Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

There is a specific scene in the 2009 film Julie and Julia that I love. Julia Child (played brilliantly by the marvelous Meryl Streep) has just taken a bite of one of her first meals in France and she is exclaiming in utter astonishment and how good it is. Her husband, Paul, (played by the tasty Stanley Tucci) puts his hand on her arm and says, “I know… I know.” His voice is so sympathetic. He understands how her mind has been blown by a simple piece of fish sauteed in butter.

I have always liked Stanley Tucci, but since that scene, I have utterly adored him. So I was delighted to find out that he had written his own food-based memoir recently. I’m not reviewing this because heaven knows he doesn’t need the help (it’s on the New York Times bestseller list) but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this book.

First, I listened to it in audiobook format. I got it from my public library on digital download (if you’re not doing this, you should really learn how. It’s delightful to check out a book sitting at home in your pajamas.) Tucci narrates the book and his voice is so pleasant. Soft and deep, with just a little rasp, he tells his story better than anyone could.

He talks about his childhood with Italian American parents who cooked hearty meals, his holidays with a massive and complicated dish called timpano, to his recipe for the perfect martini. He also describes the absence of enjoying food while he battled mouth cancer. I’m glad to say he survived and is cancer-free, so we can expect many years of seeing his sexy baldness on the screen. He tells his story with humor, wit, and mouthwatering descriptions of food. There are recipes included so you can go make a grand mess in the kitchen and enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Read or listen, you won’t be disappointed. But if you listen, his description of the spaghetti carbonara is laugh-out-loud funny. And you better believe I’m trying his martini recipe as soon as possible.

Chelsea Sedoti: Five Questions

Hawthorn Creely is the true essence of awkward. She doesn’t interact well with her peers, she is the total opposite of her golden jock older brother, and she always says the wrong thing. She might be a little self-absorbed too, but she’s too busy thinking about how awkward she is to notice.

But then Lizzie Lovett, a girl who graduated with her brother disappears on a camping trip and Hawthorn’s focus narrows to a point. What happened? Did her boyfriend have anything to do with it? Obsessively following the story, Hawthorn decides to do her own snooping around, including finding out more about Lizzie’s boyfriend and what he might know.

Chelsea Sedoti writes a fascinating tale of obsession, mystery, and danger. Hawthorn gets tangled in a web of her own making and must learn some hard lessons to extricate herself. The marvelous thing about this book is that even though there is darkness and despair there is also humor and light. Sedoti does a beautiful job of balancing the two.

Five Questions
1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Several years ago, I saw an article in the newspaper about a missing girl. Though I didn’t know her, I became oddly interested in the case. I started following it closely, checking daily for updates. After a few weeks of this, I stopped and asked myself why I was so obsessed with the missing girl. I didn’t have an answer, but decided I should pull back a little bit.

But the incident made me think about putting a character in the same situation. A teenage girl who gets wrapped up in a disappearance that has nothing to do with her. Only this girl wouldn’t know when to stop. She would let herself get drawn in to the disappearance more and more.

And just like that, the main character in THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT was born. The rest of the story followed.

2.  What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I tend to fall somewhere in between plotting and pantsing.

If I begin without knowing where the book is heading, I get lost along the way. It’s not fun to realize halfway through that a good portion of your story doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if I know every single thing that’s going to happen in a book, the writing process becomes much less exciting. I miss out on the moments where the characters surprise me.

So before I start writing, I know how the book begins, I know how it ends, and I know the key moments that happen along the way. Beyond that, I just wait and see where the story and characters take me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite writer is John Irving, and he’s been influencing my writing since I was a teenager. That might seem odd—he writes literary books for adults, I write strange books for teenagers. But my favorite thing about his writing has always been how he blends comedy and tragedy. Life is never entirely dark or entirely light. Most of the time it falls somewhere in the middle. And sometimes humor is the only way to get through tough situations. This is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own books.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I generally don’t listen to music when I write. I get very influenced by the mood of music. So, if I were trying to write a lighthearted scene and a gloomy song came on, it would completely change the tone of the story. Rather than always trying to match the music to what I’m working on at the moment, I opt to write in silence.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Heather Kaczynski, an upcoming science fiction book about a competition to join a mysterious space expedition.

Chelsea Sedoti

Chelsea Sedoti fell in love with writing at a young age after discovering that making up stories was more fun than doing her school work (her teachers didn’t always appreciate this.) In an effort to avoid getting a “real” job, Chelsea explored careers as a balloon twister, filmmaker, and paranormal investigator. Eventually she realized that her true passion is writing about flawed teenagers who are also afraid of growing up. When she’s not at the computer, Chelsea spends her time exploring abandoned buildings, eating junk food at roadside diners, and trying to befriend every animal in the world. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she avoids casinos, but loves roaming the Mojave Desert.

Elly Blake: Five Questions


I am a sucker for a good fantasy. Magic, new worlds, adventure, and mystery are just the things that to me make a thrilling story.

Elly Blake’s Frostblood is a prime example of what I mean. Ruby is a Fireblood–she can control fire. But being a Fireblood is a big secret in her world. The Frostbloods, who can control ice, want to obliterate every last Fireblood and will stop at nothing to do so. When Ruby’s village is attacked she unwittingly reveals her true nature and is thrown in prison where she is tormented with buckets of ice water.

But then two Frostblood men arrive and tell her they will break her out of prison if she agrees to help them with a mission. She doesn’t trust them but is desperate to be free. She is taken to an abbey where she is healed and taught how to use her power properly, though most who know her true nature are frightened of her and the danger she represents as a fugitive.

And then there is Arcus. He is the Frostblood that freed her from prison. He hides behind a mask and is very reticent to share anything about himself other than what he expects of her. But a reluctant truce forms and they begin an unlikely friendship.

This book was so well done. The writing was outstanding and the story was well-plotted and satisfying. The sequel, Fireblood, comes out in September and I am ready for it NOW.

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I started with a character — Ruby, a girl with power over fire. I actually dreamed about a girl with power over fire and a king with an icy heart. When I woke up, I knew right away that her name was Ruby. I decided to focus on frost and fire as opposing elements, and started spinning ideas from there.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m a pantser who wants to be a plotter. I try to plot, but I find it very hard to answer questions about character and plot before I start writing. I get to know the characters as I draft. So I know a few major points before I start, but the rest is a mystery until I have that messy draft. That’s when I focus on applying structure and plotting methods– during revisions.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

There are many writers I love, and many writers whom I envy! I often wish I could write more like my favorite authors, but I’m not sure who actually influences my style most. I think when it comes to voice, most of our influences are unconscious. We pick things up from books we enjoy and it comes out when we write. A few of my favorite authors are: Marie Rutkoski, Megan Whelan Turner, Leigh Bardugo, Kristin Cashore, Morgan Rhodes, and so many more!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I usually listen to soundtracks: Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s so good! I just finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber, which was a beautiful read. (I also met Stephanie recently at a signing and that was a total thrill!) Next, I plan to read The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles. I’m in a debut group so I’m reading a lot of 2017 debut books and loving them!

Elly Blake is the NYT bestselling author of Frostblood. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and (currently) library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows Frostblood tendencies.

Ready for a thrilling fantasy?  Get your copy here:

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Five Questions – Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Last year when I was doing some market research in YA historical fiction I went to the bookstore and grabbed four books off the shelf and bought them. One of those was Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa. I was not disappointed when I began reading.

Dolssa is a high-born young woman in 13th century France with the gift of hearing words directly from God. In her community she is revered as a miracle worker and a mystic, but the Church hears of her good deeds and brands her a heretic. Dolssa barely escapes being burned at the stake and goes on the run.

Botille lives in a fishing village on the coast and makes a living running a tavern with her sisters, but is also the town matchmaker. When she discovers Dolssa half-dead, she brings her back to the tavern and hides her, nursing her back to health and forming an unlikely friendship. But the Church won’t stop in their quest to find Dolssa. It is up to Botille and the people of her village to save the girl from a fiery fate.

I wrote a full review of The Passion of Dolssa last April and you can read it here.  It was a dark and twisty read full of great historical detail and a thrilling conclusion.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The Passion of Dolssa began gradually as several different pieces joined together. I’d always been interested in medieval mystics, and had read a fair bit about them. I had once thought, what if I recast Macbeth’s three witches as teenaged sisters running a roadside inn? At another time I thought, why do matchmakers always need to be older women? What if there was a young matchmaker? But none of these ideas found each other until I listened to an audio lecture on the Albigensian Crusade in southern France in the early 13th Century, and the subsequent inquisitions into heresy. Then everything clicked: what if a girl mystic was accused of heresy and sentenced to execution, then rescued and helped by a girl matchmaker who runs a tavern with her two sisters? Et voilà. The Passion of Dolssa. Plus a few years of research, writing, and revision, give or take. 🙂

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m pretty much a pantser, but I use outlines extensively when revising. The Passion of Dolssa underwent significant revision, and outlines were crucially to wrapping my head around the scope of the story and its many voices and moving parts.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Hm, I’m really not sure how to answer that one. I don’t there’s anyone whom I consciously try to evoke. I have lots of favorite authors, but I don’t know to that extent they find their way into my style. I love Charles Dickens, P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters – the usual suspects, I guess.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I don’t. I love music, so it diverts my attention away from writing. Background noise isn’t my friend. It’s why I don’t write in cafés.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Julie Berry

Julie Berry

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. A forthcoming middle grade novel, The Emperor’s Ostrich, releases in June 2017 from Roaring Brook. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now divides her time between eastern Massachusetts and southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks.

And you know you want to read The Passion of Dolssa now, don’t you? You can buy it here:

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Five Questions: Molly Booth

saving-hamlet-molly-booth-2Molly Booth is adorable. A cute, pixie haircut, glasses, and a huge, beautiful smile. And she’s a damn fine writer too. Her debut novel, Saving Hamlet, was just published in November. It’s funny as hell, smart, and has Shakespeare! What’s not to love?

In Saving Hamlet we meet Emma, a high school student who has recently shed her jock persona in favor of a drama geek. She is the stage manager of her school’s production of Hamlet and things aren’t going well. The lead is struggling with his lines, Ophelia is being a prima donna, and the director (her secret crush) is not, well, being directional. And then one night Emma accidentally falls through the stage trapdoor and finds herself in the basement of the Globe Theater in London. In the sixteenth century. Emma has to find a way back home and glean enough information from her experience with the Globe’s theatrical company to make her own high school show a success.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The original idea for Saving Hamlet came when I was a sophomore at Marlboro College, taking a fiction workshop and a Shakespeare course at the same time. My professor, Paul Nelsen, taught us about Shakespeare’s backstage and history, and it was so exciting! So many plays at once, barely any rehearsal time, lightning-paced theater. I’d been a stage manager in high school and for part of college, so reading about the Globe and the Chamberlain’s Men was thrilling. I came up with a short story idea to have a teenager travel back in time there, and get to work with Shakespeare. I started writing Emma (my main character), and her challenges and voice helped shape the story, which eventually became Saving Hamlet.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

A bit of both! I write one draft without a whole lot of plotting, then I do a long outline before the next one. Some chapters I go in knowing what needs to happen, sometimes I write until I figure it out, and then go back and revise. I think part of what’s exciting (and terrifying) for me about writing is that you don’t know how it’s all going to happen before you do it. Maybe once I’ve written 10 or 20 books I’ll know ahead of time, but I doubt it!

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I grew up reading Meg Cabot and Tamora Pierce, and I do think some of how I write was formed by their (far superior) clear prose, humor, and character development. In recent years, I’ve also turned to Rainbow Rowell when looking for inspiration — she writes so fearlessly, and her books give me courage.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes! If I do, it’s almost always instrumental electronic music. I wrote Saving Hamlet to the Social Network soundtrack and deadmau5, and for Nothing Happened, I’ve been writing with Ratatat in the background. I usually listen to musicals, alternative rock/pop, and Taylor Swift, so the electronic thing is definitely a weird writing phenomenon for me.

5. What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading Hag-Seed  by Margaret Atwood, a retelling of The Tempest, as well as finishing The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. I also just finished my friend Dana Langer’s truly wonderful middle grade novel, Siren Sisters, which I cannot recommend enough!

Molly Booth

Molly Booth

Molly Booth is a freelance writer, youth theatre director, and graduate student at UMass Boston. She writes YA books about Shakespeare and feelings. Her first novel Saving Hamlet, is out now from Disney Hyperion. Her second, Nothing Happened will be coming spring 2018. She lives in Boston, and has almost too many pets. Almost. For more, find her on twitter @mollygbooth, and visit her website: www.mollybooth.com

Saving Hamlet was probably my favorite YA read of 2016. You’ll laugh out loud, I promise.

Get your copy here:

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Five Questions – Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I’m a little bit giddy about this one, I must confess. I met Nathan Hill at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November and even took his class on X-Ray writing, which was fantastic. He lives in Naples like me and I was delighted to find out we had friends in common. So I asked him on a whim if he would participate and he said yes!

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is kind of a big deal. His book, The Nix, was on the NYT Bestseller list and made quite a few “Best Books of the Year” lists for 2016 as well. The Nix is about a college English professor whose estranged mother is arrested for throwing rocks at a controversial conservative politician. In order to fulfill his obligation to his publisher,  Samuel decides to write a tell-all about his mother and her political activist past. But in order to get the dirt he has to go see her, and he hasn’t spoken to her since she walked out on the family when he was just a kid.

This book is packed with so much – the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the riots that ensued, Norwegian urban legends, a violin prodigy love interest, gaming culture and a very special freak named Pwnage who is a master at the fictional Elfscape. Plus add in a cheating college student who turns the tables on Samuel and leads to an academic investigation, and I didn’t even mention the tangent on feminine hygiene advertising from the 60s. Sound crazy? It is, but somehow it works into an interesting dissection of the relationship between mother and son.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I had just moved to New York City in the summer of 2004, and one of the things that happened during my first month there was that the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention at Madison Square Garden. And people were coming in from all over the country to protest it. So I went into Manhattan and watched all the hubbub. And one of the things that I kept hearing in the run-up to the 2004 convention—from the talking head cable news type people—was that it was going to be the most contentious since the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. That’s how I was originally drawn to the subject. It gave me the idea to do a book about two generations of protest: a mother who attend the one in ‘68, and her son who attended the one in ’04.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Definitely a “pantser.” I began writing the book in 2004 and I didn’t make an outline until like 2011. I had no idea where the story was going. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plot. I had a basic situation and two characters (Samuel and Faye, who for years were named “the boy” and “the mother”), and so the writing I was doing was more like exploration. I wasn’t writing to describe things that happened. I was writing to discover them. Which is much slower. And yes, I hopped around a lot, even after I had an outline and a plot, there were whole sections of the novel that I skipped because, frankly, I didn’t think I was good enough yet to write them. I remember noting in my journal: “This will be very hard.” Then when I came back to those sections a year or so later, I realized that I’d learned how to write them. Writing the novel taught me how to write the novel, if that makes sense.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite authors are the ones who are able to burrow deep into the psychology of a character, whose prose sounds like the brain-voice of a character from the inside. David Foster Wallace does this. So does Virginia Woolf. I like to think that fiction is the best invention we have to understand what it would feel like to be somebody else, and so I especially enjoy authors who are committed to that kind of writing.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I do listen to music, but it can’t have words or too much dynamic range (the sudden jolts of energy in a symphony, for example, would be too distracting). I find myself most drawn to quiet pieces for piano or cello. I highly recommend “The Chopin Variations” by Chad Lawson, or the Bach cello suites performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading some nonfiction that I suppose is “research” for the next novel. Also a few editors have asked me to blurb some books that are coming out later this year, so I’m reading those. And I’ve been delighted to read my fellow Knopf debut authors: in particular, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing were amazing books.

Nathan Hill, y’all. His book was the best adult fiction I read last year. Get your copy here:

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Five Questions: Robert Wilder

Nickel by Robert Wilder

Nickel by Robert Wilder

I met Robert Wilder at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November. If you remember I volunteered for the event and was the lucky person who ran trips to and from the airport. Rob was one of the folks I carted around, and he was great to talk to.  I look forward to seeing him again someday.

Rob has previously written several books of humorous essays, but Nickel is his first foray into Young Adult literature. Coy is an adorkable teenage boy with a mother in rehab and a slightly inept stepfather. His lifeline is his best friend, the 80’s obsessed Monroe. But when she comes down with a serious and indefinable illness Coy is left to fend for himself in the cruel high school landscape.

Wilder really hit the awkward, nerdy teenager on the spot. Coy digs right into your heart and won’t let go. Nickel is both painful and ultimately hopeful as we follow his lows (a surprise birthday party with almost no attendees) and highs (meeting Avree, a girl he thinks is out of his league). Told with a keen understanding of the teenage mind, Nickel is a funny and authentic read from an author to watch.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

NICKEL is a tribute to the quiet, odd kids I’ve enjoyed teaching over my twenty-five years in the classroom. My inspiration for the novel began with all the essays, stories, poems and journal entries I’ve read by the quirky kids, a series of interior voices few others had access to. I then combined those voices with a dash of my son London and my younger self to form Coy, the narrator.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

My early drafts are purely exploratory. I start with a voice or idea or event and then follow it, not worrying about anything (or showing anyone) until I have a full draft. Then I start again since I hopefully know what the novel’s intentions are. Somewhere along the line, I’ll tape butcher paper up on my kitchen walls and sketch the overall plot, scenes, or character arcs, but not until I have at least two full drafts under my belt.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Style? I’m not sure but for NICKEL, I read Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, JD Salinger, Sarah Shun Lien-Bynum, Augusten Burroughs and others.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Nothing with lyrics. Mostly jazz while I’m writing, but when I’m in the car or taking a break I listen to all different types of music. The characters of Coy and Monroe in NICKEL are obsessed with the 1980s, so I reacquainted myself (rather loudly) with Foreigner, Bad Company, AC/DC, The Smiths.

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Nicholson Baker’s Substitute and Anne Valente’s Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down; I’m in the middle of Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton; and The Odd Woman and The City by Vivian Gornick is up next.

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder is the author of a novel, NICKEL (Leaf Storm Press), and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both published by Delacorte Press.

A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in NewsweekDetails, SalonParentingCreative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Thanks for playing along Rob! Go get this book, you’re going to love it.

Get your copy of Nickel here:

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Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker

We’ve been binge-watching the final season of Downton Abbey at home this past weekend. I truly adore that show not just for its historical accuracy and its depiction of the lives of both servant and master, but also because of the amazing costumes and the delicious wit. I will be sad to see the farewell, but I like how they have been setting up things for the finale thus far.

Downton Abbey draws a lot of parallels to the book Longbourn by Jo Baker. It would be easy to say it is the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen told from the point of view of the servants of the Bennet household. But it is so much more than that. Because the lives of the Bennet sisters hardly signify at all in this narrative, and that is a rather poignant remark on class society.

I read several interviews with Jo Baker on her writing of Longbourn. In one with Hazel Gaynor she says, “But it was on one re-reading of P&P that I just got stuck on a phrase, and couldn’t get past it. It’s the week before the Netherfield ball, it’s been raining for days, the footpaths are awash, the roads are deep in mud, there’s no way the Bennet girls are going to venture forth, and so, ‘The very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy.’ I just thought, ‘who’s proxy?’ and everything else followed on from that.”

Indeed! We know the housekeeper’s name is Mrs. Hill, but none of the other servants are named, even though they did a great deal of work behind the scenes. Jo Baker did a marvelous job creating lives and characters out of the unnamed housemaids and footman. In fact, she did an ingenious job of incorporating the two novels so they flow together, with the servants’ stories on top, with a little-noticed undercurrent of the perils and trials of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters.

I also loved that Baker gives us different perspectives of the characters created fully by Austen. Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins are, in Baker’s eyes, more than just the comic relief. There are reasons their personalities developed they way they did. I found I had new-found sympathy for some characters and less for others I originally liked.

But beyond that is the story itself. Mostly it is told from the point of view of Sarah, the teenage housemaid. An orphan, she has a very comfortable situation for someone who might otherwise have grown up in the poor house. True, her work is exhausting and grueling, but she has food in her belly and a warm bed in which to sleep. For her station in life, she isn’t doing too badly.

What her employers don’t understand, however, is that she has a brain and a heart and desires and wishes for herself. So when a footman from the Bingley household starts paying her attentions, her world is rocked. Not just because she finds him attractive as well, but who on earth has ever paid her a speck of attention before? And just what are the intentions of Ptolemy Bingley, the footman? Is he a Wickham or a Darcy?

I’m a sucker for good historical fiction, and I sucked this one right up. I also learned that the best way to clean hardwood floors is to drop damp tea leaves around and sweep them up. They catch all the dust and hair that are shed without blowing them around. I may have to drink more tea and give that a whirl someday.


Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

magiciansTo say this is a Harry Potter novel for grownups would be a gross misconception of the author’s message.

Quentin Coldwater is 17 and living a normal life in Brooklyn. He has the usual teen angst–he’s in love with Julia, but Julia loves his best friend James. The three are interviewing for Ivy League colleges when something strange happens to Quentin. He is tapped by an unknown college called Brakebills that teaches magic.

Yes, Harry Potter kind of magic, only there are no wands. But there are classes, practical lessons, and a groovy old mansion on the Hudson where the school is magically protected.

Quentin was one of those kids who had always believed in magic when he was little and was sorely disappointed when he found out it didn’t exist. He used to lose himself in the fantasy books on Fillory (a Narnia-esque place to which the Chatwin children are magically transported and have adventures.)

So when he is summoned magically to Brakebills to sit for an entrance exam, he is stunned. He’s even more stunned when he is accepted and begins his lessons. It is a heady, euphoric time for Quentin, who just can’t wrap his brain around the fact that magic is really real and he is getting trained to be a wizard. He makes friends, finds a girlfriend, and his time at school slips by in a magical puff of glitter.

But then they all graduate and this is where Grossman gets to the point of the idea of magic. These kids (in their early twenties) are at loose ends. They could continue their studies, but they have the non-magical world at their disposal to be manipulated however they want. Money, drugs, sex, all easily attainable in vast quantities. The author shows how getting exactly what you want can sometimes be a very dangerous thing. If you don’t have to work for your pleasures in life, they lose their meaning.

But then Penny, one of Quentin’s former classmates, finds a way to Fillory–it truly does exist. Quentin is beyond excted–finally an adventure of which he and his magical skills are worthy. But nothing ever turns out the way we want, does it?

Lev Grossman has written a deeply engrossing book about magic, its power, and how that power corrupts. It’s a fascinating read for anyone (adult, that its) who loves the Harry Potter books, as it is a perfect counterpoint.  Magic isn’t all saving the day, about quests with happy endings, or character building. Magic is a much deeper than that, filled with the complexities of light and dark.

He has written more in the series and I am very much looking forward to reading them.

5 Seriously Creepy Books to Scare the Bejesuz Out of You

We don’t really have “autumn” in South Florida. Today, for instance, we had a high temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (or 31 degrees Celsius) and I have to admit sometimes it’s a little tough getting in that Halloween frame of mind. (It’s also terrible to be Christmas shopping when it’s 91 degrees outside, but that’s a story better told in two months or so.)

So when it’s still sweltering outside, how does one get into that chilly, gloomy, spooky mood that is so delicious this time of year? I usually pull out a book that scares the crap out of me. Here (in no particular order) are my favorite scary books I’ve read in recent years.  And I am not taking the easy route and presenting you with five Stephen King novels, although I certainly could. There is a reason Joey Tribiani kept The Shining in the freezer.

haunting of hill houseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Most people are familiar with Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” And if you aren’t, go read it immediately. (You’re welcome.) The Haunting of Hill House is a novel she wrote in 1959 and it is without a doubt the quintessential haunted house story of all time. There was an excellent film adaptation in 1963 starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, and there was an equally appalling adaption in 1999 with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones and Lilli Taylor. I highly reccomend the 1963 version. My husband and I watch it every year and are always delightlfully spooked.

However, the book itself is head and shoulders above the film (as is usually the case isn’t it?). I first read it maybe eight years ago and I can still summon the shivery feeling I experienced. Shirley Jackson was a freaking master at scaring the tar out of her reader. This novel is so clever there is no confirmed monster or ghost in the entire work–it’s all psychological. The creep factor lingers long after finishing the book.

Jackson died at just 48 years old. Think about that and consider what horrors she could have produced had she lived to a ripe old age.


woman in blackThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I was first introduced to this English writer by a library volunteer who recommended the Simon Serrailer detective novels, and I devoured those. Hill has a great gift for characterization and for sprinkling nuggets of useful information throughout her mysteries so you actually have a chance to work out the killer if you are clever enough. (I almost never am, but I do appreciate this in a writer–she doesn’t cheat her reader with tricks.)

In 2012 my husband and I spent two weeks in England. Our first few days we spent in Oxford, where I had done a study abroad semester when I was 20. Have you ever heard of the bookstore Blackwell? Good Lord, what a place. I believe there are four or five floors packed with books and they boast a full mile of shelving. The uppermost floor has used books and the two of us spent HOURS wading through the treasures. It was there that I found a paperback copy of The Woman in Black. I saw Susan Hill’s name and I grabbed it. I started reading it that night in our miniscule hotel room.

Sweet Jesus what a frightening book. It is reminiscent of a nineteenth century writer (think Emily Bronte) and tells the tale of a young lawyer sent to a creepy old house to settle an estate. The mood, setting, and tone all combine to keep you reading all night with every last light turned on. There is also one of those total, “Oh SHIT” moments when you realize the ghostly presence isn’t just scary but smart too.

This also had a successful movie adaptation from a few years ago starring Daniel Radcliffe. It was mostly faithful to the story, which is rather hard to find in Hollywood these days.


i hunt killersI Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga is a kickass YA novelist with several great books under his belt like Boy Toy, and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. I Hunt Killers is the first in his trilogy about Jasper (Jazz) Dent, who just happens to have a serial killer for a father. Who escaped from prison. And wants his son to follow in his footsteps.

I think quoting other reviews is sort of lame, but Joe Hill sums it up so perfectly when he wrote: “I Hunt Killers is an out-of-control hearse with one busted headlight, blood on the grille, a madman at the wheel, and laughter pouring out of the open windows. Climb in, buckle up, and go for a ride.” I couldn’t give this book better praise than that. The other two parts of the trilogy, Game, and Blood of My Blood are also out. But you need to start at the beginning and treasure every sentence of this twisted, frightening tale.


nos482NOS482 by Joe Hill

In this novel Joe Hill does for Santa’s Village what Stephen King did for clowns in IT: Turn it into something beyond terrifying. The novel centers on Victoria McQueen, a kid who has some unusual talents. Her nemesis is the frightening child abductor Charlie Manx who is fond of taking children for rides in his car to Christmasland. That’s not a euphimism–Christmasland is a diabolical amusement park with no way out. Vic evades him as a child, but years later he manages to swipe her son.

A lot of people have called Joe Hill the best horror writer of my generation. Yeah, his dad is Stephen King, but this guy has proven chops of his own–no nepotism required. I didn’t actually put this book in the freezer.

But I thought about it.


birdboxBird Box by Joseph Malerman

Malorie lives in a boarded-up house with her two children. They never go outside if not blindfolded and they never look out the windows. There is something out there–a presence that when seen turns people into raving lunatics who violently murder anyone in their path. No one who has seen “it” has lived to name it.

The remaining survivors stay hidden indoors, not daring to look out the window in fear of catching a glimpse of the unexplained terror. Malorie has been hiding for five years and she and her children are starving. She makes the ultimate gamble: she blindfolds them all and they make for a rowboat in the river. As they float downstream with just their ears and other senses to guide them the realize something is following them. But what?

I almost couldn’t finish this one because I felt so claustrophobic reading it. That, my friends, is talented writing.

I hope this gives you a few good chills this Halloween season. If you have any recommendations for me I’d love to hear them. I’m always on the hunt for my next creepy read.