The Sweet Smell of. . . Fish?

The Sweet Smell of. . . Fish?

Since I started this blog a couple of months ago, I’ve been so much more attuned to similar themes or topics in the books I read, and fishing was a thread I connected in two of the books I recently thoroughly enjoyed.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

This book gets my vote for the most intriguing title I’ve heard in a long time. The title immediately caused me to recall the smells of certain memorable houses from my childhood like my grandma and grandpa’s home in Haney, British Columbia, Canada where my grandma once baked fresh bread every morning. Doesn’t it also make you wonder what your own house smells like to other people?

The Smell of Other People’s Houses tells the emotional and somewhat tragic stories of four teens whose lives intersect in 1970s Alaska. Ruth must bear her grandmother’s constant displeasure at having to raise two young girls, a displeasure that hits a breaking point when Ruth finds herself pregnant. Dora’s parents are drunks, and she’s afraid to hope too much to be loved by her foster family. Alyce wants to dance, but her father depends on her to help him earn a living in his fishing boat over the summer. Hank and his brothers Sam and Jack stow away on a ferry to escape their mother’s dangerous new boyfriend, but Sam disappears mid sail. Eventually, all four characters meet, but readers have to patiently wait for their stories to connect.

Hitchcock masterfully describes her native Alaska and draws her characters so realistically that I could clearly imagine Alyce gutting a fish on the deck of her father’s boat and Ruth waddling outside the abbey to pull dry laundry off of the lines. This story is a treasure, and I specifically recommend it to reluctant readers because its a manageable size at less than 230 pages.

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan

I chose to read this book based on its insanely high average rating on Goodreads, and it proved to be as poetic as the reviewers claimed. In Between Two Skies, readers meet Evangeline Riley and her family who have deep roots in Bayou Perdu, a small fishing community that is virtually wiped off the map by Hurricane Katrina. Evangeline, her parents, her sister Mandy as well as her grandmother, Mamere, survive the storm, but struggle to find their footing in its aftermath as they make a new life for themselves in Atlanta. Evangeline finds comfort in a fellow “Katrina refugee” named Tru, but she longs to be back on the water, and aches to be home. Atlanta feels foreign to her, she misses living with her grandmother and she worries that her sister is so lost and her parents keep fighting. When a FEMA trailer becomes available near Bayou Perdu, Evangeline must decide what “home” means to her.

This book opened my eyes to the long-term hardships experienced by people who were displaced by Katrina. Sure, I saw pictures on the news of houses destroyed and read about horrific events that took place in the Dome, but before this book, I never considered the full and lasting emotional devastation of the storm on surviving families. O’Sullivan artfully describes one family’s pain and suffering in this story, and it’s impossible not to want to hug the characters as you read about their struggles to regain a sense of normalcy.

But I Won’t Do That

Fishing is of key importance in both of the books I’m celebrating this week, so I reached out to my friends Dan and Kris Dotson who are recreational fisher-people and also have access to Lake St. Louis, a local private lake.

Kris was so kind to select “Canadian Nightcrawler” bait for our fishing expedition since I was born and raised in Canada. In fact, this plot driven experience was really special to me because fishing was a favorite pastime of my late grandpa’s. Many years ago, my grandma and grandpa spent some of their summers with friends at Bates Beach where the fishing was pretty great, I’m told. My mom and aunt enjoyed fishing, too.

My mom (left) and my Aunt Janet with more fish than they need!

My grandpa and my mom (pregnant with me!) with impressive coho salmon.

Even though fishing is important in my family history, I had only fished once prior to this plot driven experience, so I really needed Dan’s tutoring! I learned that Lake St. Louis has bluegill and bass, and that I would be using a closed, spincast reel and live, squirming worms as bait. I was willing to try threading the worms on the hook, but I just couldn’t make myself tear the worms into smaller chunks. Dan was very kind to do this for me.

Nope, I won’t do that, Dan.

Once I had thoroughly speared a little worm chunk, I learned how to cast my reel. Slow and steady back, and release at the shoulder.

Trying really hard not to hook anyone, including myself.

Almost immediately, the little fishies started biting. Apparently, bluegill will eat just about anything, and there is an abundance of them in Lake St. Louis.

Isn’t he cute? I will call him Arnold.

I think this is my favorite picture of the day, however, because it looks like Dan is summoning the fish for me. He’s a pretty nice guy!

“Come to me, fishes!” ~Dan Dotson

This plot driven experience taught me that I enjoy fishing. It’s relaxing and peaceful, and exciting, too, when you feel a bite on the end of your line. I’d love to do it again. And I hope my grandpa is looking down at me with two big thumbs up for trying an activity he so enjoyed.

A million thanks to Kris and Dan for making this plot driven experience a reality. It’s my favorite one so far!

Thanks for reading,



The Sweet Smell of. . . Fish?

Boxing Beasts

Beast mode!

My first official plot driven experience can only be described as “bad-ass.” After unintentionally reading two books in two months about characters who box, I knew I had to try out a boxing class at a local gym. It was no walk in the park, people. Two days later, I still feel like an arthritic old biddy from pushing my body to total exhaustion, but one look at the pictures from the class make me feel like a total boss! I’ll share more details about the class, but first, the books that inspired the experience:

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

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Super creepy cover, right?

For fans of psychological thrillers, My Sister Rosa follows Che Taylor’s unconventional family as they move from Thailand to New York so his parents can build a new business with wealthy friends. Che, a native Australian, narrates the story and immediately exposes his charming ten year-old sister, Rosa, for having no conscience. Because of their parents’ hands-off parenting approach, Che finds himself bargaining with Rosa to fight her selfish urges to hurt, steal and lie and battling his own love vs. hate for his young sister. Rosa’s callousness intensifies throughout the story, and Che’s attempts to build a simple, happy life for himself are ever-threatened by Rosa’s terrifying unpredictability. In order to relieve stress, Che regularly retreats to a neighborhood boxing gym where, for a few hours, he isn’t responsible for a mini-sociopath.

This book was horribly entertaining and nail-bitingly suspenseful. I literally had to put the book down at times because I was too uncomfortable to continue reading about Rosa’s manipulation. I thought I knew how the book would end, and I was so wrong. After Liar, this is the second book I’ve read by Ms. Larbalestier, and she is a master of the unstable, unreliable character. You can read more about my impression of My Sister Rosa (and any other books I read) by following me, Kelly Oliva, on Goodreads.

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

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If you are a Missouri resident like me, it’s helpful to know that Zeroboxer is on the 2017-18 Gateway Reader Award Nominee list, sponsored by the Missouri Association of School Librarians.  Learn more information about the Gateways and see the full list of nominees here and consider following @mog8way on Twitter.

Zeroboxer is set in space many years in the future when zeroboxing, a brutal sport where two competitors duke it out in a zero gravity cube, is gaining popularity. Carr “The Raptor” Luka, a young but wildly talented zeroboxer, was born on Earth, but now resides on Valtego, a moon-based community. His zeroboxing finesse catches the eye of the the sport’s commissioner, and Carr becomes the face of zeroboxing on both Earth and Valtego. Just as his fame and success are exploding, however, Carr learns a dangerous secret about himself that threatens to destroy him professionally and personally. He faces the ultimate ethical dilemma in whether to reveal what he knows, especially when doing so could spark further political unrest between Earth and Mars.

This book is a breeze to read, and I think is a natural recommendation for fans of last year’s Gateway Nominee, Red Rising by Pierce Brown. The audiobook narrator has a velvety voice, and I highly recommend listening to him tell Carr’s story.

My Boxing Experience

Unable to box in a zero gravity chamber, I decided to ask my friend Lauren to try a traditional boxing class. Lauren is willing to try any exercise adventure I throw at her, and she was eager to join me at Title Boxing Club in Cottleville, MO for Boxing 60, a 60-minute, leave it all on the floor workout including an outside warm up, 8 boxing rounds and total core torture!

Lauren and I arrived early in order to get “wrapped.” Callie, new to her job but absolutely delightful, taped my hands and told me I was the first person she’d had the chance to wrap. I was geeking out over the fact that this was a new experience for both of us!

Callie, wrapping my hands.

Next, we met our trainer, Carolyn, who is also relatively new to her training gig, but encouraging and helpful from the start. Lauren and I definitely laughed nervously when Carolyn said we would “die” during the workout, but we picked our boxing bags, stuffed our hands into the gigantic loaner gloves, and channeled our inner Che Taylor/ Carr Luka!

Me and Lauren, ready to “die!”

Interestingly, most of our fellow boxers were women, something I hadn’t expected. I was inspired by women of all sizes and ages beating the stuffing out of their bags. Even though I struggled to remember the punch combinations Carolyn threw at us, I just tried to keep moving throughout each round. Lauren and I both talked afterward about how funny it was that we looked forward to the “breaks” between combinations when Carolyn instructed us to alternate between burpees and push-ups.

Lauren and me, burning out our core muscles.

Lauren and I were so proud of ourselves for boxing like beasts, and I even purchased a two-week trial membership to return to try more classes. This experience made me fully realize how dedicated competitive boxers have to be in order to spar successfully. I would have to dedicate many, many more hours to developing my skills before actually sparring with a partner. I think I’ll just stick to punching a bag instead.

The people at Title Boxing Club could not have been more friendly and supportive of my first plot driven experience. My husband did a great job of taking pictures, too, and I can’t thank my dad enough for editing the pics for me. This blog is a true team effort!

Lauren, trainer Carolyn, and me post workout- still smiling!

I’m staying awake at night because of all of my excitement about my future plot driven adventures. The next one will be simple and sweet, so stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,