Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


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Anna Karenina (sort-of) review

It took me 10 months to read. I barely remember the beginning.

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Quick Summary:

Anna is unhappy in her marriage. Anna’s brother’s wife’s sister, Kitty, thinks she’s going to marry a guy named Vronsky. Anna and Vronsky begin an affair. Drama ensues.

The book revolves around the fallout of the affair and Anna’s subsequent “fall from grace” after she chooses love over her place in high society.

My thoughts:

Anna and Vronsky were insufferable. Their entire arc was them progressing from pretty sucky to downright awful. I wanted to sympathize with Anna because she unfairly suffered the brunt of gossip and shunning (society at that time), but she was passive-aggressive and self-absorbed. Vronsky was just…blah.

Everyone else was okay, even Anna’s shallow and ridiculous brother. He did dumb shit, but it didn’t feel spiteful. I didn’t have much of an opinion on him or most characters, although Kitty was probably my favorite. She starts off immature, but grows up and goes through major personal growth.

This book could have been (at least) 200 pages shorter. Tolstoy rambles and it usually feels like he’s dumping in his own personal philosophies. Or his characters are having spiritual crisis (looking at you, Levin) which feel suspiciously like Tolstoy’s.

Plus, the blushing. Characters were blushing left and right, to the point I was alarmed for their health. The agitation alone took up about 50 pages, I’m sure.

On a positive note: The basic story (affair/scandal) is a solid idea and I appreciate Tolstoy’s ability to write sweeping sagas with a trillion characters. And while this is obviously a cumbersome read, the only parts I found outright unreadable (at least from what I can remember) were the sections about politics. A bunch of men standing around arguing and trying to one-up each other…hmmm.

What’s next:

Watching the 2012 movie version with Keira Knightley and Jude Law, because nothing says Russian saga like British accents.

In case you’re interested:

I read WAR AND PEACE years ago and here’s my review for that. I enjoyed it more than ANNA, or as much as one can enjoy a paperweight of classic literature.


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SummySeries – Return Edition

From last summer, up until a few weeks ago, I only read about a dozen books. I didn’t even do a SummySeries* last year. I’m trying to get back into reading, at least a book a week, like I used to. Also, I’m trying to finally finish ANNA KARENINA and it may happen this century.

I made a reading list at the end of 2019 to tackle books I’ve bought or been gifted (some of the paper versions have gathered a lot of dust) and it seems appropriate to start the list now, during a pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic has been going on for months now, but for ¾ of it, I mostly just felt panic and wanted the sweet comforting glow of TV.

I also played a lot of Solitaire and Checkers on my phone. I am REALLY bad at Checkers, to the point I think a toddler could handily defeat me.

Things are finally starting to reopen, but my library has strict restrictions and I believe in science (wear a freaking mask, people!), so I’m perfectly satisfied to stay home, in my air-conditioned house, and tackle my TBR pile.

A few books I’ve read lately:

DEAR MISTER ROGERS, DOES IT EVER RAIN IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD?

It’s a collection of letters he received over the years. Some are sweet and funny, while others are devastating, written by parents who have lost a child and want to know how to help their other children cope.

HOT PINK IN THE CITY by Medeia Sharif

Fun, summery read and it’s set in the 1980s, which is always a plus.

TINY PRETTY THINGS by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

There was SO MUCH tension, I couldn’t stop flipping pages because I needed to know what would happen next. I didn’t realize it was a series until I got to the end and said: WHAT??? Where is the rest? I’m psyched about the upcoming Netflix show.

Speaking of TV:

Currently watching: The PBS documentary ASIAN AMERICANS on my DVR. I watch documentaries in slow-mo, because I pause a lot and make notes about stuff I want to research later.

Recently watched: ANNIHILATION, because it was expiring on Hulu (this is how I choose which movies to watch on streaming platforms), and:

Something, something…metaphor? Something, something…allegory?

I didn’t get it. And after I looked up various interpretations, I still didn’t get it. To be fair, I rarely understand sci-fi. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? Went right over my head.

But Annihilation had some gorgeous visuals and I’ll likely never forget that wildly unsettling screaming bear.

*SummySeries is something I made up 10 years ago. There are no rules, other than to stay inside when it’s hot outside and read a lot of books.


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Rural protests

There was a Black Lives Matter march recently in my town. This is significant for a few reasons.

  1. In 1958-59, the county high school closed in order to avoid admitting African-American students. Look up Virginia and Massive Resistance.

But that was over 60 years ago, you say. We’ve come so far as a nation!

  1. There’s an open-air flea market near the middle of town that displays a long row of confederate flags. The march took place just a few blocks away.

There was quite a buzz around town about this protest. Some businesses closed early as a “precaution,” including a Walmart nearly four miles away. Meanwhile, other chain retailers, many closer, stayed open as usual.

I found an interesting divide to the response of the impending event.

There were those who wrung their hands because “Did ya hear? They’re busing in protestors from Baltimore! The town will be destroyed! Why is this happening?”

Note: Baltimore is 100 miles away, plus multiple other arguments why this rumor didn’t make sense, but I’m sure it did keep some people away, which is the whole point of fear-mongering.

And then those who said, “be careful,” meaning, be wary, because trucks displaying confederate flags will be out and the people inside may be looking to start shit. And by “displaying,” I don’t mean a bumper sticker, I mean two big ass flags waving from the truck bed.

I live in an area touched by the Civil War. It doesn’t feel out of place to see that flag in a museum or a history book. The places where it belongs, along with the reasons for the war, which are: slavery

Displaying it on your vehicle or outside your house is a quietly aggressive move and no matter how many times you want to claim it’s part of your heritage, that’s bullshit. In 2020, you are making a statement and what you’re saying is loud and clear.

After the march, there were speakers, including the son of the man who led the county’s fight against Massive Resistance in the 1950s. He said he was happy to see such a large turnout of support, but he was tired because, after all these years, Black people were still fighting the same fight.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this offhanded story my dad told me years ago. We heard a song from a country singer who was popular in the 60s and Dad remembered that he’d served with a guy in Vietnam who claimed he was related to the singer. Dad tried to recall the soldier’s name, but the only thing he came up with was:

He was really racist.

And I thought, wow, can you imagine being so racist that it’s the only thing someone can remember about you 50 years later?

The things we do and say (or don’t say) matter.


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April, she will come

When streams are ripe and swelled with rain…*

Not much to update since last month. I went to five stores to find paper towels the other day. That was the excitement of my week. The grocery store was a crowded mess, but Target (where I finally found some) was calm and clean. If everyone hadn’t been wearing masks, it would have felt like an ordinary day.

Honestly, not much has changed for me. I already worked from home and my husband is essential, so our schedules remain the same. And, thanks to technology, I can stay in touch with my family. My grandmother was on a cruise when the pandemic hit, but was able to make it home. Her 2-week quarantine ended this week and she’s in good health and spirits.

We’re very lucky.

Here are more pics. A squirrel ate my tulip bulbs, but I have bleeding hearts and Virginia bluebells. And cats. Always cats.

 

*Simon and Garfunkel


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First Day of Spring 2020

When I posted just a few weeks ago, I thought my next blog would be clever lines from my WIP and complaining about going to the eye doctor and raving about the local high school plays I’d watched.

Instead…

Well, you know. Everyone does. I logically understand what’s happening, but damn.

Just damn.

Here are some non-stressful photos from my little section of the world. Sending love from Virginia ❤️


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Re-finding myself

I’ve been (sort-of) job searching. I used to have a full-time job, but my hours were cut so I got another part-time job to make up the hours, but the 2nd job ended and then my dad passed away shortly after, and I read this thing about grief that said to wait six months before making any big decisions, so…

Six months is completely arbitrary, right?

I’ve just started looking again (for another 2nd part-time gig) and have no idea what I want. It all feels overwhelming and no matter how many times my husband says, “you have so much talent/skills/awesomeness,” I’m just like…

But it’s way easier to snuggle with my cats and watch Murder She Wrote in my safe little cocoon where I don’t have to put myself out there and learn new stuff or meet new people or do anything interesting.

I feel adrift. Or maybe stalled? I’m not sure what the right word is. I’ve only recently started journaling again and reading through my WIP after a long hiatus and I’ve been reading the same book since September. Granted, it’s Anna Karenina and 2 million pages long with 1 million inner monologues, but still. I could pick up another book in the meantime.

Sometimes I think about things I’ve done in the past and wonder how to get back to that person who took day trips to the beach and wrote for hours and jumped around at concerts.

I get that we all change and can’t go back (nor do I want to go back), but it’s frustrating to feel lost and not know how to move forward.

I’m trying to take baby steps and blogging is one of them. It forces me to express my feelings which I’m not so great at. Oh, and accountability. That’s a thing. Plus, I feel more ME when I’m writing, in whatever form it takes.

My husband, in his ongoing attempt to be helpful, asked what I liked doing and I said:

Snuggling with cats, reading, writing, and watching TV.

Is there a job that combines all these things? If so, gimme gimme! If not, I’ll settle for blogging about them. Let’s say once a month or so and, don’t worry, I’ll keep it pithy, as my linguistics professor used to say.

Oh, and there will be cat pics, you can count on that.

“There Will Be Cats” should be the name of my memoir!

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Crumpled bits of paper filled with imperfect thought*

Normally I’m thrilled for the end of summer and humidity, but it’s bittersweet this year because it means I’ve gone an entire season without my dad and am beginning another.

Grief is a strange thing. I’ve gone days, even weeks being okay, but then something will make me emotional.

Like, I was driving one day and the song “Living Years” by Mike + The Mechanics* came on the radio. I don’t know if I’d never really paid attention to the lyrics before or if now they have a lot more significance.

It’s been hard to write the past few months. A week or two after the funeral, I had a random burst of inspiration about an old WIP and wrote nonstop for several days. But then I hit a wall because it’s a book about grief and I’m not in a place yet that I can write my character a year after her loss. She’s had time to process. I haven’t.

I’m working on another WIP now, making slow (very, very slow), but steady progress. A few things I love about it:

Friendship
Music
Little rebellions

I also love that I plotted this book. I’m usually a pantster, but I wanted to try something different and so far it’s working.

In other news, I’m gearing up for TV fall schedule. It was one of my favorite times of year when I was a kid and still is. Watching pilot episodes, deciding if I like them enough to keep watching, learning new names, and predicting plots…

It’s the little things. Like this guy. Best co-worker ever ❤️

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*My title is a lyric from “Living Years” by Mike + The Mechanics. Here’s the video. It’s very 1980s.


Grief

First day of summer and I’m feeling introspective because of recent events.

I’ve experienced grief before. One of my earliest memories is from first grade when my paternal grandfather passed away. I knew he was gone, but I didn’t entirely comprehend what death was.

I did, however, understand that something was wrong as I lurked around the edges, listening to adults speaking in hushed tones. And after I watched those same adults leave to attend the funeral, I retreated to my room and squeezed into the space between my bed and dresser because I wanted to make myself as small as possible. I felt the confusion and emptiness of grief, even if I didn’t know what it was at that time.

Since then, I’ve lost another grandfather and dear cousins and relatives of my husband’s that felt like my own. I’ve cried, I’ve felt angry, I’ve played the what-if game.

But nothing prepared me for losing my father a little over two weeks ago.

I won’t go into detail about his illness, other than to say he’d been sick off and on for over a decade and he’d fought like hell through every down and tried to make the most of every up.

My dad’s death was both expected, but not. If you’ve ever watched someone you love suffer for years, you know what I mean. You’re scared all the time of it happening, but when it finally does, you can’t believe it.

It was late evening when my mom called from the hospital to tell me. I went into this sort of action-mode. I called my brothers and my dad’s younger sister. I left my best friend a message to call me when she got a chance because I didn’t want to interrupt bedtime with her kids. I unloaded the dishwasher while I waited for her to call back. It struck me that doing something mundane seemed completely ridiculous, but I needed to do something.

Everything I did the next few days felt surreal. I went to the grocery store and wondered why the cashier was chatting away like everything was normal. Didn’t he know? Didn’t everyone know? Something so big had just happened to me and my family, yet life had continued on around us without so much as a pause.

Although, in a weird way, it was oddly comforting to know that all these people had likely experienced their own grief, yet here they were, buying bread and light bulbs.

The funeral was the hardest day of my life and after I was home, on the couch with my husband and cats, my brain finally allowed me to feel sadness.

Up until that point, I’d focused on planning and details. I’d hugged a million people and thanked them for their support and said that cliché line about how I was glad he was no longer in pain, which I actually believe, but it still felt so robotic.

I truly did feel grateful for the kindness of everyone, from distant relatives I’d never even met to the veterans at the cemetery who volunteered their time to give my dad a military tribute, but I’d never felt so tired in my life.

So now I focus on the “new normal” which is a term I discovered on many grief sites. I don’t know what that is yet.


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So long, 2018

A quick recap of my year:

I read 51 books! Since my last post, my favorite was THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE by Rebecca Barrow. Such a fantastic story of friendship, forgiveness, and following dreams.

I also read a moving middle grade that I bought my niece for Christmas called GABY, LOST AND FOUND by Angela Cervantes. Prepare for all the feels.

I wrote! Or, more accurately, I outlined! For the first time ever! 21 pages! WHAT???

Excessive punctuation aside, I enjoyed the process and once the chaos of the holidays wears off, I’ll get to work on a messy first draft.

Well, I promised this would be short, so…

Here’s to 2019! May your year be full of great books, fun adventures, and lots and lots of pet snuggles ❤️

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Fall, fall, guess what, it’s fall! (2018)

Can you tell it’s my favorite season?

I didn’t write the majority of this summer. Instead, I read books, binge watched TV, and worked my way through a towering stack of magazines I’d let pile up for months. I stayed indoors, feeling disgruntled, not only by the heat and humidity, but also because of the constant rain.

But now it’s fall, season of beautiful leaves and cool nights and nostalgia and I’m hopeful as I slowly outline CLAIRE. She’s reticent, much like a professor once told me (not unkindly) I was, so she’s hard to get to know.

Maybe by the new year we’ll be old friends?

A few of the books I read this summer:

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US by Katy Upperman – romantic and so, so thoughtful

DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland – The main character is kick-ass, the storytelling top-notch, and the subtle parallels between society now and then are frightening. As soon as I finished reading, I immediately looked up the sequel release date because I didn’t want the story to end.

SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman – I will read anything this author writes because her words are gorgeous. Another quiet, moving story, just like her debut STARFISH.

What I’m looking forward to in the last months of 2018:

Writing!

More reading. I just started ONLY WHAT WE COULD CARRY: THE JAPANESE AMERICAN INTERNMENT EXPERIENCE, edited by Lawson Fusao Inada, and it’s already an emotional read.

Leaf Peeping – is this a universally known term or just an East Coast phrase? I live near a Skyline Drive entrance, and each fall there’s an influx of tourists we (the locals) refer to as “leaf peepers.” It’s been years since I’ve been up on the Drive and I need to remedy that.

Hanging out with my kittens. They’re about five months old now and, yes, we kept three of the four. The fourth went to an awesome home where she was immediately loved and spoiled.

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