Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Popham Beach in December

Season's Greetings from Maine! 

Book Blog Watch: The Perpetual Page-Turner has a link list to 2010 Book Surveys from multiple book bloggers, including my Gift Book Suggestions from 2010. Steph Su is listing best 2010 books by genre, craft etc. Happy Reading!

Holiday Humor: The Digital Story of Nativity on YouTube

2 week blog vacation: next post January 5, 2011. This post is my holiday card.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Alternating Point of View

In my current work-in-progress, A MATCH FOR EVE, my narrators are an American girl and a British boy. As an American married to an Englishman, these voices are coming easily to me. The hard part has been figuring out how to split the narrative, especially when both main characters are in a scene together. For guidance I have been reading novels written in the boy/girl point of view.

One Day by David Nicholls (2010) uses alternating point of view to show the complexities of a relationship over time. The narrative follows two Edinburgh University graduates from 1988 to 2007 in London. We connect with them “one day” every year. Both characters are English but from different socio-economic backgrounds. Dexter is a charismatic alcoholic working in television, and Emma is a literary liberal, scrambling to pay the rent. Nichols, writing in the third person, splits every chapter between the male and female perspectives. The voices evolve and converge as the characters age. Unrequited love drives the delightfully haphazard plot.

One Day is a laugh-out-loud satire for the Gen-X generation. The cultural references are spot on, although you will need a firsthand knowledge of the UK to get all the jokes. One problem with alternating voices is that the reader often bonds more to one than the other. I was impressed by how well Nicholls, as a male author, conveyed the female voice and avoided convention. If I had issues with a character it was with Dexter, not Emma. Also, the ending was too abrupt and random. Still, my husband and I really enjoyed this novel.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares (2010) was written for teens, but its cynical humor and off-beat characters would appeal to adults too, especially to fans of J.D. Salinger. The material pushes the envelope as to what is appropriate for younger readers, but I'm letting my 13-year-old daughter read it...soon. She picked it out while we were in NYC, and I stole it from her. Bad mom.

Two bored teens are on their own for Christmas in NYC. Dash told his mom he's with his dad and his dad he's with his mom. Lily's big brother is meant to be looking after her, but he's distracted by his new boyfriend. Lily leaves a moleskin notebook in a used bookstore with clues and a dare for a stranger who fancies J.D. Salinger. Dash picks up the challenge. The dares escalate from braving the Santa line at Macy's to clubbing at 2am for Jewish punk rock. Seriously. I usually find holiday books too schmaltzy, but this one had me laughing so hard I had to put it down.

Rachel Cohn wrote Lily's chapters and David Levithan wrote Dash's. This is the third time these authors have collaborated. They swapped chapters back and forth like the fictional notebook and a wacky but surprisingly cohesive story emerged. Occasionally the chapters fall out of time sequence but mostly the structure worked and was full of surprises. Having 2 authors also facilitated the rendering of gender. However, lonely Lily sounds more like a real teenager than jaded Dash. It's hard to imagine a 16-year-old boy more into words than messing around. For most of the book, the two are apart with parallel narratives, only connecting on the page. Both need to reconcile the Plutonic ideal in the notebook with the real person when they finally meet under the worst circumstances.

Dash: "I was a firm believer in preventive prevarication-in other words, lying early in order to free myself later on."
Lily: "I'm pretty sure my curfew is suspended on holidays. Like alternate side of the street parking rules."

Flipped (2001) by Wendelin Van Draanen is a he-said-she-said story for a younger audience. Every scene is replayed in paired chapters for a dual perspective. I found this construct too repetitive. It was, however, interesting to see which details were important enough to be noticed by each character. Unfortunately, I disliked the boy and found the girl too good to be true. My favorite character was a tree. The narrative is set in eighth grade with flashbacks. Although Flipped is labeled young adult fiction, it would appeal more to tweens than to teens because of its sweet innocence.

Young adult author Simone Elkeles has written several novels in alternating boy/girl POV chapters. Each chapter is labeled by character and narrated in first person. Elkeles uses dual narration effectively to break stereotypes and to show that there are two sides of a story. Her romances are a bit formulaic: good girl falls for bad misunderstood boy.

In Perfect Chemistry (2009) a Hispanic gang member is paired with a popular rich cheerleader as lab partners. I loved Alex but never connected with Brittany. The story about gang warfare was gripping, but the schmaltzy epilogue went too far in tying up all the plot strings. There are two more novels in this trilogy, following Alex’s brothers. Drugs, sex and violence make these novels upper young adult.

In Leaving Paradise (2007), the bad boy has spent a year in juvenile detention after his car hit the girl next door, disabling her. Of the two Elkeles novels that I read, I preferred Leaving Paradise for its plot twists and the unusual relationship between the characters. Elkeles’s approach to disability felt emotionally true and realistic. The sequel  Return to Paradise was released recently.

Having sampled these five books and others, I have settled on the alternating first person narration with labeled chapters because it is easiest for readers to follow. I won’t be replaying scenes in NOT CRICKET, but for pivotal scenes one character will narrate the first half and the other character the second half, a technique Elkeles employs very well.

I actually prefer the writing in One Day and Dash & Lily, but Elkeles's narrative structure would work better for my story because my characters, like hers, are in school together and sharing scenes. I’m aiming to use my dual voices to show that English really is two languages divided between the US and the UK. Structural form can shape the story; it’s the author’s invisible hand at work.

Reviewer's Disclaimer: no free products were received. Flipped was a library book (recommended by  Maria Padian –thanks!) and I purchased the other books. My daughter picked out Lily and Dash with her book allowance. She is reading it now and loving it, although a bit traumatized by my book snatching.

Book Blog Watch for the Holidays:
A List of Books From the House of Edward.
Check out my Gift Book Suggestions from 2010 (posted 2 weeks ago)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman & Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice, 2 reviews

Since Hanukkah starts tonight, I’m reviewing a novel and a Broadway play with Jewish characters. Allegra Goodman is one of my favorite authors. I enjoyed most of the stories in Total Immersion. One of the best novels I’ve read about science was her Intuition. Goodman researches her subjects thoroughly and then brings the workplace alive with passionate but fallible characters. Her most recent novel, The Cookbook Collector, would appeal to a wide audience. It tackles a broad range of topics from rare cookbooks to new technology start-ups.

The Cookbook Collector follows two half Jewish sisters in their twenties, pragmatic Emily and dreamy Jess. Emily has started a dot com business in Silicon Valley, and Jess is a philosophy graduate student at Berkeley who works at an antiquarian bookstore. Jess is in a relationship with an environmental activist but is attracted to her aloof employer, a man twice her age. Drifting and confused, Jess is drawn to Jewish mysticism. Emily is having problems of her own, managing a long distance romance with a competitor while weathering the astronomical ups and downs of the dot com industry in the 1990s. The close relationship between the sisters tie the disparate narrative strands together.

The third person narration includes multiple perspectives like a late 19th century novel, allowing for full development of even minor characters. The diverse cast of characters felt real down to their exasperating personality tics, and they avoided stereotypes. I loved seeing a young woman play a stellar CEO. Workplace romances resulted in unexpected consequences.

Despite the myriad plot strings and perspectives, the narrative is coherent and flows well. The Cookbook Collector is literary fiction but as easy and pleasurable to read as commercial fiction. This book was meant to be enjoyed by the fire on a long winter’s night. The warmth comes from within the pages:
“Who could resist cracking books like these? He wanted to open them right now, one after another on the kitchen table. He wanted to shuck these books like oysters in their shells.”
The Cookbook Collector also opens with one of my favorite quotations from Shakespeare's As You Like It: "I can live no longer by thinking."

Disclosure: I bought this book from an independent bookstore when it was released this summer. The author did not respond to my request for an interview.

Check out last week's post for my list of good gift books from 2010.

Shakespeare Watch: 
Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice 

Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice live on Broadway

While in NYC for Thanksgiving, we saw The Merchant of Venice on Broadway. Al Pacino was phenomenal as Shylock (better than Dustin Hoffman in the same role in 1989) and Lily Rabe was an equally strong Portia. The staging was terrific too. It was one the best performances I've ever seen, as good as Sir Ian McKellen playing Richard III at BAM. The strong cast could rival the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. The Americana actors avoided English accents and spoke the lines of Shakespeare naturally with emotional resonance. I was moved to laughter and nearly tears. My teenaged children loved it too, sitting on the edge of their seat for 3 hours. This performance is well worth a trip to NYC on its own.

The Merchant of Venice is playing through January 9th at the Broadhurst Theater. If you can't make it to NYC, rent The Merchant of Venice filmed in Venice. Al Pacino is really good in the movie, but he's even better live on stage. That's rare in a Hollywood actor.

The Merchant of Venice, the film (2004)

Happy Hanukkah!

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book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie & More Gift Book Suggestions from 2010

These entertaining novels were either released in hardback or came out in paperback this past year. I’ve selected books that should appeal to a broad audience. Click on links for my reviews.

Fiction for Adults:

1. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (historical fiction paperback)
2. The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (literary suspense)
3. The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman (literary fiction)
4. One Day by David Nicholls (commercial fiction paperback)

Young Adult Fiction (ages 12 and up):

1. The Indigo Notebook and The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau (contemporary)
2. White Cat by Holly Black (paranormal for boys)
3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (dystopia)
4. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (boy/girl)

5. Matched by Ally Condie (dystopia/romance)

Cassia trusts “Society” to make all the important life choices for her until she is accidentally matched with two boys for her life partner. Handsome, kind and smart Xander is her best friend, but Ky is a mystery, a boy living on the fringe of Society. Does she go with what is safe or risk everything to challenge the system? In this romantic tale, banned poetry becomes a weapon for revolution.
“Then, the question I asked myself was: Do I look pretty?
Now the question I ask is: Do I look strong?”
Condie’s paternalistic dystopia is very typical of the genre, but the romance angle is fresh. Matched is quite similar to The Giver by Lois Lowry. The writing and pacing made for easy, engaging reading. I read it in one day. The story felt a bit predictable, but there was a clever twist towards the end. The most interesting relationship was between Cassie and her grandfather, rather than with either of the boys. For a romance it was missing sizzle, but the dystopian world was well developed. Definitely a girl book and appropriate for tweens as well as teens. Matched would make a really good holiday gift. Doesn't the cover look like a spooky Christmas tree ornament?

Matched received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. First book in an upcoming trilogy to be released on November 30th in the USA. I borrowed the ARC from a friend.

Middle Grade Fiction (ages 8-12):
The protagonists of these three realistic novels are girls who defy gender stereotyping. Boys will enjoy them too. The contemporary subject matter is handled in classic style, reminding me of books from my childhood.

1. The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister by Charlotte Agell
2.  Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

3. The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane (paperback)

Molly wants to join the eighth grade boy’s baseball team as the only girl. It’s her way of connecting with her baseball fan father who died recently. He taught her how to pitch a knuckleball/butterfly.
"The knuckleball wasn’t just a pitch. It was an attitude toward life; it was a way of being in the world. It was a philosophy. ‘You don’t aim a butterfly,’ her father used to say. ‘You release it.’ Each pitch had a life of its own. It wasn’t about control, it wasn’t about muscle. Each floating and fluttering pitch was a little miracle. It was all about surprise."
Now Molly has to convince her teammates and her mother that she has a right to play baseball instead of softball.
“The ball didn’t care if you were a girl or boy. Skinny or fat, rich or poor, black or white, cool or uncool, happy or sad, smart and funny or awkward and shy, if you were charming and had a way with words and a winning smile- didn’t matter. The ball didn’t care.”
Mick Cochrane writes beautifully about friendship, first romance, family, grief, personal identity and, of course, baseball. The only part that rubbed me the wrong way was a girl player tap dancing in outfield. The implication was that boys take baseball more seriously than girls take softball. This otherwise perfectly crafted book manages to be both moving and funny.
“In Buffalo, any day in April without snow was considered spring.”
The Girl Who Threw Butterflies received a starred review from Kirkus and was a Booklist Top 10 Sports Book for Youth. I bought this paperback at a school book fair. I've been looking for sporty girl books since my work in progress, NOT CRICKET (renamed A MATCH FOR EVE), is about an American softball player who wants to play cricket in England. I'd love more recommendations, especially cricket or softball novels for teens.

More gift book ideas? Leave a list in a comment or the URL to a list on your blog.  I'll add a link to your gift book post here (up until the week before Christmas/Kwanza - Hanukkah starts next week.)  I'll be mostly offline over this holiday weekend but will catch up soon.

"A List of Books" From the House of Edward
"2010 Book Lists" @Steph Su Reads
“End of 2010 Survey” @The Perpetual Page-Turner (includes link list to more best 2010 book posts)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Memory, Morality and Youthful Indiscretions

Psychologists have found that the mind pushes immoral acts into the past and recalls good deeds as happening more recently, creating a false sense of moral progress. Memory amplifies self-righteousness. The mind creates distance from unpleasant events. 

Benedict Carey’s “Why All Indiscretions Appear Youthful” reported how “people subconsciously maintain and massage their moral self-image.” One sentence about high school memories really resonated with me: “Those who hated their time in those locker-lined hallways feel further from their teenage selves than those who enjoyed it.” 

So that’s why I'm writing young adult fiction! It’s not just that I’m a parent of two terrific teens; I also enjoyed being a teenager. I went to a fabulous school in NYC. Not everything was perfect: my love life was a tangled mess and mean kids picked on me. I was not a typical teen, but I had a group of good friends who understood me then and now. Living in Manhattan gave us independence and plenty to do outside of school. We were bookish girls and not part of the “popular” crowd, but even good girls had bad fun.

Back in the 1980’s dance clubs gave free passes to high school girls. The drinking age and club admittance was 18, but fake ID's were easy to get in the Village. A bouncer at a club gave us the address. We went to clubs to dance but didn’t drink much because cocktails were expensive. We never drank to get drunk, and none of us drove. My friends’ midnight curfews meant we left clubs before the drug scene started. The worst thing that happened was Andy Warhol stole our cab on a rainy night. I bet he didn’t have a curfew!

Still, I look back on those years with amazement because no responsible parent would allow club hopping now. The legal drinking age in the USA went up to 21 when I was in college. Binge drinking has become a big problem at both high schools and colleges. My children consider alcohol to be as bad as I considered drugs at their age. Our mind may rearrange events to bolster our ethical self-image, but society also shifts our definition of moral behavior.

When I write for teens now, I take this shift of morality into consideration. In “as u like it” under aged drinking in Manhattan leads to consequences.  In my work in progress, NOT CRICKET (A MATCH FOR EVE), I'm facing a different moral landscape where the drinking age is 16 (for beer and wine) in England. I write about teens that act responsibly and sometimes make mistakes, just like I did. We learn from experience, and it appears, the good deeds will be remembered and our slips pushed into the past. I’m not sure if that’s disturbing or reassuring.

YA Book Blog Watch:

Lisa Schroeder blogged about Binge Drinking for The Comtemps, a new blog penned by a group of authors who write contemporary realistic young adult fiction.

Presenting Lenore asked, "Does a YA Novel Have To Be Accessible?"

The Story Siren posted a list of  2011 Debut YA Authors

Reading in Colorposted a list of 2011 Debut YA/MG Authors of Color.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Tide at Maquoit Bay

Let us ride one last time to the ocean.

Where light plays drama,

Perspective shifts,

And islands hide in fog.

The coastline is awash in color,

But pastures dull toward winter.

Autumn's sweetness dissolves.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interview with Kate Egan, editor of The Hunger Games trilogy

Today I’m taking you behind the scenes of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, this year’s “It” series in young adult (YA) fiction. The trilogy's editor, Kate Egan, happens to live around the corner from me. She came to my house for coffee to share the publishing story behind this #1 New York Times bestseller series, which has been popular with adults too.

The premise draws on both pop culture and the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur: a despotic ruler selects children from every district to fight to the death. The sole survivor brings back a bounty of food to his or her district. The battle is staged in a nightmare world of mutant hazards and broadcast live as entertainment, the ultimate reality TV. Needless to say, this gory spectacle foments, rather than subdues, rebellion in the districts.

When her younger sister is selected to be a contestant, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Katniss is a skilled archer who has been poaching wild game to feed her family. She is paired with a boy, Peeta, who once saved her from starvation. Katniss owes Peeta her life, but only one contestant is allowed to survive. Peeta loves Katniss, but she also has feelings for her hunting partner, Gale. This love triangle frames a coming-of-age story set in a war zone.

Although the first two books The Hunger Games (2008) and Catching Fire (2009) were more entertaining and better paced, Mockingjay (released last August 2010) has greater philosophical depth and moral ambiguity. The regime is corrupt and evil, but are the revolutionaries any better? In this not-so-distant future, television has become the most effective weapon of war. Despite the violence, this series does not glorify war, rather the opposite. The cost of war is paid by all participants, win or lose.

This dystopian trilogy reminded me more of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm than of books written for teenagers. If you've never read YA, try these. My daughter found the first book too scary at age eleven but returned to the books at age thirteen and really enjoyed them. I loved them too. All three books were hard to put down and impossible to forget. After finishing, I had many questions. Kate Egan had the answers.
photo of Kate Egan by Sarah Laurence

My Interview of Kate Egan

Sarah: how did you first connect with the author Suzanne Collins?

Kate: while working for Scholastic in NYC, I acquired and edited Suzanne’s first book, Gregor The Overlander. It became a five book series. The Underland Chronicles is about a boy who falls through a hole in his laundry room into a world hidden under New York, populated by giant rats and cockroaches and other creatures you might expect to find beneath the city.

Sort of like a modern Alice in Wonderland?

Exactly. The Underland Chronicles is meant for a younger audience but shares a similar central theme with The Hunger Games series.

What is that central theme?

Suzanne’s main interest is “what is a just war?” She’s especially concerned about the effects of war on a person.

What first attracted you to her writing?

The un-put-down-able quality to her writing. Suzanne started her career as a screenwriter. She wrote the adorable Little Bear television program on Nick Junior, among many other shows. She knows how to move a story and how to hold a kid’s attention, although Little Bear and her novels are extremely different in tone.

What was the inspiration for The Hunger Games trilogy?

Suzanne was flipping back and forth between the Iraq War coverage and Survivor on TV when she got the idea for The Hunger Games. Suzanne always writes her books in 3 parts with 9 chapters each so a trilogy was natural. She had the whole story in her head from the start.

When did you first hear about The Hunger Games?

Four years ago I was doing the final edits on the last Gregor book, when my second child was born. It was a month before I was ready to get back to editing. Suzanne used that time to write the proposal for The Hunger Games trilogy. The original proposal had the fight to the death and the intriguing character of Katniss. I realized that this was going to be the biggest book I’d ever worked on.

Why do you think The Hunger Games series has been so successful?

When I started working in publishing in the mid 1990’s, young adult fiction was all but dead. Scholastic, the publisher of The Hunger Games, barely published YA back then. There was no dedicated space for teen fiction in the bookstores. In the past ten years, the publishing pendulum has swung towards YA, even garnering an adult crossover audience. The Hunger Games was impossible to put down, and Katniss was a great character. Suzanne is a terrific storyteller.

Given that Scholastic’s headquarters are in NYC, why did you move to Maine?

My husband worked for the New York City government, and one of the terms of his employment was that we had to live within the city limits. We were living in a basement apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Our daughter’s crib was in the hall! In 2003 my husband was offered the job of running the State Ethics Commission in Augusta. In six weeks we bought a car and a house and moved to Maine.

How did you manage to keep working as an editor after the move?

I switched to working freelance for several publishing companies, mostly for Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. I kept 3 of my old authors from Scholastic, too. I work in the mornings when both kids are in school, during naptime and late at night.

How did you hold onto Suzanne Collins as your author?

When Suzanne’s agent sold The Hunger Games trilogy to Scholastic, it was agreed that I would remain her editor. We’ve been together for eight books now.

What are Suzanne Collins’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and how do you help her as an editor?

Storytelling is Suzanne’s strength. As an editor, I help her develop the characters. For example, I asked her for more of the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. Suzanne was more focused on the war story. We’ve learned to trust each other. Sometimes Suzanne thinks it’s obvious where she is going, but I tell her I don’t see it. When I need help following, it’s a sign that the manuscript needs some shoring up.

What has happened in the wake of The Hunger Games?

Suzanne wrote the screenplay for the movie of The Hunger Games, which will be produced by Nina Jacobson at Lionsgate Productions. They are in talks with Gary Ross, who directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. Suzanne is also busy with the Mockingjay launch and approving licensing products, like a Hunger Games board game.

Is Suzanne Collins working on a new novel?

I think she is starting to think about it, but that’s all I know right now.

I’m struck by how much The Hunger Games has appealed to adult readers as well as to teens. What marks a book as young adult as opposed to adult fiction?

I'd say that there has to be a teenaged protagonist. They are coming-of-age stories. The ending does not have to be happy, but there must be hope. A window is left open.

Thank you, Kate!

Reviewer’s Disclaimer: I bought all three books myself when they were first released. Kate Egan and I were introduced by our neighbor Charlotte Agell, author of another dystopian novel for teens, Shift. This interview was our first meeting. We met up more recently for a walk to enjoy the fall foliage. That first shot is from my front yard, and Kate is standing in my back yard. All photos were taken by me.

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@Barrie Summy

Note: Please do not contact me to reach Kate Egan. I am unable to forward e-mails.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autumnal Reflections

When the leaves are golden and the sky washed blue,

Walk into my woods amongst the maples.

Listen to the wind tickle the birches.

Follow a path under a bower of branches

Over a bridge to a mirror pond.

Where reflections cast murky depth,

Abstraction is more vibrant than reality.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Tempest of Scattered Leaves

Looking at the fallen leaves, I feel empathy for the trees. At the peak of creativity, my colorful ideas are scattered all over the place. Last Friday a storm straight out of The Tempest blew through Maine. Rain lashed sideways and trees toppled. We lost power. In the dark, I sketched out an outline for a new novel (really plot fragments that could be woven into a narrative later) and quit work for the day.

Then I met two friends for a two-hour lunch at Trattoria Athena, a new Greek restaurant in Brunswick. I highly recommend the gyros and catching up with old friends. Years ago we used to get together weekly for playgroup. Our sons have remained close friends, but we had drifted apart lately. We laughed over how much busier we are driving our teenagers to activities now than when they were toddlers.

Not only am I a soccer mom, I’m a Shakespeare mom. My daughter plays center forward and on weekends Shakespeare takes center stage in her acting class. My son quit soccer to play evil Antonio in The Tempest, with rehearsals every day after school and tech work on weekends. I drive miles for the Bard. Luckily, my young adult novel “as u like it” is about teen actors and Shakespeare so I’ve been observing rehearsal and acting classes, getting double credit for parenting and work.

On the road I rake up inspiration for my novels. It’s hard to know where to draw the line between art and life. Am I writing about teen actors who love Shakespeare because of my kids or do my kids love Shakespeare and acting because I’m writing about it? I like to think that my young adult novel could plant the passion for Shakespeare. It keeps me going…mile after mile after mile.

Photos: back step, front yard maple, backyard maples, view from Bradbury Mountain in Pownell

Shakespeare Watch:

Helen Mirren is playing Prospero in a Miramax production of The Tempest! It looks absolutely amazing (movie release date: 12/10/10.) At my son's school, a talented girl was also cast in the lead role of Prospero. The character is actually more believable with the gender switch.

I'm always on the look out for Shakespeare themed novels. Don't you love the cover of this one?

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand takes Twelfth Night as an inspiration for an illicit love story between cousins who discover the joy of theater. Although Illyria was published (2010) as young adult fiction in the USA, the topic of incest, the 1970’s setting and the literary style make it better suited to an adult audience, in my opinion.

Hand is a Maine author, but Illyria was first published in the UK in 2007. Thank you, Beth Kephart, for the recommendation. No free products were received.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stella's Last Walk

I write with shaky fingers as tears stream down my face. 
No dog lies at my cold feet. 
The only trace is a well-worn patch on my office floor. 
Stella was frequently mistaken for a puppy at age six. 

Her golden coat hid the tumors. 
She went from healthy to dying in a matter of weeks. 
There was nothing we could do other than make her last week perfect 
and her death painless at home.

Stella came into our lives when my husband was having health problems. 
That mischievous fluff-ball chased away tears and retrieved laughter. 
 Now that my husband is well, it seems unreal that this lively bundle of joy is gone.

As my daughter said, 
“I was supposed to say goodbye to her when I went away to college five years from now.” 
At an age when even good friends alternate from kind to cruel as hormones ebb, 
a loyal pet was a safe harbor.

Stella demanded walks in all weather, keeping us fit.
We took her on our sabbatical to England
She tongue mopped the kitchen floor and shredded garbage for easy recycling. 
 Dirty socks were matched with their owners. 
She had good taste in music, teaching my children to be more careful with their iPods.

Our house sounds quiet. 
 We notice her absence even more than her presence in our busy lives. 
 Once we were welcomed with genuflections of ecstasy. 
 The worst part now is coming home.

Nothing is left but these photos of our last walks at Popham Beach and Bailey Island. 
That final week was a gift, a time to take Stella to special places, 
knowing that when we returned that she’d still be inside us. 

My daughter labeled those final days“sehnsucht,” 
a longing for what we cannot experience, sort of the opposite of déjà vu. 
She discovered this uniquely German word and taught it to me.

The hardest act of love is letting go.

Stella by Starlight 7/16/04-9/24/10