Author Archives: pickygirl

Post-Harvey Thanks

13th September 2017

When various friends and family ask me why I don’t blog anymore, I always get wistful: “I miss it, I do; I just don’t have time for it anymore.” When my husband points out that, lately, in the evenings, I’m doing a variety of nothing when I could be blogging, I sigh and say, “I’m just so tired, but I miss my friends.” I’ve told him of our Bond watch parties, Literate Housewife. Of readalongs.

I’ve kept up with so many of you via Instagram, and, admittedly, I spend too much time on the site, eager to see the next something beautiful, something creative. I’ve felt, in many ways, stuck this past year – I’ve loved my job, but last January the extra work, committees and subcommittees and the people who run them, made me begin to hate coming to work.

Then, a few weeks ago, Harvey hit. At first, my area of southeast Texas was fine. I thought it was much ado about nothing and worried about Houston, which floods so horribly. A few days later, my parents were issued a mandatory evacuation notice, even though they’re mere miles from me. Thankfully, they came to my house, and we spent a few tense days eating anything and everything as we waited for the rain to stop. No reading. Not much TV. Lots of checking Facebook for updates. Lots of pacing, particularly once photos of their neighborhood began to trickle in, showing waterways where roads once were and kicking our imaginations into high gear. Still, I held out hope. There’s always one house in a neighborhood that’s high and dry – why not them? My dad retired a few weeks ago. My mom has struggled with her health since she was  young. Retired teachers don’t make much. I needed their home to be ok.

Their home wasn’t ok.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 11.33.15 AMThe rain stopped; other communities were able to get back into their homes and start cleaning out. My parents’ home was still underwater. My husband and I volunteered at a local donation station, packing boxes of goods for those who needed them and organizing the donations that kept coming from all across the state. We helped salvage precious items from his grandmother’s home, which also got water. We stayed busy. Then last Tuesday, the water receded enough that we were able to get into my parents’ neighborhood and survey the damage.

I posted photos on Instagram, and so many of you posted encouragement and sent love, and I truly felt encouraged and loved. I’m notoriously reticent, but the past few weeks have opened the floodgates, and I’ve been incredibly emotional. Friends showed up decked out in masks, boots, and gloves to help rid the house of the stinky, ruined personal belongings of my parents, and I sobbed. I sat on a Rubbermaid container lid, sifting through soaked, inky family photographs with another friend, and I couldn’t stop the tears.

Strangers have driven slowly through the neighborhood, passing out supplies and food because what you don’t realize as you’re working is just how hungry you are. And those supplies you thought you had too much of? You’ll need every glove, every contractor trash bag. But more than that, each smile and “I’m sorry” bolsters you.

harvey5harvey4harvey1People ask how my parents are, and they’re doing wonderfully. My dad has gone nearly every day to help neighbors muck out their own homes, even though his exhaustion shows on his face. My mom, whose health keeps her from doing the same, has had offers of laundry duty for the yards and yards of fabric that sat in floodwater (no dice; it shreds) and friends whisk her away for coffee.

harvey6The Raveys are helpers. We always have been. Being in the position to not just ask for help but to receive it? We’re blown away. Thank you, my sweet friends. Though many of us have never met or met only a time or two, you’ve made me feel your support across the miles. I couldn’t ask for better.

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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.