The Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll

lucky girl

Is Ani, nee TifAni, FaNelli the Luckiest Girl Alive because she’s engaged to the perfect guy, has the perfect job, wears a size zero, dresses from the designer wardrobe closet of a major women’s magazine and hasn’t yet turned 30? Or is Jessica Knoll the luckiest girl alive for transitioning from her own job at Cosmopolitan magazine to the best seller list to film production of her novel by Reese Witherspoon’s company?

I’m voting for Knoll. TifAni, with all her inherent spelling and name jessica knollintrigue, is not only not lucky, she’s not likable enough to want to befriend, and at least at the outset, a little bit too offensive to even want to read about either. Knoll must’ve stolen the luck of several generations of Irish. It couldn’t have hurt that none other than Reese Witherspoon tweeted a copy of the book jacket with this message: “It was the most non-stop nail-biting crazy train of a book with one of the most intriguing characters I have read in a long time!”

Luckiest Girl Alive begins with edgy scenes, language, risky behavior and  with Ani comtemplating stabbing her fiance in the stomach with a bridal registry knife. Along with her self-inflicted name change, Ani’s transformed her-Pennsylvania-self into a chic, New York gad-about-town/sex columnist and BrideZilla wardrobed in designer labels. The book is told completely in first person, which means that you have to either like Ani or be compelled to keep reading about this narcissistic, manipulative woman. Ultimately, you are.

I had six leisurely years to get to where I am now: fiancee in finance, first-name basis with the hostess at Locanda Verde, the latest Chloe hooked over my wrist (not Celine, bur at least I knew better than to parade around a monstrous Louis Vuitton like it was the eighth wonder of the world). Plenty of time to hone my craft. But wedding planning, now that has a much steeper learning curve.

The New York Times book review note on Luckiest Girl Alive commented lucky ladythat “some reviewers have called her the mirror image of Amy Dunne in “Gone Girl,” since Ani seems purely manipulative at the start but becomes more human as the book reveals its secrets.”

Ani has a reason to be the monstrously, social climbing witch that she is, but once I discovered what the loaded asides and clues had been alluding to throughout the novel, I still didn’t like Ani, didn’t have much more compassion for her and wasn’t happy with the plot or character shift. Annie’s traumatic event was transformative only in the sense that she found a way to lose weight consistently.

Bottom line: for me, it was a quick, easy, fun read. But I didn’t like Ani at all. Ever. Once you find out the secret, which I will not disclose here, it will give your book club a toehold for an interesting discussion. How does trauma change people? And what could have been done to prevent the situation? It is particularly relevant to today’s society. So I would encourage you to read.


Ani has an eating disorder. “I loved the evenings Luke had clients to entertain. I’d come home with two plastic bags filled with the neighborhood bodega’s finest carbs, devour every last starchy crumb, and toss the evidence down the garbage chute, Luke none the wiser.”

Nevertheless, there are some good food references in Luckiest Girl Alive.

Swedish Fish

From the caterer’s tasting menu:


Lobster mac and cheese bites

Mini lobster rolls

Wasabi steak tips

Tuna tartare

Gruyere bruschetta

An oyster bar

A sushi bar

Antipasto bar


I’d do a New York playlist:

New York State of Mind, Billy Joel

I and Love and You, The Avett Brothers

Arthur’s Theme, Christopher Cross

Living for the City, Stevie Wonder

Empire State of Mind, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

New York Minute, Don Henley


Ani — Rooney Mara

Luke — Scott Eastwood

Nell — Amanda Seyfried

Arthur — Rico Rodriguez


Happy Reading!

Thankful for: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

cold comfort

Plucky Flora Poste, the heroine of Cold Comfort Farm, is quite the modern socialite. She makes her own petticoats, entertains a number of suitors, talks fashion with her closest friend and relies on her bible, The Higher Common Sense, to find solutions to a multiplicity. While knowing exactly how to dress and behave in every situation, she has little talent for earning an income but harbors familiar ambitions:

Flora“I think it’s degrading of you, Flora,’ cried Mrs Smiling at breakfast. ‘Do you truly mean that you don’t ever want to work at anything?’

Her friend replied after some thought: ‘Well, when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as “Persuasion”, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say “Collecting material.” No one can object to that. Besides, I shall be.’

Mrs Smiling drank some coffee in silent disapproval.

‘If you ask me,’ continued Flora, ‘I think I have much in common with Miss Austen. She liked everything to be tidy and pleasant and comfortable around her, and so do I. You see Mary,’ – and here Flora began to grow earnest and to wave one finger about – ‘unless everything is tidy and pleasant and comfortable all about one, people cannot even begin to enjoy life. I cannot endure messes.”

Published in 1932, Stella Gibbons’ novel Cold Comfort Farm is set “in the near future.” It’s a delight of a book: a comic parody of the English rural novels of the 19th Century combined with a modern epic storyline of a family, The Starkadders, led by a tyrannical zealot, a Gertrudian mother so in love with her son that she fails to notice the state of affairs and general decline of the world around her, and an iron-fisted granny who despises everyone because she once “saw something nasty in the woodshed.”

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”

Thus, when Flora Poste must go to stay with her most interesting relatives at Cold Comfort Farm, in Howling, in Sussex. When she and her little book arrive to spread joy, enlightenment and contraception, the Starkadders soon find themselves mostly maneuvered out of their self-imposed, willful misery. Except for the cows Graceless, Aimless, Feckless and Pointless, of course.cows+vintage+image--graphicsfairy001b

“By the way, I adore my bedroom, but do you think I could have the curtains washed? I believe they are red; and I should so like to make sure.’
Judith had sunk into a reverie.
‘Curtains?’ she asked, vacantly, lifting her magnificent head. ‘Child, child, it is many years since such trifles broke across the web of my solitude’.”

Cold Comfort Farm was my book club’s choice for one cold, January night and it remains one of the group’s favorite books. I read it about once every couple of years, always catching some new amusement. The BBC mini-series production with Kate Beckinsale, Ian MacKellen, Eileen Atkins and Rufus Sewell is spot-on and a hoot if you can scare it up.


The Starkadders chow on porridge, home-made bread and bacon, occasionally ‘spiced-up’ by ‘treats’ such as beef, beer, pickled onions and home-made lemonade.  For Elfine’s wedding, the fare was ‘spiced-up’ to  ‘cold home-cured ham, cider, home-made bread and salads made from local fruit.’

Even at Cold Comfort, though, Aunt Ada Doom and higher-ranking guests like Flora eat a bit better.  Omeletteskipperscold vealsaladblancmangesjunkets and jam. A similar kind of food is also available in pubs and cafés. For example, at the pub in Howling, Flora eats a steak with vegetables and apple tart, and in the café where she first meets Mr. Mybug, she has some plain biscuits‘a sugared orange’ and coffee.

At the upper end of the social scale, there is much more exotic and varied champagnefood and drink on offer. For example, Mrs. Smiling is able to supply cocktails and cinnamon wafers, and the ‘posh-nosh‘ offered to the guests at Elfine’s wedding includes syllabubs, ice-puddings, caviare sandwiches, crab patties, trifle and champagne.

Thanks to Siân
 for assistance on the food portion of this post.


The soundtrack from the BBC mini-series production of 1995 includes:

I’m More Than Satisfied, Fats Waller

Then I’ll Be Tired of You, Harburg & Schwarzt

Sidewalks of Cuba, Rumba from the Cotton Club

Red Sails in the Sunset, Kennedy & Williams

Buttercup Joe, Richardson

Tara’s Theme, from Gone with the Wind, Steiner

I might include, for irony, some English Pastoral music from the early 20th Century. Examples include the Australian Percy Grainger‘s Molly on the Shore (1907), Frederick Delius‘ Brigg Fair (1908), and Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ English Folk Song Suite (1923) for brass band.

Happy Reading!

Buy the book: //

Buy the miniseries: //






Thankful for: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

weddingIf there is a master of the novel in this 21st Century, by my reckoning it is McEwan. He of Atonement, Saturday, Amsterdam. And On Chesil Beach. On Chesil Beach, in 203 small pages, this tiny book deconstructs the first twenty-four hours of a marriage and traces the consequences of a great misunderstanding in the honeymoon bed. I believe it is a testament, ultimately, to the power of words, spoken and unspoken.

I love this book and have given it as a gift on occasion. It is a masterpiece.

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

Florence and Edward arrive at a hotel in Dorset, England in 1962. cliff house hotelAccording to a postscript by the author, the hotel “just over a mile south of Abbotsbury, Dorset, occupying an elevated position in a field behind the beach parking lot — does not exist.”

How did they meet, and why were these lovers in a modern age so timid and innocent? They regarded themselves as too sophisticated to believe in destiny, but still, it remained a paradox to them that so momentous a meeting should have been accidental, so dependent on a hundred minor events and choices. What a terrifying possibility, that it might never have happened at all. And in the first rush of love, they often wondered at how nearly their paths had crossed during their early teens, when Edward descended occasionally from the remoteness of his squalid family home in the Chiltern Hills to visit Oxford. It was titillating to believe they must have brushed past each other at one of those famous, youthful city events, at St Giles’ Fair in the first week of September, or May Morning at dawn on the first of the month – a ridiculous and overrated ritual, they both agreed; or while renting a punt at the Cherwell Boat House – though Edward had only ever done it once; or, later in their teens, during illicit drinking at the Turl.

Florence is a virgin and admits she is a little scared. Edward, a bit more experienced, has been restraining himself from “self-abuse” for a week in order to prepare for his wedding night. This leads to a disaster. And even though Florence and Edward try to discuss the incident on the stone-filled Chesil Beach, their mutual lack of understanding undercuts their ability to resolve the situation.stony beach

Ian McEwan’s website actually has a 26 minute film version of the story with McEwan’s reading accompanying the visual images.


McEwan provides the exact menu of the honeymoon dinner over which things begin to unravel for Florence and Edward.

A slice of melon decorated by a single glazed cherry

Roast beef

Soft-boiled vegetables

Potatoes of a bluish hue

A white wine from France — “it would not have crossed Edward’s mind to have ordered a red.”

I would serve honeydew melon slices wrapped in prosciutto, roast beef, roasted new potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts.


The top hits on British charts in 1962 included an amazing number of songs that fit the theme of this novel (and they are just some great songs anyway!):

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles

The Locomotion, Little Eva

She’s Not You, Elvis Presley

Dream Baby, Roy Orbison

Stranger on the Shore, Mr. Acker Bilk (?)

The Young Ones, Cliff Richard

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Neil Sedaka

Twistin’ The Night Away, Sam Cooke

You Don’t Know Me, Ray Charles

The Party’s Over, Lonnie Donegan

The Wanderer, Dion


Edward: Jeremy Irvine (from War Horse)

Florence: Lily Cole

chesil beach

Thankful for: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen


Gentle Reader:

As it is the week of our national day of thanks, I determined that a review of tomes for which I am most thankful would be a most felicitous duty. Under such joyful conditions, I find my mind, nay my mind and heart, turn with instinctive abandon to the powerful, un-Zombiefied (oh, what horrors! I shudder, gentle reader, I shudder) words of our dear Miss Austen in Pride and Prejudice.

In other words, I cannot believe I haven’t previously written about Pride and Prejudice as it is one of my favorite books.

firth_2696575bHow can it not be? Isn’t it a touchstone for generations, centuries even? The plucky, courageous Elizabeth Bennet? The darkly brooding, irresistible-in-love Fitzwilliam Darcy? That Pemberly Estate!?! Reams have been written about Pride and Prejudice, over it, under it, around it. Nearly a dozen feature films adaptations, although the one that counts is the one with Colin Firth (IMHO). And countless, literally countless, knock-offs and/or tributes in print and in film.


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must in want of a wife.

Perhaps that opening line, one of the best in literature, captures the reader immediately with its’ humor, and perhaps, ironic truth.

Maybe it’s the scene where Darcy and Elizabeth meet that captures our hearts.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.

‘Come, Darcy,’ said he, ‘I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.’

‘I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.’

. . .’There is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I daresay very agreeable.’ . . .

‘Which do you mean?’ and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. . . .

heart+floral+vintage+Image+GraphicsFairy010bAh, ha ha! That charmer! Perhaps it is that ultimately, Mr. Darcy must
admit and recant his own pride, allowing Elizabeth the ultimate comeuppance.

Pride and Prejudice has been the subject of our book club at least once and is due for a re-reading. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, add it to your 2016 selections. And if you’ve already read it, everyone needs to re-read a great book once in a while.


I’ve scoured the pages for food references. Emma has the Box Hill picnic scene, of course, but though I can find multiple references to dining opportunities in Pride and Prejudice, I find only references to coffee and porridge in the pages of Pride and Prejudice and haven’t found the first reference to what was being dined upon during the multiple dinners.

The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants, and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. – He carved, and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended, first by him, and then by Sir William, who was not enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, and in a matter which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could hear.

But never fear Gentle Reader! The popularity of Jane Austen comes to our assistance with multiple website devoted to the times of Miss Austen, the food, the clothing, the dances, the music. Here are links, with recipes:


The easiest way to go would be the soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice, any of the film versions. Or perhaps all of them.


My ultimate Mr. Darcy is Colin Firth. <sigh> But if we are recasting: Benedict Cumberbatch.

Elizabeth Bennet: I think Emma Watson would be a good casting now.

Mr. Bingley: Eddie Redmayne

Jane Bennet: Felicity Jones

Mrs. Bennet: Emma Thompsonp&amp;p

That’s all I’ve got! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow for another book for which I’m thankful!


RLS: Under the Wide and Starry Sky and Treasure Island

pin-up pirateNancy Horan certainly found treasure with her debut novel, Loving Frank, a fictionalized account of the life and loves of Frank Lloyd Wright. In Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Horan reaches for the skies above Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s beloved author of Treasure Island. In my and my book club’s opinion, the second book was less successful, perhaps because we could find no one to really like very much.

Robert Louis Stevenson.(OBIT. 3975)

Robert Louis Stevenson. (OBIT. 3975)

Robert Louis Stevenson, despite his adventurous tales, was consumptive most of his life. For some unfathomable reason, he fell head over heels in love with the (in Horan’s telling) vain, neurotic, self-centered Fanny Van de Griff Osborne, an Indiana native, who had run away from her cheating husband in California. Fanny took care of Louis far better than her own son who died before she and Louis returned to California to seek and obtain Fanny’s divorce so she could marry.

All of this — and I MEAN ALL — is recounted in great detail in Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Clearly, Horan’s research was in-depth, wide-spread and exhaustive. As I reader though, I just wasn’t quite sure I needed to know exactly what they had for lunch on July 28, 1887 or the name of the third purser to the second captain on the boat they didn’t take. I jest, but after 470-some pages, you will see what I mean.

fannyThe New York Times had a far better opinion than I, calling Under the Wide and Starry Sky “a novel that shows how love and marriage can simultaneously offer inspiration and encumbrance, especially when the more successful partner believes that, as far as artists go, “a family could tolerate only one.” The Stevensons’ story is full of morbidity and sacrifice, chronicling losses and gains — and, of course, the writing of classics like “Treasure Island,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Kidnapped,” none of which, Horan suggests, would have been possible without Fanny Stevenson’s careful nurturing of her husband.”

Fanny, in Horan’s hands, holds no charm for the reader.

The carved clock on the mantel ticked off a minute before she said dully, “Just write.”

She resisted being joked into a happier humor.

“A good novel might cure your boredom,” he suggested when he realized Fanny had stopped reading books or writing stories. Only the Lancet held her attention.

“This article says that some vinegars erode your intestines.”

Under the Wide and Starry Sky depicted Stevenson’s creative process in an engaging, inviting manner. Enough to cause me to download and listen to the audiobook of Treasure Island, a classic novel I’d never made time for in the past.

Louis spread out a piece of paper on a table and began painting an island with some watercolors. Below the drawing, he wrote “Treasure Island.”

“Imagine that there is an island where a chest full of gold is buried,” he said to Sammy. “There is a boy named Jim who, quite by chance, comes into possession of a map of the island. The map has been drawn by a crusty old sailor of questionable morals, a man named, ah . . . Billy . . . Billy Bones. And through some series of events, the boy goes off on a schooner to look for the treasure. He is traveling with a collection of sailors, some of them decent fellows, and some scoundrels bent on killing the other men when they find the gold . . .”

johnny-depp-pirates-of-the-caribbeanI had no idea that in Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson essentially created out of whole cloth the entire peg-legged, parrot-carrying, shivering-me-timbers, x-marks-the-treasure-spot, dead-men’s-chest pirate that we know and love, OH JOHNNY DEPP how we love ye, today.

But he did. And he came up with the names Ben Gunn, Long John Silver, Billy Bones, the Hispaniola. Treasure Island is a fun, but somewhat tedious on audio, adventure. But maybe I’m just partial to my Kentucky homie Mr. Depp. Treasure Island though I can recommend without reservation to read for your book club. It is one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels and a fun one to read to your children. It’s got those little passages that send a shiver down the timbers.

“His stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful stories they were–about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea, and the language in which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as much as the crimes that he described. My father was always saying the inn would be ruined, for people would soon cease coming there to be tyrannized over and put down, and sent shivering to their beds; but I really believe his presence did us good. People were frightened at the time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a fine excitement in a quiet country life, and there was even a party of the younger men who pretended to admire him, calling him a “true sea-dog” and a “real old salt” and such like names, and saying there was the sort of man that made England terrible at sea.”

MENU rum

I marked several passages of food in Under the Wide and Starry Sky and the narrative travels from Scotland, England, France to San Francisco, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. In one scene on a particularly warm evening in Bournemouth, Scotland, they serve a large bowl of mashed potatoes with lamb. When Louis takes off on a donkey for a road trip, he takes with him “black bread, a bottle of brandy, a leg of mutton. . . .Tin of chocolates and sausage.” On the Pacific Island, due to a shipping halt, at one point, RLS and Fanny shared one avocado for dinner. The salts of Treasure Island drink lots of rum, brandy and eat lots and lots of salted goat (ugh). So have at the salted goat if you want, but here’s my Treasure Island-inspired menu:

Rum Punch

2 cups spiced rum

2 1/2 cups pineapple juice

2 1/2 cups orange juice

1/4 cup lime

Mix and serve over ice.

Shrimp Cocktail

Barbecued chicken legs or wings

Those little gold coin chocolates


There is mention of a Mozart sonata or two in Under the Wide and Starry Sky, and Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum repeats and repeats (and repeats) in Treasure Island.

My playlist would include

Jimmy Buffet’s A Pirate Looks at 40.

Ray Steven’s The Pirate Song

Soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean

Happy Reading!







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IMG_1366We arrived in Paris at 9 a.m. local time, but it was three in the morning to our bodies. Despite that, I was as excited as I’ve ever been. Paris. I was in Paris. The city of light. The city of love. I waited impatiently for Customs to stamp my passport and process us through so we could be admitted to this place I had long dreamed of seeing.

We checked into the Hotel Jardin de L’Odeon, a charming, postage-stamp hotel on the Rue Casimir-Delavigne within a block of the Odeon Theatre and two blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens. Breakfast was being served, coffee and fresh croissant smells greeted us. The hotel lobby was an odd mix of Egyptian, French, African and Indian artifacts and plexiglass globes. Standing oval lamps on wooden blocks with long vertical shades of white and green topped with black feathers. The music was a mix of American standards and acoustic pop. Low, orange and brown spotted chairs, gold velvet love seats and low wooden tables made the seating almost Japanese inspired. The elevator was so small, it could hold only two people with one bag each at a time. Diana and I had to take turns bringing our luggage to our fourth floor room.

Once inside, we couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights and this necessitated a trip back to the concierge’s desk. By now, I had exhausted most of the French I had learned for the trip and had to explain the problem in English. The concierge smiled and told me to leave the room key in the slot next to the door. That assures that the lights are only on when one is in the room. Brilliant!

The bathroom is about the size of a standard airplane toilet. Maybe slightly larger. But the shower stall is a glass box. I felt like a Miss America contestant about to be asked a final question or Clark Kent needing to quick-change.


After recovering from jet lag, we hit the streets of Paris to experience all the shops the Left Bank had to offer. Rue Mouffetard, Boulevard St. Germain, Boulevard St. Michele. I purchased a scarf from two ladies who spoke to me in English, despite my attempt at French. They smiled when I asked how they knew I was American, was it my horrendous accent? No, no, they said kindly. It is your hair. It is styled so nicely and has so many colors in it. In France, they said, we just put it up on our head and go. They wound the scarf around my neck, tied a large, loose knot at the side. There, now you look like a French woman, they said.

And yet … they are so much more stylish. Effortlessly.

Diana and I lunched at Bullion Camille Chartier and enjoyed seeing a lovely family arrive. Mother was a size two and perfectly coiffed and dressed despite having four blond children under the age of ten also perfectly dressed. The wine is about $4 per glass, a diet coke is $7.50.

At Le Deux Magots for dinner we sat on the patio. An octogenarian was nearby. She wore her gray pageboy in a tortoise leather1069962_300714370073818_1701711349_n headband and carried a fan. She sported white, large frame sunglasses, a flower print dress with a matching jacket and red high heeled pumps. Her red lipstick was perfectly applied and matched her shoes. Her companion, a man several decades her junior, had fluffy gray hair, and wore a gold necklace beneath his open-necked cotton shirt.

Outside, the streets are clogged with Parisians hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tour de France riders finishing their race tonight. There will be fireworks later but for now the taxis, cars, bicycles, electric bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters all rush past us carrying people to the finish line. Six French planes flew overhead as the leader of the Tour arrived. I saw a man riding a scooter with his dog sitting complacently on the floor board.

On our last day in Paris, sun shone through the window, the ever-present scent of warm croissants filled the air, and I walked through the Luxembourg Gardens one last time. I hope, as everyone who has ever visited Paris must, to return.

Paris, je t’aime.


On the Radio


On Wednesday, November 11, 2015, I will be the guest of Lisa Morris Miller for her program, At The Women’s Well on Lexington Community Radio.

lisaLisa is a women’s advocate, poet, teaching and inspiring woman I was pleased to get to know during a writing class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. She calls her radio program a place to nourish your health and spirit.

“My guests each week are ordinary extraordinary women in our community who have a story to tell. They talk about adversity and challenge, and the ways they’ve persevered.  As mothers, sisters, health specialists, artists, teachers, spiritual leaders, and public service professionals, Well guests are experts.

“Women lead the way for one another, and here at the Women’s Well we inspire each other too.”

In a pre-show interview, Lisa and I had a fun time sharing notes on writing, funny stories about growing up and thoughts on women we admire as artists, community activists, politicians, and role-models. I can only imagine the radio show will be very interesting. I’ve got my dad’s mongoose story up my sleeve.

Lisa has posted the interview on her website: and will be replaying it live next Wednesday, November 18, 2015, at one p.m.

I hope you’ll listen in. Join us at the Well, Wednesday, 1-2pm, 95.7 on your dial in downtown Lex, OR, listen from your phone or computer: go to and click on links for Live Stream!

Growing Up: Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend


I’m not sure why Saint Monkey is the title of Jacinda Townsend’s debut novel about two girls coming of age in 1950’s small Southern town other than it is catchy and an infrequent-nickname for one of the characters. Then again, I’m not sure I could come up with any better title for this insightful, aching look at friendship and anti-friendship, first loves, ruined love, passion and disdain, achievement and disappointment. Perhaps Saint Monkey as a title is just amorphous enough to contain a hint of the contents of this Pandora’s box of a book.

Audrey and Caroline live across the street from one another in racially-divided Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. Both have dreams of leaving the dirt road on which they live far behind. Audrey’s talented father is gone and her mother is mostly absent but Audrey is able to both lose and find herself in her music.

Caroline, aka Pookie, the Saint Monkey of the title, loses both of her parents early in the novel to a horrible situation. She then becomes the de facto mother of her sister and seeks her own way out by romancing the lean, hungry teen-age boys who inhabit her world.

miles davisAs Audrey moves into the New York City jazz world, the two maintain a correspondence that threatens to erode Caroline’s already-struggling self.

Townsend’s poetic prose expresses the dreamy yearnings of what it is to be a small town girl with big city dreams.

Still, my granddaddy built me this porch swing the week after my daddy died, not because he thought I was grieving, but because he meant to keep me amused.  “Keep Audrey occupied,” he told people.  “Keep her around the house with her dress down and her bloomers up.”  Since my daddy died, Grandpap has begun to see me as a dry leaf in freefall, a wasted petal about to be crunched under a man’s foot.  He wants me to forget all the boys of Montgomery County and take studies in typing, to let go the idea of marrying a town sweetheart and become, instead, a woman of the city in a store-bought dress and nylons, with my own bedboard and bankbook.  I’m supposed to fly and dream about all that, sitting here in this swing.  He painted it white, whiter even than the side of this house, whose thin coat is peeling to expose the aged black wood underneath.  He painted the wood slats of this swing so white that when you stare at them for a time, they seem blue.  Swing high, and the porch ceiling creaks where he riveted the screws: the grown people who walk by warn me.  “Hey gal, it ain’t a playground swing,” they say.  For them, for their limitations, I stop pumping my legs, and the creaking stops.  But when they’ve faded down the walk, I fly high again.

In her review for the New York Times, Ayana Mathis compares Saint Monkey to the classic American novel by Zora Neale Hurston. “Caroline’s yearning recalls Janie, the young heroine of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” lying one afternoon under a blossoming pear tree, overwhelmed by sensuality and possibility and driven toward the fulfillment of what she senses life might offer. That Janie’s life does not go as well as she hopes, that it does in fact take a tragic turn, does not eclipse her capacity for joy or hope.”

Saint Monkey won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction awarded by the Society of American Historians in 2015.

Saint Monkey is a luminous and compelling novel that shines a bright light on neglected corners of the American past. The book brings to life a small Black community in the hardscrabble country of eastern Kentucky, a place in many ways a borderland: between the industrial future and the agricultural past, between the urban north and the Jim Crow South, and between the seeming complaisance of the 1950s and the seismic upheavals of the 1960s. Audrey Martin and Caroline (“Pookie”) Wallace, Townsend’s marvelous protagonists, reveal worlds of hope and hurt through their barbed, intense friendship. Her profoundly unsettling and profoundly humane vision—of ordinary Black women struggling to achieve safety and authenticity in the face of the extraordinary ruptures and insecurities that have for centuries beset Black lives in the Americas—is essential for our understanding not only of the African American experience but also of American history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


I had the pleasure of meeting author Jacinda Townsend during the Kentucky Women Writers Conference in September and she was gracious enough to share a recipe with me. She calls it her “nasty” casserole and says it is “straight from the 1950s. My kids complain but they love it.”

1 package (16 ounces) frozen peas, thawed 1 package (16 ounces) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained 1/2 package Velveta 3/4 cup milk 1 full sleeve of crackers 1/4 cup butter Add to Shopping List Directions 1 Pour milk into a crockpot or cheese melter; cut Velveta block into cubes and place into crockpot to melt. 2 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 3 Bring peas and broccoli to a boil. 4 Melt butter in a saucepan; crumble crackers into melted butter and saute. 5 Put cooled peas and broccoli into a greased 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle crumbled crackers on top. 6 Pour melted Velveta and milk mixture over casserole until it is evenly covered. 7 Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 12-17 minutes or until bubbly. Yield: 4-6 servings.

MUSICSaint Monkey cover

Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk at Carnegie Hall would be a great one. //

Happy Reading!