15 January 2018

Book Review: Love by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long

Although this book is just published this week, I had the privilege a few months ago of listening to Newbery award-winning author Matt de la Peña and beloved illustrator of the Otis books Loren Long talk about their collaboration.  Their new book, Love, was a headliner for one of the breakfasts during the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA), and I think it’s safe to say there was nary a dry eye in the room by the time they concluded.

I don’t usually review picture books on this blog, but this is not your typical picture book. First, you’ve got the street cred (and literary cred) of this dynamic duo. Second, it’s a book that speaks directly to the fears and frustrations that have gripped our country since #45 was elected. Third, the subtext of this book is simply this: love is love is love.

Each full page spread speaks to a different demographic of America: the urban, the rural, the haves, the have-nots, the lonely, the contented, the single-parent and the multi-generational family. The thoughtful illustrations are lush with color and emotion, not shy about straying into darker interpretations of the text.

There’s been some chatter on the internet this week about an article in Time magazine by children’s book author extraordinaire, Kate DiCamillo called “Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Sad,” and in in the context of both children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, she says, “In loving the world, he [E. B. White] told the truth about it -- its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we are not alone.” Her words speak just as deeply to Love, a picture book that shows kids the different ways that love may manifest itself in their lives -- but also how it might leave their lives and break their hearts before they realize that it can also make them stronger.

My two favorite page spreads are these:

"And in time you learn to recognize
a love overlooked.
A love that wakes at dawn and
rides to work on the bus. 
A slice of burned toast tastes like love.

And the face staring back
in the bathroom mirror --
this, too, is love.

I think this lovely picture book will soon be taking its place among the pantheon of children’s picture book classics. It’s simple, but ultimately it’s revolutionary, too. Every library, be it school, public, or home library, should proudly cherish this addition. If ever a picture book could change a child’s life, I think this is the one.

13 January 2018

Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I first read Tayari Jones when she published Silver Sparrow a few years ago, where she grabbed me from the very first line (which you can read about here).  Thus it took very little persuading when the good folks at Algonquin emailed to ask me to take a gander at Tayari’s new novel, An American Marriage. While its opening line is compelling enough (“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who leave home, and those who don’t.”), it’s the characters here who kept me reading feverishly into the night.

Meet Celestial and Roy, a young couple on the verge of having it all, who hail from very different backgrounds. Celestial is the beloved daughter of an upper middle class family outside of Atlanta, gifted with every privilege that love, money, and social capital can provide; Roy, on the other hand, is the adopted son of a hardscrabble father and mother piecing jobs together to keep enough food on the table and shoes on their feet in their Louisiana hamlet: “There was nothing extra. If my childhood were a sandwich, there would be no meat hanging off the bread. We had what we needed and nothing more.”

Their relationship is electrifying and intense, and they’re the vanguard of the New South, poised to set Atlanta on fire, driven by love and ambition in equal measure, when the unthinkable happens: a little over one year into their marriage, a white woman accuses Roy of breaking into her hotel room and raping her. Despite Celeste’s testimony that she was with her husband all night, the many character witnesses brought forth, and  the expensive attorney that Celeste’s family is able to pay for, the jury convicts Roy, sending him to prison for twelve years:

The judge paused and demanded that Roy bear this news on his feet. He stood again and cried, not like a baby, but in the way that only a grown man can cry, from the bottom of his feet up through his torso and finally through his mouth. When a man cries like that you know it’s all the tears that he was never allowed to shed, from Little League disappointment to teenage heartbreak, all the way to whatever injured his spirits just last year (p. 40).
The narrative chapters alternate mostly between Roy and Celestial’s points of view, and in the beginning they’re largely epistolary, told in letters back and forth after Roy is incarcerated. Eventually other characters take on the storytelling burden, including Andre, Celestial’s childhood best friend and one of Roy’s former classmates at Spelman. While the book never loses its focus as an indictment of the system that imprisons black men at a terribly disproportionate rate compared to white men, the heart of this novel is the relationships that unfold: Roy’s and Celestial’s, of course, but also Celestial and her family, Roy and his family, Celestial and Andre, Andre and Roy, Celestial and her work, Roy and his cellmate...the various permutations go on.

This is a novel that examines love and loyalty and what it means to be family, scrutinizing the smallest details from multiple points of view. The writing is terrific, and I think that Tayari Jones makes particularly good use of metaphor throughout, and what’s more, she constantly shows generosity and sympathy to her entire cast of characters. It broke my heart more than once, and I think it will break yours, too. This book is not just going to loom large among books published this winter, it is going to be big.  BIG.

NB: This book will be published by Algonquin on February 6, 2018, but I recommend you put it in your reading queue now. 

09 January 2018

Book Review: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

It has been a long time since I’ve read a straight-up biography.  I read lots of narrative nonfiction in the forms of memoir, sure, and I even dabble in history and science.  But I’m trying to think of the last time I read a biography, and according to Goodreads, it was back in 2011 when I read Harriet Reisen’s book on Louisa May Alcott.  Reading Walter Isaacson’s incredible book on Leonardo da Vinci was a welcome reminder that good biographies on interesting subjects are well worth the time invested.

My Simon & Schuster rep gifted me with the audio book for my birthday late last fall, which was ideal now that I have a long enough commute to make listening to audio books worthwhile. It’s read by actor Alfred Molina, who does a great job, and the audio version comes with a separate CD full of PDFs of the art described in the book (presumably the digital audio also comes with downloadable images).  However, I was only two discs into the 17-disc set before I realized that I would also want the physical book, and I was fortunate that Simon & Schuster obliged by by sending me one of those, too. The book is beautiful, printed on heavy paper with full color plates.

I’ve never read Isaacson before, so I don’t know if this is a signature style or a one-off, but rather than employing a chronologically linear narrative, he employs a style that I’d call vignette-like.  This means that occasionally the narrative circles back to an earlier period of history, but with a subject who is as far removed from our time as Leonardo is, this makes sense to me.

Did I have much of an impression about Leonardo before tackling this book?  Not a big one. I took a survey of western heritage class in college that gave an overview of his art and I think it was a class in high school where I learned more about his bent for science and engineering, but other than a general impression that the term “Renaissance Man” might have been first used with him in mind, I couldn’t tell you a lot about the guy. My only personal experience was on a college choir trip to Milan, where we were able to view his fresco of The Last Supper in small groups.

Thus it was a total revelation to learn about this remarkable man with not just a towering intellect, but an insatiable curiosity about the world. Although he is probably best known today for his art (his Mona Lisa is quite possibly the most famous painting in the western world) Leonardo himself wished to be known as an engineer. Although not formally educated, he was a meticulous observer of nature and combining his curiosity with the scientific method means that he was decades, and in some cases centuries, ahead of his time.  There’s hardly a branch of science that didn’t interest him, and Isaacson explores Leonardo’s notebooks to share with the reader his groundbreaking research and theories for physics, optics, fluid mechanics, anatomy, geology, astronomy, even cosmology.

I also enjoyed the way Isaacson brings out the human side of Leonardo, quoting from his shopping lists, or describing his penchant for richly-colored tunics (fuchsia was a favorite) and for beautiful young men, or outlining why he opted for a vegetarian lifestyle.  And those times when Leonardo’s paths crossed with the Borgias, Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, or Michelangelo?  I actually said “whoa” out loud in my car when Molina was narrating those moments. Kind of a who’s who of Italian Renaissance history, eh?

This is a marvelous study of a man who, arguably, possessed the greatest mind of his time -- possibly the greatest mind of any time -- whose drive to always ask “why” should be an inspiration to every single reader. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

06 January 2018

Book (P)Review: Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Happy New Year, everybody! I’m not much into setting resolutions for myself these days.  Or rather, the whole “New Year, New You” mentality doesn’t hold much appeal for me, but I like the idea of being open to change and growth. The year 2017 brought a lot of changes into my life, including putting myself on the job market, and one of the most difficult personal challenges for me this year was bouncing back after each interview that culminated in some variation of, “You’re pretty nifty, Runner Up Candidate.” It’s been quite a while since I failed at something so important to me, but lately I’ve been ruminating on failure and what it can mean. While it’s true that I failed to secure an offer for the three positions I interviewed for last year, I learned something about myself with each one.  I got better with each interview, and I was lucky enough to get substantive feedback from two of the hiring managers to better place myself when the next opportunity comes along -- one of whom has even offered to help me look out for other, better suited positions. So with that in mind, what I’d like for 2018 is this: to remember that while failure is an important part of growth, it does not define me, or my worth. I also want to practice more kindness, both to myself and to others. And since I remember a time in the not-too-distant past where I actually enjoyed writing about my twin passions of books and travel, I thought it might be interesting getting back to that in 2018, too.

It turns out that it’s been quite some time since my last book review, which I posted in June 2016 about Homegoing, the best novel I read that year. Eighteen months almost to the day. Please forgive my rustiness here as I ease back into the world of book reviews.

The first book I completed this year is Jonathan Miles’ Anatomy of a Miracle.  His work wasn’t new to me, as I had started both of his previous novels, Dear American Airlines and Want Not, but hadn’t finished either one (less a criticism of them than simply being an occupational hazard).  This one I picked up at the urging of my sales rep, but I hadn’t read very far before I was hooked: this guy nailed -- I mean, absolutely nailed -- the south Mississippi setting.

Call it homesickness or nostalgia on my part, but I was extremely happy to revisit the Mississippi gulf coast of my youth in these pages, seeing through the eyes of Cameron Harris, a complicated young man whose life has been marked by tragedy: abandoned by his father, losing his best friend, the death of his mother, Hurricane Katrina and subsequently losing his home. As if that weren’t bad enough, he enlists in the army, gets sent to Afghanistan, and has the misfortune of getting a little too close to an old Soviet landmine. When Cameron returns to the US, it’s in a wheelchair.  His sister Tanya, as much parent to him as sibling, gives up everything to care for her paraplegic brother.

Four years later, strange things are afoot at their neighborhood convenience store, when Cameron’s nausea doubles him over in his chair and he leans forward to relieve it. The thing is, there is only so far he can lean forward without falling, and he somehow manages to get his feet underneath himself and stands up in the parking lot of the Biz-E-Bee. Nobody can explain it -- not Cameron or Tanya, not the medical community.

As you can imagine, the Harris home quickly becomes the epicenter of a multi-ring circus. In this most religious of red states, everybody wants to claim a piece of Cameron’s miracle, whether it’s the Republican party wanting Cameron (and by extension, God, of course) on their ticket or a pre-Vatican-II Catholic priest who uses Cameron for his own multi-layered agenda. TV interviews, social media prayer circles, pilgrims to the Biz-E-Bee, and a reality tv/mockumentary crew all descend on the scene, and the whole time Cameron and Tanya are just trying to get on with their lives, wanting to know the whys and wherefores of Cameron’s miracle.

While Anatomy is told in a journalistic fashion that strongly reminded me of the brilliant nonfiction book Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, in both style and scope, what interested me most was the characters, both major and minor: Cameron and Tanya, absolutely; but I also loved the Vietnamese couple who own the convenience store, the devil’s advocate attorney working for the Vatican (literally the advocatus diaboli) , the sergeant under whom Cameron served in the army, and the VA doctor handling Cameron’s case. Mostly, I loved the subtle indictment of people who choose the superficial over substance and the way Miles calls attention to bigotry of all stripes, but above all, I loved the way the author limns each character with the myriad contradictions that comprise this human experience. Beyond that, the writing is just terrific -- it’s not lush, but it’s precise and incredibly evocative in a way that perfectly serves the wide-lens, third person, journalistic POV.

Hogarth, a division of Penguin Random House, will publish this book in March, and I predict that this is the book that will make Jonathan Miles a household name, at least among those households with avid readers of literary fiction. I read an advance review copy provided by the publisher. 

16 December 2017

Best Books of 2017


I read so much good stuff in 2017.  SO MUCH. I wouldn’t say that my reading mojo is completely back from my pre-divorce days-- I’m not going to hit 100 books read for the year, after all.  But I’ll probably finish somewhere in the 80s, and that’s not shabby.

To say that I haven’t blogged much this year would be to indulge in careless understatement. It hasn’t seemed as urgent to me, what with the political scene and human rights fiascos everywhere I turn. (It’s been much easier to lose myself in watching The Office, or The Crown, or The Wire.)

The thing is, though, most of my favorite books this year speak to the horrifying things that have left me feeling, if not precisely hopeless, then at least hopeless-adjacent; yet each book made me feel a little bit better after finishing it. Thus I’m summoning up what energy I have on a Saturday in December to pay tribute to these books, and if you have ever worked retail during the holidays, then you will know how much this is a labor of love.

First, the stats: I completed 79 books this year. Here’s how they break down. Numbers may add up a bit wonkily because many books qualify for multiple categories.

Fiction: 67
Nonfiction: 12
Female authors: 59
Male authors: 20
Audio: 8
Re-Reads: 13
Books for Young Readers: 19
Diversity challenge: 22
Books in translation: 3
Fan fiction: 4
Short story collections: 2

Curiously, three writers count for almost half of the reading I did by male authors this year: David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, and Frederick Backmann (who incidentally was the author of all three books I read in translation). I had rather more re-reads in 2017, as I often turn to my lifetime favorites of Harry Potter or any of the various Anne of Green Gables novels when in need of a comfort read, and I will not include any of those for my top ten list.

Thus, my top books of the year, in chronological order of my reading them, are:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Definitely the most important novel published this fall, possibly the most important novel published this year.  I was lucky enough to read an early copy of this in the spring and ever since then I’ve been telling everybody who will listen to read it.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid would be the other novel published this year that could vie for most important of 2017.  Where Jesmyn Ward’s prose is searing, Mohsin Hamid’s is taut. They’re both nearly perfect. I remain disappointed that this book did not win the Booker prize this year.

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire lured me in with descriptions of the part of Massachusetts I currently called home, only to quickly take on greater import on a more global scale. She is compassionate and generous with her characters, who grapple with politics, family, immigration, and fundamentalism.

Local writer Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is one of only two YA books on my list this year. I pick up Holly’s books to read when I want an escape, since her world building is utterly immersive, but then I remember how sharp an eye she has for politics that transcend the human realm and how much reading her books can inform my current world.

Wiley Cash is one the most gracious authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and The Last Ballad brings all of his storytelling powers to bear. Here he plays with the intersection of workers right with the racism and sexism of the era, bringing the story of real-life Ella Mae Wiggins to modern readers.

The author of the Orange-prize winning Song of Achilles returns to the classics with Circe, spanning the centuries-long life of the eponymous witch-goddess who was not content to play by the laws of the Olympians. I debated including it here simply because it will not publish until April 2018, but I liked it too much to exclude it.

Angie Thomas’s debut novel is the other YA book on my list, and it’s probably the most important book published in the world of young adult literature for 2017.  Powerful and emotional, and likely more effective in putting a human face on the Black Lives Matter movement than any work of nonfiction could be. 

Technically it was not published this year, but I was slow to pick up Amor Towles’ towering work of humanism because I had not been enamored of his previous novel, Rules of Civility. More the fool, me. It did flag for me around the 3/4 mark, but overall this meaty novel was immensely satisfying.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably the most important voice on the topic of race today, and in this collection of essays, one written for each year president Obama was in office, he probes the political underbelly in the US in clear and persuasive prose.

Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir is the second piece of nonfiction to make my list this year, despite its technical pub date for spring of 2018.  Each of her seventeen brushes with death is the jumping off point for an essay that examines life. Her writing is luminous and soul-searching, whether she’s recounting her childhood or reflecting on adulthood. 

01 January 2017

Best Books of 2016

Uh-oh. I think that ship has sailed.

What a wondrous year of books we’ve had! I think I’ve finally reached some kind of reading equilibrium, which is a relief after my nadir of reading in 2015.  I’m back to an average of a little over one book per week, which I think is a rate I’ll be able to sustain.

One of the upsides of reading fewer books on average is being more particular about what I do finish. I’ve been paying attention to things like diversity and books in translation for several years, but this is the first year where they’ve been a pretty good percentage of my overall reading. Here are my stats for 2016, followed by my favorite books that I’ve read this year, some of which won’t be published until 2017.  Percentages add up to more than 100% percent because books can fall into multiple categories.

Total books completed: 64
Books by men: 27 (42%)
Books by women: 37 (58%)
Books by non-binary gender: one (that I know of)

Fiction: 55 (86%)
Nonfiction: 9 (14%)

Short Stories: 3 (5%)
Fan fiction (novel length): 4 (6%)
For YA or middle grade: 7 (11%)
In translation: 6 (9%)
Re-reads: 8 (13%)
Diversify-Your-Life: 19 (30%)
(by which I mean books written by and/or featuring main characters of color, or on the LGBTQ spectrum, or otherwise featuring characters with under-representation in literature)

The best book by far that I read this year was Homegoing.  It’s one of the few books that I have written a full length review of here in recent times. The writing is good, but the structure and craft here are among the best I’ve ever seen. The fact that this is Yaa Gyasi’s first novel is astonishing.  

The others, in chronological order of when I read them, are:

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter. This novel in verse begins with the death of a wife and mother, told through the eyes of her surviving husband, her two sons, and, unexpectedly, a Crow. Crow, one part trickster god, one part guardian, and wholly unpredictable, descends upon this fractured family to watch over them in their grief and guide them back to the land of the living. Some of Porter’s phrases and descriptions startled me with their clarity and undid me with their simple and unexpected poignancy.

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock. I didn’t think I needed another book about cancer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Alice and Oliver are the perfect young New York couple with a newborn baby…until Alice collapses over Thanksgiving dinner. This is the saga of their lives, in all of their messy, devastating glory, as they do battle with cancer, treatments, and the byzantine bylaws of health insurance in our country.  The writing is fresh, unexpected, and so unflinchingly honest that I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was based on the author’s own experiences. This book broke my heart on several levels, but there is so much humanity at its core that I fell in love with it, too.  

The Sport of Kings by C E Morgan. Geography of place combines with the ongoing legacy of slavery and racism to create a powerful, sweeping saga. Thoroughbred racing and breeding have irrevocably shaped the lives of the Forge clan, scions of Lexington, KY, but they have had an even greater impact on the lives of Allmon Shaughnessy and Rueben Bedford Walker III, two of the Forges’ employees. They all pin their hopes on Hellsmouth, the filly destined for greatness, but at what cost? Morgan’s ambitious novel is great in its reach, and the sheer lyricism of her prose will have you underlining text on every page. This book is magnificent, and while it is not perfect, it comes pretty close to achieving the status of a Great American Novel.

Mischling by Affinity Konar. It’s difficult to imagine a more horrific subject for a novel than the sadistic experiments Dr.Mengele performed on twins in Auschwitz, but debut author Konar manages to craft something magnificent from such dark origins. Pearl and Stasha tell their stories in alternating chapters, each twin doing her utmost to protect her sister in the camp, their shared history almostenough to create their belief in a shared future on the other side. Konar’s language is so fresh and inventive, even occasionally playful, that it creates a powerful and shocking juxtaposition against the narrative. This author is going places, and after reading this book, I will want to be along for the ride. Every. Single. Time.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  This was an audio book that I purchased for the specific purpose of driving home from Portland, ME one weekend.  It was the perfect length.  I figured that I would like this book and find it both moving and anger-inducing, and I was spot-on about that.  But what I wasn’t expecting about this book was the sheer lyricism of the prose.  Really beautifully written. The author reads it himself. I highly recommend this one.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  This is a quiet novel, especially compared to Bel Canto or State of Wonder.  It opens on a fateful day in LA -- a community comes together for a christening, but their lives are forever changed when the husband of one family falls in love with the wife of another. We see the parents and the children across the years and the consequences and emotional fallout wrought by that first infidelity.  Very good.  Patchett often sneaks up on the reader with her writing and insights.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  It would take a major literary player like Colson Whitehead to reinterpret the Underground Railroad in such a literal way and get away with it.  This latest Oprah honoree takes a staple of the slave narrative and creates metafiction with it. Following the lives of Cora and Caesar, two runaway slaves whose stories constantly intertwine, Whitehead never shies away from the terrible realities of slavery while creating a story that is at once hopeful and honest. Elegant and readable, this is a rare novel that has garnered as much literary acclaim as it has reader enthusiasm.

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris. This slender tome began as a social media viral sensation. Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, one husband and father wrote an open letter to the authors of those attacks, stating time and again that they would not have his hate, despite the fact that he lost his wife and the mother of their infant son. This memoir closely follows the hours after the attack, chronicling his thoughts and emotions for the next several days through the funeral for his wife. Though brief, this is a powerful meditation on grief and resilience and the importance of building a legacy of forgiveness for his son.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  Gosh, I don’t have a blurb or review for this one yet, which is terrible because it’s really, really good.  This is the first book on my Best Of 2016 list that actually won’t be published until this year. March, to be exact. Hamid is a terrific writer who takes on topical subjects in his novels.  This one is a curious look at refugees, following Nadia and Saeed from an unnamed Middle Eastern country through a series of waysides until they settle again, more or less permanently, in a place not far from what is now San Francisco. This novel explores civil unrest and societal change, and it presents the way refugees move from one location to another with magical realism, but the overall effect and statement is an all-too-real realism. 

American War by Omar El Akkad. Alas, the same applies here.  I’ve nothing prepared for this one, either, and it will be published in April of this year. Debut novel that explores a post apocalyptic setting in 21st century America where certain Southern states have seceded over the use of gasoline. A young girl whose family is scattered and destroyed in a refugee camp becomes a trained assassin for a rebel resistance movement. Decades later, her nephew (through whom the story is told in retrospect) only begins to understand his aunt’s legacy and his family’s burden of history.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Chabon’s latest novel drapes loosely over a non-fiction structural conceit in a very meta way – where the narrator is a character named Michael Chabon who sits at his grandfather’s deathbed and records all of his stories. Spanning most of the 20th century, and bookended with world wars and rocketry,  this novel’s warm, rueful tone, its flirtation with the allure of science fiction, and its ultimate themes of conflict, love, madness, and loss across generations all combine to showcase Chabon at the top of his form.  Top that off with the prose, which is as luminous as this title might suggest, and you’ve got one helluva read.

12 December 2016

Return to The Place and Other Favorites

I’m not experiencing the first snow of the season this morning, but it’s the first snow that has accumulated enough to make roadways treacherous.  Thus, on this day off I’m obviously choosing to relive my Anguilla experiences as a means of putting off shoveling the driveway.

Tuesday morning was stormy, so it was just as well that we had already decided to stay home for breakfast.  Michael made some eggs and we supplemented those with the leftover banana and pumpkin breads from Veya the night before, which they kindly supplemented with extra johnny cakes.

After breakfast as the storms moved out to sea, we walked the beach towards Four Seasons but we couldn’t get past Caribella, where the sand was so washed away that there was a four foot drop from the rocks to the sand on the other side.  Since we weren’t wearing shoes, we decided not to press farther, despite wanting to get closer to the rolling breakers coming in down the beach to make some photographs.

When the weather started to clear we walked back to Villa Ella to pack up our beach bags. I wanted to go back to The Place and Michael was amenable to that.  (Really, who wouldn’t be?)  There were a few folks there when we arrived, and their beach umbrellas had been installed since our visit a few days earlier, but we decided for both shade and rain purposes that we’d like to set up under the pavilion again.

Our two lone chaises
This visit we spent more time in the water, and that spot on Rendezvous is just about perfect.  Sandy entry, gentle waves, perfect for floating or bobbing around. A man in the water struck up a conversation with us and in one of those “It’s a small world” moments, we discovered we were from the same part of the world. He was part of a group of friends visiting the island for the first time, staying with a couple who had built a house down there.

Rendezvous, looking toward Anguilla Great House

After chatting with him for a while we moseyed up to the restaurant for lunch. I ordered the coconut shrimp appetizer, and Michael ordered The Place burger, which he actually received this time around. Food was good, and although I enjoyed my shrimp, I did feel that it was a tad overpriced.

After lunch we returned to our chairs to read but before long we had a visitor -- a fairly sizable iguana walked by on its way to the beach foliage. This attracted the attention of nearly everybody on the beach, but that didn’t seem to faze the iguana much.

We were both enjoying our books quite a bit, so we read a bit longer and took a final walk on the beach before packing up our bags for our next stop: Cuisinart.  True, we could have walked there, but we were only planning to stop in for a frozen mojito and make a few photos, and we didn’t want to have to walk back again. So we made the short drive up the road and through the golf course to the other end of the beach where all of the staff greeted us warmly, despite not being guests there. That’s one thing that I love about Anguilla -- they don’t work to keep out the riffraff like us!

I’m not very resort-oriented, especially not on Anguilla, but there is something lovely and welcoming about Cuisinart and I very much like it there, even if I wouldn’t actually stay. It’s manicured without being overly fussy and I like that they grow much of their own produce on site in their hydroponic garden. They had run out of mint at the bar, so we enjoyed looking around while waiting for the bartender to come back with more, both agreeing that next time we’d want to sample the pineapple rum. 

Really, a drink this green must be good for you

We sat and relaxed with our drinks, which I’m convinced must contain a full serving of vegetables and debated what to do before our reservation at Straw Hat for dinner. We walked down to the beach to get the full perspective of Rendezvous before heading back to our cars and driving to Limin’ Boutique for a little shopping. 

Renée and her husband had just opened up for the season the day before and were trying to get some new items priced and displayed around the store when we arrived. One of the things I like about this boutique is that while they offer many beautiful, higher end items, they always have gifts on offer in the lower price range, too, like locally made soaps and jams.  There was one necklace in particular that I thought was lovely, but even when using the Anguilla card, it was still too pricey for my budget on that trip. 

Michael and I decided that we wanted one last swim before getting ready for dinner, but the waves on Barnes were a little intimidating, so we sought a calmer location and headed to Shoal Bay West, just a few minutes up the road from where we were staying. We parked near Trattoria Tramonto and walked up and over the sand dune to reach the beach and chatted with another couple who were just leaving but confirmed that the water was perfect.

Well, they were right.  Very easy entry into the water here and the sun was low enough in the sky to not need to worry about sunburn. We watched a storm approach us from the direction of St Martin, which at one point entirely disappeared, and stayed in the water until it started sprinkling. By the time we dried off enough to get back in the car, the storm had arrived and we’d barely closed the car doors behind us when it started pouring. 

When I had first planned this trip and found a ticket using FF miles that would have us traveling during Election Day in the US, I immediately planned for two things: an absentee ballot for home (which turned out to be early voting instead) and a place to watch the election results on the island.  Thus, we were headed for Straw Hat that night.  It was surprisingly quiet in the restaurant, but that just gave us time to chat longer with Armel, Doris, and Peter.

I settled on the daily lionfish special, since I’d never tried it before and wanted to do my part to protect the local reef fish and Michael chose the red curried prawns with coconut rice, and we opted to share the tuna tartare with guacamole to start.

The appetizer was amazing -- we used our forks for what we could and scraped up the rest with our fingers and the plantain chips.  Could have eaten a couple more of those, they were so delicious!  Michael’s prawns were also good, but while I liked the lionfish itself, the panko preparation left a little to be desired.

We knew that we’d be sitting there for quite a while that night so we held off on ordering dessert. We took the rest of our bottle of wine with us to the bar, where Peter was kind enough to reserve two seats to watch the election results.  By the time I was distracted enough by all of the red state wins to think about dessert again, the kitchen turned out to be closed.  Too bad, as I had been looking forward to their caramelized bananas since my last trip to the island two years ago.  To ease the blow, Peter poured us a taste of one of his favorite rums and offered to comp us our dessert if were able to make it back to Straw Hat before leaving the island.

Michael and I drove back home and continued to watch the election coverage. Although many states were “too close to call,” we knew what was coming, so it was with truly heavy hearts that we went to bed that night. To this day, I don’t understand how our nation managed to elect a business man with dubious connections and no governmental experience over a woman who has been both a US Senator and the frickin’ Secretary of State.