A tall stack of pandemic page-turners repurposed as beach reads

I’ve decided to write some useful content for once. But then I’ll conclude my post with personal observations that are both foolish and pointless because that is my brand.

So here are some of the best mysteries and thrillers that helped me endure the pandemic, i.e., turn my brain off for hours at a time. I recommend taking these books to your private islands and secluded beaches this summer. There you can devour them along with the body parts of all the people you’ve dramatically murdered.

The Stack

1. Final GirlsHome Before Dark, The Last Time I Lied, and Lock Every Door by Riley Sager. These novels are twisty, terrifying (especially Home Before Dark), and driven by strong female voices. Still can’t believe Sager is a man.

2. When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole. This book just won a well-deserved Edgar Award. The story is darkly real and riveting and as a bonus Cole handles the sexy stuff like the romance ninja she is.

3. The Survivors by Jane HarperThe Dry is still my favorite by Harper, but this one made me start planning a vacation to Tasmania, which is saying something.

4. The Tenant and The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg. The murders are just okay but I’m down with the detectives and the writing.

5. The Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George. SO GOOD. Read them in order. George will repeatedly break your heart, but the journey is worth it.

6. All of the Fjallbacka books by Camilla Lackberg. Lackberg is an OG with a uniquely deviant imagination.

7. The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda. Rich people, coastal vacation homes, unsolved homicides. Kind of predictable, but you read on.

8. The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton. Needlessly complex at times, but super interesting if you like wooden ships and the supernatural. Couldn’t get through Turton’s other elaborate mystery, The 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, because I’m too basic.

9. Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood and Underwater Investigation novels by Andrew Mayne. I think Mayne was the first author I binged via Kindle Unlimited. Mayne is an honest-to-god magician who dives with sharks and writes all these books about serial killers just so he can give every antihero a happy ending.

10. The Dublin Trilogy (actually four novels) by Caimh McDonnell. These “darkly comic crime thrillers” are just fun. Sharp writing and lovable, over-the-top characters.

11. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

12. The Trap by Melanie Raabe

13. The Magpies by Mark Edwards

14. Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

15. Proving Ground by Peter Blauner

16. The Red Lotus by Peter Bohjalian

17. The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

I’ve also read a lot of mysteries that were meh. I could put them in a listicle as well, but I’m trying to offer quality content today.

Meh Things I’ve Read and Said During the Pandemic

is a headline that would be followed by a billion boring things. Like for instance I’m between mystery books right now so I just read an entire bathing suit catalog marketed to women who have birthed children. In the catalog photos the sea breeze catches the hems of the models’ tie-dyed sarongs and maxi dresses and their bikini tops peek out flirtatiously from under their ombre macrame crossbody blouses and their strappy sandals sink into the wet sand and the ocean sparkles behind them and I’m just flipping the pages thinking, “It’s only a matter of time before your naked bodies are found creatively arranged in dumpsters and only a psychologically damaged FBI profiler with a secret past can figure out why.”


It shouldn’t be this hard to get people to pay me money so I can buy stuff

When my daughter finally returned to preschool last week, her teacher asked her to tell the class about her family. She said, “My dada works at a knife company and my mom likes to shop.” Thank you, Pandemic Year, for blessing me with the opportunity to show my impressionable young daughter all that a woman is capable of being.

I do, in fact, buy a lot of stuff. It’s mostly food and medicine, with some frequency. I don’t collect records. I don’t care for expensive electronics. Coffee is good, bought in bulk when on sale. If I get a fungus on one of my more prominent toes, I will splurge on some generic ointment from CVS. And that’s about it except for my Goodwill habit, which sees me buying used clothes and storybooks every other week for my daughter. But I didn’t set foot in a Goodwill until I was vaccinated. Then I went nuts, spending $5 on one visit, $3 on another, always rounding up to help “fund job training” even though we all have our suspicions. Our house contains a lot of old plastic toys with the price stickers still on them, which will save Goodwill employees time when I disappear the toys back to the donation center while my daughter is at preschool.

Right now I’m shopping for a job. I’ve had a few interviews and they all go the same way. 1) I put on lipstick. 2) I babble into my computer for 30 minutes with the expectation that the hiring manager or VP or whoever will find me so charming and human and real that they’ll hire me on the spot. 3) I don’t get hired. 4) I remember that I am now 40, devoid of youthful charm, and I didn’t go to personal branding college, and being a human is not actually a qualification. It’s like, the lowest bar. Lower than a machine. Lower than a fungus. But you also risk “underselling” yourself if you begin an interview confessing that you are lower than a fungus.

And yet you only have to get hired one time, by one company, and then you’re suddenly Employable and Professional again and people like your 4-year-old daughter can respect you. I imagine it’s a transformative experience. Probably really good for one’s self-esteem.

Interview Tips

  1. Don’t say the first thing that pops into your head. You are not blogging.
  2. Don’t lead with your greatest weakness, like that you have a Goodwill shopping addiction, or that you’re a loser.
  3. You can try to be funny for precisely 28 seconds, then you need to talk about your marketing experience.
  4. Stop taking nervous sips of iced coffee from your Yeti thermos because they’ll assume there’s vodka in it and come to think of it you’re acting drunk.
  5. Don’t cling to your daughter when you pick her up from school as if your entire identity depends on her.
  6. Don’t lose career momentum during a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Meming the neighbors

Our new neighborhood has a micro-kinder-culture that celebrates decorative crocs, hoverboards, and worms. Small posses of children migrate from house to house, rolling as if weightless on their electric craft, stomping across lawns in their spangled rubber shoes, overturning every brick and paving stone in their neighbors’ backyards, yelling “Jackpot!” when they find a particularly long and/or swollen earthworm, then triumphantly absconding with the squirming creatures in their soiled hands.

Where do the children go when they leave us? I couldn’t say. I have not been to their homes. I have not stolen worms from their yards. It’s just not a thing where I’m from. As a progressive woman of middle age, I try to tolerate the foreign neighborhood kinder-culture, but I also find myself feeling threatened in the midst of this constant earthworm transport. Especially because we are still fighting a pandemic that was probably started at a wet market. I don’t know what these kids are doing with these live worms, if they’re selling them to restaurants or what, but I feel that it’s only a matter of time before a disease jumps from worm to kid, or god forbid from kid to worm. Then what?

That is a rhetorical question. We all know what will happen. Little worm hospitals. Tanks of oxygen the length of their slimy, unfurled bodies.

By the way, my mom told me recently that when she was little she ate a roly-poly on a dare and she is like a different person to me now.

Beep beep I am the best headline writer of all time

Many years ago I applied for a job as a clickbait writer and when asked to pitch an irresistible headline, I enthusiastically offered:

The 5 Most Batshit Things Ever Found Inside a Vagina 

and the man didn’t hire me, but that is because he was sexist against vaginas and didn’t grasp the mass appeal of my horror stories about gynecologists digging plastic baby dolls out of schizophrenic women’s birth canals.

One of my roles as a health and wellness content provider avidly pursued by the Industry is to feed the sales funnel with quality stories about perverse foreign objects wrenched out of vaginas so key marketing personas can’t help but share the copy throughout their social media channels and then click upon the CTA. What’s the craziest thing YOU’VE ever found in YOUR vagina? these personas ask their ten million followers on Twitter. And suddenly I have sold a ream of Victoria’s Secret MedTech underwear and the world is my oyster.

Hey hiring managers! My kid is finally back in school. I am looking for jobs with short hours and long pay. Thank you in advance for your etc., etc.


Cheese, plural

String, mozzarella. Parmesan. Marshmallow, plural. Hotdog. Vodka. Bacon egg bagel. Spaghetti. Fudgesicle. Coffee, innumerable. Banana bread. Pickle. Vodka, plural. Cuticle. Fingernail. Toenail. Plant-based meat. Candy, plural. Carrot. Celery. Pizza, fresh. Pizza, frozen. Ice cream sandwich. Champagne. Brownie. Wine. Birthday cake. Granola. French fry, plural. Salad. Salt. Avocado. Quesadilla. Fruit snack. Peanut butter, jelly. Potato variation. Milkshake. Apple. Organic pear. Watermelon margarita. Chocolate éclair. Raspberry, plural. Sausage link. Burrito. Grapefruit vodka complement. Cranberry vodka complement. Lemon vodka complement. Day, plural. Week, plural, Month, plural.

Garden party

The flowers should all be dead. Their bright orange petals are out of season, kind of spooky in their flourishing. The parents recognize this, but the children don’t, so they toddle about the garden picking at blossoms that shouldn’t exist.

My friend and I sit on our picnic blanket, watching uncomfortably as small hands dismantle the flowers. Our own children seem more sensitive to the miracle—or the plight—of the garden. They stay close to us, little sprouts on good behavior. Eating, fussing, having their faces wiped.

A tight-lipped lady marches toward us. She’d emerged through the back doors of the museum as if she’d been watching malevolently from a castle’s high tower. She goes straight for the children.

“Don’t pick the flowers,” she says to the young gardeners. “Why on earth would you do that?” She grabs for the petals in their hands. The startled children look around for their parents.

“They’re living things,” scolds the museum lady as she drops to her knees and begins scouring the grass for more petals. My friend and I draw our children close, not wanting to implicate them and further pollinate the lady’s anger. 

The food truckers, the bluegrass musicians, the other museum personnel at the party, they do not seem to notice the drama unfolding here at the edge of the petunias. They’re all baking in the sun, even though it’s October, even though it should be sweater weather, even though this flower garden should be trimmed back and barren.

Someone needs to tell this lady that it’s our own fault these flowers grew in the first place. The grownups are responsible for confusing Mother Nature. We fucked up. The moms and dads. If petunias are going to make themselves an attractive nuisance at fall parties, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. If the world were as it should be, our sons and daughters would wear infinite crowns of bee-stung flowers.

“I mean…we all want to save the planet,” says my friend. “Is yelling at children the best way to go about it?”

My daughter scoots into my lap and opens her chubby fist. “Here, Mommy,” she says, and offers me an orange petal that she’s squished and heated into pulp. “This is for you.” I’m touched, I’m ashamed, I’m complicit. I mash her into my chest and inhale her like a bouquet. She was once part of the earth, but now she’s all mine.

Welcome back to my exercise in futility

Where have you been?


What do you have to show for yourself?


What have you been reading?


What have you been writing?

Executive shopping lists.

How has that been going?


What’s your baby up to?

Not a baby, not a baby blog.

Who are you kidding?


What’s next for you?

Springtime. Renewal. Age-reversing serums. Excellence.


More winter. More irrelevance.

How will we tell?

You won’t be able to! It will all look and feel the same!

Observations on a pregnancy

As my center of gravity changes and I grow closer to my due date, the pregnancy becomes less about me and more about this hypothetical child in my uterus. People ask fewer questions about how I’m doing and tend to focus instead on the promise of new life. Meanwhile the kid is still attached to my innards, thus I am slow to conceptualize her as her own entity. She’s my stomach. She’s a medley of gases. She’s responsible for weird vaginal phenomena that I won’t get into here. She’s movement and rhythm and an infusion of hormones that give me a Zen-like serenity about things that would normally cause depression and anxiety. She has a name, but only because I felt bad about calling her “the kid” all the time. Presumably she has a face, but I haven’t really seen it. She has fans. Her daddy is a big supporter. Her grandmothers both seem psyched to meet her. I encourage other people to lay hands on my belly because I need reassurance that the kid is not a figment of my imagination and that she will one day tunnel out into the real world by the grossest means necessary. But she never kicks people when she’s supposed to. Right now she is just mine.

Sometimes I think of my stomach as a Magic 8-Ball. While the kid is still in utero and living closest to the God spark, I feel that she might hold the answers to all my cosmic questions. “Can we afford to raise you in New York City?” One kick means “It is decidedly so.” Stillness means “Don’t count on it.” Treating my unborn child like an oracular toy seems to be my sole concession to acknowledging the miracle of all this pregnancy stuff. “Are you for real?” I whisper. “Are you magic?” She leans on my bladder and I dash to the bathroom. “Reply hazy try again.”

She’s given me pica. I’ve always been a nail-biter, but my habit is currently worse than it’s ever been. I have a premonition that I’ll lose the desire to bite as soon as she’s born. Right now my body craves fingernails. Perhaps I should be more careful about blaming the baby for things that are probably not her fault. M and I are both pretty self-critical, so it’s been fun for us to have a scapegoat when we fuck up. He bangs his knee on the corner of the bed frame for the third time in an hour. “Damn baby!” he says. I decide to sit in the window and eat a pint of ice cream instead of getting a job. “Thanks for nothing, kid!”

Do I “love” my unborn baby? Loving her right now is a difficult lesson in loving myself because we’re still so connected. Loving her right now is a study in risk because she’s still cooking and things could still go wrong. Loving her right now seems extremely wacky because I can’t even see her and the pregnancy websites keep describing her as various vegetable formations. And yet I do love this mysterious creation, this eggplant, this cabbage, this organic divinity sprung up from the garden of unprotected sex. Soon she’ll be a full-grown squash, and then I’ll really be head over heels.

At first we thought she was a boy. That was a relief. Boys tend to coast by on being boys and they don’t have to worry so much about their looks. I feel like an inexcusably shallow person when I find myself hoping that the kid is cute. If she’s not cute, it’s going to be a much harder road for her to travel, starting from the moment the obstetrician tosses her on the scale without so much as a “Looking good, babe!” and ending when she dies surrounded by legions of friends and family whom she’s attracted through her amazing, compensatory personality. Mostly I just want her to be cute so her daddy M, a professional photographer, will be able to exploit her as a child model and he won’t have to creep out other parents by asking them for baby loans. The other night I had a dream in which I brought the kid home from the hospital and I was the only one enamored with her. No one wanted to give her hugs and kisses. No one offered to hold her and tell her what chubby cheeks she had. They treated her with all the negative attention they would accord a troll. And yet I thought she was the most adorable human in the world. So I’m confident now that there’s no such thing as objective beauty when it comes to your own children. Everyone I know will just have to suffer alongside the abominable baby photos I will insist on Super Gluing to their refrigerators.

I’ve been trying to live the pregnancy from moment to moment and not fantasize about the future, but M routinely gets swept away by some image of himself holding his little girl for the first time or taking her to ballet lessons and then he gets so emotional that he has to go call his mom. Meanwhile I’m farting in the bed, prostrate with heartburn, wondering when it will be time to eat again. M is online shopping for ballet slippers and I am cursing the fact I have to pee for the tenth time since dinner. Out of self-preservation or hormonal overdosing or whatever, I tend to curtail my imagination and just respond to what my senses are telling me. They suggest that my body isn’t mine right now, but they also can’t yet drum up an image of who’s running the show. So I’m just waiting to see what’s in store for us on the 4th of July. “Outlook good,” says the 8-Ball.

The Pit Bull

At first Kimmy overfed the pit bull as its sort of reward for having devoured her ex-husband, but then the pit bull got chronic diarrhea and every time she saw the dog’s steaming porridge in the grass, she thought that maybe some of Tom’s skin and bowels were mixed in there with the shit. And diarrhea was revolting enough without the suggestion of human remains. So Kimmy started serving cans of Alpo instead of the ham omelets and other rich fare she’d grown accustomed to cooking for her newly adopted dog.

She’d fought like hell to gain custody of the pit bull. The local authorities had wanted to put it down, as if her ex-husband’s body had given the dog an unquenchable bloodthirst. Kimmy pleaded sentiment. She just wanted something to remember Tom by, she said. An animal that had been by her ex’s side until the end. Whether or not Tom had actually harbored tender feelings toward the dog was TBD. Kimmy had known nothing about her ex being a pet owner until the police finally tracked her down to identify the body. Tom’s untreated diabetes was also news to her. They’d been divorced for three years. Medical problems tend to spring up out of nowhere in middle age. Karma, in some cases.

In the dimly lit morgue, the bite marks were cleaner than Kimmy had expected. The dog had obviously taken its time, reluctantly picking apart the decaying corpse just to keep from starving. With her, the act would’ve been about vengeance, but with the pit bull, it just seemed like survival pure and simple.

“Come here, you chubby thing,” she said to the dog, scooping Alpo into its bowl on the kitchen floor. She considered the glistening food and decided to remove half of it with her spoon. “No fatties,” she warned the dog. Tom had started gaining weight toward the end of their marriage. The last time they’d had sex his belly had flopped unnaturally against her pelvis despite his sucking in. But Tom had never had much in the way of abdominal muscles. He always sank into a chair like an overtoasted marshmallow onto a graham cracker. She couldn’t imagine that his insides would’ve been very satisfying. She, personally, had never liked the taste.

“That’s enough,” she said to the dog, who was nearly done eating. “Now go play.” She tugged the collar out the back door so the pit bull would take some exercise in the yard. Through the window above the sink, she watched the dog settle in some tree shade, then blink at her sullenly as Tom used to do from the couch when his feelings were hurt. She wished she had a tennis ball to throw in the pit bull’s direction.

At first the dog thought her bed was off limits. Tom must not have allowed it to sleep with him in the old house where he’d beaten her. But Kimmy wanted the pit bull up there beside her. “Yoo-hoo,” she said as it crouched in the hallway. Then she patted the flannel sheets and the dog sprang up, always keeping a respectful distance from her face as if mindful of its cannibal breath. She remembered sleeping next to Tom for all those many years, and how his sleep apnea sometimes got so bad that he’d spontaneously stop breathing and she’d have to shake him awake. It was hard to doze off again after one of those incidents. She’d stare at his chest instead. It rose, it fell, it rose again, always in a rhythm that she couldn’t parse. In those moments her love for him was almost indistinguishable from a nightmare. She woke up irritable with dark circles under her eyes, resentful of the claim put on her by a man’s erratic lungs. She would never marry again.

Someone had cleaned up the dog before Kimmy took it home. She’d been prepared for blood and gore around the muzzle and paws, but at the pound she encountered a clean, rather chirpy animal who seemed eager to ride in the backseat of her Hyundai. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when she met with the dog’s deep shame. She pulled the framed picture of Tom from the back of her underwear drawer and pressed it close to the dog’s face. “Our old master,” she said. The pit bull immediately recoiled and crouched meekly in her bedroom closet. “Don’t feel bad,” she said. “You did what you had to do.” She knelt down to rub the pit bull’s bony undercarriage. Its stomach growled into her hand as if excited by her wedding ring. “We both did,” she said.

Fashion Week gestation

He’s in Midtown photographing models for New York Fashion Week, and I am at home dog-sitting a friend’s puppy. We are still trying to come up with the perfect name for our unborn child. He texts me with ideas throughout the day. The teenage models he’s shooting are not only genetically blessed, but they also have outstanding names: Anja, Svetlana. I text him back with names of dogs I meet in the dog park: Juno, Georgia. Somewhere between the glamour and the pooper-scooper, we will find our baby.

I’ve never done well with roommates. It’s hard for me to relax when another consciousness is operating nearby. While the puppy and I are alone in the apartment during the day, I find myself obsessing about what the puppy is thinking and feeling. Is the puppy hungry? Is the puppy angry with me for letting a herpetic bulldog bleed on her at the dog park? There are two walls between me and the napping puppy, but I can still sense the longing in her soul. This will never do. I can’t focus on my work. Oh wait. I’m about to have a baby. It’s possible that babies also exert a strong presence in one’s household. Maybe I should have opted for a plant.

Anja the fashion model takes direction well. When told to pout her lips, she pouts her lips. When told to flip her hair, she flips her hair. Betty the puppy takes direction less well. When told to heel, she sniffs a slice of pizza that someone has dropped cheese-down on the sidewalk. When told to urinate, she chases after a pigeon. I want to blame the breed for the discrepancy, but what if I lack the natural authority of a father figure?

I stuff the puppy’s frail little legs into the sleeves of her doggy jacket, and worry about an international influx of models freezing to death in New York this week. These women boast very little meat on their bones and unless they’re on a tropical beach somewhere, they don’t know how to dress appropriately for the weather. I think about sending some scarves and mittens to work with my baby daddy so he can distribute them to the models. But my outerwear is not designer, and it all smells like the dog park, so never mind. The important thing is that I have maternal instincts.