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Author: Amy Purcell

Amy’s Top 10 Books of 2023

“A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us.” – Franz Kafka

I love this quote and the imagery it conjures up. I especially love the idea that a book has the power to crack open something frozen or hidden within us. My ten favorite reads this year were such axes. Each book opened me up in a variety of ways, whether the story took me out of my comfort zone, helped me explore another culture or an ambiguous moral dilemma or simply made me laugh. Click here for the list and enjoy!

Also, you can support local booksellers and shops by visiting my bookshop here to purchase any of my top 10s from this year. I’ll continue to add all of my top 10s from previous years to my shop!

Amy’s Top 10 Books of 2022

This was a fantastic year of reading–so much so that each of my picks also includes a companion read for double the fun! Whether you’re looking for some speculative fiction to spice up your reading, a traditional tale of family dysfunction or an epic saga that time-hops through centuries, you’ll find it in my Top 10 List of 2022. Let me know what you read and enjoyed too.

Amy’s Top 10 Books of 2021

Resilience, love conquering all, secrets revealed, Russian dancers, identity crises, internal and external battles — you’ll find all of this and more in my 2021 Top 10 book list. This year’s crop of books was so strong that it was tough to choose 10 winners out of the 34 I read. At one point, I had four contenders for the Number One spot. Read on to see which books rose to the top of the heap on my nightstand. As always, let me know what you read and loved this year so I can add it to my reading list.

Top 10 Books of 2019

Wow. It’s been 20 years and counting that I’ve kept this little tradition alive. It started on a whim because so many friends asked me for book recommendations throughout the year. It started at a time when I mailed out paper copies of the list along with our holiday cards because that was the only mechanism for delivery. The internet and email were still in their infancy and e-books and Kindles weren’t even a thing yet. A few years later, I transitioned the list to email but keeping the distribution list current proved more complicated than posting on this mostly-dormant blog. The blessings of technology and social media. I love looking back on the books I’ve read each year and love sharing my favorites with you. This year’s Top 10 List is available here. Share and forward to fellow book lovers as much as you’d like. May 2020 and the new decade bring you peace, joy, good reading and plenty of wonderful stories of your own to share!

Top 10 Books of 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That time when I gather up all the books I’ve read, decide which ones I loved the most and then share my top 10 with you, dearest readers and friends. You can find the 2018 list here. And most of my lists from previous years here.

The year I started this tradition remains a mystery but I’m pretty certain I’m closing in on the 20th anniversary of the list.

If you’ve been part of this tradition for awhile, you know that my list begins with a wrap-up of our year. Feel free to skip by that little bit of history and head right to the list so you can compare your faves with mine. As always, let me know what you’re reading so I can add to my own pile on the nightstand . . . and  coffee table . . . and bathroom . . . and office . . . and backpack . . . and any other flat surface that appears in need of a book.

Happy reading!

We Must Do Better

Yesterday, I watched the pouring rain puddle on our deck, watched the ripples form and expand in those puddles. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ripple effect of the shooting at Fifth Third Center, how it has impacted some of us severely — has changed us profoundly — but how it truly ripples through all us all, no matter if you were there or not.

Cincinnati is the kind of city where everyone knows everyone, so much so that we joke about it and the first question Cincinnatians are asked is where they went to grade school or what parish they’re from because, chances are, you know people in common.

Someone knows someone who knows someone who works for Fifth Third or was in a nearby building (if you’re reading this, you know me). I think about the doctors and nurses at UC Health who treated the victims and then went home to tell their families and friends of the horror they’d been through. I think about the reporters trying to sort through the details and keep us informed, how tirelessly they worked. I think of the guy at Hoxworth Blood Center who told me while I was giving blood that he is a former cop and had been stationed downtown, how he called so many of his friends on the police force to check in on them and how he couldn’t stop thinking about the countless times he’d walked the Square. I think of the SWAT team members who evacuated the floor I was on, of the police officers who acted so quickly and bravely — how this will stay with all of these Cincinnatians and their families and friends forever.

I think about all of my co-workers who are now trying to process through their grief and fear. For those of us who were safe, we are now thinking about the hundreds of decisions we made before 9:06 am, how a delay in getting from one meeting to the other or a change in schedule may have been the very random thing that kept them away from the violence. How one of the women in my meeting had just been at Dunkin’ Donuts at 8:59 a.m. to buy donuts for our group. While we were sheltering in the conference room, she kept replaying this to us as we all stared at the box of untouched donuts. I think about the impact to every person on and around the Square and every Fifth Third employee working downtown or elsewhere, how all of our friends and families are now trying to help us while they are also sorting through their own feelings. How we are all thinking “what if…” or “if I had left earlier/later, I might have…”. The “what if’s” are tough to stop.

I think about how we stood on Fountain Square Friday holding hands, comforting each other, and how we allowed that comfort to momentarily ripple through the hundreds who had gathered. It was a good moment and we need more of these.

Most of all, I think about the co-workers and extended Fifth Third family members who lost their lives and the terrible ripples of grief so many are experiencing. And my thoughts are centered on Brian Sarver, someone I work closely with on the museum project. How, the day before, he and I were in a meeting talking about security for the museum. How we always start our weekly museum meetings with a safety tip from the construction side of things. While he is still recovering from his physical injuries, it’s unfathomable to think about the emotional and psychological damage he will carry and the ripples among his loved ones.

As the company historian, I never, ever imagined this kind of story would be part of Fifth Third’s history. I never want this horrible kind of ripple extending out from the heart of our city or any city, school, mall, public space or home. This is the story none of us ever want to tell.

The past two days have been hard. The initial shock and disbelief has worn off and what is left is a jumbled mess of feelings I still can’t quite manage. I find myself crying randomly and replaying every moment of that morning. I find myself worrying about my coworkers who are feeling the same way and hoping they’re managing as best they can. I worry about those in PR and communications who have to bravely carry on as the media and others continue to ask questions and demand answers.

When I went to the vigil on Friday, I hugged a coworker before we walked to the Square. We both broke into tears. I said, “I thought I had my shit pulled together but I’m not sure if or when I ever will.” She agreed.

When I ran with my training group on Saturday, I broke down several times and fell behind my regular pack. That said, I was comforted by being around others, by talking through the run and getting some hugs and encouragement. And I thank all of those who listened to me as much as I thank my husband and all of our friends who came out last night to see Pike 27 play. The extra tight hugs filled with love and support meant the world to me.

Stories are beginning to filter through the Fifth Third family about the heroic acts happening in the tower and Fifth Third’s three other buildings — a Fifth Third employee who pushed people to safety behind the Dunkin’ Donuts counter, others who warned people to keep out of the elevators, our security guards who put their bodies in front of others as the shooter came through the lobby.

That this tragedy is now part of our company’s history and our city’s history is devastating. Our company, our employees and Cincinnati are forever changed. And the ripples of these kinds of horrific events keep moving outward. At 7:36 am on September 6, ABC News ran a story about mass shootings, reporting that 246 incidents (defined as shootings where four or more killed or injured) have occurred this year. That was an hour and a half prior to the shooting at Fifth Third so now it’s 247.

Two hundred and forty-seven.

Yesterday, I felt helpless and hopeless that we can do anything to stop the violence that continues in our country. Today, I’m ready to fight. We may not be able to stop every act of violence but we must do better. We must.

Still Grieving … And That’s Ok

Here’s the routine: you wake around one a.m. She’s restless. You’re not sure what she needs – a trip to the bathroom, relief from some unknown discomfort she can’t explain, some water, or maybe just a soothing touch and a soft whisper in her ear to calm her down. You give her the 1:30 a.m. pill and go back to bed. It happens again around three a.m.

At five a.m., when you hear the sounds again, it’s close enough to the time you normally wake up so you throw off the covers, put on your slippers. You help her down the steps. Her vision isn’t so good, nor her hearing. It’s easier to carry her down the steps, so you do – hoping the rubber soles on your slippers will grip the carpet and keep you both upright in your sleep-deprived state. You hold her steady as she goes to the bathroom, help her back to the kitchen where her breakfast and another dose of medication awaits.

Medication will need to be administered two more times during daylight hours. You and your husband have been taking turns coming home from work to tend to her.  You dial in for conference calls and rearrange meetings as needed; mostly you ask for forgiveness. Each morning when you leave for work, you give her some encouraging words that hopefully hide the worried tone in your voice. Your heart breaks a little, wishing you could be there for her all the time.

By now, I could be talking about an elderly parent or a child who needs special care but I’m actually talking about Macy, our dog of 15 years who needed constant supervision and care for the final year of her life. No—all her life, actually. Dogs require everyday care; senior dogs with a history of seizures require even more.

Today would have been Macy’s sixteenth birthday. I’ve been thinking about her a lot—grieving for her—and my thoughts have turned to the very taboo topic of comparing dogs to children.

The horror, the horror, I know. Believe me, I get it.

Dogs are not children. Dogs do not require the same level of physical, mental or emotional care. We could spend several nights, pints in hand, listing the infinite differences between dogs and children. Dogs can stay home alone; children cannot. Dogs do not require the cognitive development or education that children do. Raising a dog costs less than raising a child. Dogs will not be the future of our planet (though sometimes I think that’s not such a bad idea when I see what some of today’s humans are doing in our world).

I’m not one of those people who thinks raising a child is exactly like raising a dog but I do believe there are some similarities, especially from the emotional and psychological standpoint of being a caregiver.

I also believe that, unlike children, dogs never become adults. They never grow out of needing your care and thus, caring for a dog throughout its life can be similar to caring for an infant or toddler—similar being the key word here.

Domesticated dogs are dependent creatures. They always need a human to feed them and provide water. They never grow up and get the keys to your car. They can never communicate exactly what’s giving them pain or what they’re thinking; it’s up to you to figure it out. Like caring for a child, caring for a dog—especially a senior dog with medical needs—is a huge responsibility that requires your love, energy, time, and a portion of your paycheck.

So it stands to reason that when a creature is dependent on you from day one until its final breath, you grieve as much as if you’ve lost a member of the family. Because, emotionally and mentally, that’s what it feels like. Add in the additional layer of guilt and sorrow that comes with making the decision to euthanize a dog and you’ve got quite the grief cocktail to nurse as the months go by.

Past a certain point on the grief timeline—let’s call it a few months—few dog owners are willing to admit publicly that the grief they’re still feeling is as acute as the grief they felt over losing a friend or family member. Fellow dog owners may talk about it amongst each other, might whisper that they cried more over losing their Golden Retriever than they did when Aunt Gertrude died. Some might even admit that they think of their dogs as their children but know that many a parent will balk at the notion so that’s mostly kept secret.

I’m pretty much done being silent on the subject. There are plenty of studies that indicate people grieve hard for their dogs, yet society often brushes off this grief. As noted in a Popular Science article a few months ago: “… depending on the relationship, the loss of a pet can be more traumatic than the grief we feel after the death of family and friends. In part, this is because pets share some of our most intimate relationships—we see them every day, they depend on us, we adjust our lives around their needs—and yet publicly grieving their loss is not socially acceptable.”

Dog parents are supposed to “get over it” because “it’s just a dog.”

Just a dog?

There’s little in the way of cultural support for grieving dog parents. The sympathy cards and messages from friends help immensely but there’s no three-day bereavement leave from work even though you’ve lost an incredibly important family member. There’s no funeral service unless you count the Facebook post where you tell everyone what’s happened. There’s also the perception that, a few weeks after you’ve put your dog down, you should get back to business as usual.  In reality, you’re flat-out devastated. You’re still waking up at odd hours expecting to hear the restless sounds that you’ve heard for the past year. You still reach for the medicine bottle or the leash and remember, oh yeah, that’s not the routine anymore. Many of us get another dog to fill the void, knowing full well that, years down the road, the decision to put the next dog down will happen again. But your love is too great; your feeling of emptiness is, too.

Let’s not get all caught up in the battle over what’s harder or more important, children or dogs. That’s not the point.

Let’s instead give folks who have lost a pet the time they need to grieve along with the space to grieve out loud, to talk freely about their grief – no matter how long it’s been – and about the immense guilt that comes with the decision to euthanize a pet. Let’s not judge whether it’s the right way to feel or not. And let’s be okay with people saying that their pets are like children to them because what they’re really saying here is that their love for the pet runs that deep.

And I’m here to tell anyone who feels uncomfortable saying in public that their dog (or cat or gerbil) is similar to their child and that they will mourn the loss as if that creature is a human: it’s okay. You’re totally okay by me.

Resolutely Adhering to Our Resolutions

This is Seamus and Macy Purcell reporting live from Northside where we are now one week into the new year. We’re pleased to report that we have yet to fall off the proverbial resolution wagon because we resolved to simply continue the behaviors that we have already mastered. Like, we’re really smart, beyond stable geniuses here.

“Change schmange,” says Macy. “It’s overrated. This old dog doesn’t need to learn any new tricks.”

Our deep investigation into the tradition of setting resolutions at the beginning of the new year uncovered that it’s best to aim low so here are the resolutions we have kept for seven days straight and resolve to continue for the next 358 days and beyond.

This nose for news will continue to bring you the latest and greatest from Northside and the world at large. Not to mention, my followers can’t get enough of my freckles. I predict freckles are the new black for 2018.

The Aussies of Northside are firm believers in twelve or more hours of sleep per day. Macy resolves to find the absolute best down-facing dog sleeping position to maximize comfort. Lying in the middle of the floor with front paws crossed and extended so that mom and dad have to walk around her seems to be the winning pose.

Speaking of comfort, I will continue to maximize my sofa time, including curating new pillow constructions to accommodate my needs. This also includes rearranging mom and dad as needed when they’re in my favorite spots. As an Aussie, it’s my duty to herd everyone into the right place.

Macy will continue embracing her gray and will be accessorizing with anything pink, including the bridge of her nose. The Aussies of Northside believe this is a very chic, very Paris kind of look.

In 2017, I worked hard on perfecting my “I’m starving and pathetic and really serious about needing a scrap of whatever it is you’re cooking up here” face. This year, I’ll be bringing a more serious, less cute expression because begging is serious business.

Macy will continue her quest for perfect hygiene by cleaning my ears. Sometimes she forgets I have an appointment so I just sit really close to her and nudge her until she remembers. Macy also resolves to keep her paws pristinely manicured, a healthy habit she’s kept up since she was a pup. How she does it remains a mystery but I intend to investigate her birth records to see if she’s half cat.

I am resolute in continuing my ongoing observations of The Dyson Beasts’s activities when he escapes from the closet. I will, of course, observe from a very safe distance and always with a ball in my mouth in case I need to use it as a weapon against this loud and nefarious character.

While I have no intention of getting into the clearing craze, I am assessing the condition of all of my rope toys to determine which ones are worthy of remaining in my vast collection. In order to do so, I absolutely must have all ropes out on the floor at all times for random inspection.

Reporting live from this super comfy faux fur blanket Aunt Mary brought just for me, this is Seamus and Macy Purcell hoping your resolutions have gone well this week. If it’s Sunday, it’s meet the press.







(Not) Buying All The Things

It’s the first day of 2018 and, like most everyone, I’ve made a list of things I’d like to accomplish this year, habits I’d like to change or acquire, and other things that, if they happened, would make this year insanely awesome.

Most of these things are do-able. I’m not going for lifetime achievements here, though some will require extra grit and willpower. Note that there is no mention of giving up potato chips or beer among these resolutions and intentions; I might be optimistic but I’m also a realist.

That said, I have made a couple of resolutions I’d like to share because I’ve been told that putting your intentions out there for the Universe to hear is a way to bring them to fruition.

The Upanishads, an ancient Sanskrit text, declares, “You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

So my first intention is to begin blogging again – ta-dah, I am doing just that right now! I won’t blog all that frequently, just when I feel the need to free-write and have some fun. Much of my day at work is spent writing, something I’ve done for 28 years straight. Through those years, yet more sporadically, I have spent nights and weekends working on the flip side of my writing life: fiction. As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Amy a dull girl so somewhere in between there I need a space to let loose, whether it’s blogging about the intrepid reporting of the Aussies of Northside or some other topic that’s tickling my brain cells. I don’t intend to be prolific or profound. It’s simply a way to amuse myself and maybe give you something to smile about, too.

Among my other resolutions – train for the Flying Pig, eat healthy, finish the damn novel, lose five or ten pounds, send out more short stories, spend more time with friends, clear the clutter blah blah blah – is one that could pose quite the challenge: buy less stuff.

That’s right, folks. Little old me is going to try to do a lot less shopping. Once the smelling salts start working, and you’ve picked yourself up from the floor and told 911 that this is not exactly the kind of emergency first responders are equipped to take care of, let me explain.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an essay by Ann Patchett, a writer I admire. I’ve enjoyed most of her novels, follow her bookstore’s blog along with the “shop dogs” that keep a diary, and dream that I’ll one day own an independent bookstore as cool as Parnassus Books in Nashville. (For those who have made it this far, I’m convinced Seamus would make an excellent shop dog. I’ve told Dave as much but he continues to tell me opening a bookstore is the worst idea since Synder’s came out with Coney Island-flavored potato chips that were supposed to taste like hot dogs with mustard but smelled more like a locker room filled with teenage boys after a soccer game on the hottest day in August.

As busy as she must be, I assumed Ann was one of those writers who would have no time or interest in trolling the interwebs for the latest in cropped-leg jumpsuits at anthropologie or checking out what was on sale at Pottery Barn. Turns out I was wrong. Like me, Ann often finds herself “trawling the sale section of J. Crew in idle moments.” Who knew?

In her essay, she goes on to talk about how she gave up shopping for — gulp — a whole year. The horror, the horror. It would be the end of the world as we know it if the retail therapy goddesses got wind that one of their biggest fans (me) was no longer roaming the racks and shelves and bins and online deals.

As I read on, I couldn’t fathom it. Three hundred and sixty five days without shopping, necessities like food excluded. What about the lonely, unspent gift cards? What about that super cute fit and flare skirt at half price? Not to mention all the books begging to get off my wish list and onto my nightstand. And who doesn’t need a set of adorable plates to replace last year’s adorable plates hanging in the plate holder you bought because . . . well, you can’t recall why you bought it but you’re sure you needed it at the time, most likely when you were procrastinating on a work project.

Admittedly, I’m a shopper. Not the “-aholic” variety but I do love to shop. In high school, I’d go to the mall with girlfriends to browse. As an adult, I became a fan of the retail therapy excuse — there’s nothing like a walk through a rack of marked-down shoes to cure what ails and stresses you. My first theory-excuse is that I’m visual. I like to look at things, touch things. Things, things, things — I like them! I’m the gal in the grocery checking out the new designs on the cereal boxes and paper towels. My second theory-excuse is that it’s genetic. My grandmother was a big shopper, known by the women who worked in Macy’s and Dillard’s. Thing is, my grandma was a brilliant browser-bargain-hunter. She didn’t always buy and, when she did, she made sure she was getting a good deal. I don’t always buy either, but I’ve long recognize I buy more than I need, and I waste precious time browsing.

So maybe there was something important in what Ann was saying, summed up here if you don’t have time for the full article: “The things we buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: We can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss life’s details . . . I came to a better understand of money as something we earn and spend and save for things we want and need. Once I was able to get past the want and be honest about the need, it was easier to give more of my money to people who could really use it. . . . I know there is a vast difference between not buying things and not being able to buy things. Not shopping for a year hardly makes me one with the poor, but it has put me on the path of figuring out what I can do to help.”

I read this essay on December 15 and found myself still thinking about it on December 31, so I’ve decided to add “reduce shopping” to my list of resolutions. If I’m interpreting the Sanskrit text correctly, someone might think I am shopping, that it’s my deepest desire. Do I really want that or do I want something far more rewarding, like my name on the cover of my debut novel?

I knew I couldn’t commit to going cold turkey for a year (see earlier comment about potato chips and beer) but I am committing to spending less time clicking through skirts and jackets, and I am committing to buying nothing, except the basics like food, in January, and then attempting to follow some of Ann’s rules of no shopping for the remainder of the year. Goodbye, Quick Shop view. Sayonara, New Arrivals. Arrevederci, BOGO. Until we meet again, Last Chance Markdown.

New research shows it takes at least 66 days to form a good habit, not the 21 days we’ve all heard about (sorry to burst that bubble). I’m easing myself in with a 30-day commitment. I just deleted about 1,000 emails in my junk folder, all pleas to have a look at their sales, deals and new year, new you looks. I could have chosen to take a peek at my favorite places to tab-shop — meaning I’d open a bunch of tabs in Chrome and ping-pong between the 50-off boots and the 70-off scarves — but instead I chose to write this. And, honestly, this feels so much better than saying yes to the bell-sleeved sweater.