Category: Family

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 06

The Best of Us, For the Rest of Us (Not to be confused with Festivus)

Chick Lit, Family, Friendship, Romance 36

Howdy Bookworms,

It’s a Monday, and let’s face it… I’d rather be on a beach. As luck would have it, I was offered a new title to review from Netgalley that is set in Jamaica. While visions of sand, surf, and fruity cocktails dance in your head, I’ll go ahead with my full disclosure statement. I may sound like a broken record, but here it goes again. I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen is about a group of friends from college who take a trip to Jamaica to celebrate one of their 35th birthdays. You know how every group of friends has that one internet billionaire who randomly calls his friends from 15 years ago and offers them free vacations? Oh you don’t? Yeah me neither. But. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and live in book land. If we can accept boy wizards and the occasional dragon, we can get down with the filthy rich.

bestofus

Dwight the billionaire and his wife Pauline decide to treat Dwight’s college buddies to a week long Jamaican vacation complete with private plane and fancy chef. Their motley crew of guests is comprised of 3 couples, or at least it’s supposed to be. First, there’s Tina, an overwhelmed stay at home mother of four young children and her overly macho husband Gio. Next we have Allie, Tina’s BFF. Allie is a social worker with two daughters and a seemingly flawless marriage to her easy going husband Ryan. Finally there’s Savannah. Savannah has recently split up from her two timing doctor husband Gary, but doesn’t want to reveal that to the group. Instead she claims Gary is working, and she prances around in very little clothing and hits on every male in the general  vicinity.

What follows during the week in tropical paradise puts all kinds of relationships to the test. Friendships, marriages, and the all important relationship between the really rich people and the help. Actually, it’s not at all about the help, but I’m still astounded by the lives of the rich and important. Who has this much money?! Seriously!

You're absolutely right. I DO have a penguin butler. I should simmer down on the wealth jealousy.

You’re absolutely right. I DO have a penguin butler. I should simmer down on the wealth jealousy. Alfred doesn’t approve of hypocrisy.

Okay guys. Honesty here. This book was not my favorite. It was a bit heavy on the melodrama for my tastes. I think part of my problem was a lack of connection with the characters, and that’s on me more than it is on the author. Of the four women in the novel, I didn’t see any representation of myself or my circumstances. I don’t  have kids, so it was difficult for me to relate to the plight of Tina, the SAHM. The way Allie chose to handle her personal demons isn’t an approach I would have taken- keeping secrets to “protect” people seems counter productive to me. Pauline was really uptight and came from old money, so she hid her feelings pretty well, which I ALSO don’t get because my heart is forever out on my sleeve. I’m a crier, okay?!  Savannah used her sexuality in a way that made me uncomfortable. I’m kind of a prude, and it bugged me that she was so open in her flirtations and was scantily clad all the time. It’s hard for me to connect with a book when I don’t empathize with the characters.

Also. Gio. I’m not sure what Pekkenan was going for, but he felt like a caricature to me. He’s Italian and super Catholic and has a breadwinner complex. Tina seems miserable as a stay at home mom, and it’s unclear to me whose decision it was that she stay home- it felt to me like Gio may have pushed that traditional ideal on her. (Don’t get me wrong- if you’re a SAHM and CHOSE that path for yourself, more power to you. I just got the feeling that Tina was kind of forced into it and that pissed me off.) He also gets competitive when faced with the massively wealthy Dwight and tries to childishly beat him at basketball and pinball. It’s hard to draw a clear line between cultural differences and flat out stereotypes, but Gio. I just don’t know about that guy. I LIKE flawed characters, but I just couldn’t get into this set of flaws.

HOWEVER. Just because I didn’t like this book, doesn’t mean you won’t. I would recommend this title to people who enjoy reading about marital strife, the complexities of friendship, drool worthy vacations and neatly packaged endings. If you’re a stay at home mom who is conflicted about her choices, you might just feel like Tina is your soul mate. Maybe you are an internet guru with an outlandish amount of money and would appreciate reading about your personal lifestyle in fictional form. I don’t know. Books are so often a matter of perspective. This didn’t suit mine, but it might just put the rum in your hurricane.

Bookworms, I must know. Do you feel the need to relate to and/or empathize with a character in order to enjoy a book, or are you able to appreciate it for its aesthetic virtues from a distance? I’m basically asking if I’m a giant jerk got not liking this book on shallow grounds. What are your thoughts?

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Apr 26

Twinkle, Twinkle, Silver Star…(The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls)

Coming of Age, Family, Humor, Psychological 42

Howdy Bookworms!

I like to browse Amazon when I’ve got some down time. I’m always amused by what they “recommend” to me. As you know, on occasion I enjoy a trashy romance novel. It’s always funny to see my recommendations after I’ve downloaded one of those bad boys. Sometimes, though, their magical Amazon algorithms work appropriately and aren’t distracted by outliers. The other day I was hunting for a good read and I came across a new release by Jeanette Walls. You know, Jeanette Walls, of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses?! I was REALLY excited! The only problem? It hasn’t been released yet. I hopped on over to NetGalley and hoped against hope that The Silver Star would be listed and that I could somehow convince the publisher to give me a copy. DUDE! IT WORKED!

FULL DISCLOSURE: I conned the wonderful people at Scribner (through NetGalley) into giving me an advanced copy of this book. In exchange for an honest review, of course. Again. I am a horrendous liar. Credibility: in tact.

The Silver Star follows the lives of a pair of sisters named Liz and Bean Holladay. Their mother is a bit of a free spirit… In the sense that she periodically abandons her children to pursue her music career and/or religious enlightenment… Liz and Bean are spooked when, during one of their mother’s prolonged absences, the cops start looming. Liz and Bean decide to hop a bus across the country and hole up in their mom’s hometown with the reclusive uncle they’ve never met. Hey, their options were limited, you know?

silverstar

Liz is a smart, sensitive overachiever and she’s fiercely protective of Bean. Bean, despite her scattered upbringing, has emerged from childhood largely unscathed thanks to Liz’s consistent influence. Once Bean and Liz arrive in Byler, VA, they confront their mother’s past, their family history, and the realities of small town life in the south during the 70s. Neither Bean nor Liz have met their respective fathers, but being in Byler affords the girls the opportunity to spend some time with Bean’s extended family. Oh yeah. The once wealthy Holladay family is now kind of broke… And integration is happening just in time for the new school year. So. They’ve got a big steaming pot of drama as a backdrop for their coming of age story.

I really liked this book, you guys. Jeanette Walls has a way with storytelling. I thought the characterizations were beautiful- I felt very attached to Bean and Liz! Given her background, I’m always struck by how Jeanette Walls portrays irresponsible adults. (If you haven’t read The Glass Castle, you SHOULD, but her parents were just bananas.) I find her adult characters, though often deeply flawed, are portrayed with compassion. They’re given layers and histories that explain their motivations. Sometimes they’re mentally ill, sometimes they’re careless, but above all, they’re usually holding things together the best they can. I appreciate the lack of cynicism. It’s rather uplifting.

Now, to be fair, this didn’t hit me with the intensity that The Glass Castle did. HOWEVER. I think that’s because this is a work of fiction, and The Glass Castle is a memoir of “OMG I cannot believe this happened to real people” proportions. Vibe-wise, I would compare this book to The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (probably because of characters named Bean) and Homecoming by Cynthia Voight (because of journeys and long lost relatives.) Give it a shot!

On an unrelated note, I’d like to show you this:

This is Liz's spirit animal.

This is Liz’s spirit animal.

Why yes, that IS a photo of an emu looking hilarious and devious. It’s also COMPLETELY RELEVANT to this book. I just don’t know when I’m ever going to have an opportunity like this again so I am seizing the moment. EMU!!!

So, Bookworms. Tell me. Is there more ridiculous looking animal on the planet? What’s your favorite weird looking animal?

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Apr 19

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley… And Katie's Phobias

Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Family, Psychological, Religion 43

Have you heard the good news, Bookworms?

Have I ever told you about my intense, paralyzing fear of religious cults? The Children of the Corn is the most terrifying movie I have ever seen. I have absolutely no intention of ever reading the book, because that would be giving the creepy preacher kid permission inhabit and chew up my soul. When I saw that I’d been pre-approved for Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley on Netgalley (yes, boys and girls, that means I got another free book!) I was concerned, but like the proverbial curious cat, I couldn’t stop myself from giving it a whirl.

Amity & Sorrow is a novel about a woman named Amaranth who escapes a polygamous religious cult with her two daughters. Her elder daughter is named Sorrow, and believes herself a vessel of holiness and a prophet. Her younger daughter, Amity, is a 12 year old girl who is trying to make sense of her life’s upheaval.

amity&sorrow

Their wrists are strapped together because Sorrow has had too much of the metaphorical kool-aid and is a flight risk…

A little about this cult. This is NOT a fundamentalist Mormon sect, thought that’s certainly what I typically associate with polygamy and prairie dresses.  It appears the patriarch Zachariah originally hailed from such a society, and he’s borrowing some of their traditions to create his own little world. Most notable is that instead of this being a community, it is a SINGLE family (if you’re interested in some fiction about a fundamentalist Mormon sect, check out The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff .) Zachariah is the ONLY husband in a community of FIFTY wives and twenty seven children. There are no elders, organization, or other men (over the age of 16.) Every time Zachariah takes on a new wife, every wife watches him ceremonially consummate his union with the new wife (this part reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale.) Now. I am all for freedom of religion. But making your 49 wives watch you get busy with the new one? That can’t be good for anyone. The cops get wind that in addition to the many. many wives, there is something untoward going on with one or more of the underage children. (SPOILER ALERT- there is.) But polygamy isn’t Zachariah’s only passion. He’s also CONVINCED that doomsday is nigh. When the authorities close in? The temple goes up in flames.

BUT! Amaranth escapes the flames with her daughters in tow. Unfortunately, she totals their getaway car in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle and has to throw herself on the mercy of an unsuspecting farmer. Sure, it will be difficult for them to adjust, but they’ll be okay now, right? A farm’s a good spot for people who are used to an agrarian lifestyle to rebuilt their lives, right? Maybe it would have been, if Sorrow wasn’t so FREAKING CRAZY. That cult and her father did a NUMBER on her and she’s just not stable. Not even a little. She is manipulative and cruel and violent and a bit of a pyromaniac.

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.)

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.) Source

Amaranth is an emotional mess because once she’s removed from the cult she sees just how horrifically it has affected her daughters. My dear sweet anti-cult LORD, the girls CANNOT READ! (This also reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale, but Offred is smart enough not to like it…) It doesn’t really help Sorrow’s decent into madness that her mother decides to spend some quality naked time with Bradley the kindly farmer, but nothing short of intense psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs could really have helped Sorrow.

Sound crazy? It is! It was a tough read for me, subject matter wise, because, cults are my personal phobia (that and swimming in fish infested water…) The story sucks you in, and it certainly got to me. I gasped aloud at several points, much like a coached live studio audience at a sitcom taping (do they do casting calls for audience members? Because I’m REALLY good at the gasp, and the giggle. I’d even throw in a catcall if the need arose…) I understood the characters’ motivations, even if I wanted to inject them with tranquilizers have them committed. I don’t know that I would recommend this to everybody, because it’s got a lot of disturbing elements, but the crowd that enjoys tales of psychological trauma will eat this up. You want something to get under your skin? Amity & Sorrow just might me the book for you!

(PSA: It could seriously upset people who have suffered physically or psychologically at the hands of an oppressive religious group, and it’s probably NOT a good idea for survivors of rape and/or incest.)

So, Bookworms. I am very interested in hearing about YOUR phobias so I don’t feel all vulnerable and whatnot. Share with me. What are some of your greatest fears?

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Apr 09

Once Upon A Time, Before Words For Worms… (Top Ten Tuesday- The Prequel)

Blogging, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Crime, Dystopian, Family, Friendship, Frightening, Humor, Memoirs, Psychological, Top Ten Tuesday 64

Good Day Bookworms!

It’s Tuesday, which can mean quite a number of things… What it means on this blog, however, is that we make LISTS. That’s right, it’s time for Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and The Bookish! This week’s topic is the top ten books I read before I was a blogger. Here’s the thing. A lot of stuff I’ve blogged about, I read before I was a blogger. I learned to read when I was like 5 or 6… And I’ve only been blogging since August… That’s a whole LIFE of reading outside of the blogosphere. I’ve tried to narrow today’s list down to ten books that haven’t gotten a whole lot of attention on my blog… I feel like I’m screaming Outlander and Gone With The Wind and Song of Achilles every week, so I’m trying to feature some of the lesser known heroes of my bookshelf.

toptentuesday1. Stones From The River by Ursula Hegi. If you liked The Book Thief, you will love Stones From The River. It’s about a woman named Trudi who has the bad luck to have been born a dwarf in what would become Nazi Germany. Spoiler Alert: Both books involve books, resisting the regime, and hiding Jewish people at great personal risk. It’s a fantastic read and I highly recommend it!

2. Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. Anita Shreve wrote an entire series of books set at the same beach house throughout different points in history. I don’t know if I should really call them a series, though they are all obviously entwined. The characters and situations are all so different, only the landscape ties them together. Anyway, Fortune’s Rocks is set in the early 1900s (I wanted to say “turn of the century” but the stupid HANDS OF TIME just keep on ticking and that phrase is no longer useful to me!) There’s a young girl, an older man, and the kind of scandal you’d expect from a young girl getting involved with an older man (who happens to be a “fine” “upstanding” married doctor with children.) This is BY FAR my favorite Anita Shreve title, so you should probably read it.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. This book was given to me by one of my dearest friends (who happens to have just recently graduated from veterinary school. Can we all give Dr. Erin a big CONGRATS, Words for Worms Style?) Dr. Erin gave me this book on my 19th or 20th birthday (I cannot remember, I am very, very old.) Sedaris’s humor is quirky and irreverent and bizarre and wonderful. My personal copy may look a wee bit worse for the wear, but it’s one of the books I practically beat people with until they agree to read it. (That may or may not be why it’s a wee bit worse for the wear…)

The Easter Bunny doesn't leave chocolate for French children. Church bells that fly in from Rome do. I know. I KNOW!

The Easter Bunny doesn’t leave chocolate for French children. Church bells that fly in from Rome do. I share David Sedaris’s WTF?! on that one!

4. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. Okay, maybe I’ve discussed some of these titles before, but dangit, they’re awesome! I read this for a literature class in college and was astounded to find myself with a taste for eel and sticky rice and a host of other Chinese dishes that I’d never eaten nor cared to taste. The mark of badass prose? Making exotic food sound appealing to a girl with a bland palate. High five, Amy Tan!

5. Fall On Your Knees by Anne Marie MacDonald. I know some of you out there shy away from anything bearing an Oprah sticker, but trust me on this one. It’s practically a Greek tragedy, except that the characters are Lebanese and Canadian. Really amazing, disturbing stuff, and it’s stuck with me for years. Side bonus? The title always gets “Oh Holy Night” stuck in my head, which is among the most beautiful Christmas carols (which has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book, it’s just the way my brain works.)

6. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is a YA title, but it deals with THE TOUGH STUFF. Basically? The main character is date raped at a party just before she starts high school. She calls the police who come to bust up the party and is treated as a pariah. Everyone knows she was the narc, but nobody knows WHY. She never reports the rape, but has to attend school with her rapist. The emotional aftermath is raw and real and frightening. It’s a great book, but if you’ve got some of your own personal demons on this subject, you may want to skip this one.

Kristin Stewart starred in a movie version, but since brooding an morose is her default expression, it might not be too bad...

Kristin Stewart starred in a movie version, but since brooding an morose is her default expression, it might not be too bad…

7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Awww yeah. Dystopia time. The premise of this book is that society has begun to breed human clones in order to harvest their organs for the greater good of the population. This novel takes you inside the lives of these clones. It’s a little bit science fiction, a little bit dystopian, and a whole lot of ethical conundrum rolled into a tasty little package.

8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. This book tells the story of an intersex individual from a Greek family that immigrated to the US. Thanks to a genetic mutation, the narrator is raised believing she is a female until hormonal changes at puberty eventually lead to the discovery that she is biologically male… Sort of. It’s a fascinating look at a medical condition I was never aware of, and the impact gender can have on one’s psyche and family unit. If you can read this book without empathizing the crap out of Callie/Cal, I’m concerned about the size of your grinchy heart.

9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. When Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered by her creepy neighbor, she continues to keep track of her family from the “other side.” Yes, this book starts out with a horrific tragedy, and it’s not easy to read. That’s really not a spoiler at all, because it’s at the very beginning of the book. The meat of this book is watching how her family deals with the tragedy. It also goes to show that the BEST murder weapon is, in fact, an icicle (which is NOT, by the way, the weapon that is used on Susie.)

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie… I get grouchy when they stray too far from the book. That said, Stanley Tucci is one creepy creepster. ::Shivers::

10. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. This is one of Atwood’s lesser known novels. It never gets the accolades of The Blind Assassin or Alias Grace but I thought it was fantastic. It’s about a psychopathic woman who makes it her life’s mission to destroy all of her “friends'” love lives. It taught me a great many things, not the least of which being that one can give oneself scurvy by being bulimic. As if we needed ANOTHER reason eating disorders are horrible. Now you know you can get swarthy pirate conditions. Not cute, y’all.

So, Bookworms. I know that a lot of you aren’t bloggers, let alone book-specific bloggers, but I like to think that this top ten list is more of a memory lane sort of theme. What are some of the best books you’ve read in the not so recent past?

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Apr 08

The Curious Incident of the Suburban Baby Shower

Audio Books, Contemporary Fiction, Family, Mystery, Psychological 28

Hello My Bookworms,

I’ve had a busy weekend! I took a road trip back to my old stomping grounds to help my mom throw a baby shower for my sister. Now, I have a number of honorary nieces and nephews, and I love them all dearly. However, this will be my first go at biological Aunt-hood so it’s a pretty big deal. A couple of cool things happened (in addition to having a little visit with the one and only Quirky Chrissy.)

My Aunt Margie lives in Texas, which is far away from Illinois (I say this because I have no concept of the distance between Sydney and Melbourne, and some of my readers are in Australia. I’m being geographically sensitive.) She couldn’t make it to the shower. However, she mailed a gift, and I KNOW she must have been thinking of me when she picked out this bad boy:

Aunt Margie will be this baby's Great Aunt. She is cool. I am obviously cool. And penguins? The coolest.

Aunt Margie will be this baby’s Great Aunt. She is cool. I am obviously cool. And penguins? The coolest.

That was pretty amazing. A family friend got my future nephew a penguin path toy that blows bubbles, which is fantastic. BUT! Aunt Katie got a bath toy, too! Remember me discussing my punny cousin Adam? Well. Being 13 he was much too cool to come to the baby shower (which I totally gave him crap for, but I’m still really nice and sent him some cake.) HOWEVER, his little sister Dana was in attendance. I have somehow convinced these children that I am cool (please don’t tell them otherwise.) Dana brought me THIS:

I love this kid. Not just because she brings me presents. She's a cool kid. She also has these AMAZING freckles which are beyond adorable.

I love this kid. Not just because she brings me presents. She’s a rocking kid. She also has these AMAZING freckles that are beyond adorable.

I am plum tuckered out. The good news is that I don’t mind road trips- road trips mean audio books! This trip’s selection was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon. I have been meaning to read this book for years and for whatever reason I hadn’t gotten around to it. I’m a little annoyed with myself that it took so long, because this book was SO GOOD!

Christopher Boone is a 15 year old boy. His exact diagnosis is never given, but it is clear the he has some form of Autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Christopher narrates the story. He explains in very clear language exactly how the world appears to him and why he reacts certain ways to certain situations. Christopher’s story begins one night while he’s taking an evening walk past his neighbor’s house. He discovers the neighbor’s dog, Wellington, has been murdered.

dognighttime

When the neighbor discovers Christopher holding her dog’s body, she calls the police. After a difficult trip to the police station (the police officer couldn’t have known of Christopher’s violent reactions to touches) Christopher begins to fixate on solving the mystery of Wellington’s demise. It’s awfully tough to be a detective when speaking to a stranger terrifies you. When an unexpected touch can leave you on the floor covering your ears and moaning for hours to regain your composure. When seeing four yellow cars in a row can send you into an emotional tailspin.

At first, I was concerned that I was missing something because the audio book kept jumping around with chapters. I was concerned there were full chapters of diagrams or illustrations I was missing… However. Christopher explains a bit later that he’s chosen the chapter numbers because they are prime numbers. In order. He’s very good at “maths” (because British people make “math” plural.) I loved the sensation of being inside Christopher’s brain. The way that nuance and facial expression are foreign to him. Can you imagine how confusing it would be living in a world that just didn’t understand how your brain worked? In some ways I could relate to Christopher’s anxieties. Being in crowded public places can get under my skin, and changes in my environment have been known to rattle me. While my anxieties may be considered on the neurotic side of “normal,” poor Christopher’s reactions are far more intense. I’m going to be SO GOOD and not fill this review with spoilers, but I think you should read it. The audio book version was fantastic, I really dug the accents!

Tell me Bookworms, have any of you read this? What did you think?

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Apr 04

Eleanor & Park: It'll Take You Back Faster Than a Whiff of Unwashed Gym Suit.

Blogging, Family, Humor, Personal, Romance, Young Adult Fiction 64

Sup Bookworms?!

I say “sup” because that was the thing to say when I was in high school. During high school,  I absolutely refused to use the term on the grounds that contractions should use apostrophes. I also wrote song lyrics out on the backs of all the notes I passed between classes and pasted magazine photo collages of grunge rockers onto my notebooks. (A 16 year old girl is a 16 year old girl, no matter her taste in music.)

I know what you’re thinking. “Yes, Katie. We KNOW you were a cantankerous teenager. You wrote about it once, plus, you’re a blogger. An awkward adolescence is a prerequisite, right?” I swear I have a point. The point is, I just read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and it took me back to high school faster than whiff of unwashed gym suit.

eleanor & parkHere’s the deal. It’s 1986. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s on the curvy side and has wild red hair. Her first day of school, she is denied a seat on the bus by everyone (in a move of calculated cruelty that is innate to the teenage of the species) EXCEPT a half Korean kid named Park. Eleanor and Park don’t fall in love immediately. In fact, they don’t even speak. They only begin to break the ice when Park notices that Eleanor has been reading his comic books out of the corner of her eye.

Eleanor’s got a whole lot of crap going on in her home life. She and her 4 siblings live in squalor with their abusive stepfather and their once vibrant mother (who like many abused women has become a shell of her former self.) Eleanor is in no position to be starting a relationship, but as she and Park progress from friendship to hand holding, she knows she’s a goner.

THIS BOOK! It does for YA novels what Freaks and Geeks did for high school on television. My high school experience was not Gossip Girl or Friday Night Lights. My high school experience was a whirlwind of awkward encounters and intense relationships that never materialized. Where hand holding could be MAJOR. It was so refreshing to read about an imperfect heroine who wasn’t conventionally beautiful. Sure, Eleanor has her good features, but she’s not a girl who is drop-dead-gorgeous without realizing it (cough, cough, Bella Swan.) And Park? Park is a short Asian kid who experiments with guy-liner. I challenge you to find me another YA leading man who is 5’4. Even Harry Potter was tall!

No, I didn’t listen to The Cure on my walkman on the bus, mostly because I didn’t go to high school in 1986. (I listened to The Counting Crows on my discman. Very skippy, the discman.) Even though my gym suit was definitely less horrifying than Eleanor’s polyester onesie, I dreaded gym class. My junior year, I was hit in the head with EVERY SINGLE BALL we used. I only wish I were exaggerating. I was beaned with a soccer ball, basketball, volleyball, hockey puck, tennis ball, football, softball, and the absolute pinnacle of my humiliation? Badminton birdie. I wasn’t subject to intense bullying (although I still do not have good thoughts about that girl with the slicked back ponytail and sinister eyeliner who always laughed at magnetic melon…) I didn’t have a messy home life either, but this book isn’t about winning the screwed up teen experience award. This book is about capturing the essence of being 16. It’s about first love and identity crises and confusion and the occasional glimmer greatness beneath the awkward.

I chewed through this book in two days and had to let it marinate in my brain juices before I could form coherent thoughts. Katie + Eleanor & Park = Love. The soundtracks may change, but high school will always be the same. Rainbow Rowell gets that, and for that, I salute her. (Insert well timed slow clap.)

Alright bookworms. Please tell me I’m not alone here. Let’s take this opportunity to share our most horrifying gym class experiences. It’ll be like group therapy. Ready? Go!

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Apr 01

Sorry, No Blog Today. April Fools! (The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani)

Book Club, Family, Historical Fiction 30

Howdy Bookworms,

I hope those of you who celebrate Easter have recovered from your chocolate bunny and jelly bean comas on this fine morning. It’s April Fool’s Day, but I’m not a fan of the holiday. I am a terrible liar, and I’m also embarrassingly gullible. Not a good combination. Plus, pranks have a way of turning mean, and I’m not a fan of meanness either. So. Let’s talk about… A book! (I know, you’re shocked!)

This month for Wine and Whining Book Club (I consistently get crap from the book club’s membership for what I’ve named it, but I like homonyms and alliterations, so I shan’t be changing it) we selected The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani. The Shoemaker’s Wife is the tale of an unlikely couple re-united from their small Italian mountain town in New York City.

I'm really not sure who the broad on the cover is...

I’m really not sure who the broad on the cover is…

Circumstances conspire to send the (for all intents and purposes) orphaned Ciro away from his home in a convent the Italian Alps to become an apprentice shoemaker in America. Unfortunately, his exit from town is untimely as he is separated from his new found lady love, Enza. Shortly after Ciro’s departure, Enza and her family fall on hard times and she and her father make the decision to emigrate to America as well. Their emigration takes place during the early 1910s, so their journey reads like the quintessential Ellis Island tale.

Ciro and Enza’s path to finding each other again is not an easy one. They both have their share of adventures. Enza is a talented seamstress but stuck in Hoboken in a Cinderella-esque situation. Ciro is distracted by a high maintenance local beauty and turns out to be a kick ass boot maker. Their trials and tribulations give you a great picture of the times in which they live, and they talk enough about pasta to make you hungry.

Spoilers are the bane of my existence, because it’s so difficult to talk about books without giving EVERYTHING away. I will say this much… While I enjoyed this book overall, there was a critical scene that reminded me a LOT of a scene in another one of Trigiani’s books, Lucia, LuciaConsider this your SPOILER ALERT. Now. The goings on of How I Met Your Mother aside, people being ditched at the altar is NOT a common thing. Things rarely get to the point of tuxedos and gowns being donned when weddings fall apart. The fact that this occurred in both of the Trigiani books disappoints me, I mean, calling off a wedding a couple months ahead of time is infinitely more realistic. It’s certainly more dramatic to pull the jilted at the altar routine, but it’s almost too easy… That’s probably an unfair assessment, but I’m a giant snob-a-saurus rex.

Safe to read again. If this is your first Trigiani novel, and you like historical fiction, you’ll love it! So, Bookworms, are you ever frustrated by authors recycling story lines? Getting repetitive? Anybody else run into that?

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Mar 18

Emotions: This Book Will Make You Feel Every Last One (by Anna Quindlen)

Family, Psychological, Tear Jerkers 48

Hey Bookworms,

It’s Monday, so let’s wallow in our collective case of the Mondays, shall we? I’ve got the perfect book to put you in the appropriate mood. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen will make you feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

Mary Beth Latham is a landscape designer and mother of three. She and her husband live an upper middle class life in an upper middle class suburb and have upper middle class problems. Their beautiful teenage daughter Ruby had a bout with an eating disorder, but seems to be recovering well. Though Mary Beth worries about Ruby leaving for college in a year, she’s proud of her remarkable girl. The twin boys pose a bit of a challenge, but they’re at an age when you’d expect them to be complicated. Alex is a soccer star and popular in school. His fraternal twin brother Max, on the other hand, is withdrawn and depressed. But, you know. What’s a little teen angst between twins? Nothing a little cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication can’t help with. After their experience with Ruby, the Lathams take Max’s suffering seriously.

everylastone

To add to this little dramatic suburban slurry, Ruby has recently dumped her boyfriend Kiernan, which has been tough on the whole family. He’s been a fixture in their lives since he was a small child. Kiernan’s family makes the Lathams look like the Waltons, so he was extraordinary attached their “happy” family. Kiernan is heartbroken. Ruby feels guilty. Everyone is hurting. It’s a recipe for a highly rated TV drama, don’t you think?

 

And then… Tragedy strikes. Serious horrible nightmarish tragedy. Your heart will break. You will cry. A lot, probably. I did. Telling you what happens would ruin the book for you, and I gave up massive spoilers for Lent. I will tell you that I didn’t see it coming, and that it hit me like a punch in the gut.

This is going to sound a little masochistic, but the way this book bites into the reader… It’s a good pain. Even if it scars your psyche, a book that can make you FEEL this much is worth the read. It reminds you of how trivial every day annoyances in life can seem when you’re confronted with true unimaginable horror. I definitely recommend this book, but with the caveat that it WILL be a difficult read, emotionally. If you’re in a vulnerable place, it might be a good idea to pass on this one. At least for the time being.

traumapaperback

In solidarity, let us all lament this Monday with our own tales of traumatic reads. What are some of your favorites, bookworms?

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Mar 15

Beware the Ides of March: A Letter to My "Nephew" on his Fifth Birthday

Children's Fiction, Family, Personal 10

Dear Jack,

The first letter I ever wrote to you, I addressed to “Fetus.” You see, you were just a little ball of cells multiplying in your mommy’s tummy. Like most of the very best presents, you came as a surprise, but it didn’t take long for the excitement to set in. I started buying you penguin pajamas before you were even born!

See those books? You won't be able to escape them. Muahahahaha!

See those books? You won’t be able to escape them. Muahahahaha!

I talked to your mom a few hours after you were born. The first sound I ever heard you make was a hiccup! It was the most adorable hiccup I’ve ever heard in my life. When you were a few weeks old, I drove to Cincinnati to meet you.

"Hello, sir. I'm your Aunt Katie. I love you already!"

“Hello, sir. I’m your Aunt Katie. I love you already!”

I wouldn’t have minded if you stayed that small forever. You were so tiny and perfect. But, as you know, the thing kids do best is GROW.

And so you grew…

And grew...

You don’t typically find me this dull…

AND GREW….

Your mommy probably doesn't want you to know this, but she TOTALLY cried when she lit the candle on your cake.

Your mommy probably doesn’t want you to know this, but she TOTALLY cried when she lit the candle on your cake.

AND GREW…

You walked down the aisle in my wedding like such a grown up little man.

You walked down the aisle in my wedding like such a grown up little man.

BUT YOU JUST KEPT GROWING!

I wish I could say that I taught you how to bowl, but Carter beat me that day...

I wish I could say that I taught you how to bowl, but Carter (who was three) beat me that day…

AND GROWING…

And now you're GIGANTIC!

And now you’re GIGANTIC!

When your mommy was waiting around for you to be born, I remember telling her that it would be fabulous if you were born on March 15th because every year I’d get to make a Julius Caesar joke on your birthday. You must have known how much I love literary jokes, because sure enough, you made your appearance on March 15th. Beware the Ides of March, indeed. The world will never be the same. Love you, Bubby.

XOXO,

Aunt Katie

P.S. I’ll be there soon! With presents!

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