Book Recommendation: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Think of a roller coaster. You get into the seat and feel it inching up, up, up, knowing that at some point you’ll start flying downhill at breathtaking speed, blowing back your hair and facial skin while you scream at the top of your lungs in fear-filled, adrenaline-laced joy.

That about sums up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, aka The Blogess.

When I first started reading the book, I felt a little…confused. Was I reading an unedited ramble or comic genius? A West Texas native and the daughter of a taxidermist, Lawson describes an unusual life surrounded by animal blood and guts, among other things. Later, she meets and falls in love with Victor, who appears to be the “sane one,” with the exception of his Republican leanings (oops, there goes my political commentary again).

While Lawson takes us on the roller coaster of her life, I couldn’t help but notice that the wizard behind the curtain has managed a long-term marriage and motherhood, so I suspect that there’s a certain amount of cockeyed method to all the madness. If you noticed the mixed metaphor in the previous sentence, well, it somehow seems fitting when writing about this book.

Once I got used to the book’s style, I really enjoyed it and found myself reading passages aloud, gasping through my giggles, to hubby. I think it helps to be a blogger myself — we’re an odd breed, and I related to and understood much more of this book than I would like to admit. And, darn it, she made me cry, too, though I won’t spoil the moment for the rest of you. Let’s just say you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read that particular chapter. I also have had some experience with taxidermy in my home (don’t ask), though not at Lawson’s level, so when she describes her father’s eccentricities, I nod my head in sympathy.

For women “of my age,” Lawson’s free use of the f-bomb and ADD style may be off-putting, but I ended up having a good time with this book. Humor is hard to write well, and I think that for the most part, she succeeds. I admire that in a writer! Spend some time on her blog first so you get a sense of what to expect, and you’ll be fine. I started from scratch, which perhaps wasn’t the best strategy.

At the end of the ride, you’ll get up dazed and dizzy, but with a big, sloppy grin on your face. Enjoy!

Get Ready for the Summer of Indie!

Thanks, Marlene Dotterer, author of The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder (a great read, if you haven’t checked it out yet!), for letting me know about the Summer of Indie.

What’s that, you ask?

If you’re a writer or reader or both, you’ll love getting info about great indie books at the Go Indie website. It’s a great way to get to know up-and-coming authors and their books. I’m going to participate. Are you in?


A blog note: my editor has just returned Blood & Loam to me with her latest revisions. Although the book is getting closer to completion, it still needs a fair amount of work. It’s a dark tale that takes me to places in my mind that I’m uncomfortable going, so it’s taking additional effort and drafts to get the story to where it needs to go.

In addition, I have started working on a new idea for a novel that has me jazzed! It’s great to be working on books after taking a rather long break, but it does mean that I have to clear my schedule to make room. For that reason, starting next week, I will continue with Wednesday and Thursday posts. I will leave the Tuesday posts as “optional” for now.

Book Review: Oxygen by Carol Cassella

As we continue to settle in up here in Washington State, I’m getting exposed to a whole new-to-me group of writers. Sure, I knew about Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, but the Seattle area abounds with innovative, creative individuals. In fact, she and several other area writers have formed an organization, The Seattle 7 Writers (which includes ten writers, but who’s quibbling?). This fine organization provides a number of services designed to encourage reading, including creating pocket libraries and other projects to increase literacy in schools.

One of the Seattle 7 is Carol Cassella, who somehow juggles writing, two sets of twins, and, oh yeah, her job as an anesthesiologist. How does she do that? I’m having trouble keeping up with the writing duties. But I digress.

Oxygen is Cassella’s first book, which I liked so much that I bought her second, Healer. Keep watch, it may show up here one day in another review! While reading it, I discovered that Cassella grew up in Texas, so we have that whole Kevin-Bacon-Six-Degrees-of-Separation thing going on.

Dr. Marie Heaton is a respected anesthesiologist who comes face to face with catastrophe: the death of a child on the operating table. As lawyers swarm about like sharks smelling blood, she must also confront a troubled relationship with her aging father, whose eyesight is deteriorating. The lawsuit drags out and escalates to a breathtaking degree while she struggles to understand what happened that horrible day in the OR.

Reading Oxygen, I found myself on unexpected, familiar ground. She led me through my hometown Houston streets, and Dr. Heaton’s experience with her father bore eerie parallels to the decline of my late father-in-law. Also, my own father suffers from macular degeneration, so I know what it feels like to watch a parent going blind.

When a novel leads a reader to an unexpected place, a twist that feels natural and logical, that causes the reader to ask, “Why did I not see that coming?”, it’s a gem in my book. Oxygen does that and more.

Finally, Oxygen is a touching homage to the doctors who genuinely care about their patients. If I were going under the knife, I would be happy to have Dr. Heaton as my anesthesiologist…or better yet, Carol Cassella, since she’s a real person! 🙂

Poser by Claire Dederer

I know I’ve written a lot about yoga lately, and I promise, I’ll get on to other topics. However, I ran across a wonderful book that I couldn’t put down, so may I share just one more?

In Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, author Claire Dederer explores her life with yoga as the backdrop. While the book at times gets heavy on yoga explanations and history, it’s more about the yoga of life. Dederer grew up in an unusual family situation, and her yoga practice helps her come to terms with how her unique upbringing affected her marriage and how she raises her children. As she examines and unwinds the knots of her earlier life, she begins to let go of her need to “grow,” to “improve,” to “get better.”

When reading Poser, there were times when I felt annoyed with Dederer for a variety of reasons. She could be, at times, pedantic, self-absorbed, spoiled. Though only a little more than a decade separates our ages, I felt the wide gulf of our different generations separating us from each other.

As a writer, though, I admire her for telling her story so honestly that I would feel these emotions and judgments. There is an element of fearless authenticity to her work that grabbed my attention. I kept finding time in my day to pick up the book and read yet another chapter. In the end, I applauded her journey. She has written about ordinary life — marriage, children, and work struggles — but in a way that never gets boring.

Whether or not you’re into yoga, if you have ever found yourself trying to be the perfect wife or mom, or perfect woman of any kind, Poser will remind you that self-acceptance, not self-improvement, brings greater peace and joy to life.

Book Tuesday: Cucina Povera

We’re starting to settle in to our new life here in Washington State. A kind neighbor dropped by the other day with a plate of homemade cookies, which charmed the heart of this long-time city gal. Turns out there’s a lot to do, too, and my biggest challenge so far is to make sure that I get my work done before going out to play.

Being a lover of all things healthy, I walked downtown to check out a scheduled olive oil tasting. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh olive oil, which leaves a peppery tickle in the back of the throat. The olive oil to be tasted came directly from Tuscany, where author Pamela Sheldon Johns runs an organic farm and bed and breakfast.

58 people showed up at Port Townsend’s Undertown, a coffee and wine bar that is, quite literally, under the town. Johns had set up a long table for sampling the olive oil with fresh crudite and sauteed kale sitting atop bruschetta.

Johns’s olive oil has a more subtle “burn,” or pizzico in Italian. This dazzling flavor comes from the coreggiolo olive or by early harvest of other olives and is highly prized. Johns prefers to wait a bit longer to harvest, though, toning down the intensity of the burn and giving the oil a flavor she prefers. I have to agree that I prefer it to the stronger pizzico of the Texas oils I used to buy.

Johns is on tour promoting her book, Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking. Cucina Povera is a lovely book to behold, complete with full-color photographs of the Tuscan countryside. Johns lives outside of Montepulciano, where Hubby and I once sampled the brilliant Vino Nobile and Brunelo wines that are famous in that region. On this day, for the tasting, I sampled a glass of white wine from the nearby Umbria region of Italy.

Despite Italy’s reputation for great food, poor Italians went through many periods of food scarcity in their history. From this, they learned to “make do,” wasting nothing. The local bread, made without expensive salt, would harden in a day — hence the use of bread in soups that we continue to see today. While Johns’s recipes reflect a greater abundance, they keep the simplicity of the Tuscan diet: a few ingredients, fresh and organic wherever possible. This, along with generous amounts of olive oil, make up what we know as the Mediterranean Diet, one of the healthiest on the planet.

Cucina Povera is more than a cookbook, much more. Johns interviewed many older locals, getting their perspective on life with hard times. She was struck by the fondness with which memories were recalled. Having had my own share of lean years — though I always had plenty to eat — I can relate to the strength of character that comes from having to do without, and I feel a similar affection for those hard times. If you love good stories and good food, take a look at Cucina Povera! It’s the next best thing to going to Tuscany.