The Literary Hill

In “Love You Hard,” Abby Maslin tells how she and her husband found new depths to their marriage following a brutal attack. Photo: Laura Elizabeth

Marriage, Interrupted
Abby and TC Maslin seemed to have it all: youth, vitality, engaging careers, a new child and a strong and loving marriage. Then, in August 2012, TC was mugged and hit in the head with a baseball bat, irrevocably altering everything forever.

In “Love You Hard: A Memoir of Marriage, Brain Injury, and Reinventing Love,” Abby Maslin tells the intimately painful story of how TC survived his life-threatening injury and how the two of them dealt with the changes in their lives – and their marriage – that came about as a result.

Their journey is a moving tribute to the courage and resiliency of the human spirit. “In life we make plans, big and small,” she reminds us. “We do so all the time, rarely questioning if those plans will come to fruition. But when we are visited by life’s curveballs – a moment no longer than the flick of a light switch – we are changed.”

Above all, though, “Love You Hard” is a heart-wrenching acknowledgment of the power of love. “Marriage is the act of choosing love again and again and again,” she writes. While she acknowledges that “the road ahead may be harder than the one we’ve already traveled,” it’s clear that together, Abby and TC will be up to the challenge.
Abby Maslin is a writer and DC public school teacher who is working to bring awareness to the challenges of traumatic brain injury and caregiving.

Writer and illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh conveys a colorful lesson through the story of an Iranian girl in “Saffron Ice Cream.”

Different Flavors
In “Saffron Ice Cream,” artist and writer Rashin Kheiriyeh takes a bittersweet look at the challenges of immigration through the eyes of a child. A little girl named Rashin reminisces about family outings in Iran, where the beach on the Caspian Sea had a curtain separating men and women – which little boys sometimes peeked through, creating chaos. “But it was fun,” she says. “Will it be fun in Brooklyn too?”

Fast forward to Coney Island, where having fun is the only rule, but the ice cream isn’t “just like back home.” She misses her saffron ice cream. She misses her best friend. “I miss everything,” she cries. Ultimately, however, she discovers that new flavors – and new friends – can be pretty amazing, too.

Kheiriyeh’s lesson in acceptance and adaptability is told both through her story and through her bright, quirky illustrations, where the characters gaze smilingly at readers, inviting us to share in a celebration of differences – and similarities.

Award-winning illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh has published more than 60 books in countries around the world and teaches in the art department at the University of Maryland. 

Jonathan Riffe, a local firefighter, revisits the case of the most prolific arsonist in DC history in “Thomas Sweatt.”

Up in Smoke
“If I can’t have it, you can’t either!” Such was the chilling rationale of a serial arsonist who confessed to setting more than 340 fires in and around DC, killing four people. Thomas Sweatt was finally caught and sent to prison in 2005. But who was this monster who “turned Washington, DC, upside down into a living hell?”

That question intrigued Jonathan Riffe, a local firefighter who wanted to know more about the arsonist’s “deadly and destructive life.” So, in 2011, Riffe wrote to Sweatt in prison and convinced him to tell his story. The result is “Thomas Sweatt: Inside the Mind of DC’s Most Notorious Arsonist.”

While Riffe steps in at points to provide clarification and context – and describes how a team of investigators finally tracked down and arrested Sweatt – he mostly steps back and lets the arsonist have his say. Inside Sweatt’s mind is not always a comfortable place to be, but thanks to Riffe, the book provides a rare and creepy glimpse into the obsessions and pathology that drove one very disturbed man.

Jonathan Riffe was formerly a lieutenant with the Washington DC Fire Department. He is currently with the Annapolis Fire Department and serves as an adjunct instructor with the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

Bill Gourgey’s latest “Cap City Kids” novel, “Castle Keep,” finds a young jazz lover/computer whiz embroiled in White House intrigue.

Grounds for Suspicion
In “Castle Keep,” the latest in Bill Gourgey’s YA novels, Mohammed “Moe” Toma is a music-loving techie teen who compares his life to the damaged horn of Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet. But now even his beloved jazz can’t pull Moe out of the “powerful current” in which he finds himself.

The orphaned Moe has fled his home and ended up in DC as the youngest member of the White House grounds crew. But when his new friend, Scarlett, an aide in the West Wing, receives a thumb drive that contains some very incriminating conversations, he’s suddenly got more on his mind than lawn maintenance. The implications are jaw-dropping – and could go all the way to the Oval Office.

Will Moe’s expertise with artificial intelligence save the day? Will Scarlett keep her nerve before her boss gets suspicious? And will Moe find his way back to the life (and the love) he left behind? Once again, Gourgey has written a suspenseful tale full of political intrigue, sophisticated technology, a few tears and a whole lot of heart.

“Castle Keep” is the fourth in Bill Gourgey’s acclaimed series of “Cap City Kids” books for young adults. 

Local author Kelsi Bracmort shows young readers how visiting a museum can be part of a perfect day in “Simone Visits the Museum.” Photo: Leanila Baptiste

A Day at the Museum
“Oh, Mommy, this building is huuuuuggggge!” Simone squeals at her first sight of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In “Simone Visits the Museum,” written by Kelsi Bracmort and illustrated by Takeia Marie, a little girl and her mother take the bus from Southeast DC to the Mall, tour the museum and have lunch at an outdoor cafe before meeting up with Dad and brother Scott in a park on the Anacostia River.

Bracmort’s goal is not to reveal the treasures that lie within the museum (she leaves that to visitors themselves), but to show children how going to a museum can be incorporated into an ordinary day and become a regular part of their lives.

She also reminds kids how to behave once they’re there. “Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Simone says impatiently when her mother quizzes her. “Stay near you at all times, lower my voice when speaking, greet the workers, and keep my hands to myself.”

Kelsi Bracmort holds an MS and a PhD in agricultural and biological engineering and serves as a reading mentor for Everybody Wins! DC, a program that promotes children’s literacy.

On the Hill in April
Visit these websites to find listings for readings, book clubs, discussions and signings:

Capitol Hill Books

East City Bookshop

The Folger Shakespeare Library

The Hill Center

Solid State Books