Category: Coming of Age

Jul 12

Angela's Ashes and My First World Problems

Coming of Age, Family, Memoirs 31

As I live and breathe, if it isn’t my wee Bookworms!

I hope you read that in an Irish accent, because I just finished reading Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Angela’s Ashes is the story of Frank McCourt’s childhood, if you can refer to spending your formative years in abject poverty and borderline starvation a “childhood.” This book rates right up there with Jeanette Walls’s Glass Castle for the “I cannot believe anyone could survive that” factor. Of course, McCourt darn near didn’t survive.

AngelasAshes

McCourt’s parents are both Irish immigrants. They connect at a party in Brooklyn… In more ways than one. Oh yeah. Frankie was either a miraculously fast growing fetus, or he was conceived well before his parents’s wedding. It’s the dawn of the Great Depression, but the McCourts just keep multiplying. To add to the chaos, Frank’s father Malachy is a raging alcoholic. He cannot keep a job for long, and even when he’s working the wages rarely make it beyond the pub. He regularly lines up his toddler boys to ask them if they’ll be willing to die for Ireland after a bender. I can’t say a whole lot more about this book without spoiling a ton of things, but I will tell you the family ends up moving back to Ireland… And if you thought things were bad in America, Ireland put those struggles to SHAME.

Comic by Roz Chast

Comic by Roz Chast

I ran across this cartoon and it cracked me up because it’s so true. I tend to gravitate toward the “Way Worse Than Your Life” section, so I’m going to list out a few reasons I’m feeling guilty for my first world problems, courtesy of Angela’s Ashes. I’m going to list out some things I ought to remember…

1. The next time I complain about my less than svelte physique, I shall be grateful that I’ve never had to rob an orchard for food, have a pig’s head for Christmas dinner, or give my siblings bottles of sugar and water because milk is too expensive.

2. The next time I complain about having a cold, I shall be grateful that it isn’t typhoid fever.

3. The next time I turn my nose up at cleaning my toilets, I shall be grateful that I HAVE toilets. Private toilets.

4. The next time I am frustrated with a rainy day, I shall be grateful that it does not rain inside my house.

5. The next time I look in my messy closet, I shall be grateful that it is full of clothes that are clean and do not contain parasites.

Have any of you Bookworms read a book that smacked you upside the head with how lucky you are? Do you prefer your memoirs from the “Way Worse Than Your Life” section, too? Tell me about it!

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Jul 01

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Coming of Age, Memoirs 34

How Now, Bookworms?

Y’all know how much I love a good humorous memoir. David SedarisJenny LawsonTina FeyRachel Dratch, Mindy Kaling? I love hearing about real people’s lives. I am voyeuristic and nosy. I’ll own up to it. Thus, when I was offered a copy of The World’s Strongest Librarian by Johs Hanagarne, I couldn’t pass it up.

worldsstrongestlibrarian

Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was offered a copy by a literary agent through NetGalley, which made my ego soar because I AM NOT INVISIBLE. That said, the price of my integrity is a lot higher than an unfinished galley copy of a book, so you need not worry about me lying about liking or hating a book. Expensive soul, right here. (It would take like 4 real unicorns, a flock of housebroken penguins, a time machine, and eleventy billion dollars to get me to lie about a book… At that point nobody would believe anything I said anyway though, thanks to the unicorns…) 

Sometimes I think I should write a book about my life. Then I realize it would be like “hey look at me! I’m pretty average! I’m so average it’s actually boring… Sometimes there were tutus?” The trick to writing a great memoir is having a good story, and Josh Hanagarne has lived a fascinating life.

First things first. Josh has Tourette’s Syndrome. There’s a pretty lame stereotype floating around that portrays people with Tourette’s running around spouting outbursts of profanity. It’s so much more than that, and most vocal tics don’t manifest as curse words…  It’s involuntary muscle spasms. Twitches. Vocal tics of nonsense words. Hanagrarne describes the tics as being similar to the buildup of a sneeze. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be? Constant sneeze buildups? Oh my WORD! Despite his struggles with Tourette’s, Hanagarne had a happy childhood. The Hanagarne family ADORES and SUPPORTS Josh. Sure, there was some teasing in school, but the feeling of home as sanctuary was palpable. Now, I’m not saying that EVERYONE has horrifying parents like Jeanette Walls did, but most of the real life parents I’ve read about certainly have some shortcomings. While the Hanagarne parentals did have a few quirks, they all combined to make them fantastic parents. It was sweet, but not in an annoying way. It just made me want to hug them all and want to be invited over for dinner.

The title of this book makes me think of old timey strong men. That is one glorious mustache. Source

The title of this book makes me think of old timey strong men. That is one glorious mustache. Source

Hanagarne was raised in the Mormon church. Like anyone else, I’ve known people of the LDS faith, but I avoid discussing religion as a general rule. Theological debate makes me uncomfortable (only because it tends to make people defensive and/or confrontational, and I don’t like arguing), so I prefer to learn about other faiths from behind the safety of a book.  I got a whole new perspective on what being a Mormon is all about, and how potentially difficult it could be for someone who was experiencing a crisis of faith. Hanagarne showcases the positive and negative aspects of his experience with honesty and balance.

There’s also stuff about weight lifting and exercise and how that helped/hindered the treatment of the Tourette’s. Dude is HUGE! He’s like super tall and trains like a boss with weights and kettlebells. He even does those awesome highland games competitions where they wear kilts and throw giant rocks. It’s kind of awesome.

Finally? LIBRARY LOVE! Hanagarne has a love affair with the library starting from a very young age. He also had a crush on Fern from Charlotte’s Web which is quite possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard. He’s a literature junky his entire life and ends up working in a library! This book contained everything a good memoir should: humor, humility, joy, sadness, frustration, and acceptance. FEELINGS! I’ve got them. So does Josh Hanagarne… Only he is more articulate than I could ever be. Hats off to you, sir. Keep on keeping on.

So, Bookworms, I must know. What would the title of your memoir be?

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Jun 27

Tell The Wolves I'm Home. No, Seriously. Tell Them.

Art, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Tear Jerkers 43

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

I don’t use the term “favorite” often when it comes to books, because it’s too difficult. All sorts of books have all sorts of great reasons to love them. However,  Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt tugged at all the right heartstrings for me. Dare I say that this may just land on my list of FAVORITES? Oh, I dare. And now I’m going to gush all over the internet. Ready?

tellthewolvesimhome

It’s 1987. June and her sister Greta are posing while their Uncle Finn paints their portrait. The girls spend every Sunday at their uncle’s apartment in the city while he paints. (Oh I should clarify. “The City” in this instance means NYC. “The City” if I use it generally means Chicago. People who grow up in the suburbs of major cities tend to refer to the major cities simply as “The City.” I confused the bejeesus out of one of my book club pals by not clarifying my usage once. It was pretty funny.)

Sadly, these portrait sessions are some of the last hours the girls will spend with their uncle, because he is dying of AIDS. Like I told you earlier. It’s 1987. The AIDS crisis is blowing up. There is no treatment- AZT isn’t even available yet. At this point in time, AIDS is a death sentence, and a quick one to boot. June is exceptionally close with Finn. She spends more time with him than Greta does- they have pretty much the coolest uncle-niece relationship ever. Greta has no trouble making friends whereas June’s favorite activity is to wander in the woods pretending she’s in the Middle Ages. (Right there, June had my heart. We had a little wooded area near our house when I was growing up. Wandering around while pretending to be in another time? Been there.) Finn took June under his wing and gave her an outlet for all her eccentricities, and some sweet boots.

With no antiviral medications, AZT, or drug cocktails, Finn isn’t long for this world. At his funeral, June notices a man lingering outside the funeral home. Greta tells her that the man is responsible for Finn’s death. That he maliciously gave Finn AIDS. A few days later, June receives a mysterious package with a note from a man named Toby. The package contains her Uncle Finn’s beautiful Russian teapot. The note from Toby begs June to meet him.

Fun fact, I collect teapots. Now I desperately want a magical Russian teapot like Finn's!

Fun fact, I collect teapots. Now I desperately want a magical Russian teapot like Finn’s!

June soon realizes that she’s not the only person torn to pieces by Finn’s death. Her friendship with Toby introduces her to facets of Finn she never knew- a whole segment of his life that was kept from her at her mother’s behest. The sibling relationships in this book are painful, but so REAL. Greta and June have this antagonistic love-hate thing going on that really resonated with me. Plus, we eventually learn some of the history behind Finn’s relationship with his sister. Even it was a dick move to  refuse to allow her children to have any interaction with Finn’s life partner, I still sympathized with June & Greta’s mom.  That’s good writing. Flawed characters acting like REAL people are some of my absolute favorites. Seems to me that most of the time people are just trying to do the best they can, it’s just that pesky humanity business goes and gets in the way.

The thing that struck me most about this book was the historical context. By the time I was old enough to have any real understanding of HIV/AIDS, people were pretty well aware of how the disease was spread. There is a scene in the novel where Greta’s mother catches her using Finn’s lip balm and has a bit of a meltdown. At one point June is ashamed to be fearful of getting a kiss from her uncle. Heck, even in the late 90s some of that paranoia remained. When I was in high school, I recall my health teacher saying that he might shake the hand of a person known to be infected with HIV… But he’d immediately wash his hands very, very well. Ten years AFTER this book took place, there were people who refused to listen to the scientific evidence… And they were allowed to pass that attitude on to young teens.

Thanks, Liz. My sentiments exactly. Source

Thanks, Liz. My sentiments exactly. Source

This book isn’t about science or virology. It’s about love, loss, and forgiveness. It’s a coming of age tale where June learns that things aren’t always what they seem. My words feel clumsy and I’m not doing this book any justice. Just trust me and read it, okay?! You won’t be sorry.

Alright Bookworms. I need to know. Anybody out there have an awesome relationship with an extended family member? I want to hear about it! Let’s share the love for our eccentric aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, shall we? (I hope someday my Squishy has such stories to tell about me!)

He already things I'm nuts.

He already thinks I’m nuts.

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Jun 07

Killing Me Softly: The Kill Order by James Dashner

Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fantasy, Frightening, Psychological, Young Adult Fiction 17

Hey Bookworms,

How’s it going? Been hit by any devastating solar flares lately? No? Well. That’s good. Because you know what happens when solar flares hit? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Remember back to when I reviewed The Maze Runner by James Dashner and thought it was awesome? And then I read The Scorch Trials and thought it was compelling? And then I finished The Death Cure and I was kind of meh? I’d been told that I’d feel better about things once I read the prequel, The Kill Order.

killorder

Our story starts off with the only connection we get to familiar characters. Thomas and Theresa are nervously awaiting their decent into the Maze. As soon as Thomas is about to have his memory wiped, we are taken back in time and plunged into a world in chaos. The earth has been plagued by a series of destructive and devastating solar flares. Our main characters, Mark and Trina, only survived the initial impact by having been on the subway. The solar flares led to massive melting of the polar ice caps thus flooding the island of Manhattan and heaven knows where else. They’re taken under the wing of a pair of ex military survivalists along with a handful of other teenagers.

Half the population of Earth is assumed to have perished during the flares, what with the radiation and the heat and the melting of human flesh and whatnot. Those who are left, Mark and his crew among them, have tried to cobble together an existence out of what’s left. They’re living in shanty villages hunting, foraging, and getting their Bear Grylls on. For about a year they’re putting things back together until a bunch of douche canoes show up on an airship shooting poisoned darts at random. Their mission? As we learned at the very end of The Death Cure, they were sent by the world governments to cull the population to a sustainable level, given the Earth’s depleted resources. More humane, they rationalize, than letting nature take its course and having people die off slowly of starvation and/or conventional illnesses they’ve run out of resources to treat.

As we know, this supposedly humane virus turned out to be THE FLARE, the dreaded disease that went airborne, spread like wildfire, and drove people completely out of their minds before killing them. Sort of like Mad Cow disease, but with people… And different. AND it killed EVERYONE who wasn’t immune. SPOILER ALERT (if you haven’t read the initial trilogy.) They never did cure the damn thing, so the immunes are left to repopulate the Earth, a la The Stand… Minus significant awesomeness and supernatural elements.

Now topping the list of Stuff I'm Afraid Of: Solar Flares!

Now topping the list of Stuff I’m Afraid Of: Solar Flares! SOURCE

While I was happy to have some closure on how The Flare came to be and what the deal was with the solar flares, I had a few issues with this book. Throughout the original trilogy, Thomas has had his memory wiped and we only see bits and pieces of his past through random memory flashes. I didn’t love the device in the trilogy, but I tolerated it fairly well because, DUDE. They had their memories wiped! How ELSE would such information come through other than in fits and starts?

Dashner obviously enjoyed writing this way, keeping his audience guessing. Stylistically, I suppose he was trying to remain consistent by employing this same flashback-esque sort of shtick in The Kill Order. HOWEVER. Mark had full use of his memory. Sure, he had some mad PTSD as anyone who lived through the end of the world would be expected to. BUT. He never just comes out and tells these stories. They come to him in dreams. Strikingly coherent dreams that read like a narrative. Maybe I’m alone here, but even when my dreams dredge up painful memories, they’re NEVER cogent. My dreams always involve weird random crap popping up and a disembodied quality. Also, there’s almost always something I simply cannot do, like change clothes or find my classroom or find my car or find my train terminal or figure out why I’m skydiving…

It just seemed like an overused gag that didn’t fit the set of circumstances put forth in this novel. All in all? I’m glad I read this and got some answers to some of my nagging questions, but in the grand tradition of the Star Wars fiasco, this prequel left something to be desired.

What about you, Bookworms? Anybody read The Kill Order? Were you pleased that it brought you closure or were you all cantankerous about it like yours truly?

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Jun 03

Kiss Me, Hardy: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Coming of Age, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Psychological, Women's Studies 34

Pssst!

Hey Bookworms. We’re being super secretive today because we’re talking about SPIES. This blog will self destruct in 15 seconds. Not really. I watched way too much Inspector Gadget as a kid. Anywho. I just finished reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and WOAH.

code_name_verity

We begin our tale with a young Scottish woman who has been arrested in Nazi occupied France. She’s totally a spy and had the bad luck to be arrested after looking the wrong way while attempting to cross the street. (Funny story- in London, the streets all have warnings written in BIG YELLOW LETTERS on the pavement telling tourist pedestrians which way to look. Quite thoughtful, really.) Our Scotswoman is being tortured and has agreed to write a detailed confession in order to stave off the torture and buy herself some time before she’s executed.

It is through this confession that we learn her story. Our spy, who we may as well call by her code name, Verity, was recruited for special operations thanks to her exceptional language skills. Verity’s success as a polyglot (speaking English, French, and German) and her fair hair and complexion make her an ideal candidate as a secret operative. A blonde, blue eyed girl could pass for a Nazi, and the best way to undermine an operation is to infiltrate it. (On a side note, are the Scottish especially gifted with languages, or am I getting erroneous impressions thanks to delicious fiction? I mean, Jamie from Outlander spoke like every language ever. And looked good doing it. Mmmmm… Jamie…)

Verity’s BFF is named Maddie. Maddie is a badass lady pilot. World War II opened up a lot of opportunities for women, as such an enormous chunk of the menfolk were fighting. Spies. Pilots. Rosie the Riveter. You know how it is. Sisters stepped up and proved themselves every bit as capable as men. It makes my inner feminist so proud! Maddie and Verity met while serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Few things bind a friendship like mortal terror, and few things bring on mortal terror the way air raids do. Being shot at from the air and the intense conversations you have when you think you’re about to die create some serious bonds.

I can’t get too much into the story without revealing spoilers, so I’m going to keep this short. It’s so good I don’t want to spoil it! I will tell you that it reveals a side of women’s history that is rarely explored. It makes you put yourself into impossible situations and wonder how you’d hold up. Could you hack it? Could you make the tough choices? Could you do the unthinkable for your friend? Intense. Awesome. Read it!

So, Bookworms. Tell me. Do you have what it takes to be a spy? Do you think you’d crack under torture? I’m sure I’d make a horrendous spy, and I wouldn’t last a minute without spilling all the beans. Better not apply for a job in the CIA. But what about YOU?!

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May 23

Good Omens, Dogma, and Nostalgia

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Humor, Mythology, Personal, Religion 43

Salutations Bookworms!

I recently finished reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s been on my radar for a while, but I only now got around to giving it a go. Gaiman and Pratchett are both well known authors of the quirky variety, so it seems natural that they teamed up, especially given the cheeky and irreverent nature of the subject matter…

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

Things only a nerd who took Spanish would notice: why is there a tilde over an S?

So, Heaven and Hell are operating as usual, what with the demons trying to make human life difficult and the angels trying to influence things the other direction. One day, Satan gets all antsy and decides to pull a Rosemary’s Baby by sending the fruit of his loins onto the earth to bring about Armageddon. Thanks to an order of Satanist nuns (who attempt to be as loud as possible to differentiate themselves from other nuns who take vows of silence… Very contrary, Satanists), there’s a bit of a mix up in the hospital. Satan’s spawn is sent home to grow up with an unsuspecting set of parents while a mortal baby is raised in pretty bizarre circumstances. Satanist nannies do their best to influence “Warlock” to embrace his evil, while the angels keep sticking their noses in to try and make him overcome his nature. Obviously their efforts are in vain, as baby Warlock is in possession of no supernatural capabilities.

While the forces of good and evil play a celestial chess game with a frustratingly mortal child, Adam, the ACTUAL demon spawn, is left to grow up like any other human. The only angels and devils perched on his shoulders are purely metaphorical. One angel and one demon in particular (Aziraphale and Crowley, respectively) play an especially important role in bringing about the end of the world, but they’ve become rather disenchanted with the idea of a celestial battle. While Aziraphale and Crowley have been growing weary, War, Famine, Pollution, and Death (the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, of course, Pestilence having retired following the discovery of penicillin) have been gearing up for the end of days. Despite the best intentions of both Heaven and Hell, neither side is particularly well prepared for Armageddon thanks to humanity fouling things up. You try plotting world destruction when your minions are unreliable!

Conflicted!

The Devil and Angel on my shoulders!

To be completely honest (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) Good Omens left me feeling lukewarm. I can’t discuss this book without bringing up Dogma. In 1999, Kevin Smith and his merry band of misfits put together a movie that was heavily influenced by Good Omens, though not a movie version of the book. Gaiman was instrumental in helping Smith craft his tale, and is thanked in the credits. I knew Good Omens and Dogma were in cahoots, but I was disappointed to find out that the story was completely different. I mean, sure. Heaven, Hell, Armageddon, creatures from another realm of existence doing battle- that was all there. But some of the elements that really drew me to the movie like heckling organized religion and giving a little spin on the family history of Jesus were absent in this book. My connection to Dogma is polluted by nostalgia. That movie came out when I was in high school, and Kevin Smith offered just the right combination of humor, intelligence, and bad language to make watching his movies as a teen a safe way to rebel while not getting into any ACTUAL trouble. (Appreciating humor at the expense of established cultural norms does not represent my feelings on religion in any way, so please don’t think that I’m being disrespectful. I simply enjoy revisionist takes on history- biblical and otherwise.)

I recently read somewhere that people who don’t read The Catcher in The Rye as a teenager will never appreciate it properly, and I think this might be the case with me and Good Omens. What about you, Bookworms? Have you ever (gasp) liked a movie better than a book? Were you ashamed to admit it?

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May 21

Let's Judge Books By Their Covers!

Art, Blogging, Chick Lit, Coming of Age 38

Hey Bookworms!

I’m sorry about being out of pocket yesterday, but I had a very taxing weekend… Well. That’s a relative term I suppose. My sister’s weekend was certainly MORE taxing than mine, as she spent most of it laboring to make me an aunt for the first time, at least the first time BIOLOGICALLY. I’m an honorary aunt several times over (and I love each and every one of those pumpkins just as much as my new little guy) but THIS one can’t disown me. Good luck, Nathan! Muahahahaha.  I also had an extended conversation with a toad I found in my garden and relocated to the neighbor’s yard so I wouldn’t get startled by a hop and squish him. Then I spent time with friends, saw a movie, drank a martini called “lizard on a mattress,” planted MORE beautiful flowers, and got my crafty on helping a friend with wedding planning. I’m back now. Just in time for TOP TEN TUESDAY!

toptentuesday

This week the ladies of The Broke and The Bookish have asked the bookish blogosphere to list out their top ten favorite book covers. I do the vast majority of my reading on my kindle, so I don’t connect with book covers the way that I used to. Also, there are so many different things I like about different book covers that I decided to rebel. REBEL, I tell you! In my tenure as a blogger, I’ve been lucky enough to be taken into the bosom of some incredibly talented and generous blogger/artists. Some of their work is so incredible it deserves to be on book covers. So. MY list this week will feature art that is NOT on book covers, but should be. Ready?!

hummingbirdpoppies

Courtesy of Lillian Connelly

1. This watercolor was done by the fabulously talented Lillian Connelly. You may know her from her blog, It’s A Dome Life. I absolutely adore the colors and the hummingbirds and the poppies. Couldn’t you just see it as the cover art for an Alice Hoffman or Kate Morton title? I love this piece so much, I bought a necklace of it. Oh yeah, she’s got a zazzle store. Click HERE to get all swagged up!

Courtesy Sandra at BuLaMamaNi

Courtesy Sandra at BuLaMamaNi

2. Sandra at BuLaMamaNi does some amazing collage work, like the piece above. I love that the little girl seems to be crying flower petals. Can’t you imagine it as the cover of a tragic tale of innocence lost? Forgotten childhood? Beautiful.

3. How cool is this?! It’s wacky wonky paper dolls and it’s trippy and fabulous. I imagine it going with a quirky coming of age tale. Some teen angst, perhaps? So cool!

4. Sandra provides another awesome image. See the horses with the super long legs in the background? They remind me of the imaginary creatures at the end of His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, or some of the fantastical Harry Potter animals.

Lillian Connelly

Lillian Connelly

5. Lily, my dearest dear. Please forgive me this terrible pun, but I cannot resist. This piece would be the perfect cover for some Chick Lit!!! (Wah wah wah…)

BuLaMamaNi

BuLaMamaNi

6. Another piece from Sandra. I adore this one. It feels like childhood and playing in the rain and chasing butterflies. It belongs on a book that embodies these feelings!

7. Okay, okay. Chrissy isn’t an artist in the traditional sense of the word, but occasionally she dabbles in magazine collage. It makes me laugh because it’s so… Her. I like to think this should be the cover of her autobiography, entitled Snowing Like A Banshee. She gave her final creative writing project that title in college. I hated it because it made no sense. The phrase is “yelling” or “screaming” like a banshee, because a banshee is a mythological ghost that flits about making endless wailing noises. It has nothing whatsoever to do with weather. But that’s Chrissy. She makes no damn sense, but she’s tough to resist.

Art by ME!

Art by ME!

8. This is what happens when I try to draw stuff. It should never be a book cover, but I thought it would be amusing to remind you of my limitations. That’s an alligator. Saying “rawr.” Fierce.

Alright. So that’s only 8 covers, but since I cheated at the topic I figure I can fudge the number. What do you like to see in a cover, Worms? What pulls you in? It’s speech bubbles on poorly drawn reptiles, isn’t it?!

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May 16

Reasons Fannie Flagg is my Homegirl: Standing In the Rainbow

Chick Lit, Coming of Age, Family, Friendship 31

How y’all doing, Bookworms?

I took a trip to my hometown recently to spend a little QT with my mom. We had lunch and got mani-pedis to celebrate Mother’s Day. It felt extra indulgent because I’d taken some vacation time and we were galavanting ON A WEEKDAY! As I’ve discussed with you on several occasions, when driving alone, I hate to waste the hours. I have taken to listening to audio books on all solo road trips and find the car time infinitely more tolerable.

On this particular trip, I purchased a copy of Fannie Flagg’s Standing In the Rainbow via iTunes to play on my fancy little phone through a wire thingie to my car’s speaker system. It’s as high tech as you can get while still using wires. I did not realize it AT THE TIME, but it seems the version I downloaded was ABRIDGED. I KNOW! I’m very disappointed in myself for not doing my due diligence, but as is the case any time I visit Elmwood Springs, Missouri, I was enchanted (even if I inadvertently missed out on some of the story…)

standingintherainbow

Fannie Flagg narrated this audio book herself, which I LOVED because southern accents are adorable when you’re talking about small towns in the American south. A little twang is downright endearing. I’ve been to Elmwood Springs, Missouri a couple of times already when reading Welcome To The World, Baby Girl and Can’t Wait To Get THeaven and I love the way Flagg incorporates her characters into different stories. They might only show up as a side note, or write a song that becomes someone’s favorite, or host a charming radio show, but the minute I run into a character I’ve heard of before, I feel like I already know them. I was SO pleased to hear so much of the famous Neighbor Dorothy’s story in this book.

Neighbor Dorothy started up a little radio show out of her home in the mid 1940s, and shared recipes, homemaking tips, and hosting a wide variety of musical guests. Neighbor Dorothy’s show, and her cakes, appeared in both Welcome To The World, Baby Girl and Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven, so hearing her story was quite a treat. She was a homemaker, but no pushover. She could bake with the best of them, but she and her former suffragette mother-in-law weren’t about to sit back and watch women pushed out of politics or anywhere else. Dorothy’s gentle personality and her typical refusal to discuss hot button issues made her opinion all the more valuable when she occasionally let it out.

Dorothy’s children, Bobby and Anna Lee go on to lead interesting lives, but nobody’s life is quite as interesting as the introverted daughter of a gospel singer the Smiths take in one summer. Betty Raye Oatman starts out as a painfully shy girl. She is so shy that the idea of traveling with her family’s gospel group sickens her. She is anxious and forced to go on stage and be around people constantly. All the poor girl wants is some peace, quiet, and a place to read (bless her heart.) After a short visit with Dorothy and the Smith family, Betty Raye finds it even harder to go back on the road with her family. This is why it comes as such a surprise when little Betty Raye goes on to marry a mover and a shaker in politics, Hamm Sparks.

I could keep on rambling about Tot Whooten and Aunt Elner and Jimmy Head and Macky and Norma and the impossibly fabulous Cecil Figgs, but I’ll spare you the details. I can’t help it, y’all. Fannie Flagg lifts my spirits in a way nobody else can. I love her quirky characters, I love the Southern charm, I love the whole schtick. When I need a pick me up, she’s my go-to gal.

Now that I’m longing for a simpler time when soda fountains were in pharmacies and bubble gum blowing contests were a thing, I’ll pose this question to you. When Bobby Smith hits middle age, he’s struck by an intense nostalgia for his childhood and the town he’d grown up in. I know I personally get really happy when I find ORIGINAL (and not the new fangled animation style) Care Bears and My Little Pony stickers and whatnot. What are some of your favorite childhood toys and memories?

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May 14

The Tough Stuff: Top Ten Tuesday

Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Frightening, Memoirs, Non Fiction, Psychological, Tear Jerkers, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult Fiction 59

Hola Bookworms,

Today is another Tuesday, and another GLORIOUS list, the topic of which was provided by The Broke and The Bookish. Today’s topic is to list out books that deal with difficult subject matter, and the ones I’m choosing are all kind of a downer. That doesn’t mean they aren’t BRILLIANT books, because they are. It just means that they’re emotionally draining, so, you know, don’t read them all in a row.

TTT3W1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book is amazing, but such a tough read. Speak is about a girl entering high school. She is date raped at a party, and while she calls the police to break up the party, she can’t bring herself to tell the authorities what happened to her. She starts her high school career as the narc who ruined the best party of the summer all while dealing with the emotional hurricane of attending school with her rapist. It’s a rough read, but really worth it. I highly recommend it.

2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Race and incest and violent relationships and homosexuality and secrets and lies and children and turning gender roles upside down… It’s pretty amazing. It’s exceptionally powerful because it’s written in an epistolary format in a regional dialect. Try to get through it without crying. I dare you.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue. This choice seems even more appropriate now given the news coming out of Cleveland of the three women held captive in a home for a decade. Room is about a young woman who is abducted from her college campus parking lot. She is locked in an inescapable sound-proof shed and regularly raped by her captor. Eventually these systematic rapes result in a successful pregnancy and she raises her little boy, Jack, in this shed. Jack is five and he narrates the book. I think this was a brilliant choice on Donoghue’s part, because hearing this horror story through the eyes of “Ma” would probably have been too much to bear. The innocent goggles of a child make things tragic and yet, in a way, hopeful.

Don't let the colorful cover fool you, this is NOT for the faint of heart.

4. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Teenagers with cancer! Watching mere children face down their own mortality won’t tear at your very soul or anything. Young love cut tragically short by disease won’t make you bawl your eyes out. Living with a debilitating illness that is slowly eating your body from the inside when you should be out shopping for prom dresses and going through your angsty phase in giant baggy pants won’t mar your psyche! So heartbreaking. So good.

5. Smoke Over Birkenau by Liana Millu. Talk about the tough stuff. It simply does not get any “tougher” than books about the Holocaust. There are a lot of books on the subject, and I’ve read a number of heart wrenching personal accounts. It’s difficult to pick just one, but since I really have to pace myself on reading these (so I don’t get overwhelmed by humanity’s ability to inflict horror on itself for incredibly stupid reasons) I thought it might be overkill to fill this list with Holocaust books.

6. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. Whooo boy this one’s a doozie. Depressed teenagers. Eating disorders. Young love denied. Unbelievable acts of violence. Dealing with the aftermath. This is a draining read, but it’s really well done. Sure, it feels a bit like you’re being stabbed in the heart with a dull spoon, but it’s a good pain. It’s NOT a true story, thank God. At least you can tell yourself that when you’re sobbing into your pillow…

everylastone

7. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I don’t care how open and honest and cool you are with your kids. It is awkward as heck to discuss periods with your prepubescent daughter (this, coming of course, from a former prepubescent daughter. The thought of having this conversation with my own offspring makes me preemptively uncomfortable.) Thank GOD for Judy Blume. Thank GOD for this book. That GOD it existed when I was 12. Margaret made all the late bloomers out there feel less alone. Thank you, Judy Blume, for being awesome.

8. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Yeah, it’s tough to be a teenager, Margaret, but it’s even tougher to be an adult with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As you follow Alice’s mental decline you feel her frustrations and her anguish, as well as her moments of hope and triumph. It’s a beautifully rendered story, and it will make you keenly aware of your own precarious mental state. You may want to order a lot of fish oil caplets or whatever antioxidant thingies they have on the market today that are supposed to help keep your brain going strong to old age and beyond…

still alice

9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. What would you do if the most basic part of your identity, your biological gender, were called into question? Our protagonist is raised as a female but due to a gene mutation, she’s biologically male… At least, mostly. A coming of age story with the added bonus of some sweet historical fiction elements plus all the psychological turmoil that goes on when a person doesn’t fall neatly into a gender category. Powerful.

10. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Forget everything you saw in that movie. I don’t care if it won Angelina Jolie an Oscar, the book was MUCH better. It’s Susanna Kaysen’s true life account of her time in a mental hospital. I read this a long time ago, but there was one part that seriously resonated with me. Kaysen described her descent into crippling depression as the world slowing down and time crawling by. She said that there were two ways to go crazy- for everything to slow down or for everything to speed up. I’ve always thought that if I ever needed to be institutionalized, it would be due to the super fast worst-case-scenario in flashes of horror kind of crazy, at which point my brain would completely short circuit and the slow would set it. It probably says a little too much about me and my mental state that I’ve given this so much thought, but you know. I’m bad at lying.

So Bookworms, tell me. What are your top picks for books that deal with the tough stuff? I’m all ears (at least until my psychotic break, but I think we’ve got some time.)

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May 09

No One Mourns The WICKED: The Death Cure by James Dashner

Coming of Age, Dystopian, Young Adult Fiction, Zombies 33

Good Day Bookworms!

I would like to tell you a story today. It’s a story about LOST. Do you remember that show? Sawyer and Jack and Kate and all these people stranded on a crazy island? The creators kept SAYING they’d tie it all together at the end, but they pretty much just introduced a tertiary storyline that turned out to not be real and everyone re-united in the hereafter? Nobody ever explained why there was a frickin polar bear on the island other than some vague allusion to science experiments and fish biscuits? Why were they testing polar bears? For heaven’s sake, WHY POLAR BEARS?! Apparently it wasn’t important.

Sawyer. Reading. You're welcome.

Sawyer. Reading. You’re welcome.

I just finished The Death Cure by James Dashner and I feel a little bit of LOST letdown. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this is the end of a series that I really enjoyed. Perhaps it’s because I still have questions. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I don’t know. I’m just a little… ambivalent about the way things were left. But let’s back up a moment.

When we left the poor unfortunate souls from the Glade, they were being fried out in the desert and trying to complete a mysterious experiment for a mysterious entity known as WICKED. We learned in The Scorch Trials that after the earth was stricken with a devastating set of solar flares, a man made virus was somehow released that caused people to go insane. Not insane in a treatable realistic mental illness sort of way, but insane in a zombie sort of way. After victims of “the Flare” hit a certain level of brain deterioration, they begin running amok and feasting on human flesh. As it turns out, the boys and girls of the maze experiments were chosen by and large because their brains resisted the virus. They could be exposed to the air born virus all they liked and never succumb to the madness. (A few unfortunate subjects who were NOT immune were included as a control group, so the minute they were turned loose in the desert they were basically screwed. Thanks, WICKED!)

Thomas is our hero and he is one stubborn son of a gun. Once the group emerges alive from their trials in The Scorch, they’re returned to WICKED headquarters and told that the cure is nearly complete. The brilliant scientists just need to run a few more tests. By this point, Thomas and his cronies have had more than enough of this nonsense and they refuse to have their memories re-instated since they don’t trust WICKED with scalpels. All those questions I was hoping to have answered about what in the sam heck went on with Thomas before these trials started? I might know the answers to them now if THOMAS weren’t so STUBBORN!

The_Death_Cure

Thomas and his faithful crew decide they’ve had QUITE enough of WICKED’s tests and break out, jailbird style. That’s when we find out what’s become of the rest of the world. It’s not quite as dire as a full on zombie apocalypse or Captain Tripps, but it ain’t pretty. The group bounces around the remnants of a supposedly infection free Denver for a while before deciding to take a stand and destroy the entity that used them as lab rats. Even if the fate civilization is at stake. They figure that if after torturing children for 2 years WICKED didn’t get the appropriate brain wave patterns they were seeking, the search for the cure was moot. Game over, humanity! Or is it? Muahahahaha. Read the book y’all.

So. About me feeling a bit LOST. There IS a prequel. And I WILL be reading it. Don’t pull a LOST on me, Dashner, just don’t do it! My psyche is fragile! I shall keep you apprised of the happenings, my dear bookworms. Until then, tell me. These books bring up a lot of ethical questions about the rights of the few being sacrificed for the good of the many. We could totally have that discussion. OR. We could talk about why cheese is delicious and why penguins are so damn cute. Your choice, the floor is open.

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