The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc

Anyone who has ever moved into a new home knows that sometimes there’s just something a little bit … off … about some aspect of the house. I mean, if The Husband and I had a dollar for every time a perplexed contractor turned to us and said, “Well, I’ve never seen that before,” all the while knowing that they’re wondering what the fuck the previous owners were thinking and simultaneously thinking that we must be the stupidest schmucks alive, then we would be rich enough to own several vacation homes.

What? Just us? OK, well, then.

There’s something wrong with Julie and James Khoury’s new house. An odd, unexplainable sound. And then, even more troubling incidents. Unexplained bruises. Cryptic writing on the walls (literally). You know, the usual.

Their marriage is in trouble, too. James has a gambling addiction. They’re trying to make a fresh start. Oh, and Julie and James’ reclusive, eccentric neighbor seems to know something about what nobody seems to want to tell them.

The Grip of It is a psychological horror novel by Jac Jemc, which I was delighted to review in today’s edition of Shelf Awareness. It’s a quick, fast read, perfect for a rainy afternoon in autumn. If you’re participating in R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, this would be an excellent choice to add to your reading queue this season.

 

 

Sunday Salon/Currently … Summer’s End

Sunrise over Wildwood Crest, NJ ~ June 9, 2017, 5:23 a.m. ~ Photo credit Melissa Firman

Count me among the many who consider Labor Day weekend as the official end of summer, regardless of what the calendar says. As much as I hate to see the longer days and warm weather leave (because I know what follows), I’m fine with saying goodbye to what was oftentimes a challenging couple of months and welcoming a new season.

I’m cognizant that this is my first Sunday Salon/Currently … post since May and likewise, that my posting frequency in general has been lackluster, with only 8 posts since Memorial Day. There are a few reasons for that. Several issues occupying my attention aren’t bloggable, and those that are — say, like the state of the world and daily onslaught of outrage provoked by Twitler, for example — often leave me apoplectic.

But, I really have missed being here more regularly and connecting with those of you who are actually still interested in what I have to say, so I’m going to try and be more of a frequent presence.

Let’s get caught up by recapping the summer, shall we?

June

We took our first family vacation in two years and headed downnashore. (That means the New Jersey beaches for those not fluent in Philly talk.)  Unfortunately, we picked the four worse consecutive days of the entire summer to spend by the ocean — cold, rainy and damp. Just miserable weather. I know, I know … a bad day at the shore is better than a good day at work, but it would have done our souls good to see the sun more than just the morning we left.

The Girl, during a very windy walk on the beach. She’s wearing a sweatshirt I purchased 24 years ago on our honeymoon.

As disappointing as the vacation was, there were some good moments. The sunrise above, for starters. I happened to wake up early and catch it, and I’m so glad I did. The Girl and I also enjoyed several nice walks on the beach, despite being bundled up in sweatshirts. (We walked a total of two miles on two separate days!) We had some great meals and only one not-so-great, and the place we stayed was fantastic.

Gluten free spaghetti with clams, Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza, Wildwood, NJ

Mozzarella and Pesto Pearls (tomato, basil, mozzarella, pesto) at Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Salmon with grilled asparagus over rice. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Rigatoni with marinara. This bowl was huge. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Mussels. Godmothers Restaurant, Cape May, NJ

We bookended the shore trip with stops in Philadelphia to spend several days with family and that coincided with a cousin’s graduation party. The Boy spent the whole day in the pool and was in his glory.

After we returned, The Boy went to a social skills camp for kids with Asperger’s. He participated in this program last year and it was a good experience. This summer? Not so much. A rough couple of weeks. It was a completely different group of kids and a new counselor from last summer and the dynamic just didn’t work.

The Girl did a writing camp for a week. This was her third year at this camp, which she loves. She also did another one-day writing camp at Chatham University and now she has her sights set on going to college there and working at the library. (She volunteered one day a week and we got to have lunch together, which was nice and one of the highlights of my summer.)

July   

The Girl and I were in a minor car accident on the 6th. Fortunately everyone was fine. My car was banged up a bit and wound up being in the shop for a month. These things are why one has insurance and I’m very glad we do.

Most of the month was spent dealing with some dental woes that involved several emergency appointments (two in one week), a consult with an endodontist (and potential oral surgery), three sick days from work, and copious amounts of Advil (we’re talking close to 12 per day) with an occasional Vicodin left over from my gallbladder surgery thrown in. It all just got resolved three weeks ago — with a root canal, not the aforementioned more extensive oral surgery — and this past Friday night, one of my crowns fell out. Here we go again.

August 

The Girl participated in Girls Rock Pittsburgh, a week-long camp where those who identify as girls and are tweens through age 18 learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, create merchandise, take part in workshops (confidence building, healthy relationships), and record and perform their song in public. The Girl was initially reluctant to be part of this program but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. She played the drums and we’re now the proud renters of a drum set and an electric guitar for the next year.

Reading 

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I read 15 books.

Cocoa Beach, by Beatriz Williams
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne
The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, by Audre Lorde
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas
The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (audio)
The Fifth of July, by Kelly Simmons
The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley
South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion
Ageproof: How to Live Longer Without Breaking a Hip, Running Out of Money, or Forgetting Where You Put It, by Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen (audio)
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson (audio)
Heather, The Totality, by Matthew Weiner

This weekend is pretty low key. Time to bring on fall.

 

 

 

 

She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World, by Chelsea Clinton

“Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone will probably tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer. They persisted.” 

So begins She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World, written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, a picture book for readers of all ages.

The book was inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s impassioned, vocal opposition to Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation for Attorney General in February 2017 — and the resulting backlash and instant meme from Senator Mitch McConnell’s response to her. (“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”)

For each of the 13 women highlighted in She Persisted, there’s a brief biography (“she persisted” is included in every description) and a poignant quote accompanied by soft, inviting illustrations. While some of the most famous names in history are included (Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey), there are others whose accomplishments might not be as well known (Clara Lemlich, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin). All represent diverse individuals who have made groundbreaking achievements and discoveries in fields such as medicine (Virginia Apgar), journalism (Nellie Bly), politics (Margaret Chase Smith), sports (Florence Griffith Joyner), education (Ruby Bridges), science (Sally Ride), the legal profession (Sonia Sotomayer) and more.

There are, of course, countless more women whose tenacity and dedication resulted in remarkable, life-changing contributions to our world — which is exactly the point of this book that celebrates “all women who persist every day.” For young people, She Persisted serves as both women’s history lesson as well as motivation for dreaming big dreams and staying determined when those ambitions seem difficult or are met with backlash from others.

For grown ups, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come — especially when current events seem otherwise.

Click image below to purchase She Persisted for yourself or to encourage a young person to dream big and never give up. (As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a very small commission from your purchase to help to support this blog and its content.) 

Nine

We’re nine today.

Nine.

As in, today this blog turns nine years old, which is kind of ridiculous.

You’ve heard the story before about why I decided to start a blog. In 2008, we were living two hours away from our family (which seems practically around the corner, given that the distance is now almost three times that). I thought a blog — which I originally named The Betty and Boo Chronicles — would be a good way to keep the grandmothers updated on The Girl and The Boy, who I referred to online as — you guessed it — Betty and Boo.

I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to write more often, which would eventually be the reason several years later why I abandoned anonymity and took ownership of my words with a site bearing my real name. By that time, of course, this blog had long morphed into something different than my original intent.

After discovering that there was an entire online book blogging community of people passionate about reading and sharing their thoughts about books, I knew I found my blogging niche. And after I found kindred spirits among parents of children with autism, I was inspired to share more of our journey. And then the presidential election happened (the 2008 one) and I had a lot of things to say about that.

The Internet was a different place in 2008. Writing a blog was considered sort of weird. People weren’t sure what exactly it was that we did in these spaces, sharing all kinds of personal information with … who, exactly?  Strangers? Why would anyone want to do that?  But the connections that formed across the blogosphere between people who identified with each other and appreciated other perspectives was — and still is — something magical and special.

Even though my blogging presence has been a bit sparse lately (for various reasons), I have no intentions of closing up shop anytime soon. I think I would miss this space too much and I definitely would miss the interactions that accompany what happens here.

So, whether this is the first post of mine you’ve read or whether you’ve been here since August 14, 2008, I’m so grateful you’re here and helping to make this space into more than anything I could have imagined.

Cheers to the next 9 years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Perfect Late Summer Reads

With the turn of the page to August, it seems like summer’s pace has a way of intensifying. What better time, then, to savor what remains of this time through a perfect summer read that offers just the right blend of substance without being too heavy and dark.

Here are two books that I recently reviewed for Shelf Awareness that would be perfect for summer days at the beach, by a lake or wherever you seek rest and relaxation.


Cocoa Beach sweeps readers across war-torn Europe to the tropical landscape of Central Florida in this breathtaking family drama set amid the backdrop and aftermath of World War I.  Bootleggers, bandits, criminals and conspirators are in abundance here, along with unconsummated marriages, grand estates and deception galore.

This was the first book I read by Beatriz Williams (who I also had the pleasure of interviewing for this piece in Shelf Awareness) and it won’t be the last. If you enjoy historical fiction spiced with romance and danger, Cocoa Beach is definitely where you want to be.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
William Morrow
2017
384 pages

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo captures the silver screen era with such luminosity that it is easy to forget that these are fictional actors and actresses. Evelyn Hugo’s seven marriages have been tabloid fodder for decades, but now that she is approaching 80, she intends to reveal all about the one true love of her life and hires a relatively unknown writer, Monique Grant, to pen her biography.

I’ll admit to judging The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by its cover, assuming this was going to be a light, frivolous romance. I was wrong. It’s a fast-paced read with much more substance here than one might think.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Atria Books
2017
400 pages

Visit Shelf Awareness for my full review of Cocoa Beach (as well as to read my interview with Beatriz Williams) and my full review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. Some links may take you to Amazon’s shopping pages. By making a purchase, I will receive a small commission which helps to sustain this blog, its content and its author.

Weekend Cooking: Becoming a Pothead

I have become a Pothead.

I’ve been curious for awhile now and made my first purchase at the encouragement of my mother.

Lest you think I’m talking about something different than a kitchen appliance, allow me to introduce you to the Instant Pot. Judging from my social media feed, I’m not the only person who was lured in this week by Amazon’s Prime Day $89.99 deal for the all-in-one pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker/porridge maker, sauté/browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker and stockpot warmer.

Indeed, the Instant Pot does all that, speeding up cooking times considerably while also using 70% less energy.

Every single person I know who has one of these things loves it. Initially, I wasn’t sure how much use we would make of it; The Husband and I are vegetarian (and I’m gluten-free as well) and even though both kids eat meat (The Girl only does chicken, no red meat), the majority of the meals I cook are vegetarian.

Several trusted friends said that the Instant Pot is great for vegetarian meals and pointed me to several Facebook groups, which led me to discovering new blogs and cookbooks and falling down an Instant Pot rabbit hole, completely obsessed with this thing before it even arrived last Friday.

The Husband was convinced this rather large box would still be in the kitchen months from now, still unopened.

(I can’t imagine what gave him that idea. Perhaps it’s the several wedding gifts that we have yet to use after 24 years of marriage — I know, I know, they need to go — or any number of items we’ve moved to five homes now.)

I intend to prove him wrong and to allow the Instant Pot to do what everyone says it will — transform the way I cook.

It already has. After doing the water test, the first thing I made was hard-boiled eggs.

So easy. I used this recipe from Cooking with Curls. One cup of water, 5 minutes in the Instant Pot on high pressure and 5 minutes in an ice bath. That’s it. Perfect eggs. Amazing and delicious and now I won’t make hard-boiled eggs any other way.

My second meal (if hard-boiled eggs can be considered a meal, which they most definitely were for me several times this week) was 10-Minute Zucchini Noodles with Garlic, Lemon and Parmesan from Instant Pot Eats.   Zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”) seem to be incredibly popular and I have been wanting to try them, thinking they would be a great alternative to pasta. I don’t have a spirializer, though, so when I saw that Trader Joe’s had zucchini noodles in the pre-made section, I bought them. The recipe itself worked fine; however, I discovered I’m not a fan of zoodles. Glad I discovered that before purchasing a spiralizer!

Tonight’s dinner for the kids was chicken breasts in the Instant Pot. I wanted a plain, simple chicken breast recipe and found it on A Pinch of Healthy.  This was simple, quick (about 25 minutes total) and best of all, both The Boy and The Girl liked it! (The Boy requested less seasoning next time, but regardless, I’m taking this as a win.)

Suffice it to say, I’m really liking my Instant Pot. I think this is going to help immensely with meal planning, given the varied diets and food preferences in this house.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. Some links may take you to Amazon’s shopping pages. By making a purchase, I will receive a small commission which helps to sustain this blog, its content and its author.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

Book Review: The Boy Who Loved Too Much, by Jennifer Latson

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness
by Jennifer Latson
Simon & Schuster
304 pages
2017

Before reading The Boy Who Loved Too Much, I wasn’t very familiar with Williams Syndrome, a genetic neurological condition characterized by developmental delays, cardiovascular issues, visual-spatial challenges, distinct, elfin-like facial features and above average musical and language abilities.

Eli D’Angelo is among an estimated 30,000 people in the United States with Williams Syndrome. For three years, journalist Jennifer Latson followed Eli and his mother, Gayle, to explore the impact of Williams on their family. The result is this informative book, which I reviewed in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness.

You can find my full review here.