Read This: Pride & Prejudice & Other Flavors

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book recommendation post. It’s not that I haven’t read anything worth recommending; I have. More, it’s that I haven’t read anything that I felt like compelled to recommend. Until now.

It’s no secret that I love Jane Austen. Jane Austen is the romance novel OG (we can talk later about why that is not a backhanded compliment), and her books are like perfect little marvels. They’re elegantly constructed and delicate without seeming insubstantial. Nothing insubstantial could remain so popular after literal centuries.

And because they’re such delightfully constructed books, it can feel wonderfully tempting to adapt them for modern times and audiences. Sometimes this works brilliantly, like the movie Clueless, an adaptation of Austen’s Emma. But I had started to suspect that maybe it couldn’t be done with Pride & Prejudice, arguably Austen’s most popular and beloved novel. Even the best attempts, like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (Jane is a yoga teacher! Bingley is a former Batchelor-style reality show star! Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with CrossFit and Instagram! The Bennets are over mortgaged and likely to lose their house!) fall apart at the end because there just isn’t a modern analogue for what Darcy does to save Elizabeth and her sisters from ruin. It just seemed impossible to match the stakes of the original book, where a small action might mean certain ruin for an entire family.

But Sonali Dev seems to have cleverly cracked the code with Pride & Prejudice & Other Flavors. First of all she solves the problem of stakes by putting the whole thing in the context of a political campaign. If there is any world as puritanical as 18th century British society, where a hint of a rumor could lead to ruin, it’s politics.

But secondly, and more cleverly, rather than hewing exactly to the structure of Pride & Prejudice, she kind of takes both the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy and puts them in a blender and distributes attributes of both between Trisha and DJ. Trisha has a massive family (Elizabeth). DJ (whose first name is Darcy) has only one sister (Darcy). But Trisha is from a wealthy, powerful family (Darcy) while DJ is the son of a refugee (okay, the Bennets weren’t wealthy but they were hardly refugees). Both Trisha and DJ have a sibling in some kind of jeopardy, both adore their siblings (an underappreciated theme of Pride & Prejudice). Ultimately, the scrambling of the two characters makes the whole thing feel fresh and exciting in a way that stories based on 18th century novels don’t often. And that’s before we get to the loving way the book describes Indian cooking and food in general, as well as art, music and science.

So, seriously, you Austen fans should absolutely pick this one out. It was fun, wonderfully written. And I came away with a greater appreciation for the original source material (and that’s really saying something).


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Are you ready?

Are you ready? Are you excited? Well, get excited, because the pre-order listing for The Reunion, complete with the back-of-book blurb, is up!

Meet Dave and Rosie…

Dave

Rosie and I were friends all through school, but we lost touch after high school graduation. So, it’s a bit of a surprise to suddenly run into her a few days before our ten-year reunion and find her all grown up and… gorgeous. Suddenly, she’s all I can think about. I wonder if there’s a way I can convince her to stay in town and see where this could go…

Rosie

In high school, I was madly in love with Dave, but he never knew. Since he clearly didn’t return my feelings, I figured it was smartest to just kind of fade out of his life after graduation. Now it’s been ten years—I should be over him, right? Wrong. Avoiding him while I’m in town would be smartest since I’m definitely getting on a plane to go home in a few days. But, hey, maybe hanging out together in the meantime will get me some closure. What could go wrong?

In this sweet, sexy romance, is a reunion a second shot at getting something exactly right? Or just a chance to make a catastrophic mistake?

I am so excited for you to meet Dave and Rosie–as well as Riz, Kayla, Connor, and Wayne, the other nerds of Kilkenney Academy–on April 24th! I’ll be revealing the cover in a few weeks (I just saw the mock-up for the first time yesterday and, you guys, I am in love), and sample chapters will be available a couple weeks after that.

Thank you all so much for your support and encouragement in the last month. This whole process has been equal parts thrilling and terrifying and it’s so nice to know that so many people are almost as excited as I am. You guys are the best.

Announcement!

_The Reunion

Back in April of last year when I announced that I had completed my novel, there was an optimistic little part of me that thought, Hey, finishing a book in 2018 could mean that I’ll be publishing a book in 2019. 

And guess what? I am!

Plot twist: not that book.

I know. I’m as surprised as you.

Here’s what happened.

After I finished the book, I wrote myself a decent query letter and throughout the spring and summer submitted it to a bunch of different agents. I received a lot of very polite but impersonal rejections. Then I submitted to a bunch more agents and received a bunch more rejections. Fun times.

By the end of the summer, I had submitted to just under two dozen agents and received rejections from the same. By that point, I wasn’t feeling great about the whole process (this, I realize, makes me a total wimp–getting 20 or 30 nos before getting a yes is pretty much the norm). I was beginning to suspect that something I thought might be a minor hindrance to selling my book might actually be a major impediment. Truly fixing it (rather than minimizing it like I had done before I started sending it out) would require rethinking what I was trying to do entirely, and that was going to be a lot of work. Work I didn’t really want to do because, honestly, after seven years of working on the book I was kind of done.

Meanwhile, of course, I had a couple of new projects going, but neither one of them was holding my attention or really lighting me on fire. I was making okay progress, but at the rate I was going, it was going to take me another seven years to finish either one of those.

Then September 1st came, and a novel downloaded itself into my brain.

I know that’s a weird way to put it, but that’s what it felt like. One minute I was thinking Hey, you know what would be a fun novel to read and then within a couple of hours I had characters, a complete plot, key scenes, lines of dialogue, all right there in my head just waiting to be written. I bailed on the idea of doing basically anything that weekend and instead pretty much locked myself in my room and wrote (sorry, kids!). By September 3rd, I had written more than 20,000 words, something I have never even approached before. And they were good words! The vast majority of them made it into the final draft. And since it was going so well, I just kept writing. Not at that furious pace, obviously, because, like, life still had to happen occasionally. But by the end of October, I had a complete 70,000 word novel.

The Reunion was born.

And it was good. I mean, I know I’m biased here. But honestly, it’s almost certainly better than that novel I completed back in April. It’s not as ambitious, certainly, and it’s a lot less sprawling (instead of taking place over the course of a year, the bulk of it takes place over the course of four days), but it’s sprightly and fun and not nearly so self-serious.

The next obvious question was: what do I do with this? Despite how proud if it I was, I had a feeling that finding it a home with a publisher or an agent was going to require that I make some changes that I didn’t want to make. Plus, obviously, I wasn’t feeling super keen on going through the whole rejection process again. More than that, though, this book felt like something that had just fallen into my lap. I had so much fun writing it and it fell out of me so quickly that I didn’t really feel like I had so much invested in it that it had to turn into something real. Maybe I should just continue having fun and do whatever the heck I felt like with it.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m self-publishing it, because I can and this feels like an adventure. The Reunion will be available in ebook and paperback in April. I honestly cannot wait to introduce you to these characters, because they’re some of my favorites I have ever written. They feel like friends, and I hope that they’ll feel like friends to you, too.

There’s a lot more details to come in the next few months: pre-order listing, cover design reveal, back cover blurb, sample chapters. But for the moment I’m just excited to revel in this moment. 2018 didn’t take me to the place that I thought or hoped it might. Maybe it’s just that optimistic little part of me again, but I think it might have taken me somewhere better. So I’m feeling hopeful and excited about 2019. I hope that you are, too. I can’t wait to go on this adventure together.

To ensure that you don’t miss any updates about The Reunion in the journey it’s about to go on to publication in a couple short months, be sure to sign up for my newsletter, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Let’s all get excited for an awesome 2019!

A little change and a big tease!

Inga_19OnlineLook at this! It’s a new photo! Of me! And I look pretty good!

I have to give a massive shout out to Kate at Lily Jack Photography in Raymond, NH, for managing to make me look like myself but on my best hair and skin day. And, also, for being super easy to work with. (After sitting for that photo session, I have new respect for professional models–posing for pictures is surprisingly hard work!)

But I’m not just here to talk about how great I look (although, we can certainly do that if you want). I’m here to say that there will be some exciting things happening as early as next month.  To be sure you don’t miss a thing, sign up for my newsletter, and follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

I really can’t wait to share all the exciting stuff with you for real–honestly, it’s killing me to not say more about this–but for now we’re all just going to have to make do with how cute I look here.

If I don’t manage to get back to this space by the end of the year (and let’s be realistic about the odds of my being able to write another blog post before January–they ain’t good), I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.

This could be the one…

It’s weird how sometimes writing is like romance.

You start thinking, Maybe I’m ready to put myself out there again, and so you start looking around. You think, This person seems nice, but I’m not sure I see it going anywhere. Or you think, I see exactly where that’s going and no thank you. Sometimes it’s, Everything about this seems perfect and yet somehow I feel no chemistry here.

But then it happens. You find someone and you just click. They’re exciting, even if you can’t put into words what exactly you like about them. You just kind of feel it. It’s the way you want to think about them all the time, the way you find them cropping up in your brain when you don’t expect it. It’s the way they seem so perfect you can’t believe you’ve gotten this lucky.

You remind yourself that they have faults. Of course they do–doesn’t everyone? You hope they’re more of the leaves dirty socks on the floor variety than the has serious anger issues kind. You try to think critically, try to examine what you know about them carefully, searching for hints of future trouble. But despite your best efforts, your brain keeps getting all moony over their perfect smile or that super smart thing they said.

You also know, intellectually anyway, that this might turn out to be nothing. It might end in dramatic fashion with a computer hurled across the room (or a file angrily deleted). Or it might simply fizzle out, one of you ghosting the other and the other not particularly noticing. Maybe you’ll suddenly meet someone else, someone better (Jennifer Egan wrote her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, while avoiding working on another novel). But in the beginning it’s hard to believe that this isn’t the best thing ever.

Writing something new after actually completing your last project is a little like what I imagine dating after getting out of a long, mostly happy relationship is like. It makes everything feel a bit more fraught. You wonder if you have it in you to love like that again. You compare everything to that last relationship, not because you miss that other person (although, maybe a little?), but because you’re looking for good signs and bad. Was it easier at this stage in that last relationship? Was it harder? What does that mean? By the end of that last relationship, for better or worse, you knew each other so well that there wasn’t too much awkwardness. The rough edges had all be smoothed down. So awkwardness now feels wrong, and you have to keep reminding yourself that you have to take time and do the work. But still you worry, What if I only had that one, pretty good love affair in me? What if I’ll never have that again? Is it worth trying again without the guarantee that this is going to be something, anything?

And yet, despite your misgivings, you can’t stop yourself from coming back, because that early stage is exciting and fun and full of promise. This could be the one. Everything could be different after this. So what’s another hour of lying here awake thinking about all that is great about this person instead of falling asleep?

Why Minority Representation in Media Is Good for White People, Too.

Hey, fellow white people. There’s a lot of discussion about how important representation of minorities is in the media right now. From Black Panther, to A Wrinkle In Time‘s multi-racial family, to lingering discussions about how many of America’s most popular shows are really, really white, I get that it can feel like the message is, “We’d really like to see a whole lot less of people like you.” And I get that that, when interpreted that way, that doesn’t feel great. But I want to tell you why minority representation in media is actually really good for you, too.

Do you know what “edges” are? It’s a term I’m not sure I’d really heard before a few weeks ago. In an ad for her HBO show, Two Dope Queens, Jessica Williams mentions that her white boyfriend told her “Your edges look really nice”. She joked that that is the nicest thing a white man can say to a black woman he’s dating. From context, I got that it was something to do with hair, but I wasn’t sure what and I was too lazy to Google.

a princess in theoryThen, a few days ago, I picked up Alyssa Cole‘s A Princess in Theory (which I definitely recommend if you want a light, charming romance that is kind of like an updated Coming to America with a hint of afrofuturism). The characters are almost entirely African or African-American, so the logistics of black hair care came up fairly frequently. Things like a character oiling her hair before a date, or a character putting on a headscarf to sleep in. These are entirely foreign hair care concepts to me, as a person with straight, smooth hair (about 90% of my hair care regimen is about removing oil from my hair).

And then there was the discussion of edges. One character’s “edges are flourishing”. Another character’s distraction over having her heart broken can be tracked by how unkempt her edges become. I finally had to look up what “edges” are–they’re the small hairs that grow along the hairline which can be particularly vulnerable to breakage, and they require their own maintenance.

There might be a person or two of color who reading this and rolling her eyes. After all, it’s not like “edges” are a new or obscure concept, and here I am, a 36 year old American woman, finally bothering to take the three minutes to look them up. She may view me as foolish.

She’s not wrong. And that’s the thing about ignorance, whether that ignorance is intentional or not: it makes you look foolish. Who wants to look foolish? Not me, certainly, and probably not you, either. But the fact is that the books I’ve read and the television shows and movies I’ve watched–and that are marketed to me and people like me–don’t include information like that.

Think about what you know about how white women care for their hair. You probably know a lot, even if you aren’t yourself a white woman. Maybe your mother was a white woman and you saw what she did to get herself ready in the morning. But you’ve also seen a million shampoo and hair dye commercials featuring women. You’ve seen scenes on television and in movies where (white) women do their hair. You’ve read novels where (white) women get their hair done.

How many times have you seen a shampoo or hair dye ad that featured a black woman? How many times have you seen a scene in a television show where a black woman does her hair? How many ads have you seen for hair care products specifically for black people? Probably pretty close to zero, right?

Let’s think about something else: even if you’re not Jewish, you probably know what Bar Mitzvah is. You know what the word tuchus is slang for. Maybe you know what a cantor or a mezuzah are. You certainly know that the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday.

What day to Muslims go to the mosque?

If you don’t know but knew a lot of the stuff in the previous paragraph despite not being Jewish or having Jewish friends, there’s a good reason: a lot of writers are Jewish. That’s not some “Jews control the media” bullshit (writers in Hollywood control jack shit)–but the representation of people who are religiously and/or ethnically Jewish means that the details of life as a Jewish person in America wind up on screen and in print pretty frequently. That’s great! But the lack of writers of Muslim faith means that authentic portrayals of the lives of people of the Muslim faith don’t show up very often. And that’s not great. Because, again, it leaves us ignorant, and that makes us seem (and often act) foolish.

It might not always feel like it but we, as white people, need more black writers, more Muslim writers, more Hispanic writers, more Asian writers, more Native writers. We need more gay or trans or bi directors, more directors of color, more female directors. We even (especially) need more minorities working as hair stylists and makeup artists and costume designers and prop department employees and set dressers matter. People bring their lived experiences to their work in the arts, and the more variety of lived experiences the more vibrant and valuable the art.

Stories are important. There’s a reason every single culture has story telling traditions of one kind or another. It’s how we teach each other about the world, about people who aren’t us. Whose stories we choose to tell communicate who matters in a society, and a history of declining to tell the stories of people of color has had a negative effect for all of us.

I’m not so naive as to think that making an effort to tell the stories of black Americans in a more authentic way will fix racism (if we’ve learned anything from the last few years it’s that a shocking number of people still proudly hold old-school racist ideas). But for those of us white folks who have been rendered clueless by swimming in a media environment that only reflects our lives back to us, more representation of minorities can only be a positive. It won’t stop us from saying awkward or unfortunate or insensitive things (saying awkward and unfortunate and insensitive things is part of the human condition). But it might make it less likely that we’ll say unintentionally racist things. And that is all to the good.

So embrace it. Celebrate it. Enjoy Black Panther for being a fun superhero movie just like any that features an almost entirely white cast (i.e. basically every single other superhero movie). Trust me, you’ll be smarter and better rounded for it.

A sweet way to survive the winter

 

And now we’re deep into winter. The stress and fun of the holidays have passed. The excitement of the first snow is gone. Now it’s just cold and the sun barely seems to show itself. Everyone has a cold. Worst of all, we’ve got at least two more months of this misery before this ends. We’re all now remembering why we hate winter and wondering why we don’t live in California.

But then into this frozen plane of misery comes a ray of sunshine, a little bit of hope in edible form.

This came from my friend, the lovely and brilliant Rachel Martin (you’ve read her piece about hot chicken in Nashville, right? If you haven’t, you should go read it now. Like, right now. It’s wonderful). A few days ago she posted on Instagram a picture of some oranges and carrots along with a recipe. I knew I had to try it.

As luck would have it, the grocery store had oranges on sale so I bought a bag. At home, I preheated my oven to 425 and sliced an orange into half-rounds. I placed them in a baking pan, drizzled them with olive oil, and seasoned them with pepper and a generous amount of salt.

An hour later, after showering and getting some dough for yeast rolls started (winter means eating all the carbs all the time), I pulled the dish out to find a glorious batch of roasted oranges that look like nothing so much as an August afternoon. They smell like life.

And they taste incredible. The flesh of the orange becomes custardy in the oven, warm and comforting. It comes apart on your tongue. The rind is crunchy and chewy at once, and once you get past the sweetness of the flesh there’s the rind’s pleasant bitterness. And through it all there’s a lovely saltiness. It’s sublime.

img_20180125_1101259141079595150676824.jpg

Nobody said surviving winter was easy, even with central heat and Netflix. But food can make it a little easier to bear. I know I’ll be leaning on this luscious snack every chance I get.

 

We’re all healthy…until we’re not

On an unremarkable Sunday at the end of this summer, I woke up feeling crummy. I’d had a couple glasses of sangria the night before, which is unusual for me, so I figured I had a little hangover.  I’m definitely getting old if a couple drinks is all it takes to make me hungover, I thought, and dragged myself out of bed to get on with my day.

As the day went on, I felt better, almost normal.  But a little after 3 p.m., I started to feel discomfort in my lower left abdomen.  By four, that discomfort was turning into pain.  By 5:30, I was doubled over on the couch.  By six, I was shaking and I told my husband, “I think I have an ovarian cyst. I need to go to the emergency room.”

We called my parents, who arrived a few minutes later to watch the kids, and then my husband drove me to the hospital.

The hospital is less than a mile from my house but by the time I arrived, I could barely walk. While my husband parked the car, a kind gentleman helped me into the emergency room, where the staff took one look at me and whisked me into triage.  I began to vomit and my blood pressure was reading as low, so when my very worried husband arrived in the ER a moment later, the staff fetched a wheelchair for me and took me back into a room.

It wound up being a long several hours as the medical staff tried to figure out what was wrong with me.  But, after numerous tests, a shot of Zofran (to stop the vomiting), some IV fluids, a shot of morphine (I screamed when the doctor tried to palpate my abdomen), we finally had an answer.  It wasn’t an ovarian cyst.  It was diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis stems from a condition called diverticulosis.  Diverticulosis is when weak points in the large intestine bulge out into pockets called diverticula.  It’s a common condition, particularly in westerners (though mostly in people over the age of 50, which I am not).  Most people who have it will never know they have it because it causes them no problems.  But sometimes bacteria can become trapped in the diverticula, and the resulting infection is called diverticulitis.

Let me tell you, it’s a bitch.  As I discovered, it’s incredibly painful.  I’ve given birth without anesthetic and the pain level was comparable.  But diverticulitis can also be dangerous.  In some people, it can become chronic, resulting in abscesses, fistulas, intestinal blockages, and even ruptures in the wall of the intestine.  It can require surgery to remove chronically infected sections of the bowel, and in extreme cases it can lead to death.

That night in the ER, the doctors didn’t have a lot of information about what to expect for me, and a follow up with my GP didn’t give me much more insight.  The reality is that for all the extraordinary things medical technology can do, in many ways we’re still in the poking-things-with-sticks stage of exploration.  Why did I develop diverticulosis?  Unknown: probably some combination of genetics, the structure of my digestive system, and lifestyle.  Would I have a diverticulitis flare up again?  Unknown.  There are some best practices to follow but ulitmately it’s different for everyone.  My being only in my 30s means that I’m more likely to have an aggressive flare up again than if I were over 50.  There’s no cure for diverticulosis, so for the rest of my life another flare up will be a risk.

The ER sent me home with a prescription for two strong antibiotics and an anti-emetic.  The antibiotics made me feel really terrible for the next 10 days, but they took care of the diverticulitis, and I was able to go back to my regular life.  Since then I’ve remained flare up free but I can tell that this will always be my own personal Sword of Damocles.

If you’d talked to me the day before my guts turned on me, I’d have said I was a pretty healthy person.  I eat my veggies, I drink well less than the recommended maximum, I maintain a healthy weight and my blood pressure is usually perfect.  But conditions like this can lurk in seemingly healthy people, emerging to cause problems at inconvenient times and in inconvenient places.  Suddenly your whole conception of yourself has to shift a little–you might not be sick, exactly, but you’re certainly not an example of perfect physical health.

I’ve been thinking about the way that health crises like this emerge as the Affordable Care Act enrollment period approaches.  This year, the enrollment period will be only half the period that it has historically been, six weeks instead of 12.  The advertising budget has also been slashed literally 90%, so you’re less likely to see or hear advertisements reminding you that it’s time to sign up.  This will almost certainly have the Trump administration’s desired effect: fewer people signing up, an overall more expensive population insured, and higher premiums, all to the end goal of making the program less workable.  (And lest you think I’m just assuming the worst about the Trump administration, they’ve been fairly up front about how much they would like the law to fail).

Lots of healthy people will probably choose to go without health insurance.  After all, if your health care costs in an average year are close to zero, it’s hard to see the point in spending $60 or $100 or $200 a month on insurance, particularly if the insurance requires that you meet a $2,500 or $5,000 deductible before using it for anything more than preventive care.  It’s a lot of money, and I get that.

But some number of those healthy people will turn out to be healthy in the same way I was healthy: just not yet aware that they’re carrying around a ticking time bomb of sorts.  Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the reality is that we will all eventually get sick, the question is just when and how sick.  Going without insurance that you may be able to afford is ultimately betting your financial health that you won’t get sick this year.  That’s risky at best.

In the bad old days before the ACA, someone I know slipped on some ice and fractured his ankle.  He was uninsured at the time and the resulting surgery and aftercare put him nearly $60,000 in debt to the hospital.  Someone else I know let his insurance lapse in the breif period between jobs.  Two weeks before he was set to get health insurance through his new job, he had a heart attack.  The not-for-profit hospital that cared for him put a lein on the house he owned with his 80 year old mother, eventually requiring them to sell the house to discharge the debt.  Neither of these fellows expected to need that kind of care when they went without insurance, because we all think we’re pretty healthy (just like we all think we’re smarter than average, better than average drivers, and better looking than average).

The ACA has some massive problems.  It attempted to increase access to coverage without meaningful attempts at cost control.  In a country with a functional political system, the system would be tweaked, adjusted, even overhauled to correct problems that arose.  Instead, we’re stuck with the system we’ve got, at least for the foreseeable future.  And in this system, going without insurance is dangerous.

Without insurance, the ultrasound, CT scan, urinalysis, blood test, Zofran, morphine, fluids, doctor and nurse care, as well as the first dose of the antibiotics would have cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars.  With insurance, I still had to pay a copay, but that was manageable and left me to recover without the additional misery of wondering whether my financial future was in jeopardy.

If you don’t have insurance and want it, despite the press about how expensive it can be, many people qualify for subsidies through the ACA.  You can find out about your options by clicking here.  You have until December 15th to enroll, so don’t delay.  If you’re already enrolled in a plan, you should check and see what premiums your plan will charge in the new year and if you’re eligible for a plan with a better price before you’re automatically re-enrolled in your current plan.

And in the meantime, we should all be pressuring our representatives to stop lying about what is and is not possible to achieve in the health care system, and pressuring them to make adjustments to the program that will make it work better for the people who need it.  Which is to say, of course, all of us.

Read This: The Jane Austen Project

the jane austen projectIt’s been a busy few weeks.  With the start of the school year and the writing I’ve been doing, I’ve had very little time to read for my own pleasure.  But the arrival of fall weather (at least here in New Hampshire) had me looking for something to read while cuddled up under blankets, so I reached for Kathleen A. Flynn’s The Jane Austen Project and it turned out to be the perfect fall read.

The book follows a team of researchers traveling back through time to 1815 to find a lost Jane Austen manuscript, The Watsons.

That sounds like it ought to be a romp, right?  A fun caper?  After all, fish-out-of-water stories are usually about fun, and it’s pretty easy to derive humor from modern characters forced to grapple with the fact that their modernity isn’t always an asset in a historical context.  Plus, the prospect of characters sidling up to real life historical literary figures–that sounds like Midnight in Paris, right?  I’ll be honest, I was expecting something that could be described as “fun” and maybe “light-hearted”

But the odd thing about this book is that it isn’t a romp.  Instead, it’s surprisingly serious for a time travel novel.  Sure, there’s all the concern about affecting the past, but the specter of danger and death hangs over the entire thing.  1815 wasn’t the high point of Jane Austen’s life (as you can see from a quick glance at her Wikipedia page), but beyond that The Jane Austen Project captures the seriousness of Austen’s work.  They might all seem like sweet, lighthearted romances where everybody winds up married at the end, but as everyone who loves her work knows, there are some serious stakes involved.  Finding a husband in the early part of the 19th century wasn’t just a matter of settling down to a happy life–for many families it was the difference between life and death upon the death of a husband or father.

kathleen a flynnAnd it’s the darkness to The Jane Austen Project that makes it such a great fall read.  Breezy romps are for summer reads, books that can be quickly devoured on a beach or at the park.  But when fall brings the cooler weathers and you’re thinking about hot apple cider and warm socks, you want something that brings a bit of that chill to make the warmth under the blanket just a little more welcome.

If you’re a Kindle user, it’s currently available for $1.99.

The Tenacity of Tiny Things


We have a neighborhood skunk.  I’ve never actually seen him, but I sure have smelled him.  Usually it’ll just be a whiff of that strange, slightly piney smell that drifts in through the front windows early in the morning or after dark.  Just enough to let me know that he’s waddled through the yard recently.

A couple weeks ago, though, after the kids had gone to bed, I was watching television and the scent suddenly drifted in.  Normally, it would just dissipate but after five minutes it was still there.  I wonder what he’s doing out there in our yard, I thought to myself.  But, comfortable as I was on the couch and figuring that there wasn’t too much harm he could do (trash securely locked, etc), I didn’t bother to find out and after a few more minutes, he and the smell moved on.

The next morning, though, when we went outside, my daughter shouted, “What happened to my bean plant!?”  And then I realized what that damn skunk had been doing for so long in our yard.

You see, my daughter, who is five, grew this bean plant from a sprout in her pre-school classroom.  She was immensely proud of it, and very proud that we kept it alive.  We replanted it in a large pot and we’ve greatly enjoyed watching it grow; its pretty, heart shaped leaves multiply; delicate white flowers bloom; and then, finally, tiny, fetal beans appear.  Just a couple days before the skunk paid us a visit, we had each picked and eaten a ripe green bean, and my daughter clearly felt a deep satisfaction in having taken her plant all the way from beginning to end.  I promised that in a few days we’d be able to pick more when they were ready.

So, the morning after the skunk came by, she was horrified and, even more, aboslutely  furious to find that her bean plant had been stripped bare.  Not only had every single bean been removed but all but two leaves had vanished as well.  Left behind we’re just the pathetic spindles of the stalk.  The little bastard had eaten everything else.

I comforted my daughter, telling her that I was pretty sure a skunk had eaten it because he was very, very hungry.  I hoped that she’d see it as a kindness if she thought the skunk needed it more than she did.  She did not.  “That stupid skunk,” she said with a foot stomp.  And for several days afterward, every time we walked by the denuded little plant, she’d mutter “That dumb skunk. I hate him” under her breath.

I figured the plant was a goner.  After all, with only a couple tiny leaves left, how could it possibly recover?  I figured I ought to dispose of it.  But in a combination of my laziness and forgetfulness, it didn’t happen.  

And over the past couple of weeks, the plant I thought was surely marked for death instead thrived.  The leaves multiplied, first tiny little things and then growing g bigger and bigger.  And then, as I took out the trash tonight, I discovered something I did not expect this late in the season: the bud of a tiny flower.  That is one tenacious little plant.

I don’t actually care if we get any more beans off this little plant, but I’m impressed by its ability to cling to life.  And I’m grateful for this reminder that tiny, vulnerable, fragile-seeming things are actually often shockingly hearty things.  Appearances are, after all, frequently decieving and expectations were practically made to be upended.  And if that sounds comes back, I might just throttle him with my bare hands.