Opening December 16; Second Chances Used Books

Update: Sometimes a typo takes on meaning. I wrongly titled this “Second Changes,” originally. While I like that, it’s not the name of the store.

Brandy is opening a used bookstore in the location of the old Mockingbird Books. Brandy sold her share of Mockingbird and went on to work at Copperfield’s for several years. The two remaining partners of Mockingbirds opened a second Sonoma County location in Guerneville which is still in operation, then moved the Sebastopol store to Tracy, California.

When Brandy found a way she could open her own business, to her surprise, the front suite of the original location was still available to rent.

The day the bookcases and the counter arrived!

The day the bookcases and the counter arrived!

This makes Second Chances Used Books a much smaller store than Mockingbird, but I can already see that the inventory is carefully curated. Book lovers and discriminating gift buyers will always be able to find something here.

Unlike Mockingbird, Second Chances plans to buy books from customers as well, and I know Brandy will be keeping an eye on the inventory to see what turns over. For example, she and I were just talking about Elena Ferrante the other day. The Ferrante trend seems to have cooled, but will the announcement of a new book coming out change that?

Brandy has a lot to do before Saturday! A large part of the labor will be getting cleaned, listed books onto the shelves. I’ve offered to help but I hope a few other of her town friends can pitch in. The other retail tasks are daunting: setting up a credit card service; keeping track of the progress on her beautiful sign; making all the necessary connections with Amazon because she will be listing and selling online… it’s quite a list.

At times, it seems  like there are lots of books. At others, it is clear that the books she has now will not fill the shelves she has now. And it’s clear she could use some more bookscases.

She has some lovely overstuffed chairs that we’ve dubbed The Three Sisters, because this is the kind of store that invites you to sit down and read.

I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon; seeing empty bookcases lining the walls, and orderly stacks of books on the floor, people come and knock on the door. They say, “You’re closing! It’s so sad!” It’s as if they walked past the empty suite for three months and never noticed everything. This isn’t bad; it gives the proprietor a chance to say when she’ll be opening, but it’s interesting. The other day a young man said he only comes up to Sebastopol two or three times a year, and clearly Mockingbird was still in place that last time.

Some days it seems like many books; some days it does not.

Some days it seems like many books; some days it does not.

I’ve been helping clean books and already I’m having the same problem I had in the previous store; I can’t touch a stack of books without finding ones I want, immediately. Even when it’s a topic that isn’t important to me, I still find them. Yesterday I was cleaning a batch of cookbooks and food books, and there were two gluten-free books, one atop the other. I know just who could use those.

I can’t wait for the opening. This is a rumor only, but there might be cake. I’m just saying.

Later that afternoon, from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, I’ll be at the Sebastopol Library, 7014 Bodega Ave (corner of Bodega and High Street) helping with free gift wrapping for the gifts you bought downtown, like, maybe, at Second Chances!

The shop’s address is 6932 Sebastopol Avenue, Sebastopol, between The Toyworks and the ceramics and fused glass shop… half a block from Screamin Mimi’s.Here is the Facebook page. Come check the shop out this weekend! There is no sign yet, but you’ll know it from the whimsical decorations in the pop-out window.

These ornaments and more adorn the window.

These ornaments and more adorn the window.

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The Rule of Five, The Rule of Four

My doctor and I recently discovered that I had very high blood pressure. That’s putting it politely. To put it accurately, my blood pressure was in “holy shit” territory.

PSAs and ad campaigns talk about hypertension as “the silent killer” because you can be quite free of any secondary symptoms, and in my case that was true. I had a couple of symptoms, and given my family history, I had an idea it might be high. I didn’t know it was that high.

Right now we are still in the calibrating-medication stage. The pills have lowered it from the you-can-have-a-stroke-at-any-moment levels, but it’s still not quite where my doctor and I would like it to be. Clearly life-style and diet changes are in my future, but right now I’m not devoting a lot of time to making those changes, except for two small ones.

This is because I know myself and I know if I tackle a wholesale change the odds are very good I won’t stick with it. I might stick with a few small changes though. While we get the meds to help consistently, I have identified two things I want to do. I call them the Rule of Five and the Rule of Four.

I thought that in my day-to-day life I walked a lot. I will walk three miles at a stretch sometimes. While I can walk a good distance, lately I hadn’t been walking frequently. Sometimes I was only getting out for a serious walk once a week. I thought about it, and decided I really missed the daily walks, especially ones in the morning. I know myself well enough to know if I said, “I will walk every day,” and then I missed a day, I would be disappointed in myself, and I would bag the whole project, so I’m going to take a short walk, about one mile, five days a week. If I take a longer walk that day because I walk down to the bookstore or to the grocery store, that’s fine. If I miss a day, that’s fine too, because I only have to make five. Right now, when it’s not raining, walking is pretty easy, but I already have a plan to drive to one of the malls if it’s raining hard, and walk around inside there.

It helps that I can take pictures when I’m walking in the nearby park.

The Rule of Four is harder.

I have one cup of caffeinated coffee a day. I begged my doctor to put that at the bottom of the list of things I have to give up. She didn’t seem concerned about it. I also have at least one decaf coffee drink, filled with sugar and fat, nearly every day. It started with one or two a week, then slowly crept up because I can afford it, and I’m self-indulgent. Am I going to give that up? Probably not. I am going to try to cut back to three a week, though. This will actually require strategy and decision-making. It’s a lot harder than grabbing my camera or my phone and going out for a walk.

(Talk about a first-world problem; having to cut back on a luxury food product. Oh, the humanity!)

I know there will be other changes, and I know this isn’t the only health challenge I will face, it’s just the first one. I’m taking it pretty easy on myself, and I hope I can keep to these two rules. Wish me luck.

UPDATE: Today, (Thursday, December 7, 2017) I had my pressure checked at the doctor’s office and it was a personal best. When I check it at home, daily, I am getting slightly higher readings, but I am pleased with today’s results. I’m moving in the right direction.

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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network is great for any reader who loves women’s fiction, historical novels or spy stories. Kate Quinn smoothly blends all three for a gripping page-turner about women spies in World War I, revenge and atonement, with a nice love story sprinkled in.

The story follows two women; Charlotte, an American heiress in 1947, and Evelyn Gardiner during World War I. Charlotte is traveling with her mother, heading to Switzerland for an “appointment” to clear up a “little problem,” but her real concern is the disappearance of her French cousin Rose during World War II. Charlotte evades her mother in England and tracks down someone she thinks will be able to help her; a drunken, foul-mouthed, bitter woman whose hands are badly deformed. This is Evelyn, or Eve, Gardiner. Once she sobers up, Eve grudgingly agrees to help for money. She Charlotte and Eve’s loyal driver Finn set off from England to France.

From here we begin to get the story of Eve’s early years as a spy in northern France during World War I. The characters’ points of view alternate, until they converge around a particular villain who affected the lives of both women.

Quinn did research on the spy networks during the first World War, and especially a secondary character (who was real) Louise de Bettignies, also known as the queen of spies. Quinn’s descriptions are thorough and harrowing, and characters are well-drawn, often with just a few lines of choice dialogue. After World War II, Charlotte still faces discrimination and the diminishment of her rights because of her sex and her age. The three main characters all have to address mistakes they’ve made, and they all have to acknowledge how deeply damaged they are.

The sections in France during the war are nail-bitingly suspenseful.

I found a couple of anachronisms (Charolotte talks about “blowing off “ her classes at Bennington, in 1947) but overall the writing here is graceful and fluent. These are characters you want to root for, and another uncovered secret of the real roles of women in history. Buy it as a gift for someone, and then get a copy for yourself. You’ll want to read it more than once.

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Eligibility List: To my surprise, I have one.

Is it just self-indulgent ego-stroking? Am I writing it as practice for future years when I will have (I hope) a more realistic reason to post this, or am I just doing it because all the cool kids are? Whatever the reason, it did occur to me, after strolling through the Twitterhood the other day, that I had some publications in 2017, and they might be eligible for nomination for awards, and I could legitimately do an Eligibility List.

(Given my long career at the county, which started as an Eligibility Worker in the MediCal program, that phrase makes me snicker.)

I had three fiction pieces published this year. You all know about them because I yammered on about the endlessly. In case you’ve forgotten, though:

In late summer, the mixed-genre anthology Strange California came out. My story “Magpie’s Curse” is in it. I worked hard to write a story that had classical roots (The Goblin Market), and subverted them, but carried the stamp and flavor of a particular time and place in northern California. I think I succeeded. (You can also get the book at Powell’s, and they mention my story in the write-up.)

Flash Fiction Online published my short piece “Strays”, inspired by a writing prompt Marta Randall gave us, about the things we throw away, and the things that find us. It meant writing about something I thought I never would… fashion. And I tried for funny. I think I succeeded.

In April, 2017, Podcastle published “Never Truly Yours.”  This is a story in the form of a “Dear John” letter. I wanted to evoke an historical time and a magical place, and I wanted to explore the evolution of a character. I am the proudest of this story, but I can’t take the credit completely, because even though I captured the voice of my narrator thoroughly, and had some great descriptions, there was always a piece missing in this story and I didn’t know what it was until the Short Story group at Mendocino Coast Writers Conference workshopped it. Their questions, particularly Lori Ostlund’s*, helped me see what was missing. Suddenly, the story snapped into focus. I couldn’t have done it without them.

So, there are my meager offerings for the gazillion contests and Best of lists of 2017. I’m trying to think of it as novelle cuisine… You know, “A single shaving of truffle, garnished with a carrot spiral and one fresh pea; $125.”

*[Treat yourself and read Lori’s gentle, acerbic and beautiful novel After the parade.]

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Giving Tuesday, 2017

First, there was Black Friday. Merchants casually referred to the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” for years; the start of the six weeks of the year that put small retailers into the black. Then popular culture caught onto it, and then the advertising mavens colonized it.

In 2008, when the economy cratered, social media and small-merchant groups invented what was first called “Small Business Saturday,” a campaign to get you out of the big-box stores and into the local shops and stores. It evolved into “Shop Small Saturday.”  In between that shift, Cyber Monday muscled its way into the line-up.

(Sunday, so far, as escaped. Stay-at-Home Sunday? Football Sunday? I don’t know.)

This brings us to the final of the newly named days; Giving Tuesday.

Maybe it’s about balance, or maybe we’re still puritanical enough as a culture to feel a nibble of shame at all our conspicuous consumption from Thanksgiving on, but there is a movement to make today, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, a day of donating to nonprofits.

If you want to participate in Giving Tuesday, and you don’t already have groups of your own (or even if you do) here are some who do good work and could use your help.

The Redwood Empire Credit Union is still collecting and disbursing money for people who lost everything in the wildland fires. You can designate which county you want your donation to go to, or let them decide what is needed.

The Ceres Project teaches cooking and nutrition skills to at-risk youth, while providing healthy fresh meals to folks who are housebound due to illness or disability. Ceres went into overdrive after the fires, providing meals for local shelters. They’re a great cause. They also allow you to choose whether you want your donation spent in Marin or Sonoma.

Meals on Wheels is another great program. This vital operation provides nutritious food to housebound people, and a crucial social link. It is a pair of eyes in the community, checking on an isolated person, often a senior. It is a sense of connection, a conversation, a check in. Here is the link to the national program, and here is Sonoma County’s program.

Maybe reading is a big thing of yours. Look for a local literacy project, or a local Friends of the Library. This is a national literacy program that could use your dollars.

Maybe you’d like to donate to a writers conference. Mendocino Coast Writers Conference offers a number of scholarships; in some cases they do matching grants to assemble full scholarships. The conference can use money for general expenses too.

For many women nationally, Planned Parenthood clinics are the only place they can afford to get health care, including but not limited to reproductive health. The program has been under continual assault with the election of the current president. Here’s a link to their donation page.

Just a few thoughts. You can also look around your city, your neighborhood and see who is doing good work. It might be a shelter or a meal kitchen, a homework-club, a volunteer choir or symphony. If you can, support them. You don’t have to give a lot. Just let them know that you see what they’re doing, and you care.


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Someone Always Knows, by Marcia Muller; Feels Phoned-In

Someone Always Knows is the 32nd Sharon McCone mystery, written by Marcia Muller. In addition to the McCone series which started in 1977, Muller has written several other series, including a history-mystery series co-written with her husband Bill Pronzini.

I started reading the McCone books in the 1980s, about the time I started reading Sue Grafton. Like Grafton’s female detective Kinsey Milhone, Sharon McCone was a distinct character. I liked her. I liked her roots and her values. In the first round of books, McCone worked as a legal investigator for All Soul’s Legal Collective, a legal aid office in San Francisco. The stories blended McCone’s investigations with tidbits about her eccentric San Diego-based family. McCone was also a pilot, so several books involved small planes and the details of flying.

I liked them a lot at first. After a while they ceased to be books I was on the lookout for, although when I saw a new one in paperback I would usually buy it. McCone has been investigating things for forty years now. A series can get stale.

I think it got stale for Muller, too, because she began making dramatic change-ups to the series. All Soul’s Collective disbanded and McCone started her own agency. Probably this was supposed to show her as an empowered woman, striking out on her own. Then, several books after that, McCone met and married Hy Ripinsky. Ripinksy was a pilot, an environmental activist, and a man with a shady past that garnered him a ton of political connections and a lot of money. With the marriage, the series definitely changed direction. Ripinksy ran an international security firm and was frequently jetting off to conduct hostage negotiations he couldn’t talk about. In one book, McCone rescues him after he’s been abducted. In the meantime, the parts of the book dealing with McCone’s brother, sister and various in-laws and former in-laws grew to take up more of the books.

About five books ago, McCone nearly died and then spent a book trying to recover from lock-in syndrome, a condition where the patient can make no voluntary movement. I didn’t read that one. I probably should. SPOILER ALERT: In a subsequent book, she fully recovers.

Somewhere midway through the series Muller revealed that everything Sharon McCone thought about herself and her family was untrue and that she was adopted, and (gasp!) half Native American. This contrivance allowed the series to have an investigation that involved tribal peoples. Fortunately for McCone, her Native American father is a rich, famous artist who chooses to live a humble life on the reservation. It’s not because he has to.

I did read The Night Searchers, the volume before this one, and found it a bit thin. Someone Always Knows is about 350 pages, which includes a short story and an excerpt from the next McCone mystery. I didn’t love The Night Searchers, but my sense of disappointment with Someone Always Knows is much, much deeper.

McCone and Ripinsky have merged their businesses, and they live in a multi-million dollar house in San Francisco. Ripinsky has every contact and resource you can imagine, and McCone has no trouble using them. She and Ripinsky are effectively one-percenters now (she drives to a stakeout in her red Mercedes and comments that it’s not a good stakeout car). While living in luxury, tooling around in private planes and expensive cars, McCone mourns the city that is her home, where rents are so high that families are getting pushed out; where her favorite dive bar or greasy spoon have been closed or purchased by developers. She fears it is changing for the worse, while never once stopping to consider that people like her and Ripinsky are part of the reason.

This sense of them being oblivious, privileged fat-cats is exacerbated by a mildly funny subplot about an atrocious sculpture they purchased for the front of their building, and a meaningless feud that McCone has with a far-right blogger. The blogger feud tries to win us over by making the woman be really catty and a right-winger, but the woman has a dinky publication that is being cancelled, and McCone’s attacks on her are clearly punching down. The sculpture is a classic example of what is wrong with McCone and Ripinsky now. They got scammed by a celebrity artist, but why didn’t they reach out to one of SF’s local artists? Why didn’t they give a gifted but poor artist a chance? This is what McCone would have done in the 80s. Now that she has money, it’s a different story.

As for the once-independent, strong, resourceful investigator, McCone now relies nearly entirely on Ripinsky’s resources.

To make that problem even worse, in this book McCone behaves stupidly in order for the plot to function. For example, on page 191 she is given an obvious clue about the identity of a particular character (the dead guy). It’s the name of a book character. After that, several times, she wonders again who the dead guy really was. The penny doesn’t drop for her for at least another sixty pages. She can’t figure out where the bad-guy is, (but we can), and when he gets the drop on her and tells his accomplice to get “the bracelets,” McCone doesn’t know what he means until he comes out with handcuffs. Really? I don’t think so.

As the case has been in several of the recent books, Ripinsky is conveniently off on a top-secret mission during most of this book. Ripinsky seems to exist to give McCone all the power and intell anyone could need; to often bring his seedy past into the present to fuel the plot (which is the case here) to buy her expensive presents and show up for romantic taco-night dinners and good sex. The rest of the time, he’s mostly away. This feels less like a marriage and more like fantasy wish fulfillment.

Apart from jerky and transparent plot manipulation, there is just writing that creates an impression of a draft that was dashed off with little revision. In the first half of the book, first-person narrator McCone recaps that adopted/Native American thing. In the second half of the book, when she goes to visit her brother in San Diego, he makes a snarky reference to tribal people and McCone tells the readers, “He said things like that because I was half Native American.” We know! A writer as good and as experienced as Muller should be able to trust her own words, and her readers, more than that. It’s as if she forget that she told us the whole thing a hundred pages earlier.

I’m not sure this series can be fixed. This book, more than any of the others, felt as if the author was phoning it in. As I said in the first paragraph, Muller is writing other series and other work. She may just be tired. Maybe McCone and Ripinsky could sale around the world on a yacht they acquire, and give themselves and their creator a much-needed rest.

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Things I’m Thankful For, 2017

2017 hasn’t been a great year in many ways. That makes it even more important that I take a few minutes to reflect on things I am thankful for.

  • I’m thankful for all the first responders who came to northern coastal California to help contain last month’s raging wildland fires.
  • I’m thankful to all the people who volunteered, helped, donated; who provided clothes, toys, food and shelter to those who lost everything. And I am very, very grateful that I live in a part of the county that was not touched directly by the flames.
  • I’m thankful for my friends. I was going to list names here; that quickly got out of control. I’m grateful for long-time friends, for writing friends, for photography friends; for travel friends and for internet friends. I count on you all. And when I talk about friends I’m including Spouse, my closest friend.  And I’m thankful for the zany bunch at Fantasy Literature, who fill my day with thoughtful reviews, magic and good fun.
  • I’m thankful for Taylor Maid Coffee, for providing a spot for a weekly writing appointment with Brandy Mow, which has boosted my productivity.
  • I’m thankful for books – and there were some great ones this year.
  • I’m thankful for doctors and medicine, because they both helped me get my health back on track this year.
  • I’m thankful for airplanes. Airplanes? Yes, airplanes, like the ones that carried me to Finland, Iceland and back home. I know that there were many elements to travel, but airplanes stood out.
  • I’m thankful for chestnut-backed chickadees, who show up about this time of year. Usually they stay for two or three weeks; this year they are staying longer. I like all the birds that come to my feeders, but the chickadees, with their bright colors, their energy and their swa-de-bee call, fill me with joy.
  • I’m thankful for squirrels. They provide hours of free entertainment. Hours.
  • I’m thankful for crows, because they are so interesting.
  • I’m thankful for dogs.
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Now I Want to Write Grimm FanFic

This is how I look when I don't know what I'm doing. I look this way a lot.

This is how I look when I don’t know what I’m doing. I look this way a lot.

After re-watching BBC America’s brilliant SF show Orphan Black, my next re-watch was NBC’s urban fantasy police procedural, Grimm. Grimm is good fun and I am enjoying it although it is at nowhere near the level of Orphan Black or The Expanse. I don’t think the showrunners wanted it to be. They wanted to have a good time.

I’m actually liking the show better now that I can watch several episodes at a time and make the connections that eluded me. Season Three got bifurcated by the network is some weird way during its original run. Locally, my NBC affiliate pre-empted it at least twice per season for baseball (pre-season baseball!) and so there were episodes I’d never seen. Plus, in its original run NBC yanked it all over the schedule. It’s nice to sit down and watch it through.

I had some problems with the plot and the themes the first time around; I’m still having them, but this is not a review. This is about the non-human beings who inhabited the show and how much fun it would be to write fanfiction about them.

Grimm’s premise is that police detective Nick Burkhardt discovers that he has a mystical power to see the non-humans in our midst. He works in Portland, Oregon, and apparently lots of these mythical creatures live there. In fact, I would say they aren’t the weirdest things in Portland. The non-humans are called Wesen (it’s German; the W is pronounced like a “V”). Many of the creatures come from Germanic folklore. The show began to borrow from other cultures, including a Chupacabra, and even just made some creatures up. Because Nick is a cop, he tends to meet the criminal element of the Wesen, but we soon realize that many Wesen live regular lives and want to be left alone to be law-abiding citizens. Grimms, to them, are the bogie-men. Originally, Grimms killed the Wesen that predated on humans, and were protectors. Later they became corrupted and joined forces with the Wesen royal families, acting as enforcers for the royals, killing without mercy as a way to maintain the royals’ exploitation of people. Nick, as a green Grimm (hah!) coming from a “protect and serve” mentality, at least theoretically, doesn’t want to kill at random. He and the Portland Wesen community have a difficult journey to détente, and that’s part of the show.

Monroe and Rosalee cry out for fanfic and I’m sure there’s a ton of it. Yep, there is. I just went and looked.

And some of it is MonroseNick slashfic. (I’m not sure that’s technically slash, if it’s a three-way with Rosalee). Oooh-kay, then.

Monroe in full blutbad mode. You won't like him when he's angry.

Monroe in full blutbad mode. You won’t like him when he’s angry.

Monroe, the first Wesen we meet and a cast regular, is a blutbad, or wolven being (think “werewolf”). Rosalee, an apothecary, is a fuchsbau, a foxen person who is cute as a button. Rosalee and Monroe face censure in the Wesen community first for helping Nick, and secondly for marrying. The bigotry of the Wesen community as well as human-Wesen bigotry is thoroughly explored in the show.

Um, yeah… Okay, Rosalee, Monroe and Nick seem to have plenty of fanfic. I think I’d have to create my own original Wesen character. I like the steinadlers; “stone eagles;” people who display eagle-like characteristics when they’ve “woged” or shifted to their Wesen selves. They can’t fly, but they have powerful talons and strong beaks, and one could certainly mess you up in a fight. Plus, they’d steal your fish. Steinadlers, like other Wesen, are said to have specific character traits. While this is gross stereotyping on the part of the Grimms, who have written the so-called “textbooks,” it is a tempting approach to take. Steinadlers appeared twice in the show. The first one was a tough, detective-noir character who once loved Nick’s Grimm aunt, Aunt Marie, but had been corrupted by exposure to some magical coins. The second one, in the episode “The Good Solider,” was a good soldier herself. She was betrayed by the military but never lost her sense of honor. Originally, Nick suspects her of killing a group of private military contractors, but of course she is innocent of that crime. The show’s title comes from her repeated use of that phrase for her fellow soldiers; it is the judgment she measures people by.

They wrote WHAT about us?

They wrote WHAT about us?

For her, a good soldier demonstrates loyalty (to their fellows), courage and obedience. It’s easy to see how loyalty and obedience can become problematic when the person to whom you’ve given your loyalty is doing bad things.

A steinadler would make a lovely fanfiction character but now I’m thinking that a mad Grimm would be pretty fun too. Grimms come into their ability at odd times. If you’re an orphaned Grimm or a foster-child Grimm (the show had one), when you start seeing the Wesen, you believe you are mad. Truble, the teen Grimm who comes into the show in Season Three, spent time in an institution because the adults around her thought she was crazy. She thought she was crazy. She not only saw these creatures, but they all tried to kill her. It took Nick’s help to bring Truble completely into her  Grimm power.

I hear someone's looking for Trubel.

I hear someone’s looking for Trubel.

If a canny Wesen found a crazed street-child who could see them, and adopted them, that Wesen would have a powerful protector… and a weapon. I’m seeing a smart, manipulative fuchsbau right now, taking a mad Grimm child off the street and raising them. And then Nick, or another Grimm, finds them. And now the child has to questions their loyalties.

And I want a Grimm who isn’t a cop, but who runs an ice-cream shop. I don’t know why; I just think it would be fun

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I recently read the debut novel by Matthew Sullivan, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. You will probably find this book in general fiction, but you might find it in the mystery section. If you do, we aware that there are two mysteries that need to be untangled, but the book is mostly a study of trauma and isolation; an exploration on the effect of secrets on people and relationships.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is set in the mid-1990s, somewhere between 1995 and 1999. Lydia works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore in Denver. She is a private person who loves her customers, especially some of the homeless men who come into the bookstore for shelter and comfort. In particular, she has a rapport with a young homeless man named Joey. When the book opens, Joey hangs himself in a room on the bookstore’s second floor. Lydia finds him, and in his pocket he has a picture of her as a child—a picture of herself Lydia has never seen before.

Joey left all his possessions to Lydia, and they turn out to be mostly defaced books; defaced in a particular way. Soon Lydia is working to decode the message Joey left in the damaged books; to give a voice to the troubled young man’s last message. The story then reveals Lydia’s past; the lone survivor of a horrifying massacre, raised by an incompetent father who took her away from everything after the attack and basically left her to raise herself. As Lydia tries to figure out who Joey was, figures from the past she has tried to escape return to her life.

Sullivan’s line-by-line writing is beautiful, and his depiction of two men who are each, in their own way, hoarders, is well-done. Lydia is a believable character; while her father is less so. The mystery of the attacker, nicknamed the Hammerman, becomes as important as Joey’s personal secrets. I read a lot of mysteries, so I figured out who the Hammerman was about fifty pages before the characters did. I didn’t really care, because the point of this story is not to determine Who Done It, but to see whether Lydia will ever feel able to step out of the shadows – and whether the deep wound in her relationship with her father can be healed.

There is also a pleasant puzzle involving Joey’s last message, and I got out a notepad and pencil and played along with the characters.

Sullivan’s writing is often funny. I thought he evoked parts of Colorado, and a certain time, convincingly; he created the sense of dislocation you have when you go back to a place from your childhood, decades later, and have to mentally remap it because of all the changes. Sullivan is also someone who can plot a novel. Many short story writers cannot. The structure, the pacing and the purpose of a novel is completely different and many short story writers fail badly. Even though parts of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore read like linked short stories, and even though each character appears in a set-piece that “characterizes” them (a common general-fiction convention) the through-line and the pacing are right for a novel.

We’re heading into winter; long dark nights perfect for reading. While Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is very dark in spots, it ends on a hopeful note. I enjoyed it.

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Visiting Auburn

Auburn sits in the Sierra foothills about forty miles northeast of Sacramento. In November, it glows with reds, yellows and the dark greens of evergreen against a blue sky, or, as we had, a blue sky filled with brush strike of white wisps. The town’s population is about 14,000 and it’s the county seat of Placer County.

Baby, official host of the American Made Homes office.

Baby, official host of the American Made Homes office.

We went there last week because Linda was in town and needed to complete some paperwork as part of her plan to put a modular home on a lot she owns in Sonoma. Since Auburn is a three-hour drive from where she was staying, we decided we’d stay over if necessary. I had visions of lots of time to take photos, find a local regional park and maybe even visit the river. None of that quite happened.

The paperwork took 6.5 hours the first day and 3 hours the second. I had a book, and I played about seventeen games of Solitaire on my phone. Once in a while I zoned in to listen to the discussion. It was interesting and I may have learned a bit more about modular homes than I knew before. Here are a couple of nuggets: they are NOT mobile homes (that you probably knew); they are under their own, specific federal code sections, and probably California building code sections too; like a liquor license, a modular home must be included in a trust if there is one for estate planning purposes. Who knew?

Because I recently was the victim, er, recipient of mansplaining by a complete stranger in a deli, I was somewhat entertained, in a turn-the-tables way, when my friend “lindasplained” the Sonoma Count plan check process to the contractor who assembled six modular homes in Sonoma County in the last year. It didn’t matter that he is a professional and his experience was current, not in Linda’s mind. I did have a moment of thinking, “Dude, now you know how women feel all the time.”

The California, a bar with some fine neon.

The California, a bar with some fine neon.

We also had rain, which made the first day trip into old town discouraging for pictures. The historic area is well restored and very touristy, which I didn’t mind. I got a few good pics, including maybe a candidate for this year’s holiday card. We went to lunch, then went back to the office at 2:30 for the second round of discussions that ended about 7:15. By a quirk of fate, our hotel was about three minutes away from the modular home brokerage office.

Old "Glass Beads" advertising painted on brick wall.

Old “Glass Beads” advertising painted on brick wall.

We stayed at the Red Lion Inn and Suites. I would describe the hotel experience as Not Good. It wasn’t as bad as Bad, but still. The one person on duty in the lobby was friendly and nice. She gave us our keys and directed us to parking, telling us to come in through the double doors. We were in Room 126. I assumed, based on some experience with other hotels, that once we found 122 and 124 we might be close to 126. That assumption was not correct. We were close to room 118, which came after 124. On the other side of the hall, we were already into the 130s. I walked all the way down to Room 138, and decided there was no logical way 126 could be down there. I was right; there was no logical way, but there was apparently some non-logical way because 126 was down the hall across from room 143.

Continuing the slight sense of dislocation, when we got into the room I noticed that the clock was one hour ahead, because no one had changed it from the time change the previous Sunday. So the room was out of numerical order, and out of time as well. In retrospect, I’m starting to like the room a little bit more!

The cable in our room did not work, and the front desk said they could move us to another room because the cable company had said it was too late to come out. (So, when they gave us the room, they knew the cable wasn’t functioning.) I had visions of us wandering the halls for another hour, and Linda was just tired, so we said no.

The bed was comfortable. The bathroom was clean but there were gray spots in the corner above the shower, where moisture is collecting and encouraging something to grow, or where, maybe, in the past, they had a leak. There was no ice container in the room. I went to the lobby and after hunting for a few minutes the staffer found one, but she didn’t mention that the ice machine on the first floor wasn’t operational. I found the stairs, eventually, and a functioning ice machine.

The next morning we did go downtown first. We had breakfast at the Edelweiss 2. The food was good, and plentiful. I had the “mini-breakfast” which would have fed me and at least one other person. Serving staff were friendly, attentive, and very busy.

Auburn Courthouse and Museum, not open Veteran's Day weekend.

Auburn Courthouse and Museum, not open Veteran’s Day weekend.

The majestic building that is both the courthouse and a museum was closed for the Veteran’s Day holiday weekend. We shopped, we got coffee at Auburn Coffee and had a great chat with the two male baristas, who referred us to the Edelweiss.

Auburn's joss house, a part of the Chinese legacy of the railroad.

Auburn’s joss house, a part of the Chinese legacy of the railroad.


Back at the office, Linda finished up the paperwork. I wanted to spend some time in Grass Valley, another small gold country town about half an hour away.

The "Ladies Entrance" of the Owl Tavern was both discreet and discrete.

The “Ladies Entrance” of the Owl Tavern was both discreet and discrete.

We drove there. The town has revived somewhat since the last time I was there and I thought it looked good, but Linda commented on how many empty storefronts there were. It was drizzly and cold.

The Nevada County Bank Building

The Nevada County Bank Building

We went to Booktown, a fascinating 4,0000 square foot used book collective, to a rock shop that specialized in polished crystals, and to the Cult of Gemini, a genuine Wicca shop on Mill Street, and by then, it was time to head home.

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