Monday, October 31, 2016

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (2008)

In 1913, a little girl is hidden aboard a ship in London that is bound for Australia. When she arrives alone with nobody to meet her, a young couple take her home and raise her as their own. When she's a young woman, Nell's parents tell her the truth of her origin in their family. In 1975, Nell travels to Cornwall using the few clues she has to try and find out who she really is. In 2005, after Nell dies her granddaughter is surprised to inherit a cottage in England, and she sets out to visit the property and learn more about the original owners and the connection to her own family. Moving between characters and time periods, each gradually reveals bits of the whole story, and all the secrets and betrayals and heartbreak along the way.

Blackhurst Manor houses the unhappy Mountrachet family, which in the early 20th century was headed by Linus and Adeline. Their daughter Rose is a sickly girl, not expected to live to adulthood. Her life is unexpectedly brightened by the arrival of young Eliza, long-lost relation of Linus, and the two girls become fast friends. But of course we know this is part of a story in which a little girl ends up traveling halfway around the world alone, effectively abandoned, so obviously all doesn't go incredibly well in this family. Nell's granddaughter Cassandra has suffered her own heartbreak, losing her small family in a tragedy she has been unable to recover from. Visiting Cornwall to explore her new cottage, though, gives her a big project but also forces her to reach out to others and maybe even forge new bonds.

The garden of the title is on the land of Blackhurst Manor, tucked away between the cottage and an elaborate maze. Yes, there's a maze in this book! Also, I want to live in this cottage. A woman going to a new place and fixing up an old house is literary catnip for me. But all the delicious and terrible family secrets that go along with it make it even better. Often when a book moves back and forth between different characters and time periods the stories are not equally enjoyable, but I liked all the parts of this novel.

Kate Morton has been on my radar for a while now and I'm glad I finally read one of her books. They are all long-ish so I kept putting it off, but then I had a vacation and it seemed the perfect time to dig into a good long story. I couldn't think of a better book to read this fall while curled up with a mug of tea and an afghan. Keep it in mind if you're looking for a twisty family tale this fall or winter.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sunday Knitting

Remember that sweater I started way back in the spring? Maybe not because I also barely remember it and I am the one making it. I haven't been knitting AT ALL recently for various reasons: my dog really enjoys supervising and she is what you would call a micromanager; I've been more interested in reading than watching shows and I can't read and knit at the same time; I started meditating and also running, which are two more things I'm cramming into my days. Also, I am recently obsessed with hand-lettering, which seems to be an offshoot of bullet-journaling, and now am trying to find a few minutes every day for lettering/doodling/drawing.

Anyhow, this fall I went on an annual family vacation and took my knitting with me and actually got something done!

The pocket is a little bit wonky, I fear, but it is HARD to figure out exactly where to join the top. You don't want to stretch it or leave it too loose, but finding just the right spot seems almost impossible. And there's no way to fix it later so you're kind of stuck. Anyhow I am convinced it will be ok. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I'm a couple of inches past the top of the pocket. I knit an inch or so on vacation and when I returned I wanted to keep up the momentum so one afternoon I put on some Netflix and took my chances with the dog. She sniffed a little and quickly lost interest, and hopefully that disinterest will be maintained. 

It's been difficult finding the time for this. So many things have fallen by the wayside now that we have a dog, and I also just can't maintain many hobbies and interests all at once. Work has been super busy which means I don't have reading time during my lunch break (because I don't take real lunch breaks, or I use them to do errands), and sometimes I'm too tired for certain things once I get home, walk the dog, entertain the dog, then have dinner. Why is adulting so hard?

I have some random days off between now and the end of the year because we can't roll over our vacation and of course everyone else is also trying to use their time so every now and then I'll take off a random Tuesday (like election day next week!) I want to do some knitting on these days. Currently I'm watching Miss Fisher's Mysteries, which I love - I really want to be Phryne Fisher when I grow up (though I think she is younger than me, so that is weird). But what else should I be watching? Tell me the awesome shows that are on Netflix that I have been missing!

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)

I had never heard of Lindy West before a couple of coworkers recommended her book of essays, but she's been around for a while. A writer and comic, she has written for the Stranger, Jezebel, The Guardian, and many other publications. Her thought piece "How to Make a Rape Joke" went viral back in 2012 apparently, but I missed the whole thing. (It's worth reading too, so go ahead and click through.) So thank goodness a book of her essays was published or else I might have just gone on not ever reading her brilliant work.

Feminist and body-positive, she takes on such varied topics as abortion, misogyny in comedy, online trolling, and the size of airplane seats. Throughout, she remains wickedly funny. In the first essay, in which she points out how ridiculous it is to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, she remembers struggling to answer the question and groping for ideas. "Is sour cream a job?" (Ask a stupid question, right?)

In another essay she discusses our standards of attractiveness and how meaningless they are. If an alien came to earth it would likely find no difference in attractiveness between herself and someone like Angelina Jolie. From the imagined alien: "Uh, yeah, so those ones have the under-the-face fat sacks, and the other kind has that dangly pants nose. Fuck, these things are gross."

West also makes fun of diet advice and how seemingly accepting some people are of the prescriptive healthy snacks. For instance, oft-cited advice in staving off hunger between meals is to have six almonds (no more, no less, I guess) or to have an apple. "So fresh! So crisp!" She renames the diet group the Apple Appreciation Circle-Jerk Jamboree.

But it's not all humor, of course; that's just the window dressing. Her essays are powerful and insightful. She excels at making an argument and putting her finger on exactly what makes certain arguments flawed. For instance, in response to conservatives claiming oppression by having to see ads featuring same-sex couples: "Gay people wearing shawl-collar half-zip ecru sweaters does not oppress Christians. Christians turning their gay children out on to the streets, keeping gay spouses from sitting at each other's deathbeds, and casting gay people as diseased predators so that it's easier to justify beating and murdering them does oppress gay people."

Ultimately, West's most powerful tool might be compassion. As an outspoken feminist with an internet presence, it's no surprise that she was trolled, awfully and often. She ignored it best she could until a guy pretended to be her dead father, which kind of crossed the line. At this point she wrote about him in Jezebel, acknowledging all her feelings about how the trolling hurt her, but also acknowledging that trolls aren't monsters, but people who have lost their way and want others to also suffer. To her surprise, the guy emailed her and apologized, starting a dialogue between the two that led to an interview on This American Life. More importantly, it lead to greater understanding. It reminded me a lot of this article about a white supremacist who turned a corner after he was invited to a classmate's Shabbat dinner. Taking the risk to extend compassion towards someone hateful seems to pay off, at least sometimes. You really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, it would seem.

There's a lot here to discuss and I will surely keep an eye out for Lindy West's writing now that I know about her. If you are interested in smart, witty discussion of issues like feminism, body image, and rape, this is a must-read.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Ten Horror Novels

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is a Halloween freebie. Since I really like horror, I'm going to stick with a very basic list of ten favorite horror novels. As always, links go to my reviews.

1. Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
This was my favorite book I read in 2015. It's a teen novel about a pioneer family who come across a new homestead and shit is just not right in that place. It's super creepy and you should read it immediately if you haven't already. Or read it again - I imagine I would like it just as much if I read it a second time.

2. Cell by Stephen King
I mean, there are SO MANY of his novels that could go on this list. I read all the classics in high school and then discovered other authors and didn't read anything of his for a while. I read a couple here and there, like Lisey's Story, but there were different from his old stuff. Then in 2007 I read Cell and it felt SO like old-school Stephen King in the best way possible.

3. 14 by Peter Clines
This started off as a totally delicious creepy-house story (except it was actually an apartment building), but turned into something very unique and unexpected. I have really got to read this guy's other novel, The Fold.

4. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
One of the most unusual books I've ever read, both horrifying and satisfying.

5. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Hill seems to have inherited talent from his father, Stephen King. If you like horror, definitely check out his books. I'm way behind but I've read a few of them and want to read more.

6. House of Leaves by Mark L. Danielewski
This is such a weird book to recommend because I didn't totally love it, but certain aspects were so effective and it was very unusual in its style and format. Although it's not widely known, I've seen it appear on several lists over the years and a lot of people consider it their favorite horror novel.

7. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
I read this a lot of times when I was a teenager. Although I haven't read it again as an adult, I think it deserves a spot on this list because I always think of it when I think about classic horror novels and what I read growing up. I bet it's still creepy. I mean, the flies.

8. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Isn't Shirley Jackson the best? Yes, she is.

9. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Somehow I don't usually think of this as horror, but it is, isn't it? I waited so long for him to finish the second book that I couldn't remember this first one, and I have't even tried the third for the same reason. My fantasy is that I will someday read all three in a row to get the full effect.

10. Carrie by Stephen King
It would be weird if he only appeared once on any list related to horror. I read this a few years ago for the first time since high school and it really held up.

What are your favorite horror novels? Please share your recommendations in the comments!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Review: Cocktails for Drinkers

Cocktails for Drinkers: Not-Even-Remotely-Artisanal, Three-Ingredient-or-Less Cocktails That Get To the Point by Jennifer McCartney (2016)

This isn't a real review because I didn't read this entire book, but I want to recommend it anyhow. It's exactly what it says it is - easy-to-make cocktails, arranged by type of alcohol. But the title doesn't warn you about the humor, and that's what makes it so special.

Here's a sampling:

The author does not hide her distaste for eggnog in the introduction to that recipe, and it is followed by: "Mix the ingredients together and top with grated nutmeg. Or, honestly, just drink a beer."

The Paloma recipe (tequila, Fresca, lime wedge) advises, "Drink up, fancy-pants. You're basically Kate Middleton."

"Margaritas taste like a vacation. Drink one for lunch at your cubicle with your sad desk salad and see how much better you feel."

Whiskey Soda recipe (whiskey, soda) followed by: "Drink until you get nostalgic about your life-changing trip to Scotland or Ireland when you were twenty-two, or until you're asked to leave the house party."

White Russian (vodka, Kahlua, light cream): "Everyone from Vladimir Putin to your landlady loves these. Whether you're horseback riding shirtless or hanging out on your front stoop slathered in suntan oil while painting your toenails, this is your drink."

I only read a couple of chapters and skimmed a bit more - one can only read so many cocktail recipes in a row after all - but the commentary was such a delightful I surprise I had to share it. That's what you don't get from just looking up cocktail recipes on the internet. I can't think of anything more fun to read through while enjoying a cocktail (or three.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ten Characters I'd Name Someone Else's Kid After

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is Ten Characters I'd Name a Child/Dog/Cat/Car, etc after. I won't be having any kids, and don't love people names for pets, so I'm going to fantasize that other people will let me name their children. I'm always fascinated by what people choose to name their babies, and I kind of love naming, but not enough to make a person so I can name them.

The trick is coming up with ten characters I really like who also have names that I like. Here goes!

1. Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Ok, this one was too easy because my coworker did, in fact, name her daughter Lyra after this character and I find it incredibly satisfying. It's such a great name I'm glad someone I know is using it.

2. Frankie Landau-Banks from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I admire her so much, and I kind of love the name Frankie for a girl.

3. Eleanor from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I like old-timey names and have always admired Eleanor Roosevelt, so.

4. Simon Snow from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
It's so British and charming.

5. Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice
I mean, Lizzie is my favorite character but I really like the name Jane more.

6. Natasha Rostova from War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
I think the character I liked best was Marya, but I'm not crazy about that name. It's fine, but it's no Natasha. Her character was naive and annoying and dramatic, but it's still a great name.

7. Alice from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
As mentioned earlier, I like old-timey classic names, and this is one of my favorites.

8. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I especially like the kind of name that makes you picture an elderly lady but actually belongs to a teenage girl.

9. Grace from Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
Such a classic, elegant name.

10. Cameron Quick from Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
I felt like I needed another male name to round this out. But it can't just be Cameron, it has to be both names: Cameron Quick!

So what I've learned from this little exercise is that there isn't a ton of crossover between names I like and characters I like. I kept thinking of great characters who had names that are fine but not special, or great names belonging to characters who I wouldn't want to name anyone after. Also I apparently don't like many male names, or at least very few of them stand out.

What characters would you name a person or pet after?

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer (2016), narrated by the author

Although I'm not much of a tv watcher and have only seen clips of her show, I have long admired Amy Schumer for her feminist wit and down-to-earth style. And I really liked her movie Trainwreck. In this collection of essays, Schumer writes about her family, relationships, and career. Many of her topics are serious, but her trademark humor shines through, and since I listened to the audiobook I got to hear her read it all to me.

She grew up with money - new money, as they call it - and is very candid about what it was like to be from a modest background but be wealthy, and then to lose it all as her family did. I really appreciated that she talked about this because money is such a taboo topic in our society and I think it's a shame that we're so secretive about it. I especially enjoyed her anecdote about playing with lobsters on the floor before cooking them, which I also did as the child of a lobster fisherman (the opposite of wealthy, but we still ate lobster frequently.)

She has a very close relationship with her sister Kim, which I loved hearing about. They were arrested for shoplifting together and got terrible ill-advised tattoos together. They are pretty much BFFs and Kim appears in many of her essays.

I really liked an essay about her experience when she was very young and worked at a camp for people with disabilities. She took the job only because a boy she liked worked there. When she arrived, she was assigned not to the children as she had hoped and assumed, but to the senior ladies. These women didn't try to impress anyone, weren't afraid to ask for what they wanted, nor were they ashamed of their bodily functions. Though the situation wasn't what she had expected, Amy realized, "I had finally found my people."

A firm believer in the "fake it 'til you make it" school, Amy once got a job because she pretended that she had gotten a second interview. She just showed up and said she was there for her second interview and the employers just assumed someone screwed up and didn't tell them. She did whatever she wanted at her jobs too, and as much as I like her I wouldn't hire her. (Of course her strengths quite obviously lie outside of traditional jobs.) Although I'd never in a million years act the way she did at these jobs, I kind of admire her bravado, and her determination to find a job that fit her rather than trying to conform herself to a job.

On the more serious side of things, she talked a lot about her dad who has MS, and didn't spare anything about what that means in all it's sad messy details. She also revealed an abusive relationship she stayed in longer than she likes to admit. Most tragically, she discusses the movie theater shooting at a showing of Trainwreck, in which the shooter specifically chose that movie and women as targets.

So this wasn't 8 hours of stand up, as some of the reviews seemed to expect. It was just one imperfect human offering up her thoughts and insights about her life. I found her very relatable and introspective and inspiring. Parts were funny, other parts were serious, but it was all great. I also read some reviews of the audio that were critical about her performance, calling her flat and bored-sounding, but I completely disagree. She sounded like a person narrating an audiobook and I'm glad that's the way I chose to experience this book.

What else? There was more poop in these essays than I expected. I was happy to find through an internet search that she's still dating the guy she talked about meeting through a dating app in one of the essays. She's friends with a lot of professional wrestlers. She's Jewish, and really likes even the most disgusting foods of her people. I just really enjoyed everything about this and getting to know her through her stories only makes me like her more. She's not otherworldly like some celebrities who seem incredibly distant from our own real-life experiences. She's one of us and she's not afraid to show us all the ways in which she is imperfect: "I wear my mistakes like badges of honor and I celebrate them. They make me human."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Women in the Walls

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics (2016)

Lucy has grown up in a remote Victorian mansion with her father, aunt Penelope, and cousin Margaret. Lucy and Margaret are homeschooled, and the estate is a frequent meeting place for the country club their family is involved with. Lucy's mother died when she was still a little kid, so she has grown up with Penelope as a mother figure. But as the novel opens, Penelope wanders into the woods and disappears and Lucy learns there is a lot about her aunt - and the house where she has grown up - that she doesn't know.

All of the relationships in this book are complicated and uncertain and filled with secrets. It made me feel like I didn't know who to trust, or who Lucy should trust. In true horror novel fashion, things are far weirder and scarier than they appear and not everyone is going to get out of here alive.

I loved the setting and the atmosphere of this novel. Old, isolated Victorian mansion with dark secrets? Yes, please! Although the story is contemporary, Lukavics gives it a timeless quality that added to the overall dark creepy feeling. There is no mention of computers or cell phones until quite late in the story and even those references were minimal. Earlier mention of Lucy doing research must have meant that she was using the internet, but Lukavics carefully didn't say that.

We all have different things that scare us and I think her last book, Daughters Unto Devils, pushed more of my particular horror-buttons. Still, this worked quite well as a horror novel and I was surprised a few times when I really thought about the fact that it is written for teens. There is a part late in the book that is shockingly, horrifically gross. Just before it there was something that hinted at what was coming but I thought "Oh no, she won't go there." But she went there! I don't even know if I liked or disliked certain parts of this novel, but they were certainly effective at conveying horror. Wow.

This is a very quick-to-read, well-crafted, true horror novel - which you don't see nearly enough in teen fiction. I think Daughters Unto Devils is still my favorite (I gave it 5 stars and it was my favorite book I read last year) but this was a great follow-up!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ten Books I Read Based on Recommendations

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is all about recommendations: from other book bloggers, from podcasts, whatever we choose. I decided to highlight books I've read specifically because they were recommended by friends, family, or coworkers. As a librarian, I am constantly consuming reviews, trends, podcasts, and various media about books. But I've stopped falling for official reviews once I realized that literary merit has nothing to do with my enjoyment of a book. What means a lot more to me is when a person I know tells me that I'll love a book, or buys one for me because they think I will like it. Here are some of those!

1. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Last winter I dropped in at a publisher's event at ALA Midwinter and there were galleys of this book everywhere! Even though I really like this author, I was skeptical of a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. But then one of my coworkers raved about it, and then one of my friends raved about it, so I was powerless to resist. They were right. This book is amazingly fun and wonderful!

2. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Despite being a local author, I hadn't heard of this book until a friend recommended it for our book group. I can't believe it's not more popular, but ever since I read it I've been doing my part to recommended it to anyone who will listen.

3. The Likeness by Tana French
My coworker Jenny loves Tana French and says this one is her favorite. It took me a couple of years of her telling me about Tana French before I finally picked this up, and it was everything she had promised.

4. Dreamland by Sam Quinones
I had heard of this book and am sorta interested in learning about the opiate crisis, but I'm pretty sure I would never have picked this book up had my friend Kevin not told me how infuriating it is.

5. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
My husband, who is not even much of a reader, recommended this book to me after coming across a copy at a used bookstore. (In fact, every time he mentions books or reading, I joke "But you don't know how to read!") When he does read, it's almost exclusively science fiction written in the 50s and 60s. This book, however, was first published in 1980 and it turns out to be one of the best dystopias I've ever read.

6. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin
I hadn't even heard of this book until a friend bought it for me a few years ago for either my birthday or Christmas. It's one of the most original teen books I've read, both in story and format (it includes lots of art and photos) and it has really stuck with me.

7. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
This is what a vampire novel should be. I only wish I could remember who told me about it. I think it may have been a former coworker.

8. The Tea Rose series by Jennifer Donnelly
This is an odd one to include because I actually bought this series for my mother and several other people in my family ended up reading it. I can't remember how I heard about it but I wasn't planning to read it myself until my mother, niece, sister's boyfriend, my coworker Jenny, and the bookseller where I bought it all raved about it. I still haven't read the third one in the trilogy but I have definite plans to do so.

9. City of Thieves by David Benioff
Another book group pick that I wouldn't have heard about otherwise. I've been recommending this to everyone I know since I've read it.

10. The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
 I would not have ever picked up a book about Buddhist psychology, but my aunt recommended it. She doesn't strike me as the audience for a book on this topic (she has actually been Catholic all her life) so I suspected it might not be as woo-woo as I would assume, and we tend to read a lot of the same things, so I decided to try it. It is definitely the sort of book to go back and reread.

I don't think of myself reading a lot based on other people's recommendations, but that is clearly not the case. This list could have easily been 20 books long!

Do you read based on the recommendations of other people? What's the best book that you read because someone you know suggested it to you?

Monday, October 10, 2016


Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (2014)

It may look like an IKEA catalog, but it's actually a very clever and funny horror novel that takes place in a store called Orsk. ("Questions? Just Orsk!") Orsk is an IKEA-like store (though IKEA does also exist in this world), complete with labyrinthine showrooms, assemble-it-yourself furniture, and meatballs. But there's something more going on in the Cleveland Orsk store, and manager Basil is determined to figure out what. Thinking that someone is sneaking in after hours and wreaking havoc, he recruits Amy and Ruth Anne to stay overnight and investigate.

Basil is super uptight and is always quoting the corporate dogma, while Amy is just biding her time until she can get transferred to another store. I'd say Amy is in her 20s probably. Ruth Anne is in her 40s, doesn't seem to have much going on outside of her job, and is eternally optimistic and pleasant. They aren't very chummy with each other and make an unlikely team, and of course they have no idea what they're really in for. (Hint: it's much more sinister than what they expect.)

Look, this isn't going to win any literary awards. The plot is not completely without holes, the characters aren't terribly well-developed, and the writing can be a bit clunky in spots. But it's very good at what it is, and I kind of loved it. I love satire and horror and comedy and it's all of those things. But it's the presentation that really gives it that extra special something. As I pointed out earlier, it looks like an IKEA catalog from the outside, but that design carries through the book. Each chapter begins with a catalog page highlighting a particular piece of furniture such as the Brooka, Liripip, and Hügga, complete with descriptions and available colors and they are all relevant to the story. The furniture and catalog copy become more...unusual as the story progresses.

It's not super-scary, but I do have a special love for and fear of creepy buildings so it worked for me on a horror level even while I laughed at the Orsk corporate culture. I always want to be reading horror in October, and I'm so glad I happened to have some time between library books to finally pick up this book that's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now. It's not my last horror novel of this month either - I'll be posting about a newly-released teen horror novel sometime soon!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Throwback Thursday: John Benton

In which I share vague recollections of books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

You probably don't recognize the name John Benton - I had to look it up. What I remembered was a series of books I read in the 1980s about young women who turned to drugs and prostitution. The titles of the books were all the characters' names: Sandi, Kari, Debbie, Candi, Lori, Connie, Terri, Sherri (names ending in "i" were big in the 80s.) I got them at the 5 and 10 store the next town over, which was the only place nearby that I could get books. (Of course I used the library in my town, but it was pretty small and I needed to branch out.) I bought one of these books every time I went to that store and ate them up like candy. (Or Candi? Ha!)

The trajectory of each story, as I remember it, was the same. A young woman, I think usually in high school, gets involved with the wrong crowd and starts doing drugs. She runs away or is kicked out of her house, and spirals downward. She becomes an addict and sometimes a prostitute. She may have a child (out of wedlock!) on the way. Some of her new friends die or go to jail. When she is at her most desperate, darkest point she meets someone who tells her about Jesus and in the very last 1-2 pages of the book, the woman is saved and turns her life around with the help of her new Lord and Savior. Or something like that.

The appeal to me at the time was the partying, drug-filled lifestyle. I learned what a "fix" was and how you had to always find new parts of your body to shoot up. I also learned about the dangers of prostitution, but also how necessary it was if you were a drug addict. It was all very educational and fascinating. I sorta glossed over the real message of these books, which I think was that no matter how far you've fallen, if you
just put your faith in Jesus you would be saved. It was nice to know going into each book that no matter how horrible the girl's life got, she would be ok in the end.

John Benton and his wife were actually the characters in the books who saved the girls in the end. Oh, you thought these were fiction? They probably were, but I think they were marketed as being true stories. At any rate, the Bentons ran (and still run) a place called the Walter Hoving Home, a residential religious-based program for women recovering from alcoholism, drug-addiction, prostitution, and "other life-controlling problems." They have a pretty high rating on Charity Navigator and have been highlighted in a few news stories, but other than that I didn't find much about them online. It seems pretty legit.

I was reminded of these several months ago, I don't remember why now, and did a bunch of online searching to find the author and remind myself of some of the covers. Then when I was reading Dreamland, I thought of them again and recreated my search so I could share this all with you.

Do you remember these books?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by San Quinones (2015)

Unless you've been living under a rock (or not in the United States), you know that the past several years has seen extremely high rates of addiction and death from the use of heroin and other opioids. Unlike drug epidemics in the past, this one isn't confined to cities or a particular social demographic. It's in the cities, the country, small towns, and effects people of all races and socioeconomic categories. For a while it was not talked about much because of the stigma, but recently it has gained a lot of national attention and brought about local movements and community meetings to try and figure out how to deal with it. But how did this happen? Why now? And what makes this epidemic different from others? These are the questions Sam Quinones answers in his book.

Basically, there are two separate things which, because they happened to coincide time-wise, created the perfect storm. One is that a bunch of Mexicans from a particular area began selling very potent black tar heroin in small cities where heroin wasn't already readily available, and they had a brilliant business model that brought in atypical customers. Rather than having to skulk around unsavory areas, people could just call a cell number and get heroin delivered to them in a conveniently-located parking lot. They always got the same amount and it was always quality, and so was the customer service.

The other trend was in the medical field and had a few different parts to it. A couple of doctors had written a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in which they noted that patients given narcotic painkillers in one particular hospital during a certain period of time almost never got addicted. It wasn't a real study and was only a paragraph long, but from it other doctors and the drug industry got the idea that these drugs weren't addictive. Around this time, a company called Purdue developed an opiate called OxyContin and heavily marketed it. Previously, these kinds of drugs were only given to terminally ill patients because of fear of addiction, but now it seemed like everyone was given the green light to prescribe them after surgery, for sports injuries, or for chronic pain. And they did.

It became extremely easy to get this new wonder drug, and many questionable clinics began opening up and prescribing it liberally. You may remember seeing news stories about the dangers of OxyContin addiction and overdose. Eventually, many pharmacies stopped filling the prescriptions from places they knew were shady and legitimate doctors pulled back on it a bit. OxyContin is pretty similar to heroin, so for people who became addicted to the former, it was an easy move to switch to the much cheaper no-prescription-needed latter.

The book covers these trends in detail through the stories of doctors, drug dealers, and addicts. It was super interesting, though I did have a hard time keeping everyone straight. The chapters were very short, most around 3-5 pages, which made it more digestible for those of us who aren't big nonfiction readers, but also made it harder to keep track of the storylines. Still, I learned a ton and got pretty angry several times. I've never had much love for pharmaceutical companies, and this only cemented my negative feelings about them.

I heard about this book when it was published last year and sort of vaguely thought it sounded interesting and informative, but it was only when I read my friend Kevin's review in the Christian Science Monitor that it solidified as something I really had to read. And it only took me a year and a half to get around to it. If you're at all interested in social trends, problems, or specifically the current drug epidemic, this is a must-read.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Fever 1793

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000)

It's August of 1793 in Philadelphia and Matilda is a pretty typical teenage girl. She helps out at her family's coffeehouse, which she has ambitious plans for, and daydreams about a boy her mother doesn't approve of. But rumors are swirling about a deadly fever, and one day their serving girl Polly doesn't show up. She was fine the day before, but took sick in the evening and was dead within hours. Mattie's family tries to go on with business as usual, but soon their world is turned upside-down.

I read this book in one sitting. This is incredibly unusual for me, but I did it twice in the course of a week (the other time was Elie Wiesel's Night.) In this case, it was not only a quick read, but I couldn't put it down. This is actually my second reading of this book, but the first time was so many years ago all I remember is that I liked it.

I always forget just how much I like historical fiction until I'm actually reading it, and historical teen fiction is even better. I love that Mattie is such a typical teenager, even though she lives in a time that is very different than today. She gets really frustrated at her mother, has all sorts of ambitions that her family doesn't support, and of course has a serious flirtation with a boy her mother doesn't approve of. Mattie's father is dead, but her grandfather lives with them and is very important to her. I loved their relationship and the way they stuck together when times got really rough.

I do love a good plague novel. (See also: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks). I even once read a nonfiction book about the flu of 1918. I think it goes along with my love of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels. I like reading about how people survive when shit really goes wrong. Even more so in a presidential election year; I like to keep things in perspective.

This book was chosen for my Not-So-Young Adult book group. A couple of years ago we read another, very different, book by Laurie Halse Anderson called Wintergirls, a contemporary story about eating disorders. She is also the author of the well-known novel Speak, also contemporary. I've really liked everything of hers that I've read, but this one in particular is the right kind of catnip for me!