At Danceteria – A review

At Danceteria review Books that linger the longest are often the ones I have the most difficult time reviewing. I want to do justice to the stories in At Danceteria and Other Stories by Philip Dean Walker, but I’m not sure I can capture the combination of nostalgia, melancholy, and beauty that encapsulate each of the pieces in Walker’s collection.

Despite my abiding love for 80s music and staunch loyalty to Madonna in all of her iterations, my actual memories of the 1980s involve suburban roller skating rinks and Cabbage Patch dolls. At Danceteria delves into the side of the 1980s I didn’t live: the early days of the AIDS epidemic and the insidious effect the disease had on the lives of the gay men trying to navigate their lives between the pulsing beat of club culture and the uncertainty of a new reality.

Walker places celebrities into fictional situations, situations in which their appearance startles. Against the backdrop of dance music and the energy of New York City, their celebrity becomes secondary to their humanity, but they can never be completely disentangled from their public selves.

In “Jackie and Jerry and the Anvil,” probably my favorite of the seven stories, Jackie Kennedy Onassis observes, “If I were you, Jerry, I’d do it all. I’d do everything.” We feel the “if” viscerally, knowing Jackie O could not, in fact, do everything, and Walker’s prose makes us nostalgic for all the bits of everything we have never done either.

I wished the collection had stretched on for longer than the seven stories included, but its brevity reminded me to savor each tale. “And there’d be another frozen tableau, ever changing. It would arise for a glimmer of an instant to take the place of the last. Nothing stayed the same. Ever.” As “At Danceteria,” the last story, draws to a close, Walker’s words highlight both the connectedness of the human experience and the always-fluid ways in which those connections shift and morph into new forms.

Sparse, yet evocative, At Danceteria and Other Stories highlights the harsh beauty present in the painful reality of aging, sickness, and fading relevancy. My own nostalgia can’t compete with the collection of stories, and perhaps that’s why it hit me as hard as it did. Each of our moments, each of our realities, can only be experienced by us, and maybe by listening to and understanding the parallel lives of those around us, we can come to a better understanding of the world in which we live.


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Peregrine Island – A review

peregrine-island-reviewTangled family relationships are the beating heart of Peregrine Island, a novel by Diane B. Saxton, meaning I readily dove into the book. The haunting tale about a piece of art that has the potential to bring an estranged family together — if it doesn’t first divide them beyond repair.

The story unfolds from three points of view: Winter, Elsie, and Peda are a mother, daughter, and granddaughter living together, warily. Echoes of the past tension between Winter and Elsie grow as the women find themselves under Winter’s roof once again, and Elsie’s disdain for her mother twists and turns between the other people in the story.

Peregrine Island sees Winter’s home, for lack of a better word, invaded by art experts with an interest in a painting that’s been a source of personal joy to Winter for as long as she can remember. When addition artwork is found behind the original painting, the tension already in the house escalates, with many of the characters depending on the aging Winter’s seeming fragility.

The plot pulls threads from the past into the present, weaving Elsie’s past relationships with potential current ones. Personally, I had a difficult time sussing out Elsie’s personality throughout the novel, aside from her obviously troubled relationship with her mother.

Her animosity seemed a little too fresh, though it allowed the plot to be driven forward in ways it wouldn’t have been if Elsie and Winter operated as a united presence throughout the entire book. In addition to her relationship with her mother, Elsie’s relationships with men were a bit problematic for me, perhaps because I found Hamlet, one of those men, fairly repellant.

The setting builds the atmosphere of isolation and the immediacy of the sea. Peaceful days protect the family and lull them into complacency, but the island lends itself to storms, as well.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the simplicity of the relationship between Winter and Peda and the clear way Winter prioritizes her family. Her attachment to the painting felt like a tangible way for her to stay connected to her past, and I really enjoyed seeing the story behind the painting come to light through details revealed throughout Perregrine Island.

Peregrine Island‘s strengths center on the mood and how Winter regains her strength and confidence throughout the story. There’s beauty in the way the secrets revealed become secondary to the relationships between the characters, and readers who enjoy character-driven stories with plot twists will appreciate Peregrine Island.


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Five Things: What I’ve been reading — and re-reading

Once upon a time, in a land pretty much exactly the same as this one, I loved reviewing books in this space. I sought out quotes, made graphics, and poured my heart into my thoughts about those books and my book recommendations.

I loved those reviews.

I love reading, pondering, and putting together something worthy of the words I’ve been gifted by the authors of books that have touched me. Unfortunately, those reviews left me with a stack of books in my “waiting to be reviewed” pile, which started to weigh down the corner of my desk with lots of pages and a smidge of guilt. I’ll get back to those reviews — someday — but for now, here’s what I thought about what I’ve read lately (in alphabetical order by title).

All the Light We Cannot See reviews

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr won a Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See, and I know I’ll revisit this novel for both the interwoven tale of Marie-Laure and Warner and for Doerr’s haunting prose. Minute details of daily life fill this novel firmly set amongst the historical facts of World War II, and the story shines like a gem refracting light through the darkness of war.

Marie-Laure loses her sight as a child, and her father, the meticulous keeper of keys for Paris’s Museum of Natural History, helps her navigate their beloved city by building a perfect model of the streets and buildings. When they’re driven from Paris and eventually separated, she must relearn her bearings. Warner Pfenning’s mechanical genius earns him a spot at a special academy away from the orphanage where he lives, right in the midst of an evil he begins to comprehend just as surely as he understands he can’t escape his position.

Eventually, the blind Marie-Laure must face monsters she can’t see, protecting more than one precious secret in her great uncle’s home in Saint-Malo. As her story winds together with Warner’s, the town of Saint-Malo cradles complicated questions that arise during wartime — and beyond.

Can people be good to each other, even when outside forces are demanding cruelty? Even more thought-provoking, perhaps, is the question of whether those kindnesses and small gestures can link together to combat cruelty in a lasting and meaningful way. Dreamlike prose depicts both the lovely and the dreadful, spotlighting that both exist in the world. In All the Light We Cannot See, the only way to reconcile the two is to embrace that dichotomy and find hope in the glimmer of goodness possessed by most people, even when they find themselves in impossible situations.

Frosted CowboyFrosted Cowboy

Frosted Cowboy by Charlene Ross is the perfect way to celebrate summer — and I don’t just mean with the title cocktail! Laney Delaney is the perfectly flawed, witty friend you’d welcome into your social circle in an instant, and Frosted Cowboy would be a welcome addition to any book club looking for a warm-weather summer read.

It’s a light-hearted, engaging story, and though romantic entanglements play a flirty, fun role in the book, there’s more at play, including when to take risks in your career and go after something with the potential to be so much more fulfilling than what you’re doing now. Laney makes mistakes that make you cringe at times, which is part of her charm, because you just know you’ve been in similar situations and made similarly questionable lapses of judgement.

Readers will root for Laney to succeed, in love — of course — but also in her fledgling business. You won’t want to put this one down once you begin.

Letters for ScarletLetters for Scarlet

This debut novel by Julie C. Gardner examines what happens when the past and the present collide, unearthing secrets that can change relationships — for better and for worse. An old high school English project literally enters Corie’s life, coaxing her to examine what she has, what she wants, and how the two of those things are connected to what she lost so many years ago. Scarlet has carved out the successful career she always wanted, but now she’s being confronted with doubts about her own aspirations, and what she might have given up by going after her dreams.

Corie and Scarlet come to life easily (Corie grades papers with a purple pen, which instantaneously endeared her to me,) and readers will be invested in their decisions almost immediately. One of the joys of the novel is how three-dimensional the secondary characters are, as well, particularly Clara. Scarlet’s coworker and friend does a little bit of scene-stealing each time she enters the story, and her comic timing brings an effervescence to an otherwise emotionally complicated story. Women’s fiction fans will enjoy Letters for Scarlet; try it with your book club this fall after the kids go back to school.

The Light Between Oceans reviews

The Light Between Oceans

M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans gutted me the first time I read it, and it gutted me anew this week. I’m seeing the film this Saturday (quick pause while I faint a little bit, both because of the movie and because I haven’t even thought about packing for BlogHer yet), and I wanted to fall into the book version of the story before seeing the adaptation.

After surviving on the Western Front in World War I, Tom Sherbourne seeks the chance to quiet his head, both literally and figuratively. A lighthouse keeper’s post promises the steady life for which he yearns, and when he marries Isabel, they seem to have forged a bond between them that thrives on their isolated lifestyle. Miscarriages and a stillborn son send waves crashing against the foundation they’ve built, until a baby comes ashore and promises a simple life of happiness — until they remember there is, indeed, life away from Janus Rock.

The steady beam of a lighthouse protects those who see it from coming to close to shore, from crashing into land they’re not able to see in the dark. For Tom and Isabel, those hidden crags are the ones that may hurt them the most. My heart ached for Tom, a man who carried survival guilt home from the war and had such a difficult time opening himself up, even to those who loved him, until he welcomed the bountiful love and trust of a child. Isabel, burned by the repeated losses of the children she desperately wants, adjusts her sense of right and wrong in a way that makes perfect sense to her — until it doesn’t any longer. Stedman puts forth heavy moral questions, and the answers Tom and Isabel seek will leave readers breathless — both with the pain and beauty found in the line separating truths and lies.

You Will Know Me reviewsYou Will Know Me

I unabashedly declared You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott to be my most-anticipated* book of the summer, and it exceeded my expectations. In just a few days, the Olympics begin, and countless eyes will follow the juxtaposition of steely reserve and bubbly but palpable power characterizing female gymnasts. Once you read this tense crime thriller from Abbott, you may never look at those athletes in the same way.

Genre dictates You Will Know Me will have a crime: the death of Ryan Beck, whose connection to the gym where Olympic-hopeful Devon Knox trains threads between many of the novel’s characters. In Abbott’s capable, unwavering hands, the plot vacillates between dread and desire as it twists and turns through Katie Knox’s lens. As Devon’s mother, Katie searches for some pulse of understanding in Ryan’s death, and the reader questions what they know over and over again. The unflinchingly — except that one time — steady and ambitious Devon anchors the story, shining a spotlight not only on the well-oiled machines that are the families of highly-competitive athletes, but the machines that are all families. Readers will question where and how family ties can be strained to their limit, and who exactly holds those ties together when they need it the most.

*Abbey will disagree about the anticipation. She had The BFG on hold for weeks, so that would be at the top of her list, but her penchant for American Girl mysteries means she might snag this from my shelf sooner than I anticipate.

What have you read lately?

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Chatting about Multiples Illuminated

anthologiesWhen I was pregnant with Dylan, I distinctly remember thinking about how I’d sync his nap schedule with Abbey’s. Her nap schedule basically consisted of working very hard for over an hour to get her to sleep for approximately 30 minutes, but I still clung to the idea of 30 minutes of child-free time a day.

She dropped her nap completely just about a month before he was born.

Children don’t care all that much about their parents’ plans for child-free time and — in my experience — it got even more hit-or-miss when we added our second child to the mix. Some parents, though, add kids to the mix more than one at a time, and I remain a little in awe of parents of multiples. Twins, triplets, or more, welcoming more than one baby into your home at one time can’t be an easy task.

Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice From Parents of Twins, Triplets and More is a compelling collection of stories from writers and parents of multiples, as well as expert advice that is a must-have for all parents and grandparents of multiples. It dives deep into the world of raising multiples with beautiful stories and helpful advice. In it, you will find essays on infertility help and hope; finding out and coping with a multiples pregnancy; stories of labor and delivery; stories from the NICU; breastfeeding best practices for multiples; and surviving the infant and toddler stages.

I asked the editors of Multiples Illuminated a few questions, both about the anthology and about the joys and challenges of parenting multiples.

1. Why did you decide to put together the Multiples Illuminated anthology?

Megan: I have seen many beautiful anthologies published the past few years and have been fortunate to be a part of a few of them as an essayist. One day while I was out shopping with my husband I had an AHA moment: there should  be an anthology for multiple parents from multiple parents and I need to make it happen. When I was pregnant with triplets I scoured the Amazon virtual shelves in search of books to help me through the unique process of carrying, delivering and raising triplets. I only found a few books to help me. I would’ve really appreciated a book like Multiples Illuminated when I was pregnant, and I love that we have it now. Creating this book with Alison has truly been a dream fulfilled.

2. How does Multiples Illuminated differ from other parenting books, particularly other books about raising multiples?

Multiples Illuminated is not a “how-to” book although we do have an advice section for each of the chapters covering infertility and trying to conceive, pregnancy, labor and delivery, NICU and the first years. The advice we give is based on our personal experiences, sharing what worked for us. The stories are honest and although personal to each writer. They are universal in the experiences they share, and lessons they learned. It’s more of a “Come take a peek into real life with multiples” rather than “Here’s how you do it.”

3. What’s one thing about raising multiples that you’ve experienced that you never would have expected?

Alison: How much people LOVE twins! Everywhere we go, the twins get attention – of the good kind. People are genuinely interested in and fascinated by multiples.

Megan: How much I would enjoy watching the close bond my triplets have. It is truly a beautiful relationship. I agree with Alison- people love multiples! It’s pretty fun.

4. What’s one benefit to having two newborns at one time? One drawback?

Alison: Watching them together. Just marveling at the fact that there are TWO. When my twins were little, they always found their way to each other when they were sleeping. Sitting side by side, they’d reach out for each other’s hands. Now that they are toddlers, watching talk to each other and play (and fight!) together, it’s a joy. The drawback of having more than one newborn is that there is only one of you. Spouses and family members are great to fall back on but ultimately, there is only one YOU.

Megan: The benefit is harder to realize when they are newborns – more obvious as they become toddlers and beyond when they can play together. The drawback to having three newborns at once is – do I even need to say it (LOL)? Up for hours in the middle of the night. Feeding three babies. Blasting through 15 diapers a day. Trying to soothe three babies at once. Newborn triplets is a challenge to say the least.

5. What’s one misconception about twins or triplets you haven’t found to be true with your little ones?

We don’t know if there are misconceptions about multiples. If people think having twins, triplets or more to be difficult – it’s true, yes, it is. Every stage is challenging. If people think having multiples must be fun – it’s true. It is fun. It’s amazing. It’s joyful. It’s a blessing. If people think having more than one child at a time to be noisy – YES, YES IT IS.

6. What advice would you give to families just starting their journey of parenting multiples?

Be prepared! Do your research: read (a book like Multiples Illuminated!), connect with other multiples families online (join our Facebook community) and offline. Talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns regarding your pregnancy, birth plan and the early days.

Ask for help and gladly accept offers to help. Having meals stocked in your fridge or laundry done is a great relief. Allowing grandparents, aunts and uncles cuddle time with the babies mean you can take a breather (or a shower). Lean on your partner. Night feeds with multiples is no joke!

Whether you’re the parent of multiples, have a friend with multiples, or simply enjoy reading parenting stories, you won’t want to miss this collection of essays!

Amazon (paperback and Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)



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