Category: Family

Mar 08

Confession Friday: I Brag About Outwitting my 13 Year Old Cousin

Confession Friday, Family, Humor, Personal, Uncategorized 39

Happy Friday, Bookworms!

It’s been a while, but it’s time to ready the confessional: I take an inordinate amount of pride in having beaten my 13 year old cousin in a battle of wits. You like personal stories, right? No? TOO BAD.

When my dad was about 15, he was attending high school at a seminary because he thought he wanted to be a Catholic priest when he grew up. (Obviously, given my existence, that isn’t the path he chose, but I digress.) My dad was MORTIFIED to learn that he would soon be getting a new sibling. Even 15 year old boys who think they want to be priests know good and well where babies come from, you know? My dad’s only other sibling had arrived before he was old enough to understand the birds and the bees. This is a long way of explaining why I, age 29 (still, but just barely), have a pair of cute as a button full on genetically bona fide first cousins that are 13 and 11 (it’s because my uncle is waaaay younger than my dad, see?)

Adam (the elder of the baby cousins) was born when I was 16. I took a day off of my first real job (working concessions at a movie theater) so I could attend his baptism. The whole time my aunt was pregnant, I insisted on referring to the baby as “Bunny.” When we found out he was going to be a boy, I was undeterred, then calling him “my Bunny Boy.” My extended family lives out of state, so I don’t see them often. About a year ago, my cousin Adam got himself a Facebook page. (Don’t turn him in- I KNOW the youngest age for Facebook is 14 or something- don’t be a bloghole.)

Anyway. Since Adam has gotten a Facebook page I’ve gotten to know him, digitally. This kid is such a smart ass- it’s fantastic. I take ALL THE CREDIT for his snarky eyebrows. He likes to send me messages containing puns and then we battle to out-pun each other. He usually wins, he’s far more practiced (also, I imagine, more adept at internet CHEATING.) A few weeks back, however, I won and it was GLORIOUS.

We have a similar "question mark" face...

We have a similar “question mark” face…

This painful exchange occurred. Be warned, this reads like consecutive Laffy Taffy jokes:

Adam: Animal Puns! You ready?! Alpaca your things so we can leave!

Katie: I don’t think I have the necessary koala-fications to compete with you.

Adam: You’re frogging right you don’t!

Katie: That’s irr-elephant!

Adam: You’re giraffing me crazy.

Katie: This is getting hawk-ward.

Adam: Let minnow when you’re read to forfeit.

Katie: You’re lion to yourself if you think I’ll give up!

Adam: I’m not going to worm out if that’s what you think.

Katie: That’s not so much a pun as an expression… (Says the girl who is running out of ideas…) WAIT! I-DEERS! “I’m running out of I-DEERS!” I WIN! HA!

I then went on to shout my victory from the mountaintops of Facebook. Adam has contested my supremacy, claiming that I was undeserving… Considering this win was isolated and I’ll probably lose the next five battles, I’m still counting it! (Is anybody else glad they didn’t have a Facebook page at 13? I mean, I didn’t have any significantly older and irrefutably delightful cousins to pun with, but my 13 year old self was a nightmare. Pretty glad Adam didn’t inherit THAT.)

Adam, buddy. Be careful what you put out there, mmmkay? You can’t take back anything you say in a hormonal rage the heat of the moment once it’s out on the internet. Trust me on this one, Bunny Boy. Also. Don’t do drugs. Sorry to go all “after school special” on you, but I feel like i need to impart WISDOM and that’s all I’ve got. Please tell your little sister that I will happily pun with her once she’s old enough for Facebook. I’m an equal opportunity AWESOME cousin.




Feb 25

Down The Rabbit Hole: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Blogging, Family, Psychological 27

Hey there, Hi there, Ho there, Bookworms!

Before I start talking books today, I want to tell y’all some pretty crazy news. Over the weekend I found out that I made it into the finals of the 2013 Bloggie Awards. I’m completely flabbergasted, because I am up for Best Written Weblog in a category with my super pal, Quirky Chrissy, The BLOGGESS (OMG), and The Pioneer Woman. Also in our category is a blog that I’ve not read before, but anything called Dogs on Drugs is probably amazing. So. Holy crap on a cracker! (I also would like to mention that Pocketful of Joules is nominated for Best Kept Secret Weblog and First Time Mom and Dad is nominated for Best New Weblog.) If you’re inclined to vote for such things, please do. Click HERE to submit your ballot. Alright. Shameless self promotion over. Now BOOKS!

This month’s selection for Wine and Whining Book Club was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Alice falls off her bike during a spin class (which should teach us all a very important lesson about not trying to win races on stationary bicycles.) Anyway. Alice hits her head and when she wakes up she’s lost 10 years of her memory.


10 years. Wiped out. For Alice this means she’s forgotten her three children. She has no recollection of the demise of her marriage. She doesn’t know how she’s alienated her friends and family members. It’s a complete Alice in Wonderland sort of scenario (which leads me to believe that Moriarty didn’t choose her protagonist’s name by accident.)

I found this story very intriguing. How often do you wonder what you would say if your young self could see you now? My 19-nearly-20-year-old-self would probably be REALLY stoked to find out she married that cute lab monitor. Otherwise? I don’t know. My life is pretty sweet all things considered, so I’d probably just be annoyed that I couldn’t remember my wedding, and a little pissed off that I’d gotten chubby again. WHATEVER, young Katie. YOU HAVEN’T MET STEVE’S DONUTS YET!

The first of my three meetings with Alice. What can I say? I'm a fan!Ten years ago Katie would be pleased to know she goes back to Disney World as well…

I really liked this book. I must admit that toward the middle I was a little frustrated that Alice wasn’t retrieving memories and was still bungling around. It felt a bit like the whole fish-out-of-water sequence went on for longer than necessary. However, that’s a minor complaint. I loved that it was always scents that brought on her memories the fastest. It’s totally SCIENCE that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. Also, I like reading about Australian people, because it allows me to imagine their awesome accents. (I’ve got to come clean though, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out if they were in England or Australia… It was clearly NOT North America, but Moriarty didn’t mention that we were in Sydney for a while… Partway through I had to switch my inner monologue’s accent and it was a little confusing.)

What do I mean by all this rambling? It’s a good book. If the premise sounds even a little interesting to you, give it a whirl. So. Bookworms. I’ve got to know. If you lost 10 years of your life, how discombobulated would you be? What major life events would you have missed?

P.S. Did you vote for me in the Bloggies? I think you should. XOXO.


Feb 05

Little Red Riding Hood: Where Fairy Tales meet Soylent Green

Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales, Family, Fantasy, Frightening 40


Happy Tuesday, Bookworms!

Once upon a time, I committed to Project Fairy Tale. The brain child of Alison at The Cheap Reader, a bunch of bloggers got together and decided to check out some fairy tale goodness. This month I’m going to be diving head first into all things Little Red Riding Hood… Within reason. I mean, I watched that movie with Amanda Seyfried in it the other day, and despite the fact that she’s gorgeous, that was one giant crap fest. (Seriously. There was a sexy folk dance. Let that sink in. Sexy. Folk. Dance.) I’m a book blogger, not a movie blogger, so I’m going to be reading a bunch of Little Red Riding Hood re-tellings and such. Good times shall be had on the way to grandmother’s house!

To start things off, I pulled out my big old collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales so I could get a baseline story in place for my comparisons. According to the Brothers Grimm, LRRH meets up with the big bad wolf in the forest. He thinks she looks delicious, but knowing she’s on her way to Granny’s, he decides to devour them both. He distracts Lil’ Red by suggesting she pick some flowers (a girl after my own heart. Seriously.) Then he heads off to Granny’s, gobbles her up, and dresses up in her nightgown to lie in wait for Lil’ Red.

Because little girls totally can't tell the difference between their grandmothers and wolves.

Because little girls totally can’t tell the difference between their grandmothers and wolves.

Once Lil’ Red arrives, the wolf gobbles her up too. Jerk. Luckily, a woodsman happens to be walking by and sees the wolf looking bloated. He figures that by chopping him open, he may be able to save whatever he’d just eaten. Because, you know… Much like a snake, wolves unhinge their jaws and swallow their prey whole, right? Whatever, it’s a fairy tale. Anyhow, the woodsman saves the day, Granny and Lil’ Red come out in one piece, and everyone learns their lesson.

I’ve since lost track of this, but when I was in college, I wrote a kickass essay comparing an old (like way pre-Grimm) version of Little Red Riding Hood to the Grimm’s version. You know what happens in the old one? Lil’ Red arrives at Granny’s where she’d greeted by the Wolf-in-Granny’s-Clothing and invited to have a snack. Do you know what the snack is?!?!?! It’s GRANNY! After Lil’ Red eats some Soylent Grandma, the wolf gobbles her up. Only, he eats her properly this time, like a wolf does with the teeth and the chewing. So. Yeah. Not a happy ending.

How much do you love the bathrobe and towel in the background?

Freshman year of college I got my fairy tale on for Halloween.

In case that little anecdote didn’t make it abundantly clear, the fairy tales of yore are a heck of a lot different than the Disney-fied ones most of us are familiar with. I suppose when plague and famine are forever at your doorstep, you don’t have a lot of patience for misbehavior. You tell your kids the most terrifying cautionary tales you can come up with to scare them straight.

So Bookworms, what are your favorite fairy tales?


Feb 04

Mo Money, Mo Problems: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Asia, Classics, Family, Historical Fiction, Pretentious, Women's Studies 36

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

This weekend I took a trip to China… Sort of. Remember way back when I started this blog I read a novel loosely based on the life of Pearl S. Buck? No? Allow me to refresh your memory. After reading Pearl of China by Anchee Min, I was inspired to read me some Pearl S. Buck.

The Good Earth (in conjunction with some of Buck’s other work) won a friggin Nobel Prize, so there must be something to it, right? I must admit, I’m not always a huge fan of full on high brow literary fiction, and the fact that this had won a Nobel Prize made me a wee bit nervous. It frustrates me when a novel has spectacular language but lacks the umph of killer storytelling. I like a good story. If I only wanted pretty language, I’d read more poetry. I am every literary critic’s nightmare. And yet I continue blathering all over the internet. Muahahahahaha!

the good earth

Back to the book. Wang Lung is a poor peasant farmer whose only option for marriage is a slave from an opulent household. Chinese culture is beautiful in many ways, but it’s downright hideous when it comes to the treatment women. I’ve discussed foot binding a bit in the past, when I reviewed Snow Flower and the Secret Fanand it plays into this book as well. Wang Lung’s bride, the slave girl O-Lan does NOT have her feet bound. Why would she? She wasn’t a lady of means and leisure, she was a woman required to work long, hard hours. Hard to spend a day on your feet when your feet have been broken and are weird little 3 inch stumps, yo.

Fortunately, O-Lan is a sturdy woman used to hard work. She helps Wang Lung with the farm work and does all her wifely chores. She also produces SONS. That’s a HUGE deal because the sons in China stayed with their families. Girls, once they’re married, are taken into their husbands’ families. The prevailing opinion at this time in China was that girls are an expensive burden. If a family found itself in abject poverty, sometimes they’d sell off a daughter to get by. Full on slavery.  That’s how O-Lan ended up in her position. Moral of the story #1: It blows HARD to be a lady in China.

Wang Lung and O-lan have some good times on the farm. It’s prosperous and they have sons. What more could they want? You know what more they could want? Food. A year of terrible weather renders growing food impossible. The whole village starves. Some sell their daughters. Some raid their neighbors’ food stores. Some resort to cannibalism. Some just wither away and die. Wang Lung’s family is little more than skin and bones when they decide to leave their beloved land and head south. Moral of the story #2: Famine is a bitch.

When they reach the south, the family finds a charity kitchen that will feed them, so their most pressing problem is solved. Eventually, Wang Lung gets a hankering to get back to his land, but since they’ve been making their living by begging and pulling a rickshaw, they’re not in a position to buy train fare. Thank goodness for political unrest. When the city they’re squatting in gives over to riot, Wang Lung and O-lan get lucky in a mob raid. Wang Lung manages to frighten a rich man into giving him a purse full of gold, and O-lan absconds with a sack of jewels.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

image courtesy of Wikipedia

Moral of the story #3: “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” (Yep. I just referenced the Notorious B.I.G. in a post about Nobel Prize winning literature. I am just that awesome.) Wang Lung and O-Lan were at the mercy of the elements as farmers, it’s true. But add some money to the mix and life gets awfully complicated. Not much is expected of peasant farmers, but there’s a whole different set of rules for wealthy landowners. The remainder of the book follows the family’s journey through the complex world of Chinese social climbing.

As I said earlier, I dug this book. It’s said that Buck’s fiction was among the first to resonate with both Chinese and western audiences because although Buck was an American, she lived in China for much of her early life. She wrote about Chinese society in a way that no western writer ever had, because she understood the Chinese way of life from a native’s perspective. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about China and Chinese immigrants to the US, but this felt super authentic. Like… Taco Bell vs. authentic Mexican food. I love me some nachos supreme, but I know what’s authentic and what isn’t, you know? Even the language in which its written is very matter of fact. It’s not flowery. It doesn’t go into detail about feelings, but you feel them anyway. That’s probably part of the reason Buck’s work has stood the test of time. Awesomeness, honesty, and authenticity. Let’s give Pearl a little slow clap, shall we?

So, Bookworms. Some food for thought. If you won the lottery tomorrow, how do you think your life would change?


Jan 07

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See: A Lesson in Reading the Synopsis Before Purchase

Asia, E-Readers, Family, Non Fiction 24

Hey Bookworms,

How is everyone doing today? I just finished slogging through Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain. It taught me a very important lesson. You should always read the synopsis of a book before you click purchase. This was on sale for the kindle so I snapped it up thinking, “Oh Lisa See! Always such great tidbits on Chinese cultures- quick reads too!” No. No, no, no.

This book was not fiction. It was the geneological account of Lisa See’s family. It wasn’t historical fiction. It was just history. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that you don’t get to take liberties in well researched factual accounts. While there were parts of this book that were enthralling, I found myself picking up bits and pieces of trivia that I’ve gotten out of See’s fictional work, and thinking, “Oh. That’s where she got this! Yeah. Works better when you can edit…”


This book was published in 1995 (which I discovered after-the-fact) which is well before most of the novels I’m familiar with by See. I really enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan I liked it so much that I picked up Peony in Love. That one was probably longer than necessary, but by the end I felt like I finally understood some of the Chinese religious traditions I’d learned about in college. The book brought them to life for me and I was pleased. Then I tackled Shanghai Girls a few years later and devoured it in a few days.

There’s so much in On Gold Mountain that I could see in the other books- the destruction of Chinatown and construction of the doomed China City, immigration fraud and paper sons, racial bias, religion, foot binding- it’s all there. It’s just not NEARLY as entertaining. Truth be told, I was into the book for about the first third of it. Once we started hitting the 50s and there was business launch after business launch, I started losing interest. The second half of the book was a slog. I just wanted to finish it so I could read something else since I’d already made it more than halfway through (that’s my DNF threshold. If I make it to the halfway point, I must finish it.)


The business launches and moves from one part of the city to another were lost on me. I have zero concept of the layout of San Francisco, Pasadena, Sacramento, Los Angeles, or any of the surrounding suburbs. Moving from one street to another meant ZERO to me. Also, there were a CRAP TON of characters. I’m not judging here, I get that Chinese tradition was different, but dude. Fong See had 4 wives. And 8 zillion children. And we learned every one of their stories. Plus uncles and cousins and then the Caucasian relatives? Spinning head.

Bottom line here? If you’re not a member of the See family or have an intense interest in the history of Chinese immigration and LA’s Chinatown, just don’t bother. You get all the juicy highlights of the family’s experiences in See’s fiction, and it’s a lot more concise and entertaining. There are some 450 page books I can read and not even notice the length. This felt like a thousand pages. Learn from my mistakes! Read the abstracts before buying the sale books!


Jan 02

The Fault In Our Stars (Is That We Haven't Enough Tissues) by John Green

Coming of Age, Family, Psychological, Romance, Tear Jerkers, Young Adult Fiction 33

Good Day My Dear Bookworms,

I typically don’t read a ton of young adult literature, but I’m beginning to branch out into the genre more and more. There’s some amazing stuff out there geared toward teens these days. After seeing this book on a crap ton of “Best  Books of 2012” lists, I decided to read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

I started reading this at 11 pm one night. I stopped reading this at 3 am that same night/morning. Why did I stop reading? Because the book was over. Quick synopsis: girl meets boy… At cancer support group meeting. Love blossoms amid oxygen tanks and prosthetic legs. They love books together and music together and fight cancer together… Even when cancer wins. So. Spoiler alert. Have like 10 boxes of tissues on hand. Seriously. I cried through 40% of this book, then I had dreams about my friends getting cancer and sleep cried. I woke up looking God-awful. Yay for vacation days! (No, I didn’t TAKE a vacation day because I looked terrible, I was already on vacation. I wouldn’t have started a book at 11 pm on a work night anyway. It’s past my bedtime, y’all!)

Star crossed teen lovers, and yet, original.

Star crossed teen lovers, and yet, original.

This was a fabulous book, but I have a couple of teeny tiny bones to pick with it. First. When I was in grade school, I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase. In the mid nineties, Lurlene McDaniel was a staple of the school book order list. All of her books were about terminally ill teenagers. Do you know what happens to a kid who reads too many novels about terminally ill teenagers? She thinks every ache and pain is a tumor. True story. You know what freaked me out even more? The fact that I was taken for head x-rays a couple of years before the McDaniel phase. It occurred to me that they were looking for brain tumors! (Turns out the headaches were sinus headaches, but I really felt like I’d dodged a bullet there.) I am slightly concerned for impressionable young minds with higher than age appropriate reading abilities having their psyches damaged by this book. Who am I kidding? I just wanted to share that story about my hypochondria and Lurlene McDaniel. Because how often do you get to type out Lurlene? Not often enough, in my opinion.

Second bone to pick! This is a legit bone. The dialogue was witty, fast paced, and used astoundingly good vocabulary. Teenagers DO NOT talk like this. Not even the exceptionally smart ones. I was in nerd classes, I was pals with some of the exceptionally smart kids. You know what they did? They drew comics about tapeworms and wrote out song lyrics on the backs of their notebooks. They were infinitely more concerned with the art of the mix tape than with the brilliance of their favorite author. True, none of them were terminally ill, but nobody banters like the kids in this book. Nobody. However, nobody realistically banters like the characters on Gilmore Girls did, but that didn’t stop me from loving them like crazy!

If you plan to read this, have tissues on hand.

If you plan to read this, have tissues on hand.

This was truly a great read. If you are in need of a tear jerker, skip the Lifetime Original Movie and dig into this book. The dialogue, while unrealistic, is charming as heck. You’ll get attached to Hazel and Augustus and Isaac. It’s a delight. A heart-wrenching, tear-jerking delight. Read it!

Maybe it’s a girl thing, but tear jerkers… Why are they so wonderful? What about you, bookworms? Do you enjoy the occasional tear jerker, or do you hate them? Tell me about it. Let’s all gather around the box of kleenex and have us a good share session.


Dec 12

Haul Out The Holly: A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

Contemporary Fiction, Family, Friendship, Humor 16

Ho ho ho, my little Bookworms! (I know not all of you celebrate Christmas, so on behalf of humanity, I apologize for you having to deal with this craziness every December. However… Saying “ho ho ho” is humorous on a number of levels, so I’m standing by my greeting.)

I’ve mentioned before that I love Fannie Flagg. It’s sort of a guilty pleasure thing, because I am fully aware that her novels aren’t highbrow literary fanciness. That said, they offer warm fuzzy feelings I haven’t found in anyone else’s work. Plus, southern charm is so darn whimsical, I can’t help myself. Soooo, when I saw that Fannie Flagg wrote a Christmas novel, I was all over it.

The book in question is called A Redbird Christmas. There’s this middle aged man who lives in Chicago. He’s told by his doctor he’s basically going to die because his lungs suck and his innards are broken and that he needs to move someplace warm so he doesn’t die like today. The guy’s name is Oswald. It’s Oswald because that name was the next on the list at the orphanage where he was deposited as a baby in a basket inexplicably containing a can of Campbell’s soup. Because the nuns had a sense of humor, they named him Oswald Campbell. (I just looked it up- there IS in fact a Saint Oswald. I was about to complain about a Catholic orphanage having a list of baby names that weren’t saints, but there are a LOT of saints… Even an Oswald, apparently.)

redbird christmas

Anyway, Oswald is given this random brochure for a health resort in Lost River, Alabama. Sadly, the health resort no longer exists, but he’s given reasonable room and board by one of the residents, so he decides to make the move. In typical Flagg fashion, there is a lot of southern cuteness to be had in this novel. There are neurotic old women who dye their hair crazy colors. The town’s mail is all delivered via boat since all the homes are located on piers along the river. The town’s only grocery store is run by an eccentric man who allows a crippled cardinal free reign over his store. (This part made me cringe a little. I don’t care how many tricks you can teach a bird, there is no teaching a bird not to poop on the produce. Not cool.)

One day a little girl shows up. There are people who live “back in the woods” who are basically transient and terrible at taking care of their children. (No “trailer trash” stereotypes here or anything. Oh, wait…) The little girl in question is named Patsy. She’s been abandoned by her father and stuck with a stepmother who doesn’t want her. She’s got a birth defect that causes a pronounced limp, and her sweet vulnerable little girlness charms the whole darn town. When the stepmother decides to skip town and doesn’t want to take Patsy, Frances (one of Lost River’s most prominent ladies) jumps at the opportunity to raise the little girl. Patsy, no surprise, bonds with Jack (the bird) and sweet loveliness ensues.

Frances takes Patsy to a doctor to see about getting her leg fixed- it’ll require an expensive series of surgeries and a lot of emotional support. The town really bands together to raise the money to help Patsy, but nobody can get through to the little girl like that darn bird. Unfortunately, birds don’t have a super long life expectancy. So… Well, I’m not going to get into all the spoilers. If you’re even remotely interested in this sort of word candy, I don’t want to ruin it for you. (Be sure to floss! Novels this level of sweetness are sure to cause cavities.)


Hi! I’m Jack. I’m the Redbird of Happiness! (And feces)

To be quite honest, this wasn’t my favorite Fannie Flagg offering. I didn’t get wrapped up in the lives of the characters the way I did in some of her other books. Since I wasn’t expecting it to be the greatest book I’d ever read, and it still warmed my snarky little heart, I’ll say it was alright. It won’t stick with you, but it won’t make you want to gouge your eyes out either. Probably. Unless you really hate birds, Alabama, Christmas, and sugar. Then don’t read this at all. Not even a word of it. If you’re interested in a holiday read that’s sweeter than southern style sweet tea (seriously, you might get diabetes from this novel) give this a shot (of insulin. Oooooh I’m punny today!)

Do any of you Bookworms out there have a favorite holiday read? I’d love to add to my seasonal reading collection!


Nov 12

Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Book Club, Family, Religion 19

This month’s book club for Wine and Whining took place on election night. Our regular venue was inundated with political cocktail parties… Which was annoying. Our venue is normally a terrible open mike night we hide from in a back room while drinking wine and eating desserts. Plus, it’s not like anyone could DO anything except watch voter returns with like 2% of the vote in. See? Whining!

Anyway. The book we read for this month was Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (oh you like Jodi Picoult? Check out my review of Plain Truth HERE.) From what I could hear over the blare of the bad open mike night, the din of political schmoozing, and the chatter of impecibly coiffed political analysts, it seems that we all agreed on this book (a fairly rare occurrence, I assure you.)

It was great! The novel starts off with us following a somewhat neurotic stay-at-home-mom named Mariah. She builds dollhouses and tiny furniture in her spare time (which CLEARLY is not a pastime you’d expect out of a laid back sort of lady.) She’s married to a traveling salesman named Colin and they have a 7 year old daughter named Faith. Mariah has a history of depression (and really, who doesn’t?) so she copes by keeping her life in methodical order. Each day has its assigned duties, and everything is orderly. Everything is orderly, that is, until she and Faith arrive home during an unscheduled leotard emergency (seriously, is anything involving leotards NOT an emergency?) and catch Colin in a compromising position with another woman.

Mariah crumbles and calls her mom in for backup. Millie arrives and takes care of Faith while Mariah gets back on her meds and spends a week crying in bed. Colin initiates a quickie divorce and takes off to Vegas to marry his newly pregnant mistress. He’s not exactly the best person in the world. Things start to get a little hairy back on the home front when Faith develops a relationship with an imaginary friend she refers to as her “guard.” Mariah was raised Jewish, Colin was raised Christian, but Faith was raised without religion of any kind.

Which is why it gets pretty crazy when her “guard” turns out to be “God.” Faith starts spontaneously healing people and suffering from stigmata. Yep. Stigmata. The literal manifestation of the wounds of Christ. I googled an image of Stigmata, but they were all really disturbing, so I’m saving you some gore here. Also, most of the Stigmata sufferers in google images are Catholic priests and nuns. But Faith? She is a little kid who has ZERO concept of the story of the crucifixion, resurrection, saints, martyrs, or any of the trappings of a Judeo-Christian up-bringing. This fact actually works to her advantage in helping her doctors and therapists  believe the unbelievable. A child from a highly religious household quoting bible verses isn’t really cause for concern… From a kid who’s never SEEN a bible, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot less likely to be a mental disorder and more likely to be… Real.

Enter Ian Fletcher. Ian is a sort of reverse televangelist. He’s like… Mythbusters on religious happenings… Otherwise known as a total buzz kill for the faithful. Colin eventually returns from Vegas and realizes there’s a media circus surrounding his daughter. He decides to sue for custody. I’ve read four Picoult novels now, and every one of them involves a court battle. If you have a violent hatred of lawyers or despise Law & Order, you might want to steer clear of her work. Just a little public service announcement.

Jamie and Adam can sniff out phonies. With science!

I don’t want to be the queen of spoilers, but I will tell you that by the end of the book Faith’s visions seem to have abandoned her. I’m certainly no expert in religious phenomena, but, you know, every reasonably knowledgeable Catholic-raised human knows a few stories of saintly happenings. The Virgin Mary is particularly fond of appearing to children and giving them messages. Unfortunately, celestial visions typically are a short term thing. It’s not like the kids from Fatima got to hang out with Mary every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really up to the reader to interpret Faith’s experiences. Was she really being guided by God? Was she faking it all? Was some other explanation of the events plausible? I myself felt pretty darned warm and fuzzy at the end of this book. The way the story played out gave me a little boost in “faith.”

So Bookworms, let’s be all controversial-like. When presented with the latest instance of Jesus appearing in toast crust or spontaneous healings, are you more the pilgrim type or the skeptic type? Let’s discuss!


Nov 08

Here Comes the Son: Son by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Family, Fantasy, Women's Studies, Young Adult Fiction 19

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

We have reached the final leg of our Giver journey! Who’s excited? I can practically hear you hooting and hollering through the internet. Love the enthusiasm!

Son is the fourth and final offering in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Son starts off with a bang by returning us to the scene of the crime- the original community! We’re back in the land of overscheduled, colorless, emotionless lives. But the bicycles are especially jaunty, you have to give them that.

We are introduced to a new character, Claire. Claire is a 14-year-old birthmother. Remember birthmothers? The girls in the community who weren’t fit for other occupation? Yeah. Those birthmothers. Claire is one of them. She’s 14. And pregnant! Oh, community, seriously?! You can fix the weather but you can’t figure out that young girls’ bodies, while capable of producing a healthy child, are not mature enough to do so reliably? I don’t remember what the ideal childbearing age is biologically speaking, but it sure as sugar snap peas isn’t 14!

Claire is busy chilling in the birthmother dorm hanging around the other birthmothers reflecting that it was kind of weird that she had no idea how human reproduction worked, what with the swelling of bellies and all. Then she goes into labor. She’s wheeled into a room and put into a leather mask (that sounds like nothing so much as accoutrements of Fifty Shades’ Red Room of Pain.) Unfortunately something goes wrong (I mean, it’s not like she’s a 14-year-old girl giving birth or anything!) and Claire has to have a c-section to release the “product.” Claire is given some time to recover and is then re-assigned to work in the fish hatchery. The community doesn’t like c-sections, apparently, so she’s kicked out of birthmother-ing.

The powers that be made two mistakes. First, someone mentioned to Claire that her “product” was a male and gives her his birth number. Second, the community is so dang flustered at their screw up with Claire’s assignment that they forget to give her the pills! (The PILLS! The ones that make you sterile and steal your emotions. Egads, the girl has FEELINGS now!)

It’s a party mix! Saddest thing about the pills? Even if they were fun colors, nobody in the community could see them. Sad trombone.

In case you hadn’t guessed this already, Claire’s baby is Gabe. While Gabe is spending his nights with Jonas and his family, Claire is volunteering at the nursery to spend time with her baby boy. She begins to get attached (not allowed) and is devastated to hear from Jonas’s father that Gabe isn’t bound to be assigned, but released. (Released=Euthanasia, remember?) Claire is distraught and desperate to save her baby. Later that night alarms sound, because Jonas has escaped with Gabe. Claire hops onto a supply ship hoping to track them down…And then she’s shipwrecked!

Dun dun dun! Claire washes up on the shore of yet another society. This village is hemmed in by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, so it’s completely isolated. It’s not entirely unpleasant though. Actually, it’s the most normal of the places we’ve seen in this series of novels. It’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an isolated town, like 150 years ago. They don’t abandon their sick and injured to die in fields… Claire starts out with amnesia but soon remembers Gabe and her quest. She meets a disabled shepherd who is willing to train her on how to scale the cliff of doom (I added the “of doom” part. Creative license. Sue me.)

After an irrationally long (sorry Ms. Lowry, it was a bit drawn out…) sequence describing Claire’s physical training regime and her highly detailed climb, Claire escapes the village. But who awaits her at the top? Her Mr. Miyagi Shepherd buddy warned her about (dun dun duuuuuuun!) the Trademaster! Yes! The wicked fellow ruining lives in Jonas’s village is waiting for Claire! He demands a trade, and Claire knows she must accept, otherwise he’ll cut off half her feet the way he did Miyagi (jerk.) So. The Trademaster tells Claire he’ll get her to Gabe… In exchange for her youth. (Are you sensing more fantasy coming on?) Claire is turned from a young woman into a hunched, old, arthritic geezer. Sad! But, she is taken into Jonas’s village and gets to watch Gabe grow up from afar.

Cliff climbing. Like so. Only without the rope thingie and all the safety precautions. I may or may not have had a mild bout of vertigo reading this section…

Sidebar- Jonas and Kira totally get married and have babies, so yay for them. Unfortunately, Gabe is being a moody teenager and wants to find his “real” family. Claire is prematurely super old and is on her deathbed before she reveals her secret to Jonas. Gabe has a little bit of superpower about him and is able to pop into people’s heads and feel their feelings and stuff. It’s kind of vague, but somehow he is able to track down the Trademaster, get inside his head and destroy him. Then Claire is magically young again and they all live happily ever after. Yay?

When I look at this series as a whole, I’ve got to admit that for me nothing really lived up to The Giver. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy each of the books in their own way, I just felt that the messages in The Giver resonated with me in a way the others didn’t. Honestly, I would have preferred to hear about how the original community evolved after Jonas’s departure than have the story branch out into so many other little societies, but alas, wasn’t in the cards. I also wasn’t thrilled with the turn the series took into full on fantasy either… I mean, fantasy is great, I just prefer it to carry it all throughout a series than to have it presented halfway through. I found Son a little bit predictable, too. But! I’m not a complete sourpuss! Overall, this series is a great example of young adult fiction. There are all sorts of good lessons to learn, and I appreciate a happy ending, no matter how it comes about. Give it a shot and decide for yourself!

Have any of you Bookworms made it all the way through the series? Are you pleased with the way Lowry wrapped up the story? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let’s talk about it!


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?