EpicFehlReader
Review
5 Stars
The Big Book of AutoCorrect Fails by Tim Dedopulos
The Big Book of Autocorrect Fails: Hundreds of Hilarious Howlers! - Tim Dedopulos

In theory, autocorrect is a genius feature that saves you from embarrassing errors. In reality, it seems to have a mind of its own, turning your innocent messages into inadvertently scandalous texts that could appall hardened war criminals and make veteran hookers blush. Fortunately, one person's humiliation is another's hilarity, and this big book gathers the very best (or worst, depending on your point of view) failed fixes, presenting them in the popular "bubble" conversation format that captures the progressive confusion, distress, and comedy as the autocorrect goes rogue.

Goodreads.com

 

 

Pretty much exactly what you'd guess from the title, just a hilarious gathering of autocorrect fails. Consider yourself warned though, the good majority of these are pretty dirty (sexually) or off-color/ definitely not PC in tone! That said, I honestly LOL'd on nearly every page. The curator of this collection gives his readers a tip to consider when crafting future texts: "For goodness' sake, be especially careful when using the words duck, aunt, election and tentacles."

 

* "butthurt potatoes"
* "5 inch Nazis"
* "should grab a bear sometime"
* "flapping horse ship"

 

Some pages here and there were just okay but honestly I appreciated that because it gave me a "breather" break between the funniest bits! Don't expect things to get too deep or literary, just enjoy it for what it is and allow yourself to laugh-cry for a bit :-)

 

American readers, be aware that this is published by a UK publisher, so there are moments of British slang here and there. The one that threw me personally was "spanners" but apparently that means "wrench"?

Review
3 Stars
Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away by Ben Utecht
Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away (Thorndike Press Large Print Inspirational Series) - Ben Utecht, Mark Tabb

After five major concussions, NFL tight-end Ben Utecht of the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals is losing his memories. This is his powerful and emotional love letter to his wife and daughters—whom he someday may not recognize—and an inspiring message for all to live every moment fully. Ben Utecht has accumulated a vast treasure of memories: tossing a football in the yard with his father, meeting his wife, with whom he’d build a loving partnership and bring four beautiful daughters into the world, writing and performing music, catching touchdown passes from quarterback Peyton Manning, and playing a Super Bowl Championship watched by ninety-three million people. But the game he has built his living on, the game he fell in love with as a child, is taking its toll in a devastating way. After at least five major concussions—and an untold number of micro-concussions—Ben suffered multiple mild traumatic brain injuries that have erased important memories. Knowing that his wife and daughters could someday be beyond his reach and desperate for them to understand how much he loves them, he recorded his memories for them to hold on to after his essential self is gone. Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away chronicles his remarkable journey from his early days throwing a football back and forth with his father to speaking about the long-term effects of concussions before Congress, and how his faith keeps him strong and grounded as he looks toward an uncertain future. Ben recounts the experiences that have shaped his life and imparts the lessons he’s learned along the way. Emotionally powerful, inspiring, and uplifting, Ben’s story will captivate and encourage you to make the most of every day and treasure all of your memories.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Ben Utecht spent six years in the NFL as tight end for the Indianapolis Colts as well as the Cincinnati Bengals. Between those NFL years and his four years of college football, he suffered no less than FIVE documented major concussions. In the years following his last NFL game in 2009, he began to suspect that he was losing precious memories. This wasn't just temporary amnesia -- moments of his life appeared to be irretrievably wiped from his memory. With this realization, Utecht quickly became an advocate for brain health and education, nabbing a spot on the board of the American Brain Foundation. He's even spoken before Congress on the matter. 

 

Despite his efforts to learn all he can regarding what's going in his mind and to preserve what's left, Utecht fears for what his future may hold. With that in mind, he wrote Counting The Days While My Mind Slips Away, what he calls "a love letter to my family" something tangible to capture his memories of the man he was in case his mind fails him. In these memories, readers are given an inside look at the questionable practices of the NFL regarding head trauma. Even within this text, several times Utecht admits that he had to refer to others to verify  or remind him of what used to be some of his own memories. For instance, he discusses his experience with playing the Colts when they won the Super Bowl in 2006... he has pictures of him with the Lombardi trophy but in his mind it's like it never happened. 

 

 

I now understand that our essence as human beings lies in our ability to remember. Everything that matters about our identities -- our very sense of self -- comes from our memories. We may live in the present, but the present doesn't last. Every moment quickly slips into the stream of short-term memory and journeys toward the ocean that is the long-term memory center of the brain. There our memories take root, shaping us, refining us, defining who we are. We are the culmination of all we have experienced, all we have thought and read and believed, all we have loved. We are living memories. Without memories we cease to be ourselves. In a very real way we cease to be.

 

Utecht takes us back to the very beginning: his early days of growing up a preacher's kid. Like many a young boy, Utecht was introduced to football by his father, through many hours of tackles & tosses in the yard, even taking Ben (at age 11) to watch his first NFL training camp. As he says, "That's what I loved about the game...Football meant time with my dad." Utecht grew up big for his age, so by the time he started his school years, coaches took notice of his size and football seemed a natural path to take, as it also meant pretty much immediate social acceptance within school hierarchy. It doesn't read as intentional, but it's almost like he was groomed for this as a career choice from the very beginning, being quietly guided by something on life's sidelines.

 

I was so excited to sign with the Colts and start my career, and yet, as a result of my career I cannot even remember how it started.

 

Almost immediately upon completing high school, Ben is offered a full ride football scholarship to University of Minnesota (which he accepts, naturally). Pretty much right out of college, he is signed to the Colts. By this time, Utecht's formidable size weighs in at 6'7", 250lbs. A reader may go into this book thinking they're in for pages full of descriptions of head trauma but dang, I was distracted by all the skeletal issues this guy was having over the years of his NFL career --- popped ribs, hip fractures, pelvic damage, separated shoulder, broken ankle.. that's not even all of it -- left me wondering if this guy was ever tested for some sort of skeletal disorder, bone deficiency, something?!

 

In one portion of the book, Utecht shares some entries from a journal he began to keep of symptoms he was noticing after head injuries, most excerpts focusing on 2009, his last year with the NFL... and it wasn't a planned retirement. There's a whole swirl of drama surrounding him being cut from the Bengals. He describes being "cut" while still on the IR (injured roster), which is technically not supposed to be allowed. A player is supposed to be cleared for play before they can be cut. Utecht comes to find out that the doctor who signed off on his being cleared wasn't even a medical doctor! Amazing how shady the NFL comes out in these memoirs I've been picking up lately! 

 

Utecht's story is interesting, but not necessarily the most riveting stuff (though he does offer some comedic stories involving Peyton Manning). But I feel like in the case of CTE, it's important to get as many testimonies out there as possible if a true solution is ever to be found. In that respect, this remains an important read. It does have a heaaaavy Christian lean to it though, so just a heads up if that's not your thing. I don't mind it most times but some stuff he says here... even I was giving some of the pages some side eye. 

 

If you've read other books on this subject, many of them are likely referenced here. Utecht cited League Of Denial many times and Bennet Omalu himself is blurbed on the back cover of this book. Utecht also covers some of the material that was discussed in Cindy Feasel's book, After The Cheering Stops (to clarify, he doesn't mention her book specifically, he just discusses similar topics). 

 

 

Review
3.5 Stars
Truth Doesn't Have A Side by Dr. Bennet Omalu
Truth Doesn't Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports - Bennet Omalu, Will Smith, Mark Tabb

When Dr. Omalu discovered a connection between head injuries and cognitive dysfunction, he thought the sports industry would welcome his findings. Instead, this gentle man of faith became the subject of a controversy that threatened his career, his family, and his right to live in the United States. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, the doctor who inspired the movie Concussion shares insights that will change how you view your family's involvement in contact sports. This is a riveting story of finding new life in America, new strength within the heart, and renewed faith in God's call to speak the truth no matter what. 

~ from back cover

 

 

 

The book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas (the basis for the movie by the same name starring Will Smith) explored the topic of "mild" brain trauma within the NFL and Dr. Bennet Omalu's role in bringing the dangers of brain trauma in athletes to light. In Laskas' book, we got to know a bit of Omalu's personal story. In Truth Doesn't Have A Side, readers get the expanded version (though, in all honesty, the bulk of the first 65 pages or so of material in Truth are pretty well covered in the Concussion book).

 

Yes, he does talk about his discovery of and work with CTE cases, but the majority of this book focuses on the years prior to his time in the spotlight -- the journey from a small community in Nigeria, through years of red tape and racial prejudice to finally finding a new place to set roots in the United States. What a journey it's been for this man!

 

In his own words, Omalu discusses his family history, the good and the bad. The story of Omalu's father is particularly harrowing: Omalu's father and aunt were abandoned by their mother after her husband's supsicious death, leaving them to survive as street children until a visiting missionary was able to arrange housing for them. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out well -- Omalu's father was beaten, often starved, treated as a servant, but endured it because the family did provide him with schooling. The way Omalu tells it has an almost biblical tale kind of ring to it! 

 

During the Nigerian Civil War (aka Biafran War), the time during which Omalu himself was born, his father's accomplishments -- college degree, years of dedicated employment as a civil servant -- were minimalized to "You're Igbo", forcing the entire family to have to relocate to a refugee camp for the duration of the war. The crazy thing is Omalu's father STILL worked as a government employee while they forced him to live in a refugee camp! 

 

My father's name was Amaechi, which means, "I may be down today, but no one knows what tomorrow may bring!" 

 

~ Bennet Omalu

 

As mentioned a bit in Concussion, Omalu explains how medicine was actually not a natural calling to him. His true dream was to become an airline pilot, but since his parents had their hopes set on him studying medicine, that's what he went with (though he does admit that science DOES feed his natural curiosity quite nicely). Imagine where the medical community would be had he take the "I do what I want!" stance. Truthfully, it made me a little sad for him that he didn't feel the freedom of choice to pursue his heart's desire, but I applaud his commitment to fully dedicate himself to his field regardless, as his work has opened the way to research that is on its way to helping so many in future generations.

 

Omalu describes the journey of how he came to have SO many degrees and certifications, the process of earning medical degrees in both Nigeria and the US. Through it all, he reveals his struggles with deep depression, racial prejudice in his new American community once arriving here in 1994, and the frustration of having certain people wanting to bar his progress every step of the way. It certainly seemed like an act of God that he managed to get a medical degree here at all.

 

The CTE material, Mike Webster case that started it all, all of that... actually takes up only a small portion of this book. The book in its entirety is not a long read, less than 300 pages total. The bulk of his discussion on his CTE years starts in Chapter 11 (approx. 120 pgs in, hardcover ed.).

 

For those interested in behind-the-scenes movie facts and trivia, Omalu also dishes on his very first meeting with Will Smith, who was chosen to portray Omalu in the film Concussion, how Smith originally wasn't interested but once a friendship developed between the to, he was quickly and happily immersed in the role. 

 

Omalu tells a powerful story, but it was sometimes hard to follow, as he would jump back and forth between his days as a medical examiner in Pittsburgh and his time as an ER doctor in Nigeria... with little to no transition or chronological explanation in between. I will say though, Omalu closes on a wonderful prayer for the future that left me quite moved. 

 

Following the close of his story, Omalu offers parents a Q & A guide on the topic of sports and head trauma, should their children want to play contact sports. He strongly urges readers to keep their kids out of such sports altogether, but admits that if you choose to go forth with sports anyway, it's best to at least go in informed. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Zondervan Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3 Stars
Games Creatures Play ed. by Charlaine Harris & Toni L.P. Kelner
Games Creatures Play - Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner

Welcome to the wide world of paranormal pastimes, where striking out might strike you dead. Editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner are your announcers for this all-new story collection of the most peculiar plays ever made… Sports fans live and die by their teams’ successes and failures—though not literally. But these fourteen authors have written spirited—in more ways than one—new tales of killer competitions that would make even the most die-hard players ask to be benched. These supernatural sporting stories are guaranteed to have you rooting for the home team…or else…

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

Edited by Charlaine Harris of Sookie Stackhouse series fame, along with co-editor Toni L.P. Kelner (they've previously collaborated on similar anthologies), these short stories are crafted by some of the biggest names in the supernatural / fantasy / sci-fi genres. Oh, and speaking of Sookie Stackhouse by the way, Harris includes a story featuring her into this mix.

 

Here, the stories are given a sports-themed twist just to keep things interesting. That's the concept anyway. After my reading experience, I came away feeling more like these were kind of like campfire stories... fun and mildly spooky in the moment but quickly forgettable once you're distanced from them. I also found the sports connection in many of the stories pretty loosely done. 

 

Each author gets a (usually comedic) bio blurb at the start of their story. I suspect each author wrote their own, but who knows. I'd say my favorite is the one for Mercedes Lackey, which opens with: "Mercedes Lackey was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 24, 1950. The very next day, the Korean War was declared. It is hoped that there is no connection between the two events."

 

Then there was the bio blurb of Adam-Troy Castro, the author of the Gustav Gloom series: "Adam-Troy Castro has historically brought the suck to any sport he has ever been coaxed into playing, but he has had a little bit more luck as a writer."

 

No surprise, my very favorite story in this collection was "Jammed" by Seanan McGuire, as she is one of my favorite authors and seeing her name on the cover was a primary reason for me purchasing the book in the first place. I can always count on her to come out with highly unique and wildly entertaining plots! I haven't yet gotten into the InCrytpid series, but I hear this story is supposed to fit into that world. 

 

In "Jammed", Antimony Price comes from a long line of monster hunters, but the Price family was supposed to be wiped out centuries ago. In this modern age she needs to keep a low profile, so she takes up the persona Annie Thompson, social worker / roller derby competitor (playing under the name Final Girl). At one of the roller derby meets, a girl from another team is murdered, her severed leg all that's left to identify. Looking at the leg, Antimony determines this was likely a non-human attacker. So, you can imagine that low-profile life is quickly eliminated as an option!

 

"I shove my phone into my pocket, shouting, 'Mom! I'm going to go fight a monster I can't identify yet!"

 

"Don't get decapitated, dear," she called back. 

 

I shook my head. "Parental oversight," I muttered, stepping outside. Sometimes it's hard to forget that I'm the youngest child in the family -- I came after the heir AND the spare, and my parents are happy if I make it through the day without setting anything on fire or dropping anyone who doesn't deserve it down a pit trap. Great for doing whatever I want without worrying about rules getting in my way, lousy if what I want is for my mother to realize that I'm running off to get myself killed and at least offer me an extra knife or something."

 

~ from "Jammed" by Seanan McGuire

 

The collection opens and closes with offerings from editors Harris & Kelner. It's a fun enough gathering of names in that you get to see them doing a little something different, creatively, with their craft, but most of these didn't leave me mindblown. I'd recommend solely off the Seanan McGuire story. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Blankets (graphic novel) by Craig Thompson
Blankets - Craig Thompson

Blankets is the story of a young man coming of age and finding the confidence to express his creative voice. Craig Thompson's poignant graphic memoir plays out against the backdrop of a Midwestern winterscape: finely-hewn linework draws together a portrait of small town life, a rigorously fundamentalist Christian childhood, and a lonely, emotionally mixed-up adolescence. Under an engulfing blanket of snow, Craig and Raina fall in love at winter church camp, revealing to one another their struggles with faith and their dreams of escape. Over time though, their personal demons resurface and their relationship falls apart. It's a universal story, and Thompson's vibrant brushstrokes and unique page designs make the familiar heartbreaking all over again. This groundbreaking graphic novel, winner of two Eisner and three Harvey Awards, is an eloquent portrait of adolescent yearning; first love (and first heartache); faith in crisis; and the process of moving beyond all of that. Beautifully rendered in pen and ink, Thompson has created a love story that lasts.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

I've finally tackled this behemoth of a book (nearly 600 pages of text & illustrations!) after years of hearing it hyped up. In this graphic memoir, author Craig Thompson illustrates experiences from not only his childhood but also his story of that first big love. 

 

 

Thompson's parents here are described as fundamentalist Christians with the father being an extreme disciplinarian. WARNING: If you're at all squeamish or easily unnerved as a reader, be forewarned: there are scenes of child abuse and sexual abuse of minors depicted in this book. There are also numerous sketches of breasts and penis, if you are offended by that. 

 

In one scene, Thompson's father sticks Craig's younger brother in a spider-filled cubby hole and makes him stay there overnight after Craig and his brother got into a brotherly tussle, getting a little too loud and disturbing their parents. In a summer scene, the boys experience near heat exhaustion in their upstairs bedroom because the cheapskate father doesn't want to pay to run fans. The rage that man induced in me!

 

Fast forward a few years and teenage Craig meets Raina at a winter retreat for Christian teens. A friendship quickly develops that continues long-distance (once the retreat ends), until Raina invites Craig to her home for a few weeks visit. Once there, Craig is moved when he sees how mature and caring Raina is with her specials needs siblings. He admires how protective she is with her brother and sister, yet it stirs up feelings of guilt in him as he thinks about how poor a job he did keeping his own brother safe from predators. 

 

 

The way my friends have been talking up this book all these years as well as hearing how groundbreaking it was in the graphic novel / memoir genre in general, I was fully expecting a solid 5 star read for myself. Didn't quite get to 5 star level for me but I did thoroughly enjoy it. 

 

Having had a tough childhood experience myself, reading the panels in the early part of the story was not the most pleasant experience, but I appreciated Thompson's honesty in wanting to share the truth of his experiences. I also quite enjoyed the bluish-grey tones of the artwork. It was definitely key in building the atmosphere of the story. I was also impressed with Thompson's art style, the way it was simple, not too fussy, yet still conveyed movement.

 

 

I found the relationship between Craig & Raina lovely & sweet for the most part, particularly the idea of the tree painting! At times, their behavior seemed overly dramatic and angsty but ehh, they were teen characters... goes with the territory to some extent. I don't think I was always entirely invested in the story, as I caught myself a few times feeling tired, thinking it was taking me forever to make progress in the pages. But I did enjoy the reading experience overall. 

 

For those who are fans of Art Spiegelman (MAUS graphic novel) and Neil Gaiman, Thompson gives them shout-outs in the acknowledgements. 

Review
3 Stars
Waking From The Dream: Struggle For Civil Rights In The Shadow Of MLK by David L. Chappell
Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. - David L. Chappell

The author of A Stone of Hope, called “one of the three or four most important books on the civil rights movement” by The Atlantic Monthly, turns his attention to the years after Martin Luther King’s assassination—and provides a sweeping history of the struggle to keep the civil rights movement alive and to realize King’s vision of an equal society. In this arresting and groundbreaking account, David L. Chappell reveals that, far from coming to an abrupt end with King’s murder, the civil rights movement entered a new phase. It both grew and splintered. These were years when decisive, historic victories were no longer within reach—the movement’s achievements were instead hard-won, and their meanings unsettled. From the fight to pass the Fair Housing Act in 1968, to debates over unity and leadership at the National Black Political Conventions, to the campaign for full-employment legislation, to the surprising enactment of the Martin Luther King holiday, to Jesse Jackson’s quixotic presidential campaigns, veterans of the movement struggled to rally around common goals. Waking from the Dream documents this struggle, including moments when the movement seemed on the verge of dissolution, and the monumental efforts of its members to persevere. For this watershed study of a much-neglected period, Chappell spent ten years sifting through a voluminous public record: congressional hearings and government documents; the archives of pro– and anti–civil rights activists, oral and written remembrances of King’s successors and rivals, documentary film footage, and long-forgotten coverage of events from African American newspapers and journals.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Waking From The Dream examines the years immediately following the murder of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how that tragedy affected the movement as a whole. This book covers a good chunk of history you likely were not taught in school. 

 

It turns out a number of men tried to step in as MLK's successor as one of the key leaders in the Civil Rights Movement -- Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and even actor Ossie Davis (who later portrayed Dr. King in a 1978 NBC documentary) were all approached with offers to take over. 

 

One of the sections of the book that held my interest most were the years concerning MLK's widow, Coretta Scott King, and the journey she took to build and maintain her husband's historical legacy. Following the death of her husband, Coretta was often brought out as a kind of figure of the cost of the movement, but she came to really despise this move. She said she was tired of being used as a pawn to drum up sympathy and anger in crowds. While reaching large audiences was important to the cause, she felt this method just felt wrong. She decided she would try to fly solo while continuing her husband's work. 

 

Dr. King & wife Coretta Scott King

 

In 1978, Coretta King heads up the Full Employment Action Council, whose purpose was to address the plight of impoverished black and white citizens alike. By 1979, Coretta begins to campaign for a national MLK Day. Other activists in the Civil Rights Movement had tried for this immediately following Dr. King's death and every year after -- musician James Brown even met with President Richard Nixon AND President Ronald Reagan to try to get the process moving -- but their requests continued to fall on deaf ears. Those in opposition to the holiday would often give speeches tying Dr. King to communism or would imply that his work actually low-key incited violence.  Dr. King's opposers would claim that he was okay with prejudiced behavior as long as it swung in favor of the black community. They'd also imply that he knew how to work around the law, not with it. Surprisingly, even the Congressional Black Caucus came forward and said there were bigger fish to fry.

 

                                    musician James Brown & Rev. Al Sharpton

at the White House in 1982

 

 

 

Even with Coretta's efforts, the holiday wasn't made official until 1983, under President  Reagan (though it took some time before he was fully on board with the idea). Once MLK Day was made official, Reagan came forward with this statement:

 

"Though Dr. King and I may not have exactly had identical political philosophies, we did share a deep belief in freedom and justice under God. Freedom is not something to be secured in any one moment of time. We must struggle to preserve it every day. And freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. History shows that Dr. King's approach achieved great results in a comparatively short time, which was exactly what America needed...What he accomplished -- not just for black Americans, but all Americans --- he lifted a heavy burden from this country."

 

Ronald Reagan signs document making MLK Day 

a national holiday

 

Mrs. King went on to develop a friendship with President Jimmy Carter, even awarding him the MLK Nonviolent Peace Prize in 1979. Senator Ted Kennedy and Carter started using the award as a icebreaker that would develop into a platform to win votes for the Democratic Party. Coretta Scott King was not given credit whenever the award was mentioned. 

 

The portion of this book that's the toughest pill to swallow is the light author David Chappell sheds on Dr. King, the man, not the historical figure. This means readers will read information regarding such topics as MLK's fondness for ladies and rumored infidelity as well as the plagiarism scandal around his college papers (and whether his PhD had been honestly earned) that rocked Boston University. 

 

Clayborn Carson, the editor of Dr. King's papers said that in his research he found that there were "instances of plagiarism" in King's works, but that "in most instances King was probably sloppy rather than deliberately deceptive." Dr. Jack Boozer, a professor of religion at Emory University, discovered that some of his work had been plagiarized by Dr. King. After Boozer's death, his widow was interviewed and said that Dr. Boozer never cared all that much that King used his words, instead was glad he could be of help to the man. But she also admits that when Boozer first heard the story that he didn't speak on the matter at all for a full two days. 

 

There were also quite a few pages in King's dissertation paper missing footnotes that should have cited source material. No one could quite agree whether this was intentional or not, but it looks especially bad when combined with suspected plagiarized passages. One of the large reasons it caused such controversy is that any other university student in line for a doctorate would have likely been failed over such oversights. King's naysayers were quick to point out that King held a C average while at Morehouse University, arguing that clearly this was a case of racial bias. Some were further angered by the fact that years later, when Brown U officials looked into the matter, they came back with the response that suspicious material had been found in King's files but that the college had decided against retroactively retracting his PhD. 

 

But this book isn't meant as a means to shatter the legacy of Dr. King, but to offer a balanced presentation of the man and his life, and the impact of his work generations later. It might not be the best book out there on the topic (which I cringe to say, after reading that the author spent a decade putting this material together). Some material, such as that regarding the Little Rock Nine, was pretty glossed over.  Still, it remains an important read towards developing a well-rounded education. Yes, it's disheartening to read of the struggle of civil rights activists, the way our government drafted Civil Rights Acts but watered them down so much before having them passed that they offered little to no help. But as some activists were known to say at the time, "If you are digging a trench with a spoon and someone offers you a shovel, you don't turn them down because they didn't offer you a bulldozer."

 

If baby steps is how we get to progress and success, then so be it. And in the process it's important to learn ALL the facts, take in ALL the information available and make informed decisions from there. That might mean that some of the veneer gets chipped off our heroes in the process, but I personally find it beneficial to be reminded that at the end of the day, these great feats were carried out by mortal, flawed, everyday humans just like me... not infallible gods. It helps make my little efforts all the more meaningful. 

 

Lastly, there's a footnote in this book that stunned me, which says that when Martin Luther King was leaning over the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, talking to Rev. Jesse James standing in the parking lot on that fateful day... well, it's hypothesized that had Dr. King been standing fully upright rather than leaning over the balcony, he likely would not have been shot in the face and could have possibly survived. 

 

 

Review
4.5 Stars
Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Seconds: A Graphic Novel - Bryan Lee O'Malley

The highly anticipated new standalone full-color graphic novel from Bryan Lee O’Malley, author and artist of the hugely bestselling Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
 
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
 
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Katie was once a chef on the brink of culinary stardom. Now, she's still a chef but struggling to get a new restaurant development off the ground. Added bonus, she keeps bumping into her ex whom she's not quite over... Yes, over the span of four years her life has been turned upside down, both personally and professionally. 

 

Then comes that one magical, spooky night when things were at a new low. A mystery girl appears to Katie in her room with instructions on how to get out of her predicament: write the problem in a notebook, eat this magical mushroom, sleep, wake up and get a do-over! 

 

 

The idea is for the person to only use this magic ONCE, but when Katie discovers a bed of these mushrooms right on her own property, she can't help herself, she starts trying to fix everything, absolutely everything, wrong in her life.... even going after those mild annoyances most of us shrug off. As you can imagine, things combust into hilarious disaster.

 

 

First off, I'm all for stories featuring sarcastic redheads! Add in a unique mix of restaurant staff, a spooky spectral girl with edgy fashion sense and this is one highly entertaining graphic novel. Hazel was also super adorable and provided a nice balance to Katie's jadedness.

 

 

 

I haven't read the Scott Pilgrim series yet (though I did see the film version), but having thoroughly loved the humor in this story -- especially Katie's responses to the narrator -- I'm now excited to start in on that series soon! 

Review
2.5 Stars
Hard Love Province: Poems by Marilyn Chin
Hard Love Province: Poems - Marilyn Chin

Dancing brilliantly between Eastern and Western forms, fusing ancient Chinese history and contemporary American popular culture, she is one of the most celebrated Asian-American poets writing today. Chin's fourth volume of poems, Hard Love Province, is composed of erotic elegies in which the speaker grieves for the loss of her beloved. Here, too, are poems inspired by Chin’s poetic forbearers and mentors―Dickinson, Plath, Ai, Gwendolyn Brooks, Tu Fu, Adrienne Rich, and others―honoring their work and descrying the global injustice they addressed...

~from inside front dustjacket cover

 

 

 

 

In this, her fourth volume of poetry (pub. 2014), Marilyn Chin ponders the theme of deep grief and mourning after the loss of one's beloved. She plays with the imagery of quiet moments, typically occurring during late night, moonlit hours while also exploring the sensation of simmering anger that is sometimes intertwined with grief. While in this mode, Chin also doesn't shy away from tougher material, such as the dark and morbid imagery that can play across the mind in moments of emotional fatigue. Here, almost inevitably, also comes the moments of fury & pessimism at one's chosen god. 

 

Chin gets creative with her format, putting together a mix of haikus, standard poem form, and flash fiction. In all honesty, I didn't love her haikus and I found the bits of flash fiction odd. Strong focus on passing wind and human excrement..why?! I fared a bit better with her more standard forms of poetry, though as a whole I wasn't in love with this collection. 

 

There were some choice lines that stood out to me as impressive, such as:

 

* "Something's lost, something's made strong.." from "Formosan Elegy"

* "What is democracy but too many things And too little time to love them..."

    from "Nocturnes"

* "A death blow is life blow to some" ~ also from "Nocturnes"

 

 

Beyond that, there's an eroticism to the writing that I personally didn't find all that well executed. Pushed past moving & powerful imagery into just unnecessarily crude IMO. But I will give Chin a nod for her impressive collection of euphemisms for men's (and women's!) down south regions! Also, a note on the poem "Kalifornia"...umm, just read the lyrics to Red Hot Chili Peppers "Californication" -- pretty much the same idea between them only more impressive if you go the RHCP route. 

Review
3 Stars
Ghost Doll & Jasper by Fiona McDonald
Ghost Doll and Jasper by Fiona McDonald (2012-11-01) - Fiona McDonald

What happens when a broken doll is touched by stardust? She becomes a ghost doll, of course! The newly awakened Ghost Doll and her companion Jasper, a mangy black cat, set off in search of a safe place to live. But the city is new and dangerous territory for Ghost Doll (who fell asleep in quieter times). The noise and rush of traffic terrifies her, and as for the new style of toy—complete with computer chip and battery—she can’t think of anything worse. But there is something far more sinister and dangerous lurking in the city. Someone else witnessed the falling star and is anxious to get a hold of the fragment—and Ghost Doll—for his own evil purposes. How will Ghost Doll and Jasper escape their hunter and find a home where they both are safe and loved?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

A speck of stardust falls from the sky, eventually coming to fall on a doll's head in an abandoned house, bringing her to life as "Ghost Doll". Ghost Doll is startled by all the loud noises she's now experiencing and mystified by modern toy dolls she meets who are filled with batteries and computer chips. Ghost Doll, along with her new friend, Jasper (a mangy black street cat), sets out across the city in search of a safe, quiet place she can call home. 

 

A safe home becomes even more of an urgency for Ghost Doll when it is revealed shortly after her metamorphosis that scientist / inventor Dr. Borsch witnessed where the stardust fell. He becomes consumed with this need to obtain the stardust for his experiments, so when he discovers it lies within Ghost Doll, he and his henchmen set out to capture her. 

 

I found the illustrations (also done by McDonald) to have something of a 1990s avant-garde flair to them. Made me a bit nostalgic for old newspaper comics I remember loving as a kid :-) Some of the drawings were pretty cute, others were a little TOO squiggle-heavy, making them hard to decipher. 

 

The plot itself was at times sweet, other times moving (especially when we get to know some of Ghost Doll's history as she starts to have memories of a little girl she belonged to once). I also really liked Jasper, who didn't seem physically tough but he was strong where it was important, in his soul. But in general, something about the story fell just a bit flat. I enjoyed the adventure while I was there, but I was sort of a passive passenger, not feeling a strong pull to return to this one in the future. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Angel On Assignment (Elf on The Shelf Alternative) by Wanda Carter Roush
Angel on Assignment: Move over elf. It's time to share the shelf. - Wanda Carter Roush, Mike Motz

If your family loves the Elf on the Shelf and you want to keep the fun going, check out Angel on Assignment. It's a children's activity book that offers a Christian alternative to the elf, teaching children about the angels who watch over them, not just at Christmas but all year long. With beautiful illustrations and rhyming verse, Angel on Assignment takes readers through the angels' roles in the Christmas story and presents the ways guardian angels look out for boys and girls today--and how children can act as angels in disguise for friends who need help. See how many angels your child can find--some are hiding!

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In recent years, it seems the Elf On The Shelf holiday tradition has become nearly as standard an element as gingerbread cookies and numerous twinkle light displays. Wanda Carter Roush, former Sunday school teacher and author of Angel on Assignment, after witnessing her daughter battle Dravet Syndrome-induced epilepsy, wanted a special spin on the elf tradition. Roush wanted something that would teach young readers about the role of angels not only during the holiday season -- though the nativity story is incorporated -- but throughout the entire year, reassuring each reader that an angel has your back nonstop, watching and protecting you every day of your life. The intent of this is to not only instill hope and wonder in the hearts of children, but Roush also urges children to think of these angels and be inspired to carry out charitable acts of their own each day, to aspire to make it a natural way of life as they grow towards adulthood. 

 

From a poor simple stable and a bed made of hay, 

To the cross on a hill, in a borrowed tomb he lay.

Angels were there from the start to the stone,

When the greatest gift to the world was made known.

 

      ~text from page 6 of Angel on Assignment

 

But there's more than just a mere story here. Readers are given a fun interactive experience throughout! In addition to a heartwarming tale told in rhyming verse, Angel on Assignment  features wonderfully colorful illustrations done by Mike Motz as well as a "spot the angels" game in each illustration. At the back of the book, there are also pages that instruct children on how to make their own paper angels (with adult supervision, of course) and encourages children to post their creations to the book's Facebook page. The last page of the book is an inscription page where families can record the date that they first started the Angel tradition in their home. 

 

 

 

 

Since being released in 2017, Angel On Assignment has gone on to be awarded the Gold Medal Christian Book Award in Young Kids category as well as the Bronze Medal Readers' Favorite Book Award in the General Christian category. The rhyming is done in a pleasant rhythm, flowing nicely without being TOO simple in vocabulary or awkward & clunky in pace. Roush's spin on the classic Elf tradition offers a refreshing alternative to parents looking to incorporate more "reason for the season" kind of celebrating into their family festivities during the Christmas season. 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  BookCrash.com and Ella's Pearl Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3 Stars
Where Peacocks Cry by Maureen E. Wakefield
Where Peacocks Cry - Maureen E. Wakefield

To Jancey, seventeen and brought up in the isolated surroundings of the Fisherman's Rest, the storm which brought Dion Challen to the modest inn to seek shelter was a handmaiden of Fate, a messenger of Romance and a purveyor of dreams come true. So she eagerly accepted the marriage he offered, not realizing that Dion found in her less an ideal bride than the reincarnation of a beloved sister now dead.

~ from inside dust jacket

 

 

 

Jancey Grant is seventeen and working at her family's B & B, The Fisherman's Inn. One night, a violent storm drives Dion Challen and his cousin, Mark, to the door of The Fisherman's Inn, seeking shelter while on a road trip. While they hoped to be back on the road the next day, Mother Nature had other plans. With the roads blocked from the nearby river flooding, Dion and Mark hunker down and wait things out. It is during this waiting period that Dion and Jancey have a surprise whirlwind romance that leads up to Dion proposing marriage. Jancey, naive Jancey, assumes it couldn't anything but honest, passionate love that spurs Dion to do this, but the reader is let in on his creepier inspiration. It turns out Jancey strongly resembles Dion's deceased sister! 

 

Prior to the wedding, cousin Mark does try to dissuade the two from going through with it, as he knows Dion's motives are superficial and weird and Mark, though he doesn't know her all that well at this point, feels compelled to protect young Jancey. But his pleas fall on deaf ears all around and Jancey officially becomes the new mistress of Challen's End, the ancestral estate of Dion's family. 

 

While everything is bathed in a rosy newlywed glow for the first few weeks, it's not long before Dion's peccadilloes   -- lying, manipulating, drinking too much, "chasing skirts" -- start to rear up and make periodic appearances. At first, Jancey has all the excuses in the world to dismiss her husband's behavior but after awhile even she reaches her limit and turns to Mark (in friendship) for support. When they first met at the inn, Jancey, consumed with attraction to Dion, convinced herself that she mostly disliked Mark. After a year's time, she can't imagine what gave her that idea, as she realizes she actually feels more at ease around him than Dion! Jancey, now over a year wed, is floored at the realization that she swore undying love and fidelity to a man that had actually only managed to provide her with a few moments of peace and contentment! So where does she go from here? What does she do for the rest of her life in the pursuit of happiness?

 

I first discovered this book years ago at one of those Friends of the Library sales where you buy up discards for super cheap. Intrigued by the premise (and sold on the 10 cent price tag at the sale), I decided to give it a shot. I read it and for some reason, all these years I've had this memory of absolutely loving it so it's stayed on my shelves. Well, here recently I decided to pick it up again to see if it still held up in my mind and for the life of me I can't remember what about this story I was so in love with. 

 

Don't get me wrong. It's definitely not terrible, it's just SUPER safe. What I mean is that there is something here plot-wise that wants to scream REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier so badly ... and there's the slightest flavoring of that, but it just never quite gets there. Jancey is cringingly naive, and Dion ... bland as a rice cake, really, not sure what Jancey got so caught up in, other than maybe it was a result of being semi-isolated at the inn and little to no exposure to hot guys near her age means dang near anything starts to look promising after awhile? Mark is the obviously more attractive choice right from the get-go but for reasons not all that well illustrated, Jancey is just not feelin' him. 

 

It seemed like Wakefield tried to get a creepy vibe in with Dion making multiple references to Jancey's uncanny resemblance to his sister (maybe ol' Maureen had a little Poe on the brain, because for a minute there it seemed like she might go with a dash of House of Usher) ... but not much more is ever really done with that and the focus from then on stays on Dion being a weasel of a guy. The upside is Jancey does find her girl-power backbone in this whole process. 

 

That's why I say it's a cutesy, safe, almost-mystery. It was originally published in the 1970s and it definitely has the feel in the writing style. Fun for a re-visit but now ... nope, no longer on my keeper shelf. 

Review
3 Stars
Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America - Barbara Ehrenreich

Millions of Americans work for poverty-level wages, and one day Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors. Nickel and Dimed reveals low-wage America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate strategies for survival. Instantly acclaimed for its insight, humor, and passion, this book is changing the way America perceives its working poor.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Ohhh, where to start with this one. It sure left me with mixed feelings on Ehrenreich's work here, since I live the life she "experiments" with ... and while some of her observations were thought-provoking, others were laughably off-base and, well... if I'm being honest... kinda offensive to us "regular workin' folk" class. 

 

The cringe factor starts on the very first page with Ehrenreich sharing how the idea for this book came about -- enjoying a "sumptuous $30 lunch" (no joke, that's where we start), she conversationally suggests the idea to her editor that someone (not necessarily her, but someone) should do "old fashioned journalism" (ie. getting out there in the trenches) on the very bottom of the working class... people trying to survive on minimum wage and / or welfare. When her editor proposes she herself take on such a project, at first she has a mountain of objections but then starts to like the idea of being in a scientist role again (she has a PhD in biology). Too bad she didn't take this whole thing more seriously because her idea had the potential to be quite the eye-opening expose! 

 

But how do we start Chapter 2 once she's agreed to take on this work? I quote, "Mostly out of laziness, I decide to start my low-wage life in the town nearest to where I actually live..." Not a great start, but I decided to hear her out. Ehrenreich lays out the plan: over the course of many months, she will travel to various towns across the U.S. and work undercover in a number of low-paying positions. These positions include a waitress job in Key West, FL; "nutritional aide" (aka dishwasher) at a nursing home, and a position on a home cleaning crew in Maine (where company policy, in the interest of time alloted for each job, emphasized the appearance of clean rather than the reality of it, with truly disinfected surfaces), the company a competitor of Merry Maids. She also tries out working at a Mennard's (she describes as a "Home Depot-like chain", if you don't have one in your area) in Minnesota. While working at this Mennard's, she's also hired on at a Walmart. In the final pages of this book, discussing this final job of the project (at Walmart), she relays how she found her inner Norma Rae. Here, Ehrenreich does offer some interesting work on the topic of "time theft" and the little footnote on the history of lawsuits with the company was jaw-dropping!

 

So I said I had mixed feelings.

 

Here's a rundown of what DID work for me:

 

* Having worked in retail myself for a number of years, I can commiserate with her stress over store layout changes and just the general, deep, full-body fatigue that comes with that work. 

 

* Having also worked in the hospitality industry, I got MAJOR nostalgia when she talks of housekeepers turning on the tvs while tearing through 19 turnovers (cleaning rooms). I so remember doing that!

 

* It was interesting to read that statistically, Minnesota seems to be kinder to the impoverished / those on welfare than many other states in the nation. 

 

* I also didn't realize that Walmart was the largest retailer in the WORLD and the largest private employer in the US! 

 

* Her thoughts during the Walmart job were especially thought-provoking, the experiences that should have us collectively saying "why are we doing this to ourselves?! why are we allowing others to suck our lives away like this?!"

 

What bugged me:

 

In short, the constant contradictions!

 

* In the last chapter of the book, she seems to knock the presence of modern day unions in the workforce -- "such fiends as these union organizers, such outright extortionists, are allowed to roam free in the land" --  yet in the first chapter of the book she throws out that her own husband is "an organizer for Teamsters".

 

* Outwardly, she seems strongly fixated on race but really doesn't go out of her way to actually get much perspective from any minority communities. And then admitting that she chose Maine as one of her locations for the projects because of "its whiteness." WHAAA?! And intentionally avoiding NYC and LA? Okay, just listen to this: "I ruled out places like NY and LA, for example, where the working class consists mainly of people of color and a white woman with unaccented English seeking entry-level jobs might only look desperate or weird." For having a PhD and bringing up her intelligence as much as possible, I can't help but feel the point was missed on our author.

 

I, myself, am a college-educated white woman who speaks "unaccented English" (unless you count my slight Cali-Carolina tinge to my everyday speech) who has worked and lived in more than one ethnic neighborhood in my day. I have, at various times in my life, applied for these jobs that I guess, in her eyes, would make me look "desperate"... because I was! I had bills to pay and ego doesn't get you anywhere when you're looking down the barrel of near-homelessness. That's what it means to live every day in the class she is supposedly investigating. I feel like it would have brought a lot of staggering reality to the work to illustrate just how real the struggle is even in some of the most expensive cities in our country! One of her own statistics she rolls out proves my point: Across the nation, 67% of requests at food banks are from people with steady jobs (but just too-low income)!

 

* While some of what she discovers is interesting, I'm not sure why I understand the sky-high praise I've heard for this book over the years. Not only that, but it also reads a bit dated. I was a little confused at the sudden time warp when I read passages where she talks about getting off a shift, going home and crashing in front of episodes of Titus, 3rd Rock, or "the new sensation Survivor on CBS." Then I recalled that there was a line at the beginning of the book that mentions this project was first started in 1998, with the book itself being published in 2001. 

 

* I feel like she was a little dramatic regarding the laws about drug-testing for employment. Seems like her reasoning was reaching just a bit. Just go in the dang cup, it's not that big a deal. 

 

*She makes some fair points on democracy vs the sort of dictatorship environment of many workplaces, but this whole "I've never personally come across a slacker, thief or drug addict, so I argue their existence" idea near the end... can she really be that far under a rock? And I call BS that she's worked all these jobs and never met anyone that, at the very least, wasn't pulling their weight. So no, I can't agree that all these rules about "time theft", drug testing, etc are just "the man keepin' us down" and all that. 

 

For those interested in the exact breakdown of Ehrenreich's expenditures during this project, she has a whole closing chapter entitled "Evaluation" where she reveals just how much everything cost in each location. All in all, I closed this book with more than a little disappointment. She was on the road to something impressive a number of times but kept veering off back onto #FirstWorldProblems terrain of the privileged. Yes, she mentions coming from blue collar roots herself but I don't care what she writes here, there's plenty in her tone to tell me she gladly left that history in the dust once she achieved the cush life. This book's another for the list of had potential, had moments that momentarily delivered but largely missed the mark. It ends up feeling like she piggy-backed off the hardships of the lower classes to write a book and make more bank to make her already comfy life that much more plush. 

Review
3.5 Stars
Ask The Passengers by A.S. King
Ask the Passengers - A.S. King

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions...like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl. As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people she imagines flying over her at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Teenager Astrid Jones is in quite an emotional pickle right at this moment in her life. The family had to be all uprooted and relocated to small town New England because Astrid's mother is struggling with some sort of intense depression that affects her ability to work in a traditional workplace setting -- social anxiety? depression? agorophobia? a specific trauma that broke her? To be honest, the mother's situation is not explained in very much depth so I'm not entirely sure, but it's definitely put a strain on the family as a whole.

 

Then there's stoner dad constantly getting baked when nobody's looking but then acting like that's totally not what he's doing... only Astrid's mother seems to accept the act. 

 

Astrid herself is struggling in the normal "who am I and what are all these emotions all of a sudden?" teenage sense but between these two parents who can she turn to? She's muddling through a period of confused sexuality as she navigates her first relationship with a female co-worker but a solid, non-judgmental support system seems to be quite the unicorn in small-town, gossip-y UNITY (seriously, that's the name of the town here, of all things! lol), Pennsylvania. 

 

As a way to cope and to channel her inner pain and confusion into something good, she develops a two part system. Her days are spent studying philosophy (even creating a sort of imaginary friend out of Socrates, naming him "Frank" and imagining him next to her during her toughest moments), then spends evenings laying in the backyard waiting for planes to fly over her house. Once she spots one, she sends loving thoughts or questions up to the passengers, not expecting a response of course... but every so often she swears she can feel something bounce back. It's then that the story cuts to a passenger on one of these flights. The perspective switches from Astrid's first person voice to that of the passenger and we see the thin filament of thought that links them to Astrid.

 

When joining these stories, King uses just the lightest touch of magical realism. Their stories, whether it's through their inner thoughts or conversations with others, hint at the possibility that maybe Astrid's kind thoughts and questions are, in fact, somehow subconsciously reaching them and affecting their lives in the most subtle of ways, influencing their personal narratives. 

 

It seems impossible these days to be a Booktuber and not hear the name A.S. King come up at least once in awhile and I feel like this one got especially hyped when it first came out. Finally trying out King's work for myself, I did end up enjoying this story but at the same time was a little underwhelmed. The plot itself had a slow start for me but it did pick up as I progressed, but the writing was a little on the bland side. Or maybe it was the plot that was not edgy enough but something about this book felt like there was an opportunity to really take these themes somewhere big but in the end we just stay in the safe zone. 

 

That said, I did enjoy the characters (I just wasn't gut-wrenchingly invested in them) and I applaud King for the themes that were addressed here -- the concept of turning pain into thoughts of love for others, the ridiculousness of homophobia and the damage it causes when people have to keep the truth of their soul locked up to feel safe in this world, the pain of experiencing friends who will throw you under the bus, as the saying goes, to keep their own secrets safe from seeing the light of day. I even liked how the interludes of the passenger stories illustrate the idea that we're all maybe just a little more connected to each other than we realize. All super important topics to incorporate into a novel, I just wish they would've been delved into even more. 

 

* For those who wish to use this book as a book club pick, a reading discussion guide is included in the back of the book. 

Review
4 Stars
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker

 The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is the story of Truly - a girl grown massive due to a pituitary problem. Reviled and brought up in poverty, Truly finds her calling and a future that none expected.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

>> POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel discusses the themes of rape and assisted suicide.

 

Living in a small town in New England (begining in the 1950s), Truly Plaice has been treated like a freak show attraction all her life. Due to a faulty pituitary gland, Truly has spent her life battling gigantism.

 

"Well," Bob Morgan said, "you may be ugly as sin and heavy as an ox, but I guess your mama loved you truly." Wide-eyed, I suckled my fist and took in the doctor's words with a look of gravity, as if i knew that for the next three decades, it would be the only direct reference I would have to the word 'love'.

 

The townspeople continue to throw around the rumor that her size is what killed Truly's mother just moments after Truly's birth, never mind that it was medically confirmed that her mother had been fighting breast cancer prior to giving birth.

 

To make matters even more difficult on Truly, her sister, Serena Jane, is the epitome of physical perfection right from childhood -- perfect curls, stunning face, lovely manners -- and grows up to be the town's beloved beauty queen. After the death of their father, the sisters are split up and taken in by different families in town. While Serena Jane is set up in a cushy home in town with access to all the finer things of life, Truly is forced to scrimp and eek out a meager existence on the farm of failing horse rancher August Dyerson (Dyerson says of his horses, "They're winners in their own way, the math's just a little different, that's all"). All across town and in school, Serena Jane is fawned over while Truly's 1st day of school left her with the memory of her TEACHER calling her a giant in front of the class ... and the environment not really improving from then on. 

 

For Amelia, (Truly's mostly mute best friend), words were something to use sparingly. They were like bleach or vinegar. A tiny amount could clean up almost anything, but dump out more than that, and you could have one ungodly mess on your hands. 

 

Once Serena Jane is of age, she also becomes the object of desire for Robert Morgan IV, Truly's childhood bully but now grown and serving as the town doctor. He's not really all that much nicer to Truly but tolerates her as a way to get close to Serena Jane. By the time these three characters have reached adulthood, Truly has developed quite a thick skin against tormentors so she's relatively nonplussed by Robert's still somewhat salty nature. She's just trying to live her life the best she knows how.

 

I didn't know how to explain Robert Morgan's temper to Marcus. It wasn't the blustery, volatile kind that blew itself up like a thunderstorm, but more sinister and steady, the north wind trailing its ribbons of frost and ice. Once provoked, his rage might linger for days, chilling everything around him, dropping temperatures until it hurt to breathe. I'd seen him go after the patients who were late with payments, and he wasn't kidding. The north wind always meant business. 

 

 

After a few years, Serena Jane starts to feel stifled in her life and decides to bail on everything, just disappearing one day. She basically leaves it all on Truly to clean up the mess. But sisterly love drives Truly to drop everything and do just what her sister asks... a decision that causes Truly to unfairly end up in a similarly trapped existence to the one her sister fled from. Though it's not referenced directly, we even see evidence of Truly showing evidence of struggling with depression and binge eating disorder. 

 

One thing that helps though is Truly developing an interest in medicinal herbalogy after discovering the long lost work of Tabitha Dyerson (a witch that lived in town centuries before and an ancestor of Truly's adopted guardian, August Dyerson. Tabitha was married to the current Dr Morgan's ancestor, Robert Morgan I -- talk about a small town!). Truly's studies lead her to become a sort of secret witch doctor in town, a person people seek out in the dark when they have an issue they don't want Dr. Morgan knowing about. It also draws her into some morally questionable territory, dipping her metaphorical toe in the murky rights and wrongs of performing assisted suicides. Her work with these plants will challenge friendships and dangerously tread the line between legal & just ... and not. 

 

For the most part, Truly's heart is in the right place, I'd say. Though the incident with the neighbor's cat had me ready to give up on her... but I hung in there to see where this all went. But the cat though... why, Truly? 

 

I ended up giving this novel a higher rating simply for entertainment value. I never found myself bored with the story, and for me that's a rare feat in reading these days. As far as the actual writing though... I really do enjoy Baker's style but structurally the plot had some serious potholes throughout that bothered me. Such as:

 

* I'm not sure what to think about the relationship between Marcus and Truly... sometimes it was sweet, sometimes it felt underdeveloped, other times I was asking why it was even there?! And Marcus going to Vietnam and filling his letters home with words like "The fellows here" and talking about his "torch" (flashlight)... but these characters were from NEW England, not the Queen's England.. so why was he writing in the style of a WW1 British soldier?

 

* While incorporating the story of the witch Tabitha and Truly taking up Tabitha's medicinal work, I don't feel like this element of the plot was explored enough. It's hardly mentioned at all until the last 100 pages or so of the novel. 

 

* What is the real story with Bobbie? Is he gay? Trans? Pre trans? Gender fluid? What is his story? Again, not all that well developed and feels (to me) like it was mostly just roughly stuck in there to pander to LGBTQ+ market ... if you're gonna have it in there, do it right, otherwise it's more of a disservice than anything! 

 

* There are moments that annoyed me where Truly was describing things done or said by other characters that she wouldn't have been actually present for, she's spouting off these thoughts or dialogue as fact when in reality Truly would be across town / down the street / etc. from where it was occurring, so she wouldn't be privy to the knowledge she was presenting the reader. 

 

Faults aside, I found this to be a truly (ha! see what I did there :-P) fun story with some really cool plot elements and the potential to be even more than what we actually got here. As I said though, I did really enjoy Baker's writing style and would be interested to check out her future offerings. 

Review
3 Stars
Split by Swati Avasthi
Split - Swati Avasthi

Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret. He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. Award-winning novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

>> TRIGGER WARNING: This book describes graphic scenes of domestic violence.

 

 

After taking years of physical and emotional abuse from his father, teenager Jace decides to drive from Chicago, IL to Albuquerque, NM to meet up with his estranged older brother, Christian, whom he hasn't seen in years. Jace had hoped his mother would come along, but she urges him to go on ahead, simply pressing a paper with Christian's address into Jace's palm and promising to meet up with him in New Mexico for the Thanksgiving holiday.... the thing is, Christian doesn't know Jace is on his way. Jace arrives at Christian's door with a busted face (courtesy of their father), less than $5 to his name and no idea what to say. Christian takes Jace in, figuring questions would get worked out as they went along, and the bulk of the story from there focuses on Jace pretty much rebuilding his life in New Mexico -- starting school again, getting a job, and waiting to see if his mother will actually find the courage to finally leave her abusive husband. 

 

WHEW, this one gets into some tough topics! I found myself tearing up multiple times! Jace's experience with reuniting with Christian after so many years illustrates the challenges of being the younger child with a much older sibling, something I know quite well with my own older sibling. Jace points out to Christian: "Friends get years, but I get 20 minutes."

 

Another bit I related to was Jace's struggle was coming to terms with the reality that you physically resemble someone you come to strongly dislike ( as in, you physically resembling the parent you constantly butt heads with or the one with questionable life choices / moral compass). Along those lines, this story also points out the reality that abuse can go down in ANY kind of home. For example, Jace's father is a respected judge within the community but at home he's beating the stuffing out of his wife & kids.

 

Similarly, Jace has his own experience with losing his temper with a girlfriend. This part of the story was a tough spot for me. Up til this portion of Jace's story, I was liking the kid. But I have insanely low.... non-existent, really... tolerance for a guy smacking around a woman for any reason.. the exception being if SHE is physically threatening the guy's life, then by all means he has the right to defend himself as a human. But in Jace's case, it was just a flare up of jealousy and his actions end up scaring the bejeebus out of his girlfriend. While my opinion of him certainly dropped in that moment, he does show redemptive behavior later on in the story. I was really impressed when he comes forward and tells the girl that he's so disappointed in himself he WANTS her to press charges against him, he deserves it. Can you imagine the world if the assaulters across the world suddenly, collectively manned-up like that?! Cue Louis Armstrong! 

 

Jace's experiences teach him to develop what he calls "Fightology" -- lessons to tell himself to get through the worst times. For example, Fightology #8: If you relax your body when a hit is coming, it will hurt less (what's weird is that something about that almost seems logical AND counter-intuitive at the same time) or Fightology #9: Sometimes even the rules won't protect you. It gives the story an extra layer of sadness that he's had to develop such rules to survive his life but over time he finds ways to step away from the hardness and embrace the zen, changing his system to "Calmology": #1 Run every day. #2 Speak up if you have something to say #3 Fix what you can, accept what you can't (a nod to Serenity Prayer), etc. 

 

Like I said, it's a tough story to stomach. Definitely wouldn't recommend it for readers younger than the "older teen" crowd. That said, it brings important truths to light, not only about surviving abuse, but also regarding difficult nuances within sibling and parental relationships.

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EXTRAS:

 

>>  In her acknowledgements section, author Swati Avasthi mentions that this novel (less than 300 pages) took her three years to write. 

Review
3.5 Stars
The Fall by James Preller
The Fall - James Preller

The summer before school starts, Sam's friend and classmate Morgan Mallen kills herself. Morgan had been bullied. Maybe she kissed the wrong boy. Or said the wrong thing. What about that selfie that made the rounds? Morgan was this, and Morgan was that. But who really knows what happened? As Sam explores the events leading up to the tragedy in journal format, he must face a difficult and life-changing question: Why did he keep his friendship with Morgan a secret? And could he have done something-anything-to prevent her final actions? From James Preller, the author of Bystander, another unflinching book about bullying and its fallout.

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* Read for the 2017 Anti-Bully Readathon week: November 13th-19th

 

>> TRIGGER WARNING: Topic of suicide addressed in this story. One character commits suicide while others contemplate going through with it.

 

Morgan Mallen is something of a social pariah in her high school. Athena Luikin, your stereotypical popular HS girl (perfect body, lips, face, flawless skin... and, no surprise, blonde), has a secret game with her clique. Every so often, without warning, someone within the clique gets a laminated "tag" card slipped into their locker. If you get the card you know it's your turn to go online and anonymously post mean, troll-ish comments on Morgan's social media. There's an understanding within the group that either you do it or risk being the group's next target.

 

 

One member within the group is Sam Proctor. While he agrees to play the game and post comments, his turn up at bat happens to come at right about the same time as life puts him and Morgan together in real life in a situation that forces them to truly get to know one another. And whaddya know, Sam discovers he kinda likes the girl! Awkwardly, Sam tries to play both sides of the HS social scene, still participating in online bullying with his friends, while also having conversations with Morgan about how despicable internet trolls are. 

 

Members within the clique get competitive about how creative they can get with their online insults. To them, it's just a game of one-upmanship. That is, until the day Morgan decides to throw herself off the town's water tower. Having just barely developed a friendship with Morgan, Sam is understandably shaken. A social worker contracted with the high school suggests to Sam to journal his thoughts and emotions through the grieving process, which is the format (journal style, that is) that the entire novel is presented to the reader.

 

 

Don't get the idea this journal will be some kind of complete document where you learn "her story" or even "my story". There are holes in this leaky ship. We could all drown together. 

 

 

Written sometimes in standard diary entries, sometimes in verse form, Sam shares some pretty honest, revealing observations about not only getting to know Morgan but also the topic of bullying and poser behavior in high school in general. When he thinks back on the first few times he saw Morgan, his initial memory was that she wasn't super pretty and maybe even a little on the heavy side, but the more he remembers the more he realizes his eyes were always drawn to her, how he was always intrigued by her in various ways... and what a waste it was that he wasn't a better friend to someone so special. When he compares a girl like Morgan to the likes of popular girl Athena, he comes away with the realization, "maybe everyone gives 'pretty' too much credit."

 

 

...And that was it. The last time we talked. It's amazing how little we ever said, as if we didn't know the same language. She was a bird up in a tree, singing a mournful song. And I was just a dog, barking at the clouds. 

 

Sam also notes how sickened he is by what he sees as fake grief going around the school. Crowds of people who either never gave Morgan the time of day or made her life hell with bullying, yet now that she's gone everyone is falling all over each other in puddles of tears like a family member just got murdered. I also enjoyed the chapter "Slogans on Shirts" which shines a spotlight on the hypocrisy that can sometimes be found behind these school campaigns -- the very people that cheer the loudest at anti-bullying campaigns / rallies can sometimes be the same people who are the worst problems!

 

Not only is Preller's writing style itself incredibly engaging, but he addresses this theme in an honest, unvarnished way. No after-school high gloss on this story, but also not unnecessarily vulgar. He manages to do it just right. The students all had an appreciable realness to them and Sam asks himself plenty of the right questions for emotional growth. 

 

I'm all for checking out more of Preller's work in the future!

 

 

 

 

* Book includes supplemental materials at the back of the book which include author interview, a list of discussion questions, and prompts for writing exercises. 

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