Category: Contemporary Fiction

Nov 30

Blogstalker Book Club: The Casual Vacancy

Blogging, Book Club, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Psychological 38

Hello you Blogstalking Bookworms! Thank you to everyone who clicked on over here from Lauren at Filing Jointly… Finally. It is TIME. Time to discuss J.K. Rowling’s new book (for grown-ups!) The Casual Vacancy. You remember the drill right? I’m going to throw some discussion questions out in bold so we can be all official and such. I must admit there was a small (okay maybe significant) part of me that was hoping this would turn into Harry Potter: The Adult Years, but alas, it was not meant to be. Did anybody else harbor this same secret wish? Gratuitous photo time:

That’s me at the real Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station, London circa 2004. They put up a sign for the muggles to pose for photos. I may or may not have annoyed the local commuters. Tourists for Harry Potter!

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to mention that I made a conscious effort to separate my expectations from Harry Potter. Everyone deserves a chance to re-invent themselves, even bazillionaire authors who have brought joy to millions. I’m a little bit of an anglophile. I love the accents, I love the history, I love the chic lit (Bridget Jones is my Everywoman.) The fact that The Casual Vacancy was a slice of English life was right up my alley. Why does everything sound better British? Examples of my delight displayed in The Casual Vacancy:

1. “Dessert” is referred to on more than one occasion as “pudding.” (You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!)

2. “Busing tables” is referred to as “mopping tables.” It actually makes more sense because part of busing tables is wiping them down, like you would with a MOP on a FLOOR.

3. “People Carrier” means Mini Van! How cute is that?! It makes me think of the People Mover at Disney World, which is all kinds of wonderful when your feet hurt from traipsing around the park (or maniacally chasing the characters) all day.

The Casual Vacancy begins with the tragic death of Barry Fairbrother. Barry was an all around good dude. He came from humble beginnings to become a local politician and family man. He coached the high school girl’s rowing team and championed the underprivileged (even at the expense of his relationship with his wife, seeing as he spent their last anniversary writing a puff piece for the newspaper on a local girl from his old neighborhood.) As he and his wife walk from their car to the restaurant where they’ll be having dinner, Barry suffers a brain aneurysm and dies, right there in the “car park.” (Sounds so much more sophisticated than “parking lot” right?!)

Barry’s death sends shock waves through the community. His friends and allies are devastated, while his former enemies on the town council begin plotting how best to replace Barry to advance their cause. What exactly is the cause that’s dividing up the little hamlet of Pagford?

There is a little strip of land under Pagford’s jurisdiction known as The Fields. The Fields is home to a housing project. It houses a pretty rough crowd, as housing projects are wont to do. Crack whores, drug pushers, theft rings, negligent parents- all sorts of unsavory characters make their homes in The Fields. The old guard of Pagford wants nothing to do with it. Like any place though, The Fields aren’t entirely bad. Barry Fairbrother was a heck of a guy and he came from The Fields. Thus, the division.

The town council is divided pretty much 50/50 on The Fields, but with Barry’s death, Howard Mollison intends to install his son Miles in the vacant councilor’s seat to finally rid Pagford of The Fields. Barry’s old allies catch wind of Howard’s plans and seek to find an electable alternative to keep the balance of power in check. After all, the people of The Fields benefit from Pagford’s school system- who knows how many Barry Fairbrothers could be growing up in squalor only to become contributing members of society, right?

While all this political maneuvering is going on, the families of the “upstanding” town of Pagford are floundering. There is a veritable teen rebellion that takes place anonymously online under the guise of “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother.” The children turn on their parents. In the case of Simon Price, that’s pretty well justified. He’s an abusive jerk who only wants to win the council seat to facilitate his dealings in illegal goods. Andrew sees the anonymous post as the only way to prevent his father from causing even more trouble. Seriously, how much did all of you want to punch Simon?

Parminder Jawanda is already on the town council, but having been one of Barry’s closest allies, she’s a target of derision. She isn’t rotten to the core, but she has a strained relationship with her bullied self-harming daughter Sukhvinder and the poor girl lashes out. Sukhvinder and her mom have issues because unlike the other two Jawanda children, Sukhvinder is awkward and a middling student. I don’t think Parminder is a terrible mother, but she certainly doesn’t realize what an effect her indifference has on her daughter. How did you feel about Parminder? Do you think I’m cutting her too much slack?

Poor Colin Walls feels the need to run for office to honor his good friend Barry. Colin suffers from OCD with bad thoughts. He’s mentally ill and completely terrified that he’ll accidentally molest a child. It sounds weird, but this disorder was covered on one of those therapy shows. It’s a thing (you know, because TV can’t lie. But for real, I’m pretty sure this disorder is legit.) Colin’s son is a complete jerk. Stuart “Fats” Walls has CLEARLY read The Fountainhead too many times. (Irony alert! “Fats” isn’t fat.) He is the epitome of teen douchebaggery. He’s a bully not only to his peers (especially Sukhvinder!), but to Colin as well. How much did you want to punch Fats?!

This image was borrowed from HERE. Please give all credit and all clicks to them!

The undisputed queen of this epic tale of class warfare and dysfunctional families is one Krystal Weedon. She is such a tragic figure. Krystal grew up in The Fields. To say she’s rough around the edges is an understatement. Her mother is a heroin addict. She’s been exposed to rapists and drug dealers and her screwed up 16 year old psyche is the most stable influence in her 3 year old brother’s life. The only “out” she can see for herself is to get pregnant so she can get her own government issue apartment and benefits. She plans to use this opportunity to take her brother out from under the influence of their hot mess of a mother. Krystal serves as the embodiment of The Fields, and is a lightening rod on both sides of the Pagford debate. To some, she’s the underdog who has potential to rise above her circumstances. To others, she’s the loose cannon who punched the teeth out of one of the Mollison girls. How did you feel about Krystal? Sinner? Saint? Or something in between?

There is just SO MUCH going on in this book. When I first started reading I actually thought JK Rowling might be rebelling a little bit from her wholesome image because there were a lot of teen boy erections going on. That really has nothing to do with anything, it’s just an observation. Seriously though, this book is chock full of controversy. I think Rowling does a good job of portraying both sides of the class warfare argument. Everyone wants to help the needy, but nobody wants to live next door to the crack house, you know? Even the Walls family, who are pro-Fields freak out when they find out Fats has been boinking Krystal.

For a small town, this book has a huge cast of characters. The bits I’ve discussed really only scratch the surface. I mean, what about Howard and his tawdry affair? Samantha and her cougar crush on the boy band? Gavin and his stunted relationship capability? Kay, the overworked social worker with self esteem issues? Ruth and her refusal to leave Simon despite the fact that he occasionally beats up her and the children? Gaia’s teen angst? Mary and her grief? Miles and his weird dependence on his parents? And what exactly made Vikram Jawanda so dreamy? Who was your favorite character? Whose baggage do you most relate to?

I really enjoyed this book. I liked that it portrayed people as they ACTUALLY are- flawed with bits of good and bad floating around together. There often weren’t clear heroes and villains (okay, Simon was clearly a villain but even evil Fats showed some redemptive qualities at the bitter end.) I LOVED the sheer British-ness of it all! Overall, I’ve got to hand it to Rowling. Is it Harry Potter? Heck no. Is it good anyway? Absolutely. Well done, Ms. Rowling! What were your opinions on this book? Did you love it? Hate it? Tell us about it!

Thanks for participating in this month’s Blogstalker Book Club! Lauren and I discussed choosing a lighter book (as in, something that isn’t crushingly depressing) for December. We’ve decided to tackle Rachel Dratch’s memoir Girl Walks Into A Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle. Join us?

Rachel Dratch thinks Blogstalker Book Club is the COOLEST!

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Nov 02

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Contemporary Fiction, Family, Psychological 28

Hi Bookworms! Today we’re going to talk about The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.

Barbara Kingsolver also wrote The Poisonwood Bible which is amazing and I totally suggest you read it if you have any interest… But if it’s too long or too missionary-ish for you, I won’t blame you if you can’t finish it. I’m not an elitist book snob or anything, read what you like. (Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of an elitist book snob, but only a little.)

All of that is beside the point, other than the fact that Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Bean Trees. A high school friend of mine (I used to call her “Pants Pie” and she still talks to me) who is kind enough to read my blog (Hi Megan!) told me that I needed to read this, so I did. I take suggestions seriously, I swear.

This book was a lot different than I expected. I mean. I don’t know what I expected… But a girl from Appalachia who takes great pains not to end up pregnant like a large portion of her graduating class who leaves town only to be saddled with a Cherokee toddler to raise REALLY wasn’t what I expected.

The girl from Kentucky and the foundling from Oklahoma find their home in Tuscon, Arizona.

Did you get all that? Our heroine Taylor (whose real name is Marietta) decides to get the heck out of Kentucky. She’s got a POS car that’s held together with duct tape and chewing gum and she breaks down on tribal lands in Oklahoma. Oh you’re not familiar with US History? So, what happened was, the US government was unbelievably horrible to the Native Americans. European settlers showed up and were all mean and stuff, and eventually pushed the Native Americans out of their homes and shipped them all off on the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears was this brutal march to the middle of nowhere (AKA Oklahoma) and there the Cherokee nation resides to this day. Actually, it was several tribes subjected to relocation, but this book focused on the Cherokee, and so shall we.

So while Taylor is stranded in Oklahoma, some crazed woman deposits a sexually assaulted toddler in the backseat of her car. Taylor has no idea what to do. In the end, she decides the kid is better off with her than where she came from (OBVIOUSLY) so she takes the little one with her on her journey to Arizona.

What follows is a beautiful story of family. It’s not always about the family you’re born into, but the family you make for yourself. When Taylor finds herself in Tuscon, she’s utterly alone. A series of fortunate coincidences help Taylor create a new life and a new family for herself and her daughter. Sure, her psychologically damaged foster child speaks exclusively of produce- but that’s okay. Taylor holds out hope that “tomato” and “bean” eventually turn into “mom” and “love.” The random roommate she found in the classified section turns out to be her best friend. Taylor’s boss at the tire shop is a mechanic by day and immigration activist by night. She becomes more than just Taylor’s boss- she becomes her inspiration. Life throws Taylor and her “family” a jacked up set of curve balls and they muddle through it the best they can, and their life? It’s beautiful.

Family comes in all shapes and sizes. Do any of you bookworms have a non-biological family you’ve built?

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Oct 23

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Blogging, Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 8

Hi Bookworms!

Today is a big day. Today my first guest post is going live on Filing Jointly… Finally.  Blogstalker Book Club kicks off with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

And now for some shameless groveling… I need for all of you to go on over to Lauren’s blog (click HERE) and LEAVE COMMENTS. See, we need Lauren to continue believing that I am awesome. So if she gets lots of comments, she’ll think, “Ah yes, Katie is excellent, let’s keep her around.”

Pretty please? Thank you ever so much!

XOXOXO

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Oct 22

Eventide by Kent Haruf (My Neighbors are STILL Cooler Than Yours)

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 11

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

Did everyone have a lovely weekend? I got my Halloween cards ready to send out. I hear the Post Office is having money problems, but it’s not my doing. I send out greeting cards for a multitude of holidays, and some for no reason at all. (Except, you know, Grandma is a good enough reason to send cards on any given Tuesday.) I also made 300 trick-or-treat bags for the little ghosts and goblins that will descend on our neighborhood.

Hey Trick-or-Treaters! Bring it on! Also, I am bad at using my iPhone flash.

My weekend kicked off with another meeting of the neighborhood book club, affectionately known as Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons! (Could someone explain to me exactly what a bon bon is? If there isn’t chocolate involved, I’m going to have to rethink my naming strategy.) This month’s book selection was Eventide by Kent Haruf. This may sound familiar to regular readers because it’s the sequel to Plainsong which I already reviewed.

It’s funny, because they’re in rural Colorado. No “tides” where there are no major bodies of water. Hi, I’m Katie, and I’m overly literal. Let’s make jokes!

Eventide picks up 2 years after Plainsong left off. Possibly my biggest gripe with this book was that the last book ended with a cliffhanger of sorts… There was that awful redheaded kid whose family was going to sue his teacher. Since the teacher was a main character, I was all attached to him and concerned about how things were going to play out. You know how they played out? Neither do I. That asshole kid never showed up in the sequel. Guthrie was still teaching, so I can ASSUME that whatever went down went down in his favor, but I don’t like having to ASSUME things when there’s a perfectly good sequel that could explain them. Sigh.

Otherwise, I loved this book. I think I liked it even better than the original. Is that even allowed? Are sequels allowed to be better? Maybe not in Star Wars (ooooh burn on the pre-quels) but certainly in Holt, Colorado. For a small town, Holt sure has its share of heartbreak. Neglected children, orphans, ranch accidents. Honestly, I haven’t cried this much while reading since Beth March kicked it in Little Women. It felt like a healthy cry though, and I was quite pleased with the way things wrapped up for the residents of Holt.

Eventide shared the same beautiful simplicity of writing that Plainsong did. If you’re interested in an honest, somewhat bleak, but ultimately heartwarming view of small-town America, I recommend both of these books.

So Bookworms, are there any sequels (movies, TV, books, etc.) that YOU liked better than the original? Let’s discuss!

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Oct 18

The Stand by Stephen King… Or Katie vs. Taylor Swift

Contemporary Fiction, Dystopian, Supernatural 48

Yesterday I got a flu shot. Jim works for a hospital, and every year they have a huge initiative to get as much as the staff vaccinated as possible. This year he came home acting very self important. He told me that the flu would be responsible for the Zombie Apocalypse. Since he’d been vaccinated and I hadn’t, I’d become a zombie, he’d have to put me down, and then he’d find Taylor Swift to be his replacement wife. I wasn’t about to let THAT happen. If the world is going to end, it’s going to end with Jim pestering me to clean the toilets. Taylor Swift would only write songs about his love of disinfectant- but would she disinfect?! Really, this was a flu shot of spite.

I had to go to the doctor for a checkup anyway, so when they asked if I wanted a flu shot, I accepted. I was feeling pretty smug about it, until my arm started to hurt. A lot. Stupid sore arm. Now I’m stuck battling zombies with one arm. Pfft. When Jim got the swine flu a few years back, I didn’t even get sick. I’m probably IMMUNE to the zombie virus anyway. Now I have flu shot buyer’s remorse. So… In honor of my flu shot, zombies, and infectious diseases of all kinds, we’re going to talk about The Stand by Stephen King.

Good vs. Evil. Super Flu. Apocalypse.

The Stand is one of two Stephen King novels I’ve read. The other, Bag of Bones, gave me nightmares, and that was REALLY tame. No scary clowns, no possessed twins, no child cults. I know my psyche well enough to know I can’t handle the King. But I LOVE dystopian fiction! Every book list I came across listed The Stand as one of the all time best dystopian novels, so I got brave. The novel is nothing short of epic. I mean that literally as well as figuratively, because this sucker is long. It’s also awesome.

The basic premise of The Stand is that the US government has engineered biological weapons. One of those weapons, a super flu, is released accidentally by a lone security guard trying to escape his military base. This flu kills 99% of the population. It’s not just a virus, it’s a mega mutating virus. Once a body begins to recover from the infection the virus changes and finds another way to kill them. It’s crazy. But it’s only 99% lethal… So there are a handful of people who are immune. The survivors slowly come across one another wandering about the country (King never really says if the virus spread past the US, but it’s implied that it’s a worldwide thing. He just didn’t write about, you know, the Chinese survivors. Because he’s from Maine, what does he know about Chinese apocalypse survivors?) The American survivors all begin to have dreams of an old African American woman and are drawn to her Midwestern farm. There, the mysterious old black woman known as Mother Abigail rallies her “troops” and heads off to re-establish society in Colorado.

At the same time that Mother Abigail is gathering the righteous, a sketchy supernatural being named Randall Flagg is gathering his own dark troops in Vegas. It all comes down to an epic battle of good vs. evil with the survivors of the plague. Toward the end it gets a little bizarre. I’m not opposed to supernatural happenings or religious imagery in any way… But… The Hand of God (literally… a hand coming out of the sky) smiting the evil doers was a bit Old Testament for my taste. In any case, you should read this book. It’s creepy. It gives a great picture of what happens to humanity in a disaster scenario. It’s allegorical and meaningful… And there are weasels. How often do you get to read books with weasel imagery?! I bet you didn’t even know there were weasels in North America, did you? They like eating birds. And, according to Stephen King, Righteous Old Ladies’ hard won chickens.

He’ll smite you. Weasel style.

December 21st is just around the corner. Any of my bookworms prepping for Doomsday? (I doubt it, because if you were prepping for Doomsday, you’d be canning tomatoes and not reading my blog right now, but you know.)

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Oct 08

Wine and Whining: Gone by Cathi Hanauer

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 11

Hello Bookworms!

It’s safe to say that I’m in too many book clubs… The count is three. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to name them. The original book club shall now be known as Wine and Whining (not because anyone else does this, but because I get quite nasal when I don’t like the selection. I’ve been around these ladies for over a year now and therefore have ceased to be on my better behavior.) The neighborhood book club shall henceforth be referred to as Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (because Lorna Landvik wrote a fabulous book with this title, and it’s about a neighborhood book club.) The third book club is a new venture for me. In case you don’t follow my twitter or facebook pages (which you can easily do by clicking the buttons to your right…) you may have missed my shameless self promotion. I was asked to be a guest contributor by Lauren of Filing Jointly…Finally to do a monthly book club type column on her brilliant blog. Since she refers to her readers affectionately as “Blogstalkers,” I shall refer to anything having to do with said column/club as Blogstalker Book Club. (This month we’re reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. You know you want to read along!)

Last week we had our latest meeting of Wine and Whining. The selection was Gone by Cathi Hanauer. I was not a fan of this book. To be fair, it wasn’t that it was poorly written or anything. I just didn’t really like any of the characters and some of the situations made me angry. If the mark of good writing is that you can elicit emotions from your readers, Cathi Hanauer is a genius.

Here’s the premise of Gone. Our protagonist is Eve Adams (points of the amusing name there) and she’s a nutritionist who runs her own consulting practice. She is married to Eric who is a sculptor. Yep. A for real fine art sculptor who makes stuff out of bronze. They have two kids; a 14 year old who seems hell-bent on getting into trouble and an 8 year old boy who is somewhat sickly for no apparent reason.

Eve and Eric go out for their anniversary dinner. When they return home, Eve asks Eric to return the leggy college aged babysitter to her dwelling (even though Eric is drunk and Eve should have realized this before asking him to drive anyone anywhere.) Eric’s in a serious artist slump and is depressed (which is later revealed as though it’s a huge shocking development) so he decides to offer the hot babysitter a ride to Arizona. Right now. Without telling his wife. He doesn’t even sleep with the babysitter. They literally just take an impromptu road trip.

You still with me? Okay. So then Eve is at home and she’s all “oh crap my husband left me for the hot babysitter, now what?!” She goes on with her life trying to keep it together. She keeps seeing clients, struggles with the children, struggles with their emotions, buys a parakeet (I guess nobody buys parakeets when they’re of sound mind and body.) All well and good.

Gone. Not to be confused with Gone Girl or Gone With The Wind, because I liked those a lot better.

Eve has this client named Michael. He’s morbidly obese and she’s trying to help him get healthy. Wonderful. Only Michael OBVIOUSLY has a serious psychological disorder. His binging is like a Lifetime Original Movie about bulemia, but without the puking. This character really hit a nerve with me. Hanauer’s description of Michael felt judgmental and void of empathy. He was apparently SO fat that he couldn’t help but stink constantly (because you know, all big people smell bad?!) and was fired from his job for being a stinky fat man. Really? I know when you’re morbidly obese it’s harder to do things. Getting up stairs and whatnot can feel like a marathon. We get it. He’s a fat guy. Stop being so mean about it. I don’t care if he’s fictional! He needs an intense psychotherapy program, not a flaky nutritionist who thinks she’s revolutionary for telling people to eat real food in healthy portions. Eve also seems to think she’s a genius for finding “just the right” gastric bypass surgery for him. NONE OF THIS IS NEWS, EVE!

Now for Eric. He’s an ARTIST. Artists are supposed to be all moody and brilliant and whatever. In his moment of drunken clarity, Eric goes off to Arizona, drops the babysitter off with her cancer ridden mother (how nice of him) and moves in with his mom. He stumbles around for a while trying to figure himself out. Then, like a beacon of light, one of his sisters who happens to be a therapist says, “Dude. I think you’re depressed. Try this Lexapro for a while.” So he does. And what do you know? FOUR days later, he’s CURED. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! Anybody who has ever suffered with anxiety or depression or bipolar disorder could tell you it’s not that freaking easy. Sometimes, the doctors don’t figure out the medication that will help you right away. Sometimes they have to play with the dosage. Sometimes people need face to face therapy in addition to pills. I don’t think there is anyone in the history of the world who has ever been cured of their psychological disorder by four doses of Lexapro.

So what about the point of the book? About how Eve dealt with her emotions of being left? How Eve and Eric reconcile? The effect this all has one the kids? Honestly, I don’t care. I was so angry about the Michael situation and Eric’s miraculous recovery that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the book. And thus, I went to book club, drank wine, and whined about how much I didn’t like it.

Don’t worry though. Cathi Hanauer has a zillion positive reviews on Amazon. My meanness will do nothing to hurt her sales. Also, if you happen to be Cathi Hanauer, I’m sorry. I just didn’t like those two aspects of your book and was too distracted to appreciate the finer points. Clearly it’s my personal demons and not your writing that caused my irrational anger. I’m an incurable book heckler.

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Sep 24

My Neighbors Are Better Than Your Neighbors: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Book Club, Contemporary Fiction 14

Hello Bookworms! If you recall from an earlier post, I joined a second book club. This is my neighborhood’s book club and despite knowing it existed, I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 4 years and haven’t joined until now. I’ve got some mild social anxiety issues… So the idea of joining a room full of strangers scared me a little. I tend to clam up and then everyone thinks I’m bitchy… I’m not typically a shrew, I’m  just awkward.

Luckily, our neighborhood guru is awesome and hilarious- it’s almost impossible to say ‘no’ to that girl. So, when we ran into her at a mutual friend’s baby shower (and she started the conversation by complimenting my flowers) I decided to give the book club a shot. She’s also such a freaking trooper- she had her appendix out the day before book club and STILL showed up. God bless her wormy little heart!

What in heaven’s name was I worried about? I apparently live in the greatest neighborhood on the planet. I’d suspected as much, but now I’m sure. Not only do most of the houses look like they’re made out of gingerbread, but the people who live in them are sweethearts! Like gingerbread ladies with gumdrop buttons. I just took that comparison too far, and I don’t care! Huzzah!

This month’s book was Plainsong by Kent Haruf. I’d never heard of the book or the author before, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

If you read this, you’ll learn how to tell if a cow is pregnant! (Anal palpation. You’re welcome.)

As far as the book goes, I liked it. It was set in rural Colorado and followed the lives of a select group of residents in a small farming community. We’ve got an unusual cast of characters: a clinically depressed mother of two, the two precocious boys she seeks escape from, her beleaguered high school history teaching husband, a pregnant teenager, a pair of middle aged bachelor farming brothers, a female school teacher with a heart of gold, and her Alzheimer’s ridden father. There are a few other less critical characters, but I think this description gives you a good idea of the sort of slice-of-small-town vibe the author was going for here.

I only have one complaint with this book. There are TWO instances of teen sex parties where a single female services more than one male. I don’t know what goes on in Colorado, but I think that’s a sufficiently unusual circumstance (at least I sincerely hope it is.) I can’t figure out why it had to make an appearance twice. I’m hoping it was just a literary device, otherwise I’d begin to worry that the author might be a touch pervy. Although, he DID take the high road in a scene with the town ne’er-do-wells tormenting little boys, so I shouldn’t have played the perv card. Sorry, Mr. Haruf… If you’re reading my blog, holy crap on a cracker! I’ve arrived.

So bookworms, are any of you involved in a book club? Tell us about it!

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Aug 20

I Speak Fluent Daffodil

Contemporary Fiction 13

Good day, Bookworms! I am over the moon because I recently got a call inviting my house to be included on our neighborhood garden tour. I must credit my husband, for he does the bulk of the watering, but I pick out the plants and play in the dirt and put all the containers together, so it’s a team effort.

That’s really my house!

I’m sure you know me, because strangers don’t ACTUALLY read my blog, but on the off chance you don’t know me, I love flowers. Love might be an understatement. It’s more of an obsession, really. I had the greatest job right after high school and on college breaks working in a flower shop. I used to pester the florists (I mostly swept, answered phones, and washed buckets as I have no artistic skill) to tell me what all the different types of flowers were. I learned there’s a vast difference between garden flowers and professional cut flowers. I learned how to keep house plants alive. I learned that sometimes you get weird calls from people asking for “Pants corsages”.
In honor of my obsession with flowers, I wanted to do a post on The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This book combined two of my favorite things ever: a good story and flowers. What’s not to love?

Our heroine is an aged-out-of-the-system foster child named Victoria. She is emotionally broken, but during her one encounter with a stable home life, she became entranced by flowers. Her foster mother believed in the Victorian Language of Flowers, which was a way young lovers passed messages during the notoriously stuffy Victorian period. We used to get frustrated at the flower shop when people would ask us about what the meanings of flowers were, but it was nearly impossible to give a definitive answers. Look at 5 different resources and you’ll find 5 different answers. However, Elizabeth, the foster mother in question had a very specific version of her language. She went so far as to say there was only one meaning for each flower, otherwise people would get confused.

Can’t you imagine the confusion though? You’re a Jane Austen-esque heroine pining away in the house doing needlepoint when flowers arrive for you from your beloved. Romeo may have had it in his head that red roses signify passion, whereas your personal dictionary says that red roses signify mourning. Or chastity. Or “I no longer love you, I love your chamber maid.” Or something. It’s really a very problematic system, but I digress.

Flowers are the one constant in Victoria’s tumultuous existence. After she turns 18 and is out on her own, we begin to see her blossom (pun completely intended) through her job at a flower shop. Victoria eventually begins to attract her own clientele who are interested in obtaining floral arrangements for their meaning more than their looks. She begins a relationship and starts to pull her life together… and chaos ensues. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, so suffice it to say this book is DEFINITELY worth the read. It’s totally chic lit though, so guys might want to sit this one out. Unless you really dig books on flowers and relationships. Then, by all means!

I thought it would be fun to dissect my wedding bouquet according to Victoria’s flower dictionary to see what sort of good or ill tidings I carried into my marriage.

The florist who made my bouquet described my taste as “gardeny” but that might have been code for “Queen Anne’s Lace is a weed, lady.”

White Lisianthus: Appreciation (That’s pretty good right? Appreciating one another is important in a marriage, no? Also appreciating wine! And appreciating tasteful batman statues…)

White Freesia: Lasting Friendship (Things are looking good for us right now, I’m ready to cut my losses and not look any further…)

Queen Anne’s Lace: Fantasy (Um… I’m not sure how to take that. Either our relationship is so awesome it’s like a fantasy, or we’re in denial and living in a fantasy world. I’m choosing the former.)

Green Hypericum Berries: Superstition. (Hypericum is also known as St. John’s Wort, and I hardly think anti depressants could be BAD for a marriage. But, if you consider paranoia and superstition in the same ballpark, that’s totally us already. We’re neurotic. In the cutest possible way.)

Pittosporum: This is just greenery, it isn’t a flower, and as such isn’t in Victoria’s dictionary. She lists other non flowery things (like friggin pomegranates. Who puts a pomegranate in a floral arrangement? It’s not even an attractive fruit!) , but I guess pittosporum is unpopular amongst the Victorians. I’m going to pretend that pittosporum’s dictionary definition is “I love you in spite of your bizarre habits.” Because, let’s face it, that’s critical to any relationship.

So my bookworms, what sentiments would you want spelled out in your wedding bouquet? Or boutonniere? Or your prom corsage? Flowers, meanings. Talk about it!

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