THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have yet to read Fitzgerald’s third novel without pausing to covet the following passage.

A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

This one sentence enlivens my senses and harnesses my soul for the duration of the novel. How does a writer achieve such mastery of rhythm and imagery? I’d like to believe it’s a talent cultivated over time and accessible to anyone willing to devote themselves to the task. Another part of me whispers what I fear; a special kind of inner sight is required and is out of my reach.

The awe I have for Fitzgerald’s descriptions draws me back again and again and each journey reveals more about the magic of writing.

Much like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nick Carraway is The Great Gatsby’s witness. But unlike Chief whose mental and emotional fog infiltrates the reader, Nick reports the action as a true eyewitness. 

I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me… 

Nick’s distance allows the reader to connect more quickly on a personal level with the characters within the drama. We make up our own minds about Daisy, Tom, Jordan and Gatsby rather than accept the filter of the narrator. Readers may argue that Nick is not objective because he presents each character as if through a kaleidoscope of color.

Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget…

Tom Buchanan compelled me through the room as though he were moving a checker to another square. 

But I say Nick’s descriptions are no different than someone describing the difference between a painting by Turner or Rockwell. Nick bares the essence of each character so the reader may slip them on and see how they feel.

Fitzgerald’s novel is said to capture the Jazz Age like no other. The excessive gaiety of the times wrapped in an endless flow of gin and sex is present in the lives of Daisy and Gatsby, and so is the loneliness. The need to escape into a relationship that provides more intimacy.

And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy. 

Perhaps my presence made them feel more satisfactorily alone.

Their eyes met and they stared together at each other, alone in space. 

Or the fear of never finding someone to truly share your heart is an aching pulse throughout the novel.

Thirty—the promise of a decade of loneliness…

The Great Gatsby exemplifies the power of What If, for this phrase is the driving force behind Jay Gatsby’s very existence. Every action within the novel is woven out of Gatsby’s desire to recover the moment in time when he was the most spiritually and emotionally alive—the time before the war, with Daisy. The romantic what if meets disillusion, a universal phenomenon, and the backbone of every great story.

Fitzgerald’s novel is a simple story made complex by the regrets, longings and flaws that make us human. And although Casablanca and Gone with the Wind may have the most famous closing lines on film, there has never been a more beautiful, haunting close to a book than the one from The Great Gatsby. 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Wrap yourself in the magic of The Great Gatsby.


DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King

I never considered myself an author fan until I encountered Stephen King. His scare tactics are an adrenalin high, but what keeps me coming back is his dependable unpredictability. Each novel makes me wonder, what will he offer up this time?

Doctor Sleep is a sequel written thirty-six years after the original story involving Dan Torrence. It’s a stand-alone that coaxes you to read The Shining either for the first or second time. If I didn’t have 5 TBR piles I’d happily experience the fright for a third. The Shining was my first SK novel and the one that scared me the most. I never wanted to put it down, but the doings at The Overlook Hotel freaked me out so much I couldn’t even look at the book’s cover once the sun started to set.

Doctor Sleep didn’t paralyze me with fear, but I was equally spooked and riveted, reading it in less than a week. And like each of the books in King’s The Dark Tower series, the sequel to The Shining was worth the wait.

FEAR stands for Fuck Everything And Run.

                                                —old AA saying

AA true-isms are woven throughout Doctor Sleep. The saying above is one of three that kick off the novel. In just seven words King sets the mood, the pace of the novel and keys us into Dan Torrence’s emotional state at the starting block. Unrest is a common denominator for all of King’s main characters. Their unsettled nature keeps our interest peaked.

There came a time when you realized that moving on was pointless. That you took yourself with you wherever you went.

No matter how scared or perplexed his characters, there isn’t a coward among them. They are sharp individuals, aware of risks—death, primary among them—and they’re still willing to engage in battle because, in addition to their bravery, King’s characters are desperate to protect the people they love and fortify the presence of Good in the world.

Dan Torrence, Abra Stone and the True Knot are generations apart, living in different areas of the country. They have their own issues and obstacles to sort through. Their paths don’t need to cross, but we know they will. What we don’t know is how. This is the secret behind King’s yarn-spinning genius. He sets us up, leads us along a path and for a glittering moment we think we know where he’s going, then he slam dunks us somewhere else, in the midst of another fix. His unpredictability keeps us tearing through the pages and makes Doctor Sleep a slump free novel you won’t want to miss.


BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S: A Novel & Three Stories by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s won my heart at the age of eight when I saw the film starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. I coveted Holly Golightly’s free spirit and was oblivious to her occupation as a fille de joie. Even once I did comprehend, the romantic power of a woman transforming herself for a better life, intertwined with the film’s actual romance negated any morality I might have objected to.

Years later when I read the novella, I was surprised to find the story wasn’t written as a romance. The romantic optimist in me was disappointed, but I believe I grew to love Holly Golightly more without the red ribbon ending. She possesses gumption and spirit, and a deep self-respect that ensures her survival and happiness.

Have you noticed I’m discussing Miss Holiday Golightly as if she is a real person? The result of great writing.

Recently, a dear friend gifted me a first addition copy of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories. My response, “Joy. Rapture. You have no idea how much this means to me.” Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of two stories (the other by Paul Gallico) that connect me to my artistic roots.

But Capote’s work offers more than sentimental memories for me. His writing inspires and challenges the writer in me to reach higher and never settle for good enough. I haven’t read all of his books, but I don’t believe his material can be categorized by genre such as mystery, thriller, suspense or romance. Yet every one of these elements is present in his short stories. He doesn’t have high stakes tension on every page, although there is an uneasiness regarding the unknown that dares the readers to figure out how the stories will end—I don’t possess that ability. Even what appears to be the simplest tale, A Christmas Memory holds an intrigue that leaves us wondering and pondering.

This factor of the unknown is delivered with a slight of hand because Capote is a master of conversation. His stories capture the essence of a time long gone, when families gathered together in the evenings to hear Grandpa tell a tall tale, or listen to stories on the radio, or hear the next installment of Dicken’s in the evening newspaper.

Truman Capote is a true storyteller, who reels us in with tiny turns of phrase and uncanny descriptions, then holds us captive until the story ends, and when it does, like Oliver Twist, we want some more.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle down with Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS by Claire Messud

Get ready to expand your horizons. Claire Messud has exposed the underbelly of her female protagonist, and the complexity of Nora Eldridge is going to launch a new standard of truth for women in literature.

…every one of us is capable of rage

So says Nora Eldridge in the opening pages. And we get her because she embodies what we, the readers, hide from the world.

It doesn’t even occur to you, as you fashion your mask so carefully, that it will grow into your skin and graft itself, come to seem irremovable. 

Messud is a kind of clairvoyant—one with a knife— who exposes what remains of the character’s grit after the bowels have been scraped. Is that horrifying? So was adolescence and yet, we survived, or did we?

The Woman Upstairs seems to say, no. Nora’s battle with loneliness, rejection, feelings of inadequacy as a woman and an artist, her longing to attain a dream she is uncertain how to fulfill—given her present circumstances—are no different than the struggles of every teen. Yet, society pushes us forward and we pretend to move beyond the angst because we want so desperately for it to go away. But the truth is those unresolved issues don’t always disappear. They often linger, ferment, and continue to hold us back from achieving what, deep in our gut, we know is possible and probable, provided we get out of our own way.

…a lifetime ago in my artist phase, when I’d thought I might yet turn out to be the person that I wanted to be—whoever that person might have been… 

Our dreams are bold and hungry. If we feed them with faith and kindness and give them room to breathe, when we arrive at the critical moment we soar like Nora’s studio partner Sirena. But sometimes at the precipice, a claw of fear gnarls our back and we choke, and like Nora, our dreams shrink. We watch the world thrive while our wings beat against the walls of the cubicle we exist in.

Isn’t that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying—valiantly, fruitlessly—to eradicate. 

A less seasoned author might’ve run with the sorrow until every character and the reader were buried by it. Messud, a literary artist, understands life is never a dead end. Stories that awaken our senses, like true stories that inspire, spin forward from an opportunity for change. Reza, Sirena and Skandar Shahid are Nora’s gateway. Her willingness to embrace their presence and surrender to the unknown and the possible unravels her fear and unleashes a stream of personal discoveries that change her life.

The Woman Upstairs is drenched in anger and sorrow and driven by passion and hope. No female protagonist has been so blatantly wounded, or so determined to uncover the means to heal without a man in sight. Claire Messud pricks up our consciousness. Our view of women, artists and what it means to be whole and alive will never be the same.

Meet The Woman Upstairs.


ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey

…people love this story or hate it.

—Chuck Palahniuk

My husband—a huge Kesey fan—has been shoving this book at me for years. We have three copies in our house. Yet, all I’ve managed to do over twenty-five years of marriage is move them from one bookshelf or end table to the next. My disinterest may have been the result of seeing the movie so many times, but I can no longer claim such a neutral stance. For I have become part of the group of people Chuck Palahniuk talks about in his Foreword to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I loved and hated it.

Let’s talk about hate. I struggled in the first half of the book, could only read in short spurts. Kesey’s debut is touted as one of the books that changed the shape and energy of the modern novel. The story smacks right into the reader’s face, so much to digest, to question, so much sadness around each sentence. I believed the novel was too intelligent for me to grasp. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get a handle on the fog? Does it really exist? Does Big Nurse have it pumped into the ward, or is it the result of the meds the patients are given?

The faces blow past in the fog like confetti. 

I’m further off than I’ve ever been. This is what it’s like to be dead. I guess this is what it’s like to be a Vegetable; you lose yourself in the fog. You don’t move.

I was confused and frustrated, but the thread of tension throughout made me itch, like watching a master chess player setting up the board to kill the Queen and capture the King.

A lot can be learned about a character through dialogue. Elmore Leonard chose dialogue over description to express the essence of character. But Kesey’s descriptions of Big Nurse are so pin-point precise dialogue is unnecessary. In fact, Big Nurse says very little at all, yet her very presence petrifies us.

She can’t have them see her face like this, white and warped with fury. She uses all the power of control that’s in her. Gradually the lips gather together again under the little white nose, run together, like the red-hot wire had got hot enough to melt, shimmer a second, then click solid as the molten metal sets, growing cold and strangely dull.

I was awestruck by the writing. But once McMurphy realized Big Nurse could keep him longer than his initial sentence and a patient died, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness made me close the book.

Three weeks later I went back in, backtracked a bit and I woke up just like Chief.

I woke and the dorm was clean and silent; except for the soft breathing of the men and the stuff rattling around loose under the brittle ribs of the two old Vegetables, it was dead quiet. A window was up, and the air in the dorm was clear and had a taste to it made me feel kind of giddy and drunk, gave me a sudden yen to get up out of bed and do something.

The more Chief became an active participant the more engaged I was as a reader. This is when hate turned to love and I realized the magical power of Ken Kesey’s writing.

I’ve experienced twin-like empathy for many a character in literature. These are the books I’ve read over and over again. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest connected me with character in a different way. I became possessed. I was sucked into Chief’s fog, and became detached and uninterested, hoping to be left alone in my own misery. But McMurphy refuses to let the machine win. He prods and wedges open the bars of the hospital long enough for the all of the Acutes, including me, to be lured into believing we have a power of our own.

The wave of awakening was joyful and the book took off, an odd adventure with the strangest bedfellows. It’s a story of hope anchored in the cement of despair. It’s the kind of hope that can be won by those willing to become a witness long enough to chose the option never offered.

It’s easy to hate Kesey’s novel. Stories that force us to examine our lives and choices are hard to digest. Most often we reach for books to escape the grind of our daily existence. To meet our inadequacies head on is no picnic. But it’s the only way to unleash the confidence we need to ride through the life we were meant to live. A book everyone needs to read once.

Dip into One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.


DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn knows which buttons to push to keep us glued to the page. To start, she never minces words and gets straight to the horrible parts…

My brother slaughtered my family when I was seven. My mom, two sisters, gone: bang bang, chop chop, choke choke.

And because we can depend on her direct aim we know more terror is on its way.

Flynn’s books have an attitude like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, “I’m not going to be ignored.” This sums up the essence of Dark Places’s protagonist Libby Day. Libby is the car wreck that creates the gapers block. And even though we’re self-conscious and embarrassed about looking at the damage and the wounded, we must.

Reading a novel by Gillian Flynn is a master class in writing. Lesson 1-Never hold back. By telling the truth upfront a writer makes room for more twists and obstacles on the backend. 2-Characters don’t have to be likable, but readers need to feel empathy.

I was not a loveable child, and I’ve grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.

If that statement doesn’t reel in your heart or raise your curiosity, maybe you have meanness “as real as an organ” just like Libby Day.

All of these gripping moments that happen in the first five pages (don’t worry there is plenty more) bring us to another writing gem—Skip the boring parts. Readers may refer to Dark Places in a lot of different ways, but no one will call it boring. This is a slump free novel. Each chapter is a tight story of its own and together they comprise Libby’s life, a character impossible to forget. Isn’t that what every writer strives for—memorable characters in extraordinary circumstances?

Dark Places is more than a blueprint for how to craft a bestseller. Gillian Flynn has a gift for uncovering the nasty underbelly of life and exposing every cockroach in the goo. Her stories and characters make us question our own motives, baggage, and the lies we live with.

Find out if you’re afraid of Dark Places.


THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man And The Sea is a little story with Zen-like power. I’ve read the novel four times and have never skimmed or skipped a word. I often reread phrases, sentences and paragraphs in awe of the simplicity and accuracy of the moment portrayed.

He was shivering with the morning cold. But he knew he would shiver himself warm and that soon he would be rowing.

The first time I returned to this story, I did so because I longed for the relationship between Santiago—the old man, and Manolin—the boy. The old man and the boy have only three scenes in the book, but Santiago reinforces the closeness of their bond throughout with fourteen one-line references.

If the boy was here he would wet the coils of line, he thought. Yes. If the boy were here. If the boy were here.

The lines yield little detail. But the appreciation and love the old man has for the boy is unmistakable and is amplified in our own hearts with each refrain.

Relationships tell us a lot about a protagonist. Hemingway’s old man may have the biggest heart in literature, for he doesn’t only care for the boy he also cares for the giant marlin he hunts.

I had better keep the fish quiet now and not disturb him too much at sunset. The setting of the sun is a difficult time for all fish.

The old man risks his life to break his eighty-four days of bad luck and when he’s on the verge, when hunger, thirst and injury could push him towards cruelty his overriding thoughts are of kindness—kindness and the great DiMaggio.

Everyone idolizes someone. And the old man’s fascination with baseball and the great DiMaggio, whose father was also a fisherman, is one way Hemingway universalizes the story for us. And he does so with simple brush strokes.

Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I will stay with this one?

Much has been written about the lack of flash and flurry in Hemingway’s style and The Old Man And The Sea illustrates this point best. It is the reason I return to the story again and again. Each sentence allows a true connection to form between character and reader because the writer had the courage to get out of the way.

Catch the Pulitzer Prize of 1953 The Old Man And The Sea.


THE GLASS WIVES by Amy Sue Nathan

Women’s Fiction meets The Godfather.

The statement is odd and the farthest thing from what I expected to write, but the more I thought about Amy Sue Nathan’s debut novel the more the comparison made sense.

The novel opens during the shiva for Richard Glass. Richard’s death brings his ex-wife Evie and his second wife Nicole together. Death and family are the backbone of Mario Puzo’s novel and screenplays. A lot of books also share these elements, but it’s the way Nathan takes these simple ingredients and intertwines them around the characters that allow Puzo’s lessons to resonate in a fresh way.

I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Every novel needs a situation that forces the protagonist to act. The more her actions run outside of her comfort zone, the more conflicted the character and readers are riveted. Nathan wastes no time in placing Evie in such a predicament. Richard’s death leaves her children emotionally lost, which is enough stress for any mother. Couple that with the loss of child support and our protagonist is in a pickle. If Evie doesn’t find a way to make ends meet, she’ll be forced to move and her children’s world will be shattered a third time. Enter Nicole with baby Luca; she wants a family, Evie needs money. Nicole’s offer to pay room and board is an offer Evie can’t refuse. Living with the other woman leads us to another lesson from The Godfather. 

Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.

Nathan’s choice to thrust enemies into a shared living arrangement is brilliant. It’s true that Evie and her friend Laney often jump to stereotypical assumptions about Nicole, a natural defense when people are vulnerable and want to feel safe. But the close proximity of Evie and Nicole with baby Luca allows Evie to examine a different side of Nicole, a kinder side—the side her friend Beth insists on promoting.

And here comes part two of enemies and friends. Nicole’s presence throws a wrench into Evie’s longstanding friendship with Laney and Beth. Sides are drawn, loyalties are questioned and more vulnerability and inner conflict rise. Take what the character holds dear and rip it away. Nathan uses this technique so seamlessly, though we’re rooting for Evie, it’s impossible not to feel for the characters that have harmed her. This is richness. These are flesh and blood characters.

The biggest question throughout The Glass Wives is what makes a family, which brings us to our third Godfather lesson.

Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

One of the most lovable qualities about Evie is her devotion to her children. Sophie and Sam are her priority and the depth to which Nathan explores this relationship will soften every reader’s heart. But Evie isn’t the only character that values family. The major reason Nicole wants to move in is to secure a family for her son Luca. Laney and husband Herb delve into the nature of their marriage. And Beth and Alan, who appear perfectly solid, didn’t get there without a history of emotional turmoil. True family extends much further than blood and Nathan covers every aspect of family dynamics thanks to the physical arrangement she forced the Glass families to live in.

The intention of Evie and Nicole to hold their families together separately is what ultimately leads them to form a new kind of bond, one based on mutual respect and love for the people they cherish the most. How we treat our friends and family is a reflection of who we are.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Let me be clear. There are no guns or violence in The Glass Wives. But there is a lot of forgiveness. And even though the two lines above come after a murder in The Godfather, if you think about them outside of the film, it’s all about letting go, moving on and forgiveness. If Evie said no to Nicole, Nathan would’ve had a completely different novel. Life is about choices. We can fight against what life offers us, or we can flow with the ups and downs and see where the tide carries us.

You may come to The Glass Wives thinking it’s going to be a warmhearted beach read, and it is. And it’s so much more. Evie’s determination to move forward while protecting her family shows a strength of character equal to anything Michael Corleone threw around to protect his and she does it without violence. Now that is a character to admire. And Amy Sue Nathan is an author to follow.

Test your definition of family with The Glass Wives.


HAPPY YOGA: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing To Worry About by Steve Ross

I woke up with Steve Ross for years. Inhale Yoga with Steve Ross was on the Oxygen network at six a.m. from 2000 to 2010. Because I needed to leave for work at seven, I taped the show and did my workout from five until six in the morning. I have since worn out the tapes and fried my VHS player. I was addicted to Inhale Yoga for many reasons: Steve’s effortless smile, humor, the rocking beat of the music he played and the happiness I walked away with at the end of each session. One day I might venture out to the west coast and experience his effervescence in person at Maha Yoga, in the meantime I have Happy Yoga.

There is no need to have a background in yoga to reap the benefits from Ross’s book. But my guess is by the time you finish reading you’ll be searching for a yoga class. That said, although each chapter ends with a few asanas that reinforce the material, this is not a detailed instructional book on yoga poses. Happy Yoga sheds light on the aspects of yoga often overlooked in Western classes, where the focus is often on toning and dropping pounds.

From intriguing chapter titles like You’re Not Fat (And Neither Am I) to the offering of sage advice:

Your trials did not come to punish you, but to awaken you—to make you realize that you are part of Spirit and that just behind the spark of life is the flame of infinity.

—Paramahansa Yogananda

Ross invites readers to consider the possibility of change in their lives through Inner Yoga exercises. Without pressure, dares or guilt Happy Yoga shines light in the shadows of your life and simply asks, “Is this the way you want to live?” And if you’d like to change each chapter presents suggestions on how you may transform into a happier you.

Real yoga is about transcending the serious and allowing joy into your life, your body, your mind and hopefully your practice itself. It’s about lightening up.

Whether you’ve been studying yoga for years or haven’t quite managed to step onto a mat, Ross’s book will inspire and guide you to a deeper level of understanding through his clarity, humor and love for this ancient Eastern philosophy.

Worry less, breathe more and wake up your life with Happy Yoga.


CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

My admiration for Kathryn Stockett’s The Help made me hesitant about Calling Me Home until I read an interview with Julie Kibler on Women’s Fiction Writers. The material Julie shared peaked my curiosity as a reader and writer. I ordered the book, but when it arrived I shelved it.

Four months later I tossed it into a book bag with a few other novels and brought it to my aunt’s apartment for our weekly Story Time. My aunt loves non-fiction and biographies and has little tolerance for genre fiction. When her eyes started to go and she was forced to read large print books she was incensed. “Why do publishers think old people are only interested in mysteries and romance? We may forget what we had for breakfast, but we haven’t misplaced our intelligence.”

Imagine my surprise when Calling Me Home, a novel categorized as Women’s Fiction, earned this response from my aunt after I read the book flap. “That’s the one. I’m already hooked.” Once I started reading I knew the reason for her infatuation. My aunt is a ringer for Isabelle: eighty-nine, loves crossword puzzles, a bit cantankerous and although she didn’t marry a black boy, she eloped at sixteen to get out from under a repressive household and community.

If I read Calling Me Home on my own, I would’ve zipped through the pages. Reading aloud to my aunt allowed me to appreciate Kibler’s strength for characterization. Whether they were in the past or present, I never had to think about how to portray either Isabelle or Dorrie. Their vocal qualities shifted inside me as easily as a breath moves in and out.

Another area of effortlessness is Kibler’s ability to show Isabelle’s naivetés about the world and love. Seventeen-year old Isabelle’s thought process or lack of thought and prominence of emotions is so accurate it’s funny, and sad, given the complex situation she has thrust herself into.

But in spite of the heartfelt rendition of Dorrie’s and Isabelle’s stories, I kept the women at a distance until page 194 when Isabelle’s dreams were torn from her. During that scene my past rushed forward and all of my reluctance to read and embrace the novel became clear; Calling Me Home was too close to home. Isabelle’s story reminded me of how sweet I was on Jerome Blakemore when I was sixteen and how my father’s bigotry crushed what might’ve been a lasting relationship, just like Isabelle’s brothers and mother came between her and Robert Prewitt.

Once my catharsis ran its course I was all in. Throughout the rest of our time with Dorrie and Isabelle, my aunt and I cried, laughed and yelled at the characters for the decisions they made and the things they didn’t say. Is there any higher praise for an author than for readers to talk to their characters as if they are real? Bravo, Julie.

Calling Me Home is a story to read, share and talk about with all generations; a personal story with universal ripples.


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