What I Read on My Summer Vacation

Do you ever forget you’re a person? Work and chores and obligations and parenting tangles you up so fiercely you forget how to relax? It happened to me this spring. The company I work for diversified over the winter, and the brunt of the extra labor fell on me. I was struggling in the weeds, juggling flaming chainsaws, and I forgot to be myself. I can’t even entirely blame external pressures, because I’ve been keeping up with my writing and editing as much as possible in the stolen moments. I was so twisted up, so tense, I let my passion add to my stress, when it’s usually my outlet.

Ouch.

Thank goodness for a mile long stretch of pristine beach along a noisy, gaudy boardwalk on the New Hampshire coastline. I spent a week by the ocean with my husband’s family, and aside from some re-entry pangs, I felt like a person again.

It took me a day or two of literally lying in my beach chair with the sound of the tide in my ear and powdered sugar from Blink’s Fry Doe on my nose to remember that I had books waiting for me.

Books!

To read. For pleasure!

I know.

Firstly, the fourth installment in John Dolan’s Time, Blood & Karma series. I cannot accurately describe my crush on David Braddock. So it has been for four books. Running on Emptiness returns to the format of the first two books, and we are treated to Mr. Braddock’s signature wit and troubled, mischievous philosophy as he navigates a suspicious suicide, the spectre of a man who once wanted him dead, a Thai gang war, and the emotional maze of his family life. Running on Emptiness is dark, sharp, and tender, and the ending left me breathless, wondering how David Braddock will go forward.

From the exotic chaos of John Dolan’s Thailand, I headed east to Hawaii, and devoured the two most recent Lei Crime Series novellas from Eden Baylee. SEAL of a Monk and Charade at Sea each return to Hawaii and the adventures of Lainey Lee. Eden’s novellas keep a crisp pace, and with each one, we learn more about Lainey Lee, a recently single mother of adult sons, whose beginning her life again after a long, unhappy marriage. SEAL of a Monk introduces compelling former Navy SEAL and security consultant Max Scott, with whom Lainey shares an undeniable chemistry, even as they team up to rescue a lost young woman dear to Lainey’s heart. Charade at Sea reunites Lainey and Max on a luxury cruise around the islands, and once again they join forces to solve a mystery while exploring their newfound passion. Ripe with Eden’s command of the sensuous, these sexy mysteries were a perfect read with my toes in the hot sand.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake ended up on my Kindle thanks to a promotion that I can’t recall, but I loved this delightful, light romance not only for the feisty, culinary heroine and the charming, awkward hero, but for the author’s unabashed devotion to all things Milwaukee. Having set a novel in a place I love, I understand that need to sing a love song to the sights, scents, and heart of a beloved locale. I devoured this one, all puns intended.

I finished a positively decadent week of pleasure reading with the first two novels in Laurie Breton’s Jackson Falls series. In Coming Home, Casey Bradley’s tumultuous love affair with rock and roll singer Danny Fiore whisks her away from home. Fifteen years and a lifetime of hard, fast living, joy and grief bend Casey’s road home to the life she was always meant to have in Jackson Falls. Sleeping with the Enemy picks up a family thread introduced in Coming Home and ties it neatly back into the tapestry of Jackson Falls. While I loved Casey’s journey in Coming Home, I thought Sleeping With the Enemy was a tighter, better paced story.

Guess what happened then? I drafted these paragraphs and forgot to post them, and fell right back into the nonsense and marvel of day-to-day. You cannot imagine the cobwebs in my WordPress dashboard this evening.

Have you read any of my belated summer reading picks? Id love to hear your thoughts.

The Naming of Things

This isn’t about cats, but I do think Eliot was on to something, here.

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
~The Naming of Cats, T.S. Eliot

This is about our goofy family tendencies to name things. The dog’s two favorite plushies, for instance, are called Mungo and Manky. Clearly the dog doesn’t care what their names are, as long as we play tug and fetch until he’s ready to drop. I wanted to call something Alonzo; Felix didn’t approve of it for any of his various stuffed friends, but he thought it was perfect for the concrete tiki in the front garden.

Apparently I spell “Alonzo” like an American. Who knew?

I knit and crochet. I am fond of amigurumi and stuffies. The end result is that my son has any number of handmade critters around his room, Starry the googly-eyed star, Frank the cat, Algernon the Octopus, Claire the Jellyfish. “22216” the friendly AT-AT:

#amigurumi AT-AT from a pattern by @mysteriouscats #crochet #starwars

A photo posted by Cameron Garriepy (@camerongarriepy) on

When he was in kindergarten, Felix called his backpack Sharkey (it had comical orange sharks on it), but one morning he told me his jacket’s name was Tom. Clearly. I was reminding him of that as we rushed out the door one morning last week, and then noted the time and said, “What we need to name right now is us getting in the car,” which he took to mean he got to name my car.

Al.

He named my car “Al.”

You know how sometimes a name sticks, even when you don’t necessarily want it to? That. So we celebrated by listening to Paul Simon on the way up the street to drop-off. Just call me Betty.

Connect.

So, I wrote this up right after Alan Rickman passed away, but — relevant to the post itself — I didn’t publish it, because it felt weird. Related: it’s messy in my head sometimes.

SB Sarah at Smart Bitches Trashy Books described it as a “weird” sadness, and it is.

I keep tearing up because two performers passed away.

Alan Rickman and David Bowie: their talents both stolen from the world, their bright lights darkened, their hearts torn from their families. I’ve been sort of obsessively reading tributes, watching and listening to the legacies they left behind, trying to work out why I’m so saddened. The loss of an artist is always a reason to mourn, but I can only recall being this weirdly crushed twice before. When Mary Travers died, and when we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman to his own demons.

I just read a note, in the comments of the video below, from someone thanking Rickman for reading and replying to fanmail he sent when he was 13. The cynic in me assumes it was a toadie working for his publicist who mailed off a signed headshot… but then, what if it was the man himself? By all accounts, he was a good and gentle soul (Bowie, too, from what I’ve read), so why not?

It should not be such a brave thing, to reach out to the world for comfort. It should be the ordinary work of a day to say thank you, to say hello, to say, “Your work means something to me.” To tell someone you know you’re thinking of them, or to mention a passing memory to the person you remembered, even if it’s been a long time. It ought to be completely typical to connect.

And yet, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, at least for me, it’s hard to reach out, to place myself in the path of someone I’ve known, or wish to know, or want to acknowledge. (Extrovert problems: craving interaction and human energy, while simultaneously fearing you’re interrupting or intruding.) It’s a weird fear, a throwback to wanting a boy to like you back, or being hurt when someone wasn’t kind, but I am not a little girl or a fidgety teen anymore.

And so, I’m going to say out loud, the word that I’ve been rolling around in my brain for 2016: Connect.

Time to get over being afraid to reach out to the world for whatever reason, because I so love when the world reaches back. And to strengthen my resolve, I will indulge in the late, exceptionally talented Alan Rickman having a rather epic cup of tea. (Time to flip the table on my own reserve.) Maybe while listening to Starman. Because if anyone knew how to live life on his own terms, it was Bowie.

Arthur Weasley Would Be Delighted

Felix and I are, for the third go ’round, reading the Harry Potter books, but now that he is eight, he wants to finish the story. (Prior to this, we stopped at the end of Goblet of Fire, because I felt the story was above his Kindergarten and younger interest. Let’s be honest, all the anger and angst in Order of the Phoenix frustrates me, and I was a teenager once.) It’s been a great experience, reading these books aloud again, this time with an audience who picks up so much more nuance and connection.

Upon hearing that the Ministry and the Daily Prophet were quietly smearing Harry in the press following Voldemort’s return, Felix got all het up and shouted, “Cornelius Fudge should lose his job!”

Too right, love. Too right.

I could go on forever about the things he’s loving about the story, but in particular he is just tickled pink by Arthur Weasley’s obsession with Muggles and their coping mechanisms. He also appreciates that I would dearly love to master some of Molly’s domestic spell talent. Since Thursday nights are busy right now — swimming lessons right from aftercare, which means I pick up straight from work, and we don’t get home until after 7:00 — I’ve been trying to get dinner started in the slow cooker in the morning.

This dreary February morning, I left tikka masala in the slow cooker, cardamom rice in the rice cooker, and the dishwasher merrily cleaning several days’ worth of mess.

We muddle along without spells as best we can, but I refer to it as “the magic kitchen,” and Felix says it’s definitely Arthur Weasley approved.

If you’re interested, you can find the tikka masala recipe we’re using at The Kitchn.

Ralph Fiennes is Losing His Hair

1I clicked on one of those nonsense “articles” about what the stars of the Harry Potter film franchise look like now. We’ll start there.

At the end, is Ralph Fiennes, so many years after taking over the role of Voldemort.

Sitting at my kitchen table, listening to Christmas carols and contemplating my coffee, I said aloud to the dog, “Aw. Ralph Fiennes is losing his hair.”

It was kind of a tender thought. He’s a good looking man, receding hairline or not, and a lot of guys my age are starting to show a little more forehead. It… made a certain bittersweet sense that he, too, might have aged. He’s fifteen years my senior, after all.

Here’s the thing: in the next heartbeat, I had a very vivid recollection of being in college, and watching Shakespeare in Love, which resulted in a very serious discussion about which brother was foxier: Ralph or Joseph? It was generally agreed that while Joseph had certain appeal, Ralph was more broody and classically handsome, ergo foxier. Remember, The English Patient was only two years out back then, and we were twentyish. Swoon.

The thing is, I feel like that pushing-twenty year old conversation happened yesterday, but Ralph Fiennes is losing his hair. Sometimes approaching forty is a strange place.

Unrelated observations: My crushes on Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman are undiminished.