Category Archives: politics

The Re-Reading Project: Lion’s Bride

December 3, 1188 Gates of Constantinople

“I have it!”

Thea whirled to see Selene running through the city gates toward her. The child’s red hair had come loose from her braid and was flowing wildly down her back, and her narrow chest was lifting and falling as she tried to catch her breath. She must have run all the way from the House of Nicholas.

Selene thrust a large straw basket at Thea. “I told you they wouldn’t see me do it.” She glanced at the long line of camels and wagons that had already begun moving down the road. “I couldn’t get away earlier. I think Maya was watching me.”

“You shouldn’t have taken the risk.” Thea set the basket on the ground and knelt to hug Selene. “I would have found a way to do without it.”

“But it will be easier now.” Selene’s thin arms tightened around Thea’s neck. “You’re taking so many risks. I had to do something.”

My last re-reading experience was a romance novel, The Princess, and in my post, I said of author Iris Johansen, “I thought her early thrillers and romance novels were wonderful, but that annoying Eve Duncan character just kept popping up and suddenly all of Johansen’s books seemed like 300-page cookie cutters with the names replaced. I’m afraid to re-read her romance novels, honestly, though I’ve considered trying in light of this project.” Pretty much the second I finished my post, I knew that I had just challenged myself to re-read one of Johansen’s romance novels. And very quickly, I knew I had to re-read the first of her romances I read. I had to go dig it out of storage, but I accepted my challenge and started reading.

I hadn’t re-read Lion’Lion's Brides Bride since 2005 and that was the last one of her romance novels that I read (except for The Treasure in 2011, for the first time). As I admitted in my last post (quoted above), I was afraid to re-read any of the romances, since I’d been increasingly disappointed with Iris Johansen’s thrillers in the past decade and especially in light of the way The Princess felt to me re-reading it now.

But I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and easy it was to read Lion’s Bride after all this time. Yes, at times is was unrealistic and a tiny bit cheesy, and I could see the blueprint of later protagonists in the main character, Thea. So many times, Johansen uses stubbornness as a shortcut for strength in her female characters, male characters, too. There are very distinctive character types in the Johansen arsenal, whether she’s writing thriller or romance, and I feel like most of them exist here. But, in Lion’s Bride, it was easy to remember that these characters once blew my socks off, because before I read versions of them in dozens of later Johansen books, they felt unique and groundbreaking.

The setting, the Middle East during the Crusades with the Knights Templar and the Crusaders as more villains than heroes, was also incredibly unique. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a romance novel set during this time period. Johansen’s protagonist is a Greek woman who was raised as a slave in a silk house in Constantinople and Johansen used a period and culture where women were very restricted and showed how a woman would attempt to make a life for herself and her sister within it. I found that pretty interesting. Also, Thea embroiders a banner in the book that helps to put her in both a powerful and dangerous position and I liked that Thea used “women’s work” in order to protect and provide for herself.

Lion’s Bride came a pivotal juncture for Johansen, after decades of writing romances and right before she made the leap to thrillers. She might’ve already been paving the way for her transition with Thea and this story.

The first book I ever read of Johansen’s was The Ugly Duckling, her first stand alone thriller. I found it at a garage sale and read it in probably one sitting. This was most likely sometime in 1997, when I was fifteen years old. I’d been reading Dean Koontz books for years, had started reading Harlequins and “real” romance novels the year before and around this same time, I would become obsessed with the mystery/thrillers of Jonathan Kellerman. My mom started reading them too and we would swap them back and forth.

The Ugly Duckling was like nothing else I’d ever read and as soon as I finished, I made my mom take me to the bookstore to see if this Iris Johansen lady had any more books. I found her second thriller, Long After Midnight, and — what a coincidence — a romance novel called Lion’s Bride. I tried to act all nonchalant as I used my allowance to buy them both, but I think this was the first hardcore romance novel I bought new at a bookstore, instead of at a secondhand store or taken stealthily off my mom’s shelves as I did with The Princess. I read both of these two books and then when I went to do some research, I discovered that Johansen had started out writing Harlequins in the 80s. Her third thriller And Then You Die… wasn’t out yet, but she’d already published eight historical standalone romance novels and a trilogy which started out as historical and ended as contemporary. So, while I was waiting for that third thriller, I read lots and lots of romance novels by Iris Johansen.

I loved them, pure and simple. I think these were the books that kept me reading romance for a long time and while I’ve dabbled in other authors over the years, Johansen was the pinnacle of romance for me. Until I read Gaelen Foley’s books. She remains the only romance author who I still read each time a new book comes out.

Johansen’s fourth thriller was Face of Deception, her first featuring Eve Duncan and this was the beginning of my disappointment. I didn’t like Eve Duncan and to date, she’s written 18 novels featuring her. There were long stretches were there weren’t any new books that didn’t feature her. And what had felt unique and interesting in her novels before (both thrillers and romance) was starting to feel repetitive by 1999 when The Killing Game, the second Eve Duncan book came out.

Re-reading Lion’s Bride reminded me why my more recent disappointment with Johansen’s books has been so sharp – because I really, really loved her books when I was very young. I already knew I wanted to be a writer and she lived very close to my hometown. In fact, while doing research for this post, I saw something about her house being for sale and there are all these incredible photos of the mansion. It’s an incredible house, but the only room that makes me envious is the library/office space.

In addition to writing the 18 Eve Duncan books, Johansen writes books about other characters with her son Roy, none of which I’ve read yet. I recently made an attempt to catch up with all of Johansen’s recent books, including the Eve Duncan trilogy Eve, Quinn and Bonnie, where Bonnie’s disappearance/death is finally solved. I thought these were the last Eve Duncan books, but since my attempt to catch up a few years ago, Johansen has published another trilogy of Eve Duncan books and her website says that the character will return in 2015. There may be no finale for Eve Duncan, and as annoying as I find the character, as disappointed as I’ve been by the recent books, I’m probably going to read this new trilogy too, because I just have to know what happens. And I’m actually pretty excited to read the new standalone novel coming out in September.

So, even after all of these years, just when I think I’m done with Iris Johansen, she pulls me right back in.



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The Re-Reading Project: Sixth Grade Secrets

It all started with a hat.

Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar was published in 1987, when I was five years old, and I must’ve read it a dozen times by the time I was actually in sixth grade. I even read it out loud to my older cousin once, at a slumber party – yeah, I was that kind of kid. I remember buying my copy from the Scholastic book sales at school. Selecting books from the book sale catalogue was always the most exciting and agonizing experience, knowing the book sale was coming but that I had to limit my book purchases to whatever amount of money I was allowed to spend. I read Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School too, because we all passed it around at school and I later read Holes, but not until I was twenty-two.

I remember feeling awed and a little scared, as a kid, at the hijinks that sixth graders could get up to. Reading it now as an adult, it strikes me as both utterly ridiculous and completely realistic. That’s how we acted in middle school! Everything was dramatic and one small mistake snowballed into grudges that lasted forever. Or at least till the end of the year, which felt like forever at the time.

Laura, the main character, is so completely stubborn, but she’s also brave. Several times, she double downs when the stakes get high – continuing to sneak into school to write on the board even when it’s likely that she’ll get caught. She’s smart, mostly honest and believes in fairness. She’s complex because she’s both a good kid and a troublemaker.

There are some aspects of the story that are dated all these years later, mostly the technology related to making telephone calls and recording. Today’s kids would probably operate a grudge war very differently and schools have probably changed a lot since I was a kid. But, the emotions and psychology behind their behavior is still very, very true. So I’d say that the most dated thing about the books is the original cover:

6th Grade Secrets…which always makes me feel really nostalgic because Laura’s blue Hawaiian print sweater and pink corduroy pants are totally something we would’ve worn as middle school kids in the 80s and early 90s. And Gabriel’s blue shirt with the red block and white collar? I bet all the boys had one of those in their closet. Look at the newer version of the cover:

sixth-grade-secrets-louis-sachar-hardcover-cover-artIt just shows Laura and Gabriel and while their clothes are more modern, I’d say it’s a bit boring. The original cover shows an active moment from the story and I can imagine many kids picked up the book because they were thinking, “What is going on here?” Plus, on the new one Laura’s Pig City cap is allll wrong. Regardless, from the Amazon reviews, it looks like kids are still reading and enjoying Sixth Grade Secrets, which is really cool.

Re-reading this book in particular has made me glad I’m doing this project. This was one of my favorite books growing up and I can totally see why. Because Laura is a girl very much like the girl I was, but with some traits I wished I’d had more of when I was her age. If Laura was 11 in 1987, she’d be 38 now and well on her way to being the first female American president. Laura was worried some other woman might be the first one and I’d say it’s a little sad that that honor could still be hers. But what a president she’d be!

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NaNoWriMo 2012 Day 6

Another slow day, between voting and the distraction of working near my polling location, in view of everybody else who was voting throughout the day. I did see quite a few of my neighbors and friends, since they also vote at the same place. All very distracting. But Jessica and I did do one word war, around lunch time, so it helped me stay on track. It’s also a tango night, so in between dances, most of us were checking our phones for updates on the election.

I’m proud of America’s democratic system. That sounds pretty dorky, but it was cool to meet people who get excited on Election Day, as I do. And I did see a few folks today beaming and excited, inspired and energized. I think it’s amazing what we can do together and for the record, I’m very happy that President Obama gets four more years to solve the problems he inherited and to dig us out of the deep financial, social and educational holes we’ve been buried in for decades.

Before I sign off:

Total Day 6 word count: 636

Total word count (so far): 10,656.

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Reading in Q3 – September

My reading tapered off a bit this month as my time became more invested in orchestrating Yeah, You Write (among other things), but I read some wonderful books during September.

Best Friends Forever, Jennifer Weiner – At some point, Jennifer Weiner started writing and publishing books faster than I could read them, so this was me beginning to catch up. When I picked it up, I wasn’t terribly excited about the premise of the story. I dreaded reading about a formerly fat woman who’s been a doormat for her more glamorous best friend most of her life. But I quickly became absorbed in Weiner’s humor and the complicated, identifiable characters she presents.

Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver – This one was so lovely and so frustrating. You know right from the beginning that the main character dies in a car accident. She somehow gets stuck in a Groundhog Day loop, reliving her last day several times and approaching each version of the same day with a different mindset and goal, sometimes trying to change her fate and sometimes resigned to it.  Heartbreaking and gorgeous.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman – I listened to the audio version of Coraline a few months ago and when I returned it to the library, one of the librarians recommended this one, also read by Gaiman himself. I’m so glad she did because I liked this one even better. Loosely based on The Jungle Book, this story is about Nobody Owens, who is adopted as a baby by a family of ghosts and raised in a graveyard. It fun and sad and adventurous and clever and Neil Gaiman is such a good narrator.

Crossed, Ally Condie – This book was immediately different from the book it follows, Matched. The continuing story of Cassia, her match Xander and Ky, the boy she has fallen in love with against the predetermination of The Society, this follow-up is told in alternating chapters from both Cassia and Ky’s points of view. They are now in the Outer Provinces, Ky exiled to die and Cassia outwitting The Society in order to find him. The environment in Matched was lush, with increasing menace. Crossed starts out menacing, parched, with glimmers of hope like mirages across the desert.

It’s Not Summer Without You, Jenny Han – This is the second book in an addicting trilogy. I’ve had to utilize all of my library cards (3 cities, 2 different states) in order to find all of the books, but it’s been worth it. This second one amps up the melodrama and the emotional stakes in the complicated friendship/relationship of Belly and the two Fisher boys – Conrad and Jeremiah. Jenny Han is an exceptional writer who can make the most stereotypical and melodramatic of plots fascinating and new, filling them with characters it’s impossible not to care about. Smart, funny and romantic.

I Am Number Four, Pittacus Lore – I was intrigued by the movie, which happens more often than I should probably admit. This book was just atrociously written, but there was something compelling about it that not only made me finish it but request the sequel from the library. The story is interesting, even if the writing is dull and heavy-handed. Most of the characters are pretty one-note and flat and several of them could have been collapsed into one, but I was interested by the world that was built.

Knowing Your Value, Mika Brzezinski – A while back, Maurice showed me a clip of Morning Joe and I was disgruntled by Mika Brzezinkski’s on-air persona. Admittedly, I was basing my annoyance on one twenty minute clip, but the men on the show talked over her constantly and when she did speak, it was to say cheerleader-ish things like, “I read your blogs – they’re so awesome!” A few weeks later, Maurice sent me the link to a second clip of Morning Joe where Mika discussed her new book, Knowing Your Value, where she uses her own negotiating mistakes and interviews with other powerful and successful women to illustrate that women are often their own worst enemies in negotiating salaries and benefits. I saw Mika in a new light and knew I had to read her book. It hit home quite a lot and changed my perceptions of situations I have been in and will be in again. Highly recommended – not just for women, but for men, too. Everyone should read it to better understand negotiation and how women and men deal with, and perceive,  each other in business.

So that’s my September reading, which finishes out the third quarter in my reading report. It’s be interesting to see what books the last quarter of the year brings into my life!

[11.2.11 Update: Interestingly enough, ironically, I accidentally tagged Mika Brzezinski as “Mike Brezezinkski.” Sheesh, subconscious. It’s now fixed.]

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Filed under books, politics, pop culture, Quarterly Reading Report, review, what I'm reading

A patriotic, coincidental brag

No matter what my politics or my conflicted feelings about the media storm around Osama bin Laden’s death, I always celebrate and support the people who sacrifice any number of things – time, security, health and their lives – in the name of this country. I think a good way to help me brag on these folks, regardless of how you feel about the wars we’re involved in, is to check out these links for sending books to troops.

I love the idea of not only entertaining soldiers who can’t be home or safe, but maybe even changing their lives with a powerful book. A former soldier recently told me that they all got hooked on the Sex in the City tv series while he was stationed overseas and I loved how that attacked my own foolish expectations of what soldiers would find interesting.

This idea of enriching the lives of soldiers with the written word has been in my mind a lot lately. I keep remembering a picture that Jeanne Leiby showed me of two soldiers (in Afghanistan, I believe) reading copies of The Southern Review. They had their guns at the ready, leaning against their chairs, and copies of a literary magazine in their hands. And hopefully, in their minds and hearts afterwards. I wish I could find this picture to share with y’all. In inspires me.

And, of course, I have been thinking of Jeanne a lot lately. Partly because of her death a few weeks ago in a car accident. Maybe because, at the time she died, I was driving 11-12 hours a day for work and was actually on the same road as her, a few miles away. Possibly because I was in a car accident myself recently (I’m fine, though my car is not). But it’s not so much these uncomfortable vehicular coincidences I think of when I think of Jeanne. I think of that picture of the soldiers she showed me, things she said and things she loved.

Which brings me to my closing brag. I might never have reviewed Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2 if it weren’t for Jeanne. She was so glad to publish a chapter from his memoir in The Southern Review, she talked him up so passionately, that I requested a review copy, read the book, loved it and came up with this nontraditional review of it for 225 Magazine. So, without my even fully realizing it, the tangential brags in this post are tied together by Jeanne, by her passion and enthusiasm. I’m glad for that coincidence.

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In good company for charity

There are two great charity events coming up that everybody should know about.

First, my friend Maurice started an event called Legalpalooza, a music event to raise funds for legal aid for women and children who can’t afford it. The second annual Legalpalooza is at the House of Blues this Thursday, the 22nd at 6 p.m.

Legalpalooza July 22, 2010-1

Second, a film I worked on, LA 308, is having a premiere screening at the Mall of Louisiana Rave (Baton Rouge) August 5th at 7 p.m. to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana and its relief efforts for victims of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill. Tickets can be purchased online for $15.00 each at

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What I’ve been thinking about lately…

Everyday, I read dozens of little news items about the whole gamut of human experience. Literary and movie news, scientific discoveries, music, random celebrity-ness (yes, I admit) and current events. My co-workers do as well, and from time to time, one of them will announce some odd or interesting factoid or this-just-in and the rest of us will listen.

My first week at my new job, one of my co-workers said into the large, silent office we all share: “So, what’s going on in the world?” One of my other co-workers said, “A woman says Steven Seagal made her his sex slave and Treme got picked up for a second season.”

Random. But then, we’re news and information junkies.

Throughout each day, I have an ocean of factoids and images in my head, each swimming around in there like strange aquatic life. One day, I read the Wikipedia page on the Donner party and had those horrific deets bouncing around, and then read a review of Exit Through the Gift Shop and did my budget. That’s just modern life.

So, here are some links to randomness that I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks.

-A man rescued a woman being attacked, got stabbed and died on a NYC sidewalk as bystanders avoided and ignored him. So horrified by this one, I read a second article later the same day.

-Lane Bryant plus-sized lingerie commercial censored. This pieces mentions a Victoria Secret ad that I saw about 20 minutes before (and an hour after) reading this.

Women make less money when they get married and take their husband’s last name?

-Even though I worked on The Final Destination, apparently there will be a 5th in the franchise. Not so final, after all. Are any of us surprised? I remember reading the script and thinking, “Last one, huh? Yeah, right…”

-A book of Marilyn Monroe writings! I’ll certainly read that book. Feel free to send me an advance copy for review, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Seriously.

-An utterly hypnotic YouTube video of 500 years of female art subjects morphing into each other. Check it out!

-Kelly Osbourne gets flak for claiming that she looked healthier and skinnier after she started wearing self-tanner on Dancing with the Stars.

-Author Kathryn Stockett has a Google Maps application on her site with her readers’ names and locations. This kinda just scares me. Especially since my mom’s book club is reading The Help next month.

New Mark Twain manuscript has surfaced, in memory of his favorite daughter, who died.

-Cadillac driver stops a purse snatching! With the car!

-Molly Ringwald’s therapist told her to stop dating writers and be a writer.

Darth Vader-narrated GPS! Hysterical video. 🙂

Daughter of serial killer writes book.

How the pill liberated women – the author’s mother counts it as the most important invention of her lifetime.

-“Sea Waif” tragedy survivor breaks 50-year silence.

CW is resurrecting Moonlight! Well, just reairing episodes along with The Vampire Diaries. But still cool. Alex O’Loughlin is wonderful. See The Back-Up Plan for evidence. I did, last week, in a double feature with Date Night.

-The breeder of the labradoodle regrets the designer dog trend.

-The story behind the Carrie Underwood song “Play On.” And her fellow AI alum, Kelly Clarkson, has a new song I can’t wait to hear (it’s been pulled anywhere you might be able to hear it online) – “Wash, Rinse, Repeat,” apparently lambasting the music industry in general and “Already Gone”/”Halo” co-writer Ryan Tedder in particular.  And while we’re on AI, 5 potential replacements for Simon Cowell – I’d love any of them.

The Art of ConfessionCurtis Sittenfeld interviews Meghan Daum and Emily Gould! Wonderful piece – I wish it were five times longer. You might remember that in my very first blog post (almost 2 years ago!), I described my attraction/repulsion to blogging thusly:

So that’s my way of saying I’m ambivalent about blogging. Primarily because of delicious little trainwrecks like this: Emily Gould Blogs All

-This lovely photo project, Dear New Orleans, came to my attention because of the wonderful Scene Magazine‘s most recent issue.

-Somebody recently told me that Mr. Rogers was formerly a sniper in the army and I repeated this to a co-worker, who got me hooked on by using it to REFUTE THIS RUMOR!

-And now, we come full-circle to my horror at the NYC left-for-dead-on-the-sidewalk circle with a much more positive story about a group of individual female students rushing a man who was attacking another woman. They pinned him to the ground till the authorities arrived – and probably, as all parties acknowledge, saved her life. A round of applause to those woman, and my admiration.

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Filed under American Idol, art, books, funny, movies, music, New Orleans, politics, pop culture, t.v., weirdness

Street art reconsidered

I wrote a post last year about street art. Well, the post was kind of a goulash of images and ideas I was thinking about. I’d been having conversations about street art, which I’ve compulsively taken pictures of for years, which made me think about Banksy coming to New Orleans. And all the street art I’d taken pictures of in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Included in that post (and the galleries of street art images), is one particular image that I kept thinking about.

Just a portion of the work.

Is this street art? Art, yes, available as you walk down the street, yes. But graffiti? It takes up the entire side of a building near my house. Because of the size and the color, I wondered if it might be a mural, perhaps even commissioned by the store housed in the building. This isn’t quite the same thing as street art — which is often spray-painted and involves stencils, for the speed of execution — even if it is beautiful.

So, I decided to ask.

Today, I went into the store Neophobia (which I’ve loved for years) and asked one of the co-owners, Amanda. She said that the artist hadn’t been commissioned by them, but they loved it when they saw it, so they invited the artist back to finish the work. She took my name and number to pass on to the artist, so if I hear from him, I’ll post again.

Meanwhile, this brings to mind another debate. Street art can legally be considered vandalism, though people like me consider it art and photograph it. People like New Orleans’s Gray Ghost take it upon themselves to censor it. Where’s the line? What distinguishes vandalism from art?

And I’ll give you a perfect example.

A friend of mine was commissioned to paint a mural on the backside of a local bar. She spent weeks on it, adding incredible touches to make it look like a fine New Orleans double. And it is a nice thing to see while walking in the neighborhood, rather than an ugly white wall.

Only. Someone tagged it. I couldn’t help but feel upset. Here I am, a proponent of street art, and I’m upset by some tagging? Well…maybe it’s because I think it’s rude to tag someone *else’s* work. It’s like going up to a painting on a museum wall and signing it. Right?

Judge for yourself. Here’s the mural (with the tag) and a close up of the tag. Lemme know what your thoughts are.

5.22 Update: So, on a recent walk in the neighborhood, I noticed that the tag had been painted over. Was this Jenn, the artist, while she was back in town visiting? Was it the property owner, who’d paid for the gorgeous mural? Was it a kindly citizen? Here is a snap of the “fixed” mural:

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Between a book and a hard place

I have to confess, I’m not responsible for the titles of my 225 pieces, but I really wish I could claim credit for the title of the newest one. I love the title “Between a book and a hard place,” for my most elaborate 225 piece yet. It started out as a book review of The Dictionary of Louisiana French, which quickly became something more after my initial round of interviews.

I’ve said several times how much I enjoy writing for 225, but I can’t thank them enough for listening–and agreeing!!–when I arrived in person at their office and said, “There’s a bigger story here.”  Their response was all I could have hoped for–positive and embracing, even if they kept me at the same extremely tight deadline. 🙂 I’m very proud of this piece and to be a part of the magazine.

I’m also extremely grateful to each and every person who spoke with me, including and especially those who gave me background information but weren’t mentioned in the piece. Thank you: Amanda LaFleur-Giambrone, Adelaide Russo, Greg Stone, Tania Nyman, Sharon Andrews, Clint Kimberling (at University Press of Mississippi), Herman Fuselier (of B&N Lafayette), Anna Nardo, Rick Blackwood and Aaron Emmitte. And David Gallent, the photographer!

LSU and the state of Louisiana stands to lose a lot of valuable, creative and inspirational people and programs if we don’t take a stand on these budget cuts!

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offBeat Magazine hits the right note

I was so satisfied to see the selection of letters to the editor and the “Strange Fruit” item on page 8 of April’s issue of offBeat. Their response is, finally, exactly what I could hope. Maybe better than I hoped for.

It begins: “On our March cover, we demonstrated a remarkable lack of judgment and sensitivity when we matched a photo of a young band hanging from monkey bars with the headline ‘Strange Fruit.’ The combination of the phrase and the hanging image was far too close to the subject of the Billie Holiday song first recorded in 1939–lynching–and we’re profoundly sorry for our mistake.” And it ends, “We regret treating such a history so casually, and we’ll make an effort to do better in the future.”

In between these well-expressed statements is a history of the song, “Strange Fruit,” highlighting a haunting story of a woman following Billie Holiday into the powder room, screaming at her, “Don’t you sing that song again! Don’t you dare!”, ripping her dress and then tearfully explaining how it reminded her of a lynching she’d witnessed as a child. Wow. Powerful stuff.

Thank you, offBeat, for listening to your readers and using the opportunity to bring the important thing back in focus — the music. Thank you for being, once more, a magazine we can be proud of, as New Orleanians and lovers of music.

Serendipitously, a friend posted a related image on Facebook, which I found on the Internet, here. I think it sums up the entire month for me.

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