What I am Reading – The Ocean at The End of the Lane

This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” ― Neil Gaiman


I think it’s only fair to tell you before I talk about The Ocean at The End of the Lane that I have a huge writer-crush on Neil Gaiman. It happened shortly before all the hype started about this book. I stumbled upon the commencement speech he gave to the Class of 2012 at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  I am not sure if it’s the speech or Gaiman himself but I fell in love.

I didn’t read the comics even as a child when my father was devoted to “the funnies” as they were then called. I had never heard of The Sandman Series of graphic novels and was only vaguely aware of Gaiman’s other work. I was completely smitten by that speech, so I began paying attention whenever Neil Gaiman was mentioned. In the last month, because of the publication of The Ocean at The End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman has been everywhere.

I have to confess that I cautiously snuck up on this book. Why? Because I am a “scaredy-cat “and I tend to avoid horror novels and movies. I was in college when The Exorcist came out in 1971. My father said, “Don’t read that book.”  (He had.) I, of course, took that as a challenge. I should have listened to him. I slept for the next month with a rosary. Ever since then, I tend to avoid books and movies that come with the label of “scary”.

I did read The Ocean at The End of the Lane and I can recommend it to you. You need to be aware that it is not a child’s fairy tale even though it is about children and it will linger after you have finished reading it. The book has been reviewed everywhere so I am not going to tell you more than this.The story is about a socially awkward seven-year old boy who lives through books and whose actions accidently release an ancient evil into the world. Suddenly, his life goes all wrong.

The Ocean at The End of the Lane is something special because of Gaiman’s ability to give authentic voices to the two children in the story. Gaiman readily admits to having been that little boy – the premise of the story is based on something that happened to him as a child. Now in his fifties, it is due to his gift as a writer that the reader never doubts the narrator of the story is only seven.

I think you will enjoy The Ocean at The End of The Lane. It might make you a little more understanding of the seven-year olds in your life (and the seven year-old that still lives in you).

Latest Fairy Tale from Neil

Latest Fairy Tale from Neil


Walking with the Ghost Dogs

That’s the trouble with living things. Don’t last very long…And then just memories.” – The Ocean at The End of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

 I would rather walk than run. I admit for a brief time the summer I turned twenty-seven I was a runner. The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx came out that year and spent time on the best -seller list. It would end up selling over a million copies. A lot of people took up running because of Jim Fixx. I was one of them. I figured out pretty quickly some of us are built to run, and the rest should walk. I’m definitely a walker. I still love to watch the runners. You always recognize who they are and that God made them to move like that.

I have been walking around this neighborhood for over twenty years almost always accompanied by a dog or two on my strolls. This summer things are different. Grace, the resident dog in our house, can no longer walk too far, although she is more than willing to try. The sight of the leash in my hand is still greeted happily as the signal for action.

She was eleven last January and is now officially an old dog. Life expectancy for English Cocker Spaniels is twelve. So… If she were a person, she definitely would have one of those shiny blue walkers with a basket and a seat. We meander very slowly down one block, cross to the next and then reverse our direction. She stumbles because of increasing problems with arthritis in her back but, being a dog and not a person, she gamely gets up and keeps on going. She often plops herself in a patch of tall cool green grass for a brief rest along the way. Back home, she stops to take a long drink before curling up in one of her numerous beds. I am convinced she smiles at me before she shuts her eyes as if to say, “Great walk, huh?”

I go back out alone. I admit at first I am a little sad and then the strangest thing happens. The Ghost Dogs show up – sometimes separately and sometimes together. As I head down Concord Street toward the park, it’s always Halsey I sense first. Halsey is what is known as “typey” among dog people, meaning that he is an excellent example of the standard of his breed. He’s an English Springer Spaniel and he bears a strong resemblance to his grandsire “Robert” who won Best in Show at Westminster in 1993. He is also comical, brave, and a dedicated chaser of tennis balls and squirrels, his greatest foe. Entering the park, he races ahead of me toward the tennis courts.


If I look closely in the shadows under the mulberry trees, I will see Teal slurping up the juicy berries on the ground. She is another beauty, her glossy coat, barrel chest and blocky head are hallmarks of the well-bred English Labrador Retriever. Her thick black tail waves an exuberant greeting. She loves to eat and it is only reluctantly that she follows Halsey and I down to the soccer field. I stop to watch them chase each other in games of dog tag and make-believe battles.



And then I look again and they are gone. Is it any wonder that I have chosen to let them live again in the pages of my books? I miss them so, and I am grateful to have their memories come join me on my walks through the park. Are there any ghost dogs in your life? If so, when do they show up?


Do you see them?

Do you see them?




What I am Reading – The Widower’s Tale

“In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” – Henry Ward Beecher

The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass is the selection for the 2013 Nashua Reads: One City, One Book program. I live in Nashua, NH so I thought I would read it. I am fan of Julia Glass’s writing having read her previous books. I was not disappointed and I am happy to recommend it to you. The Nashua Public Library chose well.

From the writer’s perspective, Glass employs an interesting technique by having the main character, Percy Darling – an unusual choice of name, if you read Peter Pan – narrate his chapters in the first-person and the supporting characters narrate theirs in the third-person. I found it to be an effective way to underline that it really is Percy’s story to tell. The others are there to flesh out his tale and provide the background. Percy is seventy, widowed and set in his ways. A witty grouch, retired from his job as a librarian at Harvard’s Widener Library, at first glance Percy appears to be a stereotyped starched New-England Yankee with a tightly defined worldview. And then he surprises you in a number of bold and endearing ways, proving he is not what he first appears to be. Despite his pretentions and his prejudices, he never loses sight of what he holds dear, namely the people he loves: his daughters, Trudy and Clover, his grandson, Robert, and, his stumbled upon but cherished and younger girlfriend, Sarah.

The supporting characters whose voices also tell the story are all men. Ira, the gay teacher at Elves and Faeries, the preschool Percy reluctantly gives a home to in his barn to provide Clover a job, Celestino the illegal immigrant from Guatemala with a fascinating back story of his own with ties back to Harvard, and Robert, Percy’s much-loved grandson, whose idealistic dreams of saving the world all go drastically wrong. Through it all, I remained a fan of Robert’s.

Of course, the plot wouldn’t be interesting without women and they are there in the story, too. Trudy, the daughter who is the famous oncologist, Clover, the daughter who is the endearing screw-up and Sarah, the artist Percy falls in love with – all multi-faceted and each unique. Even Poppy, Percy’s long dead and much mourned wife, no footnote herself, makes her presence felt.

The Widower’s Tale tackles several large issues – eco-terrorism, breast cancer, illegal workers and covert prejudice against gays – any of which could stand alone as the subject of the book. In lesser hands, they could have gotten horribly muddled. Julia Glass excels at her craft and she deftly entwines them to leave the reader with a satisfied feeling at the end of the story. She is coming to Nashua as part of the One City, One Book program. I can’t wait to hear her speak. This is a wonderful book for the beach, the hammock or a long airplane ride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


The book Nashua, NH is reading this summer

The book Nashua, NH is reading this summer


Road in front of my grandmother's house in Ireland

Choices and Consequences

It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  – J. K. Rowling

 You know how some conversations stay with you to play again in your head at the oddest times? Several weeks ago, I had one of those conversations with someone around choice.  “It’s a choice,” she insisted hotly, “and I make it every day. And sometimes, it’s not easy.” What has stayed with me is not the choice she makes but her awareness that she is making it.

As a writer, choice plays a dual role. I make choices that impact my writing: how long I spend working on my novel each day, whether to include or cut a character out of the story, how many days to blog, what to write about on my blog, what content I put out on social media and the list goes on. I also create characters and they make choices. This is even trickier because I have to step into that character’s head and ask myself what the character would do. Often they make choices I wouldn’t, and at times don’t approve of and because they are living in today’s world, some of them don’t realize they are making choices that will have consequences.

There seems to be a lack of awareness in our culture today that we are making choices. We see this from the highest levels of government down to the shopping carts in our local supermarkets. Over and over again we hear the refrain, “It’s not my fault.”  People seem to be genuinely unaware that they chose to spend the money, take the loan, attend that college, select that career, eat the fast food or avoid the walk. If we struggle with the concept that we have a choice, then the idea of that choice resulting in a consequence is completely foreign to us. How did we end up in debt, under-employed, unable to buy a home, underwater in the home we own or obese?

Yesterday was Father’s Day. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about my father (Remembering My Father). There’s nothing I can add to it. I doubt my father gave any thought to being a good father. He was our father and he loved us. I am pretty sure for him that was enough and it ended there. Yet he showed us how to live by what he said and how he lived his life.

The summer I was nine I met a little girl at a neighbor’s house who played dolls with me while the adults played cards. She was visiting with her parents. They were my dolls. I had a family of dolls, each with a name and clothes beautifully made by my mother. This child didn’t have a doll with her and I was happy to share mine.  When it came time to pack up and leave, I impulsively offered her one of my baby dolls. “To keep for my own?” She asked.  I agreed she could keep the doll.

Later that night realizing that one of my babies was gone forever, I regretted my choice to give her the doll. I wanted the doll back. My father sat down and explained to me that what I did was a nice thing. He told me the little girl had never had a doll before. He pointed out how lucky I was that I still had several others. I said I was sorry she didn’t have a doll but I wanted my doll back. He stood up and said, “You made a choice and you have to live with it. You can’t ask for the doll back. You gave it away.”  It was just one of so many gifts he gave me. I still miss him.

All choices lead to a consequence.

All choices lead to a consequence.



What I am Reading – The Art Forger

This is either a forgery or a damn fine original!” – Frank Sullivan

 I discovered The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro this week while browsing the new paperbacks at Barnes and Noble. It’s a gem. The Art Forger was released in hardback in 2012. The story centers on the 1990 theft of thirteen pieces of art worth $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The theft, still unsolved, is the largest private property theft ever to take place. I have wandered around “The Gardner” as locals know it, and that made the story all the more fascinating to me.

The main character, Claire Roth, the forger, is guilty not only of using her impressive talent to create an illusion but of succumbing to delusion. Poor Claire makes very bad choices in men. The novel consists of three plots with three distinct timelines. Two are told in the first person by Claire and weave between her first mistake in men three years prior, Sir Isaac Cullion and her second and current, Aiden Markel. In both cases, Claire is convinced that an act that is inherently bad is capable of resulting in an outcome that is good. In both cases, she is proved to be wrong. In both cases, her own desire to showcase her considerable talent as an artist and advance her career plays a role in the decisions she makes. I found myself liking Claire. Each time she does something that leads to disaster, I found myself hoping for the best.

In The Art Forger, gallery owner, Aiden Markel, asks Claire, who has reputation for painting reproductions of paintings by Edgar Degas, to forge a copy of  “After the Bath” one of the paintings stolen from the Gardner Museum – as told in the novel if not in fact.

Entwined within the story – providing the third plot and timeline, as well as the key to the main plot – is the voice of wildly eccentric Isabella Stewart Gartner shown in a series of letters to her fictional niece.

The research behind this novel is impressive. B.A. Shapiro’s knowledge of how art is both created and then forged is more than credible. Her view into the art world from the studios of Boston’s South End to the galleries on Newbury Street and the viewing halls of the MoMA in New York City places the reader there.

The Art Forger is one of those stories I couldn’t put down. The complexity of the three plots and timelines as well as the seamless meshing of historical facts about the art world, both past and present, with Shapiro’s cleverly crafted fiction kept me reading. I finished in less than two days. I hope you like it.






The Joy of Daughters

A son is a son until he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter the rest of her life. Old Saying – Anonymous

 I am old enough to watch what I say, or in this case, what I write. When I started blogging again, I promised without fail to blog twice a week. I really should have put some conditions on that promise. As I didn’t, you would have been justified in wondering where I have been the last ten days. And also being annoyed. Once again, I have broken the first rule of blogging: Show up when you say you will. I am offering this explanation on a day I normally would NOT be posting a blog in an effort to make it up to you.

My birthday is June 4th.  My husband insisted he wanted to have a party for me. We don’t usually go in for birthday parties for adults and I was less than enthusiastic but he persisted. The day before the planned gala there was a lot of “toing” and “froing” that should have alerted me to the fact that something unusual was about to happen. In my defense, the first weekend in June was hotter than the hinges of hell here in New Hampshire. Running around getting ready in my non-air conditioned house, my brain was hovering on the edge of damage from the heat, so I missed most of the signs.

Mid-afternoon  the day before the party, my husband disappeared on a mission to find me the perfect gift. He returned around 7:30 to a less than enthusiastic welcome. I had evacuated to the bliss of a neighbor’s central air. Five minutes after my husband’s arrival, the doorbell rang again. I looked up to see my daughter striding down the hall toward me. It may sound strange but I had a flashback to the first time I saw her take a step. She was ten months old, dressed in a pale yellow smocked Polly Flinders dress with a white collar embroidered with rosebuds.  One minute she was sitting on the grass and the next she was walking determinedly across the lawn without a backward glance.

Her name begins with the letter A. I have blogged before about how I use the first letter of a character’s name to come up with the attributes that define the person I am creating.  My daughter is: assured, awesome, amazing, audacious, and assertive. A true Leo, she has the heart of a lion.

Four years ago, she left New Hampshire to build a new life with her husband in Dublin, Ireland. We live in a global world. I know I am not the only mother whose child lives far away. I am also reminded of my great-grandmother who more than a hundred years ago sent four of her children from Ireland to Boston never to see them again. Today with Skype, Facebook, and big silver Aer Lingus planes with names like Siobhan painted on their noses, mothers can keep their children much closer.

I wanted a daughter. As all mothers know, I would have loved and cherished a son but the truth is that summer that I waited for her birth, long enough ago that there was no option of knowing if the baby I carried was a boy or a girl, I wanted a daughter.

Her visit was a whirlwind of parties, shopping, and talking late into the night or in one case early into the morning. Blogging and writing were far from my mind. We had a wonderful visit and my husband did in fact bring me back the perfect gift for my birthday.

She has gone back home to Ireland and I miss her. I have turned once again to my other babies:  Brid, Franny, Sofia, and Lilah for distraction.

This visit reminded me of what I have known since the day she was born. I am so lucky to have a daughter.



The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift