“Do you hear noises at night?” or, Took

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I didn’t realize that Mary Downing Hahn is still writing and publishing books! In my mind, her books firmly belong in the 1980’s and 90’s. So imagine my surprise when I saw this book at my kids’ Scholastic Book Fair this year. I had to buy it. (For myself. Neither of my kids loves scary things).

I’ve reviewed several MDH books over the years on this blog, and if you’re a regular reader you’ll know she was one of my favorite authors growing up. I was all ready to not like this book because it didn’t have the nostalgia factor for me, but you know what? I actually loved it. It was a perfect read for anyone who loved Wait Til Helen Comes, which seems to be everyone’s MDH favorite.

The book starts out on a creepy note. An old woman watching from a hilltop as a new family moves into an old farmhouse. The old woman has a special interest in the little girl in the family, and tells her companion that their plans are coming to fruition. (Her companion squeals and snorts in response, which is creepy in its own right).

Except for a few brief interludes by the old woman, Auntie, as she’s called, this book is told from the point of view of seventh grader, Daniel. Daniel and his family are moving from Fairfield, Connecticut to Woodville, West Virginia. Daniel has a little sister, Erica, who is in second grade. They used to be rich. Their father had a big corporate job, but lost it with the recession. First the family downgraded (no more private school, only one car, etc) but when his dad couldn’t find work in Connecticut, the parents decided to move to rural Woodville, West Virginia where the living is cheap.

Things aren’t easy for the family after moving. The people in the town dislike them, particularly the school children, because they still wear rich-kid clothes. The dad has trouble finding a job, but eventually finds work at the Home Depot. Mostly though, Erica starts exhibiting some odd behavior. She stops talking to the family and communicates mostly with her doll, plus she claims the wind is calling her name at night.

Mom and Dad are so worried about the state of the old farmhouse and their money issues, that they don’t seem to be as concerned about Erica as Daniel thinks they should be. And Daniel is very worried. Especially after a boy who lives near them tells them a story of Auntie, a conjure woman, who lived up on the hill in the woods behind Daniel’s house who kidnaps a little girl every fifty years. Fifty years ago, the little girl, Selene, who lived in their house, was ‘took,’ as the locals say. This woman has a companion called Bloody Bones, the skeleton of a bipedal wild boar who does Auntie’s killing for her.

Daniel catches Erica wandering off into the woods and tries to get her to come home. They fight and Erica runs off, too fast for Daniel, dropping her doll in the process. Erica never makes it home.

The whole town comes together to search for her, but all the Woodville locals know the story of Auntie and flat-out refuse to go up the hill where her cabin is. Daniel decides to go alone, and finds another little girl, wearing Erica’s clothes. He takes this other girl back home, and the older locals are stunned that it’s little Selene who went missing fifty years ago, not aged a bit.

Daniel’s parents meanwhile, can’t even look at this little girl, and don’t believe anyone who tells them about the conjure-woman. They don’t even believe Daniel as he starts to understand that something supernatural is happening out on that hill in the woods. That Erica was Took, just like Selene had been.

With the help of a friendly neighbor, who takes in a very scared and confused Selene, Daniel finds Auntie’s last kin. An old lady who lives on the outskirts of town with her dozens of cats. This old lady, Miss Perkins, is known as a conjure-woman as well, though not evil like Auntie. And together they devise a plan to get Erica back, help Selene, and rid the woods of Auntie and Bloody Bones.

Does the plan work? Sure it does. They get a much happier Erica back, and their parents can not deny that Erica wasn’t lost in the woods. She was, in fact, Took. Selene is being raised by the elderly neighbor couple, and she and Erica become good friends. Daniel ends up becoming friends with the neighbor boy, Brody, who tried to scare them when they first moved there with stories about Auntie and Bloody Bones.

  • This is something that I wouldn’t have batted an eye at as a kid, but as an adult it’s so illogical. The decision to move from CT to rural WV makes absolutely no sense. Yes, the real estate is cheap there, but did Daniel’s parents stop to think WHY the house was so cheap? Here’s a hint, it’s not because the woods are haunted by Auntie and Bloody Bones. It’s because there are no jobs in rural West Virginia. So when his dad is upset that he has an MBA and is working at the Home Depot…well. What did he think was going to happen? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to move more locally and just rent an apartment instead of purchasing a house?
  • The public school the kids go to is very bare-bones. And yeah, old rural schools aren’t going to have promethean boards and Chrome Books necessarily. But Daniel was talking about how even the walls were bare. No school work or art work was hanging up. His classroom has only an American Flag and a picture of George Washington. And I can go into detail about the issues facing rural education. But I swear, they can afford worksheets and coloring paper to hang on the walls in the classrooms.
  • Daniel stands out in his class because he has an accent (though to him, he’s the one without the accent) and he wears kind of preppy clothes, while all the kids are in grungy jeans and sneakers and t-shirts. At the beginning, Daniel is just mad at the kids for making fun of him. But later on in the book, he has a moment of growth when he sees that Brody’s shoes have holes in the them. “Something’s wrong with a world that lets me have waterproof boots and someone else have tennis shoes with holes in the toes.”
  • Before he gets to where he feels for the impoverished kids, he is fairly judgmental of the local dialect. When Erica starts fretting about being ‘Took,’ his response is “Took? That’s how kids in Woodville talk. Not you and me. We say ‘taken.'”
  • Overall, this is a good scary story. Anyone who liked the other MDH ghost stories is sure to like this one as well.
Posted in Mary Downing Hahn, paranormal | 1 Comment

“She would find the boy she always wanted to meet.” Or, The Luckiest Girl

This book was published in 1958. In many ways, it’s really dated, but in other ways it’s completely timeless. Honestly, I went in to this expecting to roll my eyes at the fifties-ishness of the whole thing. But I actually enjoyed reading it, because it was kind of fun to compare what was relatable and what was totally WTF about it.

Shelley Latham is sixteen years old. She’s an only child growing up in Portland, OR, and her mother is her biggest problem. Shelley’s mom had been a teacher, but obviously quit to become a housewife, but she doesn’t really have anything to focus on outside of Shelley. And she just plain doesn’t understand what it’s like to be sixteen!

The mom keeps in contact with her old college roommate (by mail, natch), Mavis, who is quirky and fun and a mom living in a small citriculture community in California. Mavis suggests Shelley come live with them for a year. It seems ridiculous at first, but Shelley’s dad thinks it would be good for her. After all, they are only going to be able to afford to send Shelley to the local State University where she will attend with a lot of her high school classmates and still live at home. He thinks a year away will be good for her.

Shelley is thrilled to go. She’d been going steady with Jack, who is a nice guy but completely boring, and Shelley didn’t know how to break things off with him. She goes to San Sebastian, CA hoping to meet a boy who isn’t dull as dishwater.

Shelley is adorably enthusiastic about everything in California. The orange grove owned by the family she lives with, their weird old house, the stucco buildings, the constant sunshine, the locals who are all suntanned and healthy looking. On her first day of school, Shelley spots a very good looking guy, and immediately wants him. His name is Philip and he’s in her bio lab class. She also meets Hartley, who is not as handsome but is very nice and is in homeroom and journalism with her.

Shelley fits in well at school, and has a lot of fun with the Michie family. She has a date with Hartley, and has a good time. But eventually Philip asks her out and it’s not long before she and Philip are An Item. Philip is super handsome, and Shelley spends a lot of time thinking about his adorable sunburned nose and blond hair, and that he’s the school basketball star. Unfortunately, he’s very shy and has little in common with Shelley, who is outgoing and gets good grades.

Still, they like each other enough that they distract each other during bio lab and for first semester Shelley ends up with a D, while Philip outright flunks the class, meaning he can’t play basketball this season. Shelley feels guilty about ‘making’ Philip get an F, and she’s sure the entire class will hate her for it. (They don’t.) But still, Philip is grounded for the next semester and isn’t allowed to take Shelley on dates.

Shelley works hard to pull up her bio grade, and meanwhile ends up going out on dates with Hartley, and has a great time. And she’s bummed she spent so much of the school year with Philip when they clearly weren’t made for each other. The book ends with the end of the school year, (A final grade of B in her bio lab) and Shelley going back to Oregon with her parents and knowing Hartley was her first love and that she’ll miss him. Sensible Shelley doesn’t have any grand ideas about trying to go to college with Hartley, just understanding he was her first love and they probably won’t see each other again.

The things that are relatable, despite being from the 1950’s:

  • Shelley’s relationship with her mother. This is very clearly based on Cleary’s own relationship with her mother, as she wrote about in her biography. Shelley is struggling for independence against a mother who is a little smothering.
  • Shelley having to hear about how things were done in ‘the old days,’ by her parents and teachers – most of whom were teenagers during the Depression. The generation gap is absolutely timeless and in just as stupid in every generation as it was in the one before it. (I could go on about how millennials are FINE despite whatever Gen X and the Boomers write about them ad nauseum, but I won’t.)
  • But, as part of growing up, Shelley learns about her mother as a person, and not just as a mom. She gets good stories of her mom from Mavis.
  • Philip suffers from the same lack of connection with his dad. His dad is pushing college on him, but Philip just isn’t studious. He’s working part-time as a tree-trimmer and honestly loves it and wants to make a career of it.
  • At Christmas, Mavis’s mother comes to visit and Shelley gets to see for herself that parents and children can continue to butt heads into adulthood, without loving each other less.
  • Shelley is anxious to get out of the city, but her friend Jeannie (who grew up in San Sebastian) is anxious to get out of her small town.  The grass is always greener, city mouse vs. country mouse, and all that.

Things that are hopelessly old-fashioned:

  • It’s an unbearably white book. Schools in 1958 were still segregated. And obviously I’m not blaming Beverly Clearly for having all white characters in this book. (In her last book, the final Ramona book written in 1999, Ramona has a black friend, so she obviously grew with the times).  It’s just really jarring to read a book like this now. I know some people look at the 50’s through rose-colored lenses, but I never do. I always associate the 50’s with the oppression of women and non-whites.
  • The Michie family does the weekly ironing together, and the whole scene I was like ‘what the fuck is happening here?’
    • “Tom lit the gas that heated the old-fashioned mangle and Mavis prepared to iron at the ironing board. “Shelley, you take the other ironing board,” directed Tom. “Katie, you and Luke feed the flat things into the mangle while I run it.”  …   Obediently, Shelley plugged in the iron and selected a sport shirt while Mavis started to iron one of Katie’s blouses. Tom operated the lever that raised the top of the mangle. “Now!” he ordered, and simultaneously he and his two children fed napkins into the mangle. This was the secret of fresh napkins at every meal. Tom brought the top down on the heated cylinder and the napkins rolled in and came out ironed……”

  • Shelley, seeing all the students with tans on the first day of school, calls herself, “a paleface among the natives.” That’s not outright offensive, but is definitely language that wouldn’t fly today.
  • Also, the words that are used to describe Philip, are now considered ‘coded gay’ words. He’s “shy and sensitive,” and “doesn’t want to waste his time on girls,” and “is closer with Friz (his male friend) than any girl,”and “pleasant and courteous but in a reserved way.” Also, he never even tries to kiss Shelley, even when they’re a known item. I’m 100% certain that Beverly Cleary’s intention was not to write a coded gay character. It’s just funny that the language she used to describe him is basically the same that was used to describe Ducky in California Diaries, because they needed to make him gay without using the word gay.
  • As a new kid, Shelley gets interviewed for the school paper, and she’s described as a “pert miss.” EWWWWW, why are you so gross, 1950’s?
  • Luke, the fifteen year old in the house she’s living in, is HUMILIATED in English class. Why? Because they were taking turns reading a story off the board and the sentence Luke had to read was, “Mother! They’ve crowned me Queen of the May.” Scandalous.
  • They had to get rid of hay at a barn-dance because the smokers (in a HIGH SCHOOL) might cause it to light on fire.
  • Shelley’s mom asks her not to “lose her head,” over Philip. Snerk. More like lose her cherry, amirite?

Despite it all. This was a really fun book to go back and re-read. It’s a charming little book, and it manages to be so charming by having a good balance of being timeless and dated.

Also, Beverly Cleary has four of these books about high school girls finding boyfriends. I don’t think they were intentionally written as a series, but they are currently being sold as a set called First Love. This one is #2, and #4 (Sister of the Bride) was reviewed on this blog by guest reviewer, Alison.  The Luckiest Girl is better than Sister of the Bride.



Posted in Beverly Cleary | 4 Comments

Not Throwing Away My Shot – History books for kids

Look, just because I’ve been incredibly negligent about keeping up with the blog, doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve read any BSC books, but I’ll try to get back into that soon.

Here’s the thing. I’m on the Hamilton bandwagon. I’m on it in a hardcore way. It’s basically the only thing my kids and I have listened to in the car since last December, so I kind of know every single word. And no, I haven’t been to NY to see it (because I’m not made of money, yo) but it is coming to the Kennedy Center, which I am a member of, so I’ll see the national tour as it comes into DC.

My kids are also crazy about it. My nine year old son has taken his love of Hamilton and turned it into an obsession with history. Which is great! However, my own knowledge of American History is….kind of lacking. I haven’t taken an American History class since I was seventeen, and while I had enough knowledge to answer the low-money questions on Jeopardy, I didn’t have nearly enough to satisfy the questions of a curious nine year old.

So we turn to books, of course. If you have a kid interested in history (or a kid you WANT to get interested in history) here’s where I suggest you look:

1- King George; What Was His Problem? and Two Miserable Presidents, both by Steve Sheinkin.

These two books are my absolute favorite of all the history books we’ve checked out. It’s written simply enough that my third (now almost fourth) grader has no problem reading them, but it’s interesting enough for adults to enjoy. Sheinkin manages to write history that is more than just a timeline of events (ahem…history book writers, take note) and dry details of battles. He uses a lot of personal sources (journals, etc) to paint a picture of the Revolutionary War and the Civil war from a human standpoint. Something Hamilton manages to convey, and probably the reason why my kid and I agree these are the best.

2 – Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale

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Yes, the author of this graphic novel series is really named Nathan Hale. This clever series features  Nathan Hale (the historical figure) getting sucked up into an American History book and gaining full knowledge of US History. He uses that knowledge to tell history stories to the two men who are supposed to be in charge of hanging him for treason, keeping himself alive a little longer. There are, so far, six Hazardous tales. The story of Hale himself, the story of the Civil War Ironclads, the story of Harriet Tubman, The story of WWI, the story of the Donner Party, and the story of the Alamo. My favorite is The Underground Abductor, the Harriet Tubman story. My son prefers Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood, the WWI story. But really, they are all funny and clever and chock-full of really good information.

3- The Who Was…? series

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This series is really far-reaching. Focusing mostly on kid-friendly biographies, there are probably hundreds of books in the series. My kid has mostly focused on historical figures – Lincoln, Washington, Grant. But you can get so much more beyond American History, this includes pop culture, authors, inventors, civil rights leaders and more. These books are very easy to read, (my nine year old has just about outgrown them) but are still worthwhile.

4 – DK Eyewitness Books

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DK Books is one of the biggest publishers of children’s non-fiction. Any parent who’s had a kid who’s gone through a ‘phase’ (dinosaur phase, space phase, train phase, history phase, bug phase, etc) has probably gotten a DK book from the library. I really enjoy their Eyewitness books, because they have a lot of pictures for the kids who are more visual. It also means my five year old who can’t read yet can enjoy at least looking at the books with his older brother.

There really isn’t a shortage of non-fiction books for kids out there. And my kid reads super fast, so I’m always on the lookout for recommendations!

Posted in Non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Everywhere you look,” or, Fuller House

*Minor spoilers ahead*

It’s no surprise Netflix wanted to cash in on the nostalgia-fueled success of Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World. Full House was the logical choice for them, because literally NO ONE cares what Urkel or the family from Step by Step is up to now.

Look, it’s not like anyone expected this to be good. And it’s not just that it’s bad (and believe me, it’s bad) but that it’s so fucking pointless. Exercises in nostalgia are all well and good, I mean this whole blog exists on it, but it should at least be entertaining. Netflix’s own Wet Hot American Summer series showed that it could be done. The Wet Hot series worked incredibly well with the movie.

But Fuller House doesn’t really work on any level. Girl Meets World, which isn’t perfect by any means, actually works as a show separate from it’s original Boy Meets World. Wet Hot works as a companion to it’s original film. Fuller House? The references to the original are forced, and the characters, while older, haven’t grown at all. It’s disconcerting seeing Joey Gladstone doing Bullwinkle impressions, seeing Steve still eating everything in sight, and watching Danny clean compulsively.

The plot is even recycled badly from the original. This time it’s DJ (now a veterinarian) who is widowed with three boys, ages 13, 6, and a baby. So Stephanie and Kimmy move in to help her out with her kids, along with Kimmy’s thirteen year old daughter.

Look, the internet is already filled to the brim with Fuller House reviews. And they all mostly agree that the show is bad. And it is. Rather than go on an on about how unnecessary the show’s existence is, I’m going to give you specifics about what is bad (and to be fair, what is good) about the show:

The Bad

  • Kimmy’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Fernando. His whole character is so cringe-worthy because the writers seem to think people with accents are funny simply because they have accents. The studio audience actually broke into laughter when Fernando said his full name. Which I guess was funny because, I don’t know? It’s somehow hilarious to hear a guy say Fernando Arnanda Herrero Hernandez Guerrero because he’s not speaking ‘Murican? Also, he’s referred to as Latin a few times, but he’s actually from Spain, which in case you didn’t know is in Europe, not Latin America. His accent is constantly played for laughs or insults.
  • Sloppy guests stars. Macy Gray, those guys from Dancing With the Stars, and Hunter Pence are wedged in and aren’t funny. So in that way, it’s just like Full House.
  • The meta-humor is terrible. They make references to things like The View, child actors, and a few finger-wagging jokes about Michelle not being there. OK, but no one liked Michelle the first time around, so what’s the big fucking deal that Mary Kate and Ashley didn’t want to do the show? They aren’t even acting anymore. It really comes off as disrespectful to the Olsen twins to make snide remarks about their absence.
  • The audience thinks it’s HILARIOUS when one of the cast members uses their old catch phrase. News flash:  “How rude!” “Oh Mylanta.,” “Have Mercy,” are NOT jokes. There is nothing funny about those words and for god’s sake if they try to make ‘Holy Chalupas’ a thing, I will scream.
  • Let’s talk about these child actors. No, let’s just talk about Elias Harger, who plays DJ’s middle son Max. This kid can NOT act. He shouts his lines at near top volume and is constantly mugging for the camera. And for whatever reason he is the kid they’ve chosen to give most of the screen time to.
  • The appearances by Danny, Jesse, Joey and Becky don’t happen every episode and THANK GOD for that because the show drags as soon as any of them appear onscreen. Especially Joey and his stupid face and Bullwinkle impression that is….ugh. I want to punch him in his face.
  • The laugh track (or studio audience, whichever) is overly distracting and too loud. Miller, Boyett & Co. need to know it’s not the 90’s anymore, and people aren’t so into the multi-cam laugh track shtick anymore.
  • I think Jodie Sweetin must be trying to get a singing career off the ground, because they have shoe-horned her singing in nearly every episode.
  • Steve is a creeper. Total stalking weirdo. It’s not even believable that DJ would be considering dating him. Also, I’m not sure if they mentioned how long ago her husband died? Because her youngest kid looks only about eight or nine months old. Seems kind of like she’s rushing back into the whole dating thing, and getting right into a love triangle to boot.


The Not-so-bad

  • The first episode is the absolute worst. It’s unbelievably awful, which means it only goes up from there!
  • The decision to focus mainly on the three women (DJ, Stephanie and Kimmy) was a good one. Those are the strongest storylines in any given episode. And there’s actually an unexpectedly good chemistry between Kimmy (Andrea Barber) and Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin). Given their personalities, it actually makes more sense that they would be BFFs as adults than DJ and Kimmy.
  • Some of the humor is more adult than it was in the original. The adults all drink, but especially Steph who downs tequila like no one’s business and even makes reference to smoking pot and sleeping around. They also make reference to her big fake boobs. The down side to this grown-up humor is having to hear Uncle Jesse make a jizz joke.
  • The show itself is less treacly than the original. Fewer very special moments where everyone talks it out and hugs it out happily.
  • Kimmy has been toned down a notch. But not her wardrobe. Check out these rad scarves she wears: Screenshot 2016-03-02 at 11.19.08

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  • You can sometimes tell when the actors in a show/movie are having a good time filming. This is one of those cases. The cast of this show is known for being close, and you can tell they were having a blast on the set. It actually makes the awfulness of the show seem less awful somehow.
  • One thing that legit made me laugh. Stephanie works as a club DJ, and her club name? DJ Tanner. It probably isn’t as funny as I thought, but for whatever reason, I liked it.

So that’s it. Those are my thoughts. It’s not really worth watching, but I know that won’t stop many of you from being curious. In all honesty? I’d actually tune into a second season if they’d make some better choices. No Danny/Jesse/Joey cameos unless absolutely necessary, give Fernando an actual personality besides “Spanish Guy,” Actually show DJ mourning her husband, Show Stephanie trying to deal with the news of not being able to have kids for longer than the two minutes that was spent on it, Stop trying to squeeze meta-humor in, Tone down the laugh track, Get rid of Steve altogether, Lay off Max’s storylines, and lay off the unnecessary guest stars.


Posted in General nostalgia, non-book review, TV | 8 Comments

“Remember your pioneer ancestors,” Or, A Girl from Yamhill

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In Beverly Cleary’s first memoir, she covers her life as a child growing up, first in the rural farming town of Yamhill, Oregon, and later in Portland.

I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a long time, and I’m not quite sure what took me so long to read it. I just recently finished reading the entire Ramona Quimby series out loud with my kids, and we all really loved it. Plus Beverly Cleary is celebrating her 100th birthday in a few short months. I decided to read this in her honor, but also to figure out if Cleary is more of a Ramona or a Beezus.

Long story short, she was a Ramona-esque child, but more of a Beezus in adolescence.

But the answer to my question wasn’t even the most interesting part of this book. This book is a lot of things. It’s the story of a how a young writer was molded in her youth, a story of the Great Depression, and a story about the contentious relationship between a girl and her mother.

Cleary’s desire to figure out her mother is by far the strongest aspect of this book, and that’s good because it takes up about 75% of the space, as her mother loomed large over her life. Cleary’s mother was a confusing woman. She was simultaneously emotionally distant, but very possessive of her daughter. In private she would be endlessly critical of her daughter but publicly brag about her. Cleary remembers so many of her feelings toward her mother so strongly, even from a very young age. (It shows in her Ramona books. The source of the  surprising emotional depth in Ramona is very clear.)

This book was published in 1988, when Cleary was seventy-two years old and her mother was still a mystery to her. I’m guessing at the age of ninety-nine, she has no more answers.

We tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. It’s basically why each generation thinks the one behind it is screwed up (hint: That’s not true. The kids are all right. The kids have always been all right). And sometimes those rose-colored glasses lead us to romanticize things like the Great Depression. We talk up the moxie and the work ethic of people during that time period. And I’m not saying that didn’t exist. Cleary manages to respect the moxie of the people suffering, but doesn’t pull punches when she talks about what it was like to be a child of the Depression.

Her father, a quiet stoic man, was a farmer by nature. But he left the farm for more money in Portland, where he worked in security for a bank. It was work he hated. He loathed working indoors, particularly being on his feet for hours on end on a marble floor. And he worked that hard at a job he hated to provide for his family. But rather than painting a romantic picture of this, Cleary is very clear that this had a negative impact on her family. Her father, who was kind and gentle on the farm, became angry and lashed out working for very little money for a bank.

All around, this book is a really wonderful read. While it’s in turn heartbreaking and heartwarming, it’s also a fascinating look at a lot of the minutiae of living in 1920’s and 30’s Oregon. Cleary has an incredible memory for little details, things like what courses were offered in high school, or the boy she sat behind throughout grammar school, that add up to this book being a fascinating period piece.

Even though the book comes in a 344 pages, I’d recommend it to eleven year olds. And while I don’t believe in saying there are ‘girl’ books and ‘boy’ books, (This is going right into my son’s pile because I think he’ll like it when he’s a little older) I think there’s a lot in here that will appeal particularly to girls, especially serious bookish girls.

There’s a sequel to this book, My Own Two Feet, which I plan on looking for next time I’m at the used book store.

Posted in Beverly Cleary, Non-fiction, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This little shit came along…or Check, Please!

I kind of lied in my last post. I said I read 50 books in 2015, and while that’s true, I didn’t count reading this delightful webcomic called Check, Please. I actually spent quite a bit of time reading (and re-reading) the entire archives of this webcomic and I even bought the first book, now available thanks to a strong fandom and a successful Kickstarter campaign.

I also said in my last post that Station Eleven was my most recommended book of 2015, but really I probably have recommended Check, Please WAY more often. (Also, if you follow me on Tumblr, I apologize for the Check Please-iness it’s become recently.)

So what is this all about? It’s a comic about college hockey players at the fictional Samwell University. (Go Wellies!) But I swear, even if you aren’t into any type of sportsballing, this is still a good read. (I’m only a very casual hockey fan, and even then only by proxy because my husband is a fan.) Really, it’s a character-driven coming of age story. The author is a Nigerian-Canadian named Ngozi Ukazu, and she is super talented.

There are five main characters in Check, Please, most of whom live in the hockey house (The Haus). (All images are directly from the Check, Please site)


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Eric “Bitty” Bittle: Our protagonist, a Freshman at the start of the comic, is a former figure skater turned hockey player. Bitty is the smallest on the team and is afraid of being checked. He bakes amazing pies and is gay and possibly (definitely) has a crush on his captain.

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Jack Zimmermann: Team Captain. Jack is a Canadian Hockey Robot. The son of a Hall of Fame Hockey player, Jack was a superstar in Quebec Juniors and projected to go first in the 2009 draft. Instead he overdosed on vodka and prescription meds right before the draft. He spent time in rehab and coaching pee-wees before giving college hockey a try. Does he return Bitty’s crush? We fucking hope so, but really we don’t know, because Jack thinks about hockey 90% of the time.


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Shitty Knight: No, we don’t know Shitty’s first name (yet). He’s the dude with hair so great, girls vomit seeing that sick flow. A third-liner and Jack’s best friend, Shitty is the resident feminist. He’s majoring in Women’s and Gender studies and in his Sophomore year, five different people came out to him in one week. He’s also a giant stoner and headed to law school.

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Justin “Ransom” Oluransi and Adam “Holster” Birkholtz: The best defensive duo in all of college hockey. These two bros are inseparable and they break the fourth wall for their series “Hockey Shit with Ransom and Holster,” where they discuss important things like hockey butts, Shitty’s sick flow, and the proper hockey celly. They put the bro in bromance.

In addition to the main five, we get new Freshman in the second year (Nursey, Dex, and Chowder), the team manager and probable Shitty love interest, Larissa “Lardo” Duan, and my personal favorite, Kent “Parse” Parson, who was Jack’s teammate (and more???) in Juniors and went first in the draft after Jack overdosed. Kent Parson is everything anyone could want in an antagonist, even though he’s hardly in the comic.

At first I though Tumblr was a weird place to host a webcomic, but Ukazu totally makes it work. Beyond the actual serialized story, she offers little extras between ‘real’ updates. Sometimes extra drawings, sometimes single panel one-shots, and best of all a few days after each update, she will repost it with notes about her process, and a deeper look at what happened in that particular post.  Tumblr also makes it a really fan-friendly way to read, because not only can you follow the comic itself but you can follow any number of fan accounts also on Tumblr where every panel, every smile, every raised eyebrow, can be endlessly analyzed. And speaking of the fan culture of Check, Please, there is quite a good bit of fanfiction out there, and most of it is really good. It’s rare to find a fandom where much of the fic is high quality.

I think the reason the fans are so active and so into the story is because the author’s obviously very passionate about her own work and the stories and characters she creates. She’s managed to take five guys who have one thing in common (hockey) and give them very different personalities. And has made you care about all of them – even the antagonist.

Anyway, even if you’re not super into webcomics, or hockey, or graphic novels, I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Check, Please to you.



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Books read 2015

I haven’t been a great blogger this year, and I don’t see that improving anytime in the near future. Still, I managed 50 books this year, which was nice. Actually more than 50, I wasn’t very good about keeping track of the books I read with my kids.

Books read for the blog have an asterisk*, books I highly recommend are bolded.

  1. Yes Please; Amy Poehler
  2. Batman: Hush; Jeph Loeb, et al
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Long Haul; Jeff Kinney
  4. Grasshopper Jungle; Andrew Smith
  5. The Shadow Hero; Gene Luen Yang
  6. Mother.Wife.Sister.Human.Warrior.Falcon.Yardstick. Turban.Cabbage; Rob Delaney
  7. Remember Me to Harold Square; Paula Danziger*
  8. The Age of Miracles; Karen Thompson Walker
  9. Find a Stranger Say Goodbye; Lois Lowry*
  10. Gone Girl; Gillian Flynn
  11. Andre the Giant; Box Brown
  12. American Savage; Dan Savage
  13. American Born Chinese; Gene Luen Yang
  14. Caleb’s Crossing; Geraldine Brooks
  15. I’ll be Seeing You; Lurlene McDaniel*
  16. Curveball; The Year I Lost my Grip: Jordan Sonnenblick
  17. Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe; Benjamin Alire Saenz
  18. Half-Broke Horses; Jeannette Walls
  19. El Deafo; Cece Bell
  20. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; Sherman Alexie
  21. Ultimate Spiderman vol 3; Brian Michael Bendis, et al
  22. Doll in the Garden; Mary Downing Hahn*
  23. Wonder Woman Vol 5, Flesh; Brian Azzarello, et al
  24. Outlander; Diana Gabaldon
  25. The Affair of the Porcelain Dog; Jess Faraday
  26. In the Unlikely Event; Judy Blume
  27. Go Set a Watchman; Harper Lee
  28. BSC #23, Dawn on the Coast; Ann M. Martin*
  29. I don’t Know What you Know Me From; Judy Greer
  30. Station Eleven; Emily St. John Mandel
  31. Daredevil; Mark Waid, et al
  32. I Funny (audiobook); James Patterson, read by Frankie Seratch
  33. The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Emily Danforth
  34. The Alex Crow; Andrew Smith
  35. Superfudge; Judy Blume*
  36. The Silkworm; Robert Galbraith
  37. Carry On; Rainbow Rowell
  38. Daredevil, vol. 2; Mark Waid, et al
  39. Nimona; Noelle Stevenson
  40. The Rest of Us Just Live Here; Patrick Ness
  41. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Rebecca Skloot
  42. Daredevil Vol. 5; Mark Waid, et al
  43. Daredevil Vol. 6; Mark Waid, et al
  44. Daredevil Vol. 7; Mark Waid, et al
  45. The Adoration of Jenna Fox; Mary Pearson
  46. Ultimate Comics Spiderman Vol. 4 Brian Michael Bendis
  47. Ultimate Comics Spiderman Vol 5; Brian Michael Bendis
  48. A Week in Winter; Maeve Binchy
  49. Giant Days Vol. 1; John Allison
  50. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You; Peter Cameron


Best Book of 2015
I read quite a few good ones, but the best was probably Station Eleven . I’ve recommended it to several people already.

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 15.30.45

Worst Book of 2015
I read a few of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books with my kids, and they aren’t good. But I’m not really the intended audience, so I’d go with Go Set a Watchman. 

Most Disappointing Book of 2015
Go Set a Watchman. Hands down so fucking disappointing. Not just the book, but the whole way it went about being published.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2015
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog. I don’t read much from indie publishers, so I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. I’m going to read the two sequels this year.

Book You Recommended to People Most in 2015
Station Eleven. 

Best Series You Discovered in 2015
Mark Waid’s Daredevil. If you’re a fan of the show on Netflix and want to read some of the comics, I recommend this series.

Favourite New Authors You Discovered in 2015
Gene Leun Yang. He’s a great graphic novelist.

Most Hilarious Read of 2015
It’s a tie between Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and Rob Delaney’s Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. 

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2015
Again, I’ve got to go with Station Eleven. I’m going to add Grasshopper Jungle here though, because even though it had its issues, I couldn’t fucking put it down.

Book You Most Anticipated in 2015
In the Unlikely Event because it’s been way too long since we had a new Judy Blume book. (And it didn’t disappoint!)

Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2015
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Rowell’s books all have lovely covers.

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Most Memorable Character in 2015
Nimona. Noelle Stevenson has a knack for writing excellent girl characters.

Beautifully Written Book in 2015
Station Eleven. Sorry to keep going back to this one, but it was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’d also add Gone Girl, because of the amazing use of the unreliable narrator.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2015
The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. 

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2014 to Finally Read
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 

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