The dark specter of Barbecue Man returns

grill-931878_1280The first time I moved out of my parents’ house I moved in with a couple of equally ill-equipped girls I’d known since elementary school in the dismal trailer they were renting in what I now see was a really lovely (quiet, well-kept) trailer park one zipcode from where we were all raised. None of us could balance a checkbook, cook, or hold a job for more than a few months at time time, so it was a failed experiment from the get-go.

(There’s a whole book in that wild, fun, desperate, grotesque, coming-of-age summer, but there’s half a dozen other projects already in the queue and I might need a lawyer before I can publish it.)

We had contact with only one neighbor in the trailer park because most everyone kept to themselves. (I told you it was a lovely place.) Our neighbor to the north was a large man who barbecued three meals a day. Breakfast: barbecue. Lunch: barbecue. Dinner: barbecue. We didn’t actually talk to the guy so we never knew if he was a barbecue connoisseur or if maybe his stove and/or microwave were broken and this was his sole means of cooking.

Barbecue Man, as we cleverly called him, had a wife, Mrs. Barbecue Man, whose face we never saw because the only times she stepped outside it was to position herself in a plastic lounge chair with one of those folding aluminum sun reflectors hiding her face. (This remains the only time in my life I have seen one of those things IRL.)

Barbecue Man had two means of communicating with us: 1) Screaming “Fucking lesbians!” out his window if we made too much noise during the day and 2) calling the park manager at 10:00 pm exactly if we were still making too much noise at 10:00 pm exactly. (And, of course, we gathered around a clock and ramped up the noise-making until it was at a fever pitch at 9:59 pm, at which point we could see his silhouette lumbering to the phone, and we promptly ceased all audible activity at 10:00 pm precisely – even going so far at one point as to flip our own breaker after a particularly high-energy bout of lightswitch flipping and screaming with three stereo systems pegged to 10.) The second method, too, was followed by a cry of “Fucking lesbians!”

(I hope he knows not a one of us was even a little bit upset by being referred to as a lesbian, and also that he was wrong to assume that three single girls with two cats and a parrot were lesbians just because we never had any boys over.)

That was 16 years ago now.

A few days ago I was listening to the clatter and bang and hiss and cussing of the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls next door firing up his barbecue for a late breakfast when it dawned on me (after 10 years living next to that asshole) this is the only other person I have ever encountered who barbecues breakfast. While the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls doesn’t barbecue every meal every day he does barbecue about half of all meals and, again, is the only other person I have ever seen barbecue breakfast when there is not a power outage.

I ran out to where Matt was welding and asked him. What if. WHAT IF?!?!?!

“It’s possible,” said Matt.

I explained about the wife with the reflectors and how she bore no resemblance (based on body shape and pitch of voice) to the wife the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls had when we moved in next door to him out here ten years ago.

“He’s on his fourth wife,” said Matt.

It’s not impossible. It is in fact, totally possible. What if, guys? WHAT IF. We’re not looking at a whole book here, of course, but this bizarre coincidence could at least make up one short story chapter in a book I have on a back burner.

Though geographically large, this county I have lived in my whole life is not densely populated and is, figuratively, a very small world. Matt and I were friends for years before discovering that our mothers had been friends in their childhood in their tiny hometown, that my mother had dated his uncle in their teens, that our mothers’ first husbands had owned a business together, that his best friend was the guy I complained about from my first job. A friend of ours at the restaurant where we met logged with Matt’s grandfather, machined with my grandfather, and trimmed and tied the crown roasts of beef that my mother used to order for Christmas dinner. I could go on for hours; everyone knows everyone somehow.

It will be a while before we can know, though, if this guy is indeed that guy. There (thankfully) aren’t many unfortunate moments in which the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls heaves himself over to the fence to attempt to bond with Matt using unchecked negativity and racism (Dude assumes that anyone who looks a little like him must share all his disgusting sentiments and he is perpetually shocked that we don’t want to deport the Mexicans across the street, that we don’t want to evict people who can’t afford to keep up their houses to his standards, that we didn’t want to assassinate Obama, that we don’t regret getting married, and that, no, we really weren’t joking about not being Christian.) and he hasn’t tried to talk to me since that time he jeered at me in a singsongy voice “Does Matt know you’re using his tools?” and I snarled back “They’re my fucking tools.”

But rest assured, readers, the next time I see them engaged in verbal combat I will text Matt urgently to find a way to ask if the asshole ever lived in Marysville next to some obnoxious teenage lesbians.

— Amanda

Doctor’s (marching) orders


I typed up notes for this post in a flurry of activity after I got home from the Womxn’s March and then decided not to finish and post it. Enough has been said on this topic, I thought. But then I said it out loud, finger poised to click “delete post” and I thought, as though someone else had spoken, “Are you fucking crazy?” So here it is: the gajillionth take on the Womxn’s March. My hot take: A) I was in Seattle and B) I was marching for women who aren’t much like me.

Also, I was there at the behest of my doctor.

Let me back up. My mom and I see the same doctor. We also have both been laid low by anxiety and creeping dread (and out-of-control emotional eating) due to the election. We have lost friends, stopped talking to relatives (in my case), and (in Mom’s case) stopped attending a once-vital club, all due to Trump and his spiteful minions.

Mom told our doctor about her feelings of helplessness and sadness at a recent visit and she prescribed activism. She said that taking action would help in a way that pills would not. She said that she and her husband and a group of friends were going to the Womxn’s March in Seattle and that we should come.

So we did.

We took advantage of the fact that most of  our neuroses are sort of like puzzle pieces (I can’t drive on the freeway, Mom can’t drive in Seattle – she has no problem with the freeway, I have no problem with Seattle) and worked around the ones we share (neither of us can drive in the dark, so we stayed overnight).

Still, we were both nervous. But being there together we were able to pretend that it was excited-nervous and not shit-imma-puke-nervous. (Or at least I did. Maybe Mom wasn’t faking. She’s a lot tougher than me. At some point during the march she told me that it wasn’t her first – she and my dad had marched for union rights a few years back and there had been police snipers on the rooftops!)

Stewart? What the fuck, Amanda. You’re on Jackson. In the International District. Where you used to work seven years ago?

The skyline and my mom (center, pink hat).

A post shared by Amanda Sterling Fink (@sterlingfink) on

White Feminism

But this was all we had to overcome: nerves. Not even full-blown clinical anxiety. (And I’ve been there. There was a time when I was having a panic attack a week while medicated. Now I haven’t had one in a year and it’s been five or more since I was weaned off my medication.) But other women were prevented by much bigger blocks: disability, inflexible jobs, lack of child care, or disapproving significant others. I decided to deal with my low-level anxiety and march for them. This mindset, in fact, was crucial in getting me over my nervousness.

When current events feel overwhelming and personal and the fear and confusion make me dizzy I try to remember that this is what it is like every day for women of color, indigenous women, disabled women, trans women, gay women. This is new for me but daily life for them. And I get angry on their behalf. I channel the anger into phone calls, emails, research, and tweets.

It took me a long time to come around to feminism in the first place (because like most people I had been lied to about it all my life) and after that to figure out what “white feminism” is. White feminism isn’t feminism at all. Feminism is an equality movement. It is named for the party that is being repressed in exactly the way that Black Lives Matter is. OF COURSE ALL LIVES MATTER THAT IS IN FACT OUR POINT. But in practice they do not matter equally and both feminism and Black Lives Matter work to address the inequalities.

White feminism is “feminism” that excludes non-white, non-straight, and or non-cis women. White feminism is just as bad as the GOP party line because it says “issues that have never personally affected me aren’t problems and should be ignored.” I do not believe that just because I, a straight white cis woman, have never experienced discrimination due to the color of my skin, my sexuality, or my gender identity, that it doesn’t happen to other people. When other people tell me that bad things are happening to them I do not respond “Well, they’re not happening to me, so you must be lying.” I respond “That fucking sucks, what can I do to help you?”

If your feminism isn’t for all women then it isn’t for any woman but you – and that isn’t feminism at all.

If you are white and a feminist (as opposed to a white feminist) here’s what you can do: you can use your privilege for good. In fact, I feel that I have a responsibility to do so. If I am closer to the goal I will claw and scrabble to get it and then happily hand it around.

As the amazing lady feral said on her tumblr “I also know that once all of these police-hand-shaking white ladies finish taking their cute activism selfies and put their pink pussy hats away in their keepsake boxes, they’ll pat themselves on the back and then they WILL leave the rest of us hanging. Maybe literally. They will retreat into the relative safety that being white and cis and straight gives them and leave trans women and disabled folks and black women and queers and nonbinary folks and sex workers out here flapping in the fucking breeze.”

I don’t want to be that asshole. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Next time there’s a smaller rally, maybe one that will have counter-protesters and more cops, I will do my damndest to figure out a way to attend. (I used to be a genius at bus schedules – I didn’t drive until I was almost 20) and I will use my whiteness and cisgender as a shield and march with women who need to be heard.

Something I cannot repeat enough is that back in the day the majority of white people thought that the civil rights marches and demonstrations like lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Riders were unnecessary, disruptive, and/or counterproductive and should be stopped. Now, of course, those same people claim that they were supporters all along. They may even believe that they were. I want to be on the right side of history from the get-go, thanks. I don’t want people of the future trawling through the archives of this blog and my Twitter and tsk-tsk-ing at my hypocrisy.

Getting Emotional

This was a very peaceful demonstration, and catered heavily to white women, but it was still a good start for me and a lot of other women who had never marched for anything in our lives. Though I knew this was sort of Activism Lite I still felt empowered because there were so fucking many of us (the latest crowd estimate I heard was 130,000 and only 50,000 were originally expected) and I still felt solidarity because there were women marching on all seven continents (yes, Antarctica, too) and in tiny little cities where a march of fifteen people made up 23% of the population.

Indigenous women led us (specifically Indigenous Women Rise) and I will follow them to hell because they are stalwart in the face of injustices I cannot fathom.

I didn’t cry until approximately halfway through the route, just after we had turned onto 4th Ave. I looked up at the classy Prefontaine Building, the monolithic Columbia Center, and the absurdly phallic Municipal Tower and I got a lump in my throat and my eyes burned. I was suddenly overcome by the sensation that our 130,000 person march was at least one short. I knew that my late mother-in-law would absolutely have been there next to me, had she been alive to attend. She would have had the loudest outfit, the biggest sign. She would have hooted and hollered and brought a mob with her from the Cascade foothills in a convoy of minivans. She would have thrown glitter on everyone who marched and thrown kisses at everyone who waved at us and flown the bird at the three (count ’em three, just three) counter-protesters.


What I Learned

This is physical work. I smiled the whole time (excepting the five minutes I choked back tears about my mother-in-law), but Jesus, it hurt. The route was just 3.6 miles, a length neither my mother nor I thought excessive – but because we were packed in like sardines we could not take normal steps. We shuffled. I took probably four tiny little mincing steps for every one stride I would have taken when walking anywhere else. We began our exit from the starting point, Judkins Park, at 11:00 am and we didn’t hit asphalt until 1:30 pm. And the whole time we shuffled. I wasn’t able to take a normal-length stride until somewhere on Jackson Street. And at that point I had been moving abnormally for so long that the muscles in my thighs and hips were clenched tight and shuffling was all I was capable of. I had walked 3.6 miles but I felt like I had taken 10 miles worth of steps – but in miniature. My legs didn’t really work right for the next two days. I had to get a new pair of jeans when I got home because the shuffling, combined with my rather generous thighs, rubbed right through the crotch of the jeans I wore to the march.

This was easy. (I know, I know, I just said this was hard. It can be both.) This was a sanctioned march on an approved route, fully permitted. There were portable restrooms every few blocks. The police officers who lined the route were mostly parking enforcement officers. Most intersections had just one officer each, just there to keep people from trying to drive up side streets and into the march. They leaned on their cars. They waved. The scene was dramatically different than the impromptu, non-permitted protests we saw the night before from our hotel window. There were a dozen cops per block, the protesters wore black, not pink, and most of them ran. There was a shooting on the UW campus, for fuck’s sake.

Liquid antacid is hard to find. They didn’t have it at WinCo or the IGA. I had to go to a proper pharmacy. (Liquid antacid containing aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide, mixed with water, is recommended for washing pepper spray out of your eyes.) I didn’t need it, but I wanted to have it on hand because if I (or someone else) needed it we weren’t going to want to wait for someone to run to a pharmacy.

130,000 people wearing Gore-Tex are very loud even when they are trying to be quiet.

— Amanda

P.S. I didn’t know where else to squeeze this in, so here, have a picture of a doggy that smiled for the camera when we were assembling in the park.


P.P.S. I moderate my comments, motherfuckers. Nobody but support is gonna see your hate.

Silver Peak Photography

I mentioned in an earlier post, I have started a second Tumblr blog for my photography. I sold my motorcycle to buy a DSLR because I love to take pictures but I am extremely frustrated by my inability to make photos look like what I’m seeing (*exasperated noises*). There’s a learning curve, of course, but I am already leaps and bounds closer to accomplishing that. I have no plans to go pro because 1) every single woman I know except my mother is a professional photographer so 1a) the market is saturated and 1b) I am uncomfortable trying to compete with my friends and 2) I don’t take pictures of people and that’s where the money is (weddings and portraits). There’s a lot less call for and money in landscape photography. Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at selling images on stock photography websites, but in the meantime I just like to take pictures of stuff.

I call my photography blog Silver Peak Photography because Silver Peak is the name of the fictionalized version of my adopted hometown (and, by extension, the fictional universe) in which my novels take place. Silver Peak is an archetypal Pacific Northwestern small town and what I’m shooting for (ha!) with my photography is the archetypal Pacific Northwestern small town aesthetic. I like to take pictures of beautiful things and interesting things and inexplicable things but there’s a balance of beautiful and ugly in the perfect rural photo. My best example thus far:

img_0221_fotorBeautiful light, lush greenery . . . shitloads of packed-down litter. The yin-yang of the rural: 50% National Park-like gorgeous scenery, 50% human ugliness.

Anyway, here’s some more of my stuff. If you like it you can see more at Silver Peak Photography.


A foreclosed house soon to be burned down by the fire department. I think I took this the first day I had my camera, which explains the blown-out sky, although it’s a hard thing to avoid in the Pacific Northwestern autumn.


Dewy lichen on an alder branch. One of the first halfway decent pictures I took with my new camera.


One of a startling number of deer rib cages newbie hunters (or maybe poachers) left on the wrong side of the gates on DNR roads around my house this year. (Fun fact: this particular rib cage was just outside the shot in the top photo of the litter and blackberries. I would have loved to have them both in the same shot but I would have had to work myself twenty feet deep into another thicket, so . . . )


There’s several of these signs around a property on the road to town.


This is the best picture I have yet taken of this listing mailbox station (yes, I have shot this thing like ten times). I cannot seem to capture the lean and twist and fragility. The pictures make it look far more level and rigid than it really is. At least this one has nice light.


A flag on the back of a classic log truck in town.

— Amanda

My favorite lamb meatballs

img_0492_fotorOnce upon a time I wanted some nice tender lamb meatballs for dinner but I couldn’t decide which of the four recipes in my big bad recipe binder to use. So I pulled them all out and listed the ingredients I liked and left out what I didn’t. I doubled up on what I really liked and managed to forget to list an egg while I was at it. I mixed those ingredients up and baked them up and fucking loved them. (Even without the egg.)

img_0487_fotorTIPS: 1) do not use a mixer or food processor to combine the ingredients. The meatballs will be tough instead of tender. 2) I use a 2 tablespoon disher (like a giant melon baller crossed with an ice cream scoop) to portion out my meatballs so that they are uniform and then roll them between my hands so that they are round.

My favorite lamb meatballs

  • Servings: 4 normal people, 2 gluttons
  • Time: 2o minutes
  • Print


  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchement paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients by hand. Shape into balls the size of a golf ball. Place 1-2″ apart on prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes.

I like to serve these with The New York Times’ Rice Pilaf with Golden Raisins and a little dish of plain yogurt – or yogurt with a minced clove of garlic mixed in – and a mixed greens salad with a tart vinaigrette.

— Amanda

Oh, I’m still here!


One of the most popular images from my new photography blog (see below): the morning sun backlighting the one last undeveloped lot in my neighborhood.

This is one of those sorry-I-haven’t-written-in-a-while posts where you list your excuses and give a quick update then make promises about future posts. You know the drill.

Excuses (and they’re pretty good this time):

  1. THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. Also known as The 2016 Dumpster Fire Election. This really took it out of me. Kind of fucked up my life. Kind of put my relationship with two of my four brothers on hiatus. Kind of scared the ever-living shit out of me.
  2. NaNoWriMo. Damn near killed me, but I won again! For the second time I took a previous NaNoWriMo project and subtracted a major element and tried to make a new book out of it. Note to self: STOP DOING THAT IT IS TORRRRRTURRRRE.
  3. I’ve stopped doing the monthly reading roundup posts because they are a time suck and if you want actually wanted to know what I was reading you could always follow me on Goodreads.


  1. I have started a second Tumblr for my photography. Check it out if you like to look at pictures of stuff. I’m going for a “quintessentially rural western Washington” vibe.
  2. I have discovered, much to my surprise, that spirituality and atheism are not incompatible. And that I have a spirituality. And that others have this exact same spirituality. There’s a name for it – several, actually. (I prefer spiritual naturalism.) This is a put-you-back-on-your-heels kind of thing. I know there shouldn’t really be rules about personal beliefs but I am so much a rule follower that I have suppressed this inborn philosophy since teenagerdom because I was under the impression that spirituality was necessarily a theistic thing requiring supernatural belief and that having it made me, as an atheist, a hypocrite. Not so, it turns out. So … this is a big thing. I am chronicling my daily little epiphanies and progress on my primary Tumblr. (Yes, I do spend a lot of time on Tumblr.)

Promises about future posts:

  1. A combination of photography and writing about a very satisfying hands-on project I am doing: repairing the very unique quilt that my mother-in-law and niece hand made and gave to us as a wedding gift. Not only is it beautiful, but it is the perfect year-round warmth and we have slept under it pretty much every day we have been married.
  2. The inevitable annual New Year’s Resolution post. I can’t help it. I love resolutions.
  3. There will almost certainly be posts about that spirituality thing.

Hang in there, everybody.

— Amanda

Write what you didn’t know you knew


Used with no permission what-so-never! ©Andrews McMeel Universal

This is not an original sentiment, but it has been needling me lately, so I’m going to let it out.

“Write what you know” is misunderstood. People think that means that they can only write literally about their limited sphere of experience: that if they have never left America they can’t write about world-traveling spies. But I don’t think it refers to technical aspects. I think it refers to themes and relationships. I doubt George Lucas had personal experience with telekinetic space knights, but he did seem to know a thing or two about hope. I don’t think J.K. Rowling actually attended a secret wizarding school, but she does seem to have insider information on the importance of friendship and perseverance.

What do you know about? Woodworking? Bureaucracy? Ceramics? That’s nice, but it’s inessential. You can research those things. You can understand them pretty well without experiencing them. And you can freely invent space ships and elves – you don’t have to experience them at all.

So what else do you know know? What have you experienced or witnessed that you can really expound upon, that can be your theme? Poverty? Betrayal? Second chances? I know about being eccentric, about learning to improve oneself the hard way, about making mistakes, about being wracked by anxiety, about surviving depression. These are things I can dig into and live in for a whole book. I can say much more interesting things about these themes than I could by rattling off my technical knowledge of the behind scenes work of building public parks or even the sounds and smells of beekeeping.

What have you done in your life? (Or what has been done to you?) Look at your resume, think back over your life. Maybe you haven’t had a sweeping romance or a brush with crime or a death in the family. Maybe all you’ve had is a job at McDonald’s. Dude, you can still use that. Transform the people around you. The night shift manager that magically motivates everyone to give a damn in the face of the unending onslaught of drunk and otherwise shitty customers? That person can be your Gandalf, your Dumbledore, your Obi-wan. The petty little shit who shifts blame and weasels out of work and thinks they’re too good? That’s your book’s Draco Malfoy. Walter Mitty your life. (I don’t mean you should fall in with spies – I mean your should recast the people around you into fantasies.)

Do the same to your experiences and relationships. Remember that time you were mistaken for a local celebrity or wanted criminal? It’s a funny anecdote now, but really remember it. Remember the thrill? The terror? Remember imagining how cool (or burdensome) it would be to be that weather guy for real? Remember wondering how you were going to get out of going to jail when your phone and wallet were locked in your car so you couldn’t prove you weren’t the robber? That’s at least enough for a short story. Transform your close bond with your dog into a boy and his dragon or a girl and her assassin-bot. Fictionalize that comedy of errors from last year’s drunken thanksgiving into a Medieval farce. Get pretend space revenge on an alien version of that boss who sabotaged you to keep you from getting promoted.

You can research or invent places and technology and worlds and customs and just about everything. But Wikipedia can’t grant you substantive, nuanced insight into the human condition. You have to be like Star Trek’s Data: consult the ship’s computer whenever you can and for the rest of it – the interactions, the feelings, the relationships – you just have to throw yourself in and live.

— Amanda

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