuscript has given me insight into revising my body, and vice versa. Here's what I've learned.

1. Take the Long View
I'm a Biggest Loser fan. Wonderful show. But it is frustrating to watch them drop anywhere from 5-15 pounds a week while my scale stays stubbornly on the same number. Maybe if I was only checking in on my body once a week, I'd see the changes, but since I live in my body, I have to remind myself daily changes are subtle. Too subtle to see most of the time. Just like a page of revisions or rewriting at a time seems miniscule when compared to the 200+ pages still to go, but each page adds up. So does each squat or push-up or bicep curl.

2. Take Your Rewards Where You Can Find Them
Write a particularly good bit of dialogue? Discover a hidden motivation in a character? Solve a particularly thorny plot issue? Giggle and do the Snoopy dance to celebrate. Last 15 seconds longer on a side plank hold? Do 5 sets of tricep dips without crying? Run a complete mile without pause? Same thing. (Well, maybe not the Snoopy dance--unless you want your muscles to give way.)

3. Use Frustration as Fuel
When jealousy, despair, cravings, and/or sheer I'm-so-tired-of-doing-this set in, channel it. Don't let it derail the process. Dougnuts will not--repeat, WILL NOT--make you feel better. Neither will playing solitaire or reading email for three hours while you avoid opening your novel file. Of course you don't want to start exercising/writing. Who does? But I promise, from personal experience, once you've done it, you'll feel so much better.

4. The Only Failure is to Quit
Will I ever get below 30% body fat or lose these even-more-stubborn-than-me 15 pounds? Not if I quit now. Will I ever sign with an agent/sell my novel to the highest bidder/become even more famous than Stephenie Meyer? Not if I quit now. I control what I can--the exercising, eating right, writing, and submitting said writing. Will it pay off? I don't know. But I do know that if I quit, then it's over.

5. Love Revising for its Own Sake
Body or soul, mind or manuscript, you have to love the process. That doesn't mean you enjoy every single weight lifted or mile run or chapters scratched and started from nothing . . . but it does mean you have to enjoy the process as a whole. I exercise now because it makes me feel good--stronger, healthier, happier. Do I want to get skinnier? Yes. Will I keep exercising when/if I reach my weight goal? Yes. And writing--well, whole books are written about writers and their devotion to an exceedingly difficult and irritating art form. Do I want to be published? Yes. Would I quit writing if I get published? Absolutely not. So why would I quit before?

Onward and upward--I have twenty more minutes of cardio to do and Chapter 13 to revise.

Wish me well :)

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Anyone surprised?

On Facebook, some of my friends have taken this challenge: Out of the BBC Booklist's Top 100 Novels, how many of you read?

(Note on the list--I've seen several different lists. I actually marked two--the one from Facebook and the official BBC Big Read List from 2003. I decided to post the Facebook list since I'd read more of them--probably because the Facebook list seems to have more novels that an American audience would recognize.)

The estimate is that any given average person (is there such a thing) will have read 6 out these 100 novels. Are you as geeky as me? Check it out.

The ones I've read are bolded.

And if you're interested only in the bottom line, I've read 68 out of 100.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchel
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday, March 02, 2009


Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire has had some bad weeks recently. He's still recovering from the tragic end of his last case. And he needs a new deputy. And winter is coming. So he's annoyed when a former sheriff claims that a death in a nursing home is murder. Turns out the former sheriff was once married to the woman in question, a member of the Basque community, and said woman has quite a large estate to leave. Did someone kill her for her money? Or do the roots of this crime go further back? I adore Walt Longmire and this was a wonderful story. Now on to the third book in the series.

A little book, written for teens, about a 9th-grader who causes a national incident when he's punished for singing the national anthem in homeroom. The novel is told entirely through diary entries, letters, phone calls, and interviews of the various participants, giving the reader the chance to see the incident through multiple eyes. As the mother of two teenage boys, it was a great reminder that most of what's going on in a teenager's head is kept hidden and I shouldn't jump to conclusions quite so fast.

Sigh--I love Adam Dalgliesh. This novel had everything I love about James--the trademark opening section which introduces us to various intriguing characters and the tensions that will bring about murder in a private plastic surgery clinic; Dalgliesh and his team moving methodically and empathetically among the witnesses and suspects; twisty plot points and most of all, humanity. There's a small but emotionally important sub-plot about Adam's fiancee, Emma, and an attack on one of her friends and the novel ends with an event I've been waiting for none too patiently--the wedding of Adam and Emma. I hope the 89-year-old Baroness James lives a long time so we can have more Dalgliesh stories.

ENDER IN EXILE/Orson Scott Card/B
A direct sequel to ENDER'S GAME, which means it fills in some of the time gap between that book and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. Ender may have won the war, but that doesn't mean he can go home. Instead, the 14-year-old is appointed governor of the first human colony in space. He elects to stay awake during the voyage (2 years in relative time, more than 40 years in earth time) and much of the action takes place on the colony ship. I wanted to like this more than I did--Ender actually began to bug me a little bit in his perfection and I thought Card shortchanged the ending of a critical POV character (a teenage girl whose mother wants her to marry Ender). But it was still an Ender story, which means I was happy to read it.

TUTANKHAMEN/Christine El Mahdy/B-
The story of Egypt's most famous king, placing him in the historical context of his lifetime. El Mahdy spend the first two-thirds of the book recounting the discovery of his tomb and then giving us the accepted version of Tutankhamen and the pharaoh who preceded him, the controversial Akhenaten. The last third gives her account of Akhenaten, the mysterious Smenkhare who ruled briefly after him, and the teenage Tutankhamen who died too young and might never have been known if not for the magic of his treasure-filled tomb. It was a little confusing to follow in style, but it did have some interesting points and I especially loved the pictures of some of the pharaoh's artifacts.

It was a good month for series I love. In this Dalziel/Pascoe novel, Dalziel is sent to an expensive convalescent home on the Yorkshire coast to recover from his injuries and coma suffered in the last book. But of course it won't be restful--the local lady of the manor is found dead at her own hog roast. Rich, rude, and several-times married, Daphne Brereton had enemies to spare. Dalziel tries to keep out of Pascoe's way when he comes to investigate, but you can't keep a good copper down and it's Dalziel who possesses some criticial information. Filled with Hill's witty writing and unforgettable characters--I'm smiling just remembering the book.

THE FAITH CLUB/Idilby, Oliver, & Warner/B+
A book club read. After the 9/11 attacks, New York Muslim Ranya Idilby wonders what she can teach her children about being Muslim in America. She decides to write a children's book with two other mothers--one Christian, one Jewish. I don't know if the children's book was ever written--but THE FAITH CLUB has been very succesful. The three women talk honestly about their fears, their personal faith, and their preconceptions of the others' religions. It wasn't a perfect book, but it was intriguing and the friendship the three women develop is beautiful.

MYSTIC RIVER/Dennis Lehane/C
Beautifully written, impeccably rendered characters, a plot that falls into place just when it should . . . so why isn't it an A book? This is one of those times where I have to fall back on "I am not the audience for this book." The story opens with three young boys playing in the street. One of them gets in a car and vanishes for four days. Twenty-five years later, the boys are brought back together when the daughter of one is murdered. This story was bleak and there weren't enough sympathetic characters to ease the bleakness. Still, I can see why Lehane has a wide audience; he's a wonderful writer.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My 40 days have come and gone . . . and I still haven't written about the fabulous surprise my husband came up with.

My life feels like one long list of things I haven't yet done. Which, I suppose, is kind of the point of living. If I ever reach the end of the list, what will I do next?

I have a wonderful post about branding floating around my head, but it will have to float for at least another day. I find it difficult to concentrate on being intelligent and witty while teaching my high school sophomore the basics of driving around an empty parking lot and attending junior high parent teacher conferences and helping my 4th-grader put handcuffs on her biography/puppet of Harry Houdini and reassuring a crying 2nd-grader that, no, his watch is not two minutes fast as a neighborhood child teased.

I love my life. But it does make intelligent and witty a state devoutly to be desired rather than my natural state of being.

But I do have one piece of advice before I dive back into my natural state of being. And the advice is for me.

"Laura--do not, under any circumstances, tell your trainer that your goal is to run in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin in May. And do not ever, no matter how happy you are, proclaim that a given weight is 'hard, but not hard enough'. If you do these things, you deserve every ounce of sweat and every quivering muscle that ensues."

I'm just saying.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

This was going to be a post about my wonderful, darling, devious husband and the surprise he pulled off for the end of my 40 Days of 40.

It's still coming.

But tonight, I have to do a little complaining about a night on which my feminist sensibilities went right out the window. Or in this case, down the drain.

I've spent the last two hours covered in filthy pipe water, courtesy of my backed-up kitchen sink. I've changed two sets of clothing, disconnected and reconnected a bunch of pipes, scrapped gunk out with a knife, and made multiple trips to the bathroom to dump the bowl that will never again be used for any type of food product in my house.

Two hours, one set of dedicated friends, a wire hanger, two loads of laundry, a mix of vinegar and baking soda, and a plunger later . . . the sink is working.

And I may never eat again. So really, it's a win all the way around.

Especially for my husband, who missed all the fun by being somewhere else tonight.

Feminist or not, I agree with Buffy: "I was raised to believe that the men dig up the corpses and the women have the babies."

Friday, February 13, 2009

My friend, Patty (see her blog at Pat Esden in my sidebar) assigned this meme to one of her characters. As someone who knows a good idea when I see it, I shamelessly stole--er, make that borrowed--the concept.

Meet Kieran Holt--17-year-old Londoner who has come to Whitby, Yorkshire after the death of her sister and gets more than she bargained for when she comes across an old house that she may or may not remember.

1. What are your nicknames? My mother, Vivian, calls me Kiki. I hate Kiki.

2. What do you do before bedtime? Study. It’s soothing.

3. What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to? Apparently Sorrows Court—though I’ve never been to the Yorkshire coast before. Explain, then, how I remember this house. And its long-dead owners.

4. What are some of your favorite scents? Books. New books, old books, libraries, bookstores. Oh--and fresh shortbread.

5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it? Buy a bookstore, hire someone to run it, and spend my days alone in a private library upstairs. Or possibly move to Africa and work in a public-health clinic. I’m 17—I don’t quite know yet.

6. What is your theme song? "The Wanderer" by Odd Project.

7. Do you trust easily? No.

8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think? According to my sister, I think and think and never act.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days? Besides my sister being dead?

10. Do you have a good body-image? I have a body. It works. For now.

11. What have you been seriously addicted to lately? Avoiding everything that might bring up painful memories of Alix.

12. How many colors are you wearing now? Olive green cargo pants, white t-shirt, pink hoodie.

13. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head? “Everything’s Magic” by Angels and Airwaves. I could swear my iPod knew what I was feeling the first time I looked at Sorrows Court--it sure picked an appropriate song.

14. What’s your favorite item of clothing? Alix’s flannel shirt that she always wore around the flat to keep warm.

15. What was the last book you read? Non-fiction? Just finished A-levels, so too many to list. Fiction? I’m a closet fantasy fan—Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

16. What would you do with an extra five hundred dollars right now ... the only catch being that you have to spend it within a week? I have a trust fund and a generous trustee—an extra five hundred dollars would go into the fund and gather interest like the rest.

17. What items could you not go without during the day? iPod. Music is my most reliable distraction at the moment.

18. What should you be doing right now? Going to sleep. But I think I’ll go explore the Great Hall of Sorrows Court by night. There is definitely something odd in this house. It might just be me—or it might not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Who would have guessed that 70's hair could be so much better than 80's hair?

I'm not sure I can remember thirty years ago. Once I start thinking about being 10, I inevitably think about my one and only daughter who turned 10 a few months ago. (Of course, her birthday party is next week--it's just been that kind of year.)

So I thought . . . what are the differences between me at 10 and my daughter at 10?

1. I had a cat. My daughter does not. I do not wish to discuss the subject further. (Except to say: "Mom, now I totally get why you didn't want the cat. And apparently I'm meaner than you are.")

2. I have one brother. She has three.

3. I was a quiet, shy child. My daughter keeps getting moved at school and church for chattiness.

4. I had a radio. All feel free to laugh together, especially my daughter with her purple iPod shuffle.

5. I had a banana-seat bike. It's nice those seem to have the gone the way of dinosaurs.

6. I had color TV. With four channels. And if I was really bad, I had to watch the black-and-white set in my parents' room.

7. My big summer vacation was driving to Mexico in a motorhome with my cousins. My daughter is flying to Mexico for the second time this summer for a beach vacation.

Still, it's not all differences. We do share some things in common, besides our eye color. The biggest of these is reading. Nothing makes me happier (even while I'm telling her sternly to go to bed) than to find her reading in bed after 10:00 at night. Or shutting herself in her room when she "just has to finish this book now!" Or buying her books for Christmas and hearing a genuine squeal of delight.

Some pleasures remain the same.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I've now done three workouts with my personal trainer.

Three workouts in which she nearly made me cry (once with the body fat calipers, twice from reaching the physical edge.)

I'm proud to say I have learned something important from The Biggest Loser--Don't Ever Say I Can't. (Not out loud, at least--screaming it at the top of my inner lungs is another matter.)

What keeps me going the last five reps of a weight that's making my whole body tremble? Force of will? Stubbornness? Dreams of size-6 jeans? My jiggly stomach?

Alas, no. My motivation is much simpler.

Also fictional.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds.

I've got my Firefly DVD set sitting out on the trunk in my workout space. And when the screaming inside threatens to erupt out of my mouth, I just focus on Mal. And I hear what he said to Simon once: "You ain't weak. Don't know how smart you are . . . but you ain't weak and that's not nothing."

That's not nothing. Words to motivate--for me, at least.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. Non-fiction, I guess. Mystery about nasty letter-writing and vandalism that eventually lands Edalji in prison. Conan Doyle took up his case after his release from prison and helped clear him. Sort of. Honestly, that's all I remember. That's not a good sign.

Written by a Welshman in the 12th century, this history isn't so much fact as storytelling. But what wonderful storytelling! It purports to tell the history of the ancient Britons who were ruled over by the Romans, invaded by the Saxons and Angles, and finally driven to Wales and Cornwall. Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first major writer to give King Arthur a written form and many of the romances that picked up his story got it from Geoffrey's history. In many ways more informative about Geoffrey's time than those of the kings he's writing about.

Benedict's second novel (after the haunting ISABELLA MOON), it defies easy labels. Mystery? Suspense? Horror? Paranormal? It's got bits of all of them, woven into a story about three teenage girls who drive a young priest out of their school and, years later, have to deal with the consequences. When Varick comes to town, disaster follows for all three women: Del, struggling to fit into her perfect life; Alice, whose marriage is coming apart at the seams; and Roxanne, the artist who started it all. And when deals are made with the devil, not even the innocent are safe. Not an easy read, but beautifully written and haunting in its own right.

Aislinn is a high schooler who has always followed her grandmother's cardinal rule: Never Let the Fairies Know You Can See Them. But when a particular fairy goes out of his way to be noticed, Aislinn finds herself caught in a power struggle that's spilling out of the fairy world into hers. The Summer King needs a Queen in order to defeat his Winter Queen mother's reign, and he thinks Aislinn is the one. An urban fairy tale for today's teens, with a pace that never lets up and a plot that has some interesting twists. I'll definitely read the next one.

Ahhhhhh . . . this is how historical fantasy should be done. And where better to go than back to Sevenwaters, where Marillier's fame began. Clodagh is the sensible 3rd sister of 6 who keeps the household running while her mother is perilously pregnant. When baby Finbar is born, the long-awaited son and heir, rejoicing quickly turns to tragedy. Finbar is snatched from his cradle, replaced by a changeling child. But only Clodagh can see the changeling for what it is. Distrusted and frightened, Clodagh sets out on a quest to the Otherworld to find her brother. She's aided (naturally) by Cathal, who has his own secrets and a disturbing knowledge about the Fair Folk. Marillier is a master who doesn't disappoint--and she throws out enough hints to give me hope of more Sevenwaters books to come.

The sequel to OUTLANDER, equally lush and romantic. The bulk of the story takes place in France and Scotland in 1743-44, with Claire and Jamie trying to stop Bonnie Prince Charlie's invasion to restore his father's throne. With Claire's knowledge of the disaster awaiting the Highlanders at Culloden, they work behind the scenes to undermine the prince's fundraising while trying to avoid being labeled traitors. But history, it seems, cannot be outwitted--on the eve of the fateful battle, Jamie sends pregnant Claire back through the standing stones to her first husband, Frank. The book is framed with Claire, twenty years after her return, bringing her daughter back to Scotland to tell her about her birth father, who died at the Battle of Culloden in 1744. Or did he? I thought this one was a little overwritten and could have used some serious editing, but overall I enjoyed the romance and adventure and I have the third book waiting.

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is called in when a domestic violence call leads to the discovery of a vicious serial killer. The fittingly-titled AFTERMATH is complex story about what happens after that discovery and the mysteries that still have to be untangled, not least the question of motive. FRIEND OF THE DEVIL involves several characters from AFTERMATH, but I thought the first book was the more compelling. Robinson writes good characters, but I can't quite get into him the same way I've fallen in love with Reginald Hill, who also writes police procedurals set in Yorkshire.

A re-read for book club. When Iris Greenfeder gives her writing students an assignment about fairy tales, she sets in motion an uncovering of long-held secrets--not least of which is why her mother died in a hotel fire when Iris was ten. Selkies and stolen necklaces, reformed criminals and hotel millionaires, a hot summer and a search for a mother's missing manuscript . . . Goodman writes smart, romantic, and richly atmospheric thrillers that are great for book club questions like: What's the difference between a smart thriller and a dumb one?

Monday, February 02, 2009


I'm a few days late with this. I think it's because I could only take so much humiliation in one week. After the body fat percentage, I had to fill in the cracks of my esteem before I dared post this photo.

Of course, it was 1989. I was not (please, tell me I was not) the only 20-year-old walking around with bangs to heaven. The truly sad thing is that I spent more time doing my hair in the years of this style then I ever have before or since. So much effort--so little reward.

Aside from the tragedy that was my hair, 20 was a good enough year for me. I was a junior at BYU, loving Shakespeare and the Romantic poets and Victorian novels. I finally had my own car (and a driver's license--that's another story). I had a job at a doctor's office and friends and even some dates from time to time.

It was also a turning point year for me. It was the year I pondered what I wanted in my life and the year I decided to take a break from school. One week after my 21st birthday, I started a new adventure as a missionary in Haiti.

There is no better decision I could have made. Haiti changed me, physically and emotionally. I would not be who I am today without those 18 months spent with Haitians, speaking their language, loving their children, being part of their lives.

I'm starting to see a pattern here--20 was the year I prepared for Haiti; 30 was the year I found myself in a new state and new home; what will 40 be?

Can't wait to find out.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I'm not entirely happy with the way I look.

Yes, I've lost 15 pounds since last spring. But I've got another 10 or 15 to go, and I have far-off hopes that include size-6 skirts and running a 5k.

Enter my 40 days of 40 and my darlingest husband who paid attention to all my griping and got me the best present that I would never have thought to ask for . . .

A personal trainer.

Who comes to my house.

It doesn't get any better. Which is what I'm reminding myself as I sit here, vaguely aware of muscles that I'm pretty sure will hurt tomorrow morning. "This is a good thing, this is a good thing, this is a good thing . . ."

Good news: in our very first session at 7:00 a.m. this morning, she had me doing things I didn't think I could. Like when I'd finished 3 sets of something-or-other lifts and thought I was done, only to be handed a heavier weight and told, "This is your heavy set." And that one was followed by a return to the lighter weights. 5 sets? No wonder I never made progress on my own.

Bad news: the session started with the ritual taking of my measurements and the calipers for body fat. (Followed by the ritual throwing of myself off a cliff into a pile of doughnuts.)

In the interest of using public humiliation as a motivator for change, I will now tell you that my body fat percentage is 32%. Looking at different charts, that puts me anywhere from poor to barely acceptable to obese.

Obese?! Really?! I wear a size 8! (Of course, I also recently preached to you all about how sizes and weight numbers don't matter.)

But body fat percentage is another story. That's a number I intend to change in the next four months of twice-a-week training sessions and changed-up cardio workouts. I want to drop that number, drop my weight, increase my strength, and increase my endurance.

I'll let you know how it's going. If only because I don't want 32% body fat to be the last number you remember about me.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Where has January gone? Into fog and inversions and sleet.

Where is Maui when you need it?


I did finally tally up my last year in books on this icy day.

Total Books Read: 114 (almost 20 fewer than last year--I thought so much time in hospitals would have increased my total)

Non-fiction: 30

Young Adult: 13

Fantasy: 14

Historical: 25

Mystery: 52

Although my overall number was down from last year, my percentages stayed pretty much the same. (In other words, you just can't take the genre-lover out of the woman.)

The very best books? Here's my spur-of-the-moment list . . .

Best non-fiction that was not a re-read: DEATH BE NOT PROUD/John Gunther (a 17-year-old's final year of life with a brain tumor, written by his father in 1948)

Best YA: a tie between two wildly different novels--THE BOOK THIEF/Marcus Zusak (young girl in WWII Germany and her friends and family) and SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS/Marisa Peshl (intricately plotted, exuberantly written, what-is-going-to-happen-next story of a private school girl and underground political movements)

Best Fantasy: THE GOLDEN COMPASS/Phillip Pullman (daemons, witches, armored bears, and the most compelling child character in ages)

Best Historical: OUTLANDER/Diana Gabaldon (a post-WWII woman goes back in time to 18th-century Scotland and falls in love with a Highlander, richly romantic and lushly epic in both story and style)

Best Mystery: has to be subdivided into:

Best Continuation of a Series: a tie--CARELESS IN RED/Elizabeth George (for pulling off the nearly impossible task of following Inspector Lynley after the traumatic death of his wife and unborn child and offering an intricate mystery to boot) and THE LAUGHTER OF DEAD KINGS/Elizabeth Peters (because I love John Tregarth and Peters obviously had nothing but great fun writing this book--I smiled all the way through)

Best First in a Series: VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN/Susan Hill (wonderful characters and a twisty plot that ended in a stunning about-face--unfortunately the next two in the series would fit in the category Biggest Disappointments)

Best Stand-Alone: TOUCHSTONE/Laurie R. King (anarchists, British upper-classes, an FBI agent searching for a bomber, and a traumatized soldier with an unusual skill are woven into a wonderful story that I loved every word of)

Best New Series To Me: the Armand Gamache novels by Louise Penney, starting with STILL LIFE (a Quebec officer investigates murder with humanity and grace, compelling characters and plots, wonderful sense of place)

Honorable Mentions:

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER/Barack Obama (biography of our new president's early life)
FIELD OF DARKNESS/Cornelia Read (first in a mystery series set in the 1980s with a journalist who uncovers murderous secrets in her family's past)
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS/Khaled Hosseini (the unlikely friendship of two very different Afghani women, even better than the author's THE KITE RUNNER)
THE NIGHT VILLA and THE SONNET LOVER/Carol Goodman (I love her atmospheric romantic thrillers and these both had exotic locations and sympathetic heroines)

Do you know what I'll remember most about this last year in books? Where and when I was reading them. TOUCH NOT THE CAT by Mary Stewart, for instance, is the book I took with me to the ER on January 1st and finished reading by my son's bedside later that week after he'd been diagnosed with cancer. Re-reading Bill Bryson's NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND during his daily radiation treatments, just to have something familiar and funny to take my mind away for a little bit. Weeping my way through Joan Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING for book club--I'd recommended it after reading it the previous year but reading it again while my son went through chemo was an entirely different experience.

I wonder what I'll be reading two weeks from now while he has first follow-up MRI since treatment ended.

Maybe I won't be reading--maybe I'll be writing. Now there's a thought! Here's to 2009--The Year of Selling My First Book :)