“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson


asteriaiconWhen I worked at the book store, there were a number of titles we just couldn’t keep on the shelves. As soon as a copy would come in, it would be out the door. This was one of those titles. The cover seemed rather simplistic, nothing that screamed “Read Me”, yet it was immensely popular, mostly among teens. When I saw it at my favorite used book store, I thought I would give it a try. It had a little seal embossed in it saying it was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist, which intrigued me more.

Melinda is a young woman starting her grade 9 year of high school, yet she is a pariah. No one will talk to her, and the only interaction she really gets is dirty looks in the halls. No one will sit with her. She is just generally avoided, unless to be made fun of. Even her best friend hates her. She begins to withdraw from her family and her teachers, going so far as to stop speaking altogether. It takes a while for the story within the story to come out. Melinda attended an end of summer party, one that was broken up when the police showed up. Everyone knows that Melinda called the police, but no one knows why. They think it was just because they were all having fun, so they all hate her for it. But no one knows the truth; Melinda didn’t tell anyone. Melinda was raped, and not just by any guy, but by her best friends boyfriend.

The book is dark and sad. But depression is dark and sad. It is isolating. Melinda starts to hate going to school, her cynicism is palpable. It is painful to see her struggle so hard, and to disappear into herself so much. She just loses all sense of caring about anything.

I don’t remember Melinda’s appearance to ever really be discussed. No description of her hair and her pretty face, her cute jeans or sweet shoes. To me that sent a powerful message regarding rape culture, and one of the reasons why I think this book is so important for women, teens perhaps especially. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, what they wear, how they act, anyone can be raped, and it is not okay. Too often we blame the victim in these scenarios, that they asked for it, that they are just feeling sorry for themselves, and we tend to dismiss them, that what they say can’t possibly be true. And too often the victims sink into themselves rather than seek help; after all we don’t believe them anyway. The book demonstrated just how important it is to come forward, to speak, to stand up for yourself and say this is not okay.

The book is pretty thin, but powerful. I loved Melinda. I loved the smart writing, how raw and real Melinda was. The depression was almost its own character, and I think it is important for people to see. I was surprised that the book was written in 1999, yet is still so incredibly relevant. Not a lot of books can really say that. I now can see why this was one of most popular teen books. It is an important read, not just for teens, but for every woman.

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Schedule Flip

artemisiconI will be going out of town Thursday, and will be without internet access, so the blogs that I usually post on Thursday will be posted Wednesday. Everything will be back to normal next week, don’t worry!

Thanks for your understanding everyone!

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“The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


asteriaiconI had seen reviews for this book everywhere! This was supposed to be the IT book of 2016, and was plugged by some major celebrity, so it must be good, right?

The novel is about 4 adult siblings, who have squandered away their money, making poor financial decisions, knowing that “the nest” will bail them out. Their father had put away a very modest sum of money, meant to give them each a small cushion when they reached midlife, which the siblings have watched grow to a very sizable amount of money, thanks to the stock market. Now, one of the siblings has gotten into a bind, and it will take much of the nest to bail him out, leaving each in a financial pickle.

The Plumb family is a very dysfunctional family, each sibling coming across as very shallow, whiney, entitled, spoiled little brats. Three of the siblings, Jack, Melody, and Beatrice, all confront their brother Leo, who has put their money in jeopardy. Really? We don’t care that he was in a terrible car accident, we don’t care he got a young waitress hurt and altered her life forever, and we don’t care that Leo clearly has a problem? Nope, we care about money. After all, Jack has put his antique business in serious debt. Beatrice had a very successful novel and has an advance for a second, but hasn’t written anything. And Melody, perhaps the most common sense of them all, has twin girls to take care of and needs to pay for school (at least her reasoning was rather sound).  Leo’s accident has cost them a fortune, literally, and they try to reason with him, and take care of him and his problems, not because they give a rat’s ass about him, but because they want as little money spent on him as possible. They even go so far as to try to get the money released to them now, all claiming need, rather than greed. They all are too keen to have daddy’s money bail them out of the financial situations they had put themselves in with no care or concern to get out of them because to them that is what daddy’s money was for.

I kept reading hoping this book was going to get better. After all, this is the IT book, it has to be great! Everyone is talking about it! It just didn’t get better. I hated the characters, I couldn’t relate to them, couldn’t give a damn what happened to them, they all seemed so trivial and entitled. Hey, I love a flawed character as much as the next person, I am okay with flaws, but this was passed flaws. These were dickwad characters, none of them fully understood they were dickwads, none of them cared they were dickwads, and there was no character growth so they stopped being dickwads. They had no interest in their own lives, much less each other’s.  They just cared about money, money they really didn’t deserve. Boring!

Another aspect which really irked me was she had an openly gay character and a not so openly gay-curious character. The fact that they were gay does not bother me in the least; in fact I want to see more diversity in books. No, this seemed to be more done simply because it is more ‘modern’. And it was not the first part of the book that seemed that way, just the one that bothered me more. It just seemed like a bunch of modern topics smushed together into a book. And I found that the one’s character admiring the fact that he had been able to escape AIDS so far to be repulsive.

The story is told in the characters different viewpoints, which is usually my jam. This, however, felt overdone. I think it would have been better told through one, maybe two, rather than each individual sibling, each twin daughter, the spouses, the mother, the waitress, etc. It was just too much.

I guess to conclude this review, I have no idea why this was so popular, why this was the big book of 2016. Maybe because of a celebrity plug? I knew the inheritance part would irk me a bit, mainly because I don’t believe you should make life decisions based on money you may or may not receive. As the book shows, money can disappear in a blink of an eye. But I think I just hated this book more because I hated the characters. I couldn’t find one good one to grasp on to, one that I could even remotely relate to, or even like a smidge. There was just nothing there for me to even find entertaining, enjoyable, or engaging.  Biggest book let down of the year for me.

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artemisiconThe issue has been resolved and our twitter is back up and running!

I forgot to post that last time, I’m sorry. But it is fully working, so expect updates and maybe some cool retweets from our feed!

Thanks for your patience!

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“Bloodsucking Fiends” by Christopher Moore


artemisiconI have a very odd sense of humor. Which basically means I avoid comedy and anything remotely “funny”. What most people find funny I find irritating. My sense of humor is very dark and dry; borderlining ‘British’. Working in a bookstore I came across a lot of stuff people label as “hilarious”, and naturally avoided it. Until I couldn’t. Christopher Moore had almost an entire shelf to himself in our store, he had so many books. And the titles, how could you not be curious? You Suck, Practical Demon Keeping, Dirty Job, the stupidest Angel. the titles alone draw attention! And the covers are all in garishly bright colours (my copy of Bloodsucking fiends is in lime green). I was wary though because I don’t like humor.

But, being the vampire enthusiast that I am, I couldn’t turn down a comedic vampire story.

Bloodsucking Fiends, the first in the trilogy. And underneath the bold title, in tiny red print, is “a love story”.

O rly?

The story is about a cute (but not beautiful) woman named Jody, a standard Irish descendant with green eyes, red hair, and can’t tan to save her life. While walking home from work she is jumped, dragged into an alleyway, and bitten. When she wakes up she’s under a dumpster and her hand is burning in the sun. Senses heightened, groggy, and confused, she finds a stack of money stuffed into her bra. Hell of a way to start your new life!

The thing I found the most interesting about the book is the reality. Most vampire stories start back in either romanticized Paris, or colonial America. This one starts middle of the 21st century. So Jody has to deal with her boyfriend, money, work, and avoiding the sun. What would normally be a pretty boring story is made actually pretty damn funny with Christopher Moore’s style. Every word and sentence is dripping with sarcasm and his own brand of humor, which I actually found funny!

Jody meets a night shift worker named Tommy (who frozen turkey bowls with the other guys on his shift) and creates a kind of tense partnership of protection and food.

I blew through the entire series because so much happens and the characters are so hysterical and endearing. I read the series years ago and I still quote it in casual conversations.

It is a very adult series, with a fair bit of cursing, but if you can look past that, it is a hilarious series and I highly recommend it to anyone that wants something truly funny! His writing reminds me a lot of David Wong and Douglas Coupland, similar writing styles and sense of humor. But entirely his own thing.

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“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain


 asteriaiconA few years ago I stood in a friend’s wedding.  On the Friday we had to drive an hour outside of town first thing in the morning to set up the venue, and then drive back in to town in the evening to have a rehearsal dinner.  On the day of the wedding we had to get up at the crack of dawn to get our hair done, get our make-up done, get dressed, and make the one hour drive back to the venue for the wedding. Then the pictures. Then the dinner. Then the polite mingling with the happy couple’s friends and family, very few of which I knew. Then the long, slightly inebriated hour long ride back to town. While this may sound like a typical wedding event for some, this was positively draining for me. I slept for over 36 hours in the next two days. I was so mentally and physically exhausted I couldn’t stay awake for more than an hour at a time. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me? This was supposed to be fun, everyone likes being around people right? Everyone likes a good party! Me…I sat my drunk ass on the barn basement floor and played with a very friendly barn cat. That was more fun to me. Being in a quiet place with a quiet animal was the most relaxing part of the whole experience for me. What is wrong with me? Why am I so weird and different?

After the wedding, I came across Susan Cain’s book, and I just cannot put it into words how amazing it is. It was life changing for me. Seriously! After working in a book store and seeing all of the self-help crap that came in, I wasn’t too thrilled to pick this up, but I had seen a review of it in a magazine so I thought I would give it a try. Non-fiction, especially books deemed self-help are really not an area I tend to grab a book from, but I am really so glad that I did with this one.

The world views extroverts and extrovert tendencies as ideal. We are taught to believe that people who are outgoing and social do better in life. We are taught if you want to succeed, you have to be this way. After all, all of the CEO’s of big business are that way, that’s how they made their millions and became a success, right? Well, not quite. But you get what I am saying. Extroverts are just looked at as “better”.

When I worked at the book store, the manager said to me that the company was changing directions. It is no longer enough to know books, in fact the company didn’t give one flying fig if you knew the product anymore. You had to like people. Like people? I didn’t get in this job because I “like people”, I got it because I love books and love shopping for books, so what can be better than helping people spend their money on books?  Now, you are telling me that the company doesn’t care if you know the product, just dig people?  Seriously?

Introverts are looked down upon in our society. We are seen as quiet, to the point of being perceived as snobby and rude. Generally speaking, we are less likely to talk in a crowd of people we don’t know, and often come up with the perfect thing to say about 10 seconds too late and the conversation has changed directions. We are taught that it is not okay to be quiet, to be different. We have to be seen and heard to be a success.  No wonder I thought something was wrong with me.

I loved that Cain filled her book with research and science that backed up the book, and made so much sense to me. Yet, at no point did she say that being introvert or extrovert is better than the other. We all have a place and a role in society, it really is just figuring out who you are and surrounding yourself in the environment best for you.

I did skip some of the book, in full disclosure. She has a section on being an introvert parent, and another section on having introvert children and how to raise them. Neither applied to me so I didn’t read them, but I got so much out of the book just the same. One of the research tests she had discussed that I still remember is a lemon juice test where university students were asked to identify themselves as introvert or extrovert, and then put a drop of lemon juice on their tongue. Those that identified as introverts tasted the lemon juice much more strongly than the extroverts did. Their senses were stronger. It suggests that perhaps introversion and extroversion isn’t just nature vs nurture, it is actually a part of us, we are born with it. We introverts just sense things more, we feel things stronger than extroverts do.

When I was younger I could fake it better. I would go to the bar and surround myself with people because that is what I thought I should do. And let me tell you, people have no idea how exhausting it is or how much effort is needed for what is considered basic social interaction. I can make friends with just about anyone, but I surrounded myself with people who were considered ‘cool’, people who were essentially extroverts, because that is what I thought I was supposed to do. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t bad people, they just were people that didn’t understand me (how could they when I didn’t), and ultimately took advantage of me and I totally let them.

After reading Cain’s book, I finally understood myself and I can’t tell you how LIBERATING it feels! There was nothing wrong with me; I just viewed the world different. I need some quiet solitude to recharge my batteries.  Parties with a large group of drunk people just is not my thing. I hate meaningless trivial conversation. Small talk bores me and I am not good at it. Want to talk for hours about our existence; I am totally down for that. Want to talk about how our day is going and I just want to stab a fork in my eye. That is just who I am.

I now understand why I needed 36 hours of sleep after two full days surrounded by people I don’t know, hardly getting to eat, and filled with anxiety the entire time. I even understand why I made a barn cat my best friend for probably the better part of an hour while everyone danced and drank upstairs. It was all just too much for me.

Finally, some decisions I had made in my life made sense. Working on a busy medical unit surrounded by noise and smell and people was a total onslaught on my senses. I do better in a quiet environment surrounded by paper I get to organize. I can be slightly OCD and it is totally okay and considered an asset where I work now! My weirdo tendencies in an extrovert dominant environment are actually assets in other environments. I may not be making millions as a big time CEO, but I have made a positive name for myself in my job, and have shown that I have equally valuable skills. And I have cut all of the people out of my life that brought drama, people that took advantage of me, people that made me feel like a lesser human being. I am happy with who I I am comfortable sitting at home with a good book or crocheting. I am comfortable letting my nerd flag fly and going geocaching. Another Harry Potter marathon? Yes, please! I am comfortable being myself. I am a proud introvert!

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“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

asteriaiconI love me a good WWII story! I also like to try new things every now and again. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society fits the bill nicely. Guernsey is written in Epistolary format, and for those of you who are like me and had no idea what that means, it is a book written in letter format.

The story takes place in London in 1946, as the world is emerging from WWII, and people are trying to rebuild their lives in an entirely different atmosphere. Juliet Ashton is no different. She is a British journalist who wrote about the war, and articles for women in proper society. One day she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man who lives on Guernsey Island, who has found a copy of a book that Ashton has written her name and address in. Juliet responds in kind, and a friendship ensues, first with Adams, and eventually with other eccentric characters on the island.

During WWII, Guernsey Island was the only British owned island to be occupied by the Germans, and the Nazi’s left their mark. Throughout the letters, we the readers get a good sense of what life was like for these people, life full of desperation and despair. The Nazi’s took whatever they could, leaving the islands inhabitants with little, and set impossibly strict rules that no one can be expected to abide by. In fact, that is how the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came to be. One night a few people were caught by the Nazi’s for being out past curfew. You see, these people had just finished a secret meal, where they had hidden food away from the Nazi’s. They couldn’t really tell them that though when they got caught, so they made up a story about a book club meeting that had gone too late. In order to keep up the ruse, the small group of people continued to meet, inviting other friends along as well, where they began to discuss books they had read and to share what meager food they had with their friends.

Juliet continues to write back and forth to these people, making friends, and learning about life during the German occupation. Eventually she decides to go to the island, and meet these people in person, people who understand her better through letters than the people who surround her in real life.

I love love love this book. I have read it a few times, and each time it just touches my soul. I love that it is written in letters, it gives the story a more personal touch. In today’s society, we really do not write letters anymore. Everything is digital, even this review! We write emails and texts, and while it is quicker and easier, it just lacks that personal touch. I love that the author makes these characters come alive, I felt like I knew them as friends myself. And I love that the author used books as a way for Guernsey’s island inhabitants to cope with the war and what was going on around them. After all, books are magic; they can take you anywhere you want to go. And what can be better than a good book discussed among good friends with some good food?

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