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Monday, June 19th, 2017

AMONG THE LESSER GODS was a story I enjoyed reading very much.  The writing was clear and the story straightforward as it explores the ‘blame game’ and how blame changes the lives of individuals and the surrounding characters and community.  We begin at the end of university in California for Elena Alvarez and a gap year arranged by her Grandmother in Colorado; space to figure out what comes next.

Elena has been living a very tense life with lots of adversity.  As a child, she accidentally set a deadly fire and this caused her family great disruption and a great deal of blame.  Her mother abandoned her and she has led a life of blaming herself and now finds herself pregnant and no plans for life ahead.  Her Grandmother has found her a volunteer job caring for two young children who have lost their mother to a car accident while the father figures out all the changes he will need to make and still accomplish a living wage; long haul trucking is no longer a working option.  Elena’s Grandmother has a permanent house in Leadville, but choses to live in the Ghost Town where she reared her children and lost one.  The family is full of mystery and unknown factors.

Elena who is mathematical and scientific is not sure about caring for children and yet her conversations with them are magical and revealing allowing the story to unfold in a gracious connection.  The community is a place with lots of adversity as the mining company is slowing down and evolving into new directions.  The characters unfold the realities behind the adversities and the strength of character and community bonding is a boon to self – discovery.  The mysteries are compassionately uncovered.  What a good story and first novel and yes I have to agree with other quotes – I want to read Catts’ next book for sure.  The power of listening – potent answers are uncovered.  AMOUNG THE LESSER GODS has the power of redemption.

“Margo Catts has a sharp eye for the intricacies of family, love, and tragedy. In luminous prose, she deftly explores the impact of the past upon our lives. This is a heartfelt book that will break your heart at times and at others fill you with joy.” — Daniel Robinson, author of After the Fire

TLC Book Tours review book

About the Author:

Margo Catts grew up in Los Angeles and has since lived in Utah, Indiana, and Colorado. After raising three children in the U.S., she and her husband moved to Saudi Arabia, where her Foreign Girl blog was well known in the expat community. Originally a freelance editor for textbooks and magazines, she has also done freelance writing for business, technical, and advertising clients, all the while working on her fiction. She is a contributing author to Once Upon an Expat. Among the Lesser Gods is her first novel. She now lives in Denver, Colorado. (TLC page)

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The Passage
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Unfinished Business

SHORT LEASH: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance ~Janice Gray

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

SHORT LEASH is a dog story, a memoir, and a lesson in recovery and strength.  This is a story about how a confident, spirited, young girl becomes a fearful, anxiety ridden adult, who step by step unravels her fears, releases the past, and finds her voice and wholeness. It is a powerful read in the form of a series of essays about discoveries, self -disclosure and a traumatized dog that needs love and kindness.

Janice and her partner move to Savannah, Georgia for his work and in the grocery store parking lot a puppy bounds into the author’s life.  It is a black Labrador and Rottweiler mix about 6 months old and no owners can be found.  These two lost individuals adopt each other; a 95 pound dog (eventually) and a 90 pound woman.  After a brutal attack by a dog, Barney becomes increasingly aggressive towards dogs.  After a suicide in her family and a rape, the author becomes increasingly anxious and fearful. Janice and Barney attempt to remain behind the scenes and out of sight; walking in areas where they will not encounter others.

In SHORT LEASH the author informs us that she found Adult Children of Alcoholics for support and courage and she needed to find ways to cope and deal with money issues. She sought help at a rape trauma group in Berkley California which persuades her that this was an act of power grabbing and political importance; she must rise up and go forth.  It takes weeks and weeks for the physical trauma within to heal.  Gray works to hold in all the other feelings and be responsible for her siblings and mother as her father informed her she must.

The descriptive passages of the city park to which this duo finally begins exploring -30 years after the rape, 34 years after the suicide and 8 (?) years after the dog attack, are amazing word paintings of the fear, the landscape, the concern and the psychological discoveries. I had to go back and read some several times just for the sheer pleasure of the words and discoveries.  If you can imagine with each step and trail conquered and traversed, the author tells a life story to herself as she allows the dog to protect her from the fear.  They often hide or run when they encounter other dogs. She walks out each story and meditates on it in order to process and analyze in her journal writing. Barney and Janice are healing and finding recovery as the leash extends and retracts through the beauty of the park.  It is an amazing love story about recovery and change.  And yet, this story and memoir is something we can all do when we walk the dog on a SHORT LEASH.

Janice Gray’s page

I am very fond of memoir these days and I believe many folks will enjoy this good read.


tlc logo  TLC Online Book Tours and the author sent me a proof copy of this book to review. I appreciate the opportunity.

Recommended Reading:
Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog  
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle 
The Wisdom To Know The Difference
The Art Of Racing In The Rain

All Gone: a Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia, with Refreshments ~Alex Witchel

Monday, October 29th, 2012

ALL GONE  was a great read and a good read about a tough and difficult change taking place in the author’s life.  Alex Witchel is a professional writer for the New York Times and started her career writing magazine interviews of celebrities.  Witchel always added a bit of interest to her interviews by sharing their favorite recipes and foods.  She shares her own deeper family history through a series of yummy recipes included at the end of each chapter.

Witchel’s mother was different from other mother’s in the 1950s.  She received her doctorate in psychology and taught in various colleges in New Jersey.  She had had polio as a child and was very driven to succeed and not let this disease compromise her living fully.  Her mother smoked and put her husband first and was not a terrific cook, and yet she produced a number of traditional Jewish recipes with her own grace and gift for connection.  She was a woman heavily criticized by her own mother who was a marvelous cook and disliked by her mother-in-law who was a fancy cook.  Witchel benefitted from all the cooks in her family and good traditional Jewish foods helped her to bond with her step sons.  The family was bonded by the love shared through these traditions and meals.

ALL GONE  is about the caregiving that boomer children are having to undertake as their parents are living longer and some are experiencing a slow dying process.  The caregivers are experiencing the pressure of maintaining their careers and family at the same time as they are doing all the care and paperwork of a person leaving this earthly realm.  Witchel was able to hire a daytime, fulltime care giver for her mother who was suffering with the onset of dementia. Her mother was depressed and confused and greatly missed her students and work experiences.  She refused to go to adult daycare or participate in senior activities as she grieved the loss of her former self.

The publisher’s blurb that came with the book said – “that she uses that voice – consistently frank, bittersweet and often funny – to provide an intimate look at increasingly familiar form of heartbreak – caring and grieving for an ailing parent.”

Only barely touched upon in All Gone, is the realization that the Medicare and pension programs that their parents received will not be there for their departure.  One is confronted with that as they are packing up the house and moving parents to apartments and assisted living centers, it is almost a daily reminder was one has to leave work for emergencies and doctor’s appointments  and loose precious income in their own  nest eggs.   Witchel has a good career and employed supportive spouse so she is able to only briefly share concerns in this area and she was able to pay for the needed caregivers and support workers.

What is important is Witchel’s sharing of the toll the grieving process takes upon a person when it is a drawn out dying process and not a sudden intrusion or change.   It is an amazing story of how one understands when the mind is gone and the body is still performing – it is only the tradition foods which keep the connection and the love bonded.

The book was a comfort to me as my mother was teaching and working when I grew up too, she was not a terrific cook, and though her mind was sharp and vigorous to the very end (her body gave up first) it is also her recipe box that I keep and use often.  I have translated her traditional recipes into gluten free and organic and they bring comfort and connection to our table.

What is it about the death of a mother that changes us and sometimes only food will comfort us?

I received an advance copy of this book from Riverhead Books and Irwin O’Donnell in order to review this book.  I appreciated reading it and the delightful wisps of humor found there within a tough change in the author’s life.

If you purchase anything from Amazon or Powell’s  from this site I will receive a few beans in my bucket. Thank you.  Donations are greatly appreciated.

Related Reading:
The Long Goodbye
So Far Away
The Somebody Who
When Women Were Birds
The Love Ceiling