Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

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I was born bucking the idea that I should have to be anywhere that I don’t like or talk to people who make me feel dead or trapped.

Jenny Slate is an actress, comedian, author and in a collaboration with director Dean Fleischer-Camp created Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It’s adorable, I have a thing for stop motion and it has also become a book series. That aside, I have only been aware of Jenny Slate as an actress. This book is more musings, confidences, and reflections on her past. She is at times serious, often funny, a little on the sweet side (I’m a heavy reader of raw memoirs, people toughened by heavy issues so this was a pleasure) and always clever. When the book first opened, I thought it was going to be a memoir in poetry as she tells the reader “I was born like that”, born bucking certain ideas, with a love of nursing big scared things, and she was a ‘fast bad baby’. She gets lonely just like any single one of us and exhausted by heartbreak. Jenny longs for love, for someone who fits into her strange little world, because what else is love but having someone who carries in their blood your brand of weird? She shares her grievances, desires, hopes and ghosts with the reader and jumps from past to present, because doesn’t memory work like that in all of us? It’s never a straight line, life. We live in the present with the past calling us back, lingering as it does like a scent.

She wants to fall in love, can she find it online? Isn’t that the modern way? She both longs to join with someone and also exist in her own ‘vortex’. Waiting, waiting… surely he is out there somewhere? Jenny wants to live in a gentle place, filled with joy but she has her small deaths to shed, as all the living do. She travels, and in Norway tries to remain aware of her surroundings, to be strong on her own when she isn’t journeying with her friends. Often readers shy away from books written by famous people, what the heck can they have to say to the common folk? A lot it seems. Jenny has enough humility and refreshing honesty to not come off as some super ego monster. She is often just as lost, curious as the rest of us. She has times of success, love and fulfillment while experiencing the grace of being alive and moments of fear, emptiness and pain. She feels ugly, she feels lovely and absolutely comes off as a little quirky, a little weird! That is what makes this memoir a little pleasure.

Her style made me feel like I was hanging out with a close friend when she is warmed by wine, a little rambling with surprising moments of lucidity, clarity and open heart confessions. The style might not be for every reader, it’s lyrical, she wanders off the thought path often but her curious nature remains a constant delight.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Little, Brown and Company

 

Dead Heat by Benedek Totth (Ildikó Noémi Nagy, Translation)

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As I snapped Mishy’s nose back into place, it made a huge cracking noise, then the poor bastard howled and had some kind of spasm.

Dead Heat is a wild coming of age story about teenage boys on a swim team in Hungary who also happen to spend most their days in a drunken, drugged out daze when they’re not having sex with any and every girl in their vicinity. Porn obsessed the boys see girls as nothing but ‘sluts’, there to please them. The girls themselves all too willing to ‘give it up’ any time and every which way. The boys feel invincible, as the youthful often do, able to maintain, for a time anyway, their strength for a highly competitive sport. Pushing through hardcore practices lead by their brutally hard coach, whose rage they have a gift for invoking, over time becomes harder fed by their many vices. Our narrator along with his loser pals Zoli-boy, Ducky, Buoy and Mishy are soaked in testosterone, playing violent video games, starting war with dealers,  packing heat, stealing and speeding through the streets high as kites. The rot in their bond starts when they are involved in a serious accident, forced to pretend like nothing happened. Silence is for wise men, and they better all keep their mouths shut. Top of their game, they’ve been too free to prowl the town and their parents are either too high themselves to notice anything about the boys, or oblivious.

There is so much to rage against and the boys are each numb to their existence, not even taking beatings seem to shake them awake. Criminal behavior is second nature, what else fires the blood when you’re bored more than the thrill of the getting away from authority? What makes the heart pump faster than chasing girls, chasing highs? Are they afraid of anything or just pretending not to be? Before long, their criminal acts push them into murky waters of life and death. Violence is around every corner, when one of their friends goes missing, the heat intensifies and loyalties are pushed to breaking. Who can they trust? Just how far will they go? Swim meets are nothing compared to the pressure of enemies, and soon going into hiding may be the only way for our narrator to get his head straight, to make sense of what has happened, to examine his friends, to determine which direction threats are coming from.

It’s a raw, gritty, sordid read. It is a coming of age in a time when boys feel dead inside, when culture fuels the violence, and no cage is secure enough to stop them. It’s hard to find a redeeming quality, but maybe their is a slim chance at redemption for the narrator… very slim, if he makes it out alive. These boys are the crime scene you stop and stare at on the side of the road. It’s only a matter of time before they have to wake up to reality, and it’s going to be a brutal hangover!

Publication Date: November 19, 2019

Biblioasis

 

 

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc

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Disability is not a monolith- every disabled person’s experience in the world is different, and the way that we all navigate the world is likewise varied and complex. 

This is one of the most beautiful books I have read in years. Fairy-tales are a part of our lives, serving as a model for modern day stories, often as lessons in morality, a warning, a guiding tale that even smacks of those early after school specials my generation was so fond of. Then there are the romances, a foundation on which so many little girls have built their castles, with a Prince waiting to save them. Beautiful girls, at least. What exactly is the measure of beauty? In nearly all of the well known tales, it certainly isn’t any character who has a disability, unless of course it is conquered, all that spell breaking, true love’s kiss, shucking off the ‘deformity’ or ‘madness’ or ‘disfigurement’. Disfigurement is only enchanting if it is has a use for the ‘able bodied’ narrative, and it’s often not something the ‘able-bodied’ think about. Amanda Leduc dissects many of the familiar fairy tales, and lesser known ones, to shed light on how the disabled are used, abused, or downright invisible in such stories. It’s eye opening, and disheartening. Growing up with Cerebral Palsy, Amanda certainly didn’t see any stories about little girls with her hospital stays, operations, struggles. Princesses only twirled with balletic perfection, they sure weren’t in wheel chairs, and if any characters had a disease or deformity, they were either evil, cursed, or imbeciles who are lucky to be mentioned at all. The goal is often landing the Prince or taking one’s rightful place on the throne, but it is always about golden beauty because anything less won’t procure a happy ending. How could anyone have a happy ending if they have a chronic illness, a disease, a disability, and don’t get me started on mental health? Happy endings while deformed? The horror of it!

While this book explores the theme of disability in fairy tales,  it is Leduc sharing how she has felt, and feels now, about her place in the world as defined by others, and herself. A child can have the most loving parents, but that child still must go out into the world, and face condescending attitudes, pity, cruelty even in our current time of awareness, (it is still half-assed awareness, though). Often, the person who has a disability or illness is meant to feel like it’s a special boon to be offered the same treatment the able-bodied receive. Maybe there are teaching moments, but does anyone you know want to be a poster child every waking moment of their life, or feel like a curiosity? For their body to be a horror story for another, one they just could’t survive if they had to reside in it? A big moment that hit me like a gut punch in the book is the idea that only in overcoming, ignoring everything from mental illness to very real pain and obstacles makes someone worthy because damn, it’s only a good life if the curse of sickness or imperfection is lifted! How is that for reality? Why should the world accommodate you, don’t you want to be just like the rest of us? Why are you so different? It is true, people equate disease, illness, disability, disfigurement as weak. Try harder! Rally around yourself! Go out in the sunshine! Sure…

My son grew up under the umbrella of autism, he didn’t look like he had struggles (what does that mean) and a label didn’t help as much as it should have, in fact often once educators knew how to define him, well he was no longer an individual, just an autistic. Some people meant well, others not so much. There were kind children, well meaning adults but attitudes tended to shift in the negative, with mocking,  laughter, and  exclusion, a forced feeling of isolation. Amanda’s story about her school journal made me heartsick, a violation as brutal as the wing scene in Maleficent. These things stick, we carry them with us. There are still hard times, he graduated college but still has obstacles, in real life unlike in fairy tales, there isn’t some spell that collecting the right ingredients will break, nor a quest that will allow some god or fairy to shine their benevolence upon him anymore than on the people who face each day of their life with their disability, illness. They aren’t asking for a gold star, special treatment, is it special treatment to be afforded dignity, accessibility, to be heard when speaking, understanding beyond a parking space or a toilet stall (that, let’s face it, more often than not is occupied by able-bodied folks)?

Disfigured is one of the most provocative books on disability I have read and I admit ignorance, there were connections I never thought about in the same light as Amanda. We are moving forward though at a snail’s crawl. I remember a commercial recently for a store selling Halloween costumes for children in wheel chairs, and I thought that is fantastic and yet ‘long overdue’. I fell the same about commercials serving as campaigns for acceptance showing skin with scars, freckles, vitiligo and how my daughter would have benefited from that when she was a little girl and at school was harassed by one constant question, ‘what is wrong with your skin.’  Inclusion is still a fight, resources are incredibly lacking in the school system alone, training isn’t always available, some schools push you to keep your kid separated not because it’s easier for the student but easier on everyone else, you think the adult world of disability is better? Amanda Leduc is right, who has fought more for everything they have? Why can’t they be represented in stories that children can look up to, beyond being a curse that love can fix, only of value when the disability or disfigurement is no more? Maybe with more voices being heard, the world can change, rather than push conformity.

This is a book everyone should read. Positive affirmations have their place, say if you have a cold, but this grin and bear it nonsense aimed towards people coping with obstacles so many of us cannot fathom just minimizes many lives, reduces real flesh and blood people. There is no shame in disability, different isn’t a tragedy and certainly our stories should include all of humanity. Happy endings, if we’re honest, don’t end in broken curses. Life is ups and downs, ill health, good health, loss and gains. There is no shame in needing medication, mobility aids, therapy… the shame is that it has been circulated as a tragedy, a horror story, a lesson in badness, evilness or that beauty is only one thing, ‘able-bodied’. My review does not do justice to the insights Amanda Leduc shares, absolutely read this book!

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Coming soon

Coach House Books

The Fortune Teller’s Promise by Kelly Heard

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Not there, she thought. You don’t have to go back there. Not even in your mind. Not ever.

Dell’s childhood in the forest of Blyth, Virigina with it’s magnificent natural beauty and calm is the opposite of life inside her house. Born to a flower child mother Anita, whose beauty is the center of her life more than her son and daughter, and her father Gideon, a ‘dark-eyed’ construction worker suddenly laid off after an injury that relies on pain pills to get through his painful days, leads to nothing but chaos and storms between them. Mother longs to maintain the beauty queen status of her early days, and nothing can keep her anchored to her family. Longing to be free, she moves to a rented bungalow. It is here, when Dell should be spending quality time with her mother because ‘she needs a bra’ and it’s a mother’s place to teach a young woman everything she needs to know, that the fault line appears. Anita would rather her time be filled entertaining men who are dizzy over her beauty than playing mommy. It is these types of men who have an edge that can cut. Anita’s reaction to her daughter’s confession is met with anger and blame rather than comfort, and outrage. It is also when Dell learns that people like her have to shut up and take it, because those in higher standing have the power to hurt those you love. Especially when your family is covered in dirt, unwilling or unable to climb out.

Growing up under the cloud of the shame of her parents, the town doesn’t let Dell forget her place. But it is love that ruins everything, her one chance to be a single mother, better than her own ever was, is impossible when he mother urges her to give the baby a better life, put it up for adoption. The church can find someone better suited, and what is someone like Dell to do without the support of the child’s father or even her own family? She could never afford to support her baby, girls like her don’t have options. There is no way she can remain in this flea-bitten town, nursing the ache in her heart where her baby girl has nestled in. There’s nothing for her to do but abandon the past. She sets up shop as a psychic as she leaves the town, and her family, behind. Though she doesn’t consider herself a ‘proper psychic’, she is skilled in knowing what troubles others, uses the tools of the trade to get a clearer picture. If only she could intuit her own needs, heal her own wounds, clean up the disaster that has become her reality.  She will never return to Blythe, nothing can make her… except learning when her mother tracks her down that her child has gone missing! The problem is, within moments of that revelation, silence overtakes her mother and life seems to have no end of testing Dell’s merit. She must return to the scene of her most heartbreaking acts, and discover that the past is never done with us. Is it possible, dare she hope to make things right?

This was novel didn’t have as much ‘psychic’ steam as I thought it would from the title. The promise is much more about motherhood. Love swims through the novel, as does the murky grime of disappointment and narrow minded ways of some small towns. The haves vs the have nots. It was a decent read, but it’s not what I expected. I was thinking there would be at least a little more focus on how she ‘knows’ how to fix other people’s hurts. The psychic bit is pretty mild but if you are looking for a story about motherhood, difficult dysfunctional families and a little romance, this is it.

Publication Date: October 30, 2019

Bookouture

Orders of Protection by Jenn Hollmeyer

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How easy it is to spend a lifetime protecting ourselves from the wrong things.

In Jenn Hollmeyer’s story collection, people discover their need for protection- everything from the threat of poverty, abuse,  to ‘a thousand needle stings’ and maybe even from themselves. Lives sinking to its lows, partners abandoning promises, bright futures fizzling out, happiness pulling away, and sometimes the best parade is the march away from what’s bad for you and your child. Why cling to disaster when you can just let go? Characters intuit what is happening, but the question for them, as for us all is, what will you do about it? Keep your eyes closed tight, or act and face the consequences, the change.

Protection from old family stories, a slight revision (it wasn’t really a lie) that landed as a fog in one daughter’s life. How can the truth be so blindingly bright, alter the story those who remain behind have told themselves? How easy it is to let what we think we know poison our joy, trying our hardest to follow in the footsteps of other’s sorrows, like a code in our DNA. How easy a lie to hide shame can barrel through your loved one’s future.

The kindness of a stranger may be your holy grail, but they too can run out of goodwill. Where do we find the grace to be better than those who went before us? Where do we find an anchor to keep us present when we’re on the edge of not caring? It’s not the hungry coyotes alone we have to fear, sometimes it’s where or if our next breath of air will come. Sometimes it’s whether or not the ones we love will leave again. Some of us want nothing more than to be haunted by those who have vanished. Some of us are always just leaving the scene because alone may be the only way, for a time, that you can make it through another day.

Not all soft places are easy to fall into. Often it’s the broken people who make the most sense, while we are waiting ourselves to be ‘fully cooked’ as a person. It’s the things we don’t see coming, isn’t it? Not the things we shield ourselves from that get us. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: November 15, 2019

University of North Texas

 

 

 

 

 

The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe

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I had a pedestal once. I put a pig on it. You can google it. Go ahead, do it- I’ll wait.

In The Way I Heard It, Mike Rowe shares stories about famous people interspersed with tales of his own fascinating journey, from his youth cutting trees with is Dad, his days at QVC selling all sorts of odd products (I recommend his Katsak clip on YouTube), the famous Dirty Jobs (which many of us sorely miss) to his current podcast, The Way I heard it, you will be riveted.  Did I read with Mike’s trademark sonorous voice in my head? You betcha! In fact, I should be writing this is my own voice and yet here I am using his! I could spend all day pondering what it is that draws people to Rowe, his charm, charisma, self-deprecating humor and wisdom, like putting a pig on a pedestal  (he admits he is best when he gets out of the way and shines a spotlight on others) instead I will say this book is fantastic. Though it is perfect for those with ‘short attention spans’ or people too with busy their careers or families to sink into a long novel it is also the right fit for readers like me, who eat books every single day. The tales are short but rich in the telling, I was surprised by the many things I didn’t know about certain celebrities, particularly ones I admire- how did I not read about it on the internet where we are inundated by strange trivia? Rowe humanizes folks in the telling, and I find admirable qualities which can be surprising and a few that were downright heartbreaking.

There are winners and losers, because life is also luck as much as success requires cleverness and a fierce heart. How did we get here, how does one person’s idea change the world we live in? Why do some people push themselves hard and honor their promises much like a debt? Why do some give up? One’s fame can hang on a pretty face, but behind it there can be brilliance that no one can dim, though we see the world try. Fame for others can remain out of reach, until they take a plunge. Not all of the subjects are still alive, and often they had a far richer life, a more generous nature than the cameras or history revealed. Not to say some didn’t make mistakes or downright asses of themselves in the process, Mike included!

I spent time after finishing this uplifting book thinking about the strange turns of fate, the vital connections we often don’t even realize until later that are being made, and how we can set sail on a plan but find ourselves blown off course and yet right where we’re meant to be. As Mike Rowe himself has proven in his own full life, what looks like disaster on your worse day can lead to something far greater. That’s the way I heard it, anyway.

Beautifully written, kept me smiling and I am recommending it to every person I know.

Publication Date: October 15, 2019

Gallery Books