Never Been Better by Leanne Toshiko Simpson

Never Been Better by Leanne Toshiko Simpson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 288 pages)

If you don’t know what it’s like to struggle with mental illness, Never Been Better offers a fresh perspective with a fun plot and a good amount of humor — which, fair warning, veers toward the dark side at times. If you have experienced mental illness, or been close to someone who has, you’ll likely relate to many of the messages in this book.

The protagonist is Dee Foster, a woman with bipolar disorder who hesitantly agrees to travel to Turks and Caicos to attend the wedding of her best friends, Matt and Misa, then decides that as long as she’s there she might as well let Matt know she’s in love with him — and has been since the three of them met in a psychiatric ward.

I think it’s important to note that, although this is fiction, author Leanne Toshiko Simpson has bipolar disorder, so her characters are drawn in part from her own experiences — which, for me, was important to know, because some of the dark humor might have felt disingenuous, almost flippant, if it had been written by someone who hadn’t lived these thoughts and feelings. And using humor to cope is certainly not uncommon. (“I’m glad depression gives me the sex drive of a ham sandwich,” Dee replies when Tilley points out an attractive man and comments that she’s glad she wore her push-up bra.)

I should mention that I’m a (relatively new) therapist, so I read Never Been Better from that perspective, as well as the perspective of someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety. I respect that Toshiko Simpson doesn’t shy away from the very real challenges that mood disorders can present, even as life goes on and people plan weddings and love triangles ensue. The story somehow feels both deeply heavy and blissfully light.

Dee’s sister Tilley plays a solid part in that lightness; she’s wild, bold and fiercely dedicated to protecting Dee. She also embodies the challenges of loving someone with a mood disorder, navigating the slippery slope between emotional accommodations and tough love. In one scene, Dee is struggling hard to get up for an early-morning barre class at the resort they’re staying at, thanks in no small part to the side effects of her medications. But this is nothing new to her, or to Tilley.

“‘After this many years of living in the same house, I should have earned a damn black belt in helping you wake up,’ said Tilley. ‘Just today I’ve pulled all the sheets off your body, turned all the lights on, licked the side of your face…’ More footsteps, then Tilley dumped a full glass of water over my head.”

As Dee struggles openly and honestly, she feels some resentment toward Misa, whose wealthy family doesn’t know she met Dee and Matt in the psychiatric ward, because she never told them she was there as a patient and continues to conceal her mental illness from them, presumably because it doesn’t “fit” into their tidy, proper world.

“Misa went on to run an entire golf tournament dedicated to bipolar disorder without happening to mention her [own bipolar disorder]. … What I really wanted was for her to … be messy in her illness, like I was in mine.”

Good days for Dee are the ones where she doesn’t crave a depression nap, she can get across town on a bus without having a panic attack, or she can make it through a first date without the guy asking, before she’s about to spend the night, whether she’ll be the same person when she wakes up in the morning. So getting through this destination wedding is all kinds of hard, as she navigates her feelings about Matt (while also trying to figure out how to confront him after she finds out he’s stopped taking his meds) and her feelings about Misa, who she felt so close with when they were in the hospital but feels so distant from now.

Along with those considerable issues, Dee is fighting to keep up with the daily pre-wedding activities among Misa and Matt’s friends and family — a whole other fun cast of characters that bring levity to this book, from a kindhearted grandma to a spunky but wise cousin.

This is the debut novel for Toshiko Simpson, who, awesomely, also co-founded a reflective writing program at Canada’s largest mental health hospital. Though at times Never Been Better edges a little too close to the line between mirth and despair, in Toshiko Simpson’s understanding hands it comes together as a heartfelt story of persevering time and time again in the face of mental illness. A-

The Women by Kristen Hannah

The Women by Kristen Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, 480 pages)

I am not, generally speaking, a lover of historical fiction, but something about the way Kristen Hannah does it is so right: a rich blend of shocking truths, visceral emotions and captivating characters. She did it well with Four Winds and spectacularly with The Nightingale, and she does it again with her latest, The Women.

The Women is set in the era of the Vietnam War. I am not a history buff, which is probably why I don’t veer toward historical fiction often, so I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention when being taught about the Vietnam War in school, or if it was just never talked about in a way that made any kind of lasting impression. Or at all. In any case, it was news to me to read that veterans coming home were spit on and shunned, and that the government, for a long time, wasn’t sharing the depth of the devastation that was happening overseas.

Frances McGrath — Frankie — joins the Army as a combat nurse and heads off to war at the age of 21. She’s following in her brother’s footsteps and hopes — naively — to make a place for herself on her dad’s “heroes wall,” which features photographs of all the men in the family who have served their country.

But when she tells her parents that she’s signed up for a tour, they’re horrified.

“‘Take it back. Unvolunteer.’ Mom looked at Dad. She got to her feet slowly. ‘Good Lord, what will we tell people?’”

It wasn’t the future that her parents expected for her, or that society approved of.

“Frankie had been taught to believe that her job was to be a good housewife, to raise well-mannered children and keep a lovely home. In her Catholic high school, they’d spent days learning how to iron buttonholes to perfection, how to precisely fold a napkin, how to set an elegant table.”

Instead, amidst the backdrop of war, Frankie grows up. We watch her lose her innocence as she’s confronted with gruesome injuries and innumerable deaths at work, deplorable living conditions, oppressive weather in the form of heat and monsoons, and a social scene that includes a lot of drinking. She arrives as a young girl who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and easily turns down propositions from married men. She’s not the same girl when she returns to Coronado.

Hannah splits the book into Frankie’s time at war and the years following her return. Both time periods are bleak for Frankie, for obvious reasons when she’s at war and for some pretty depressing reasons when she comes back home, including that the country seems to have turned on its veterans. On top of that, few people believe that women served in Vietnam. Her parents, whom she so badly wanted to impress, pretend she wasn’t there.

Through it all, fellow Vietnam nurses and “hooch” mates — bunkmates — Barb and Ethel are by Frankie’s side whenever she needs them. They show her the ropes when she arrives, and they show up at her door when she’s spiraling downward at home. The three women come from very different backgrounds, and despite the divergent paths they take when they return to the U.S., they never lose touch. More than once, Barb and Ethel prove to be Frankie’s lifeline. It’s a beautiful friendship, adding bursts of color to an intrinsically dark story.

And, of course, there are men, many of whom vie for Frankie’s attention. Love happens, in complicated and heartbreaking ways. But those are secondary stories, really; there is no doubt that Hannah’s intention is to give a voice to the women who served in Vietnam.

Although this is a work of fiction, Hannah makes it very clear in her author’s note and acknowledgments that she did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people who experienced the war, so I have to believe that most of Frankie’s experiences were not embellished or exaggerated. Hannah also notes that she originally used fictional names of places, but her Vietnam War readers felt strongly about keeping those details accurate, so the settings are all real.

There are a couple of moments toward the end of the book that seem somewhat contrived, but this is a small quibble, and honestly, the whole story might seem contrived if you didn’t know it was based in large part on real experiences.

Hannah superbly blends the heaviness of war with the frailty of humans at their most vulnerable — and often at their best. A

Meghan Siegler

Familia, by Lauren E. Rico

Familia, by Lauren E. Rico (Kensington, 368 pages)

I started reading Familia in a hotel room while waiting for my daughter to get ready to go to dinner – and promptly lost all desire to go out to dinner. (I mean, we went — she wasn’t about to buy “but I really like this book” as a reason not to).

Lauren E. Rico’s novel is a fast-paced story that covers a lot of bases: family, obviously, but also different cultures and how they form us, a bit of a mysterious crime, and coming to terms with a life that can change in so many significant and unexpected ways.

A DNA test brings together Gabriella and Isabella, the former young woman fully believing the results were a mistake and the latter having no doubt that they weren’t. Isabella, who has lived her whole life in Puerto Rico, used to have a sister, Marianna, and she disappeared when she was seven months old while in the care of their extremely inebriated father. Gabby, a magazine fact-checker who lives in New York City and was raised by now-deceased parents whom she loved deeply, does not believe it’s possible that the parents who raised her — Mack and Lucy — were not, perhaps, her birth parents.

Gabby embarks on a trip to Puerto Rico, for the sole purpose of writing a magazine story about what happens when DNA test results are wrong. She thinks it’s the perfect way to show her boss that she has talents beyond fact-checking and deserves a staff position as a writer.

It seemed a little unbelievable that Gabby is a fact checker — her job is literally to dig in and find facts — and yet she doesn’t make much of an effort to dig into the facts about her family history despite the DNA test results. I guess there’s that emotional component that would make it difficult to believe that your history is anything other than what you remember and what you’ve been made to believe.

As Gabby explains to Isabella, “For what you’re saying to be true, I’d have to believe Mack and Lucy would have — could have — literally stolen a baby off the street. … This isn’t about not being able to believe that I’m your sister. It’s about being able to believe that I’m not their daughter. And I just … I can’t.”

The story mainly alternates between Gabby’s and Isabella’s points of view, but there’s a whole cast of interesting characters, and Rico gives most of them at least one chapter. This means the story is tied together from all sorts of perspectives, from Alberto’s — the book opens with him, coming to on a street, baby missing — to the detectives’ on the missing-baby case. It was a really fun way to see the mystery unravel, because, of course, nearly everyone has a secret. The narrative also switches between now and “that day,” the day the baby disappeared, offering another compelling angle.

There’s the mystery, and then there’s the juxtaposition of two young women who were raised very differently and have different kinds of intelligence; Gabby is more book smart while Isabella is more street smart. Rico shows this subtly but effectively, in scenes like this one, from Isabella’s point of view, as the women walk through one of the shabbier areas of Puerto Rico.

“When Gabby takes out her phone to snap a picture, all she can see is the mural — a spray-paint reproduction of the Mona Lisa draped in a Puerto Rican flag. All I can see are the two guys standing just out of the frame, conducting a little street-side retail.”

There’s definitely a “wealthy girl from NYC vs. poor girl from San Juan” piece of the narrative, and while I personally didn’t feel like it was overdone, I think someone who is of Puerto Rican descent or is more familiar with Latino culture would likely read the representations of Puerto Rico a lot differently than I did. A lot of the descriptions shine a negative light on the people and places of Puerto Rico, mainly San Juan and la Perla, and I can’t pretend to know how accurate they are. The author does include a note at the beginning of the novel explaining her own family history and that she is trying to honor her heritage and the stories she heard from her Cuban grandfather and Puerto Rican grandmother, along with her extensive DNA connections to the island and her own experiences visiting there (which she acknowledges were from a tourist point of view).

Familia is a quick read that manages to be both fun and a bit dark, but it’s also meaningful and has a lot of heart. A-

Maame, by Jessica George

Maame, by Jessica George (St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages)

There’s a lot to like about 25-year-old Maddie Wright, the main character in Jessica George’s debut novel. Born in Ghana and living in London, Maddie is navigating her unique brand of young adulthood struggles, from low-key workplace racism to familial responsibilities and expectations. She is sweet and kind and very innocent, at times frustratingly so. But watching Maddie grow up and figure out who she is and who she wants to be is what Maame is all about, and it’s a charming journey.

In some ways, Maddie is forced to be more of an adult than many 25-year-olds; she’s taking care of her dad, who has Parkinson’s disease, and her mom, though still married to her dad, spends most of her time in Ghana running a hostel while Maddie and her dad live in London. Her mom is critical of Maddie and the fact that she isn’t as engaged in her Ghanaian heritage and customs as her mother would like her to be — yet Maddie is the one paying all the bills at home and sending money to her mom in Ghana, while her brother does little to help.

In other ways, though, Maddie seems younger than most women her age, and she knows it. That’s why she sets a goal to transform herself into “The New Maddie.” She makes a list of who she wants to be, which includes “drinks alcohol when offered, always says yes to social events, tries weed or cigarettes at least once (but don’t get addicted!), goes on dates, is not a virgin,” and so on.

Maddie gets the chance to work on these goals when her mom returns to London for a year to take over the care of her husband. Maddie moves out and into a flatshare with two women her age, both very different and seemingly more worldly than she is, which gives her a whole new opportunity to live her own life. At the same time, she starts a new job at a publishing house, and, of course, there’s suddenly a new guy hanging around. (Happily, though, romance is not a central plotline but rather a nonintrusive piece of Maddie’s coming-of-age puzzle.)

George expertly depicts both Maddie’s Gen Z traits and her innocence through her frequent Google searches. She Googles random things like “back pain in your mid-twenties” and gets mostly-useless answers from random people: “CC: ‘It’s all linked to the Government. … From a young age we’re told office jobs are the goal. Then you sit at a desk hunched over 9-5, 5 days a week for most of your younger years.’ LG: ‘Why would the government want a nation suffering from back pain?’ CC: ‘So we don’t take over.’”

Many of her questions show her uncertainty and lack of confidence, particularly in the social domain. Waiting to hear back from a potential love interest, she Googles “How long do guys wait before asking a girl out on a date?” (Some very realistic Google answers range from: “I spent four months getting to know my now-girlfriend before I asked her out on a date” to “One hour.”) George incorporates these searches sparingly enough that they’re not annoying and they add some relatability to Maddie’s character no matter how different she is from the reader. We can all relate to the frustration of such drastically diverse search results with no definitive answer from a source — the almighty internet — that is supposed to have all the answers. (Honestly, who hasn’t Googled “weird rash” and been led to believe it’s either totally normal or a sign of impending death?)

Maame covers all the bases of growing up with cultural barriers, without being heavy-handed or preachy. Despite Maddie’s sometimes cringy naivete, I was rooting for her all along. Her story is often funny, and always heartfelt and engaging. A

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman (Harper, 304 pages)

I’ve never before finished a book and thought, “That was delightful,” but that’s the phrase that kept running through my mind as I transitioned from the fictional world of Ms. Demeanor to the bleak reality of New Hampshire in winter. It was a bright spot in a string of cold, gray days, and it’s a step up from the typical beach read romance, with a unique plot, witty writing and fun, well-developed characters.

Protagonist Jane Young, a spunky, sassy lawyer, is under house arrest for public indecency, having been caught on camera by her nosy neighbor as she was enjoying an intimate moment with a coworker on her semi-private rooftop.

This house arrest leads to Jane meeting an amusing cast of characters, including cute, age-appropriate Perry Salisbury, whom she learns from her doorman is also under house arrest, also for a white-collar crime. (I said it was a unique plot, not necessarily a believable one — regardless, a nice change from the average fictional meet-cute.) I like that Perry is just a normal dude. In many chick-lit-type novels, the male characters who end up with the female protagonist are often portrayed as pompous jerks who eventually show that they have a kinder, softer side worth loving, or as friendly next-door-neighbor types (as opposed to an actual neighbor, a la Perry, who is neither annoyingly friendly nor a pompous jerk). He’s a great foil to Jane, pretty chill and tolerant compared to her less relaxed, quicker-to-anger vibes.

Lipman’s minor characters are well-developed and quirky. There’s Mandy, another building dweller Jane introduces herself to, because why not, being stuck there for six months, and there are Dani and Krzysztof, whom Jane meets because of their relation to the old woman who called the cops on her. Even Perry’s parents are hilarious, his mom especially, being all posh and snotty but also likable somehow.

This book features a lot of relationships of convenience. Jane and Perry’s relationship is transactional at first, starting with food — Jane is trying her hand at making food from the 1800s and posting her cooking videos on TikTok, and she agrees to make meals for Perry as well, which gets her a bit of a paycheck and helps him curb his fast-food habit. That quickly transitions to a friends-with-benefits situation.

Dani and Krzysztof, meanwhile, are looking for green cards through any means necessary so they don’t get deported back to Poland. They ask Jane to hook Krzysztof up with anyone she knows who might want to get married, like perhaps her twin sister Jackleen, who is saved from the absurdity of even considering that plan because when Jane mentions it to Mandy — a quirky woman who apparently has no qualms with marrying someone, anyone, because her biological clock is ticking — Mandy jumps on the opportunity.

Some of Ms. Demeanor’s plot seems to go off the rails at times. For example, there’s a possible murder situation that isn’t really resolved — but that didn’t bother me at all because a resolution wasn’t really the point. The whole cooking on TikTok thing, which Jane is doing because for some unknown reason her sister has been asking her to for years, was kind of pointless. Jane cooking for Perry would have made just as much sense without that, though it may be more that I don’t understand how people use TikTok. Like, she’s making very old-school foods while complaining about her current house-arrest situation — why would anyone care? But my teenage kids tell me it’s normal to follow random people doing random things. My daughter was just watching a total stranger getting ready for a first date while talking about the guy’s red flags. So, there’s that.

The easy, witty writing made me want to keep reading no matter which storyline Lipman was on. Plus, it’s a quick read with those deliberately short chapters that make a book hard to put down (just one more chapter, I thought many times). I think the readability is one of the reasons it’s so delightful. Sure, there’s no going back to read over gems of sentences; this isn’t Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination. It’s fast-paced and fun and at no point trying to be a contender for a Pulitzer Prize. So if you’re looking for serious, this isn’t it. B

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine, 384 pages)

You know when a book’s protagonist is really hard to like but, for reasons that you can’t quite understand, you root for her anyway? That is Carrie Soto.
When we meet Carrie, she’s 37 and has been retired from professional tennis for six years. After watching Nicki Chan match her Grand Slam record, she decides to come out of retirement and win back her spot at the top of the tennis world.
Taylor Jenkins Reid has created a character in Carrie who is so real, I keep expecting her to show up in daily sports headlines. But her name appears in fictional media stories time and again, as Jenkins Reid uses sports commentary and news articles to help shed light on what the world thinks of Carrie. And the world sees her exactly as she is: supremely talented but ruthless. In fact, she was given the nickname of “the Battle-Axe” when she was in her prime.
We see some of that ruthlessness during a press conference that takes place during her first event back, the Australian Open. One of the reporters asks if there’s truth to her comeback being a stunt. Carrie responds, “I’ve proven so far that my game is outstanding. So everyone can whine and moan all they want about me being here, but I’ve earned the right.”
Another reporter asks about her upcoming match, to which she replies, “I’m gonna crush Carla Perez and anyone else I play on my way to the final. I’m going to hold their beating hearts in my hand.”
That’s Carrie, inside and out. She’s as abrasive internally as she is externally; it’s not just a show for the media. She’s hard on everyone else, and she’s equally hard on herself. We see this in the thoughts that permeate her mind during her games, including during a tight match against Natasha Antonovich, one of her more formidable rivals.
“I do not look at my father. I do not want to see the worry in his eyes. I tell myself: Do not let her win this set. You are either a champion or a ****up. There is no in-between.”
Rarely, we see Carrie’s vulnerability. She puts a hard wall up against Bowe Huntley, a fellow tennis pro with whom she’d gotten too close to in the past. She has the chance to train with him again, and she imagines a scenario in which she does let him back into her life.
“He’ll say something wonderful at some point, and I’ll start to believe he means it, despite all evidence to the contrary. And then I’ll start to like him or love him or feel something that I swear I’ve never felt before. And then one day, when I’m in too deep, he’ll stop liking or loving me, for one reason or another. And I’ll be left with a hole in my heart.”
Also softening the storyline is Carrie’s relationship with her dad and coach, Javier, a former pro himself. Their relationship, at first, seems all business; when Carrie trains with him as a child, Javi is demanding and has what some might see as unrealistically high expectations. But as the story goes on, we see how deeply he loves her and just wants her to be happy. And Carrie’s feelings for him change, seeming to soften over the years. She had fired him as her coach during her pre-retirement career, but she agrees to work with him for her comeback. Javi becomes a likable character, an endearing foil to Carrie’s hard-headedness.
Carrie Soto is Back is very much about tennis, but don’t let that stop you from picking it up, even if you care nothing about sports in general or tennis in particular. I’ve never played tennis, never watched more than a few minutes of tennis, and never really cared to. But Carrie is tennis, and who she is is expressed through her intense tennis practices, tennis games and tennis relationships.
It helps that Jenkins Reid has done her homework. According to an Aug. 29 interview on The Cut, Reid has played tennis for fun, but “I don’t think I’ve ever won a game, let alone a set or a match. … I had to learn it all for this book, and I’m very insecure about it. Did I learn it right? I don’t know, guys. I’m an imposter. I’m trying really hard. I’m trying to learn as much as I can so that I can give you a good time.”
Jenkins Reid has done just that. Carrie Soto is Back is a good time, not in spite of Carrie’s brashness — or the intense focus on tennis — but because of it. A-

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf, 416 pages)

If a great writer is someone who can take a subject like video games — loved by some, maligned by others, inconsequential to the rest — and use it to weave together a story that even the latter two categories of people can appreciate, then Gabrielle Zevin is a great writer.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is about love, friendship and, yes, video games. That might sound like the premise of a young adult novel written to entice middle school gamers to put down the controller and pick up a book, but no; this is a beautifully written, emotionally complex story that unravels over the span of 30 years through various characters’ points of view — though mainly protagonists Sam Masur and Sadie Green’s — and in settings that range from hospitals to living rooms that serve as creative epicenters and offices, to inside the world of a video game that Sam creates.

Sam and Sadie met as kids in a hospital, where Sam was recovering from a car accident that killed his mom and Sadie was visiting her sister, who had cancer. Their very first interaction drew me in, with some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. Sadie walks into the hospital’s game room, where Sam is playing Super Mario Bros. She sits down next to him and watches him play.

“Without looking over at her, he said, ‘You want to play the rest of this life?’

Sadie shook her head. ‘No. You’re doing really well. I can wait until you’re dead.’

The boy nodded. He continued to play, and Sadie continued to watch.

‘Before. I shouldn’t have said that,’ Sadie apologized. ‘I mean, in case you are actually dying. This being a children’s hospital.’

The boy, piloting Mario, climbed up a vine that led to a cloudy, coin-filled area. ‘This being the world, everyone’s dying,’ he said.

‘True,’ Sadie said.

‘But I’m not currently dying.’

‘That’s good.’

‘Are you dying?’ the boy asked.

‘No,’ Sadie said. ‘Not currently.’

‘What’s wrong with you then?’

‘It’s my sister. She’s sick.’

‘What’s wrong with her?’

‘Dysentery.’ Sadie didn’t feel like invoking cancer, the destroyer of natural conversation.”

Thus begins their relationship, though it’s derailed after 14 months when Sam finds out that Sadie has been counting the time she spends with him at the hospital as a community service project: “Their friendship amounted to 609 hours, plus the four hours of the first day, which had not been part of the tally.”

Sam and Sadie reconnect in their college years after a chance meeting at the subway station. They end up collaborating on a video game, Ichigo, which is a huge success and propels them toward future collaborations. Over the years, though, that work is complicated by emotions and miscommunications, deep love and unrequited romantic love, outside forces and other people, like Sam’s roommate, Marx, and Sadie’s professor/lover, Dov. These characters are what make Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow the compelling story that it is, and they’re a big part of the reason why people who don’t like video games can still appreciate this book. These are characters that readers can care about, and get mad at, and grieve with.

Zevin’s writing is exquisite; there are so many passages and sentences in the book that are worth reading more than once — an especially good thing when time jumps and perspective shifts get a little confusing and you need to stop for a moment and reread to make sure you know what’s going on.

There are some people who are not going to be able to get past all the video game references, because there are a lot. There are references to old-school games, and there are some technical aspects related to the behind-the-scenes work of creating a game, like design and programming and graphics engines (I’m still not quite clear on what such an engine does or why it can seemingly make or break the quality of a game, but those details don’t take away from the ability to understand what’s going on). There’s also a whole section that takes place in a video game called Pioneers, and while it wasn’t my favorite part, I can appreciate the depth that it adds to the storyline, as the game becomes an essential part of Sam and Sadie’s relationship.

I haven’t considered rereading a book in years — who has the time when there are so many new books waiting to be read — but this is one that I’m definitely going back to again, to savor the prose, spend more time with the characters and possibly get a better handle on what a graphics engine does — not that it really matters. A

Book Events

Author events

PHIL PRIMACK presents Put It Down On Paper: The Words and Life of Mary Folsom Blair in a Literary Lunchtime event at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, on Thursday, Sept. 8, at noon.

MINDY MESSMER presents Female Disruptors: Stories of Mighty Female Scientists at the Bookery (844 Elm St., Manchester, 836-6600, on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 5:30 p.m. Free admission; register at

SUSIE SPIKOL, a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, will discuss her book The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed, on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 11 a.m. at Toadstool Bookshop (12 Depot Square in Peterborough;, 924-3543).

JOSEPH D. STEINFIELD presents Time for Everything: My Curious Life at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m.

BOB BUDERI author of Where Futures Converge: Kendall Square and the Making of a Global Innovation Hub will beat the Bookery (844 Elm St., Manchester, 836-6600) on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 5:30 p.m. for a discussion with special guests C.A. Webb and Liz Hitchcock. Free admission; register at

SUSIE SPIKOL, a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, will come to Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St. in Concord;, 224-0562) to “teach your kiddos how to find critters in their neighborhood” on Saturday, Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. with her book The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed, according to a press release. The book, which is slated for release Sept. 13, features “50 hands-on activities and adventures that bring you closer to wild animals than you’ve ever been,” the release said. Spikol will also bring supplies to do one of the crafts from the book.

MARGARET PORTER presents The Myrtle Wand at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 6:30 p.m.


OPEN MIC POETRY hosted by the Poetry Society of NH at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562,, starting with a reading by poet Sam DeFlitch, on Wednesday, July 20, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Newcomers encouraged. Free.

MARTHA COLLINS and L.R. BERGER hosted by the Poetry Society of NH at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Writers groups

MERRIMACK VALLEY WRITERS’ GROUP All published and unpublished local writers who are interested in sharing their work with other writers and giving and receiving constructive feedback are invited to join. The group meets regularly Email

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. 844 Elm St., Manchester. Visit or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email or visit

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email or visit



Offered remotely by the Franco-American Centre. Six-week session with classes held Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. $225. Visit or call 623-1093.

Getting back into the creative flow

Nashua art advocate’s work on exhibit at the library

When she wasn’t busy running Positive Street Art in Nashua, or working as the constituent services and cultural affairs coordinator in the city’s Office of the Mayor, Cecilia Ulibarri carved out some time in the past few years to work on her own art, including during an intense residency at the Factory on Willow in Manchester. The result of those efforts can be seen in her new exhibit, “Journeys of an Artist,” on display in the Nashua Public Library Art Gallery now through June 30.

“It has some of the pieces from when I first started through what I created through the residency,” Ulibarri said. “I thought it was kind of cool to show that journey of my role as an artist.”

She grew up with a family of artists so was always exposed to it, she said, but she never really took art seriously until she was about 30. And once she did, she found it challenging to share her work with others.

“Unless you’re part of [an artists’] group it was really hard to get in spaces if you didn’t have … traditional art,” she said. “A lot of my stuff is abstract contemporary.”

Ulibarri started with small shows at her home, then started to expand and became part of RAW Artist Collaborative from 2011 to 2014, showcasing in Boston and once in New York.

Also during that time, she met Manuel Ramirez — now her husband — and connected through art.

“We started wanting to do murals in town,” Ulibarri said. “We talked to a bunch of citizens, and it seemed like that was something the citizens would actually embrace.”

In 2012, the couple founded Positive Street Art, a Nashua nonprofit that is still beautifying the community today.

And then her own art fell by the wayside again.

“While I was building the nonprofit, I kind of got lost in my own workflow,” she said. “I would work most of the time while Manny was the lead artist on most of these murals, so I didn’t give myself time to create.”

More recently — and in large part because she had some extra time to slow down and think during the pandemic — Ulibarri realized she wanted to start making more time to create.

“I need to keep doing the things that make me happy and fulfill me,” she said.

She dove headfirst into the artists in residency program at the Factory on Willow; she and Ramirez did it together and stayed onsite in the Manchester space in order to get the full experience.

“I was so intimidated to get back into the creative flow and purge some of the ideas that I’d been holding on to,” Ulibarri said.

She said the Factory on Willow doesn’t dictate what you’re working on, but it does offer help and resources on whatever aspect of your art you want help with; Ramirez, for example, wanted to revamp his website. Ulibarri focused on her abstract art.

“I’m inspired by many things, and I don’t like to limit myself on my mediums on what I do,” she said. “I guess my creative flow just stems from shapes and colors and using the feelings that I’m having behind them transporting them onto canvas.”

Some of her works in the show feature new-to-her techniques.

“I fell in love with foils,” she said. “There’s just something about shiny things — it adds some luxury to it, and it just attracts the eye.”

There’s also a piece that layers wood pieces and resin, creating a kind of 3D effect that she hadn’t done before.

“I would like people to realize that abstract and contemporary art is more of a chance to be able to … look at themselves or feel through the art that they’re looking at, to really be able to experience it in a different way,” she said. “When you take yourself away from the heaviness of society … and really just connect with shapes and colors, really just feel the art … [it’s] a little bit deeper than just walking by [a piece] and saying, oh that’s a landscape.”

While the show is called “Journeys of an Artist,” Ulibarri said the average person might think it’s like looking at works from two different artists.

“I feel like we try to keep ourselves in a box, but I feel like that’s very limiting,” she said. “I like to take myself out of that box sometimes and get out of that comfort zone.”

Ulibarri was set to take another step out of her comfort zone on June 1, transitioning from president and cofounder of Positive Street Art to executive director. The organization just rented a larger space, and a grand opening is scheduled for June 5, from 1 to 5 p.m. at 48 Bridge St. Tickets are $30; find the event on PSA’s Facebook page.

“We’re creating [more] safe spaces for artists,” she said.

“Journeys of an Artist”
Where: Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St.
When: Now through June 30 anytime the library is open. There’s a Meet the Artist reception Thursday, June 2, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Featured photo: Savoir Faire. Art by Cecilia Ulibarri. Courtesy photo.

Sculpted merriment

Visit artists at work at Nashua International Sculpture Symposium

Three artists have spent the past two weeks carving merriment out of metal and stone as they work toward their final creations for the 15th annual Nashua International Sculpture Symposium.

The theme this year is merriment — in part to honor Meri Goyette, a major Nashua arts supporter who inspired the event — and you can still watch the artists bring that theme to life at their worksite outside the Picker Artists building, where they’ve been since May 12, for about 14 hours a day every day.

“This is all for the sake of the public, for accessible public art,” said Jim Larson, the event’s artistic director. “The art produced is not a luxury object that you would see in a gallery — it is everyday artwork that is impactful and powerful. [It shows] we need artwork in our life every day, like food.”

As it has been since the pandemic started, the artists this year are all from the U.S.: Anna Miller is from Connecticut, Brent Howard is from New Jersey and Corinna D’Schoto is from Boston.

“We usually have international sculptors,” symposium president Gail Moriarty said. “[But it’s] really cool that they speak the same language.”

That makes for a different atmosphere than some past years, when artists have needed interpreters or have spoken limited English.

“They have amazing chemistry and a lot of dialogue,” Larson said. “The definition of symposium … is a gathering of people to converse, drink and share ideas [and they’re] really leaning into that.”

The artists are chosen not necessarily for their past sculptures, but for their potential.

“Two of our artists had never carved a piece of stone in their life, and they’re absolutely killing it,” Larson said.

One artist hasn’t worked with either metal or stone, he said, and it’s not unusual for the symposium board to choose artists who don’t have experience with large-scale sculptures and materials. Larson likened it to hiring someone for a job who has a great resume and the right attitude and is a good fit even if they don’t have the specific experience of that position.

“My job as the director here is to kind of make that leap,” he said. “You end up with a new take, a fresh perspective, and it shows in the finished work.”

Once they saw the site and the materials and tools they have to work with, the artists spent their first days in Nashua planning and sketching.

“We let them do whatever they want — it depends on the creative process of the artist,” Moriarty said. “It’s different for everybody, and we welcome that.”

Part of the purpose of the symposium, Larson said, is to give artists the support to try something new, including access to tools and materials.

“[The event] allows them to make work that they couldn’t or wouldn’t otherwise make,” he said.

Larson, who has a background in structural metal fabrication and structural stone masonry, sources the materials for these projects.

“[Some of] this year’s stone came from a small family quarry operation in West Rutland, Vermont,” Larson said. “It’s some of the nicest white marble in the world, and it’s a delight to carve.”

One artist is using Lake Champlain black marble that’s full of fossils and is from the oldest known reef on the planet, Larson said. Because of his background, Larson said, he knows what materials are best for carving, and where to find them. But part of his role is teaching these sculptors the art of sourcing their materials.

“An artist that has a really fruitful, creative practice, who is a widely creative person … should be able to creatively source their material as well,” he said.

The artists will be at the Picker building until about June 1, when they’ll start transporting their pieces to the installation site. Sculptures from years past can be seen throughout the city; this year, they’ll be at one site on Commercial Street, Moriarty said, next to the old bridge.

“They’ll be in the middle of the big push to get their work done,” Larson said of the artists’ final weekend of sculpting. “It’s the most exciting time.”

Visitors are encouraged to stop by the site while they’re finishing up the final touches.

“It’s such a rare thing to be able to see an artist working through these tangible things,” Larson said. “They’re working in front of a huge brick wall that becomes [like] a stage. It’s a pretty absurd look.”

Nashua is the only city in the country to host an international sculpture symposium, and both Larson and Moriarty emphasized the importance of the community in being able to host the event. Residents host the artists in their homes, bring meals as they work and provide transportation.

“The public is what keeps us going every year,” Moriarty said.

15th annual Nashua International Sculpture Symposium
Where: The Picker Artists building, 3 Pine St., Nashua, until June 1, when they’ll start moving their pieces to the installation site near the old bridge on Commercial Street
When: Visit the artists at the Picker building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day until they start transporting their pieces to Commercial Street, where will be a closing ceremony on Saturday, June 4, at 1 p.m.
More information:

Featured photo: Corinna D’Schoto is sketching details to make cuts/curve out contours of a clavicle bone (suspended by gantry). Courtesy photo.


Get two weekends of swords, ladies and lords, music and more at the NH Renaissance Faire

Knights, archers, jousters, pirates — you’ll find them all at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire, back in person and happening over the course of two weekends, May 14 and 15 and May 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

“We’re very excited,” said Marc Bernier, general manager and president of the Board of Directors for the Renaissance Faire. “There have been a lot of changes because of Covid, and it’s been a lot of work. … Some of our acts and vendors have had to shut their doors either because of their health or [for financial reasons] … [but] we have a number of new acts.”

There are also new food vendors and new interactive activities for kids, including ax and knife throwing. And the whole fair has moved across the street to a bigger field.

“People will be parking in the same parking lot but just walk in the other direction,” Bernier said.

Traditional favorites will be back, including archery demos and practice shooting with the Junior Olympic archery division, as well as the Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword and the jousting demos.

Bernier said about 30 percent of the people who attend dress in full Renaissance “garb,” which is what they call costumes, and about 20 percent come in partial garb.

“A lot of people will build their costumes as they go to fairs, so they might start with a tunic and then add a cloak [at the next fair] and then add footwear,” he said.

Each day of the fair has a theme, and visitors are encouraged to dress up based on the day’s theme: There’s Wizards and Fairies Day the first Saturday, and Heritage Day the first Sunday, then Pirates and Barbarians Day the second Saturday, and the last day is Literature, TV and Movies.

“Ren faires have probably gotten a little bit of an odd or bad rap — a bunch of nerdy kids running around in costumes,” Bernier said. “But thousands of people come in [and are able to] let their inner nerd out a little bit, because everyone is doing it.”

The Hippo reached out to some of this year’s entertainers, who shared via email their techniques for getting into character, their favorite part of the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire and more.

Marc Bernier as Master Marcus Bowyer, archer

Bernier is also the general manager and president of the Board of Directors for the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire.

man at renaissance faire dressed in costume
Marc Bernier. Photo by Triple-G Photography.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I am the general manager of the Faire and I have been involved in ren faires for over 20 years in one capacity or another. I have worked in nearly every aspect of Faire except food service.

What’s your process for getting into character?

I play a variety of characters. The process depends on which, but most of them are primarily based on the garb (costume) the character wears.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

I don’t generally have to. I slide right into the role.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

This also relates to the character. I try to fit the theme for the day unless I have a specific role. I like being available for pictures with people and improvised interacting.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

The charity donation we raise is my reason for putting in the work.

J.D. Lauriat as pirate Avery Meritt

Lauriat is the Village Cast Director and Combat Director for New Hampshire Renaissance Faire and one of the members of the musical act The Penniless Jacks.

man in costume at renaissance faire, playing hand drum
J.D. Lauriat. Photo by Triple-G Photography.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

Well, I have been working/performing at various renaissance faires since 2006. I started out as part of a village cast that focused on patron interaction and mixed in a bit of singing and sword fighting. Fast forward to today and I’ve been director at a few events, I’ve been part of several stage shows and performances, and [I have] traveled throughout New England doing everything from acting to fight performance to music shows to directing cast to teaching stage combat.

What’s your process for getting into character?

It ultimately depends on the character that I am playing, but I always tell my cast, especially those who are new to this, to use a piece of your costume as a sort of catalyst for getting into character. It could be your hat, or a doublet, or even something mundane like a pin or brooch that you wear. I’ve played several very different characters over the years, from Pirate to Grave Digger to Nobility. This year, I am simply the owner of a local tavern. For me, it’s often the hat. The main process for getting ready, for me, is to silently role-play or act out a scene that my character might be in. It’s often a variation of the same scene each time, but it’s something that really encompasses the mindset and characteristics of the person I’m going to be playing for the day.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

As I mentioned, I will often play out a scene that the character could be in, but that doesn’t work for all situations. Some shows, when I’m just performing with The Penniless Jacks, don’t lend themselves well to being a character because we spend so much time on stage. So the start of the day is typically a bit of panic with a dash of fear. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and a stage show still terrifies me, and I suspect it always will. I had a wonderful director years ago tell me that it’s a good sign to have a bit of fear before a show, because it means you care.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

My character, Avery Meritt, brings a sense of protection to the rest of the village. Many of the locals are unaware of his past, but they know he isn’t to be trifled with. Still, he runs the local tavern and inn, and keeps the doors open as a sort of hospitality house for his neighbors. For the patrons attending the faire, he brings a warm welcome, a bit of conversation, and music to remember.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

Honestly, aside from the fact that it’s a charity event, I would say the music. Throughout the years, I have seen so many amazing musicians and acts pass through, and many of them have become good friends. I love that it’s a rare moment that you don’t hear wonderful songs echoing throughout the grounds.

Ilkka Eskelinen as Lord Sheriff Alistair Fynne

Eskelinen performs with the Shimmynanigans, belly dancers at the Faire.

man at renaissance faire, resting on cushions
Ilkka Eskelinen. Courtesy photo.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

My regular day-to-day work is as a job superintendent for a commercial construction company, as well as the safety officer and equipment trainer. I’m 52, born in Fitchburg, Mass. I have been a performer since 2010, originally as a villager. I sang shanties with a pirate crew for a few years. I also perform as a Viking, and recently had the honor to lead a service for a Viking-style funeral.

What’s your process for getting into character?

My process for getting into character: It all starts as soon as I wake on the day of faire. Getting my gear together for the day, sorting through and choosing what particular accouterments I’ll wear that day. While my costume stays fairly constant, I’ll adjust my outfit based on the temperature and weather outlook. My mindset, I go through a mental checklist of what’s lined up for the day, meet up with my fellow castmates and confirm everything is set. If doing stage combat, doing a few dry runs to make sure my partner and I have things in order.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

I remind myself of some of my favorite memories from previous faires. One story in particular stands out, and I’ll try to keep it brief but I’d like to share it so you have the mental picture. Around 10 years ago, I spent some time chatting with a woman at faire, and was about to head off to a show. I asked for her hand, kissed it gently, and wished her a good day. She started crying! I asked what was amiss, and she told me (paraphrase) that no man ever pays her as much attention as I did that day. I still remember what I said to her (paraphrased of course): “Miss, you are very lucky! You have avoided being stuck with some idiot who doesn’t appreciate you! You are now free for an intelligent man to see you for who you really are, and be who you deserve.” I saw her again the following year at faire, and I didn’t recognize her at first. She had lost a lot of weight, changed her style, and introduced me to her boyfriend of several months. How wonderful is that?! The thought of making someone’s day even a little brighter, bringing a smile, a laugh, a shared moment — it brings me back year after year.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

I am a wandering performer. I travel around the site, greeting people, engaging in conversations, perhaps joining a wandering singing group to sing a song. … This year we are introducing stage combat, and I will be doing a fight with one of the villagers. I love to make folk laugh. We never know what kind of day someone is having when they set foot onto the faire site. If I can bring a smile, a laugh, and give them a pleasant memory to take away from the day, it is all worth it.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

Aside from my wanderings, my favorites are watching full-contact fighting in armor, such as The Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword, or listening to the various singing groups and their stage performances, like The Penniless Jacks, The King’s Busketeers, and Myschyffe Managed.

Brian Caton as Sir Brian de Caton, Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword

Caton formed the historical reenactment group at the Faire that demonstrates combat.

men in armor fighting in front of audience at Renaissance faire.
Photo courtesy of Brian Caton.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

Well, I started in the ren faire scene roughly about 26 years ago as a merchant but joined a reenactment group that performed at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire in 2007. In 2015, several educators in the group and I formed the Brotherhood of the Arrow and Sword.

Our primary focus is educational reenactment of the medieval time period. Our goal is to show the difference between real history and Hollywood. We present at ren faires and schools throughout New England. At faire we will set up a hands-on medieval encampment where patrons can come in and see people performing period chores and also try on armor and weapons.

We also perform several types of presentations. One being our weapons presentation/life on the battlefield presentation. Another, and our most popular, is our fully armored, full steel fight show where we demonstrate fighting styles of the time period and modern-day tournament fighting in full-speed, full-contact combat.

What’s your process for getting into character?

My character, Sir Brian de Catton, portrays a knight from 1475 Yorkshire England. My armor and garb are all patterned off examples from the time period and are all handmade. At NHRF, I am also the Queen’s Champion.

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

I’d say that I start psyching up for the faire or getting into character by putting the garb on in the morning and our fighters, myself included, start psyching up for the fight show with the process of putting the armor on. Which can be a pretty involved process.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

My favorite part of a faire is experiencing the crowds and especially the children when they see our fighters in armor and when they themselves get to try the armor. The making of memories is very important to us.

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

At NHRF, my favorite part is the Faire family that has come together to put on the charity event. From performers, merchants to volunteers and staff. There is a real sense of family at the event.

Danny Scialdone as Lord Aspergillius Gleekman

Scialdone is also the entertainment director of the Faire.

man dressed in jester hat, riding pony with horn on its head
Photo courtesy of Danny Scialdone.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I have been performing as a variety of characters at renaissance faires for 15 years now and found my way to NHRF in 2011 as their first official court jester, Aspergillius Gleekman, joining the rank of the royal court. In 2012, I took on the role of entertainment director for NHRF as well as Treasury Senior Officer for the Three Maples Renaissance Corp (a 501(c)3 charity organization). As for my character, Aspergillius is an energetic, spontaneous silly man that tends to do just the thing you don’t expect him to … he likes to keep people on their toes. A trusted advisor to Queen Catherine and a compassionate soul that ensures that there is a smile on everyone’s faces.

What’s your process for getting into character?

Put on my garb, simple as that. Aspergillius is really just my own everyday goofball personality, which makes it very easy for me to get into character … put on my costume (or “garb” as we call it), flip the switch, and off I go … 40 jingle bells and all!

What do you do to psych yourself up for performances?

Honestly, nothing really. Just like I said, flip the switch.

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

Happiness, smiles and laughter

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

That is a tough one, there are so many … if I had to pick one, I would say the interaction with patrons, especially the kids. Kids really soak up the whole renaissance faire experience like no other, you can actually see the magic in their eyes and smiles. The best ones, though, are those that are only at the faire because they got “dragged along” by friends or family. When they come through the gate they arrive with an obvious disinterest, but by the end of the day, they end up having the time of their life and can’t wait to come back!

Brian Weiland of the Misfits of Avalon

The Misfits of Avalon will perform the second weekend of the Faire.

3 string musicians standing in arched stone windows, dressed in historic costume
Photo courtesy of Brian Weiland.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

My group is called the Misfits of Avalon, and we are a Celtic music act based in Massachusetts. Since our founding in 2009 we have at one time or another performed at pretty much every renaissance faire in New England, including performing at the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire every year since 2011. The core of the group is two lifelong best friends — myself on the hammered dulcimer and mandolin, and Max Cohen on guitar and vocals. All three of my children have also performed in the group over the years, and currently my youngest son, Aiden, is our fiddler. When I am not at faire I am a public school music teacher, and Max is a full-time professional musician.

What’s your process for getting into character?

Our characters are basically street musicians, which in renaissance terms means that we are definitely among the lower-class inhabitants of the realm! We therefore mostly wear simple peasant garb, though when we want to look a little fancier we sometimes wear full kilts. My mindset as a renaissance musician is actually not dissimilar to my mindset as a modern musician: I am there to hopefully gladden the hearts of all who hear me, from the humblest peasant to the queen herself!

What does your character/act bring to the ren faire?

Hopefully what the Misfits of Avalon brings to the faire is a little bit of beauty, a little bit of history, and maybe even a little bit of magic. I have for my entire life believed that music is a form of magic, and we do our best to cast good spells! We play several stage shows each day, but we actually spend the majority of our time — pretty much every moment when we are not on stage — busking around the fairgrounds, so that as visitors wander around throughout the day, the delicate ethereal tones of the hammered dulcimer playing beautiful Celtic melodies transports all within the realm back to a more mystical and beautiful time and place!

Aside from your own act, what’s your favorite part of the faire?

My favorite part of faire is the friendships and camaraderie. The people who work at ren faires are some of the most wonderful creative talented quirky people I know. We all have our own mundane lives and jobs and burdens, and we all live in this great big complex world, but we have all chosen to invest a pretty serious amount of time, effort, preparation and money in order to occasionally get together and create this little alternate world whose entire function is to share and inspire joy. I love being part of a community that does that!

New Hampshire Renaissance Faire

When: Saturdays and Sundays, May 14 and 15, and May 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

Where: 80 Martin Road, Fremont

Cost: Adults $18; kids over 4 $12 and kids 4 and under get in free. Tickets available at or at the faire, and proceeds support the New Hampshire Food Bank and Rockingham Meals on Wheels.

Event is held rain or shine; check in case of extreme weather.


Information according to the schedule at

Children’s Glen: Games, crafts and fun activities for the kiddies! Let them test their coordination on Jacob’s Ladder.

Archery Range: Archery at the Three Maples run by JOAD (Junior Olympic Archery Development). Free to play, but donations to JOAD are encouraged!

Craft Demonstrations: Many merchants will be demonstrating their craft at their booths, such as weaving, leather work and jewelry making.

Encampment Demonstrations: Visit the knights from the Brotherhood of the Arrow & Sword in the backfield and check out their camp, armor and weapons. Or visit our pirates and gypsies and see what trouble they’re up to!

Charity Wench & Lad Auction: Bid on goods donated from vendors and modeled by strapping lads and lovely wenches.

Bellydance Lesson: Learn to bellydance with the Shimmynanigans.


See performance schedule and map at

B.O.N.E.S. – New England Pirate Guild sings songs of the sea

Brother Sylvan – Poetry and readings from the traveled wandering bard

Duchess of Yorkshire Pudding – Whimsical tales, stories and songs of the heartwarming Duchess of Yorkshire Pudding

Gibbon The Troubadour – The minstrel plays a wide array of Irish-Celtic, nautical and folk songs

Guy Todd, Wandering Harpist – Enchanting music that will take you to another place and time

IJA – A group of jousters from all over brings the thrill of the “Game of Kings”

Medieval Music Jam – All of the faire’s talented musicians and musical performers come together for one big musical performance

Michael OJ Magician – Magic and illusions

Phoenix Swords – Medieval performance troupe demonstrates sword and weapon combat, fire breathing and flame handling

Primrose Pirates – Sword fighting and live black powder

Shimmynanigans – Bellydancing gypsies

Sir Timothy the Enchanter – The first-ever bullwhip act at the faire

The Brotherhood of the Arrow & Sword –Historical reenactment group demonstrates fully armored live steel combat

The Corr Thieves – Action and humor-filled show

The Dirge Queen – A musical queen

The Foxy BardPG13 – Roving bard playing folk-rock, Celtic rock and medieval songs

The Harlot QueensPG13 – Acapella singing queens

The Harper and The MinstrelMay 14 & 15 only – Historically inspired performances of Medieval, Renaissance and Celtic Music

The King’s Busketeers – Band of musical bards with Irish pub songs, shanties and more

The Longshanks: Stilt Walkers & Storytellers – A storytelling duo wandering about the shire on stilts

The Misfits of AvalonMay 21 & 22 only – Duo of minstrels playing contemporary and traditional Celtic songs on the harp, guitar and hand dulcimer

The Penniless Jacks – Old-style pub music trio singing shanties and rousing rebel songs

The Pillage Idiots – Silly stories, songs and tales from a crew of comedic pirates

The Shank PaintersMay 21 & 22 only – Sea-shanty singing trio

Two and a Halfwits – Improv comedy group

Queen’s Tea – Bring the wee ones for lemonade and cookies with the Queen herself

Featured photo: J.D. Lauriat, left, and Andy Prete, right, of the Penniless Jacks. Courtesy photo.

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