beach umbrellas

Beach Chairs on Captiva Island, photo by author

Legend has it that an infamous pirate held his hostages or his women here for ransom.  That the Americans who invaded Cuba during the Bay of Pigs trained here for the invasion.  That this was the only point where the Native American Caloosa tribe triumphed over invaders, fighting them off to retain the property for a few more decades.  That the wife of an American hero wrote her beautiful, melancholy hymn to womanhood while nestled in a local cabin. That at sunset, on special evenings and special days, if you are very lucky, you can see St. Elmo’s Fire, a green flash of light from the point at which the tip of the sun hits the surface of the Gulf of Mexico’s horizon.

09-01-2008 10;45;54AM

My best friend Monica and I in all our eighth grade grooviness on Captiva Island.

All of the legends may be true or not:  I simply know that I am captivated by this island.  It is my place of rest, rejuvenation, creative inspiration.  It has seen me come and go through years of change: budding into my teenage years with my best friend, sailing through college visits with a boyfriend, resting from the real world during my professional career.  I waited out my husband’s rehabilitation on island, I recovered from a heartbreaking loss.  I fell in love and I fell back out of it here.

Today, I leave my island after a week of reading, resting, eating and walking.

This morning, I took a long walk along the mostly deserted, early morning beach.  A coffee klatch of sandpipers greeted me, wavering in their enthusiasm with the coming and goings of the tide.

photo by author

photo by author

The shells gleamed and flashed beneath my feet as the waves splashed and gurgled onto the beach.  Tempting to stop, stoop, IMG_0117sort and steal a few more, just a few more, one even, for the collection.  A white coral, a common abra, a pink striped calico clam.  Evidence of small lives lived and gone.  The beautiful remainders.

Diamond rectangles of water endlessly enduring into curling waves.  Incessant susurration.  The beach is eternal even though I am not.

For today, I am thankful for the blessings of this beach.  This place.  This time.

For tomorrow, I hope to return.

sunset Captiva

The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard, and Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

missing-milk-carton-psd53543“Lydia is dead.  But they don’t know this yet.”

“Some things were certain; they were undeniable, inarguable.  Nora Lindell was gone, for one thing.  There was no doubt about that.”

These are the opening lines from Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, and The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard.  I happened to pack both for my summer vacation without realizing that despite differences in story-telling technique, both concern high school girls gone missing:  Lydia Lee, a tenth grader at Middlewood High School in Northwest Ohio disappears on May 3, 1977 in Ng’s 2014 bestseller.  Nora Lindell disappears from her widowed father’s home somewhere in the Midwest on Halloween, sometime in the late-1980s in Pittard’s debut novel.  Both Lydia and Nora leave gaping mysteries in their wake to be unravelled by those who loved them most.  In Lydia’s case, her parents and her siblings, Nath and Hannah.  In Nora’s, a chorus of neighborhood boys who speculate about Nora’s life, alternate theories of disappearance, her sole sibling a younger sister and just whose children the three girls are who turn up for Mr. Lindell’s funeral.

everythingEverything I Never Told You begins with the traditional end.  Lydia is dead and her family finds out about it within a few pages of the beginning of the book.  What remains is a meditation on the family’s life, the role of a mixed marriage in a tradition-bound place and time, the pain and recrimination and guilt associates with a woman who relinquished her professional dreams for her family.

The New York Times gave it high praise and named Ng’s debut novel a notable book of the year.

Ng has structured “Everything I Never Told You” so we shift between the family’s theories and Lydia’s own story, and what led to her disappearance and death, moving toward the final, devastating conclusion. What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind — a burden you do not always survive.

Everything I Never Told You satisfied all my requirements for a great read:  complex, interesting characters, beautiful language, a fascinating plot.  The touchstone references of the Partridge Family/Brady Bunch were a special treat.

fatesThe Fates Will Find Their Way is another debut novel.  Pittard uses the collective voice of the neighborhood boys who were fascinated by Nora Lindell and her sister, Sissy, to speculate as to why she disappeared (she ran away to her grandmother in Arizona; she was molested by a teenager in a Catalina; she was murdered and buried in the leaves two counties away; she caught a plane and never looked back), and what may have happened to her (she died on November 1, 1977, she lived with a man in Arizona and had three children, she ended up in Mumbai).  It is not Nora or Sissy that is important in the reflections of the boys – to – men, it is how their perceptions of Nora reveal their own growth, development, their own triumphs, failures, losses, disappointments, disasters and tragedies.

Jennifer Gilmore’s review in the NYTimes points out:

As deeply felt as “The Fates Will Find Their Way” might be, it only circles around a plot, and so its collective voice eventually loses strength. The more characters are peeled away from the group, the less powerful the original collective becomes. We wind up knowing little more at the end than we did in those opening pages.

But perhaps that’s the point. Though on the surface this seems to be a novel about a girl’s disappearance, at its core it’s about how children become adults. “We cannot help but shudder at the things adults are capable of,” Pittard writes, as the now-grown narrators watch their own daughters. That shift, from what teen­agers can do to one another to what adults can do to children, is crucial. But what this novel is really examining is the moment when such a reckoning occurs.

I have recently read The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides, and found these two novels similar in plot, technique and voice.

Maybe it’s the success of Gone Girl, or the Nancy Grace factor, or simply the existence of Fox News’ Missing Girl channel, but it seems like every time I turn around there’s some version of the missing teen mystery playing somewhere.  These two novels, at least, give the old story a new twist.  Both are excellent book club choices with lots of fodder for discussion — both in terms of plot and execution.



Mrs. Epstein’s Rice Krispie treats

Mrs. Price’s bananas and peanut butter

Mrs. Rutherford’s cake batter

Mrs. Hatchet’s fruit roll-ups, Coca-Cola gummy bottles

Mrs. Dinnerman’s fruit bowl

Mexican food a la Nora’s “Mexican”

Halloween Candy


Char Sui Bau:  Chinese pork buns.  I wouldn’t try to make them, but they play a critical role in the book and it would be fun to purchase some for your party.

Eggs:  Scrambled, Boiled, Over Easy.  Your choice.  Or go for the full commitment, and make them to order.

Swedish Fish candy

Betty Crocker’s White Cake

betty crocker

2 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla


  • Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour bottom and sides of 13×9-inch pan, two 9-inch round cake pans, or three 8-inch round cake pans. In large bowl, beat all cake ingredients with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan(s).
  • Bake rectangle 40 to 45 minutes, rounds 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool rectangle in pan on cooling rack. Cool rounds 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling rack. Cool completely. 
  • In 2 1/2-quart saucepan, mix all frosting ingredients except vanilla. Heat to rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Boil 1 minute without stirring. Place saucepan in bowl of ice and water. Beat until frosting is smooth and spreadable; stir in vanilla. Frost rectangle or fill and frost layers with frosting. 
Everything contains more music references.  Things like the Partridge Family and Waterloo (ABBA).  Given that Lydia disappears in 1977, any songs from that era would be grand.
Fates contains a lot of scenes that feel like a junior high school make-out party that you just know would be banging out tunes.  But I don’t find mention of anything specific.  There is however, a handy-dandy youtube compilation of the 9 1/2 Weeks soundtrack available here:


No suggestions on this for now.  Feel free to add your own!

Happy Reading!

Summer Reads 2015

dog_driving_carHeaded Out for A Little Fun in the Sun?  Want to take the perfect book(s) with you?

I thought I might be able to help.  All of these are in paperback, because I find it much more difficult to haul 5-8 hardbound books.  Any of the below books would be divine at the beach or the pool, on the campground or in the air.  I often try to match my reading to my destination, hoping to add a little insider info to my trip.  Just a tip.

Happy Vacating!

In Euphoria, Lily King’s intoxicating trek into the exotic locale of Papua, New Guinea, three anthropologists (Australian, euphoriaAmerican and British) find themselves far from home.  King’s anthropologists are simulacrums of Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson.

Originally reviewed:

f_doerr_allthelight_fAnthony Doerr’s gorgeous novel won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.  All The Light We Cannot See encompasses WW2 within an examination of the lives and worlds of two teenagers:  Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfenning, a German whiz-kid desperate to live the coal mine fate of his home town of Essen.   Written mostly in the present tense, with recurring flashbacks throughout both children’s lives, All The Light progresses inevitably to their meeting during the siege of St.-Malo, France, in August of 1944.

Originally reviewed:

the secret place

Tana French has become one of my obsessions.  She publishes a new book, I must have it in hard back and begin reading immediately.  In the Woods, her first novel, remains my favorite of her five books; however, all are excellent.  Her most recent, The Secret Place, is my second favorite.  These are page-turning, mystery novels set in Ireland with a cast of realistic, driven and haunted characters.


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  On the rugged, Mediterranean coast of Italy, a land of five towns clings stunningly to the edge of the cliffs;  accessible only by boat, offering fresh seafood pulled daily from the Ligurian sea by men whose families have done the same for centuries and a hiding place from the modern world, the Cinque Terre seems just the place for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to have sought refuge during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome.  In Jess Walter’s sumptuous novel Beautiful Ruins, they do just this.  And the tale of the IT couple’s visit to Porto Vergogna, a lonely innkeeper, a starlet, star-crossed lovers, a wannabe screenwriter (whose big concept is “Donner!,” a movie about the Donner party,) a nauseating Hollywood producer and fifty years of frustrated confusion make the novel one of my top five reads.

Originally reviewed:

VacationersA New York family brings a large set of first world problems to Mallorca, where even more challenges await:  a Spanish tutor both mom and daughter have the hots for, a retired Spanish tennis stud and lots of gorgeous food and descriptions and you have The Vacationers by Emma Straub.

Other books that would make great traveling companions:  The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff (Utah); Boy, Snow, Bird (Maine); Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple (Seattle); The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion; The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro (Paris), Dominance, by Will Lavender.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Seaside Resort in the South of France 1927 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson


Ursula Todd, born first on a snowy night in the English countryside, is finding herself the victim of a fairly serious case of déjà vu.  So alarming in fact that Ursula’s parents take her to the office of psychiatrist when she is ten years old where the good doctor first suggests that Ursula may be remembering other lives.  In Life After Life, the first of Atkinson’s two companion novels centered around the Todds of Fox Corner, that is precisely what is happening.

Life After Life revolves around those of Ursula.  By my reading, Ursula seemed to live longer each life and always died in a different way.  At first, instinctively avoiding the pitfalls that had brought about her untimely demise and in her later lives with a seeming knowledge that she had actually been there before and knew that the maid should not be allowed back in the house after visiting London where the flu epidemic was raging or how to avoid the horrid American schoolboy intent on destruction.

The reader remembers what had happened the last life, and though shades of familiarity remain, incidents chance, outcomes reverse, even individuals appear with altered aspects and personalities.  It may sound confusing.  It is not.  It is enthralling.  It’s one of those books you rush through to see what happens next and then slow down at the end to savor, hoping to postpone finishing it for another day.

Atkinsoatkinson-life_after_life-homen herself says: “People always ask you what a book is ‘about’ and I generally make something up as I have no idea what a book is about (it’s ‘about’ itself) but if pressed I think I would say Life After Life is about being English (on reflection perhaps that’s what all my books are about). Not just the reality of being English but also what we are in our own imaginations.”

  In addition to Ursula, there is an older Todd sister, the pragmatic Pamela, and three boys, only one of which holds much interest:  Teddy.  Teddy is the charming young boy who becomes the subject of Aunt Izzy’s series of books in Life After Life.  And ultimately, the primary subject of A God In Ruins.

Teddy becomes a bomber pilot, adopts a dog named Lucky who appears throughout Life After Life, and at the end of that book, goes out on a raid and is presumed dead.  A God In Ruins is Teddy’s more-traditionally-told tale.  Less than two short years after the publication of her monumental Life After Life, Atkinson published A God in Ruins.  Aside from the breathtaking feats of narrative derring-do she pulls off in both novels, simply consider the fact that the first is 544 pages and the second 480.

In A God in Ruins, Teddy is one of the 10% of RAF bombers who come home from the war.  He marries his childhood

British flight crew, courtesy BBC.

British flight crew, courtesy BBC.

companion Nancy Shawcross from just down the road and the two have one child, who despite the parents love for one another, is just about the most horrible character I remember reading:  Viola.  Mean, vain, narcissistic, closed-minded, sharp-tongued, vengeful.  Viola is a horrible daughter to Teddy and a more horrible mother to her children Sun (Sunny) and Moon (Bertie), born out of wedlock and in a commune.

Atkinson’s well-researched and breathtaking descriptions of the bombing runs, frankly had me at times skipping pages.  It’s gruesomely accurate.

The New York Times said:

IMG_1497A God in Ruins is a “sprawling, unapologetically ambitious saga that tells the story of postwar Britain through the microcosm of a single family, and you remember what a big, old-school novel can do. Atkinson’s book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is almost inexhaustibly rich in scenes and characters and incidents. It deploys the whole realist bag of tricks, and none of it feels fake or embarrassing. In fact, it’s a masterly and frequently exhilarating performance by a novelist who seems utterly undaunted by the imposing challenges she’s set for herself.”

In tandem, the books would be a likely even more powerful read, with one reinforcing the other, a sly reminder here, a nod there.  Perhaps my project for Summer 2016.

Taken together, “Life After Life” and “A God in Ruins” present the starkest possible contrast. In the first book, there’s youth and a multitude of possible futures. In the second, there’s only age and decay, and a single immutable past. This applies not only to the characters, but to England itself, which is portrayed over and over as a drab and diminished place. The culprit is obvious — it’s the war itself, “the great fall from grace.”


It would be conventional, I suppose, to come up with some Victory Garden food, or even some community husk/commune granola.  However, I think my menu will be left-overs.  Particularly for Life After Life.  Or not so much left-overs as the reappearances of food a la Ursula.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Turkey Curry

Roast Beef Sandwiches — made from homemade roast beef

 Bubble and Squeak — because it’s both English and leftover!

1/2 medium head cabbage, sliced
3 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cubed cooked ham
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups potatoes – baked, cooled and
thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a medium saucepan, cook cabbage in a small amount of water for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain, and set aside.
2. In a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, cook bacon and onion until onion is soft and bacon is cooked. Add ham, and cook until heated through. Add butter, then mix in the cooked cabbage and potatoes. Season with paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook until browned on bottom, turn, and brown again.

I also make a deconstructed bubble & squeak for my Boxing Day parties where I buy those tiny little smokies sausages and brown them in the oven until they are good and nearly crunchy.  And I bake tiny new potatoes until they are tender, then skewer one sausage and one potato each on a toothpick.  I’ve had native Brits tell me it’s their favorite Boxing Day treat ever.


We’ll Meet Again, a compilation album by Britain’s chief war songstress Vera Lynn, contains all of the classics including, We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, Traveling Home, Dream, Harbour Lights, As Time Goes By.  But it doesn’t include her famous song, There’ll Always be an England and you might want to include that.


Ursula – Felicity Jones

Aunt Izzie – Keira Knightley

Teddy – Eddie Redmayne

Nancy — Emma Watson

Happy Reading & Eating!

Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in a 1478 copy[1] of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius.

Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in a 1478 copy[1] of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius.