Book review: The Lauras by Sara Taylor

The LaurasThe Lauras by Sara Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the middle of a spring night, 13-year-old Alex’s mother hustles both of them into the car, puts Alex in the back seat with a blanket, and drives away from their home and Alex’s father, with no explanation. All Alex knew was Ma and Dad had been fighting, again, and this time must have been the worst, or Ma would never have left.

The pair spends the next few years on the road, traveling from place to place, small town to small town, more or less in hiding, while Alex’s mother works odd jobs to support them. Now and then Ma talks about her past; now and then they visit places and people Ma had known as she was growing up in foster care. Ma has loose ends to tie up.

Alex has loose ends, too. Mainly, Alex hasn’t decided whether to present as male or female, and so alternates depending on mood and available clothing. While this usually doesn’t cause trouble, Alex occasionally runs into people who don’t understand and want to classify and categorize by gender. Ma is fiercely protective of Alex’s genderqueer identity and won’t stand for any nonsense from jackasses.

Told in the first person from Alex’s perspective, this wandering road trip of self-discovery — for both Alex and Ma — is mesmerizing, beautiful, tender, gruff, and heart-wrenching. Life on the run isn’t easy, but our stalwart nomads make the best of their circumstances, and eventually find themselves a satisfactory state of being.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

View all my reviews


Book review: The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce #9)The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six months after the death of their father, Flavia de Luce and her sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, are on a summer boating holiday with family retainer Dogger, in a desperate attempt to jolt themselves out of their gloom and come together as a family once again. As luck would have it, and as one has come to expect when 12-year-old Flavia is involved, a body turns up — in this particular instance, it’s snagged by Flavia herself as she trails her hand in the river while they are punting along.

The boating party pulls ashore and Dogger goes off to fetch the local constabulary. While Daffy and Feely stand watch on either side of the soggy corpse, a delighted Flavia begins her investigation. And thus we’re off on another romp through our intrepid sleuth’s thinking process as she sifts clues and calculates advantages and outcomes.

Lots of lovely secondary characters here: I was nearly as enamored with Hob, the undertaker’s son, as Flavia was. He seems to be cut from the same jib as our young heroine: determined, spunky, and with a little larceny in his soul.

Yes, with each book, Flavia becomes a little more devious, I think, in the sense that she recognizes there are certain things the adults mustn’t know or they won’t let her continue with her favorite hobby. She generally wracks herself with brief moments of guilt over these little deceptions, but the ends always seem to justify the means. She’s more than a little frightening, actually. But she’s also starting to grow up here: she’s seeing her sisters in a more forgiving light, which is a good thing since they’re orphaned and have only each other now (leaving aside Aunt Felicity, of course).

Oh, almost forgot. Of course Flavia solves the mystery. Because she wouldn’t be Flavia otherwise.

I look forward to the next installment.

View all my reviews

Book review: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of TimeThe Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never having read A Winter’s Tale, the Shakespeare play on which this novel is based, I waded into The Gap of Time with no preconceived notions. The lack of familiarity wasn’t a hindrance, however; Jeanette Winterson thoughtfully provides a synopsis of the play before the novel begins; even that synopsis is unnecessary unless one is looking for the similarities and parallels. I wasn’t, and so I enjoyed the novel for its own sake.

Briefly, Leo Kaiser suspects his pregnant wife MiMi is cheating on him with his best friend Xeno, and believes that the child she carries is not his own. He mistreats her so badly that she leaves him, but not until he steals her newborn daughter. A series of miscommunications result in the infant being abandoned in a “Baby Hatch” and subsequently adopted and lost to her birth family. Some seventeen years later, circumstances bring unknowing child and unwitting parent together.

I loved young Perdita and Zel; Perdita’s adoptive father Shep is warm and gruff and sweet; Xeno and MiMi are beautiful and tragic…the only character for whom I couldn’t find any redemption was Leo, who is unremittingly awful to the point of caricature throughout the entire novel.

Leo aside, there is some gorgeous writing in this novel. I really should have marked the passages I found particularly lovely. Nicely done, Ms. Winterson.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

View all my reviews

Book review: The Gates by John Connolly

The Gates (Samuel Johnson, #1)The Gates by John Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Samuel Johnson is a curious kid, in more than one sense of the word. Curious as in inquisitive, and curious as in just a little bit odd. This year he decided to get a jump on Halloween by trick-or-treating a few days early, to beat the rush and maybe get the best candy. Unfortunately, the adults in his neighborhood didn’t find his initiative as charming as this reader did, especially the Abernathys. Mr. Abernathy shooed Samuel off the front stoop as quickly as he could; and then returned to the spell-casting in which he and Mrs. Abernathy and another couple were engaged in the basement. When their spell is an unexpected success and they accidentally open a portal into Hell (simultaneously causing an issue with the Large Hadron Collider), Samuel, still lurking about outside the house, noticed. And the demons who jumped through the portal noticed Samuel noticing.

And then all Hell proceeded to break loose.

Written in a light quirky child-like voice, this is a quick, fun read filled with humor and memorable characters. First in a series, aimed at a YA audience, but entertaining enough for adults.

View all my reviews

Book review: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truth: I forgot I had this book. I don’t remember when I picked it up, or where, but it was probably on a book exchange shelf at one of the local coffee shops. So when Netflix made a series out of it, the title languishing on the bookshelf upstairs caught my attention, prompting me to pick it up for a read-through before jumping into the TV show.

I won’t be jumping into the TV show.

Okay, it’s a good story, a well-written story, a cyberpunk take on an old-fashioned noir detective story: Takeshi Kovacs is an elite military operative, currently inhabiting the “sleeve” (read: body) of an incarcerated “Bay City” (read: San Francisco) police detective. Kovacs — well, his consciousness, at any rate — has been brought out of cold storage and sleeved into this detective at the request of an extremely wealthy individual who wants Kovacs to solve a murder: his own. See, the wealthy individual apparently shot himself in the head, and then was re-sleeved into one of his clones; once re-sleeved, he insisted his death had to be murder because he would never EVER have committed suicide, especially knowing that he had standing orders to be re-sleeved from his backup consciousness upon the demise of whatever current sleeve he was wearing.

Yes, there’s a lot of body-swapping going on here, and much discussion of the technology involved, which I found fascinating. It’s far-fetched, but it makes sense in the context of this world some 200 or 300 years in the future.

Anyhow, along the way to his discovery of the truth, Kovacs runs afoul of some very powerful and dangerous people. Much violence ensues. Much. Violence. And torture. Plus murder, rape, and other assorted mayhem. Thankfully, Richard Morgan leaves at some of the violence and mayhem to the reader’s imagination, but it’s graphic enough that I winced and grimaced and skimmed my way through those sections….thus bringing me to why I’ll skip the Netflix series. Because (according to friends who have watched it) the TV show took those scenes and made them graphic to the point of verging on torture porn. No thanks.

So if you’re sensitive to violence, rape, and torture, skip both the book and the series. If you can handle skimming certain passages of ultra-violence, read the book.

View all my reviews

Double book review: The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse; Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d

The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse  (Flavia de Luce, #6.5)The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Flavia de Luce is as charming as ever in this short story.

Young Flavia is hired – hired! – by a student to solve the mystery of the death of a teacher, discovered in a bathtub by that same student, who had recently expressed a desire to see said teacher dead. In fear that he would be accused of murder, he reaches out to the resident underage sleuth in an effort to clear his name before adults and other responsible members of society learn of the recently departed. Flavia sets to her task with her usual gusto, intelligence, and forthrightness.

If you’ve never read any of Flavia’s adventures, this is a good stand-alone place to start. For those of us who’ve been with her since the beginning, it’s lagniappe, a little something extra to tide us over between novels.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been, um, invited to disenroll from the exclusive young ladies’ academy in Canada to which she had been sent, Flavia de Luce arrives home in England only to discover her father is gravely ill. Thwarted at every turn in her attempts to visit him in hospital, our intrepid young sleuth runs an errand for the Buckshaw household and, amazingly enough, stumbles over the body of yet another individual who appears to have met a suspicious end. Solving this mystery serves to occupy Flavia’s mind and time while she waits for her opportunity to see her father and reassure him and herself that all is well.

She solves the mystery, of course, but trouble still awaits.

As with all Flavia novels, we are treated to the delightful inner workings of the young lady’s precocious and highly intelligent mind, as well as her perambulations about the countryside on her faithful Gladys, and her frequent (and unaccompanied!) trips to London on the train. (Flavia has bottomless pocket money, it seems, or the family has a running account with the railway.) I suppose that’s my only quibble with this series — Flavia has a massive amount of unsupervised time for a girl of 12. But I also have to remember that this is set in the late 1940s/early 1950s (years actually not closely specified), and children were left to their own devices much more then than they are today. Still, quibble aside, another enjoyable installment in the series.

But Alan Bradley is on my naughty list for the last two pages.

View all my reviews

On stage again: Old Love

After Virginia Woolf closed, I moped around the house for days.  I really really missed that show and that cast.  After about a week, I decided the best cure for a show hangover was another show, and so I auditioned for and was cast in Staged Right Theatre‘s production of Old Love by Norm Foster.


Old Love is the story of Molly Graham and Bud Mitchell, two mature adults who find themselves navigating love and loss and relationships at an unexpected time of their lives.  Molly is recently widowed; Bud is long divorced.  Bud met and became infatuated with Molly many years ago, and now that her husband (his former boss) is deceased, he thinks the time is right to make his move.  But Molly has no memory of ever meeting Bud, and certainly is not prepared for him to ask her out to dinner while standing at her husband’s graveside.

Yep, it’s a comedy.  And a pretty funny one, once you get past the stalking angle.  Much of the story is told in flashback, with two other actors playing the younger versions of Bud and Molly.


Old Love cast, L-R:  Nick Fressell as Young Bud/Young Arthur/Arthur Jr.; Allen Stone as Bud; me as Molly; Ilene Miller as Young Molly/Kitty/Kendra

The road of this production from rehearsal to performance wasn’t nearly as rocky as Virginia Woolf‘s had been, but we had some challenges.  First of all, the weather.  It was fucking FREEZING in our rehearsal space, which is only to be expected because it was below freezing outside.  We got hit with a couple of snowstorms; in Atlanta, that means everything comes to a dead stop.  So we missed a couple of rehearsals due to weather.  And our director got the flu, so we missed a couple of rehearsals because he was down for the count.


Me as Molly, Allen as Bud

Generally speaking, though, it was a relatively drama-free production.  We even got a really nice review.  As mentioned in that review, though, we had to change venues in the middle of the run.  Apparently the church that lent us their performance space forgot to write down that we needed it for two weekends, and booked over us on the second weekend of the run.  So, while we were in the middle of opening weekend, the artistic director and the producers were frantically searching for another venue that could let us in at the last minute so we could continue performances for the second weekend.  They found one, thank goodness, and my family and friends who had tickets for that weekend were able to see the show after all.


Molly can’t believe Bud has thrown rocks at her window in the middle of the night.

Remember I said “relatively drama-free”? Aside from the mid-run venue change, the chief drama happened on our Saturday performance at the new venue.  We lost power near the end of Act 2.  Instant pitch dark.  Nick and Ilene were onstage in the middle of a big scene and were utterly frozen.  They couldn’t even see enough to move off the set.  Amazingly, our audience came to the rescue by pulling out their cellphones and using the flashlight function to light the stage.  We finished the rest of the show by cellphone light.  And we even made the news because of it!


Cellphones as footlights

Here are few more performance shots from the show. I hope you like them!


Kitty (Bud’s ex-wife) fixes his tie.


Molly and Bud people watching at a Christmas party


Molly and Bud at the circus

Double book review: In Memoriam; The Borrower

In MemoriamIn Memoriam by Nathan Burgoine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s nearly impossible to review this novella without spoilers, so let me just say this: James Daniels found a unique way to deal with the memory loss that accompanies his brain cancer, and said method is lovely and satisfying and heartwarming and sweet.

A beautiful piece of writing.

The BorrowerThe Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lucy Hull has a favorite library patron, young Ian Drake. Unfortunately, Ian’s mother doesn’t approve of Ian’s reading tastes, nor of Ian himself, apparently. Early one morning, Lucy opens the library to find Ian camped out in the stacks, having run away from home. He convinces Lucy to take him somewhere else, and she obliges.

What follows is a haphazard road trip from somewhere in Missouri to Chicago and Pittsburgh and points northeastward, all directed more or less by the boy in the passenger seat, with Lucy’s passive acquiescence masking her inner turmoil at being led around by the nose by a 10-year-old. But this journey isn’t about Ian, really; it’s about Lucy coming to terms with her passive acquiescence of everything except her family legacy; and how family shapes who we are whether we like it or not; and how blood will out, regardless.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The short chapters written in the style of various children’s books were amusing and poignant and sharply aimed.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Virginia Woolf is dead. Long live Virginia Woolf.

The other day I mentioned I’d been absent from this blog for the same reason as the last several times I went AWOL for a few months: I was cast in a play, and what a play it was: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. As Martha. My dream role.

That was last August.  Our performances were in late October, early November.  What a rocky road this production had!

I was the second actor cast as Martha, because the first actor backed out after the initial read-through, telling the director she wasn’t “comfortable” with the subject matter. Who the hell auditions for and ACCEPTS a role in a play without knowing what the play is about? And a world-famous play at that?  Apparently this woman did. So the director called me and I leaped at the chance.  I had been waiting until I was old enough to play Martha since I first read the play sometime in the 1980s.  I had big footsteps to fill.


Uta Hagen, originator of the role of Martha — 1962

I was not the only cast member change, however. The original Nick didn’t like the original Martha, and he backed out. The original Honey also left because her parents’ home had been destroyed in the Houston flooding after Hurricane Harvey, and she needed to go down there to help them sort out their lives. Only the original George was left standing.

While our director auditioned for a new Nick and Honey, Edwin (playing George) and I began rehearsals. A few days later, Jamie (Honey) and Josh (Nick) joined us. And we were complete.


Elizabeth Taylor as Martha in the 1965 film version

Then the real trouble began. Our director gave us strange line readings and odd blocking. He had us wandering randomly all over the stage with no real reason for the movement. He cut rehearsal short and left promptly at 9:30 or earlier every evening, often in the middle of a scene. And then would want to start the scene exactly where we left off when we returned the following evening, instead of at the beginning so we could build the emotion and energy again.


Kathleen Turner as Martha in the 2007 revival

As actors, we became increasingly frustrated at these artificial restrictions and interruptions to our flow.  I mean, it wouldn’t kill anyone if we stayed an extra 10 minutes or so past the scheduled end of rehearsal to finish out a scene, would it?  And thus, the inevitable happened.

Woolf War I — the Bergen incident

One night, I arrived at rehearsal a little early.  Edwin and our director were already there, deep into a disagreement over the pronunciation of a word.  In the show, George delivers a monologue about his time in prep school when he went out with a group of young men, and one of the young men mishears the word “bourbon” and orders a “bergen” instead.  Edwin pronounced it with a hard G.  The director corrected him and said it should be a soft G instead.  Edwin disagreed and explained his reasoning (with the hard G, it sounds more like “bourbon” than with a soft G, and besides, everyone who’s ever done this play, including the original Broadway production, pronounced it with the hard G).  The director insisted.  I don’t know who raised his voice first, but voices were raised, and both men lost their tempers.  Much yelling ensued.  I bailed out the rehearsal room and literally hid in a corner until the argument was over.


Imelda Staunton as Martha, 2017 London production

Sometime later, we were off book.  For those of you unfamiliar with the process, “off book” means we deliver lines from memory instead of reading from the script.   The first few days off book are always rough, and actors generally “call” for a line with some frequency — that means we’re asking the stage manager to give us our next line because we can’t come up with it on our own.


Me as Martha; Josh as Nick

That’s the whole point, though: we ask for the line.  On purpose.  Unless you had our director.  At every pause, however minute, he jumped in and gave us our line, whether we asked for it or not.  We asked him repeatedly to let us struggle for it and call for it as needed.  He ignored us.  And thus occurred…

Woolf War II — Don’t give me a fucking line until I ask for it

Edwin, bless his heart, lost it one night after one too many unrequested lines given.  All four of us were fed up; Edwin was just the most vocal about it.  If I thought Woolf War I was bad, then this was bad times 10, because the director escalated it unnecessarily, yelling and screaming and tossing the script on the floor.  At one point, Edwin walked out and we all followed him down the hall as one of the producers was on the phone to the theatre’s artistic director about the argument.  I overheard him say, “Oh great, now the whole cast is leaving…”


Clockwise from left:  Jamie as Honey; Josh as Nick; Edwin as George; me as Martha.  Yes, they’re all a foot taller than I am.

We didn’t leave.  We stopped at the end of the hall; we all took a few deep breaths; we talked to the producer for a little while who then mediated a conversation with the director; and then we went back to rehearsal. We finished out the night, the director left, and the cast went out for a drink.

That was the first time we had got together outside rehearsal: our first time to be able to talk as a group about our hopes and dreams and ideas and thoughts about this production without a member of the theatre staff within earshot.  It was an excellent bonding experience.

The next night our director didn’t show up.  We rehearsed anyway.  He didn’t show the rest of the week.  We rehearsed anyway.  A full week after Woolf War II, the artistic director told us the director wouldn’t be coming back and she would take over directing the show.

Directing ourselves

Well, that didn’t happen, exactly.  The artistic director came to a few rehearsals and gave us a few notes, but she was in the middle of auditioning, casting, and directing the show that would immediately follow ours, so we ended up directing ourselves for the most part.  Thank the theatre gods for Edwin and his extensive theatre training and background, not to mention his contacts throughout the Atlanta theatre community.  Several of his friends came to our rehearsals and provided guidance and direction and suggestions for improvement.  We fixed the weird blocking and changed the odd line readings.  On a personal level, I am especially grateful to Edwin’s friend Esther, who gave me invaluable advice and helped me through a few difficult spots with Martha’s character.


Edwin, as George, laying down the law to Martha

Delayed opening

All this turmoil, unfortunately, resulted in the theatre’s decision to delay our opening by one week because we just weren’t ready.  Josh had gotten physically ill a couple of nights — we later discovered the water we had been drinking throughout every scene was, um, not good.  So he missed a couple of rehearsals due to illness. It’s a miracle the rest of us didn’t become ill.  Lines were still rough; the set wasn’t completely built and dressed; our costumes hadn’t been settled; the sound and light design was barely sketched out.  We did two previews to accommodate family and friends who were coming from out of town to view the show on its original opening weekend.  Those previews went really well and gave us hope for the following weekend and our actual opening.


From left: Josh as Nick; Jamie as Honey; Edwin as George; and me

And then we went on

Opening weekend was almost anti-climactic after all the drama that preceded it.  We had very small houses, unfortunately, but we played our heart out every night.  You can read a review of our show here.

I’m not ashamed to say I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done.  My Martha was deeply deeply sad; she hurt people because she was hurt.  It was a challenge and a privilege to bring that out and present it to the audience.  I gave our patrons two acts that made them hate her, and one act that broke their heart.

The Sunday after our final performance, the cast went to the theatre one last time to strike the set, and then we went out to dinner.  I cried when we parted afterward.  I don’t usually get misty when a show ends, but this show was different.  My life is irrevocably altered; Jamie, Joshua, and Edwin are forever a part of me.

Goodbye, Martha, you poor misunderstood little girl. Playing you was an experience I’ll never forget.  Maybe someday I’ll get to be you again.  I’m willing if the universe is.

Double book review: The Halo Effect; Crimes Against A Book Club

The Halo EffectThe Halo Effect by Anne D. LeClaire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An airplane read.

Predictable but enjoyable story, with no real surprises. Nicely written and well-drawn characters. I especially liked Will’s struggle to reconcile his lack of faith with his acceptance of the commission to paint saints for the church.


Crimes Against a Book ClubCrimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you do when you have bills you can’t possibly pay, a degree in chemistry, and a fabulous best friend with an entree into a high-society book club? You make an “ultra-exclusive” anti-aging face cream out of over-the-counter drug store lotions and, um, cocaine, and convince these women they can’t live without it.

An absolutely darling confection of a novel that I read on an airplane, smiling the whole time. Recommended for women, best friends, book club members, and anyone else who enjoys a good laugh and poking a stick at social pretensions.

View all my reviews