Monthly reading roundup August and September 2016

I don’t remember why the beginning of August was so busy that I wasn’t able to squeeze in my monthly reading update and I have a feeling that I will regret looking into it, so I won’t.


18143844Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 14, by Julietta Suzuki. Yep. I’m still at it.

25776250Why Diets Make Us Fat, by Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D. A real doctor with a real grip on science (meaning, among other things, that she gets that what happens to rats in a lab is not necessarily what would happen to humans IRL and she doesn’t consider a paltry two years to constitute a “long term study”) explains that the rumors you’ve heard are true: diets make you fat, fat does not necessarily make you sick, and what you eat and how much you move your body are way way way more important for your health than what the scale tells you.

66657Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link. People have been raving about this book for years now, and now I see why. It’s lovely! I wasn’t expecting short stories, and I don’t usually read short story collections, but I gave it a go. The first one is my favorite. Reading this books is sort of like channel surfing in an alternate dimension where all networks show The Twilight Zone and independent horror films all day.

18774906Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 15 by Julietta Suzuki. This seems like a good time to explain, once again, that you cannot judge a manga by its cover. I know these covers are syrupy and stupid, but the interiors are not. Conversely, I have checked out some manga with gorgeous covers only to discover the insides are awkwardly laid out or poorly written.

15904026Every House is Haunted by Ian Rogers. Another book of short stories that I wasn’t expecting to be a collection. But so good. Good, solid, creepy, quirky, imaginative horror. Most stories are very short, practically flash fiction, and something about this compels you to read on, to have just one more, just one more, like you’ve got your hand in a bag of chips. I dragged this book around the house and read it while I cooked and played with the dog and waited for pages to load.

26025580The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. A novella by the woman who brought us the fucked-up yet compelling plots of Dark Places and Sharp Objects and Gone Girl. A twisty-turny, at-times-gross story, as expected, but I have to confess to being a little disappointed in the ending. I was really braced for one more unexpected and imaginative twist to unseat the baddie but instead they just sort of rode off into a sunset of existential discomfort. *shrug* Still, though, not bad. Still a good read. I mean, Gillian Flynn could write a single sentence on a napkin in a drunken stupor that would be more shocking and imaginative than my whole second novel is at its current 74,289 words.

21412471Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 16 by Julietta Suzuki.

22609112Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 17 by Julietta Suzuki.

27064358Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay. A realistic missing kid story with supernatural elements. Neither you nor the characters witnessing get answers to the supernatural questions (What are we seeing? Why? How? Are we realing seeing something supernatural or is our grueling worry and grief making us hallucinate?) but we all get answers to where the kid is, though we may wish we didn’t.

23492461Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 18 by Julietta Suzuki.

25110936Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 19 by Julietta Suzuki. Quite possibly the worst cover yet.

16124496The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. You know that feeling when you read a book that’s gotten eleventy billion awards and you’re like “Hey, that was a pretty good book. I don’t regret the time I spent reading it. I would be proud to have written it myself. But . . . would I give it an award? No.” and you wonder for weeks afterward what it was you missed that everyone else found so incredible?

25332115The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. This is one of those memoirs that will haunt you. It’s hard to put down, but it’s hard to read, too. I didn’t read any reviews before I checked this out. (Due to my high reading volume I don’t often read reviews. I just read the blurb and cross my fingers and hit the “place hold” button.) If I had I probably wouldn’t have read it because I would likely have been warned about the sexual abuse and incest that were just part of what made this story harrowing.

25814365Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 20 by Julietta Suzuki. One of the least awful covers.

32282602Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 21 by Julietta Suzuki. Houston, we have a problem. When I finished this volume and opened my library’s app to ask them for the next one it was listed as being in the service center. That means it’s not available yet. Furthermore, this is the second to last volume. Uh oh.

25543181The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. A classic haunted house story with bonus on-site cemetery (which is just supposed to be an old Halloween joke but whoopsies there’s a real body in it!). Good Gothic feels with 21st century amenities like strong female characters and technology.



26114135All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. I’ve heard a lot of scuttlebutt about this book and I knew what I was getting in to (not like with The Sound of Gravel) but the timing wasn’t good. This book arrived on the hold shelf just as I had finished the aforementioned memoir and I just couldn’t handle another tale of a tortured childhood so I bowed out before I even got to the stuff that has driven others away. Perhaps I will try again later.

27774632Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. Too stream-of-consciousness for me.

13623723Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour by Dita Von Teese with Rose Apodaca. I no longer wear stockings and skirts every day and my vintage hat collection is gathering dust (though I did just buy a tube of ruby red lipstick for the first time in ages) but I still adore Dita Von Teese. She is self-made in every imaginable sense of the word and yet she doesn’t come across as fake. In this lavishly illustrated (and mammoth) book she stresses that you can do this, too. You can find a unique style and milk it for all its worth. You can be eccentric and glamorous and confident. I lack the dedication to take it to Dita’s level, but I wouldn’t mind owning a copy of this gorgeous book so that I can flip through it once and a while with a cup of tea and fill up on the inspiration to squeeze some beauty out of life.

289060About Face: A Plastic Surgeon’s 4-Step Nonsurgical Program for Younger, Beautiful Skin by Gregory Brown. Not what I was hoping for, but rather what I was expecting: another doctor shilling proprietary and unproven products.

3945558River of No Return: Photographs by Laura McPhee. Wide-angle landscapes and a few portraits. Too much detail for my taste (many shots are very busy and everything in the frame is in perfect focus) but the subject matter (rural Idaho) is interesting to me and the composition is good. Not how I want to shoot, but it is great stuff. I think maybe a book doesn’t do this stuff justice. I would like to see this work on wall-sized prints in a gallery.

9871628The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes by Andy Karr & Michael Wood. I read about 50% of this because I agreed wholeheartedly with about 50% of what they had to say: the parts about seeing familiar things with fresh eyes, about mindfulness, that sort of thing. But I checked out when things started getting very prescriptive. Also there was a lot of pressure to not seek out the beautiful. Yes, not all pictures need to be beautiful, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a picture just because you find something pretty or taking a picture in a manner that makes something pretty or prettier.

23753The Absolute Sandman, Volume One, by Neil Gaiman. I have read very little Neil Gaiman and I was looking to rectify that with this enormous collection. But I checked out just a few pages in thanks to some troubling plot devices I thought were beneath this author. I know you want to leave comments urging me to try again, but please don’t. Trust that I know my own limits. This won’t put me off Gaiman altogether, but I won’t be coming back to this particular work.

13434433The Complete Digital SLR Handbook: Mastering Your Camera to Take Pictures Like a Pro by The Editors of PhotoPlus Magazine. Lots of good tips, but also lots more than I needed.


Sadly, I did not find a single recipe I wanted to try in any one of these cookbooks.

26031078Dinner Made Simple: 35 Everyday Ingredients, 350 Easy Recipes by Real Simple.

51cvo6mikel-_sx258_bo1204203200_Good and Simple: Recipes to Eat Well and Thrive by Jasmine Hemsley, Melissa Hemsley.

25862317Big Flavors From a Small Kitchen by Chris Honor.

25810693The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini by Cara Mangini.

25982864The Love and Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking by Jeanine Donofrio.

— Amanda

Recipe roundup

recipe roundupMushroom Lentil Burgers from Cooking Light. It was difficult to divide this recipe to make a single serving (the ingredients include a whole egg for 4 burgers and a baggie of precooked lentils) but it was so worth it. There’s way more flavor in these patties than in any frozen-foods-section veggie patty I’ve ever tasted: very umami and filling without any pretense at being real meat. I’ll never go back!

Jeweled Rice Pilaf with Carrots from Food & Wine. This goes-with-everything side dish features not one, but two carbs (rice and broken-up pasta), as well as toasted nuts, fresh herbs, lemon, and roasted carrots. I made two substitutions: pine nuts for the almonds and golden raisins for the olives. This makes enough for an army so either cut it down or do as we did and have the leftovers as a main course the next day with diced meat and/or an egg on top and a salad of mixed greens.

Homemade Multigrain English Muffins from the Woks of Life. These nutty, simple, chewy get their whole-grain goodness from one of my favorite ingredients, 10-grain cereal. (I use Bob’s Red Mill because I can get it in bulk at WinCo.) They have this in common with one of my favorite sandwich bread recipes of all time, Amber Waves of Grain Bread. I made muligrain English muffins once before from a recipe which baked in the oven. These get fried in a skillet, more like “real” English muffins (which are made from a batter, rather than a dough and are cooked in rings on a skillet).

— Amanda

Off the charts

The diet charts, that is.

Two years after reading my first Geneen Roth book (Breaking Free From Emotional Eating) I am finally putting her good advice to work.

I have quit dieting.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – calm down! I didn’t say I was giving up on myself! I said I have quit dieting. There’s a big difference.

You know that tired old adage (misattributed to both Einstein and Franklin) that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result? Tired (and hard to source) as it may be, there is some truth to it.

This was, though not at all in those words, a large part of the gist of a book I recently read, Diets Make You Fat. I know the title sounds clickbaity but it turns out to be completely true. This refreshingly well-sourced book (Ah, nonfiction by someone who knows the difference between a long-term and short-term study and acknowledges that results from studies on rats do not necessarily indicate similar results would occur in studies on humans!) explains that what you’ve long suspected is true: dieting doesn’t work in the long term. 95% of dieters regain their lost weight or gain more than they lost. If the calories-in/calories-out math were as simple as we wish it were any jackass could lose and keep off their excess weight. But it’s not that simple. It’s dauntingly complicated. Too complicated to summarize here. It’s neuroscience. It’s hormones. It’s intestinal flora. It’s the snail speed of evolution vs the warp drive of civilization. Just read the book. It’s wonderful.

When I first (very noisily) read Breaking Free From Emotional Eating (“Oh!” “Ah!” “Yes!” “Finally!” “Ugh, so true!”) I actually cried a little. (Books almost never make me cry. Where the Red Fern Grows didn’t make me cry. Sadako and the Thousand Cranes didn’t make me cry. Sad books make me angry. I got recess detention for chucking Where the Red Fern Grows across the room when I finished it ahead of schedule in the third grade and then bellowed spoilers at my classmates.) But this wasn’t a sad book, it was a tragically relatable book. And yet, as moved as I was, and despite feeling like Geneen Roth was both my new best friend and a surrogate mother, I outright scoffed at the notion of intuitive eating. Let my body decide when and what and how much I should eat? Are you fucking kidding me? I can’t trust this meatsack! It’s ravenous and untrustworthy and hideous!

Two years later I read Diets Make You Fat, which says almost exactly the same things as Breaking Free From Emotional Eating – but fortified with SCIENCE™! I love me some science. But more importantly I trust science, and the science in this book seemed particularly trustworthy and sound. Anecdotes and personal experiences are interesting but they do not move me like science does.

So I was finally moved to give intuitive eating a try.

(A quick aside: intuitive eating, which goes by many interchangeable names such as mindful eating, attuned eating, and instinctive eating, is not about casting aside all nutritional knowledge and eating whatever and whenever and however much you want. It is about eating only when hungry and only until full – and if that sounds easy to you then you clearly don’t have overeating issues. I recommend this site to clear up any confusion you may have about this practice.)

Once you get over the hurdle of thinking that intuitive eating sounds like the worst possible thing a lifelong fatty could attempt you have to address the reason you think that: a lifetime of dieting and being browbeaten by “experts” and diet companies (who are usually owned by food companies who just want to sell you smaller portions at higher prices, and I know that sounds conspiracy-theory-y, but it’s totally true) has left you with the almost unassailable impression that your body cannot under any circumstances be trusted with anything ever. It doesn’t want to exercise when you know you must. It wants cookies when you know you must eat salad. But this isn’t your stomach you’re fighting with (barring a serious medical problem affecting your metabolic hormones). Your mind is fighting your mind. You know you would move your body but you don’t want to exercise because you are out of shape and it’s hard and you don’t like how you jiggle when you move. You want those donuts that asshole keeps bringing into the break room not because your sensible chicken and spinach salad wasn’t nutritious, but because your job is dissolving your will to live like acid and a cupcake would give you a few minutes of pleasurable respite.



The very simple concept of eating only when hungry and stopping when full is made very difficult by  two things: 1) You probably have lost all concept of what physical hunger and satiety feel like, knowing now only ravenous, painful emptiness and distended, painful fullness and 2) You probably do not have the ability to discern between physical hunger and emotional hunger. (Do you need a sandwich or a hug? They aren’t interchangeable, as it turns out.) This is my new struggle. Learning to discern between these two kinds of hunger, observing where they overlap and what factors make them come and go, finding ways to soothe both, and getting in touch with the sensations of real physical hunger and fullness.

In poking around on other blogs and in forums I have found that the average person needs about a year to get the hang of this, to get back in touch with their metabolic intuition. I stopped counting calories (and using MyFitnessPal after logging in for 250 consecutive days and being a member since 2012) on August 5th, but I started to stray from my rigid food plan back in June. Since then (that is, June), I confess I have gained 16 pounds. There were a few weeks of crying jags and terror and frequent binge-eating as I second-guessed myself every other minute.

(I cannot understate the fear I felt in stepping off the socially accepted path of the great and mighty diet. I have never felt much of an urge to conform to the media’s image of the modern woman – I am an eccentric dresser, I prefer old things over new, I don’t shave my underarms or legs, I have a facial piercing at age 35, I am a life-long atheist, I have an awkward vocabulary, I have chosen to remain child-free, and I haven’t worn “real” makeup since I was in middle school. But I was as fanatically devoted to the Church of Dieting as any other member of that powerful cult. No matter how wacky I may have seemed to female coworkers or other women at parties, we always agreed on this one thing: we hated our bodies and struggled daily to punish them into socially acceptable shapes and sizes. It brought us together against all odds. Women who appeared to be physically repulsed by me as though we were opposite poles of a magnet were re-polarized when they overheard me lamenting a binge day or talking up my latest foray into punishing exercise. Women I wanted to strangle as they recited by rote their pastor’s latest long-winded sermon about the importance of women serving Christ by bearing children and submitting to the yoke of marriage AND NO OTHER MEANS WHATSOEVER were suddenly my besties when I overheard that they, too, had gotten that red-font notice from MyFitnessPal about their maintenance calorie level being below medically recommended standards – but if we went over by so much as fifty calories we’d gain a gosh darn (pardon my French) pound!)

However, I gained most of that weight over the course of August, after my official decision to stop dieting, and then the gain all but stopped in September. I weighed in this morning, for the first time since the 1st of September, and was stunned to find that despite a 3-day no-holds-barred eating fest on our anniversary trip (when I ate whatever the hell I wanted but tried not to eat unless hungry and to stop when comfortably full) and this being, ifyouknowwhatimean, the heaviest time of the month for me, I am only up two pounds. Shark week usually bumps me up 2 to 5 temporary pounds, so it’s actually possible that I didn’t gain any weight on our anniversary trip! I cannot, of course, be sure that I have reached my hang point already, but I do know that the panic has passed and I feel like I’m getting my feet under me. I have by no means mastered my eating intuition, but I am on my way. I can only hope that I will slowly lose weight from this point on, but I have to (and here’s another really hard part) learn to accept that I might never lose another pound.



Intuitive eating is not a weight loss diet. Intuitive eating is a healthy habit. A lifestyle. A method.

I may remain at this size for a long time. Perhaps forever. I have to remember that it is not true that there is a direct correlation between weight and health. As Dr. Aamodt explained in Why Diets Make Us Fat, you can be fat and healthy, and physical activity is more important for your health than your BMI, as it protects you against the hazards of obesity even if you are obese. There are obese Olympians, for fuck’s sake! So I have to accept HEALTH as my new life goal and reject the old false idol of THINNESS.

Easier said than done. But I’ll keep you posted.

— Amanda

Anniversary 2016

Longtime readers know that Matt and I save up all year for our annual getaway to Lake Crescent (home of the chair on the shore that I have declared my official happy place). We like to stay two nights so that we have at least one day where we are on the peninsula all day.

Clearly we haven’t yet tired of Lake Crescent (perhaps because there was that off year where we didn’t reserve in time and ended up at its sister facility, Lake Quinault) but the tricky part of returning to the same vacation spot every year is not taking the same pictures of the same stuff every year. But I enjoyed the challenge. This was also the first year I shot pictures entirely with a phone (baby’s first smart phone) and not the little old digital camera we received as a wedding present nine years ago.


The view from the porch of our cabin just after check-in. We got cabin #21 again.


Breakfast in the sunroom on our first morning. Omelets, fruit, potatoes, very sweet butter, jam, amazing English muffins, very good coffee. Seriously, I don’t know what was up with those muffins, but they were fucking awesome.


Look. At. The. Color. Of. This. Water. I did not use a filter on this image. This is actually what the lake looks like from the Spruce Railroad Trail on the north side.


Cool rock formations on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

L: A tree etched with lovers’ initials and other graffiti on the Spruce Railroad Trail. R: Naked madrones on the Spruce Railroad Trail.


We thought that this massive, flat rock in the middle of the Spruce Railroad Trail looked like the ideal place for local witches to get together. (My mental image includes both athames and Starbucks, because this is the Pacific Northwest – although there isn’t a Starbucks for an un-fucking-believable 20 miles.)


Albino slug???? We thought at first that this might be a super-duper light-skinned Banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) but it was not the right shape at all and completely free of spots. It was, however, the right shape and size to be one of the more common Black slugs (Arion ater). Wikipedia makes it sound like white Black slugs are totes normal, but trust me, as a Pacific Northwestern native and a lifelong gardener I have seen more than my fair share of slugs and I had never seen a white one until this moment.


Lake Crescent, afternoon of day two, with little white caps and a steady breeze.


Churning water at the side of the MV Puyallup on our ferry ride home. I love this color.

— Amanda

Monthly reading roundup July 2016

I was really busy this month. I was doing Camp NaNoWriMo (which I won!) and remodeling a bathroom and having car trouble and adjusting to a new work schedule. Reading ended up taking a back seat to real life. And this post is late cuz the fun don’t stop. Car is fixed, sleep schedule is still all fucked up, bathroom is in pieces, and manuscript needs editing. #adulting


15800518Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 11 by Julietta Suzuki.

158206Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This is precisely the kind of non-fiction I love: scientific and hilarious. Not unlike You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney, this book illustrates how our brains are both incredibly complicated and seemingly at cross-purposes with survival in the modern world.

27170153How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad. I’m white. I laughed. I’m pretty certain people of color would laugh if they read this, too (though with a different flavor of “ugh, white people” than I felt, of course). Just the right amount of self-depreciation, harsh truths (phrased hilariously), anecdotes, and facts (and wildly erroneous, hyperbolic completely made-up facts).

139253The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. As promised, this was a lovely little book. Sad at times, magic at times. A collection of semi-connected vignettes of a Latina girl growing up in Chicago, featuring her whole family and most everyone on the block.

15803910Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 12 by Julietta Suzuki. Stop rolling your eyes. I love these books. You might, too. I do wish that whoever named the English translation had picked something closer to the actual meaning of the Japanese title, Kamisama Hajimemashita, which means “I became a god” or “A god began,” and has nothing to do with kissing (no matter how much the main character may want to snog her servant guy).

15803925Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 13 by Julietta Suzuki. The cover art on these books, I will have you know, is totally out of touch with the plot inside the books. I find it very weird, as the covers are drawn by the same woman as the rest of the manga, but that’s just how the Japanese roll. The books contain little, if any, provocative fruit-feeding, floating through anti-gravity, wild fashion shoots, or group snuggles.

187020Empire Falls by Richard Russo. This was my second attempt at this book. At least one follower I know in real life is going to hate me for this review. Sorry, Phil. I love me some small town fiction, but I felt like I had a level of background information on every person in this town that would have given the Stasi a brain boner. Also, there’s a few interesting bits of information/plot in the first chapter or so, one more about 3/4 of the way through, and then several pretty compelling chapters at the end of the almost 500 pages, and the rest is all just people going about their day-to-day, thinking about how much they hate their day-to-day.


23272302du balai! by Hans Wilhelm (in French). My language studies were one of the hard-hit areas of my to do list in July.

13643895¡Ves al revés! by Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross, & Gabriel Martínez Jiménez (in Spanish). See above.


None! *gasp*

— Amanda

Just a little update . . .

achievement unlockedI finished the first draft of my second book, Ghost Stories, today. I am on schedule to publish in the spring of 2017.

Ghost Stories is a paranormal buddy comedy featuring a lesbian main character (whose motivation is not to find a girlfriend but to flip a foreclosed house she bought at auction), an agender ghost, a really dumb dog, a bad guy who is “the manifestation of a comments section,” an Afro-Latina medium who hates ghosts, and a whole lot of swearing and pop-culture references.

I am really enjoying writing this book and I hope you will really enjoy reading it.

— Amanda



matt & mickey graduation

I agonized over what picture to use for this post and then opted for the one on the top of the stack: my husband, Matt, and his mom, Mickey, on Matt’s graduation day in 1996.

It’s been a year now since the untimely death of the my mother-in-law. My dad and I have always both said how we lucked out in the mother-in-law department. People traditionally hate or resent their mothers-in-law, but we married people whose mothers were welcoming and not adversarial, judgmental, or possessive.

I know how cliche it sounds to say that it seems like just yesterday that we drove through the Darrington 4th of July parade the day after her death, simultaneously smiling with joy at being alive and surrounded by friends and family, and as raw as if our hearts had just been belt-sanded. But I don’t know how else to phrase it.

I also don’t know how to adequately explain the feeling that she has been deleted. There’s no Mickey-shaped hole – there’s just no Mickey. She doesn’t call us, we don’t call her. She doesn’t holler “come in!” when we show up unannounced at her door. Her chair is still at the kitchen bar. Her name is still in our phones. One of her plants is thriving on top of one of my bookcases. Her husband still gets mail in her name. Her handwriting is still on the chore chart for the grandkids. Her jewelry is still in the bathroom. Her voice is still on the answering machine.

But she’s not there.

A year on, I have found a coping mechanism: when I start to feel that tightness in my chest after thinking about her for too long (like right now) I remind myself that over decades of official and unofficial counseling Mickey talked sense into a whole lot of people. I console myself with the thought that, in a world that has people like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and kids who kill their parents to hawk their electronics for smack, there are also people who are in desperate times and might resort to desperate measures except that they stop and ask themselves “If Mickey were here, what would she tell me to do? What would she think of this bullshit plan?” She isn’t physically there to open her doors and let them crash in her back room, but she’s there in their minds, nonjudgmental, offering sage advice, keeping them calm: mothering.

I get it now, the line about how someone lives on in our hearts and minds. I thought that meant simply that we remember them, but now I see it means something more. We’ve all downloaded the Mickey algorithm and it’s still humming away and doing its work in our brains. She’s still mothering Matt and her grandkids and a host of kinfolk and near-strangers. And maybe they’ll unwittingly spread that benign virus, that natural vaccine against cruelty and malice and stupidity.

It’s a thought that doesn’t exactly ease the tightness in my chest (in fact, sometimes it brings on a lump in my throat and a prickly behind my eyes) but it does change the tone of my feeling from bewildered to hopeful.

— Amanda