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If you’ve ever visited the DEPARTURES area of the airport, you probably know that it is not exactly an oasis of tranquility. There are cars trying to park; cars trying to double park, cars trying to squeeze out of where they’ve double-parked, orange cones, orange vests, whistles, and general chaos.
I was being dropped off at Burbank Bob Hope Airport by my mom and dad, 74 and 80 respectively, and wanted to debark as efficiently as possible so they could be on their way. Adjusting my new felt hat, I strapped my laptop bag across my chest, hauled out my suitcase, and hugged my parents a quick goodbye.
Approaching the Southwest counter, I reached for my purse.
And felt air.
My stomach dropped to my knees. I had made a big mistake. I left my purse in my parents’ car.
Stacey’s troublesome vessel of all things crucial, circa 2004, Anthropologie.
Frantically, I searched my laptop bag, hoping I had jammed it in without realizing. But, no. My purse was in the carpool lane of the Five freeway, headed down to the OC. How the heck was I getting on a plane without my ID?
I couldn’t make a phone call, as I didn’t have a cell phone. I couldn’t even use a pay phone, as I had no money. (And btw, the sudden absence of money tends to amplify one’s hunger pains).
I could ask someone to loan me change, but would they think I was a panhandler? And my hat, which I thought was stylish, suddenly cast a shadow of suspicion upon me. Suspicious people always wear hats.
I might have started to hyperventilate. My flight was leaving in an hour.
A petite Japanese security guard asked if everything was alright.
“I left my purse in my parents’ car!” I blubbered.
She tsked her tongue, but then fished out a dollar’s worth in coins so I could use a payphone. After profusely thanking her, I dropped two quarters into the first phone. A metallic crunching and gargling followed, which I believe was the sound of the phone eating my change.
Trying not to panic, I moved onto the next phone. This time, the call went through.
But no one picked up. Remember how I mentioned the age of my parents? Well, with old age comes certain …realities, such as, hearing loss. Mom’s voicemail answered, but that didn’t help me because even if she heard the ding of voicemail, she doesn’t know how to check it (another age-related reality). I tried calling my husband collect, like, a billion times. But it turns out, since his company pays for his cell phone, its collect call feature is disabled.
I explained my situation to Southwest. I must have looked honest, as they issued me the ticket, with the caution that security still might refuse me. Shame-faced, I stepped to the security counter and tried to explain why I wasn’t carrying my ID.
He frowned, and I grew smaller. “Where do you work?”
“At home. I mean, I’m self-employed.”
Another frown, another inch shorter. “Occupation?”
Another frown, this one with an upward flick of his pupils that says, isn’t everyone?
If only I had one of my books on me. I could show him my author picture.
Then it occurred to me, I could show him my author website.
After perusing the site, then conducting a thorough search of myself and my luggage, security finally did let me through.
Stephanie: When Stacey first told me this story, I felt horrible. But since I’m a teacher, I also thought this would make an awesome writing lesson.
The thing I loved about this story (from a writing perspective, because obviously I felt terrible that my friend went through so much stress) was that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. As Stacey said, everyone knows you can’t get on a plane without an ID. And this situation was so much worse because on top of not having her ID:
The hat of suspicion and lawlessness.
Stacey did not have her phone.
The only people who could help her (Stacey’s parents) were impaired, and therefore unable to come to her rescue.
She was hungry.
Her husband wasn’t answering the phone.
On top of not having an ID, she was also wearing a hat, which made her highly suspicious to airport personnel.
And the clock was rapidly ticking. Stacey only had one hour.
Now, imagine you’re writing a character and you’ve put them in this same situation. It could be really tempting to have another character (maybe the husband) make a miraculous appearance and save the day. Perhaps this husband calls in a favor with the head of security. And not only does your character get onto the plane, but they are upgraded to first class and handed a glass of champagne.
Unfortunately that did not happen to Stacey. But I believe what happened was even better. Stacey used her smarts to save herself, by directing the security to her author website, where her photo was able to confirm her identity.
Now if Stacey were a character, not only would readers think, wow this woman is smart! They would also know a little more about her character, because not only did this action save the day, it revealed more about her background, mainly, her profession.
People are always saying, put your characters in the worst situations possible, but then, too often, characters don’t use their intelligence to get out of those miserable scenarios. Because of this, writers often miss great opportunities to deepen their characters, and make their stories richer.
Think about whatever story you’re working on. Are there any scenes where you can pile on more conflicts? Are there scenes where you can show off your character’s strengths, instead of having someone else save the day?
Also, if any of you have stories similar to Stacey’s, we’d love to hear them:
On the bottom: THE BEAK OF THE FINCH, the book that changed the way I think about sharing science and, quite possibly, the course of my scientific career. (I’m not kidding. I’d still be a lab rat had this book not crossed my desk back in 1995. Read it.)
On the top: my gorgeous, wholly original and completely amazing new purse, made from an actual copy of THE BEAK OF THE FINCH* by the uber-talented Caitlin Phillips at Rebound Designs.
Have you ever seen anything so excellent in your life? I am the happiest book geek on the planet.
* Said copy was contributed by its kind and generous author, Jonathan Weiner, who took pity on a devoted fan who wanted a purse but couldn’t bear to give up her copy of his book. Thank you, Jonathan!
After being completely impressed by Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys last month (see my review) I was pretty eager to read his earlier novel, Set This House in Order. Here's the description:
Andy Gage was born in 1965 and murdered not long after by his stepfather. . . . It was no ordinary murder. Though the torture and abuse that killed him were real, Andy Gage's death wasn't. Only his soul actually died, and when it died, it broke in pieces. Then the pieces became souls in their own right, coinheritors of Andy Gage's life. . . .
While Andy deals with the outside world, more than a hundred other souls share an imaginary house inside Andy's head, struggling to maintain an orderly coexistence: Aaron, the father figure; Adam, the mischievous teenager; Jake, the frightened little boy; Aunt Sam, the artist; Seferis, the defender; and Gideon, who wants to get rid of Andy and the others and run things on his own.
Andy's new coworker, Penny Driver, is also a multiple personality, a fact that Penny is only partially aware of. When several of Penny's other souls ask Andy for help, Andy reluctantly agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the stability of the house. Now Andy and Penny must work together to uncover a terrible secret that Andy has been keeping . . . from himself.
There is so much I loved about this book, starting with Andy and the way that he and his "family" happily co-exist in one body. Each of the strong personalities are distinct and their interaction with each other (and Andy) is really interesting and unusual. (There are many other personalities but they are largely "witnesses" - personalities that only existed for the purposes of one traumatic event and did not develop beyond that.) What really impressed me though was the further proof of just how gifted Matt Ruff is when it comes to crafting an intricate plot. Bad Monkeys hinged hugely on a complex storyline that Matt brought off with ease. Here's what I thought of that book:
Part science fiction, part thriller, with elements of police procedural (minus the police of course), family drama and even humor thrown in, Bad Monkeys is both deliciously subversive and outrageously savagely brilliant.
House is written in the same complex vein - it's a tragedy and comedy; smart, sexy and vibrantly, audaciously alive. The language is harsh (one of Penny's personalities is very very angry and she lets you know), but man is this a book that demands to be read. You love Andy, you worry about Penny and then just when you think the story is settling into something predictable (Andy helps Penny put her "house" in order), Matt throws a curve ball of epic proportions. And then there is another one, and another and another. And then you're in a road trip novel that is taking you back to Andy's childhood and man - I did not want to go there! But there's no leaving these characters alone at this point, there's no putting this book down.
Everything you could want in a novel is alive and well in Set This House in Order. More than anything though, it has shown me just how good a writer can be - both technically and emotionally. A rich plot, dazzling characters, and ideas that are utterly original all can be found here. This is a book with everything you could want in a story and I can't recommend it enough. (And yes, I know it did get some critical acclaim when it came out but since it has not sold 1 million copies - as it should - I think it is totally overlooked!)
Matt Ruff is one of my new favorite authors - check him out and see why I'm so impressed.
Other Wicked Cool Overlooked Books:
Jules loves The Museum Book by Jan Mark! (And so do I!): "...I’m shining a light upon this title, highly recommended for history, art, and mythology lovers, as well as amateur and even serious collectors, especially those who want to share their passion with their children. I’d say this is a must-have for middle school and high school libraries. An absorbing read.
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold:And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the seaWhen the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.- "The Destruction of Sennacherib," by George... Read the rest of this post
In thinking over 2007 and the Non Fiction books I think have been overlooked, Hugh Brewster's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose was the first title to come to mind. (Here's my review.) Why? Well, most obviously, because it was the Non Fiction title I appreciated most in 2007. Second, I found Brewster's blending of the fictionalized (the fictional narrative of Kate, based on the very real Kate's diaries and letters) and the real (the story of John Singer Sargent's composition of Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose) to be a masterful example of compelling Non Fiction for Middle Grade readers. And, third? Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose features John Singer Sargent's unabashedly romantic paintings as illustrations, along with photographs of real objects from the same period. Published by Kids Can Press, the production value of Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is high. Please, don't miss this one.
I headed to Parables for book browsing and grabbed one off the shelf to sketch. I haven't read it, but liked the cover so it became part of my prop along with my new handbag and leather pencil case which I carry with me at all times. I love to capture moments whenever I have the opportunity.
Today it rained and snowed simutaneously and was relatively warm (low 40's) and you needed and umbrella however by the time I left the office for home it had turned to freezing and I had to scrape the windows. I cranked up the heat and my feet have finally thawed. Not a good idea to stand in snow and ice while scraping your windows. I should have had boots on but who was to know?
Mat Johnson's devastating new graphic novel, Incognegro is based partly on his own experience as "a black boy who looked white" and partly on the real experiences of Walter White, longtime executive secretary of the NAACP. This story, of a black journalist named Zane Pinchback who passes in the south for white to write his column against crimes against blacks is direct, intense, and mesmerizing. The violence, as depicted by artist Warren Pleece, can not be denied. The book opens with a lynching and it doesn't back down from there. But the story it tells, of America in the 1930s, is one that I don't think has been told in popular fiction nearly enough. Johnson agrees, and this story - which has been part of him since his childhood - is a heartbreaking, thrill a minute, historical mystery. It's ugly and it's beautiful and I think everybody needs to read it.
I know the book has only been released a month ago, but other than some news on the comics blogs, I haven't heard much and I certainly haven't heard anything among lit bloggers and I think this is a very literary book. It is a mystery in terms of plot - a white woman is killed and a black man (who is very personally close to Zane) is found with the body. He is arrested and will likely be lynched in a short time. Zane goes south along with a friend to uncover the truth. But nothing is as it seems in Tupelo and the mystery takes several unexpected twists and turns. As Zane follows his leads along divergent paths, the day to day life of whites and blacks in Mississippi is revealed and the differences between those realities, and the life Zane and his friends enjoy in Harlem is startling.
To some degree Incognegro is nothing new - we know that blacks were lynched for crimes they did not commit, we know many southern whites were racist and the KKK was incredibly powerful in this period. What most whites will likely not know anything about is the power of the black press and the lengths that many people, like Walter White, were willing to go to in order to make sure the truth of America's crimes against its own is revealed.
What you have here is basically a riveting history lesson that could not - will not - be taught better in any classroom or with a textbook. Couple it with watching Rosewood and you've got fodder for some amazing and important discussions. But really, Icognegro is not a YA book (nor is it marketed as such); it's for anyone with a keen interest in understanding more about America and a willingness to know just how dark some of our days have been.
Wicked Cool Overlooked Books found elsewhere today:
Little Willow highlights Notes on a Near-Life Experience by Olivia Birdsall: What do A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban and Notes on a Near-Life Experience by Olivia Birdsall have in common? Both use quirky vignettes with quirky titles to effectively tell a story. While Crooked offers cookies, organ music, and striped toe socks, Notes includes pepperoni, prom, and a person from Peru.
Dear Enemy by Jean Webster (who sounds amazing) is celebrated at Finding Wonderland: Dear Enemy deals with simple and practical solutions to life in institutions, and things like hand-washing and cleanliness and order are discussed thoroughly. The irony of Jean Webster dying from a disease brought on by an unsterilized obstetric room and dirty hands is simply painful.
Becky looks at Rash by Peter Hautman: It doesn't take a genius to predict that it would practically impossible for a sixteen year old boy to control his temper 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 years. And sure enough, when he sees Karlohs Mink with his arms around Maddy at the local mall...his brief glimpse of freedom and a future fade away in rage.
Now Bo is being sent away to Prison 387 owned by the McDonald's Rehabilitation and Manufacturing Corporation and located in Canada after all "since the USSA annexed Canada during the Diplomatic Wars of 2055" most of McDonald's prison factories were moving up north.
MacDonald's running prisons - okay this book book is too brilliant to be overlooked for sure!
"I plunged into this thing lightly enough, partly because you were too persuasive, and mostly, I honestly think, because that scurrilous Gordon Hallock laughed so uproariously at the idea of my being able to manage an asylum. Between you all you... Read the rest of this post
I wasn't going to do this--recommend an out-of-print book for Wicked Cool Overlooked Books this month--but I just can't help myself. Ursula Nordstrom'sThe Secret Language IS a wicked cool overlooked book that should be back in print.
The Secret Language was my favorite book as a child, and just recently my mom brought me my tattered copy. And, here's the weird thing. I had forgotten about it completely until I saw the beautiful cover again. (I much prefer this pastel cover to the brighter cover from a later edition posted at Amazon.)
What do I love so much about The Secret Language? Honestly, I love that not much happens except for two girls become friends at boarding school. The protagonist, Victoria, is sent away to school at age 8 and she's extremely homesick and awed by a bossy girl named Martha, who uses secret words as an exclusionary tactic. The language itself is really just code for learning how to adapt and change to a new environment--and once Victoria is able to use the language, she's found a place in her new world and a friend.
Children's books now are to grab us from the first page and sweep us away into a world of action and intrigue. While I love a great action-filled romp as much as the next person, recently I've missed the quiet books for Middle Grade readers--the books where nothing much happens at all.
I don't have a particular book to share this month, but I was thinking of doing something with the news that FirstBook had interviewed a bunch of people about the book(s) that hooked them on reading. (Here's the list of the top 50 books or series.) In true blogger form, Blog From the Windowsill turned the list into a meme. If you want to play, copy the list and put a + in front of the books that hooked you as a reader. What are some of the books that hooked you that DIDN'T make it on the list? (This is the part that connects to WCOB, in case you were wondering!)
- Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene + Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss + Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott + The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss - The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner - Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey -Go, Dog, Go! by P. D. Eastman + Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman + Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey - Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and Loren Long - Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown - Dick and Jane by William H. Elson - Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary - The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls - The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein + The Black Stallion by Walter Farley + The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - Heidi by Johanna Spyri - The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams + A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling - Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell - Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren - Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume + Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder - The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon - One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis - Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein - Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne - The Baby-sitters Club by Ann M. Martin - Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss - Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish - Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss - Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs - Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol - Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans - The Bible - Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
A Wrinkle in Time is the book that launched me as a reader. I got it from the book order in 6th grade. It was the longest, most challenging book I had read up until that point. It was also my introduction to fantasy. It really made me think. No book had done that up until then, and once I had that experience, I expected it out of every book I read. (I either wanted the book to make me think, or make me feel. I spent many a Sunday afternoon rereading sad books and crying -- Little Britches, Love Story, Where the Red Fern Grows...)
The other books I marked with a + are books that I remember being in my life as I grew up. I read a lot as a child and we took regular trips to the library. All that reading got me ready for A Wrinkle in Time, so I won't dismiss it as water through a sieve, but it was definitely not memorable.
This was also the first time my reading life outside of school had intersected with reading inside of school. Up until that point, reading at school was a basal reader and SRA cards. I was a good reader according to all of that, but none of my teachers knew me as a reader. None of my teachers ever asked me, as I will ask my students in a couple of weeks, to tell them about my reading history. None of my teachers ever gave me a list like this and asked me which books had hooked me on reading.
We survived our schooling. It was something that was done to us. How much better it is now that students actively participate in their learning. Now that students are asked and can answer, "Which books hooked you on reading?"
Ahh, what's that bracing citrus scent, astringent, acidic and clean? Why, it's the smell of a rant. Yes, folks, MotherReader has finally gone all-out, creating a bumper sticker and a fabulous logo for BACA - Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors.Some... Read the rest of this post
I'm a day early with my "Wicked Cool Overlooked Book" but as we are headed out of NY this morning for RI and then other points south, I thought I better get my entry up while I had a chance. (And yes, if you're keeping track I have now gone from Washington State over and down to Florida and then up to upstate New York - all by car!!!)
I've just finished writing my review of Poppy Z. Brite's upcoming collection, Antediluvian Tales, and in writing about it I was reminded of just how much I have enjoyed her series of novels set in New Orleans. All of her recent books have been set in the city and revolved around two young chefs and lovers, Ricky and G-man. The guys grew up together as good friends, realized as teens they were actually in love with each other (This story is told in the Sub Press release, The Value of X) and later went to work in restaurants across the city. By her latest book, Soul Kitchen (which I reviewed over at Voices), they now own their own successful restaurant and find themselves unwittingly embroiled in the complexities of local politics. The books involve a lot of drama (relationship and professional), a ton of atmosphere and even a bit of a mystery (most notably in Soul Kitchen when they befriend a fellow chef who was wrongly convicted of murder). The point to these books is the relationship between Ricky and G-man, and then on a broader scale, how they relate to friends, family and the city of New Orleans. All the parties and events are here, as well as the society politics and petty differences found between groups of all kinds in the city. Reading them is like spending time with old friends who change with each book but still remain, at their hearts, the guys I enjoyed meeting in the very first book.
They are just great regional stories about the working class of a great American city and why they are undersold, under-appreciated and all too often part of a conversation about "cult authors" I will never know. You like literary fiction? Well then you should be reading Brite because that is what she is writing here and she deserves a heck of a lot more credit then she seems to be getting from either the literary establishment (whoever the heck that is) and the publishing world (that has no idea how to adequately market her books and thus gives her too little time and attention).
It seems like most authors who write about New Orleans do so with some kind of agenda - they feel like they have to be outrageous or exotic because they think that is what people what to read when it comes to the Crescent City. What Brite does is write in a much simpler way about two guys, their families, their passion for food and the world they make together as they try to succeed in their hometown. Oddly enough, given the two main characters are gay, these are very old fashioned stories. I hope that Brite is able to write more in the series - according to her live journal, her struggles with her publisher and the impact of the post-K world have left her with not compulsion to write fiction these days. It would be a great loss if she did not return to Ricky and g-man though; they really are a couple of truly All-American characters.
I'm opening up the comments (here's hoping the spammers have forgotten about me!) so do add a link if you have your own Wicked Cool Overlooked Post to link to.
In "a distant time and far-off place," Cynthia Voight created a dynamic and intense character in a complex society. Unlike her more well-known Tillerman series, where the young Dicey is acting as father and mother for a brood, Voight’s character,... Read the rest of this post
This month I am highlighting one of my favorite 2006 books that I didn't happen to discover until 2007.
I've mentioned this before, but let me repeat myself...a test of a good book...particularly a good historical fiction book is when the reader picks up a book ABOUT a subject or event that they have had little or no interest in reading about before and having the book completely draw them in. In that regards, BLACK DUCK by Janet Taylor Lisle is a great book.
Lisle, Janet Taylor. 2006. BLACK DUCK.
On December 30, 1929, the Coast Guard killed three suspected rum-runners on the vessel Black Duck which they claim failed to stop (and surrender) when warning shots were fired. This newspaper account in the Newport Daily Journal introduces us to the book Black Duck. David Peterson is a young boy in town looking for a story. He dreams of one day being a journalist. And he is looking for any chance to get away from the family business of lawn care. So David is a boy on a mission:
A rumrunner had lived in town, one of the notorious outlaws who smuggled liquor during the days of Prohibition, that was the rumor...Someone said to ask at the general store across from the church. It would be a miracle if the man was still alive, David thought. He'd be over eighty. If he were anywhere, he'd probably be in a nursing home by now. But it turned out he wasn't. He still lived in town. Ruben Hart was his name. The number listed in the telephone book doesn't answer. There is an address, though. (3).
Looking for a story to report, he finds so much more. He finds a story that has yet to be told. Ruben Hart was just a young boy at the time. He had no intentions of participating in anything illegal. Witnessing anything illegal. But sometimes you don't have a choice. When Ruben and his friend discovered a dead body on the beach...it was the beginning of a sometimes dangerous, sometimes exciting adventure. It is book about decisions. Ethical decisions. Moral decisions. Taking a stand. Is Ruben the kind of boy who sees things as black and white? Or is he the kind of boy who sees a gray foggy area between the two? Friendships of all sorts will be formed and tested throughout the course of the novel.
The framework of the story is integral. Ruben is fleshing out stories that no one else knows. He's going beyond the meager facts of a few newspaper articles. He's going back to the beginning...well his beginning of the story. As he shares his story from the summer of 1929 through that fateful December day, he's sharing his life story with David. It's a process that is connecting the two, forming a new friendship. Fulfilling needs neither one was aware of. But it's a beautiful thing. A healing thing.
Behind the scenes of my reading (selection) process....OR why I loved to be surprised
Here are four of the reasons why I picked up this book I was uninterested in... 1) It appeared on Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2006 2) It appeared on the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA 2007) list 3) It appeared on the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2006 list 4) It appeared on the Texas Lonestar Reading List for 2007-2008.
The fifth reason I picked up this 'uninteresting' book was because it was available at my local library and it was one of the few 2006 titles left on the shelves. (At least that I hadn't already read in previous months.)
My only other exposure to this book was by reading The Golden Fuse Awards 2006. (Fuse #8's personal picks of the year.) It was mentioned as one of the books in the category of: The "Kids Really Want To Read About This?" Trend.
So I knew when I saw the book on the shelf that I would check it out. I knew that I would read it. But I didn't expect much from it. I didn't expect to hate it. But I didn't expect to love it either. Here is what the back cover says:
What happened next that spring afternoon is something I know Jeddy remembers. I can see us standing there, two raw-boned boys beside the bootleg crate, seagulls wheeling overhead, making dives on a tidal pool up the beach from us. Almost as an afterthought we wondered toward this pool, not expecting to see anything. It came into view with no more drama than if it had been a sodden piece of driftwood lying on the sand: a naked human leg.
It is further described in these ways:
History and mystery collide in a gripping saga of rum-running on the Rhode Island coast during the 1920s.
Inspired by very real accounts of the Black Duck, a legendary rum-running boat that worked the New England shores during the era, Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle has written a colorful, original work of historical fiction.
Those blurbs and the cover weren't enough to catch my eye. But as previously stated the fact that it appeared on four "best of the year" lists convinced me that this was a book worthy of review for this blog.
Let me just say how wonderful it was to be surprised by a book. I didn't just like BLACK DUCK. I absolutely LOVED Black Duck. I thought it was great. I loved so much about it. I loved the framework of the story. I loved the intergenerational aspects of the novel. I loved the storytelling format of the novel. Most of all I love how this novel unfolds bit by bit. Even though as a reader you know you're building your way up to the killing/murder on December 30th....the story was suspenseful to me. You still didn't know the how or why of it. The characters were wonderful. You saw how everyone was struggling. On one hand, money was scarce. It was not easily come by. Yet by either looking the other way or pretending you didn't see what you saw you could make a few bucks OR you could even go so far as to help the bootleggers and make enough money to support your whole family. A hard choice. Do you watch your family live in poverty...always wanting or needing a little more than they have? Is it better to follow the laws? Or do you adopt the philosophy...well what is it really hurting anyone if I break a few laws now and then. Half of Ruben's neighbors seemed to be on the side that was beyond bribery or temptation. Half were not. But there were very few truly bad characters. Everyone was doing what they felt was right for them. They might not be understood by the other side. But they were following their own consciences. Some decisions. Some actions had some unpleasant consequences. But it was always a very thoughtful (thought-filled) book.
Timothy Decker is the author of one of the most unusual picture books I have come across. The Letter Home, which I reviewed last year, is the spare and striking story of a medic in WWI. You are never certain why he is a medic (although it seems likely from his words that he chose this rather than bear arms), but his dedication to his duty is startling. The whole story is written as a letter sent home and while he writes about his experiences as if they are mundane, Decker's pencil drawings reveal so much more. You don't know who the medic is writing to, although it is a boy waiting at the mailbox on the final page, but you do know he is trying to protect his family from war's ugly truth, even as he struggles to bear witness. At one point he writes of a prayer he learned, "Compassion as action to ease the pain of the world" and that is when you realize that this action - this going to war to tend the wounded - is what this man has done to heal the world. It is a noble act and expressed so well, so quietly and without taking sides or making political charges, that the message is quite breathtaking.
Oh, how I love this book.
I would imagine that Decker has suffered from finding his audience however - war is not a likely subject for young children and his black and white drawings do not scream for attention. But as a military historian I found The Letter Home to be enormously powerful and I think it would be perfect for any older child (say of 9 or so) up to adults. It is a book that makes you think in the best sort of way and I wish - oh how I wish - that it would discover the readers who would embrace it like I have.
Decker has a new book that just came out, Run Far, Run Fast. This time around he writes about an unnamed plague, "the Pestilence", in the 14th century. The protagonist is a young girl who is literally running for her life. She has a family she loves, and until the age of ten her life is good. But then the Pestilence arrives and her father becomes ill and the local townspeople quarantine their home, boarding up the doors and windows. After dark her mother helps her escape; "run far, run fast" she whispers and the girl must go, she must leave all that she loves so she might live. In the pages that follow, Decker writes of how she walks and walks, encountering many people all of whom are also walking somewhere else - all of them trying to get someplace safe. The cities are walled and their entries barred - to keep the Pestilence out - but it "could not be caged". She meets the narrator and they talk about the Pestilence, how it can be stopped, no matter how rich the offering. The girl loses her fear as she understands that fear will not make a difference - nothing will make a difference. She returns to save her family but finds only her brother, in the guarded "pest house" where the sick are shuttled together in a larger attempt at quarantine. The girl and the young boy escape to her kind benefactor who provides kindness and a place to try and heal. She finds peace at last, and safety.
Just like Letter, Run Far, Run Fast celebrates the basic tenants of human kindness and empathy - it is a book that makes the compassionate care of others its centerpiece. Again Decker's drawings are black and white and spare but again they pack a quiet punch. Combined together the two books tell the kind of stories that I have found nowhere else. They glorify kindness, but in an adult manner. I think they are both just amazing and I hope Decker keeps doing the same kind of work for a long long time.
"I am telling you this just the way it wentWith all the details I remember as they were,and including the parts I'm not sure about.You know, where something happened,but you aren't convincedyou understood it?Other people would maybe tell it... Read the rest of this post
Birdsall, Olivia. 2007. Notes on a Near-Life Experience.
I want to know how adults decide when the truth is necessary and when it isn't, and if there's some kind of an age requirement for it. Like, does getting a driver's license or the right to vote also mean it's time for you to know why your aunt Lucinda was in that hospital for two months when you were eight, or what really happened to your dog when it mysteriously vanished three weeks after its fourteenth birthday? The strange thing is that the truth has this way of seeping through, leaking out, even when you build walls and dams and work as hard as you can to contain it. It's like even when no one tells you what the truth is, somehow, eventually you just feel it. Even if you don't want to. (37)
Mia is fifteen-going-on-sixteen when her father leaves her mother, and her family begins to change practically overnight. No more bologna sandwiches for lunch. No more family time at the dinner table. No more family rounds of Jeopardy. Allen, her older brother, and Keatie, her younger sister, each react differently. Allen turns to drinking, partying, and skipping school. Keatie reacts by living in denial. Pretending that none of this is real. That this isn't her family. That this new reality is not permanent. And Mia? She responds by isolating herself. She's not in denial exactly. She knows her parents won't be getting back together--her dad's new girlfriend is proof of that--but she doesn't want this new reality to be spoken. To be shared. So she starts keeping one thing after another from her best friend, Haley. With so many things going wrong, it's good for one thing to be going right. In the midst of the fallout, it seems her brother's best friend, Julian, has finally, finally noticed that she existed as more than a pesky little sister. Could this be true? Could her life-long crush finally be hers?
Notes on a Near-Life Experience presents a family in crisis. Each have troubles of their own. Each needs a little guidance in how to communicate with the others in a healthy way. It is a funny, honest look at families.
I spied this fabric at the Designer Fabric Outlet store on Queen West (1360 Queen St. W, between Dufferin and Landsdowne) recently. This store is amazing, they have, if anything, too much choice. My favourite part is that all the fabric is in small swatches on hangers, organized by fiber, colour and pattern, and so it's very easy to browse through. My friend Sarah and I spent ages in there. Don't forget to go upstairs for extra fabric on bolts - and even more choices.As promised I'm showcasing some of the things I'm making for my table at the Artisan's Gift Fair this Sunday. I thought this fabric was really gorgeous and perfect for a evening bag. I love the colour scheme of tan, grey, white, black and red. Also the black parts of the flowers are velvet and very soft. Since I'm not home I don't have all my fabric with me, so it's lined with some of the linen I bought. Usually linen is a bit pricey for a lining but since I don't have anything else with me, this bag is just that much more special. There's a pocket inside, and I'll be adding a snap or button clasp when I get home.
I have a dressy black dress that needs something just like this to go with it! Just one question, should the closure be a snap or button? A snap is more practical and easier to open and close but a button could be prettier. What do you think?
It's the first Wicked Cool Overlooked Books of the new year! (In case you need a refresher as to why we do this, Chasing Ray will remind you.) I am not, generally, a fan of novels about the Civil War. I am of the opinion that most books treat the... Read the rest of this post
It's time for another episode of Wicked Cool Overlooked Books, brought to you by the genius that is Colleen of Chasing Ray.W.C.O.B. takes place the first Monday of the month, and normally I don't participate because... well, I'm not sure I know from... Read the rest of this post
There were several serious and worthy overlooked books I was considering for this Monday and then I started reading Cherie Priest's upcoming Not Flesh Nor Feathers and I thought, "you know what - everybody needs to read her books!" So I chucked my list of other books (all of whom will be discussed here in upcoming months) and decided to focus instead on the awesome Eden Moore books. Basically, it's August, it's hot and I'm all about the fun reading and it really does not get much more fun then these books. (If your fun includes bat crazy homicidal family members, Civil War soldier ghosts, and zombies...gotta love the zombies!)
First, I have to tell you that Feathers is not due out until October, so you will have to save the big zombie, flood, crazy ghost, KKK murder mystery until then (perfect Halloween reading obviously). However this gives you plenty of time to pick up Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Wings to the Kingdom. Both of these books are awesome and while each of them will standalone, reading them in order goes a long way toward explaining things and also lets you see Eden's evolution over time. They are each good stories, but as a trilogy really stand out.
Blackbirds is all about Eden who has been stalked by a crazy guy bent on killing her since she was a kid. In trying to figure out just who the crazy guy is, as well as several odd secrets about her rather mysterious childhood, she finds herself not only with some less than savory family connections (that would be the bat shit crazy parts) but also some voodoo.
Oh - and Eden sees dead people and has a habit of crawling around in places (like abandoned psychiatric hospitals) where really disturbed dead people might be hanging out.
Blackbirds has a particularly creepy moment in Eden's childhood during a summer camp that positively gave me chills - it was scary but in that understated King/Bradbury kind of scary, not over-the-top. That was when I decided that Cherie Priest was someone I needed to read a lot of and immediately ordered the second Eden book.
Wings to the Kingdom is about a Civil War battlefield that is suddenly under siege and the ghostly soldiers who go looking for help. (I think I neglected to mention that the Eden books all take place in Chattanooga, so ghosts, battlefields and KKK mysteries fit right in.) I loved this book - I have a sore spot for battlefields and I was thrilled with what Cherie did here. She also gives us another psychiatric hospital (this one still occupied) and an ancient Indian cemetery (of course). Eden has it a bit more together this time as she is better capable of handling her own abilities, but she also has to deal with a ghost-hunter tv crew out at the battlefield who are getting in the way which does cause a problem or two. Again, nice and creepy and loads of fun.
Feathers might be the best of the group (and that is really saying something). I've been blazing through it since I started it last night and I'm loving every twist and turn. The Tennessee River is overflowing its banks and along with a lot of muck and mire there are also quite a few members of the undead coming up on shore. These are angry zombies though - zombies directed to find something (or someone) and kill everyone that gets in their way. The only one that seems to have a clue about what they want is the local crazy ghost - The White Lady. The lady really is nuts, and apparently was crazy when she died, so her ability (and willingness) to help Eden out is rather limited. She's forced to figure out just what the zombies want and how to stop them on her own (okay, with a bit of help from her friends).
Oh - and there's also the matter of the KKK, a long ago covered up mass murder and a fire, a serious fire. What Eden can do to piece all this together before the zombies make a big buffet out of the folks who have gotten trapped on the wrong side of the river is a mystery until the thrilling, show stopping ending. It's nonstop action, witty banter and talking to the undead in this one folks - consider it your favorite Buffy episode just a bit wetter and you've got it nailed.
I mean please - the KKK, zombies and a crazy ghost? How can you beat that combination?
I wrote about Cherie's first two books earlier this year and I know that they have gotten good coverage in the SFF circles. But unless you read horror or SFF on a regular basis you might have missed them and if that is the case then you are letting a great series pass you by. Eden is smart and resourceful and more than a bit pissed off by the whole seeing the dead (and undead) thing. She keeps trying to get her life together (school, job, etc.) and keeps getting sucked back into all the craziness in her hometown. Along with all her conflict about what she should do and must do, Cherie really ratchets up the tension of what big bad thing is going to happen if Eden doesn't get involved and so really the girl doesn't have a choice (a la Buffy). But she doesn't have that whole super strong thing going on either and that is a major bummer - some slayer strength would really come in handy against the zombies.
I love the history that Cherie fills her books with (they are practically dripping with all things southern) and the fact that so much of it (as she reveals in her notes) is true. There is a lot of work that goes into these books and it shows. They are good old fashioned fun reading and I've enjoyed each one thoroughly. Give yourself a good time this August and take a dose of Eden Moore out to the back porch. I promise you, you will not regret it! (And I'll be back in October with a glowing review of Feathers.)
Other Wicked Cool Overlooked Book Posts today: (email me or comment below with a link to yours)
Hillbilly Gothic by Adrienne Martini over at Seven Imps (I'm reviewing this one for Eclectica this fall.) They've done a wonderful job with their review and I highly recommend this book - it blew me away and I'll be saying as much when I write about it next month.
This month I'm choosing to highlight one of my favorite 2004 books, Pepperland. It was released as a paperback this year. I suppose one of the reasons I love this book is because it has so many Beatle--particularly Lennon--references throughout.
Delaney, Mark. 2004. PEPPERLAND. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN 156145317X.
Pamela Jean Cochran (a.k.a. Star) is sixteen when her mother dies from breast cancer. Struggling to find a way to cope, she turns to her music hoping that if she can write a song to honor her mother then she can finally let go of her anger and pain. While going through her mother's belongings, Star discovers a fan letter to John Lennon and a vintage Gibson guitar--now in need of repair. These two items are the catalyst to Star's healing process. Set in the fall of 1980, Delaney's novel is a wonderful exploration of grief, anger, loss, and confusion. Star and Dooley, her best friend, are remarkably well-developed characters. And Delaney's use of language is impressive. One striking passage occurs when Dooley shows Star his new drawing:
"Before me is a portrait of a young woman. She is strikingly beautiful, her face nearly white and her cheekbones shaded in an ice pale blue. Her eyes are large and pretty, but dark and a little wounded-looking. She's not really smiling. Behind her is a background of burgundy and violet. Within this background, and over the girl's face, are crossing lines, like the squares on a sheet of graph paper. It's as if little parts of her have been painted on hundreds of tiles, and the tiles have assembled themselves to make this image. Except in the upper left-hand corner, the pattern breaks down. The tiles are scattered, the lines no longer forming perfect angles. The pieces seem to be falling, cascading into place. The girl is in the process of becoming a complete picture...And then I understand. I see it. The girl with the wounded eyes, the girl who doesn't quite smile, the girl made of a thousand pieces that are falling, at last, into their proper places...She's me" (105-106).
The book, by the time I read it, was probably eleven years old. There had been reams of other YA novels printed, awards awarded, and the author had gone on to many other things.You have to understand how it was, though. Books -- fiction books --... Read the rest of this post