Deadly Little Scandals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This book is the follow-up of Little White Lies. Because I liked the first book, I knew this would be a good one to bring with me on vacation to read on the airplane and throughout the week. No chance of starting it and deciding I didn’t like the writing or characters. And yes, it was like connecting with an old friend, the familiarity of it. It didn’t take me long to get into the story, and the mysteries inside were interesting. Unfortunately, the conclusions strayed dangerously close to one of my least-favorite book-tropes. There was a point when I thought I might end up despising the story. Thankfully, though, it backpedaled away from that particular trope, and while I still wasn’t enamored with the direction we went, it was better than the alternative. In the end, I though the book was okay, but I also donated it to the cruise ship’s library rather than bringing it home.

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Sunday Coffee – And we’re back!

Obviously this photo isn’t from today, but it was too good not to use!

We are back from our week-long adventure to Alaska, and I’m in the process of unpacking and catching up from my week away. I have so much to write about: things we saw, places we went, things we did, books I read, etc etc. However, I have so much going on that I’m going to save all that for when I have time to really sit down and think about what I want to write. In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with the thing that tickled me most on this vacation: Ducks.

This is my fourth cruise, and I’ve never before seen or heard of cruise-ducks. But on our first full day of the trip, as we walked out of the elevators, Jason reached up and grabbed a bright pink rubber duckie stuffed between the panels. That was our first Duck, which J named Emily Duckinson (and even wrote a poem to go alongside her), but we proceeded to find four more Ducks over the course of the week: one in green fatigues, a black 8-ball duck, one in a sailor suit, and a miniature green duck. We re-hid all but the 8-ball duck, with varying degrees of hiding success. The first, we actually watched the folks who found it, and they placed it on the back of their father’s wheelchair. The second, I hid behind some library books, right at the edge of the books so it would be easy to see, but days later it still hadn’t been found, so eventually I had to move it next to the books instead. The others, we hid by pieces of artwork, and they were all eventually taken. All but the miniature one, we originally found jammed up between the panels of the elevators.

It was a highly amusing part of the trip. I don’t know if cruise-ducks have been a thing since before we were on our earlier cruises or not, but we’ll definitely be keeping our eyes peeled for them if we ever travel via cruise again!

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She is a Haunting, by Trang Thanh Tran

From Storygraph: When Jade Nguyen arrives in Vietnam for a visit with her estranged father, she has one goal: survive five weeks pretending to be a happy family in the French colonial house Ba is restoring. She’s always lied to fit in, so if she’s straight enough, Vietnamese enough, American enough, she can get out with the college money he promised. // But the house has other plans. Night after night, Jade wakes up paralyzed. The walls exude a thrumming sound while bugs leave their legs and feelers in places they don’t belong. She finds curious traces of her ancestors in the gardens they once tended. And at night Jade can’t ignore the ghost of the beautiful bride who leaves cryptic warnings: Don’t eat. // Neither Ba nor her sweet sister Lily believe that there is anything strange happening. With help from a delinquent girl, Jade will prove this house—the home they have always wanted—will not rest until it destroys them. Maybe, this time, she can keep her family together. As she roots out the house’s rot, she must also face the truth of who she is and who she must become to save them all.

This is one of the strangest and most haunting books I’ve ever read. Let me start by saying that I know next to nothing about Vietnam or Vietnamese history, culture, language, etc. I went into the book knowing that there would be a lot that I didn’t understand due to my own ignorance, and this was true. On top of that, though, much of the book is rooted in a funhouse-type distortion, abstract and surreal but close enough to reality that you end up questioning your perception and understanding. What is it that I’m not catching because I’m ignorant, and what is it that is purposely skewed out of level? That made the narrative a minefield that personally, I adored, but I can see people either loving or despising it in equal measure.

However, this is not just a tale of funhouse horror. There are the true horrors that the paranormal bits help to illuminate. I may not know very much about Vietnam’s history, but I know generally about colonialism and the havoc it wreaked across the world. There is a lot in this book about colonialism – in the past, in the study of the past, in its effects on the native populations, not to mention the effects on those displaced by the violence of colonialism. There is a (white colonist) character from the history of this book who says about the Vietnamese, “They are all parasites.” Parasitic connections – symbiotic and otherwise – are a major thematic element of She is a Haunting. I found that quote to be particularly ironic, as in reality, it was the colonists who were the parasites: an invasive species, literally, who came to root out those people who lived in an area naturally.

And then, in addition to the horror elements and the historical elements, you have a story of family dynamics over the course of many generations. Families who reject, families who accept, family members who hide themselves or who walk away. Each member carries some kind of emptiness, a yearning for a place to truly belong, as they are stuck between countries, cultures, languages. There is a part that I cannot understand, where a young child is held responsible for an adult’s actions, and I don’t know if that action is understandable, or even relatable, within the culture of this family, or if it is simply a reprehensible thing that happens, as reprehensible things do. Again, all of these little elements lend themselves toward a dreamlike (or nightmarish) reading experience.

I have a few last notes that are more personal notes on reading the book. First, I loved the queer representation in the book, especially to have a bisexual narrator. Second, it felt very strange to have the parents of the narrator be younger than me, to exhibit signs of a generation after mine (like collecting Live Laugh Love-type signs). I’m used to being about the same age as the parents in YA, so now I feel even older than usual. Heh. Third, I misread a line at one point, carrying over words from the next line, but loved the misread quote so much that I kept it (emphasis on what wasn’t actually written): “The words sink in deep, more intimate than a knife in my chest.” Lastly, I want to set up and take photograph to look like that book cover, which is one of the most incredible I’ve ever seen.

Posted in 2023, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Mother’s Day: A Twist

For the last few years, I’ve struggled with Mother’s Day as the pandemic first trapped everyone indoors and then all my kids started to leave home. Doesn’t help that the holiday falls smack in the middle of the most difficult time of year for my mental health! Last year, for instance, I was meant to be on a plane to Seattle but the vacation had been canceled; so I went to a breakfast place, only to find out that the line was too long and conflicted with other plans; then went to a pretty disappointing Escape Room experience; then found out in the evening that our rebooked vacation had to be canceled and rescheduled again. I mean, that’s a pretty terrible Mother’s Day all around! (Photo: Mom-scars!)

This year, I had zero plans. The day fell less than a week before our vacation (6th or 7th rescheduling by this point) and I didn’t want to spend a lot of energy dealing with the day or trying to make it special in any way. I knew Jason had gotten some gifts, and I figured we’d go out to dinner. Done. That was all I needed. The day before, I’d gone out to a bunch of shops for last minute travel supplies but still had a few more errands to run, so that was on my personal agenda.

Sunday morning, Jason yelled out to me: “Hey, do you have anything scheduled for 1:30?” I didn’t, but apparently then I did. Heh. So the day went like this:

Late morning, J and I headed across town to REI, where I needed to pick up a rain jacket for this trip. While there, I checked out their re-supply area (for items that have been returned) and found a pair of Hoka Bondi shoes in my size that looked brand new. Per the description, they’d been worn around the house once but were too small and immediately returned. Hokas usually cost around $160+, but these were $85 and all of my good exercise shoes are 2+ years old / wearing out at this point, so I def grabbed those up! This trip took longer than expected, so we rushed home for a quick lunch before heading out to our 1:30 appointment at…an Escape Room!

This is actually the third time we’ve done an Escape Room on Mother’s Day, and unlike last year, this year’s Room was far better! It was 90s themed, and to solve the room, we were figuring out clues to correctly guess the answers to three mysteries. The throwback portion was awesome, right down to the Pogs and pencil box with the drawn S on it (iykyk). There was a mix tape of 90s rock/alternative hits playing the whole time, a weird eclectic mix that included everything from Under the Bridge to Wonderwall. We only used a single hint, and finished with about 11 mins remaining. The guy manning the room took a photo of us with the poster wall behind us afterwards.

After the escape room, we went down to Nowhere Bookshop because they had Mother’s Day vegan cupcakes, pink lemonade, and rosé prosecco. J and L both got lemonade with flavor mix-ins and glitter, ha! Then we popped over to the animal shelter where Sassafras had been waiting for her new home for days, since we were close by. When we asked to see her, the poor woman at the front desk looked so apologetic. It turned out, she’d been adopted within hours on her first day at the shelter, but the website just hadn’t been updated all week. She’d been getting calls about her for days – I’m sure she worried we’d be angry! We were just so glad to hear she found her home, though.

It was a fun afternoon, and instead of running the rest of my errands, I put them off for a day and had some downtime before we all dressed up a little and headed out to my favorite restaurant, India Oven, for dinner. They were giving all the mothers roses at their tables, which was lovely. My korma was delicious, and we got kashmiri naan for dessert (it’s really one of the best desserts in the entire world, it’s soooooo good!).

I talked to my oldest child in the evening – and had talked to my middle child from Korea the night before, because of the time difference – so all in all, it was a nice day. Definitely different from the last few disasters, heh. Maybe I should make no plans for future Mother’s Days, yeah?

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May Self Portrait: In the Rain

My regular readers already know: April and May are very tough months for me. I experience a lot of depression and PTSD flashbacks. In April, I tried to capture the zombie-like feeling that I enter in April in my personal photoshoot, and this month, I wanted to create a companion piece. May is when I start to crack, when I start to get angry, when I force myself to smile even as my inner self degrades. I took these photos in the rain, with a quote from one of my short stories to guide me:

The sky cracked open and bled onto us.

I also purposely took these photos on a friend’s birthday. Nat has been my heart-companion since we were in our teen years. We have walked through these feelings together, and we understand each other through and through. She bears an enormous burden right now, as her husband is dying of ALS that came on only two years ago and has already almost burned through him. Everyone expects her to hold strong and keep herself together as she takes care of him, herself, her parents, and her disabled younger brother. Nat is the strongest person I’ve ever known, but sometimes strength comes at a steep cost. I wanted to create these photos for her, because I wanted her to know that I see her, even if no one else seems to. I don’t expect other folks to understand this kind of gift, but our relationship is decades old and again, we know each other in all the deepest corners of our hearts.

I’ll also say that these portraits were quite nice to put together. The dress came from the thrift store, but the inner lining was an ugly beige, so Jason dyed it purple for me. I had purple-red mascara, and used artificial tears (something I have on hand for my sjögren’s) to make it run. Because the feeling I wanted to create was rather wild, chaotic, and abstract, it allowed me a lot of play in post-production editing.

My favorite thing about photography is the ability to tell a story, to create something rather than to just capture an image. Sometimes that involves a high degree of realism, and sometimes it requires a foray into a more dreamlike space. I know my style may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it, and so far the folks who have gotten photos from me have loved it. That’s good enough for me!

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Sunday Coffee – Accidental Book Spine Poetry

Years ago, I saw my first book spine poetry as part of a challenge for Readathon participants. I thought it was so cool, but for that particular Readathon, I was at a hotel (woohoo!) with just the books I wanted to read during that time. No spine poetry capabilities. Later, when I tried to create spine poetry from my books at home, I discovered that I had no talent for it. There’s something abstract in trying to take in all the books on my shelves and bring it into a word formation. If all the titles were written in a list in front of me, I’d do better.

Anyway, last week I was scrolling through my library’s Wowbrary feed, and came across two sets of book-title poetry that created themselves! I loved them, so I needed to share them. I wish I had the actual books in front of me so that I could take photos of the poetry, but alas, writing it out will have to do!

glass bottle season
my murder
open throat
the hidden life of Aster Kelly

That one came from the YA Wowbrary feed. The second was from the audiobook feed, and it was absolutely the best. Short and sweet and so very accurate:

America the Beautiful?
And dangerous to know

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Goodbye: Sassafras

After three weeks with us, our little Sassy-Pants went back in to the shelter for spay and the search for her forever home this week. Sassy started as an extremely timid kitten who had little to no experience with humans before she was rescued. She hissed if you approached her, but in a scared way rather than an aggressive way. For the first two days with us, she mostly hid, hardly eating anything or coming out to where we could interact with her except at night when Jason was asleep.

At this age (about 8 weeks), kittens are still in a window of socialization where they tend to come around pretty quickly. J and I have socialized quite a number of once-feral kittens, including our three most recent permanent residents rescued from that hoarding situation two years ago. The trick is to give the kitten space, meet them on their terms, but also not let them stay hidden forever. After Sassy’s two days of hiding, we put her in a playpen with some safe, less-hidden spaces. This allowed us to interact with her after she’d had a few days to get a little more accustomed to our scents and sounds. I fed her squeezy treats and pet her while she ate. Jason would pick her up and hold her close to his chest. It didn’t take long before she was purring each time we pet her and playing with the toys we provided. She no longer needed the playpen as a safe space, and transitioned out to the room at large without hiding.

There were so many things that Sassafras had no experience with. She didn’t know how to communicate with us, and her early attempts at meowing came out silent, with a little squeak near the end. Sudden movements or loud noises often sent her scurrying under furniture, and she remained skittish and timid. She hated being picked up, terrified of falling or being dropped. It took her over a week to figure out how to jump up to the bed, or drink from the water bowl. Everything was completely new to her.

The good thing is that every experience Sassy had with humans was positive. She came to love us – especially Jason – and she got to meet a handful of other people while she lived with us. We worried that she would hide from new people, but her interactions with us taught her to feel safer than she originally did, and after an initial run-and-hide because the door opened, she would come out to investigate immediately. As she grew less shy, her personality started to shine, and we learned that our little Sassy-Pants was a bit of a Bossy-Pants too. She got to meet a few of our cats after her two week quarantine period, and really connected with Angus. However, she quickly decided that despite their massive size difference, she was the one in charge. She’s going to be the reigning queen in whatever household she goes to!

On Tuesday, I brought her back in to the shelter and said my goodbyes. I got some really good photos of her in the days before, some gorgeous portraits as well as some that show off her absolutely ridiculous spunky personality. Sassy was our ninth foster of 2023 and our last for a few weeks as we have our upcoming vacation. However, kitten season has ramped up like crazy in our area and there are soooo many kittens who need foster homes. We’ll definitely be back to fostering again in June.

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Wellness Wednesday – Peanuts

Y’all. This is a weird one.

Let’s take a quick trip back in time to a series of events.

• 2018: Lost my sense of smell (but not my taste) due to a bad cold in January. Smell didn’t return until June 1st, when suddenly everything smelled of plaster, and the taste of certain foods changed (peanut butter, for instance, tasted spoiled). From June to November, my sense of smell changed from plaster to yeasty bread dough to sewage to rotten onions, each changing a few flavors of my sense of taste (ketchup = mint, sour cream = metallic, etc). Any time my nose got stuffed up and I couldn’t smell anything, my sense of taste returned to normal. Dr ordered an MRI that came up negative for any anomalies.

• 2019: Dr treated me with heavy antibiotics “just in case” and I developed a massive hive outbreak for five months. The only change the treatment made in my sense of smell was that it split into three scents: rotten onions, tamales, and patchouli. The treatment that got rid of the hives in May 2019 also allowed my sense of smell to partially return to normal. While any food with sulfur (onion, garlic, eggs, etc) still smelled and tasted rotten, everything else was normal. I figured this would be my new normal from then on.

• 2020: Twice late in the summer, I experienced a weird tightening of my esophagus after a meal, and the only ingredient in common between the meals was peanuts. I figured I might as well remove peanuts from my diet for a month to see if it changed any of my health issues, and it did. First, the rotten onion smell disappeared, and I could sudden taste/smell all foods normally again for the first time in 2.5 years. Second, my chronic eczema disappeared. I talked to my allergist about this and found out that while anaphylactic peanut allergies are talked about more often, most peanut allergies are low-grade and cause chronic eczema and/or hives, two conditions I’d been experiencing since infancy. I decided not to re-introduce peanuts at that point, because life was far better without them!

Fast forward to now. For the most part, staying away from peanuts has been easy. Every once in awhile, though, I start to crave some food from my past. The first time this happened was about 18 months after I gave up peanuts. There’s this particular protein bar made of peanuts and chocolate chips that I just love. (Yes, protein bars are usually disgusting, but GoMacro makes really good ones!) So I got a bar, ate it, and awaited the inevitable fallout. Within 24 hours, I had awful eczema outbreaks on most of my fingers. Took about three weeks for the outbreak to subside. Was it worth it for that bar? Absolutely yes. That’s when I decided that I could eat peanuts on a very, very sporadic basis, as long as I was prepared to deal with consequences.

A couple months ago was Girl Scout cookies season. Tagalongs are my favorite. I’ve skipped them for the last couple years because peanut butter, but this year, I bought a box. I ate the first few cookies in the complete knowledge of what would happen…only nothing happened. I ate more. I ate about 2/3rds of the box over about a week, and then sent the remaining five cookies to work with Jason. Still nothing happened. For weeks, I waited for the outbreak, but it never came. No eczema. No hives. No weird tightened esophagus. No smell of rotten onions. Nothing at all.

So was it a fluke, the peanut butter bars? A fluke that my eczema stopped when I stopped eating peanuts? Last week, I ate another of those peanut butter protein bars, and nothing happened. This week, I bought a jar of peanut butter, had a spoonful, and again nothing happened! Which leaves me wondering now: What the heck is happening here? Why did peanuts once affect me a particular way, and why aren’t they now? Am I just less sensitive now that I’ve gone so long without them? Was I just more sensitive then because of all the problems I’d had with hives and such? Is it the fact that I’m on these Mounjaro injections, which I wasn’t on when I had the pb bar the last time? I have no idea, but if I can eat peanuts and peanut butter again? That makes me a very happy person!!

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The Last Remains, by Elly Griffiths (audio)

In the fall of 2019, I discovered the Ruth Galloway series and quickly binged my way through the first 11 of them. Each year since, a new book has published, and The Last Remains is the 15th and final volume of the series. It was my most anticipated book of 2023, and also one of the saddest books to look forward to, because I have adored this series more than I can say. I’ll definitely have a full 15-book reread at some point, slower, to allow especially those first 11 books come through to me with more detail and depth.

Weird thing: When I was about 25% through this audiobook, I happened to see and read the publisher’s description of the book on GR/SG. It was completely wrong, with hardly a thing in common with the book I’d been reading. So I went to a different edition, which had a completely different description, this one accurate. With the last Galloway book I read, a similar thing happened, with at least three different descriptions floating around and details wrong in all three (down to character names or event years, etc). Now, when I go look at the descriptions of the previous book, they all match and are all correct, but at the time, they weren’t. The same seems to have happened here – in fact, the description almost seems like a cobbled together version of this book and the last! It makes me think that the publishers are getting a pre-drafted description of what the book was going to be about, but then the writing happens, and writing always changes what you think is going to happen. I’m sure soon enough, all the descriptions will be changed into correctness, but for now, don’t trust them!

Thankfully, I didn’t really remember the description of the book before I started listening to it, so I wasn’t really thrown by wrong info. Instead, I just enjoyed every word from beginning to end. The mystery was a bit simple compared to earlier volumes, but that left more room for focus on the characters. In a book that has to wrap up more than a decade’s worth of relationships, careers, and personal growth, character should always be the priority, and Griffiths handled it all very well. I’m quite satisfied with where the story ended, and while I’ll miss Ruth and the gang, I feel enough closure to stave off any disappointment.

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Sunday Coffee – Gossamer Studios

I don’t have much to say today, only that I finally published my photography website! It needs plenty of expansion and work and all the rest, but Gossamer Studios is now live. Hurrah!

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