Author Archives: pickygirl

Reading: January Book Notes

31st January 2017

As someone whose job and life revolves around the beginning, middle, and end of university semesters, January is always a respite for me. The holidays are over, and my hours and days are free for reading. This January was no different, and I read eight books this month. Here’s what I thought:

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina doesn’t have much of a problem with her pa’s edict never to venture into the forest, as the entire Biltmore estate is her playground as well as the place where her father works and where they both live in secret. She isn’t sure why her existence is hush hush, but she doesn’t question him, happy being the estate’s CRC, or Chief Rat Catcher, until the night she witnesses a man in a black cloak hunting and seemingly killing a young girl before narrowly escaping his clutches. That night, everything changes, and Serafina must do what she must, even seeking out the mysteries of the forest, to save herself and the other children of Biltmore.

While Serafina’s mystery was evident to me nearly right away, I still enjoyed reading about her stalking the halls of Biltmore, or enjoyed it enough to pick up the second book in the series.

Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty

Serafina is coming to terms with the revelations she uncovered at the end of her adventures with the awful powers of the black cloak. She has built a fragile friendship with the orphan nephew of Mr. Vanderbilt when she witnesses yet another evil, deep in the forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and must embrace her newfound legacy to protect those she loves.

Once Beatty removes the mystery of Serafina’s discovery about her identity, the series takes off. Serafina has been sheltered, living alone with her pa below stairs, so watching her develop and jealously guard her friendship with Braedon was at once irritating and endearing. However, the mystery is more developed here, and the villain pretty dark for a middle grade book.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

When I teach American Literature, I always teach an excerpt from this book, but I’d never read the book in its entirety until now. I read it start to finish one evening, and I don’t know that I’d recommend that – the book is full of grief, as Didion stops and starts, retelling the story of her marriage and her husband’s sudden death while their daughter was in a coma. For someone like me who guards against emotion, I could relate to so much of what Didion wrote, as she processed her thoughts and feelings, and was pretty shocked at the wide array of reviews out there for this – because of her and her husband’s backgrounds in film, many, many seem to discount her writing. I, for one, found it a fascinating foray into one woman’s grief.

Starflight by Melissa Landers

I really don’t know how this quirky little book landed on my Goodreads “to-read” shelf. Part sci-fi, part romance, and part futuristic adventure tale, I wasn’t in love with this book, but from the Goodreads reviews, people who loved the show Firefly seem to be all about this one.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox is impossibly impossible. Her daughter Bee adores her. Her genius Microsoft husband seems slightly in awe of her, but everyone else seems to despise her. When Bee calls in a promise to leave Seattle for a trip to Antarctica, Bernadette’s quirks seem to amplify until she has no choice but to disappear. Bee must seek out the facets of Bernadette she and others couldn’t or wouldn’t see to find the mother she cannot live without.

Sometimes my tendency to avoid the “hot” book works against me. This book was all anyone could talk about several years ago, and I thought, “Nope, not for me.” Oh, Jennifer Hopeless, how you were wrong. This book ended all too soon for me. Reading Bernadette’s emails to her virtual assistant in India and piecing together what exactly went wrong was fascinating, even though, at times, you definitely feel like you are witnessing the mental breakdown of an individual. Still, it was fun and fast, and I loved it.

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Dublin pathologist Quirke finds his brother-in-law in his morgue one evening, during an office party with a file he shouldn’t have. That’s strange enough, but when the body is gone the next morning, Quirke embarks on a self-destructive path to seek out the truth of what happened to Christine Falls.

You can almost always count me in for an Irish detective novel. This time, though, I’m lukewarm. Christine Falls has no real mystery to it and very little suspense.

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Puzzles and potions. Christopher Rowe learns both when he is rescued from an orphanage and apprenticed to Master Blackthorn, but across London, apothecaries are being murdered. With the help of his only friend, Sam, Christopher must use Blackthorn’s last gift to him to stop the killing and learn what secrets his master was guarding.

A complete win for me, this middle grade novel was fun, suspenseful, and interesting – never speaking down to its audience. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Twelve-year-old Milo is finishing up homework and planning on enjoying his winter break at Greenglass House when the guest bell rings. As he and his parents welcome an odd guest, the bell rings again, and again. Frustrated that he’ll have to work during the break, Milo feels slightly better when a series of odd events introduces him to Meddy, the cook’s daughter, and they embark on an adventure to discover why each guest is really at Greenglass House.

This! A middle grade, locked room-type mystery, Greenglass House was full of intrigue, folklore, extreme winter temperatures, and self discovery, making it the perfect January read.

Dear Charlotte:

21st April 2016

I’m a writer, of sorts, yet in all of my years writing about books and reading, I’ve written only briefly (here and here) about my love for Jane Eyre.

How does one talk about a book that has resided in heart and mind for so long? Suffice it to say, Jane was my friend at a young age, when I had no idea how to pronounce the words rendezvous or hors d’ouevres. I likely caught very little of the very adult love affair between Jane and Rochester the first few times I read about them, but I felt deeply the death of Helen and the harsh, unfair punishments Jane received while in school. And years later when I read it yet again and Jane wrenches herself away from the man she’s grown to love, I couldn’t imagine being that strong and brave. An autobiography, eh?

Of course, what kind of admirer would I be without having read your other works? I enjoyed them (and honestly need to reread them), but my heart belongs to Jane Eyre. I have mentioned briefly before that Jane Eyre is a hard book to love, but that’s a lie. What I meant by that is simply that so many people want to criticize it, both when you published it and all these many years later, and I, for one, have a hard time contextualizing criticism for a book I fell in love with at age 8.

So I’ll continue to love it, especially as, at its opening, Jane Eyre so perfectly described my reading experience as a little girl:

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window- seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

Stormy days are still my favorite reading weather. How much pleasure – and pain and joy and hope – you’ve brought me over the years. Thank you, Charlotte, and happy birthday.

jenn aka the picky girl

Reading: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

1st September 2015

girlwaitswithgun*I requested this book for review via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A collision between the Kopp sisters’ wagon and a dangerous silk factory owner’s automobile sets in motion much more than these secluded, secretive sisters bargained for. Shocked and appalled by Mr. Kaufman’s failure to assist, apologize to, or compensate she and her sisters, Constance Kopp confronts the man in his place of business. His response is months upon months of threats, sinister letters, and damaged property.

Unwilling to move her troupe to her brother’s family’s house in town, Constance takes it upon herself to defend her family and their property, by any means necessary, accepting and learning to use a gun at the urging of the local sheriff and even involving the press, earning a headline in the papers: Girl Waits With Gun. Along the way, the sheriff comes to respect Constance for her determination and can-do spirit.

Based on a true story, Girl Waits With Gun is great fun, though the ever-present danger the Kopp sisters face gives the book an edge I hadn’t quite expected. I either hadn’t remembered or didn’t know the book was based on a true story, and learning that, along with the real v. embellished factoids at the end, was enjoyable.

My only real complaint is that the way Constance’s story ends (I won’t spoil it, even though if you read anything about this book you’ll likely find out), I was even more interested in her future endeavors, as well as those of Fleurette, a naive, effervescent young woman, and their sister Norma, whose tough demeanor and handling of carrier pigeons made me curious as to her own story.

Add this to your Goodreads list here.

Reading: Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

9th August 2015

nagasaki*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 In her preface to Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard talks about living in Yokohama in high school as an international student. On a school trip, her class visited Nagasaki, and only there did she realize the lack of knowledge she had about this city’s role in World War II.

As I mentioned in my Pacific War reading post, I felt (and feel) the same way. Southard – and others who write on this topic – discuss that many people do not even realize that there was a second bombing. Hiroshima was the first, and for many, it dominated the news, leaving Nagasaki to suffer quietly.

Strangely, though, Nagasaki was subjected to the more powerful of the two bombs, a plutonium bomb. Just three days after the devastation of Hiroshima, when news of the extent of the destruction had not yet reached Tokyo, the U.S. flew by its original destination because of low visibility and headed to its next target, Nagasaki.

Though some survivors of Hiroshima arrived in Nagasaki and were able to warn family and friends to wear white and lay low, the majority of the city was immune to the air raid sirens, and no siren sounded prior to the bombing. The result was utter decimation of a city, its people, and its culture.

The hibakusha, “bomb-affected people,” survived against all odds. Those not initially killed suffered from flash burns, inhaled glass and other matter, and, what would soon come to be called, Disease X, or radiation disease.

As Pellegrino does, Southard illustrates the mayhem directly following the bombing, but she specifically tracks five hibakusha and their struggle to recover, both physically and mentally.

Japan was already hurting, and citizens of Nagasaki were hungry and malnourished. With little medicine and virtually no support, survivors depended on the doctors and others who worked, some ill themselves, to provide them with whatever care they could. Once Japan surrendered and MacArthur and his troops stepped in, the general’s censorship left the country with little to no knowledge of the effects of the atomic bombings. The spread of misinformation to the rest of the world and America’s unwillingness to treat hibakusha lest such an act look like an apology, further restricted the help available.

The unknown and terrifying effects of radiation disease made hibakusha pariahs, and many refused to leave home because the physical marks of the bombs made them easily identifiable. Later, some hibakusha were unable to obtain jobs and marriages because of their statuses, forcing many to live in silence.

Southard talks about the challenges in telling the stories of Taniguchi, Do-oh Mineko, Nagano Etsuko, Wada Koichi, and Yoshida Katsuji, acknowledging, as she says, “the inherent limitation and unreliability of memory, especially traumatic memory” and counters this through extensive research and fact checking. Photographic evidence and vivid scarring reinforce their stories, and these five travel often, speaking of their experiences and calling for an end to nuclear warfare.

Their remarkable stories and desire to speak globally for peace makes for a sobering, necessary book, yes, especially 70 years after the fact. Southard quotes Yoshida: “At first I hated Americans for what they did to me…I didn’t understand how any nation could use such a cruel weapon on human beings. But in my old age, I have learned that holding a grudge does nobody any good. I no longer hate Americans. I only hate war.”

Regardless of your own (hopefully) conflicted notions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War will certainly further develop a story many of us may have only seen as a mushroom cloud, illuminating those beneath it.

Add this to your Goodreads list.

Fridays at Home: The Eclectic Bedroom

7th August 2015

When people visit my home, they usually comment that they love my rooms but aren’t sure how I put different pieces together. I can’t claim credit for that because I guess I’ve never really known any other way to decorate. My mom and dad always had a nice home, but they were – as I am – on a budget, so big box, matching pieces never filled their home. Chairish – a site where design lovers can buy and sell furniture, both locally and nationally (you can sort your search by location) – asked me to join other bloggers for a Mix and Chic Style Challenge. You know I was so in. 🙂

When I bought my house, any extra money went to add central air conditioning and heat – a must in southeast Texas. I pieced together my rooms from different vintage shops, but over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable in trusting my gut when it comes to decorating and have been slowly revising different rooms in the last several years.

After ten years with the same bedding and bedroom decor, I decided it was time for a refresh. For months, I pinned ideas to Pinterest. Personally, even though Pinterest is now chock full of ads, I still use it to curate ideas. That way, I can look at a board and see what I gravitate toward. I realized I wanted to keep dark bedroom walls (and even go darker) but modernize most everything else. I chose a bed and nightstands first. My nightstands match for the first time ever, but to keep the room from being too matchy-matchy, I went with different lamp styles. I painted. I chose bedding. My grandmother’s sofa keeps the space from being all modern, all the time, but I also didn’t want the two sections of the room to look like two different styles.

My antique vanity has seen better days, and it was a little too big, so I’m looking at options. I like the idea of an ultra modern vanity with a vintage mirror. Who says the two can’t live together well? I have a vintage lamp for the top along with candlesticks for my many, many bracelets, so I think something like I’ve added below would work well.

It’s still a work in progress, but each night I climb in bed and sigh. I love the changes. Putting together an eclectic space certainly takes longer than buying a pre-designed set, but it’s also extremely satisfying. Once I get the final pieces in place, you know I’ll share.

Bedroom 1

 

As for how to put together a room, I recommend several things, though the order can change:

  • Think about how you want the room to feel
  • Curate your style – look back at magazine photos you’ve loved or Pinterest boards
  • Envision specific pieces or check out sites like Pinterest, Chairish, or local sale sights for inspiration
  • Pick one major thing – for me it can be paint color, a piece of furniture, or a rug and then build a room around it
  • Get started!