retro reading




We’ve been neglecting our reviews. Oh, we’ve written them, just haven’t shared, and that is just sad. So, the girls are returning to reviews with a retro read of Margaret Atwood. Here’s the tease:

To read The Edible Woman is to be transported back in time. Fourty-plus years ago “girls” had entered the workforce to stay. They wore binding girdles, deferred to the men in the company, and were expected to resign when they became engaged and left maindenhood behind. Still, they were there, earning their way.

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feet first

A good book is a thing of beauty. A good book that makes you laugh at a sweet, goofy, human’s folly, and you have a party wrapped in a book jacket.

Peter Mehlman’s debut novel, It Won’t Always Be This Great, is quite possibly the sweetest, funniest novel orbiting the planet of mid-life crisis well, ever.  Though Mehlman is no writing novice, he wrote for the Jerry Seinfeld show and rose to executive producer at one point; this is his first work of full-length fiction.

In It Won’t Always Be This Great, we meet a 50 year-old Long Island podiatrist who throughout the book remains nameless, just as he is about to hit stride in messy patch of mid-life angst.  Dr. X is father to two amazing kids, lovely, precocious,  14 year old Esme, and son Charlie, who while hovering at the cusp of  tweenhood, makes adorably naïve pronouncements about how the world appears to work, and according to him, how it should work. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE 


sit. stay. read.

girl with pugIn his infinite wisdom, Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu coined the phrase “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and it is a hard one with which to argue. However never being content to leave a great sage alone, I would add: “all the pages of a genius novel begin with a single compelling sentence.”  The usual list of literary greats contains the (mostly) names dead white guys, but this is one for the girls. Herewith, a list of 15 brilliant first sentences and the novels from which they arise. By women. 

get the list here

everybody’s got a story

bird by birdthere’s nothing a writer loves more than reading. about writing.  we got your readin’ and writin’ right here.

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sassy b*tches

high-priestessDon’t you just hate it when you spend the time looking for a yummy read, a book to fire your imagination and sooth your sense of adventure, only to find the heroine completely unlikeable in the end? We all know the pain of flirting with a book we think we will love only to break up with it half way between the covers because it’s a big fat dud.  What if the story is good, but the writing itself is dull or just one bald cliché after another?  Fear not, gentle reader. We have tools and search engines, and even clever strategies to make good book choices.

So how do you judge a book by its, er, cover? As in any endeavor, it’s important to know what you like. Just now, I pulled a Google search for “debut novels, 2013.” Many selections popped up. I clicked on the one entitled, “10 Dazzling Debut Novels to Pick Up Now” because I love to be dazzled, and it sounds like a promise. How do I choose? I know my limits. I know what I love and know what I won’t go near with a red hot poker.

Here is a small sampler of the “dazzlers,” a brief description of the storyline, and my reasons to adopt or reject them.   

  1. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena:   “A neighbor saves an 8-year-old Chechen girl from the Russian soldiers who have taken her father, and together they seek shelter in an abandoned hospital.” Reject: too sad.
  2. Crazy Rich Asians:   “Opulence and zaniness reign when one of Singapore’s richest bachelors invites his American-born girlfriend to travel from New York to vacation in his native country.” Reject: Zaniness aside, I’m not terribly interested in fictional adventures of rich bachelors.
  3. The Golem and the Jinni:  “Two supernatural creatures accidentally unleashed in 19th-century Manhattan forge an unlikely alliance in this fantastical work of historical fiction.”  Adopt: Magic + historical fiction. Yay!
  4. American Spirit:In this first novel from the outrageously funny host of The Moth podcast, a 40-something media exec goes rogue after losing his job in the recession, taking up drunken residence in his car before embarking on a vision quest to Bali by way of Los Angeles and Yellowstone.” Adopt: Vision quest + Yellowstone + Bali. Oh, yes!
  5. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: “In this grippingly off-kilter thriller, a young woman sits on death row after being convicted of murder until a high-powered attorney—the victim’s mother—intervenes, leaving everyone to wonder why.”  Adopt: a young murderess saved at the 11th hour? Hells yes.
  6.  Golden Boy: “A good-looking, athletic British teenager’s seemingly idyllic life gets turned upside down when his oldest friend betrays him, revealing a closely held family secret just as the boy’s father is about to run for political office.” Reject: Politics + betrayal. Zzzz.

And there you have it. Are my selections biased? Yes, without a doubt. I know what I like and life is too short for bad fiction. 

Cynthia Gregory

The Sweet By and By

It’s not really giving anything away to say that the debut novel by Todd Johnson, The Sweet By and By, will make you cry. Maybe this says more about the reviewer than about the book, but still, the fact remains that the subject matter of The Sweet By and By is tear-worthy. It’s about friendship and loyalty and big end-of-life issues like dignity and happiness and who really loves you for sure.

Lorraine is a church-going, God-smacking woman who has made a career out of taking care of other people. She is a caregiver at the Ridgecrest Nursing Home, and little gets by her. Lorraine has equal measures of patience and endurance, which she exercises each day as she looks after Margaret and Bernice, the two brightest spots at the home. Margaret has a sharp tongue and high standards, and Lorraine bears Margaret’s rebukes and criticisms with calm mother-patience. More than helping Margaret to dress and bathe, Lorraine preserves the dwindling strands of dignity that Margaret clings to.

Bernice provides comic relief in what would otherwise be too sad a story to bear. Bernice is a happy ditz and reliably out of her mind most of the time. She is Margaret’s constant companion, and they look after each other is a way that is endearing and practical. Bernice carries a stuffed monkey with her everywhere and treats him as a real person. Except of course when she hides bootleg booze deep in his throat where no one of the nursing home staff, even Lorraine, would think to look.

Rhonda is at the home by accident, if you believe such things. Rhonda survived being raised by a hateful grandmother and has grown into a decent person. As a hair stylist, she endeavors to make the world a more beautiful place. However, it is for cash that she applies to Ridgeview, never expecting to like it, much less fall in love with the ladies who line up outside the beauty parlor door each week.  Despite any intention to get in, do her job, and get out, Rhonda is adopted by both Margaret and Beatrice, who see the goodness in the girl and provide the mother-encouragement for which she had been starved as a child.

One of the delights of The Sweet By and By is that it is set in North Carolina, where eccentricity is as natural as sunlight and sweet tea. This lovely bit of fiction is not nostalgic; it takes an unflinching view of who we are, what connects us, and what’s important, without being preachy. In the end, we realize it is Lorraine’s story, and Johnson leaves her narrative not with a nice neat bow, but with faith that everything will somehow work out:

“I used to hope that if I went to church long enough, all my inside weight would go away. That ain’t right. Jesus may have come to take away our sins, but he left our feelings right where they’ve always been. I still have inside me some of what I’ve always had, built up over a lifetime. I just keep adding to it, every day, like everybody else, and hope the stew gets better the more ingredients I put in.”

The Sweet By and By is perfect summer reading. It’s weighty enough to matter, but manages also to take itself lightly.

Review by Cynthia Gregory/