Sunday Lowdown #75


It was another excellent week of video chatting with a couple of bloggers. Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I “got together” (again!) to discuss our latest #ReadingValdemar book. We were extra pumped because it was Jackie’s forthcoming baby’s first Valdemar club! ๐Ÿ˜ I am convinced that future baby will be a tiny lady mercenary like Tarma and Kethery from the Vows & Honor trilogy.

Pretty regularly I email Laila @ Big Reading Life. We both work in libraries and compare notes on what’s happening with COVID and strategies our branches are taking to keep everyone safe. It’s nice to have someone in similar shoes to talk to, and I’m so grateful to know her.

Then, on Saturday I met Hannah @ Books & Bakes for the first time. While we were eating lunch, the spouse asked me what Hannah’s “thing” is — he means Bill “the Aussie trucker,” Emily with the MFA, Gil with the cat named Cat, etc. I said Hannah is newer, so I wasn’t sure yet, but told him her blog’s name. “What does she bake?” he asked, and I said I had yet to see a baking post! He then decided that clearly this means Hannah blogs while high. I’m glad Hannah was a good sport when I told her this story!

It was a lovely conversation, and I’m surprised it took a pandemic for me to reach out and “meet” people for a hour. If you’re interested in talking, let me know in the comments and I’ll send along my email address. Also, I realized today when I was chatting with Hannah that I don’t really share pictures of me on Grab the Lapels. It’s not intentional, I’m just never thinking, You know what this blog could use? MY FACE. Here is me:

My Friday date-with-myself horror movie was Train to Busan, which I’ve now seen three times in 2020 (it’s on Netflix!). Another film out of South Korea, Train to Busan has the best zombie acting I’ve ever seen. Just glorious, a notch above 28 Days Later, which utilized “movement specialists” for their infected.

Given the heat wave, it’s been a lot of indoor living for us, and we’ve been watching Queer Eye, like everyone else, and we finished the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The plot holes drove me goofy, but there you are. I had my first book club with my mom, and we tried to steer clear of pandemic talk (we failed) and focus on The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. I love weekly book clubs because you can talk about your reactions to smaller scenes, make sure you both understand what the heck is going on, and guess what may happen next.


I wanted to pair two self-published books about experiences in correctional facilities, so on Tuesday I posed my review of Hummingbird in Underworld by Deborah Tobola, which is a rather obtuse look back on one woman’s experiences during her time as a creative teacher inside a men’s prison. What a stark contrast Breakfast at Bronzefield by Sophie Campbell provided. Written by a woman who was incarcerated, it’s an unfiltered look at her actions, the prison staff’s responses to her, and life after release.

New month means new Valdemar book, and Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey did not let me down. I’d argue this novel had the best pacing out of any Valdemar book Jackie and I have encountered. The last book in the trilogy is a collection of short stories, so that will be an interesting shift.


If you liked my review of Breakfast at Bronzfield, then I hope you will look forward to my interview with the Sophie Campbell. On Tuesday, Campbell will discuss how she started writing, the process of researching her memoir, and what she’s reading to escape the pandemic in her own Meet the Writer feature. *Sophie Campbell is a pseudonym, so I don’t have a photo to share.

Finally, we’ve arrived: my review of The Descent series, all seven books and three short stories, by S.M. Reine, will be published on Thursday. I’m so glad this is only the first series within a much larger universe of novels, because I’m totally not ready to be done with Reine’s writing. So far, I’ve read work from both early in her career and more recent work, and it’s all stellar.


What stuck out to me this week in East Pittsburgh Downlow by Dave Newman was the dialogue. The narrator is so deadpan, but the fact that he has boundaries for his time, attention, a patience heighten the delivery of his speech. I want to share a small excerpt. Remember, the narrator went to a state college and became a welder for eleven years before he started writing westerns under a pseudonym and was asked to become a full-time English professor at a community college. Another character, Barryman, has an MFA in poetry at Yale and published a collection poems, but now teaches part-time at a community college while his parents fund whatever he lacks in income.

“I worry about you canceling classes,” I say.

“You don’t cancel classes?” [Barryman] says.


“All my old professors canceled classes. One professor, in grad school, taught one class a month from her home. The other three scheduled classes, we worked independently. The class at her house, she did as a potluck. Everyone had to bring something to eat and a bottle of wine.”

“What kind of grad school did you go to?” I say.

“Ivy League,” he says. “You know that.”

“I just like to hear the words come out of your mouth.”

Barryman nods and tries to roll with the teasing.

I say, “I don’t even want to imagine what you brought for your covered dish.”

“Usually hummus.”

“I was figuring a kale salad but hummus works.”

“Kale is a superfood.”

“You’re a superfood, Barryman. Go cancel your class with the secretaries or schedule a potluck dinner or whatever you have to do.”

Check out East Pittsburgh Downlow by Dave Newman on IndieBound for a fantastic synopsis.


Because there is a pandemic in this book, I added it.


  1. Hello! *waves* lovely to see you! I don’t really do video calls but it’s lovely you’re connecting with people you know from the blogs. I was in a Zoom with a load of the running bloggers I join up with on a Sunday afternoon for a few weekends in May/June and that was good. What’s my “Thing” I wonder? I’m really looking forward to your meet the author, it’s great you could do that, and happy reading for the week!


  2. OOhh I’m excited to read your interview with the author next week! Also, knowing that you and Laila talk (I love Laila’s blog too) just fills my heart with happiness!!! Librarians unite LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed Station Eleven. There were a few ideas that do not get brought up in dystopians very often so I found it refreshing.
    That’s really cool that you’re meeting people online and chatting it up. One of my bridesmaid was a guy friend of my husband and I’s that we met in World of Warcraft years ago. ๐Ÿ˜›


  4. You’re looking good, Melanie! I’m looking scruffy, I need a haircut but I’ll probably be back at work before I’m out of quarantine. If it gets too bad I’ll stick the #2 comb on the clippers and see what happens. There’s always my beanie to cover up mistakes.

    Remember years ago when you ran a series of blogging tips. I still use them. And this is just to say that the little games you play with Excerpts do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.


    • Although WordPress has updated and changed since I did those blogging tips (I’m assuming you mean the tech tips), a lot of them still apply or are pretty close, so I’m glad you find them helpful.

      Wait, what game do I play with excerpts? ๐Ÿ˜‚ I didn’t know I was so playful!


    • Your advice was to take control of the excerpt that WordPress displayed with your post, for instance in Facebook. I often have to look twice to see where you selected your excerpt from and this week it was a couple of lines from East Pittsburgh Downlow. Perhaps I’m an audience of one, but I enjoy them anyway.


      • OH!!! Yes, Facebook is not helpful with WordPress synopses. I’m glad you noticed about my excerpts. I usually choose a quote or some catchy line when I’m more lazy, so I’m glad someone is reading them. Now I shall be more thoughtful about them knowing you are watching.


  5. I really enjoyed chatting with you on Saturday! I swear the “bakes” part of my name isn’t about getting high hahah. Also, I’m looking forward to your review of Station Eleven. It’s one of those books that I’ve weirdly been avoiding, even though I’ve seen nothing but positive reviews for it. And kitty is so cute!! My husband and I call that position “shrimping” lol.


  6. 1 – this was the thousandth (at least) mention of Queer Eye reminding me that I need to start watching the show, and… I have finally started watching, so thanks! I’m already hooked!
    2 – completely agree on the weekly buddy read chats. This is how I buddy read with my Stephen King friend; we adjust the schedule to whatever fits for us at the time, but generally it’s a once-a-week chat that divides up the book a few times (which is why we like long books); it’s so much fun talking about whatever’s grabbed our attention so far and what we think will happen next. There’s a lot of fun ways to buddy read, but you can’t go wrong with weekly chats!
    3 – You’ve been talking up S.M. Reine for so long that I can’t wait for that series review post!
    4 – I hope you’ll love Station Eleven! I feel like you might find it a little slow, but I really loved the characters and the pandemic plot, and I hope you will too!


    • 1. I am now on Queer Eye in Japan and it’s just as fun. 2) If you want, we can break Mexican Gothic into four and do weekly chats, or one big chat like we were texting about. 3) Her interview is SO GOOD. 4) We shall see!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ooh, that’s great! I saw the Japan episodes on Netflix and was intrigued. I’m only in season 2 so far but I look forward to continuing! It’s such a feel-good show. ๐Ÿ™‚
        As for Mexican Gothic, I’m afraid I will read this one too fast for weekly chats! But if our next buddy read is longer/denser we should definitely consider a weekly chat option!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice to see some pictures of you! Iโ€™m looking forward to the upcoming Meet the Writer!

    Iโ€™ll be curious to hear your thoughts on Station Eleven. I read it a couple of years ago and liked it but it seems like it would be an entirely different book to read now.


      • For me, what was scary about Station Eleven was how real it felt. It has a lot of tension too, even without violence, there is always the fear of violence behind every encounter. Overall though I would say it’s quite a hopeful book. Now that we’re living through a real life pandemic, I look back at Station Eleven and feel hopeful thinking about it.


        • Right now Gil and I are reading the Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler, and it’s weird how the fear of survival is there, and everyone is trying to stay safe inside their own little worlds, but all around them is extreme violence. It feels similar to the pandemic in that you have this nagging suspicion that you shouldn’t trust anyone.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. “Hannah blogs while high” ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚ I love how Nick’s mind just jumped through other logical conclusions to grab at that one. Kitty is looking content, as usual! I love it when Cat also curls up like that. Sometimes I squish him further in just because… and luckily he tolerates it for a few seconds, haha. Oooh, you’ve recommended S.M. Reine’s series to me before and I have it on Kindle, but I haven’t gotten to it yet! Reminds me to bump it up my TBR.


    • Poor Hannah! I hope I haven’t embarrassed her to pieces, lol.

      I’m so glad you got the Reine series! I would recommend you read the novels in order (I’m assuming you got the book that’s one file) and skip the short stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. We chatted! I’m a friend! Yaaay! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m always so amped when I’m mentioned in a post. I don’t know why. It makes me super happy.

    I’m glad that you’re connecting with a newer blogger. I aspire to do such things, but I can barely keep up with the bloggers I already follow and adore — So, I’ll let you keep doing it. Keep sharing their blogs, too! That’s a great way to get them more exposure.

    Oooh, Station Eleven. I love that book, but I could NOT read it during a pandemic. If you pick it up during the COVID-times, you’re stronger than I am.


    • I’m currently buddy reading the Earthseed duology with Gil, and that one is about end-of-times struggles. There is loads of violence, poverty, and corruption, so it’s not quite like the pandemic, but being afraid and knowing there’s more to life that what you’re doing while hiding away is definitely a theme in the first part of the first Earthseed book.

      I think when I see another blogger mention me, my brain thinks, “I DO exist!” Plato never talked about that as a test for reality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are much braver than I am. Earthseed sounds difficult to read during this time… I am shooting for complete escapist novels like my vampire smut and fantasy. Though, I am reading some anti-racisim books right now and those are hitting me pretty hard…

        If Plato knew about social media and blogging, he totally would have talked about this as a test for reality. I promise.

        Liked by 1 person

        • At some point, back when I had Facebook, I got so angry that all of my friends were taking photos that looked like the camera was on the ceiling (to avoid “looking fat”) and then they had ZERO pores because they were using filters, and really, it just depressed me because I didn’t feel like I looked even human, let along pretty, but also because it suggested to me how insecure everyone is.


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