Summer Playlist for Sunny Days, Stormy Nights, and Roadtrips

summer_playlistIt’s July 3rd, and it finally feels like summer has hit New England. Maybe it’s just me—I’ve been hacking away at a dark, “wintery” novel—but I don’t think so. The weather simply hasn’t been typical of summer until now. Yes, we’ve had a few hot days and some humidity, but it hasn’t stuck around long. Just last Sunday, my husband and I went on a little boat cruise in Boston Harbor (more on that below) and were chilly in jeans and sweatshirts. Some people on the boat were actually wearing winter jackets. In late June.

But scratch all that. Because now it’s July, and I’ll bet even that nasty pile of snow in Boston’s Seaport District has melted. Temperatures are in the 70s, and I awoke today to the sound of reggae music playing from a car stereo in my neighborhood. The windows are open and the ceiling fans are spinning. What’s missing? A summer playlist, of course.

OK, so first of all, I’m no kid, and I’ve never claimed to be cutting edge. Even as a teenager, new bands and singers usually took a while to grow on me, but once they did, they’d integrate into my body chemistry or something. And although I’m always interested in new music, I never toss out old favorites either. Hence, my playlists tend to be blends of newer and older albums, often with some genuine classics tossed in. And if you missed that, I said albums, not singles, because I come from a time when you bought an entire album and listened to it all. Singles are fine for working out and dance parties, but if I’m going on a summer road trip or playing music at a vacation house, I like listening to the album in order. Sorry if that makes me a dinosaur, but I think there’s value in hearing the songs the way the artist intended. So here I go, loading up the old iPod, and sharing with you in case you’re interested.

Please feel free to comment and add your suggestions. The only thing better than a summer playlist is an interactive one!

  1. Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (March 2015) This is Courtney Barnett’s debut album, and I think it’s pretty amazing. The first time I heard Courtney was on the radio a while back with the single “Avant Gardener.” It was such a cool, original song; somehow it reminded me of Bob Dylan and the 60s, but also sounded so modern, and I loved its confessional style. When I heard she was planning to release a full-length album, I knew I’d want to hear it, and it doesn’t disappoint. Courtney’s fast becoming an international sensation, and she deserves to be. The woman’s got it all: talent, youth, spirit, humor, beauty. David Bowie recently said that Lourde sounds like the future to him, but in my humble opinion, Courtney Barnett sounds like the future. My favorite song from the new album right now is “Depreston.”
  2. Robyn HitchcockThe Man Upstairs (June, 2014) My husband introduced me to Robyn Hitchcock for real back in the mid-90s. At the time, I knew Hitchcock’s name because he’d had a radio hit in the 80s called “Balloon Man,” but thinking you know Robyn Hitchcock after hearing “Balloon Man” is like saying you know Bobby McFerrin after hearing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” In other words: neither of those songs is representative of those artists’ catalogues and genius. For some reason, however, Robin Hitchcock has never become huge in the United States. Many of his albums of original songs are among my all-time favorites (especially 1990’s Eye), but recently, (thanks again to my hubby) I’ve become aware of his 2014 album called The Man Upstairs, which is mostly a collection of cover songs. The only ones I’ve heard so far are his version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You,” The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On,” (which is a beautiful song, regardless of who sings it) and I already know this album will be an essential part of my summer. Plus, Gillian Welch did the cover art for the album. How cool is that?
  3. Talking HeadsStop Making Sense (Audio CD, 1994, soundtrack to the 1984 concert film) Yes, I’m aware that Talking Heads are now most frequently heard on classic hits radio stations, but somehow that’s always seemed wrong to me. Because unlike most bands from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that get played on those stations, Talking Heads always tend to sound new, no matter how many times I hear them. Maybe it’s because I went to college in the mid-80s, and partied to the band way too many times with people at my very first job. But here’s something else: that Harbor cruise (mentioned above) that my husband and I went on last week featured a really good Talking Heads tribute band called Start Making Sense. Oh no, you think. Not a tribute band. I thought the same thing until I heard them and was once again reminded of how many great songs Talking Heads wrote and performed. Even stranger, my husband and I were probably the two oldest people on the boat! Everyone else appeared to be in their twenties or thirties, and it was packed, despite the bad weather. What does that mean? I’m not sure, but I think it means Talking Heads never get old. And boy, did that music ever sound great out there on the water with the spray flying. If you need your memory jogged, here’s “Swamp” with some concert footage.
  4. Tame ImpalaCurrents (June, 2015) Damn, I love this band. They’ve been around since 2007, but I only discovered them a year or two ago when I heard their song “Elephant” on the radio and said, “What the hell is this?” It was psychedelic, hooky, and adventurous, and it kind of blew my mind. So when I heard they were playing at the Boston Calling Music Festival this past spring, I was so excited to see them live. Yes, it was a chilly, windy night out on City Hall Plaza, but with the wind blowing thorough their long Aussie hair, Tame Impala heated up the crowd with “Elephant,” their new hit, “Let It Happen,” and a whole bunch of others. Can’t wait to listen to the rest of the album on the beach this summer.
  5. Bruce SpringsteenGreetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973) What’s a summer playlist without a little Bruce? This album was released in 1973 when I was about nine years old, but I made it my own it during one of my high school summers, when I was doing some serious “Growin’ Up”(and definitely check out this video, recorded at Max’s Kansas City in 1972), so to me, it will always remind me of summer and rebellion. Sure, some of the songs are upbeat and some are slower and darker, but hey, that’s summer too. And the cover art is a postcard from Asbury Park, one of the East Coast’s most iconic beaches. “When they said sit down, I stood up.” Tell ’em, Bruce.
  6. The VivsThe Odds (2015) This is a brand new album coming out soon from my favorite local band. Great people and great musicians who’ve been on the Boston scene for a while (they’re made up of former members of Tribe, Edith, and several other bands) they sing harmony like nobody else and write funny, sad, intelligent songs. Can’t wait to hear what they’ve got in store this time. Here’s the first single they’ve released; it’s called “Ouch Wow.” Can’t you hear this playing at your next party? Or maybe on the soundtrack to a great summer movie? 
  7. Bright EyesLifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (August, 2002) Conor Oberst is yet another artist I didn’t really know about until he’d been making albums for a while, but now that I’ve seen him in concert multiple times and listened to pretty much everything he’s recorded, this album has risen to the top as my favorite. Call me immature, but if I live to be a hundred, summer nights will always be laced with memories of teenage angst, and this album vibrates with angst from start to finish. Even better, there’s not a bad song on it. Not familiar? Here are two samples, Laura Laurent and Lover I Don’t Have to Love. If you don’t like these, this record probably isn’t for you.
  8. Bettie ServeertPalomine (1992) Sigh. I don’t know what it is about this record, but every time I hear it, I want to cry sentimental tears. And yet, it makes me so happy too. Lead singer Carol van Dijk’s voice has a way of tugging at all the right heartstrings. What could be better to listen to on the drive home from the beach? Want a sample? Here’s the title song, “Palomine.” “Yes, the sun will always shine….”

I could go on, but this post is getting long, and it feels like a good time to head outside and catch a little of the afternoon beauty. Again, please add any of your summer faves in the comment section. Thank you, and happy 4th of July!

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A Hemingway Quote for the Day

Seems to grow more relevant with each passing day…

Hemingway

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Dinnertime with Teens: a Poem

Table for oneAn hour or so ago,

the family was here.

We ate and talked of school and politics, movies and summer plans.

Someone told a joke. Someone laughed. Someone got mad.

Everyone loaded the dishwasher.

 

It was the type of dinner I imagined

back when mealtime meant

sippy cups, peas thrown from highchairs,

and cut-off sandwich crusts.

 

They’ve scattered now.

Someone’s reading, someone’s biking, someone’s online.

Alone in the kitchen, I sponge the table and try not to think about the future,

when family dinner will be a thing for holidays, at best.

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Meet Writer February Grace and her New Book, WISHING CROSS STATION

February_WCSHappy Wednesday, blog readers. Today, my guest is the wonderful and talented author February Grace, who recently released a brand new book. So without further ado, let’s get started!

MR: Hi February! I’m so happy to have you on the blog again. Thank you for stopping by. A while back you contributed a great post to my Music Tuesday series, and now you’ve got a new book out that I’d love to discuss. First of all, it’s called Wishing Cross Station. Can you tell my readers a little bit about the story?

FG: Of course! Thank you so much for inviting me to visit again, I truly appreciate it.

WISHING CROSS STATION COVER HIGH RES FULL FINAL - smallWishing Cross Station is a bittersweet fantasy tale of trains and time travel. Our young hero, a page at his college library, is sent to pick up a private donation of books. He has no idea where one of those books will take him, or what it will take from him.

He ends up retracing a powerful man’s footsteps into the past, and caught in the same dangerous trap; falling in love with a woman he was never meant to know, and unsure he will ever find his way home.

MR: Who would you say your intended audience is: young adults or regular old adults? Or is Wishing Cross Station the type of book that can be enjoyed by people of all ages?

FG: LOL Regular Old Adults… I like that, and I think I qualify as one of those! You should definitely make that a standard genre name!

I’d say this book is intended more for a New Adult or just adult audience, though I can imagine some YA readers finding it a worthwhile read as well. It all depends upon the individual interests of the reader in this case, I think, more than the reader’s age. I consider the ‘rating’ to be PG-13.

MR: I’ve only just begun to read Wishing Cross Station, but one sentence from its blurb really intrigues me:

When nineteen-year-old college library page Keigan Wainwright is sent to pick up a private donation of books for the school’s collection, he has no idea where one of those books will take him, or what it will take from him.

Of course, I’m not asking you to give away any spoilers, but I get the sense that Keigan’s life may end up intertwined with the life of a character from the donated book. Do you want to discuss that?

FG: Not a character from the donated book, because the donated book is not a work of fiction. I don’t want to give too much away, but Keigan’s life does end up entwined with that of someone who possessed the book in the past. Even though he’s never met them, he finds himself getting to know them quite well through the contents of the book. I think that’s about all I can say without spoilers.

MR: So Wishing Cross Station is classified as a “bittersweet fantasy romance.” I know there’s been a lot of debate recently in the romance writers’ community about the way romance novels end. Some people say there MUST be a “happily ever after” ending, while others say the ending can be more ambiguous. What’s your opinion on this topic?

FG: I personally think each story needs whatever ending the rest of the book (and/or its characters) dictate. I think the ending has to make sense with the overall story.

Wishing Cross Station is primarily a fantasy novel (though romance is a huge part of it) so I don’t believe it falls under the ‘rules’ of the Romance genre.

I know there is a market that expects only HEAs and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to write for that market, or buy only those sorts of books, go for it.

Since I don’t consider myself a dedicated-to-the-classic-genre romance writer, I don’t feel bound by the restrictions some would place on it. I write what my heart tells me to write. Some of my books have HEAs. I won’t spoil whether or not WCS is one of them. But the word ‘bittersweet’ should say a lot to those only looking for a tried and true Happily Ever After.

MR: A week or so ago, you posted on your blog that you won’t publish any more novels after WCS. But I know you well enough to know that you won’t stop creating things in one form or another. So what’s next on the horizon for February Grace?

FG: Thank you, you are very kind. I am focusing right now on taking care of my health, and trying to get my mind and body back into some sort of functioning harmony.

I am also dabbling with flash fiction and poetry as I am inspired to do so and I will likely post some of those little things under a new project I’ve started at Wattpad called Wishful.

It’s meant to be ongoing, eclectic, and could include everything from artwork to six word stories or longer short stories and flash fiction. It’s my hope it’ll be a place where I can still share some things with readers yet keep my focus on my health where it has to be.

I am so grateful to my publisher, Booktrope, for the five novels we’ve published together in the past two years. I am grateful to the wonderful team of people who helped make those books a reality. I’m so grateful, to so many, for reasons that I can’t even begin to explain.

MR: Finally, the opening paragraph of WCS employs some really stunning language, and the minute I read it, I knew I’d want to read the entire book. Would you allow me to share that paragraph with my blog readers?

FG: Of course! I’d be honored if you did. In fact, I’d be happy to share most of the first page if you’d allow me. Thank you for the opportunity to share… here it is:

~*~

The wail and cry of the whistle. The puff of the engine. The clang of the bell and grinding screech of the brakes… all combined with the roar of a biting winter wind.
No matter how old I live to be, I will never forget that particular cacophony, an orchestra tuning up in preparation for a command performance. When I heard her approach, I knew the journey I was about to take would change me— no matter where I ended up when it was over.
She was beautiful, dark, and strong, with powerful legs beneath her as she rode the rails into the station. Plumes of white and grey rose around her as she moved, fluttering like angel’s wings. The smell of the smoke was a singular aroma. Coal, fire, and heat all combined to intoxicate a man, to loosen the ideas in his head from solid form into threads meant to be spun into the foolishness of dreams.
She was a vixen, a siren, a savior, and damnation all in one. All things that beckon men to follow her anywhere, do anything to finally reach ecstasy before demise.
She was one of a kind, this engine, and her name was Aurelia Belle.

~*~

You can find out more about February Grace by visiting her at: http://www.februarywriter.blogspot.com or chatting with her on Twitter @februarygrace

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Is ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Today’s M*A*S*H?

mash is the new blackThe other day, I saw a picture of Uzo Aduba in the newspaper and immediately thought Crazy Eyes, the name of the character she plays on Orange is the New Black. In my pre-coffee haze, I tried to recall Crazy Eyes’ full name on the show (it’s Suzanne Warren), but couldn’t think of it for a few minutes, and then, for some reason, the name Hot Lips Houlihan popped into my head.

Now if you’re not at least forty, then Hot Lips (Margaret) Houlihan probably won’t mean much to you. But if you do remember Hot Lips, then you know she was a character on the TV show M*A*S*H, which ran from 1972-1983.

And as the coffee brewed, it began to occur to me that M*A*S*H and OITNB have more than a little in common. Not only do they both feature compelling characters with nicknames referencing facial characteristics (Crazy Eyes and Hot Lips) and low-budget costumes (how much can those prison jumpsuits and military fatigues cost?) but both are also about large groups of people stuck in places they don’t want to be.

More importantly, though, both programs expose social injustices, dark truths, and misconceptions about elements of society that many of us haven’t experienced personally. With M*A*S*H, the setting was the Korean War (or Conflict, if you want to be technical), but when the show first came on the air, America’s involvement Korea had ended, and we were dealing with the ugliness, tragedy, and confusion that was Vietnam. Therefore, most viewers saw M*A*S*H as making a statement–an effective statement–against all war, particularly wars in which the reasons for America’s involvement is somewhat unclear.

With OITNB, the setting is a woman’s federal prison called Litchfield Penitentiary. And although I don’t think any of the women in that particular prison are there unjustly (as in I’m not aware of any being falsely convicted) the frequent flashbacks into their pre-jail lives expose the sad, dysfunctional, often dangerous conditions and situations that prompted them to do illegal things. Watching that show, I feel almost the same way I do about the characters on M*A*S*H: they’re trapped and don’t deserve to be.

And yet, both shows embrace the lighter sides of bad situations. M*A*S*H started out as a dark comedy—with an annoying laugh track to boot—but over the course of its eleven seasons, became increasingly dramatic. Meanwhile, despite the fact that OITNB feels more dramatic most of the time, there are plenty of humorous moments as well. In my opinion, the biggest factor in viewers’ perception of the two shows’ genres is the way the pilot episodes roll out. With M*A*S*H, we’re introduced to Hawkeye and Trapper John, a couple of fun-loving doctors who just happen to be working in one of the worst places possible. Whereas OITNB begins with happy, “normal,” somewhat materialistic New Yorker Piper Kerman learning that she’s about to be incarcerated for a crime she committed nearly ten years earlier. And when Piper enters the prison, there are no sincere laughs—only jeers from the other inmates, all of whom put their worst faces forward. So what’s a viewer to do? We prepare for a journey into hell.

It’s a pleasant surprise, then, to find—in subsequent episodes—that most of the inmates are considerably kinder than they initially appear. Much of the tension, in fact, ultimately comes from the administration: the very people who are supposed to be taking care of the prisoners. Not all of it, of course, as there’s plenty of tension among the inmates as well, but at the occasional party and in true crisis situations, we realize that most of them share a common bond, while the majority of the people running the prison have very deep-seated problems. Sometimes, while watching the show, I’m reminded of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of course, in any comparison of the two programs, gender must be discussed. On M*A*S*H, all the soldiers are male, while women portray nurses, girlfriends, wives, and mothers. Such a thing would never be tolerated today, but during the Korean War, that’s the way it was in the military. Not to mention that the show was produced in the seventies. Still, I believe that the character of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan—the head nurse—is well-developed, and I love how the show’s producers allow her to grow from an object of ridicule in the first few seasons into a more sympathetic—if flawed—human being, who does her best to deal with her demons and shortcomings (she has a drinking problem and can be short-tempered and nasty to her staff). As the series progresses, we see Margaret becoming a kinder person, and she is eventually strong enough to divorce her husband when she catches him cheating on her. Professionally, she’s also top-notch, and although the doctors like Hawkeye often make sexist comments about her and treat her in demeaning ways (again, it was the seventies), Margaret is always respected in the operating room, and makes it clear that she wouldn’t tolerate anything less. I can’t imagine anyone other than the brilliant Loretta Swit playing Margaret, and, as a teenager who watched the show on a regular basis, she became a feminist role model for me.

As I imagine many of the women on OITNB are role models for the teenagers who watch that program. Feminism really has come a long way since the seventies, and I’m so glad our kids can turn on the TV and see smart, funny, likeable characters, who just happen to be lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or questioning their sexuality. Apparently, M*A*S*H tried to address homosexuality with Jamie Farr’s Corporal Klinger character—according to Wikipedia, when the show began, Klinger was supposed to be a gay man—but then he morphed into a guy who cross-dressed because he wanted a Section 8 discharge, and eventually married a woman. Oh well. For the third time, it was the seventies. The show’s creators were trying to open up about sexuality, but the general public wasn’t necessarily able to accept gays on TV, and I’ll bet some advertisers weren’t thrilled with the idea either.

There are plenty of other similarities between the programs. Both have killed off major characters—and it should be noted that M*A*S*H was one of the first TV shows to do that, with the shocking death of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake—and both have allowed minor and recurring characters to grow into main cast members.

In the end, though, I believe the reason both shows are so beloved is because the quality of the writing is so high. Yes, both are set in hostile environments, but once we get past the bars of Litchfield Prison and the horrors of the Korean war, we find regular human beings doing their best to get through each day with dignity, love, friendship, and perhaps a laugh or two. Dramatic, violent things happen on almost every episode of each show, but despite the fact that there’s plenty of drama and violence on TV, most other programs never come close to the ratings achieved by M*A*S*H and OITNB. Why? Because that’s not what viewers tune in for. Viewers love M*A*S*H and OITNB because of the connections the characters make with each other, and therefore with their audience: the friendships, the jokes, the love affairs that we all instinctively know can’t last very long because of the circumstances under which they begin.

Then there’s the fact that the creators and writers of these programs have given us characters so real—and such great dialogue—that for many of us (or me anyway) it’s sometimes hard to believe we’re watching actors playing roles. The shows suck us into their worlds so well that when I saw Taylor Schilling in another movie, I found it quite jarring. For the briefest second, I was unable to accept her as anything other than a prisoner.

Even stranger was learning that Loretta Swit wanted to get out of her M*A*S*H contract several years before the show ended, but the producers wouldn’t release her. What? Hot Lips couldn’t leave the 4077th! She was the head nurse; she was necessary! And did you know that Gary Burghoff—who played Radar on M*A*S*H left the show at the beginning of its eighth season so he could spend more time with his family? Yes, Radar was a dad. Even now, I find that somewhat shocking, but again, that’s because the writing on the show is so good.

So what do you think? Do you agree that M*A*S*H and OITNB are cut from similar cloth, or do I have it all wrong? I’d also be interested in hearing what TV shows you feel are particularly well written. Thanks for reading!

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Pets, Loss, Sad Old Movie Characters, and Pesky Kids

sherlock

Sherlock

A little black and white cat is hopping around my living room, knocking things off the mantle and quietly testing the dog’s patience with his innocent, precocious behavior. He’s adorable, cuddly, and amusing. I should be smiling.

But my heart aches every time he does something cute, and my eyes keep filling up with tears. You see, this new kitty—named Sherlock by my daughter—wasn’t supposed to be the only cat in the house. We got him a few weeks ago to be a buddy for our other cat, Jack. But Jack’s gone now, and I’m feeling a bit like one of those elderly people in the movies—you know, like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, or the animated guy voiced by Ed Asner in Up—who’ve suffered a loss and just want to be left alone with their grief. But then some pesky new kid comes into their life and demands their attention.

MAC

Mac

Let me back up a bit. Last June, my family was lucky enough to share our home with two great cats named Mac and Jack, plus a dog named Spencer. As a lifelong animal lover, I couldn’t have asked for much more. The cats were BFFs, and the dog kept his distance from both of them, primarily because of Mac’s ability to terrify him with little more than a glare. Unfortunately, Mac was also fairly advanced in age, and last August—a month short of his seventeenth birthday, he passed away.

Mac’s death was, of course, a huge loss for the humans in our family, but he’d suffered from heart disease, and nobody could say he hadn’t had a good run. Poor Jack, however, didn’t understand. For weeks and weeks, he’d wake up each morning, howling for his missing friend. We gave him as much love as we could, and mercifully, Spencer never tried to hurt him, despite the absence of his bodyguard. But we knew he’d eventually need a new pal.

It took a while for us to feel ready—both mentally and physically—to bring a new cat into the house. Finally, at the end of May, my kids and I drove to our favorite animal shelter and adopted Sherlock. Like Mac, Sherlock seemed bold and unafraid—we wanted a cat who could wouldn’t take any crap from Spencer—but also sweet and affectionate, for Jack’s sake.

As the shelter advised, we kept Sherlock in my daughter’s room with his own food, water and litter box for over a week, then slowly began to introduce him to the other animals. And things were going fairly well. The dog quickly learned to keep a healthy distance from Sherlock’s claws, and although Sherlock and Jack had a couple of hissing matches, they soon began to tolerate each other. Once again, we were a two-cat, one dog household. I was looking forward to a summer with three happy animals.

Jack

Our sweet Jack

But this past Monday, I noticed that Jack’s stomach looked distended, almost as though he was a few months pregnant. And we’d all been commenting on how he hadn’t been eating much since Sherlock’s arrival, but had written that off to anxiety over having a new feline in the house. Then, on Tuesday, Jack’s belly was even bigger, and he refused to eat anything at all. On Tuesday evening, I called the vet. My hope was that he had some sort of blockage that could be cured with simple surgery or medicine. I’d also searched Google for illnesses that might cause an eleven-year-old cat’s belly to bloat, and learned about some awful ones, but did my best not to think about those possibilities. After all, Jack had been acting perfectly normal until very recently. Besides everyone knows you’re not supposed to Google medical stuff.

But the next morning, after our vet examined him and did some testing, we learned that he had an aggressive form of lymphatic cancer. In other words, he was terminally ill. It was a shock, to say the least. Treatment would be expensive, stressful for him, and most likely unsuccessful. What did I want to do?

I spent about an hour in the office, weighing the possibilities, talking to my husband on the phone, and listening to the vet’s advice. And crying a lot, of course. Because it was quickly becoming evident that the only humane choice was to have him put down. He wasn’t going to get better and he wasn’t eating. Bringing him home would only lead to more suffering.

Spencer_on_couch

Spencer

Our family is now in a bit of a fog. The kids both have vivid memories of the first day Jack came to live with us; it seems like only a few years ago that we all fell in love with the tiny black furball with one yellow eye. (The people at the animal shelter where we got him told us he’d been found in an alleyway with an eye infection so severe that doctors hadn’t been able to cure it, so eventually it’d been removed.) How can he be…gone? Especially now, when we just adopted a new friend for him? Even the dog is confused and acting depressed.

And then there’s Sherlock. He never had a chance to bond with Jack, so for him, things are pretty much all good. He’s free of the animal shelter and happy to be in his forever home.

It’s so strange, and my feelings are all over the place. Obviously, if we’d known how sick Jack was, we wouldn’t have gotten a new cat in May; we would’ve focused our attention on Jack, grieved his death for a while, and then perhaps gotten a new cat—or two new cats—when we were ready.

But here we are with a feisty, one-year-old kitty who refuses to be ignored. He’s in our faces, literally, and in our beds at night. He tries to hop up on the table when we eat dinner. And right now, he’s fallen asleep behind me on the couch. I reach around to pet him, and he purrs. Once again, I cry for Jack, but I can’t help but love this new creature too.

In all the “grieving old person” movies I’ve seen, the pesky kid eventually wins over the sad adult’s heart. In fact, the pesky kid’s presence usually helps the adult to see the brighter side of life and move on. And I’m thinking little Sherlock will help our family do that. But we’ve still got a bunch of tears to shed. Fortunately, both Spencer and Sherlock like hugs and don’t mind us crying into their fur.

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Featured Author: Cait Reynolds

cait reynolds What’s on your reading list for summer? Don’t have that all sorted out yet?

Well, if you, or someone you care about likes contemporary YA and Greek mythology too, I’ve got a recommendation for you: DOWNCAST, by Cait Reynolds.

In fact, if your only complaint about Greek mythology is that the characters aren’t always easy to understand, you’re in for a special treat. Because Cait Reynolds has skillfully adapted the story of Persephone and Hades into a very relatable, modern high school story packed with fully alive, fleshed-out characters.

Here’s a little more info about the book: What would you do when faced with an impossible truth? DOWNCAST by Cait Reynolds is ripe with twists you never saw coming and love that defies the odds in this intense new Paranormal Romance retelling one of mythology’s greatest love stories.

It’s the start of Stephanie Starr’s senior year of high school, but sadly, this is no life of the prom queen. Stuck at the bottom of the high school social totem pole, Stephanie is forced by her domineering mother to wear lumpy linen dresses and eat organic tofu for lunch in a world of mini-skirts and pizza.

What Stephanie doesn’t anticipate is gorgeous and cocky Haley Smith who breaks social convention and pursues her with a determination that is both terrifying and flattering. Afraid that Haley is simply trying to set her up for massive humiliation, Stephanie does her best to push him away. But the more attention he pays to her, the more she runs, and the more everyone else begins to notice.

Instead of a loving family to support her as the mean girls make their play, Stephanie’s mother begins to unravel mentally, her possessiveness of Stephanie spiraling to new and frightening extremes. Stephanie is forced to grow up, find herself, and learn the truth about her past in order to save her mother, her friends, and her town. When the truth is revealed, nothing can prepare her for the outrageous reality of her existence…and nothing can save her from her fate.

Except Haley.

And here’s Cait’s official bio:: Cait Reynolds lives in Boston area with her husband and 4-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking delicious meals, running around the city, rock climbing like a boss, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. Reynolds is able to pull from real life experiences such as her kidney transplant, and her writing reflects her passion for life from having to face the darkest places and find the will to laugh.

Intrigued? You can pick up a copy of DOWNCAST here on Amazon or here on Barnes and Noble.com

Looking for Cait? You can find her website here.

Cait is also on Twitter and Goodreads, so go ahead and follow her, or post a review of Downcast after you’ve read it. My guess is that you’ll love it.

Oh, and they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this is so beautiful, and what’s inside is even better. downcast cover large

Finally, I’ll leave you with an excerpt. If you’ve ever been to high school–or plan to go there–this scene should ring very true to you.

Excerpt from Downcast

I picked at my lunch, using my fork to rake and pile quinoa like one of those toy zen sandboxes. I had just completed what I thought was a pretty awesome replica of Machu Pichu when Helen slammed herself down in the chair opposite me and huffed.
Morris and I exchanged raised eyebrows.
“Steph, I know I’m driving you home from school,” Helen ground out. “But, do you mind if I commit murder? You can probably bail me out by the end of the day.”
“Fine with me,” I shrugged, turning Machu Pichu into the Grand Canyon. “Go ahead. Who you gonna kill?”
“Zack Smith.”
Morris laughed.
“Why?” I asked.
“So, we’re in Biology, right?” Helen began, sounding deeply aggrieved. “And, I ask the boy if he finished his part of the assignment for chemistry lab tomorrow. What do you think he says?”
“Um…”
“Exactly! He then has the balls to tell me he has been busy with football practice because of Homecoming on Friday, and that he might not get to it!”
“I can help you,” Morris offered from behind his laptop screen.
“No way,” Helen huffed. “That boy is going to do his fair share of the work! He might be able to cheat and charm his way through all the other classes by getting the girls to cover for him, but there’s no way I’m going to let him do that with me!”
“But, what about your grade?” I asked.
“I can always do extra credit,” Helen sniffed disdainfully. “Mr. Ingalls knows I am a serious student. He won’t punish me for a helmet-wearing Neanderthal’s slacking.”
“Dude!” Morris exclaimed. “Harsh!”
“Seriously?” Helen continued, waving her Hot Pocket menacingly. “For some reason, he has decided it’s his goal in life to irritate the crap out of me, and it’s only getting worse.”
“Maybe he likes you?” Morris suggested.
“Don’t be a dumbass,” Helen snorted, giving Morris him her Your Data Is Incorrect look that he never saw because he never looked up from his screen.
Helen morosely went back to eating and probably contemplating some kind of staggering homicidal scheme for Zack.
A thought struck me, and I looked up from my attempt at a quinoa-based Mount Rushmore.
“Helen,” I asked. “Does Zack ever talk about Haley?”
Helen’s eyebrows shot up, and I could practically see the hard drive in her head whirring to life.
“Not really,” she replied, then paused. “Actually, I take that back. He doesn’t talk a lot about Haley, but he does mention him sometimes. He always sounds a little sad when he talks about him.”
“Sad?” I seized on this. “Why?”
Helen frowned thoughtfully before replying, “He seems very protective of him. He said that Haley has always been a loner.”
“Has he ever mentioned him going away?”
“Uh, no? I mean, what do you mean ‘going away?'”
“I don’t know. It’s just something Haley said, like he wouldn’t be around here for long.”
Helen bit the tip of her thumb, her tiny white teeth slightly visible through her parted lips. This was her pose of Intense Puzzlement.
“They seem to have moved around a lot before coming to Darbyfield,” she said finally. “Maybe he’s just anticipating having to leave before the year is over?”
I nodded, somewhat relieved. Obviously, that’s what he had meant. He didn’t want to move again during his senior year. Who would?
“Well,” Morris jumped in. “They can’t move before the end of November, not with Zack being quarterback of the football team.”
Helen rolled her eyes, and I laughed.

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