Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Time, A Place, A Way of Life

Call me morose, broody, sentimental, and nostalgic.  Critique my writing for its focus on the past or for its moody emphasis on the sad passings of life.  Stop reading what I post, leave this site, forget yourself in a Buzzfeed quiz.  It's all the same to me.  I write because it is my placeholder; it is my chance to tell a story.

This is a picture of my dad playing the ukulele.  I suppose he learned to play in the serrvice - he served in the 1960's in Guam.  He was an officer in the Navy, and he made some of the best friends of his life there.  They were the Drones Club, pulled from P.G. Wodehouse's books.  He talked of golf and cocktails, exotic trips and movies.  For all my life with him, I knew about his Navy buddies.  Christmas cards yearly and a few face-to-face meetings.  Later in life, I learned more about his time there as we found letters and notes he had written home and left for these friends,  My sister, living in Japan at the time, traveled to Guam on vacation not long after my dad died.  She wrote a letter to one of the Navy friends and asked him the places they had gone, the views she should see.  We all so despearately wanted to feel like there was still a way to connect to my dad.  He wrote back, and sent letters Dad had sent him.  He sent mementos from the Drone's Club.  We sat and read them all.

My dad played the ukulele.  He played on the front porch on summer nights.  He played at the kitchen table where we sat every night and ate dinner together.  He sang too.  I remember Sweet Betsy from Pike, Sloop John B and Goodnight, Irene.  We would sing and giggle.  The lightning bugs would flicker.  Cats in the shadows would slink under the fence, into the pasture and stalk their prey.  Mom would sit and rock in the chair, her cigarette just an orange orb in the night.  Bedtime soon followed and we were all tucked in, light left on please.  I didn't like the shadows and how different the room looked in the dark.

When we were cleaning out my parent's house after mom went to the nursing home, we found a lot of cameras.  Dad liked picutres and video.  He is seldom in vacation or holiday pictures because he was the cameraman.  One of the last things I remember we all chipped in to get him for Christmas was a digital camera.  This picture was on the camera we found.  My sister had them developed.  There were pictures of my children as babies, toddlers, primary school scholars.  There was also this picture of dad, playing the ukulele.  We bought him a new one for Christmas.  His old one was out of tune, beat up.  He played for his grandchildren.  We sang along, and our childten didn't know what to think.

What I love most about this picture is that it is not just a picture of my dad.  This is a picture of a time, a place, a way of life.  I see that kitchen from my childhood home and know I will never find another place like that.  I would walk in the back door, and there would be the kitchen table - the same one where dad played the ukulele and read Little Orphan Annie to us.  The same one where my mom sat alone after dad died, and did her sudoku puzzles, even when she didn't remember how to play and just filled in every square with fives or twos.  Behind dad in the picture is the clock he bought in Japan that would chime the hour.   That kitchen holds so many echoes of talk, and laughter and singing.  Some of it is happy, and some is sad.  I watched a show the other night and a child explained heaven as the place where each person was happiest.  For me, it has to be in the house I grew up in, my parents at the kitchen table, the soft murmur of their voices while I lay in bed, searching for sleep.

This blog is called Muse of Reading, so here's the book. Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase.  It is the story of a British family who visit their Cornish estate in the summer.  In the summer of 1968 when Amber, the narrator is 14, a tragedy occurs.  The book is two stories - Amber's and Lorna's, who has visited Black Rabbit hall in present day and wishes to have her wedding there.  The plot was predictable for the most part, but I really didn't care because the writiing was so beautiful and real that I couldn't seem to get enough.  I loved the Gothic setting - the crumbling old house with hidden secrets -but in the end what I really remember is the story of a a family and a time and a place.  A way of life. The ending of the story certainly brought a sense of closure to the characters.  Amber's and Lorna's stories combine in a satisfying way. But the end of their stories is not the end of the book.  Chase includes one more short chapter, and in it captures the timelessness of all stories, the ubiquitous neverending story that each of us face.  I very much enjoyed this book, and the final chapter ensured for me a universally pleasing theme - the very fleeting nature of life and the beauty and sadness that intertwine to become who we are and what we remember.

So like I said, call me morose.  I contend that in the end, we are all just people looking for those times and places that cannot be forgotten, that are the core of who we are.   These moments of people, places, things - a kitchen, a ukulele, a clock, my parents - are often more of who I am than are the clothes I wear or the titles I hold in life.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thanks, Patrick

I wrote this last fall after attending the Ohio Educational Library Media Assoication conference where I attended a session led by author Patrick Carman.  He showed all of us the way he used visual mapping to create and form stories, and then aksed each of us to do the same.  The map I drew resulted in this essay, The Door,  The ending is vague because Patrick Carman said I should leave it that way.  I wrote the essay with my Junior English class.  Each of the students did their own visual map and then wrtoe their narrative.  Some of them were really good.  Thanks, Patrick, for the inspiration.  I love to write.  I wish I had more time to do it.

The Door

I grew up in an old farmhouse that has been passed down in my family for three generations, my siblings and I being the fourth that ran up and down its creaking staircases and slept on its wide balcony during the summer months.  The rooms are big with high ceilings, and the windows look out on the green yard, and cow pastures and alfalfa fields beyond.  The whole third floor of the house is the attic, and was filled with boxes and trunks full of four generations’ pictures, documents and unknown treasures.  My brother and sisters and I loved that attic.  We loved rifling through its photo albums, old cigar boxes and blanket-draped piles.  My parents, particularly my father, frowned upon our expeditions into the winter cold and summer hot space.  Having stored his own childhood in the attic, my father did not trust his own children to not barge into those closed boxes and dusty papers of memories. Undeterred, whenever we  could, we would climb the steep and dusty steps regularly and search through the remnants of three generations’ lives and laughs, and loss.

There was a mattress against one cracked, yellowed wall, in between the non-functional fireplace and the raised platform with a purpose still unknown.  On one of our expeditions, one of us knocked that mattress over.  There was no reason for us to do this, except for the mere fact that we could.  But, it could have been fate, because behind the mattress was the door.  It was small, only four feet high, with a small door latch that would not turn when we attempted to open the door.  Who ever tried to open it didn’t try hard, because we knew that this door was special, and its opening should be monumental.

My brother, two sisters and I grew up creating fantasy worlds in the backyard.  Fairyland was just beyond the gate that led to the pasture behind the house.  Hungry beetles covered the floor of the living room on rainy days, which made it necessary to jump from chair to couch to table in fear that we would be devoured by the carnivorous bugs.  We could create elaborate villages using Fisher Price Little People who were savagely stalked by Star Wars alien figurines.  We grew up with fairy tales and mystery.  We thrived on the magic of possibility.  When we found that door behind the mattress, we knew, we just knew, that this was the chance we had been waiting for.  The door was our portal to adventure.

C.S. Lewis’ Narnia was a favorite fantasy world for us.  We had read the book - my older sister the whole series - and envied the four Pevensie children.  The story of siblings who discover a wardrobe in an empty room in their uncle’s secluded country home gave a tangible edge to our imagination; this book gave us hope that we too could find an entrance to the fantastic world of our imagination.  Through a wardrobe, between two tall trees, in the bottom of a cupboard, or, even inside a door never opened - we would find the way to adventure.

This door was special, but we needed a plan.  We couldn’t just walk into a new world.  Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were terribly unprepared for their voyage into Narnia.  The cold and dangerous landscape left them vulnerable, though they were able to find trustworthy friends that provided them with food and shelter.  My sisters and brother and I knew we could not assume anything.  Secretly, we collected supplies:  food and water, sweaters for layering, a flashlight, a knife, a lighter, paper and pencil.  I also remember specifically that my brother decided that we needed a candle to test for oxygen, or lack thereof.  He reasoned that the room had been closed for a long time, and therefore, the space beyond would be oxygen-deprived.  A lit candle would quickly go out without oxygen.  I am not sure that I saw the logic of this, but we all went along with this part of the plan.

We waited until both our parents would be gone to open the door.  In Narnia, time passed, but time on Earth remained the same.  We were not sure what the reality would be for our situation, but just in case, we didn’t want our parents to notice that we were gone and worry.  So when we heard the back door slam several days later, we went into action, grabbing multiple backpacks, thermoses, and jackets.   The attic door was at the top of the stairs to the second floor; we opened the old wooden door and climbed in single file the steep and narrow stairs to the attic.  

Memory does not not allow me to remember much of who did or said what in the next few moments.  I just remember standing in front of the door - smaller than any of us with a small knob, surrounded by a yellowed, cracked wall.  How long ago had it been since it was last opened and who opened it?  Most importantly, what was beyond the wooden door that had been hidden by an old mattress in the attic of our family home?  Breathing was surely rapid and communication was largely non-verbal as we decided who would open the door.  I remember a mixture of fear and excitement and the knowledge that I did not want to be the one who would open it.  I think it was my brother - my twin and the only boy - who opened it.  We stood behind him with backpacks, and a lit candle as he tugged on the small knob forcefully.  

The door came open suddenly and we shoved the lit candle inside the dark recess.  As the flame brightened the space, we four sighed as one, our discovery made.  Four pairs of eyes focused on the open door’s void together, our breathing timed as one.  What lay beyond the door is difficult to describe, and will not be found in any records where useful places are catalogued.  What lay beyond the door was a space that became over time an image seared into memory, unchanging and protected.

I have started thinking more about this childhood memory in the past six months.  My father passed away in 2007, and shortly after, my mother began showing the odd and sometimes brutal signs of dementia.  Last May, my brother and sisters and I made the incredibly difficult decision to put mom in the care of a nursing home. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do as an adult, more trying even than caring for my father as he battled lung cancer.  My siblings and I were faced with an unappealing task after mom was safely in the care of professionals.  We needed to clean out our childhood home.

Adulthood can be heartbreaking, more so than childhood, because as adults, we know what we have lost.  Adulthood can be all business, all work and no play.  Adulthood is about life insurance and making hard decisions and cleaning up vomit at 3 am.  Adulthood makes me feel so old.  When my sisters and brother  and I started cleaning out the house, there were moments where the memories of childhood seemed so very present, so tangible that it was as if I had never left the house, had never grown up, had never had children of my own.  We found the angel chimes from Christmas and crayon drawings to Daddy or Mommy. We went through Dad’s old vinyl record collection, and saved the ones that we had once listened to, over and over 30 years earlier. We discovered love letters our parents had sent to each other and the scribbled notes our mother wrote to us as she began her descent into the gray world of dementia.  We laughed and cried, and at times, we just walked away from an area if it was just too much to deal with at the time.  

Finally, in October we had a date set for an estate sale.  The Sunday before, we were all there and the attic was one of our last areas to cover.  We went through boxes of Mom and Dad’s college textbooks, got distracted by an old box of mementos from our great-grandfather, and discussed whether or not to sell Dad’s model train sets.  We wondered why our attic had ended up as the home of a distant relative’s keepsakes and why our grandfather and his brothers had made plaster casts of their faces as children which we found in a trunk.  

The door was there, closed, and unnoticed in the efficiency of time restraints. But I brought up the memory to my brother and sisters, and yes, they all remembered it too.  Funny, how each of us had differences in our memories; my older sister had no recollection of my brother’s candle theory.  We decided to open it again, to see what was behind it.  Several of our children were with us; a new generation who appreciate fantasy, but most certainly do not store their hopes and dreams in it.  We stood in front of the door, breathing as one, waiting for what lay within.  

When I looked inside, it was not what I remembered at all.  The reality of what was  beyond the door was not accurate in my memory.  Our children, the  sixth generation turned away, already forgetting the contents.  Despite my misleading memory of what was beyond the door, the magical wonder of it in my memory was correct.  For one brief moment in my adulthood, I had felt it again.  I think my sisters and brother and I all did, as we shut the door again, and turned away back to the difficulties that were very present and demanding.  But it was real, that feeling, and it is one thing that we will never sell or put out with the trash.  The magic of possibility is still there in the door, and within each of us.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why I am Glad My Kids Cried During The Fault in Our Stars

I took three teenagers to see The Fault in Our Stars, or TFIOS, last week.  I was not thrilled, but it was my soon-to-be thirteen-year-old daughter's greatest wish. Originally, it was just going to be the two of us - a girls' day, but we added my 16-year-old son and his girlfriend.  We ate at Chipotle first.  That was good.  So, TFIOS.  I read the book, of course, and was less than blown away.  I felt like I had missed something. It was a nice story, and I liked the characters for the most part.  They were a bit pretentious and know-it-all, but I think most of John Green's characters are like that.  John Green is kind of like that.  It's sad, and cancer sucks.  But, I was underwhelmed.  I think one of my English teacher friends summed it up well when she commented on my Goodreads review that teens have had such a small number of emotional experiences that a book like TFIOS really resonates with them and hits' em hard right in the heart.

While I was reading the book, and watching the movie, I couldn't help but take the parents' side. The movie doesn't really portray Hazel's mom the same as the book.  Laura Dern was pretty laid back and really let Shailene Woodley (or whatever her name is) do what she wanted to.  But the book mom was tough.  She loved her daughter and she was in charge of her.  Hazel is a teenager, after all, and teens shouldn't make some of the decisions they make.  I don't think any adult would argue with me on that.  I kept thinking, "Right on, Mom!  She shouldn't go to Amsterdam or spend all her time with that boy and not eat."  I am a mom.  I can't help but think like one and have empathy for other moms.

After we saw the movie (the sniffles were very loud throughout the theater), I kept thinking about why the teens were so sad.  And I remembered a couple of movies I saw as a teen and cried during.  A lot.  One was Lady Jane with Helena Bonham Carter.  It is about Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for about three days until her cousin Mary came back and Jane beheaded.  It was a love story too.  Cary Elwes plays her husband and they are sooo in love.  They both get their heads chopped off.  Perfectly romantic.  I sobbed watching that when I was a teen.  The other one was Stealing Home with Jodi Foster and Mark Harmon.  I went to see it with three of my friends and we couldn't stop crying on the way home.  That one was a little more than a love story; it was also a coming of age movie, and I think we all knew we were growing up.  What made me cry in those movies?  I was a hopeless romantic as a teen (really, I still am) and I had never had a boyfriend.  I couldn't imagine having someone to love and who loved me and then watching them die.  To teenage me, there could be nothing worse.

Fast forward to 42-year-old-me.  I've seen worse.  Life is hard, and full of losses.  Dads get cancer; moms get Alzheimers.  Children struggle and get made fun of and cry and get depressed.  Couples grow apart and separate, and the pain is like a knife in the heart.  It snows on Easter, and there's no money for Christmas.  The new position at work turns you into an outsider, and old friends become new enemies.  It's sad and sometimes bleak, and it often makes it hard to get up in the morning.  But it is life, and I wouldn't change a thing about the 42 years I've had so far. The bumps and bruises have only made me wiser, stronger and believe it or not, more hopeful.

I am glad my kids cried during The Fault In Their Stars because to me it means they haven't had to experience those really tough things in life yet.  They haven't lost my husband or me, and Christmas was still joyous. They have people in their lives who love them and care for them - family, extended family, friends, church family, teachers....the list goes on.  I know that they will eventually face darker challenges than the internet  going out, or losing the wrestling match, and even losing a grandparent.  That's okay.  It is part of life, and I hope I am teaching my kids that bumps and bruises hurt, but they happen and you can live through it.  With hope.  I'm saving their tears like ZuZu's petals...for a rainy day, to remind me that things can always be worse.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


When I Was One-and-Twenty

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

When I was sixteen, the world was absolute. I would always have the same friends. Nothing would ever be as important to me as going out with my friends TONIGHT (and no tomorrow is not the same, Mother, the world revolves around right now!) I would always love the same things, and feel the same way, and there was no point in telling me anything different. I understood the cosmos at 16; surely I had seen it all.

As I grew up, I experienced a lot - love, marriage, death, loss, birth, joy, angst, betrayal, humility. We all do, right? Experience equals learning and learning comes with growing. It's all a beautiful cyclical process, and while I certainly do not understand the cosmos at all, I do think that this process is part of what it all means. I am in my 40's now, and I know only one thing with absolute certainty: there is no such thing as certainty.

E.L. Lockhart's newest book We Were Liars is, in a way, about experience. It is also about being 15, and knowing the cosmos as we only can during our early years. It is about absolutes, and the knowledge that comes when absolutes are challenged and lost. It is a book for teens, but it is also a book for adults.

As Shakespeare said in King Lear, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.” It is important to bring Shakespeare and old man Lear into this because to me, this book was very much a retelling of King Lear: an aging King rules over a vast, wealthy kingdom. He has three daughters who all want his kingdom. They fight, there is death, and loss. Experience reveals what once was absolute is seldom ever certain. The liars are Cadence, Mirren, Johnny and Gat, all Sinclairs except for Gat. The Sinclairs are old money, and own their own island just off of Martha's Vineyard. Granddad has three daugthers, who are the mothers of Cadence, Mirren, and Johnny. Gat is an extra, an outsider, as un-WASPish as they come. Grandmother Sinclair dies; three daughters vie for their father's attention, his money, his favor. Tempers rage, jealousies emerge, tragedy ensues.

As a narrator, Cadence is unreliable, and emotional. I was initially put off by her dramatic voice, but I realized how true it was for a teenage girl whose ideas are absolute: She will always love Gat. Her family will always be the same. She will do whatever it takes. Half-way through the book, the story changes. At first we are living with the Sinclairs, lazing on the beaches, living in one of the four houses on the island, saying only what each should, and never what we feel. It is summer 15 for the Liars - a seemingly endless repetition of rituals for the four teens who have never known change.

Then, there is an accident. Cadence is unsure, forgetting what happened. She is sheltered by her mother, and for a year, does not return to the island for the summer. She suffers migraines, and sends emails to her beloved Liars, only to be ignored. Why won't they talk to her? How did Gat forget their love? What was the accident that left Cadence so alone and in pain?

In summer 17, she returns to the island. Everything is different. All is flux. The Liars stay in Cuddledown, one of the four houses; Aunt Carrie walks the beaches at night. Granddad's beautiful old Victorian is gone, replaced by a glass and metal house that is not a home. Slowly, truth comes back to Cadence as she remembers what happened during summer 15. The climax is a quiet storm, a flash of light that reveals to Cadence the darkness of her youthful existence. The end of the book is full of uncertainties, lacks absolutes, but promises growth, endurance and sunlight.

I was breathless from the climax to the ending of this sweetly cruel book. Experience changes us all, growth leads to wisdom. Just wait for it to come.

“The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”
William Shakespeare, King Lear

Thursday, February 27, 2014


What?!  It has not been over a year since I last posted!  Seriously.  Let this post remind all how very much can change in a year.
1.  My children are all a year older.  In adolescence, a year is a long time.
2.  My beloved mother is  spreading joy safely supervised  in a dementia unit.
3.  My husband was unemployed, and now employed in a job he enjoys.
4.  There was a pony in my pool.
5.  We are experiencing the third snowiest winter on record.
6.  I got a new job.

Okay, so let's focus on #6.  I got a new job.  I loved my former job - K-12 school librarian/HS English teacher.  I was in that school district for 20 years. My children go to school there.  I loved the people I worked with and my students.  I loved buying books with other people's money.  But one day in September, an email came about a job opening for an institution I admired and had always kept in the back of my mind as a home for my retired self.  So, I applied.  And I got an interview. Then, I had a second interview.  I got the job. I am now an ILibrarian (the I stands for Integration) at INFOhio, Ohio's PreK-12 Digital Library.  I work from my home, and travel locally about 5-6 days a month.  I love it.  I miss my students and my friends at my former school, but I do not miss the new Ohio teacher evaluation system, the testing we piled on students, and the frustration of the testing and evaluation system combined.  I do not believe I am alone in saying that this was a small part of the reason why I left teaching after 20 years.

Did I mention I miss buying books?  I am still reviewing, but I feel an emptiness in the results.  I have seriously considered making lists to buy just for fun. I have not done it yet, but I have thought that maybe somewhere, someone needs a book-buying consultant on the side.  That could be me. I haven't visited Net Galley in a while, but I was prompted to do so in search of a sequel to M.D. Water's Archetype which I received through Penguin's First Read's program.  It was such a great read, but more importantly, when I shared it with some of my older student readers, they loved it.  We can't wait for the sequel - I am hoping I can track down an ARC or galley somewhere!

 In my quest for Protoype I found Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrel, a fictional book about a young, married couple's brief stay with the author Shirley Jackson.  I have greatly enjoyed Shirley Jackson's writing.  The Haunting of Hill House is near the top of my scariest-books-ever list.  I taught it to my sophomore English classes, and I love exploring with them the psychological terror and uncertainty that Hill House evokes.  That scene in the bedroom and the walk in the garden....brrrr.  Still gives me the shivers.  Whatever walks in Hill House walks alone, and so does whatever walks in the home of writer Shirley Jackson and her scholarly husband Stanley Edgar Hyman.  The troubled marriage of two larger-than-life characters and their old, creaky, well-lived in home provides the setting for the book.  It takes place a few years before Shirley's sudden death at the age of 48, and is told from the viewpoint of young Rose Nesmer, whose husband Fred has come to be a teaching associate at the college.  Rose can only be 18 or 19 years old, and is incredibly naive, but likable.  She is pregnant, and finds herself attached easily to Shirley's big personality and her unpredictable moods.  Over the course of about 8 months, Rose finds herself both loved and hated by Shirley, but through it all, she remains enamored of the author.

What is most frightening about this book for me is not the underlying question of  Shirley's involvement in the death of a young college girl.  Hyman was good at sleeping with his students, and Shirley's instability is largely hinted to be due to his infidelity.  There is plenty of suspense from this elephant in the book, but it was not this plot line that frightened me.  I was most afraid of how Rose changed while she lived in the Jackson-Hyman house.  She was a young bride whose own mother had left her, and Rose absorbed Shirley's energies, as well as the miasma of the house itself.  For me, the climax of the book was when Rose finally succumbed, much like Eleanor to Hill House, to the ghosts and horrors of her temporary home.  Rose became part of what was bad, ugly and wrong in the house and within two highly intelligent, dramatically charged and fatally entwined people.

The ending was full of irony and wisdom; Rose's transformation in the book is tangible, but not in a decrepit or stale way.  She has grown, as all humans do, through hardship and hurt.  Rose's character is very much a foil to the Ozymandias that was Shirley Jackson, broken and forgotten too soon.(Though really, Shirley's writing has certainly kept her alive!)  Instead of living in a haunted house, Rose moves on, and find where joy abides.  It was a thought-provoking, dark and eerie book.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two and Twenty Dark Tales

It's been a long time since I have blogged, but in that span of time, life certainly did not stop.  I've been working and reading, and cooking and caring for my family.  I have had stacks of books piled up for reviews; between Library Media Connection, SOYAMRG, NetGalley and Penguins First Reads Program, there never seems to be a time when I don't have obligatory reading to do.  Not that I am complaining...but maybe I am. I am finally reading a book right now that I want to read - Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil all The Time which has been on my to-read shelf for about 8 months.  I am excited to read this - it sounds dark and suspenseful and that's the way I like my books.  I just finished reading Philip Reeve's Predator City quartet - Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, Infernal Devices and On a Darkling Plain.  These are fantastic books - new classics and I was absolutely weepy at the end of the series.  But, I spent a long time in that Steampunk world, and my brain was craving some new setting.

 Two and Twenty Dark Tales was a switch, but not the one I really wanted.  This is a NetGalley download published by Month9Books, and is marketed as a charity anthology of dark retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes.  I was most pleased with the publisher - this is their first release and they will donate the proceeds from the sale of the first 5,000 books to a charity they love.  In fact, this title is the first in a series of annual charity anthologies to be released.  It is refreshing to see this act of charity in a publishing world that seems to be dominated by greed for money.  I am not ignorant;  I know that money makes the publishing world go 'round, but Penguin's attitude about ebooks and libraries can be called nothing but selfish.  So, bravo, Month9Books and Georgia McBride on your debut.  I am looking forward to future publications.

The book is delivers just what it promises to in its title.  Mother Goose nursery rhymes serve as the inspiration for dark and fantastic short stories for young adult readers.  There are to be 22 tales in the final publication, but this ARC had only 21 total.  There were some extended versions of stories not included, as well as a poem.  Several of the stories stand out to me, while others left me as soon as I finished.  The first story in the book, "As Blue as the Sky and Just as Old" by Nina Berry was an excellent start to the anthology and was inspired by the nursery rhyme about Taffy the Welshman.  I'm a real sucker for Welsh words - there's just something about all those y's that is pure poetry to me.  But this story really captured the retelling or even the real telling of this nursery rhyme.  So many seemingly childish rhymes are in reality based on dark and grim events and folklore.  Berry's story of timeless search for three disguised objects and the evil forces that seek them is deliciously frightening with enough magic glimmering at the edges to keep it light. It was well-developed with just enough back story to make the plot interesting and characters believable.  On the other hand, "Pieces of Eight" by Shannon Delany and Max Scialdone was overly developed for a short story.  There was too much to accomplish - an entire quest- in one short story and I found myself overwhelmed and eventually uninterested in this retelling of the nursery rhyme Sleep, Baby, Sleep.  The authors might want to consider writing a novel based on this short story in order to include the full quest plot and  character development.

"Wee Willie Winkie" by Leigh Fallon and "Life in a Shoe" by Heidi R. Kling are two stories that should be developed into novels.  The setting of each story were unique and beg to be developed fully.  Voice was strong in each as well, and I found myself wanting to know more about the females narrators in these two dark tales.  Also satisfying were "The Wish" by Suzanne Young and "A Ribbon of Blue" by Michelle Zink. These two stories managed to catch me by surprise and deliver an element I wasn't expecting.

Overall, the book is entertaining and a treat for anyone who loves nursery rhymes.  This will be a great addition to school libraries and will be perfect for readers who like their stories short and sweet.  It is a solid first publication for Month9Books.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Heat

We made it through the 4th of July blast - temperatures in the high 90's and low 100's here in the Midwest.  It was miserable.  I finally gave in and turned on my A/C.  I hate being shut in during the summer months.  I grew up in a big old house that had electric heat for the winter and some 20 year old fans for the summer.  One fan was made in the late 30's, probably.  I kid you not - heavy, wood encased dark metal blades.  In other words, I am used to temperature inconvenience.  My best childhood memories are of nights scorching hot where my sisters and I would sleep at the ends of our beds in order to be closer to the breeze from our box fan.  Inevitably, sometime in the night, the temperature would drop and I would crawl to the head of the bed, and pull a sheet over me to deter the chill.  Bliss.

Middle age brings the need for comfort, however.  Night times are the worst for sweating, I have found.  Air conditioning is the savior for those uncomfortable muggy evenings when not a breath of air is moving through the windows. Reading in bed is one of my favorite things to do, so a cool evening is appreciated.  My latest read came from Penguin First Reads.  City of Women by David R. Gillham is a WWII story set in Berlin in 1943.  All the men are gone - either burned up in ovens or fighting the battle against the Russians.  Sigfrid lives with her mother-in-law while her husband fights on the front.  She works in the patent office and appears to be an honorable German hausfrau  doing her part for the Motherland.  In truth, however, she is an adulteress who has had an affair with a Jew named Egon.  The beginning of the book centers on this relationship and with Sigfrid's self absorption as she deals with his recent disappearance.  Strewn with glimpses at Sigfrid's sad childhood and her lonely adult existence, the book allows readers to see the motives for the protagonist.  She is not a likeable character, but by the end of the book, she has added layers and matured to become a believable and complex woman who makes choices no longer based on her wants and needs.  Her involvement with the illegal hiding of Jews complicates her life in numerous ways, which leads to death, betrayal and finally redemption. 

This was an excellent book and I am glad that it was part of the Penguin First Reads program as it is not a book I would have committed to otherwise.  I no longer seek Holocaust literature, though it will certainly haunt me forever.  But this book was more than just a story of the underground railroad for Jews.  It was the story of a woman who like a slim wick dipped over and over in hot wax, developed into a candle with the possibility of light.  This will be a great discussion book, and one that will stay with me for a while.  Complex and sad, it is not a beach book, but it was a cool spot during the summer heat for me.