I love a good gothic novel, but new ones have been scarce since the genre went out of fashion a couple of decades ago. What's a girl to do when she's read all of Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels?

So I was incredibly pleased to find a brand spanking new AND excellent book that matched my idea of a gothic: The Séance by John Harwood. It all begins with the death of a young girl, the mother's overwhelming grief and the elder, surviving daughter's need to alleviate that grief.

But, of course, there's a back story and, of course, it involves a sinister man, a decrepit mansion, a romance, a woman (possibly) in peril, and a supernatural element. It's convoluted and told from multiple points of view and just oh so delicious!

Several summers ago, our friends invited us to spend a week with them on Martha's Vineyard. They rent the Joshua Slocum house for the month of August. I have since discovered the mysteries of two of the island's writers, the late Philip R. Craig and Cynthia Riggs.

Solving the mystery is not the point of these stories. Learning the lore of the Vineyard is. I find it fun to read references to the beetlebung tree, West Tisbury, East Chop, the ferry to Chappaquiddick and all the little ponds and side roads that are so much a part of the island.

Craig writes with a touch of humor and real love of the island, the fishing, and the swarms of summer visitors that clog the roads. His main character J. W. Jackson, a retired Boston cop, now lives year around on the island and does odd jobs to support his wife and two children. He loves to fish and to cook and to sit on the balcony with drink in hand watching the ocean. Jackson's signature saying is delish (either preceded or followed by a recipe).

In one of the books, Jackson drops by Victoria Trumbull's house to check on her reaction to a case that he is investigating. Victoria Trumbull is the 92-year-old detective in the mysteries by Cynthia Riggs. Victoria is a feisty character who uses her knowledge of  the feuds and families and forebears of the residents of West Tisbury to help out the local police.

In his latest book, Third Strike, Philip Craig has teamed up with William G. Tapply, author of the Brady Coyne mysteries. Brady, a Boston lawyer, gets a call from a former client who tells him about mysterious crates loaded and unloaded at midnight on the island. Coyne and Jackson team up to crack the case of a crime with international ramifications.


A few things about Los Angeles.

The ocean is always cold and rough and full of riptides.

The backbone of L.A. County is made of steep wild mountains covered with sweet combustible chaparral, and sometimes also with snow, and within 20 minutes you can be right in among them from most of the 626 and 818 area codes.

Most of the movie-and-TV stuff happens in a very small part of the west side. “Everyone on the West Side is ‘on location’!” a friend said, describing the showbiz self-importance which tilts into the ridiculous.

In most of the county, though, there's a huge and vital kind of human plate tectonics going on: Latin America's cultures grinding against the Pacific Rim's. An excellent place to see this in action is at the Costco in Alhambra on a weekend afternoon.

No place else changes as fast. “I think I get it,” another friend said thoughtfully. We were sitting outside the Melrose Avenue Johnny Rocket’s, watching the highly embellished human parade. “You might as well have your art on the hoof.”

You are free to invent and re-invent yourself endlessly there, and people will mostly take you for whoever you say you are.

Poinsettias will grow into fair-sized trees, given the chance. If you spit a date pit over the side of the porch, a little palm tree might pop up. There are black widows in the garage, and in bad drought years tarantulas come out in the daytime. A flock of feral parrots can screech loud enough to blot out thought.

If you get off the freeway, you’ll find the most anonymous-looking suburbs have little time-warp main streets that will just break your heart.

A little more about LA:

Chavez Ravine is the area north of downtown where whole neighborhoods of Mexican-Americans were uprooted to make room for Dodger Stadium. It’s also the name of two great related works, the reissued 1949 album of Don Normark’s photographs documenting the vanished community, and Ry Cooder’s 2005 music CD on the same theme.

Nobody gets L.A.’s smudgy pink air and belief in magical possibilities as well as Francesca Lia Block. Her Weetzie Bat books for young adults, and Quakeland for grownups, have equal parts glitter, loneliness, hope, and strong female characters. 

The electrifying documentary Rize shows African-American kids in South Central making beautiful community art - the dance form known as krumping - out of nothing but passion.

Follow the rise of the Crips in Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member.

Carolyn See is one of those authors who immediately seems like a favorite friend.

Her look at family weirdness in her memoir Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America is so recognizable that we all might have grown up next door to her; yet her blue-collar 1950s Eagle Rock - little stucco bungalows, cracked sidewalks, brown grass - is pure L.A.

She also gives us a terrific, racy fable about art, survival, and finding one’s vocation in The Handyman, which may be the perfect L.A. novel: funny, breezy, and wise.

I bought a book. As a librarian I don’t normally admit that but it happens. I buy what I think is the best, what I can’t live without and borrow the rest. I borrowed from the library 1000 Jewelry Inspirations by Sandra Salamony. I was so enthused by the pieces in the book I had to own it.

I’ve been making jewelry for fifteen years - mostly simple necklaces, earrings, and bracelets with beads using the techniques of wirewrapping and softflex wire with crimp beads. If you make jewelry or love looking at jewelry you will love this book! Salamony includes full color photos of excellent pieces by 200+ creators. In all there are 1000 photographs of fantastic beaded art.

Most styles are covered: peyote stitch, ribbon chokers, wire wrapping, crimp beading, metal working, and bewitched materials made into ethereal concoctions. This is a confirmation that there are artists out there using pliers, needles, beads, blowtorches, metal, gems and ingenuity. They are creating amazing necklaces, earrings, and bracelets for the pleasure of jewelry wearers and the community at large. Be inspired - take a look at this beautiful book.

Our guest blogger is Karen Brattain, a freelance editor. She works for the scientific journal Astrobiology and has edited several books. She is a graduate of the Master's in Writing: Book Publishing program at Portland State University.

I tell everyone who will listen that I want to be the first copy editor in space. Two years of work for a journal that studies planets, moons, and stars has rubbed off on me and propelled my childhood interest in spaceflight to new heights.

Amazing spectacles fill the Cosmos. But I have come to feel that any story or study of the Universe is barren without us in it. The human element of space exploration—our ideas about what lies beyond, our attempts to discover it, and our thoughts about what we have discovered—is really the soul of space exploration. And the television series From the Earth to the Moon captures that soul.

Produced in part by Tom Hanks and Ron Howard, From the Earth to the Moon is a twelve-episode series that ran in the late 1990s. It brings to life the history of mankind’s journeys to, from, and on the Moon. I love that the series tells this story from a variety of perspectives. I am accustomed to seeing the Apollo astronauts as superstars; these episodes also stir me to admire the efforts of the ground crew, the spacecraft designers, the press, and the astronauts’ wives and families.

The first episode, “Can We Do This?” reveals the intense pressure of the space race. The plan to send Americans to the Moon began before we had even put an American in space; as a result, the Mercury and Gemini missions happen at breakneck speed. The consequences of this speed reach a climax in the next episode, “Apollo One,” which covers the devastating loss of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. This honest and deeply emotional episode hooked me on the series. It is an exceptional performance.

Since then, I have watched the Apollo 7 crew recover from tragedy to complete a successful mission, and I have celebrated as Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders orbited the Moon on Apollo 8. I am not finished with the series, so I am eager to see more. Indeed, it is taking an act of self-discipline for me to finish this review without popping in another episode.

If you want to test the water before diving into twelve episodes, I recommend the film Apollo 13. Directed by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 has an excellent cast, including Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, and Kathleen Quinlan. Spaceflight was never so real and suspenseful to me as it was when I watched this film for the first time. Now, after several viewings, I still feel that intensity. And I have developed a soft spot for Mission Control. One of the achievements of the film is that the cast breathes passion into highly technical language and concepts. One actor exclaims, “I need to know if the IU’s correcting for the Number 5 shutdown!” I’m on the edge of my seat!

The Apollo missions show us what humanity can achieve. As Jim Lovell says in Apollo 13, “We live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It’s not a miracle. We just decided to go.” Working for the common good uplifts us all. Apollo also reminds us how much we have and how valuable it is. Earth, seen from space, is a fragile and fantastic thing. Watch From the Earth to the Moon and Apollo 13. Learn about Earth, the Moon, and humanity.

In 1964, I started keeping a notebook of phrases, poems, and parts of books that I like. Needless to say, I have filled notebooks and still have little pieces of paper sticking out of books and tucked away in drawers. Years ago, I copied a poem by Mary Oliver called When Death Comes. I was particularly struck by this verse,

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

I like the idea of being "married to amazement".

When Winter Hours: A Book of Prose and Prose Poems by Oliver came across my desk, I had to read it.

One of the first things to strike me about her writing is how she sees, observes, notices -- and the quality of her sight. As I read further, I was on high alert to watch for more signs of seeing and sight. She says of other writers and thinkers, "Thus the great ones have taught me... -- to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always care-ingly."

Describing her own methods, she says, "I walk and I notice.  I am sensual in order to be spiritual. I look into everything without cutting into anything."

Another pleasure of this book is the essays on Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Mary Oliver is a close observer and reader. In her meditation on Poe, she states,"In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us. This is Poe's real story. As it is ours. And this is why we honor him, why we are fascinated far past the simple narratives. He writes about our own inescapable destiny."

One of the reasons that Mary Oliver is attracted to the poet Robert Frost is that, "There is everywhere in Frost a sense that a man has time to look at things, to think and to feel." She writes a whole essay on Frost's two different messages, "everything is all right, say the metre and the rhyme, everything is not all right, say the words."  She feels that Frost writes of play and pleasure, wonder, reason and hope, "But the great height is not there. The sharp spilling of the soul into the whistling air- the pure spine-involved and organ-attached bliss - is not there."

Her own prose is often poetic:

"The storm comes on an incoming tide; it therefore grows in power for the six hours of flashing tumble and shove toward us…. Indeed, what such fetch and wind in the rising tide do to the water of the surface is beautiful and dreadful. It shines, for the clouds are thin and racing by, and the light alters from gray to steel to a terrible flashing, a shirred, swarming surface."

Who can resist such stirring sentences!

There is something comforting in the rift we have as children between fantasy and reality.

When I was a kid, there were two beagles in my life. There was Snoopy. Everyone had Snoopy.

And then there was the "beagle" my Aunt and Uncle owned. She was elderly, obese, and toothless. Her tongue lolled in a perpetual pant over the left side of her mouth without any barrier to keep it contained in her head. Her name was Hyphen. She was nothing like Snoopy, and I decided she could not possibly be a beagle because there was no reconciling Hyphen with Snoopy. And anyway, who names a dog after a punctuation mark? Snoopy and Hyphen did not occupy the same universe. Hyphen was an obscurity; an unknown in the beagle world.

While I will now freely label Hyphen of the beagle breed, it took me until last year to admit that Aquaman is not considered by most people I have surveyed** to be a top-tier superhero. His power to telepathically communicate with ocean creatures has been mocked and ridiculed by many. Sufferin’ starfish!

Spiderman is cool. Batman is cool. Aquaman is NOT cool. Some would insist they do not occupy the same universe.

I am a geek for not realizing this sooner, I know. But I freely admit to my personal geekiness and make regular overt attempts to turn my children geeky as well. (For help with the geekification of children, I recommend Bringing up Geeks by Marybeth Hicks.) This includes subjecting them to the early episodes of Little House on the Prairie and reading a somewhat obscure Australian novel about a talking pudding.

And now thanks to the The Complete Collection of The Adventures of Aquaman I have 36 episodic chances to convince Child the Elder that there is nothing better than rounding up sea creatures in defense of Atlantis against the evil Vassa, Queen of the Mermen while riding a giant snowy seahorse named Storm. Look out, Aqualad!

Perhaps it is my lifelong fascination with all things ocean-related, but Spiderman and Batman just never measured up to a guy who battles mechanical whales and mutant plankton.

I dare you to watch it without reveling in a satisfying universe where good always triumphs. It is a relief to dive down below the reality of our recessionary realm to a place where bad guys can be vanquished with a few compressed balls of water and a school of obedient yet determined fish. The corny and hilarious dialog is a bonus. And you just may ask yourself, "Why does every last villain aim to smash the glass bubble surrounding Atlantis and drown its hapless air-breathing inhabitants? Do they hate the Atlanteans for their captivity?"

Great Gastropods! Long live Ack-wa-man*, and long may he reign.

*The proper pronunciation, according to the television series.

**Not a scientific survey. Includes many disdainful children of my relation or acquaintance and one sarcastic husband.

Since I was just a wee small library girl, one of my very favorite parts of going on a trip, no matter how far or near, how short or long, has been the ceremonial choosing of the books that will go with me. So for a mid-January trip to the Oregon Coast, what should I take?

I pretty much had to take the book for February's book group--the pressure was on and I'd been procrastinating. And then, because resistance is futile, I threw in Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris by Oregon author Bonnie Henderson.

We arrived in Manzanita mid-afternoon, settled in, had an early dinner, and revved up the fireplace. There was a brief moment when I contemplated doing the responsible thing and diving into my assigned reading. Then, as I held a book in each hand, I got a delicious whiff of salty air and heard the roar of the ocean just outside. I went with Strand. It is a wonderful thing to have the perfect reading for a trip.

Back in '95 Henderson began volunteering for CoastWatch, a program of the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition that monitors changes, natural and unnatural, on every inch of Oregon coastline. Volunteers adopt a mile of coast and agree to walk it at least four times a year, briefly reporting on changes they notice. She and a good friend walk their adjacent miles together, one bringing the sandwiches, the other the cookies. They begin to refer to themselves as Forensic CoastWatchers as they talk about what they find as they walk. And what they find is just the beginning of the story. It's Henderson's bloodhound spirit for the answer to "why is it here on the beach?" that makes the book so fascinating.

Some of what I learned from Strand is that:

Those thousands of little purplish-blue jellyfish washing up is something that happens every year.

Dead sea birds are everywhere. If you don't see them, you're just not looking.

The primo time for beachcombing is at high tide on a stormy night.

Japanese glass floats on the beach are an almost unbelievable treasure find here, but in Japan they're nothing special. Even less than nothing special.

Minke whales may be the most common whale off the Oregon Coast. That's right--Minke.

Container ships lose their cargo often, more often than they'd like you to know, and it sometimes washes up on NW beaches.

There is a sickeningly large floating "island" of all kinds of garbage in the North Pacific known as The Patch.

Henderson's writing has been likened to John McPhee, whom I worship. If that gets you to read this book, then that's great. But if you're not a McPhee Phan, please don't let that keep you from reading Strand. I would ask you this: Do you love the Pacific Northwest beaches? Good enough. You'll need to read this book. The chapters are short enough to be totally accessible yet include enough detail that the amateur science/nature geek in you will be totally satisfied. I was. Like a good shipwreck story? There's that too.

"Ultimately," Henderson says, "it was the stories I prized the most. Everything on the beach has one--every discarded bottle, every dead seabird chick. Even when you can't get the whole story, the quest becomes a story in itself. And in the end those are the best stories anyway."

Epilogue: I was at the coast for four days and finished Strand in three, although with no distractions it's definitely possible to do it in one. Did I start that book for the book group? No. Did I have guilt about it? Yes. But in classic English major fashion, I burned through it the day before our meeting. It was good. But Strand was great.

Bonnie Henderson will be reading from Strand at the Hollywood Library on Monday May 18th, at 6 p.m. Learn more about her work at her website

In 1975, when Bich Minh Nguyen was still an infant, her father suddenly swept her and her sister out of Vietnam, not even leaving behind a note for her mother. They settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her grandmother and uncles. As she grew out of babyhood, Bich (pronounced Bit) began to crave the food items noted above plus many others. She loved McDonalds, Burger King, Hostess cupcakes and Toll House cookies. Food was an important part of her life and her family's. She named her memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner.

Soon Bich's father married a Latina named Rosa, who had a daughter named Crissy. That meant that Bich had to deal with Rosa's Latin culture, her new American culture, and her native Vietnamese culture all at the same time. Like many girls her age, she tried to fit in with the most popular girls, the ones with blond hair, blue eyes and perfect teeth. Fitting in was often a frustrating challenge for her.

What makes her memoir special is that, while we are reading about Bich's efforts to fit in, we can reminisce about foods, movies, television shows, and books that were popular in the eighties. She loved them all. She even enjoyed watching soap operas with her grandmother. Was Bich harmed by any of her excesses? You wouldn't think so. You see, she eventually became a professor of literature and creative writing at Purdue University. Her first novel, Short Girls is coming out this summer.

Price of travelling too high? Take a vicarious journey of adventure this summer. Balthasar's Odyssey is a tale set in the 17th century, but several of the threads are oddly contemporary -- the differences between Muslims, Christians and Jews; the tug between superstition and reason, the fear of signs and portents.

Next year will be 1666, the Year of the Beast, and many communities are wrapped in fear and dread that the Apocalypse is near. Balthasar Embriaco, a Genoese bookseller and antique dealer, living in the Levant sets out to find a book called The Hundredth Name of God which many believe will reveal the secret name of God and will thus save the world from destruction.

The voice of Balthasar as he spins the tale of his journey from Gibelet to Constantinople, to Smyrna across the Mediterranean and on to London shortly before the Great Fire is a treat. A kind of braggart so proud of his family name and heritage, Balthasar entertains us with his journal of travels and travails, musings and romance. Described by one reveiwer as picturesque and picaresque, this novel provides much entertainment.

Since I've been thinking about traveling, I was delighted to find a new CD title called Selected Shorts: Travel Tales. These short stories are read (performed really), by acclaimed actors and actresses mostly in front of a live audience at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City.

I was particularly delighted with Paul Hecht's reading of "The Hat of My Mother" by Max Steele, one of the travel tales from Selected Shorts. His pauses, pacing and the way he draws out certain parts of the sentences makes this humorous story come alive. I could picture the family gathered around the breakfast table the morning after Mother was kidnapped and safely returned. "I only want to tell this story once and I'd better not hear it repeated from anywhere outside the family", she says in a very firm voice.

There are currently 49 different Selected Shorts CD titles on a variety of subjects. Find a list here. Get one and listen for yourself.

Can you think of other vicarious journeys to recommend to the armchair traveler?

…went to the cupboard to eat her curds and whey. Wait, that’s not right! Well, it has been a very long time since I've even thought about nursery rhymes, but I did think about them a lot while reading two books in the Nursery Crimes series by Jasper Fforde (pronounced “ford” like the car). Are these books even for adults? Oh yes! Many children would have trouble with all of the nuances Fforde inserts into his whimsical stories.

The Big Over Easy is the first title in the series. The main characters, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary, are head of the Nursery Crimes Division of the local police constabulary in Reading, England. Their assignment is to investigate the death of Humpty Dumpty. The second book in the series is The Fourth Bear. Was there a fourth bear? Why didn’t Mama Bear and Papa Bear sleep in the same bed?

And how could Jack Spratt not look for the violent Gingerbreadman who had just escaped from the supposedly secure mental hospital? Well, mystery readers won't be surprised that Jack will not forget the Gingerbreadman is on the loose, even though he has been suspended for screwing up another assignment involving Red Riding Hood.

Jasper Fforde’s highly imaginative books are not for everyone, but those with a sense of fun will enjoy going along for the ride with him wherever his mind takes them.  

The other week a colleague alerted me to a nifty website from Penguin Books (UK) titled Red Recommendations that matches contemporary books to classics. So you enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible? Check out Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Adore the rich atmosphere, characters and descriptions in Fingersmith by Sarah Waters? You should finally get around to reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. You read Chocolat and it's sequel by Joanne Harris and don't know where to turn next? Why not try Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac?

So I was amazed when I picked up The House at Riverton (previously reviewed by Helen), a new book by Kate Morton, and read the first two lines: "Last November I had a nightmare. It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again." Was this to be Rebecca all over again? And if so, how fabulous would that be!

I finished it last night and it was great - family secrets, an interesting time and place in history (early 1900s England), characters I didn't particularly like, but was fascinated by, and some really decent writing. A perfect summer read (even though summer feels like it will never come to Portland). If you're on the waiting list for Riverton, go pick up Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. And if you've read and loved them both, try these other great titles: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell, Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, and The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields.    

I realized the other night that parenting has pushed me into full intellectual survival mode. I watched Child the Younger (who is not yet two) throw a blanket over his head and run, yelling, straight for a wall at full speed. This spectacle was like an infant version of a Braveheart battle scene, but I could only think: if he knocks himself out, maybe I can read three more pages before he regains consciousness. . .

This is my brain on toddlers.

I caught myself reading while stirring tapioca pudding on the stove, vaguely aware that if I wasn’t reading at that very moment my brain would actually dissolve itself and become one with that pot of pale, gelatinous, gently bubbling goo.

What separates me from tapioca these days? Anything I can pick up or put down in hurry; magazines, graphic novels, comics and zines are my lifeline.

The best mom magazine I’ve found is Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. Each issue is filled with thought-provoking essays and articles that get to the core of what it means to be a mother in our time. There are no smarmy potty-training lectures or mind-numbing checklists or cutesy impossible birthday cakes I would never make in a million years or big corporate food advertisements for the unholy Uncrustables.  (I’m sorry; if you’re really too busy to make a PB & J, you need more help than a frozen sealed crust-less sandwich can offer.)

Graphic novels and comics are more weapons of defense in my arsenal for brain cell preservation. Keiko Tobe's With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child is the fascinating and realistic saga of one family’s day-to-day struggles with the disorder. (Yes, the Japanese mothers resemble Barbies and the children have giant doe eyes, but that’s manga for you.)

Richard Thompson's  brilliant comic strip Cul-de-sac  keeps me subscribing to The Oregonian even though I currently have no time to read the rest of it. His first book of collected work is a fabulous introduction to the most searing and poignant comic since Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes. Any modern parent can commiserate with the family’s recent visit to P. J. Piehole’s, a soul-sucking chain restaurant with vaguely terrifying décor and pepper jack cheese in every menu item.

My go-to mom zine is Ayun Halliday's The East Village Inky. Halliday writes about her adventures as the (way cooler than you) mom of two living in New York’s East Village. It is a vicarious and hilarious thrill to follow her through one gritty urban experience after another. Kate Haas's Miranda: Motherhood and Other Adventures offers a more local take on parenting in P-town with bonus recipes.

Reading anything these days is an act of survival. I may not make it through that dusty copy of Bleak House on my nightstand before 2012, but a comic book will do for right now.

Because nobody wants brain pudding in their lunch box.

Once in awhile, I like to take a chance on a debut novel, especially if I've seen a good review. Kate Morton's The House at Riverton was published to great acclaim in Australia and a best seller in Britain according to Library Journal. It is kind of an upstairs, downstairs book told through the memories of the now aged former servant girl and ladies maid, Grace.

Grace goes to work at Riverton house just before the first World War when she is only 14. She becomes the silent witness to The Game played by the son and two daughters of the house. Grace observes and comments on family secrets, glittering society and the world of the 1920s that is just on the cusp of vanishing forever.

I liked the author's descriptions, especially this one giving us a first glimpse of the young poet who figures so hugely later in the story, "Alone in the room, his dark eyes grave beneath a line of dark brows, he gave the impression of sorrow past, deeply felt and poorly mended. He was tall and lean, though not so as to appear lanky, and his brown hair fell longer than was the fashion, some ends escaping others to brush against his collar, his cheekbone."

Years later in the summer of 1924 during a party, this young poet shoots and kills himself at the lake near the house. The only witnesses are the daughters Hannah and Emmeline, and only they - and Grace- know the truth.

Grace, now a 98-year-old woman living in a nursing home, is approached by a filmmaker who is making a film of the events of that fateful summer of 1924. The meeting stirs up old memories and Grace recounts her observations of the events and ultimately reveals the truth.

I was particularly intrigued by the juxtaposition of the two stories - long ago events with the everyday life of 98-year-old Grace and her thoughts about the working of memory, "And I told you about the memories I've been having. Not all of them; I have a purpose and it isn't to bore you with tales from my past. Rather I told you about the curious sensation that they are becoming more real to me than my life. The way I slip away without warning, am disappointed when I open my eyes to see that I am back in 1999; the way the fabric of time is changing, and I am beginning to feel at home in the past and a visitor to this strange and blanched experience we agree to call the present."

Later Grace says, "I am slipping out of time. The demarcations I've observed for a lifetime are suddenly meaningless: seconds, minutes, hours, days. Mere words. All I have are moments."

I have a strong suspicion that this is the way memory is for my own 96-year-old mother.

Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson is one of my favorite books of the last year. Think back, possibly way back, to when you were a child or a teen and there was music.  And music was one of the most important elements in your life. First it was the Beatles for me. Then it was a New Zealand band called Split Enz. Thereafter I branched out to local bands I could see live.

Well, Mike Dawson may have branched out but as we find out in this terrific graphic memoir, Mike can place the memories of his life with the releases of rock band Queen’s albums. Besides using graphic art methods to tell his story there is also timeline at the beginning of the book outlining major events in his life with the releases of Queen’s record albums. Queen fans and readers who love a good memoir will like this book. At times this book is laugh out loud funny and other times touchingly philosophical. Don’t miss it.

And in case you love this book and want to talk about it with other fans, Hollywood Library's Graphic Novel Book Group is discussing Freddie & Me on March 10 at 6:30.

I've been on a John McPhee jag lately. It started in about 1979 when an English prof handed me a copy of The Survival of the Bark Canoe  while I waited for an appointment with my adviser. It wasn't like anything I'd ever read before. I loved the subject, and the writing even more.

Very recently I read Uncommon Carriers for book group. I loved the subject, and the writing even more. And I really get off on materials movement, to coin a library phrase. Moving stuff efficiently--cool. McPhee's chapter on UPS really floated my boat.

On finishing Carriers I wanted another McPhee title right then, didn't want to wait for the material to move, so I grabbed Looking for a Ship (1990) which was right there on the shelf. Even though it's almost twenty years old, and I knew next to nothing about the United States Merchant Marine, it was awesome. Again with the moving stuff around. Love it. Before I finished this one I put The Founding Fish on hold and it came from another branch with perfect timing. I finished the ship book and picked up the fish book. One of my "wish I coulda been a" professions is an ichthyologist, so I loved this also. But it's not about the fish--it's the writing.

dNow I have to go back in time and reread The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975). It's been so long that it'll be like reading it for the first time. How did that English prof, whose name I can't even remember, know I'd like it? We talked for less than five minutes in a dusty half-basement hallway. Was it something I said? Was it a vibe he got from the enthusiastic brown-haired girl madly in love the Transcendentalists? Doubtful. I'm pretty sure it was McPhee. The man can't write a bad sentence as far as I can tell.

I don't normally make resolutions at the New Year--I feel like I'm setting myself up for failure--but I may make an exception this year. Maybe I'll resolve to read half of the books John McPhee has written to date. Hold on--I think that's something like 27 titles. Maybe I can read one third. How about if I just resolve to read everything he's written with no time-line? Yeah, that sounds good.

One of my favorite books of last year is an oldie but a definite goody: My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I was finally motivated to read this book when PBS aired a movie version, and I almost never see a movie before reading the book it's based on. Months later, I found out that it was a friend's favorite book, and he told me about other Durrell books he had enjoyed including two short story collections: The Picnic and Other Inimitable Stories and Marrying Off Mother and Other Stories. Durrell is a keen observer (as any naturalist should be!) of not only nature, but of family, friends and other people he comes across in his peripatetic life, and his delightful descriptions make for lots of fun reading.

My Family and Other Animals is about the time he spent with his mother and three siblings on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s. Larry (I had a "Duh!" moment when it finally hit me that Larry was the novelist Lawrence Durrell, author of the Alexandria Quartet!) is querulous and self-absorbed, Leslie - the second eldest brother - will shoot anything that moves (and some things that don't), and Margo, the lone daughter, could be a teenage girl today, with her boyfriend troubles and diets. Mother is vague and sweet, constantly mediating her family's quarrels while cooking a constant stream of tasty-sounding dishes.

Gerry delights in bugs and all other things in the natural world, and finds friends among the locals while enjoying his status as the youngest family member. This early love of nature endured throughout Gerald's life - he became a well-known naturalist who established the Jersey Zoological Park, and a prolific author and TV personality. The other two books in the Corfu trilogy are Birds, Beasts and Relatives and Fauna and Family. If you've never read Gerry, you're in for a treat!

I watched Young @ Heart in early December. While raving about it the morning after, a voice in my head said to zip it until I could put together a rational thought. I think I'm ready.

Young @ Heart is essentially the biography and recent history of a chorus of senior citizens. Established in 1982 in Northampton, Massachusetts, all the original members (none are still with us) lived in a senior center. Nowadays the chorus members are in a wide variety of living situations--some in their own homes, alone or with spouses, some in retirement homes or apartments. The choir's music, chosen by their artistic director, Bob Cilman, is not what one might expect--"I Wanna Be Sedated" by The Ramones, for example. Their struggles with "Yes We Can" by Allen Touissant and "I Feel Good" by James Brown are epic, and finally mastered, but, man, they were close ones. Considering the average age of the group members, syncopated vocal rhythms really are the least of their concerns. As a coworker said, "Fix You" by Coldplay takes on a whole new meaning when you see and hear it sung solo by an 80-year-old so weakened by congestive heart failure that he must sit, oxygen canister beside him. And it is perfection.

It is still so difficult to put my feelings about this movie into words. They make it sound trite and "feel good," and that demeans it, somehow. These are real people, forming friendships, rehearsing, traveling and performing together, fighting battles with illness which we see won and lost, and grieving together. They are as different from each other as you and I, but they have that common thread of age. There are moments of pure hilarity, absolute frustration, terrible sorrow, and sheer joy.

These folks master performances that would be difficult for any age, but they're all over than 65, some well past that mark. I can't seem to get a good walk in, but I'll be the first in line to buy tickets if Young @ Heart comes to Portland. Maybe I'll even hoof it to the Max station.

Learn more about the chorus at

Every year in the late fall, youth librarian geeks throughout the U.S. start making predictions as to what will win the various youth book awards.  The three best-known youth literary awards in the United States are the Caldecott, the Newbery and the Printz, and all are awarded by divisions of the American Library Association at the midwinter meeting in January.

Several years ago, I got to serve on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee.  It was a great, although exhausting, experience.  I read all of at least 150 books (and a number of these twice), plus bits of 50 or so more books (all while working full time).  My committee and I were fortunate in that 2003 was a fabulous year for teen books.  We nominated titles, talked non-stop about books, eliminated some titles, and talked some more.  Our meetings were impassioned but respectful, and we ultimately came up with a winner and four honor books.

Many libraries host mock award workshops that involve reading, discussing and voting on possible winners. Over the last few years, Multnomah County Library, in conjunction with the Oregon Young Adult Network has hosted a Mock Printz Workshop. Librarians and teens read ten books in advance and come prepared to discuss the titles based on the Printz Award's criteria.  We get together in small groups to talk about the books, and then the voting begins. It's a great way to become familiar with new books for teens and to discuss what makes a good young adult book. This year's discussion will feature the following eleven books:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Paper Towns by John Green
The Last Exit to Normal by Michael B. Harmon
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart
The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer
Madapple by Christina Meldrum
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
Black Box by Julie Schumacher
Skim by Mariko Tamaki

Want to participate in geekishness? Find out who won on the morning of January 26 by checking the live webcast of the press conference on the Association for Library Services to Children's Website. And may the best book win!

For those of us who have ever fallen for the wrong man, Alice Hoffman's latest book assures us that we are in plentiful, if not necessarily good, company. There are many women in The Third Angel- so many that I had a bit of trouble at first keeping track - and their stories are told in interconnected, almost novella-like pieces.

At least three of these women have fallen for, or are with, men who are neither right nor good for them. Madeleine gets involved with her sister's fiance (big mistake), Frieda is attracted to a drug-addled singer (why?), and Bryn is still desperately in love with her wildly attractive and Irish-American (sigh), but criminal ex-husband although she is engaged to another man who is dull, dull, dull by comparison. Bad boys - ya gotta love 'em, and yet, I didn't really like them in this book.

I didn't see the attraction for either the men (well, okay, Michael the Irish-American was dishy and interesting and seemed to maybe truly love Bryn) or the women. I didn't really like anyone, nor did I have much sympathy for them, although I found their stories somewhat interesting and sorting out of all of the relationships was a bit amusing. I never really got the whole third angel bit - was it Teddy Healy? Call me dense, but then explain it to me please  I did enjoy the hope that came at the end of each piece, because, as any of us whose heart has been bruised by the wrong guy will tell you, there are few happy endings. 

For a fun book on getting over an ex-boyfriend (it will make you laugh while you're crying), check out The Ex-Boyfriend Book: A Zodiac Guide to Your Former Flames by Rowan Davis.  Sign by sign, dysfunction by dysfunction, you'll learn what you'll miss, what you won't miss, why you are so much better off without him, and, if you so foolishly decide you really want him back, how to get the job done.  But really, why bother?  There's probably another wrong man for you right around the corner!