Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Oh my stars!  You know how when I started this blog I said that I wanted to find those books that were the "if you only have time to read one this one" kind of books?  (She asks her possibly imaginary, definitely invisible fan base friends.)  Well, Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is one of those books.

It is the future Gulf Coast and the ocean liners of our time lay like dinosaur skeletons along the coastline, outdated and rusted, relics of the Accelerated Age with its fossil fuels and crude steel.  Our protagonist, Nailer, and his crew are shipbreakers, scavengers climbing through the tight ducts and deadly mazes of the monoliths to pull out precious copper wire and anything else of value for their crew bosses, trying to earn quota.  It is a harsh existence, a mad struggle for survival in a shanty town of drug addicts and tribe-like crews, where it is every man or woman for themselves and even crew loyalties, though sworn by blood, are never a certainty.  It is the only life Nailer has known.  On the horizon he can see the clipper ships, shiny and new, travelling to destinations unknown, far away from the life of violence, poverty and pain to which he is accustomed.  When he and his crew mate Pima come across a wrecked clipper and find the salvage includes a surviving young "swank," a girl of a high social order with more wealth in one piece of jewelry than they would see in a lifetime, Nailer imagines there might be a way out for him, a chance at a better life.  But the risks, dangers and intrigue involved on his journey are more than even he could have imagined.

When I started this book, I knew it was good.  I read a chapter and loved the dystopian setting, the Mad Max-ish feel of the whole thing.  But I put it down, waiting for a "good time" to read.  A mystical time when I didn't have babies to feed, children to teach, dinner to get on the table.  I thought I would sneak in a chapter here and a chapter there between my responsibilities and post-9:00 p.m. narcolepsy.  Today my sweet wee Puddle is not feeling well and needing to be held while he naps, so I thought to myself, "Well, this will be a good time to read."  By chapter three, I was a goner.  Like, throwing hot dogs and Little Debbie snacks at the kids, yes-you-may-use-a-Sharpie-to-do-your-copywork-just-leave-Mummy-alone kind of gone.  I didn't just want to keep reading.  I needed to.  I had to.  It was my life's purpose.  

This book is like The Lord of the Flies, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Horatio Hornblower had a baby in a post-apocalyptic, quasi-industrial world and it works.  Like, really works.  All the way.  I was engrossed the entire time, always thinking the end of the next chapter would be a good place to stop, always on the edge of my seat and wanting more by the time it arrived.  I loved the moral ambiguity of the characters.  From the tattooed, scarred shipbreakers to the well-dressed, haughty swanks, the only thing at times distinguishing the "good" guys from the "bad" is a lack of purely evil intention.  This story is fast-paced and as rough as the shipbreakers themselves, but it is also well-crafted, imaginative and a really, really good read.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Spice of Life

Whoa, wait!  It's September already?!?  August has come and gone and I've failed to blog.  Failed to write.  Failed to read.  Just...failed.

Don't get me wrong.  I've been reading.  "Back to school" is back to school for many of us homeschoolers as well so I've been doing lots of reading.  Curriculum guides and catalogs.  Articles about homeschool.  Blogs about homeschool.  Posts about homeschool.  I've got homeschool coming out of my ears.  I've scheduled junk, then rescheduled junk, then gone back and rescheduled the originally rescheduled junk.  I've read Tigger (a board book inspired by A.A. Milne) 556 times.  I've read Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, lots of Beatrix Potter, and a few Lego comic books.  I have listened to my children read me Curious George, Dick and Jane, and whatever else captures their fancies.

Then there are all these mouths to feed.  Puddle has made the leap from boob to food at long last (he will be one at the end of the month), so I'm of course pureeing organic fruits and veggies in my Magic Bullet and visiting a local farm to procure fresh, organic goat's milk to supplement as we wean.  *giggle*  *snort*  Just kidding.  I mean, I did a couple of times.  Puree the food, that is.  That goat thing was just a pipe dream I entertained shortly before I bought a can of Similac.  But I did just feed him a jar of organic (*pats self on back*) pears, raspberries and asparagus which he ate, taking a moment between each bite to make a face and do a little shiver-shake, as if to say "there is something distinctly off with these pears."  So that's just the baby.  There are four other people, myself not included, that expect to be fed as well.  More reading.  About meal planning for large families and crock pot meals and freezer meals and freezer crock pot meals.

So between all of this reading and planning and planning to read and then actually executing the plans I've read for (and PopSugar and BuzzFeed; I ain't gonna lie), there has been precious little time for "me" stuff.  You know, those silly little things like exercise and hair cuts.  And, most importantly, reading books designed for people above the age of 13.

But I had a moment today while feeding Puddle his fruity asparagus whilst Toot screamed as if his cheese pizza was...well, pureed pears, raspberries and asparagus.  Variety might be the spice of life, but not all combinations are winners.  You don't want curry in your pumpkin pie and you probably don't really need asparagus in your pears either (yes, I realize I'm the one who actually bought the stuff).  While trying to create the perfect mix of homeschooling genius, I may be throwing in a little too much of this and too much of that.  The kids don't have to do every activity, attend every event no matter how enriching, and if they go a day without reviewing their French, we're probably going to be okay.  So for the millionth time and probably not the last, I'm taking a big deep breath, a big step back, and recommitting myself to a few basic non-negotiables.  1) I get to run, 2) I get to read, and 3) My Precious is mine,  minions!  Get your grubby little jelly-covered hands off of it!!  Just kidding, of course.  I love every single one of my four munchkins, sticky fingers and all.  But, no, seriously, hands off.  Mummy has some reading to do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Can I be serious for a moment?  Because I joke a lot about my life.  Self-deprecating humor has been and probably always will be my first line of defense and even if it doesn't entertain you, it entertains me, and we all know that's what's really important.  I used to spread the snarky humor blanket a little further and poke fun at friends, family, acquaintances, random people at the supermarket, but the last decade I've been working very hard to be a kinder, gentler me.  I try to seek God's will in all things and no matter how many times I try to change His mind about it He just doesn't think being mean about or to people is as funny as I do, so I try my best to cut it out.  And so I'm mean about me because I know I love me, I value me, I actually think I'm pretty damn awesome and I don't have to assure myself that I'm just kidding.

So all that to say...I get a lot of comments about my choices in the realm of family life.  By that I mean my family size (it seems perfectly reasonable to me), child spacing (less reasonable, I'll admit), and homeschooling (bat shit crazy).  From the innocuous "you sure do have your hands full" to the downright nasty, random strangers for some reason find it appropriate not only to judge my choices but to vocalize their opinions.  Today was no exception.  I had the gall to go to the grocery store with the kids in tow (by way of review that would include Thing 1, Thing 2, Toot, and Puddle whose respective ages are 7, 6, 2 and 9 months).  Two ladies behind me were staring silently at us while we picked out our Pop Tarts then one commented to the other, quite loudly, "Well, life could be worse."  Uproarious laughter ensued and a chuckling, "You're so wrong."  Rude, yes.  Atypical?  Not so much.

Luckily I have heard it said and find it to be true that you only get your feelings hurt in areas in which you're already insecure.  And whatever your opinions might be on my family, random strangers, I have it on good authority that we totally rock.  Like rock stars.  So I continued perusing my junk food of choice as if I didn't know they were talking about me; they moved on.  No lessons were taught, no pointed comebacks made.  I wished them a silent "may you be blessed" and hopefully paid off a little karmic debt.  When we got back into the truck, the song playing on my radio sang "mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy."  I had to laugh.  Hokey, yes, but so, so true.  Toot loves the song.  It makes him wave his chubby little fists and grin the grin that shows both dimples.  Life could be worse, indeed.        

So why am I blogging about it?  I'm not sure actually.  I think because in a weird and roundabout way it made me feel grateful for my crazy life and the four little reasons I live in a constant state of chaos.  As I type Toot and Puddle are napping (Puddle in his crib like a normal baby, Toot behind the couch because that's how he rolls), while Thing 1 repeats everything Thing 2 says because that's what big brothers do.  We've finished our fancy lunch of frozen chicken nuggets, potato chips and yogurt.  There's nothing extraordinary about today but then again there is everything extraordinary about it.  I get to end this post, take advantage of naptime, and read T1 and T2 some of the gloriously dark Grimm's fairy tales we checked out from the library yesterday.  And, later, after they all have gone to bed and the chaos is temporarily at bay, I may pour a cup of coffee, fire up My Precious, and read some more of the current grown-up read (although it's actually YA this time around).  Or I may collapse in an exhausted heap and snore until Puddle wakes me up for a midnight nursing party.  Either way it's all gravy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Throne of the Crescent Moon

At long last!  After weeks of a seemingly endless string of child needs I have a few stolen moments to tell you about the latest read, the frightening and fantastic high fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon by debut author Saladin Ahmed.  I thought this day might never come...

In case you haven't noticed from my prior reviews, world building is important to me.  Since reading is my one and only escape, I want to be fully immersed in an alternate reality.  I want to know how is looks, smells, tastes and feels.  Transport me, authors!  My life smells of baby poo and Scentsy warmers.  Take me away!!

That being said, sometimes authors can go a bit too far in building their worlds and I find writers of high fantasy to be especially guilty.  Okay, we've read ten tedious paragraphs devoted to the machinations of your medieval siege engine...can we see it do something?  Or there is the other related problem of building a really cool world, only to have the actual plot line meant to take place in said world sort of fizzle and die a sad and lonely death amongst lots of imaginative wonder.  Mr.  Ahmed avoids both pitfalls and delivers a novel that does not disappoint.

Set in an Arabesque landscape, we find our unlikely hero Doctor Adoulla Makhslood.  An aging and overweight ghul hunter, his irreverence and increasing disillusionment with his craft disturbs his young protege, the earnest and devout dervish, Raseed.  Despite their differences, the duo successfully hunt and destroy the evil ghuls, agents of the Traitorous Angel, though Adoulla wonders how many more such battles he shall survive...or shall desire to.  A lifetime of ghul hunting has not prepared the old Doctor, however, for the evil they are to encounter, a shadowy manjackal that calls itself Mouw Awa, an inhuman beast unlike any ghul they have ever seen, who steal the very souls of its victims to feed the power of an unspeakable evil that it serves.

So begins a story that weaves together magic, faith, political intrigue, horror and romance into a seamless tapestry.  Its cast of characters delight.  There is Zamia Banu Laith Badawi, the tribeswoman who can shapeshift into a powerful lioness, and the Falcon Prince, a charismatic outlaw in the vein of Robin Hood, among many others.  The storyline is complicated but Ahmed never loses the thread and the depth of his world is amazing.  By the first chapter's end, you have invested hook, line, and sinker, accepting this city of Dhamsawaat, its legends and demons, its religion and customs, its fantastic realism, as easily as if it were your own.  Is it fantasy?  Yes!  Arabian Nights meets Dracula with some creepy, Guillermo del Toro-like action thrown in.  But his characters' ease with quoting their holy book, Adoulla's love and hatred for the dirty, loud city he calls home, Zamia's recollections of tribal life...they all ring with such truth and clarity that you don't hesitate for a minute to leap right into Mr. Ahmed's world.  And stay for some cardamom tea.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Okay, okay, I know, imaginary internet audience.  I've been away too long.  It's personally embarrassing to look at one's blog and realize you have not posted in two entire months.  It's inexcusable really.  That being said, here are my excuses:

Excuse #1:  My husband was out of town for work.  Building elevators in scenic Amarillo.  Okay, maybe "scenic" is a bit snarky.  The kids and I took a week and visited him in March and actually had a fantastic time.  Really.  It's dry and flat and smells like a slaughterhouse but there is still much fun to be had in Amarillo.  Anytime you find yourself in the Texas panhandle I recommend you stop by, eat a steak at The Big Texan and spray-paint a Cadillac buried in the dust at Cadillac Ranch.  The botanical gardens are worth a look see and even the zoo has its charm, though it's mostly inhabited by farm animals and the lions and tigers are disconcertingly separated from visitors by a mere chain link fence.  There was also the abandoned (though apparently operational in the summer months) "Wonderland" which has given me fodder for a future horror novel.  In all seriousness, it was a great vacation which inspired both one of my favorite snapshots of all time entitled "Toot on the Prairie"

and led to...

Excuse #2:  Spring Fever.  It's a real thing.  And it struck our house hard.  Normally in Texas we move straight from winter into summer but this time we had spring!  An honest to goodness spring!  After a freakish late snow in March, the month of April was full of sunny skies and moderate temperatures and you could find us outside  Which meant inside hours were devoted to homeschooling (although we totally counted our outdoor excursions as Nature Study because we're Charlotte Mason-ers when it's convenient) and I had very little time for outside reading.  May's uncharacteristic torrential downpours put an end to it, we were able to finish out our school year and sooooooo... husband is back in town, my kids are officially on summer break, it's too hot to breathe outside and I can read!  I've been binge reading!  I'm a mere 50 pages away from the end of the fantastic high fantasy novel I'm devouring (figuratively, of course) and I can't wait to share it with you!  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We're All Mad Here

Let me make something perfectly clear.  I am Southern.  Through and through.  In fact my sister once studied the genealogy of our family and discovered that, since crossing the Atlantic, the furthest north our people hail from is North Carolina.  We are solidly below the Mason-Dixon line.  And I'm great with that.  I love the South and all its trappings.  The words "hon" and "bless your heart" feature prominently in my vocabulary.  "Y'all" is not a colloquialism in my book.  It' know...a word.  (Non-Southerners, I don't understand how y'all get along without it.)  I am an avid runner, not only because I habitually birth babies and have to keep on top of the corresponding waistline, but also because country gravy and fried okra are staples in my diet.  I have a permanent flip-flop tan line.

My love for my native South aside, though, I was blessed as a child to be a Navy brat and spend some of the most magical years of my life in Scotland (where, as it turns out, our people also hail from...genealogically speaking).  I never wanted to leave.  Yes, it's cold and rainy and there is a shortage of grits.  But it is one of the most beautiful places on earth, full of some if the world's most wonderful folks.  Scots are cranky and funny and full of life and I could listen to their melodious accents forever.  So even though it's been many years since I've stepped upon her banks and braes, a piece of my heart is forever in the Highlands.

Consequently, there are a few British quirks mixed into my Southern-ness.  An over-fondness for pickled onions, malt vinegar, and beans on toast.  The trunk of a car is forever a "boot."  I've forced myself to stop referring to french fries as chips and the ladies' room as the toilet, but it took a lot of work and no small amount of embarrassing moments on the part of my pre-teen self.  One of the most enduring habits and one I will never give up is the taking of afternoon tea.

Tea-time.  Seriously, why don't more Americans get in on this?  It's not like we're opposed to extra eating...right?!? It's the perfect little meal before all the madness of extra curricular activities.  Why fill that space with frozen pizza bites and juice boxes, when you could just as easily enjoy a few finger sandwiches, a biscuit or two (that's cookies by the way...yummy, yummy cookies) and a lovely cup of tea?  It doesn't have to be English Breakfast tea, though why on earth anyone wouldn't want it to be is beyond me.  There are lots of teas to choose from in an infinite array of flavors from fruity to puts-hair-on-your-chest.  And kids love nothing more than to break out the china and clink cups.  It's a win-win!

So my kids have grown up familiar with high tea.  In varying degrees of fanciness.  Sometimes we have cucumber sandwiches and scones and clotted cream.  Sometimes it's Girl Scout Cookies and Ritz crackers.  But we have tea, darn it!  My big kids have excellent manners and have finally stopped adding so much sugar to their tea that it tastes a bit like syrup.  Toot on the other hand...well, let's just say that you've got to roll with the punches.  It's not going to be tea at the Ritz around here (crackers excluded).  He recently decided the event was pants-optional.  But, hey, The Full Monty is a great British flick, right?  Our tea parties tend to resemble the Mad Hatter's more than the Granthams' but they make me happy.

Speaking of things that make me happy, let's talk historical romance.  Yes, I'm talking about bodice-rippers.  I haven't been able to read much during the past month (teething baby, streaking toddler and homeschooled ninjas...'nuff said) but when I steal a moment I have been enjoying the sexy little short stories in Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex and Valerie Bowman.  I won't be writing a full review because my perusal has been stopped short by the arrival of a new sci-fi/fantasy e-book (with instructions to drop everything and read it NOW) so I'm setting Brides to the side for the time being.  But wanted to give it a mention for those of you who enjoy this genre.  The tales I've read thus far are just what they should be:  light and sweet with just the right amount of steam.  A bit like afternoon tea.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Cold Dish

Oh, my dear reader friends, there is nothing like a good mystery.  And Craig Johnson's The Cold Dish:  A Longmire Mystery isn't a good mystery, it's a great mystery.  In it we meet Walt Longmire, sheriff to the small town of Durant, Wyoming, a sleepy town whose usual crime reports read of smashed mailboxes, stolen snowmen, and the occasional drive-by egging.  Sheriff Longmire is still haunted, however, by the ghost of a far more serious crime, the gang-rape of a young Cheyenne girl, and the light sentences ultimately handed down to her attackers.  His ghosts begin to come alive when one of the rapists is found dead and signs begin to point away from a mere hunting accident and toward a killer bent on revenge.

Let me begin by saying that I am picky when it comes to crime novels.  Back in my glory days, in that long lost age when I kept my highlights as current as my fashion choices and my tags occasionally read "Dry Clean Only", I was a criminal attorney.  I practiced several years of criminal defense (keep it nice, people; everyone hates a criminal defense attorney until they need one) with a brief but memorable stint in prosecution.  I loved criminal law.  If I'm to be honest, I still love criminal law.  Seedy?  A bit.  Disturbing?  Often.  Hilarious?  More often than you'd think.  Each case is a puzzle to be solved and the stories are interesting stories.  So there is no excuse for a boring crime novel and I expect the plots of fictional scenarios to hold a candle to those in which I've played a nominal role in real life.  I also expect them to be realistic.  No "that would never EVER happen in real life" law enforcement moments please.  I get enough of those from CSI.  I will abandon your book and never look back.

All of that being said, The Cold Dish met my expectations and then exceeded them.  Johnson's handling of the ins and outs of crime investigation are spot on and the mystery held my attention and kept me guessing until the very end.  And his characters. Oh, his characters.  No two dimensional stock characters here, my friends.  From Longmire himself, who by the story's end I felt a kinship with like a long lost (rather grumpy) uncle, to his best friend, the charismatic Henry Standing Bear, to the waitress at the local diner, Johnson gives each person life and depth and sparkle in their eyes.  I find myself wondering what they are up to these days.

One of the greatest characters in this novel, though, is Wyoming itself.  I love it when a novelist makes his landscape come alive and I've never seen it done better.  Aside from a brief pass-through on the way to North Dakota when I was a teenager, I know Wyoming as well as I do the dark side of the moon.  After reading the combined descriptions of the countryside, the people (both those in Durant proper and the Native Americans on "the Rez"), and even the weather, I feel like I've vacationed there.  I can smell the snow on the sharp wind coming down from the mountains, hear the plaintive bleating of sheep.  Superbly crafted.

Last but certainly not least, this book is funny.  Laugh-out-loud, annoy-your-spouse-by-reading-random-passages-out-loud, funny.  Johnson weaves hilarious circumstances and witty dialogue throughout the mystery without sacrificing a shred of realism.  To the very last page, nay the very last line of dialogue, this book had me smiling.  If all the books in the Longmire series are as excellent as The Cold Dish, I simply cannot wait for a second helping.