What’s up, 2017?

OK, I’ve ignored my lovely little blog for TWO YEARS.


I stole this from Pinterest.

Time to get back on the horse.  The reading horse.  The horse that reads?  Or you read when you’re on the horse?  But the horse is smart and doesn’t, like, walk into a tree or something because you’re not paying attention and steering it around because you’re reading?  It’s a good horse.  Good job, horse.
Look, the point here is that I’m signing up for Cannonball Read Nine!  I’m choosing to do a half Cannonball.  Here’s a joke about balls.

OK, see you next month!



I’m Reading, I Swear!


Apparently my desire to write book reviews has dried up.  Hopefully it’s temporary.  I have been reading but am finding no fun in sitting down to write about it.

Here’s hoping everyone is having a wonderful year of books so far!  And if you’ve stumbled on something horrible, I hope you’re finding entertainment in just how bad it was.

#2: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1853 and 1929, relocating about 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children.  Two charitable institutions, the Children’s Aid Society and later, the Catholic New York Foundling Hospital, endeavored to help these children. The two institutions developed a program that placed homeless, orphaned, and abandoned city children, who numbered an estimated 30,000 in New York City alone in the 1850s, in foster homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were labeled “orphan trains” or “baby trains”. This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of organized foster care in America.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

Orphan Train

Almost-18 year old Molly Ayer doesn’t have the most awesome life.  She’s been bounced around the foster system for years and her latest placement is falling apart.  A stolen book might be the end of everything.  In need of community service to avoid juvie, she finds herself in an attic.

91 year old Vivian Daly has hung on to much of her life, boxing things up and storing them away.  Coaxed into helping a needy kid, and not knowing that this is community service for a stolen book, she lets Molly into her home.  Molly dreads spending time with the old woman, although does like the idea of organizing and purging decades of memories.

As they go through each box and Molly tries to create some sort of system, it’s clear that Vi has no intention of throwing anything away.  Molly slowly gets Vi to talk about her things, and as the two begin to get comfortable with each other, Vi opens up about her past.

The main story in this book is Vi’s life and there is a lot of criticism from readers that Molly wasn’t needed.  Vi’s story is told in flashbacks while she and Molly go through the attic.  Molly gets her own chapters that mirror some of Vi’s experiences, but the book could have worked with just one of the stories.  Like most people, I was more interested in Vi than Molly, although I did like seeing Molly open up and begin to trust Vi.  She also brings in technology and is able to research Vi’s life.  If this was only Vi’s story, the ending would have been much different.

I really enjoyed Vi’s story.  I didn’t know anything about the Orphan Trains and as she stood and waited for a family to choose her, I had a feeling it was going to end badly.  This is not Anne of Green Gables.  Like Molly, her placements don’t work out.  She is rarely safe, and yet when given the chance, she latches on to hope and works to make her own luck.

I especially liked her story from her late teens into adulthood.  A chance meeting changes everything and happiness and contentment fill the pages.  Of course the reader is also cringing and looking for any signs of foreshadowing while at the same time waiting for the next fight in Molly’s life.

I didn’t love the ending, especially because Molly’s story is sort of abandoned in favor of a nice closure for Vi.  Again, if Molly’s character wasn’t there, this book would have had to end in a very different way.

My main complaint with the book is that no matter how awesome Vi is, I had a hard time believing the strength of her mind and body.  I know that there are a lot of kick ass elders out there, but for a 91 year old woman, she had no problems with speech or sight.  I had a hard time with her picking up a laptop for the first time and being able to navigate the internet so quickly.  Yes, a lot of people’s grandmothers are very computer literate, but it seemed silly.

This is a great introduction to the Orphan Trains.  I want to learn more and I’m fascinated with how people have been able to find friends and family members who they were separated from.  Not all of the kids were orphans and not all of them stayed with their siblings.  There are organizations working to document the passengers and later generations are finding families they never knew about.

I liked this one a lot.  It made for a good book group meeting, especially when discussing if Molly was really necessary.

#1: The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

And we’re off!  Welcome to Cannonball Read VI!  If you’re new, take a second to learn about CBR and how books can fight cancer.  If you’re looking for more book suggestions, be sure to bookmark the main blog where all of us submit our reviews.  There’s a little bit of everything over there.  And don’t forget to visit Pajiba when you’re done!

FairestOnce upon a time (as so many of these stories start) in a far off kingdom (where so many of these stories take place), there lived a beautiful young woman named Rapunzel.

Rapunzel was raised by Mathena, who rescued Rapunzel when she was seven years old.  Loving and kind, she hid Rapunzel away in the woods so her neglectful and cruel parents would never find her.  She taught Rapunzel everything about the forest – what plants can heal, which ones can hurt, and what to add to the soil to make the garden grow.

One day, the Prince shows up.  Seventeen year old Rapunzel is helpless against him.  His beauty and power tears their way into her heart.  She in turn bewitches his mind, calling him to her from her tower.

Oh, not bewitching.  A witch is killed.  Mathena and Rapunzel are simple healers, even if it’s only women who creep to the cottage at night, begging for cures for their broken hearts or potions to lure a man to their empty beds.

Following the rules of the tale, Mathena locks Rapunzel in her tower to protect her, but of course the Prince arrives to climb her beautiful hair and ride away with her virginity.

He is promised to another.

Rapunzel is with child.

The women who visit the cottage bring stories of the Princess-to-be.  The marriage will prevent a war with a neighboring kingdom.  She is named after Saint Teresa and the court delights in her piousness.  She will bring God’s favor to them with her goodness and religious heart.  Soon, the King dies and Rapunzel’s prince takes the throne.

There is no room for the magic of herbs and flowers.  And the King is not hers.

Rapunzel aches for her loss.  Her belly swells, her body breaks.  Mathena tries to comfort her, but she has shattered.

Soon, the Queen gives the King a child.  Skin as white as snow.  Hair black as ebony.  Lips red as blood.  The kingdom falls in love with little Snow White.

And then, one night, one of the Queen’s ladies arrives at the cottage.  Terrified she will be found out, but desperate for help, she sits next to the fire and cries.  Mathena gives comfort and aid, just as she has to all the women who have come to her.

But she also gives her tea for the Queen, and soon the Queen is dead.

The King races for Rapunzel, finally able to find her now that Mathena has lifted the spells that hid the tower from him.  Ignoring everyone at court, he brings her back to be his Queen, something Rapunzel has been waiting for since seeing him for the first time.  Something Mathena knew would happen.

Queen Rapunzel, the evil stepmother?  Only she loves Snow White.  The girl is beautiful and sweet and Rapunzel longs to fill the ache in her heart left by her mother’s death.  The death that she brought.

Rapunzel gazes into her mirror each night, wanting to know who is the fairest of them all.  Her hair piles around her, brushing against her skin.  Her beauty is both admired and feared.  Her skills are seen as witchcraft but these voice keep quiet, at least for now.  You are, the mirror tells her.  You are the fairest of them all.

She cannot give the King a child.  Desperate, she uses all her magic to try and conceive a son, but her body betrays her.

And then, one day, She is.  The mirror is still, and then She is the fairest of them all.

Rapunzel finds herself craving the heart of the Princess, who has become a beautiful young woman.

She is alone in the castle.

She will have the girl’s heart.

Mathena guides her from afar.

What happens when you learn all that you were bewitched to forget?  What happens when you learn that it’s not your story that’s being told?  How much have you lost because you were desperate for a King?  How long will it take for a poisoned apple to work its magic?

Who is the fairest of them all?

A Fancy Title About the Books of 2013

I did not meet my full-Cannonball of 52 books, but I knew that was going to happen.  This year had some challenges and at times reading was just too much.  When your brain isn’t happy, sometimes books just don’t work.  When you’re a reader, this sucks.  You already feel bad and you can’t even escape in a good book.

Happily, the last few weeks of 2013 were awesome and the year ended on some lovely and incredibly well needed high notes.  Here’s hoping that 2014 continues on this positive path, and this includes lots of good books.

My three favorite books from this year, in no particular order:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson  OK, I lied.  This one is in particular order because it was my absolute favorite this year.  The plot and structure of this book kills me because it’s so good.  The entire thing is a puzzle and I wanted to know why things kept happening.  It is completely deserving of all the praise that was heaped on it this year.

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones  This one made my favorite list because of how lovingly and respectfully it was written.  I already loved the subject, but Jones’ skill as a writer made me love the book.  His research and care come across on every page and I felt like this book was a gift.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews My favorite YA book this year.  It was hysterical and sad and I loved the narrator’s voice.

Three books I wish I hadn’t read this year:

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown  I will NEVER forgive my book group for this choice.

Clown Girl by Monica Drake What the fuck, I don’t even.

Canada by Richard Ford A book about…  is this book about anything?


OK readers, we’re already in 2014!  I’ll be posting soon.  And who knows?  I might end up doing a full-Cannonball after all!

#37: Love Him or Leave Him, But Don’t Get Stuck With the Tab: Hilarious Advice for Real Women by Loni Love

Love Him or Leave HimThis was a really nice way to end 2013.

I discovered Loni Love on Chelsea Lately.  I loved how she doesn’t put up with any of Chelsea’s shit and her stories always make me laugh.  She seems like a hot mess, and yet she totally has it together.  She always comes across as super confident and you can tell that she has too many important things to do than deal with stupid people.  She’s the friend you’d go to when you want to know the truth, not get complimented.

Apparently women approach her all the time like they are BFFs.  There’s something about her that makes people think they know each other.  After standup shows, they wait for her in the bathroom or hang out at the meet and greet and then ask really personal questions.  Lots of TMI.  But they know Love isn’t going to bullshit them, so if they spill the details, she’s going to speak the truth.

When you have this much power, you write a book.

I for real lol’d several times when reading this.  She covers all aspects of dating and love.  First dates to throwing a man out of your house.  Recovering from dating disasters to dealing with his baby momma.  Figuring out how to handle an unexpected hook up to dealing with your man’s stupid friends.  It’s all in here.  The best part is that there are seriously out there questions, like can I sleep with my mom’s ex-husband (No.  Unless you trade her one of your exes.) and then there are things just about all women deal with like what to do when you don’t think you want to get married.  Or do want to get married.

The absolutely best part of this book is that Love has a story for everything.  Either she’s dealt with it herself or has a friend or family member who has been through it.  She details her own disasters and lays everything on the table.  You really do feel like you’re BFFs.  This book feels like you’re hanging out with a hysterical and honest friend.  Yeah, she’s going to tell you to stop fucking around, but she’s going to help you get drunk while you discuss it.  Also, there will probably be pancakes.

If you’re looking for a quick and fun read, grab this book.  If you’re a fan of Loni Love and haven’t read this yet, you will not be disappointed.  Although she had help writing it, it is 100% her voice.  I didn’t need the audio version to feel like she was reading it to me.

I couldn’t be happier with this being the last book I read in 2013!

#36: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Cold BloodBook groups are the best because not only do you get to pick books that have been on your To Be Read list since forever, but you also get to read books that you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up on your own.  In Cold Blood is the latter.  It’s one of those books that I’ve probably thought “Huh.  I should read that some day.”  Happily, a book group member had access to a ton of copies, so here we are.

I had very little background knowledge of this story.  I know the book itself is considered a great work and is often found on Books You Must Read list.  It also helped create a genre of fictionalized journalism where Capote took nonfiction and added in the details.  We don’t know what really happened, but Capote interviewed people and filled in the blanks with his own details.  This, of course, bothers some people who think it creates fiction.  Once you muddy the waters, it’s no longer a truthful account.

In November 1959 in a town in Kansas, four members of the Cutter family were murdered.  This was a place where things like this don’t happen.  There was no motive, no reason for the family to have been targeted and it looked like whoever had done it was going to get away with it.

Dick Hickock and Perry Smith didn’t choose the Cutter family randomly, but they should have gotten away with the murders.  They were careful and left only one clue behind – a bloody boot print.  The two planned to disappear from the States and live a rich life where they’d never have to work again.  Hickock had learned about the Cutter family from a fellow prisoner who had worked for Mr. Cutter.  He told Hickock that Mr. Cutter kept a safe filled with money and the house was isolated.  Hickock held on to this information for years, and when he hooked up with Smith he decided it was time to create a plan.  From the beginning, they both knew they were going to murder anyone involved.  They kept repeating that they would leave no witnesses.

The problem was that Mr. Cutter kept no cash in the house.  He rarely kept cash on his person, making a point of writing checks for everything so he’d have a record of what he had spent.  When Hickock and Smith arrived, they tied up Mrs. Cutter and Kenyon and Nancy, the two youngest Cutter children.  Mr. Cutter tried to tell them that there was no money and convince them to leave.  Frustrated, the men took a few things from the house and shot and killed all four family members.

The police were stuck.  No one could figure out a motive.  The entire family was well respected.  There were only a few incidents where someone came against Mr. Cutter, and these men were quickly dismissed as potential  suspects.  Mrs. Cutter had been mentally unstable for years, so there was some talk in the community that she finally snapped and killed everyone, but once details came out about how she was tied up, people let this trail off.  The community quickly turned on each other, and this was one of the most fascinating parts of the book for me.  Rumors  were everywhere and people found themselves suddenly suspicious of people they had known their entire lives.  If the Cutters could be murdered, then anyone could be.  Locks were changed on doors and people shut themselves off from people they didn’t know well.  Everyone was desperate for a reason so that they could convince themselves that it couldn’t happen to them, and if that meant quietly supposing that maybe a certain person should possibly be watched, then so be it.  It’s human nature to want a reason and to feel safe.

Hickock and Smith were not criminal masterminds.  The two had a strange relationship.  Smith at times was besotted with Hickock and his ability to make plans and take charge.  Hickock liked Smith’s nonchalant attitude about crime.  He thought Smith would be a great accomplice because he had gotten away with murder before and liked the idea of cashing in and starting a new life.  The problem was that Hickock was never content in the moment and was constantly looking for the next thing.  He also spent money faster than he could take it in and Smith watched him quickly lose what little they had.  Smith began to suspect that Hickock wasn’t interested in spending his life with Smith as a treasure hunter and Hickock began to resent that he had chained his life to Smith by committing the crime together.

Hickock’s boredom and greed was their downfall.  He convinced Smith that they needed more money and it would be simple for them to return to Hickock’s hometown where he could pass a series of bad checks.  They’d leave with piles of money and be on to the next thing, and this would be a permanent place.  Smith disagreed, but went along with it.

By this time, Hickock and Smith were suspects in the murders.  The prisoner who had told Hickock about the Cutter family was able to pass the information on to the warden.  He remembered Hickock asking lots of questions about the family and the house and he realized that he must have been the one that killed them.

When Hickock and Smith were in Mexico, Smith realized he was going to have to get rid of some of his things.  He was a collector and hoarded things that were important to him.  He chose a few things he couldn’t part with and sent them to Las Vegas to be held at the post office until he could pick them up.  He figured at some point they’d be able to slip over the border, once they were set up for good in Mexico.  This was before Hickock decided to go home to make money from his bad checks.  The detectives on the case were quickly notified that the men were back in the area, almost on the other end of the state from the Cutter’s town.  Hickock passed all the checks in his own name and would have been easy to pick up, except they somehow left town before the police in the area realized it.  Once again, they could have gotten away with the entire thing.

When they got to Las Vegas, they didn’t change cars.  The local police quickly noticed the car and followed them to the post office.  The picked up the two men as Smith was walking out with his box of belongings that he had sent from Mexico.  In the box were the boots he wore to the Cutters – the ones that left the bloody boot print.

It was almost like they were trying to get caught.

They were tried and convicted in the Cutter’s town.  There was talk of moving the trial, but the lawyers for both men decided they had a good chance of avoiding the death penalty if they kept it there.  There were a lot of churches in town and informal polls showed that many were against the death penalty.  The case had gotten a lot of media attention, so moving the trial would have been difficult.

Both men were sentenced to death by hanging.

Capote spent six years working on this book.  Once the men were convicted, he realized the only way his book could end was when they died.  He started his research about two weeks after the murders were committed.  He had been friends with Harper Lee since they were kids, and she came with him.  She was able to convince the women in town to persuade their husbands to talk to Capote.

When the men were in jail, Capote spent a great deal of time with them.  He wanted to know who they were and how their life led to this moment.  Smith comes across more sympathetically in the book and a few people in my book group thought that he was gay and he and Capote had some sort of relationship.  Smith had been violently sexually abused as a boy and was disgusted by any type of deviant sexual activity.  Hickock planned on raping the Cutter daughter, but Smith stopped him.  I thought he was completely nonsexual, but others do think the two men had a relationship.

Hickock, on the other hand, comes across as cold and uncaring.  He wants what he wants and he will take it.  However, he had a good childhood and a loving family.  His father tried to convince the jurors that the only reason he was in trouble was because of a bad car accident.  He said his son was a decent boy until something happened to his brain.  The prosecution pointed out that Hickock started committing crimes before his accident and the jury dismissed the car accident.

There were several years of stays and they spent five years on death row.  Capote spent massive amounts of time with the men.  Between their stories and the research done in the Cutter’s town, he amassed some 8,000 pages of notes.  This was no longer just an article to him and the two men had become people, not just names in a newspaper.

The genre of nonfiction novel is tricky.  There were several times when I forgot I was reading about something that actually happened because Capote’s writing is so strong.  He described the farm and Mr. Cutter’s last day in vivid detail and it read like a novel.  I wanted to know more about the family, and then I’d realize that it’s possible he tried to interview the surviving members and they didn’t want to have anything to do with it.  I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t making things up and if someone didn’t want to talk to him, he couldn’t put them in the book.

He of course drew criticism because of this.  When people read the book, they denied certain parts.  Follow up visits from other writers led to accusations that Capote should not have published the book as a true account.  Still, it remains a celebrated book in the true crime genre.

I saw the movie Capote many years ago and I don’t remember much about it.  I do remember talking to my stepmom about it and saying that I was really uncomfortable with how Capote “befriended” the men in order to get their stories to write his book.  I understood why he had to do it, but it made me feel icky.  Capote knew he had the subject to write something amazing, and of course he was going to do what he had to in order to get their stories.  At the same time, the way he did it made me almost feel bad for these guys.  I knew they had murdered the Clutter family, but it felt like Capote was then taking advantage of them for his own gain.  I want to watch the movie again now that I’ve read the book to see how my opinion has changed, or if it has changed.

Capote was an incredibly gifted writer and this book is a great mix of beautiful descriptions and simple and cold fact.  Parts read like interviews and parts read like a novel.  It was not a quick read, but I enjoyed it.