Nashville 2019

Nashville

There was not enough Nashville.

Correction: Nashville was perfectly lovely, thank you very much, but my time there was not sufficient. I would like to turn around and go back and see all the things. And drink all the whiskey, if we are being honest. I would get to know the city in my favorite ways: through my feet by walking everywhere and through trying all the local foods.

I was only there 24 hours. For spring break this year, we opted to go to visit Jon’s family in Tennessee. At the last minute, we decided to leave a day early and spend a day in Nashville. There was little planning or preparation, and my husband is never allowed to pick the lodgings ever again, but I am so glad we made the trip to Nashville.

What to See:

Broadway. This is where all the honky tonks are located. Traveling with teens, we only went to places where they were permitted. Several of the honky tonks (if my Google search in the car can be trusted) do allow kids before 6:00 or 8:00, but we were getting into town in the evening and we wanted both dinner and music, and it was not the easiest to find a location that would give us both and let us bring the girls with us.

That first night, we had dinner at Rippy’s on Broadway, which allows kids before 10:00. It was family friendly and the food was decent, but not memorable. While the menu could have been improved upon, the music made up for it. Rippy’s is a large place, and they have different bands playing in different areas, which works better than it sounds like it would.

Pedestrian Bridge: Basically, this is must do because it allows you to take pictures with the Nashville skyline behind you. It was pretty chilly while we were there, so we didn’t linger and just snapped a few photos, but it would be a pretty place to spend time on warmer days.

What to Eat:

BiscuitLove

Biscuit Love. In my Google searches in the car, one name kept coming up in blogs and Best of Nashville lists and that was Biscuit Love.

I have to teach you a term that sounds dirty but isn’t: Bonut. Questionable word aside, you need this in your life because it is a biscuit deep fried like a donut. The traditional bonut is topped with lemon mascarpone and served with blueberry compote. There are also bonut-style churros, which is what we shared. These are deep fruit biscuits, coated in cinnamon sugar and served with a chocolate sauce. I regret not taking a picture before we dove into the churros, but our family is not known for our restraint with sweets. You can see a lone churro in the background of this photo, though.

I tried to go a bit lighter in my main meal after my churro, so I ordered the Lindstrom, which is shaved brussel sprouts with hazelnuts and poached eggs. I did eat some of the 15-year-old’s grits because I wanted to give grits another try (and I liked them this time!).

Hot Chicken. This is the signature food of Nashville. As you might have guessed, the “hot” refers to the spice level rather than the temperature of this fried chicken dish. You get to decide the spice level of your chicken, so your chicken is only as hot as you can handle. Unless you are me and behave like a 13-year-old boy once your ability to handle spice is questioned. My belly felt unusually warm for a solid 24 hours after this meal.

I should add the disclaimer that I did not try my hot chicken in Nashville as we ran out of time, but in Murfreesboro, where we visited family, but Party Fowl does have a Nashville location, and according to Thrillist, it’s roughly in the middle of the list of the best hot chicken restaurant ranking. The heat levels range from Mild to Poultrygeist.

I ordered the Poultrygeist.

I should have been worried when the server put not one but two glasses of water in front of me along with my chicken. The 17-year-old, who finds great enjoyment in other people’s self-inflicted pain, watched me with great interest as I ate most of my chicken, with tears streaming down my face the entire time. While I have no regrets, I am never doing that again.

Goo Goo. This a candy shop local to Nashville. The traditional Goo Goo Cluster contains peanuts, caramel, marshmallow nougat, and milk chocolate. It’s good, but I recommend the specialty Goo Goos. There is a peanut butter and pretzel Goo Goo, which is insanely delicious. You can also create your custom Goo Goo if you have a half hour or so to spare.

What I Would Do Next Time:

If I were to go with just Jon and not the entire family, I would spend more time in the honky tonks and visit some of the music-themed museums (the kids were definitely NOT interested!). Neither Jon and I are country music fans, but we could enjoy it in the proper atmosphere. 🙂

I’m also bummed that we never made it to Draper James, which is Reese Witherspoon’s boutique. It was just too far from where we spent most of our time.

Pinewood Social looks adorable, and I’d love to spend an afternoon there.

I’d give hot chicken another try (at a more reasonable spice level) and go to one of the more famous places such as Prince’s or Hattie B’s.

Distelleries would definitely a mandatory destination next time. Probably not the best place to go with teenagers, though . . .

Also, next time, we’re getting an AirBnB. Have I mentioned our motel was terrifying?

Advertisements

March Book Review Club: Hunger by Roxane Gay (memoir)

Hunger

“What you need to know is that my life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and the after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped.”

When Roxane Gay was twelve years old, a boy she trusted led her into the woods where he and his friends gang raped her. Underestimating the love of her Catholic family, she told no one about her rape but instead turned to food for comfort, and over time, her body became both a fortress and a cage for her. At her heaviest, Gay tells us early in the book, she weighed 577 lbs as a twenty-something. Hunger chronicles her complex relationship with her body. We see Gay as a sheltered child, as an intelligent yet damaged adolescent, and as an accomplished woman haunted by what she calls “the girl in the woods.”

My body issues are different from Roxane Gay’s. While she has had doctors write her medical diagnoses as primary diagnosis “morbid obesity” and secondary diagnosis, “strep throat,” I have gained and lost the same 30 pounds repeatedly over the years. While she and I might be in different BMI classes, I did relate to her memoir. I, too, have lived in fear of my own hunger, of the knowledge that my hunger for food might actually hint at deeper problems. I, too, have always felt my body to be unruly, something never quite within my control, or as much in control as is possible in world where cancer or crippling car accidents can happen to anyone.

While I definitely related to so many parts of this, it was definitely a learning experience for me. My issues with weight have been fairly superficial, such as not fitting into the shorts I want to wear, while Gay’s are more everyday and immediate, such as will she fit in the only chair that is offered to her? Hunger brings awareness of what life is like for those in “unruly bodies.” Gay talks about the problem of airline seat sizes, and also the embarrassment of being unable to keep up with friends when walking as a group to a destination, or never being able to sit on an unfamiliar toilet seat for fear of breaking it. People can’t address these types of everyday inequalities until they are aware of them.

While I was reading Hunger, we had an evening full of rain in Michigan, followed by a drop in temperature, which turned all roads and sidewalks into ice. Every school district was closed, but predictably the university I work for remained open. I was signed up to attend a session on white privilege that morning (which out to be about privilege in general). Our presenters gave us this exercise where we were in groups with randomly assigned amount of money, and we could buy privileges. The privileges ranged from being able to practice your religion to being being able to hear radio stations in your native language. What I noticed after we all shared what privileges we had chosen was that none of us had chosen were those dealing with able-bodiedness. Why had none of us selected it? Because we were all so able bodied that we were able to get to a random building in the middle of an ice storm, so we didn’t think about the limitations of the body because none of lived that reality. Had the sidewalks not been covered in a sheet of ice and less able bodied people had been able to get to the session, our choices probably would have looked different and the able bodied attendees may have learned something new from their peers.

Similarly, Hunger provides a perspective that is needed. We all need to be able to understand the struggles of people who live in bodies different from ours, whether it’s due to weight or physical disabilities or some other factor. We need to examine what we assume about other people’s bodies when we don’t know their stories.

I do recommend this book. The obvious audience is people interested in women’s issues and body image. It would be helpful to medical professionals, as obesity stigma is common in the medical profession. (It will actually be a work book club selection at the School of Public Health where I work.) But everyone lives in a body and could benefit from reading Hunger.

FCC Notice: I purchased my own (Kindle) copy.

 

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barry Summy

2019

2019Image credit: Stocksnap

Over the last few months, there have been so many unwritten blog posts. They glide around like ghosts, and this post was almost one of the ghosts because who writes about their new year’s resolutions in February? (Chronically tardy people, that’s who. Which is a perfect description of me.)

Since my last (non-book review) post, I have turned 40. Jon planned a birthday trip for me in Michigan’s wine country, which was amazing and one of my favorite moments of 2018. I’ve read a lot—an odd combination of mysteries and nonfiction. I’ve started on a weight loss journey, and started an Instagram account to document it. I celebrated the new year in a jazz club in Detroit. And I have made resolutions, which I have procrastinated on sharing for approximately 8 weeks now. Here they are:

Resolution 1: Appreciate my body more, flaws and all.

I threw my shapewear in the trash on New Year’s Eve.

I was in a jazz club with my husband, perched stiffly on a bar stool due to my shapewear. I looked around the jazz club and there were women of all sizes wearing their sexiest clothes, and I was done being immobile in my dress due to fear that my fat rolls might be on display. So, I went into the bathroom and trashed my shapewear. And it was liberating.

I may not be at my ideal weight, but my body has always been good to me. My body is strong, and I’m rarely sick. My last book review on the blog (Pure by Laura Kay Klein) and my next planned book review (Hunger by Roxane Gay) both focus on body shame and moving past it. Because life is too short to be uncomfortable in your own skin.

Resolution 2: Do less around the house.

I spend most of my life focused on what I’ve left undone, whether it’s the bathrooms I haven’t cleaned or the phone call I haven’t made or the writing project I haven’t started. Something needs to go.

There are four able-bodied people in my house, and there is no reason that I should be responsible for the great majority of the cleaning.

Resolution 3: Try more independent restaurants in my town.

An unflattering thing about myself: I tend to be kind of grumpy about where I live. I moved to Canton five years ago, when I got married, and I was less than thrilled about leaving Ann Arbor. The suburbs are great if you enjoy SUVs the size of tanks, happy hour at Applebee’s, leisurely strolls through Hobby Lobby, and maximizing your Kohl’s Cash. (Disclosure: I have no idea what Kohl’s Cash is, and I plan to keep it that way.) I’m not that person, so the things I love about Canton are limited to my house, the library, and my gym.

I want to find in joy in the place where I live. Canton is not cool and neither am I, and that’s perfectly fine. But here is a stealthy cool thing about Canton: It’s diverse.

This is where the restaurants come in.

While Canton does have abundance of chain restaurants, there is also a lot of independent restaurants too. They are in strip meals and are generally nothing to look at, but given the high number of immigrants in Canton, they are authentic. Aside from the Indian restaurants closest to my house and a few sushi places I have frequented when Jon is out of town, I largely have not gone to these places. My husband has the most Midwestern palate of anyone I know, and this largely limits where we eat as a family, but going forward I am venturing out even if it means dining alone. And with each meal, I will experience something new about Canton.

Looking at all three of my resolutions, I think this year is about loving my life as it is. It’s definitely not a “burn it all down” year, but a year for contentment and happiness.

February Book Review Club: Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein

PURE-shadow.png

Linda Kay Klein was raised within the evangelical culture during the purity movement. When she found herself too attracted to her high school boyfriend, she convinced herself that God wanted her to break up with him to show her devotion, as that was an easier concept to understand rather than that sexual attraction is normal and healthy. Just out of high school, she learned that her youth pastor had been a pedophile and a young girl in her youth group had been his victim, and Klein first begins to question purity culture. In early adulthood, she still finds herself bound to it. When she begins some sexual experimentation with her boyfriend, she obsessively takes pregnancy tests, even though she is still a virgin. Ultimately, her questioning led her to graduate studies where she wrote her thesis on white American evangelicalism’s gender and sexuality messaging for girls. It also led her to conduct interviews with women raised in purity culture about their experiences. Those interviews, coupled with her own experiences, became the book that is Pure. The interviewed women ranged in age from the early twenties to the early forties, and all are white evangelical females unless otherwise noted.

Pure is part of a greater backlash against purity culture that has been underway among current and former evangelicals. Even Josh Harris, author of the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye and golden boy of ‘90s evangelical circles, decided against continuing publication of his own defining book, which told an entire generation of evangelicals how to approach romance, marriage, and sex, even though he was a homeschooled 21-year-old when he wrote it. While Klein is not the first to point out the ill effects of the purity movement, she has possibly done it best by giving voice to many women and by explaining the psychological effects of the purity movement.

Klein explores the inconsistencies of purity culture, how girls are told if they just keep themselves pure and sexless before marriage, they will instantly enjoy a fulfilling sex life upon marrying, as that is God’s blessing upon upright young couples. One woman Klein interviews married very young, as she and her husband were eager to go to bed together. Having a strong sense of purity, they waited until they were at the altar to have their first kiss, a mortifying and very public experience that involved clanking teeth, only to find their total ignorance of sex kept them from having a satisfying sex life for several years. That is quite possibly the most extreme story in the book, but it is likely not uncommon among evangelical circles, given that even thinking about sex before marriage can be frowned upon, as thoughts are considered to be a reflection of the soul. With that type of expectation, for a “pure” couple to successfully have great sex on their wedding night, they would need to be a pair of prodigies.

Many of the stories are those you would expect to find in a book like this: One woman was raped by her brother, only to have her parents blame her for “enticing” her brother. There is a lot said of women being “stumbling blocks,” the classic cliche of the evangelical world, where women are blamed for the lustful thoughts of men. Klein points out this is a misinterpretation of scripture, as only one Biblical reference to stumbling blocks refers to sexual desire, and in that reference, it is the lustful eye that is described as the stumbling block, not the object of desire.

As someone who grew up in a fundamentalist church, I related to this book. Lately, I have been thinking of how my early religious upbringing has formed me. The best of me can easily be credited to my childhood church and to my parents. That is where I learned about service, community, and what it means to live selflessly. There are other things–critical thinking and social justice, for instance–I have had to learn for myself as an adult because they were notably not taught at church or at home. There is also damage. All of the trauma and sexual anxiety that Klein describes I recognize in my own life. There was also a spiritual trauma completely separate from the purity culture. As someone who is prone to doubt and genetically prone to anxiety, growing up in a church that regularly liked to share the bad news about hellfire was probably not the best for my mental health.

I do strongly recommend Pure. The obvious audience is those who have grown up in evangelical or fundamentalist homes, but I think this is relevant outside that subculture. Purity culture can be seen in gender-specific school dress codes. The belief that women are “stumbling blocks” to men is at the root of the Me Too “anxiety” that men can’t mentor women in the workplace because women are too distractingly sexy or because they are Eves who might falsely accuse them of sexual harassment.

FCC Notice: I bought my own copy.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

 

October Book Review Club: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less
Not quite famous novelist Arthur Less desperately wants to get out of the country. He hasn’t committed a crime and he isn’t on the run, but he wants an iron clad reason not to attend his long term lover’s wedding. So he goes through his junk mail, accepting teaching appointments at random German universities, attending literary awards he has never heard of in Italy, taking on a food writing assignment in Japan, and agreeing to attend a friend of a friend’s birthday celebration in Morocco. During the course of his travels, Less accumulates a series of embarrassing moments, a series of surprise victories, he has several flings, and he turns fifty.

Although Less won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I would consider this to be more of an escapist read rather than serious literary fiction. It is certainly a well-written book, but it reminded me somewhat of Bridget Jones’s Diary, if Bridget had been a middle-aged white gay male. Like with Bridget, I sympathized with Less, cringed with Less, laughed at Less, and was happy when he had a (usually accidental) victory. Both Less and Bridget have a relatable yet slightly cartoonish quality, like if the most awkward moments of your life were someone else’s entire life.

While Less is clownish in some ways, he is also more significant than he realizes. Having once been the lover of a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, he has always felt inferior, like a person always destined to live on the edge of genius and never be the genius. As a result, he does not realize that his work has been read and loved by people around the world or that every man he has been romantically involved with has fallen in love with him.

The true failings of Less are not that he is innocent and prone to disaster. It is that he does not know how to be in love and that he does not know how to grow older. Less has had two great loves in his life–one much older and the other much younger–and he has lost them both due to being unfaithful as well as keeping himself emotionally unavailable. He also fears age, feeling that he does not even know how to be a mature gay man. Reflecting on the generation before him, Less thinks, “He has never seen another gay man age past fifty, none except Robert. He met them all at forty or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation. Less’s generation often feels like the first to explore the land beyond fifty.”

While Arthur Less has his flaws, this is ultimately a comedy, and traveling the world with Arthur Less is a great joy.  I loved this–and the main character–throughout the book, but when I came to the end, it just felt like the perfect end to Less’s journey. I would recommend this for anyone in search of a fun, lighthearted read, as well as to anyone who would like to read more books about LGBTQ characters. For more October book reviews, please check out Barrie’s blog.

FCC Notice: I bought my own copy.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

 

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

FemalePersuasion

When Greer Kadetsky first meets the iconic feminist Faith Frank, she is an unhappy freshman at Ryland College. Greer had been accepted to Yale, where she planned to go with her boyfriend Cory, but was unable to attend due to inadequate financial aid. On her first weekend at Ryland, she is assaulted by Darren Tinzler at a frat party. When stories of Tinzler’s serial assaults go public at Ryland, Greer and other women speak up, but the administration merely assign Tinzler some counseling sessions. It is after this disappointing decision that Greer attends Faith Frank’s lecture. With some encouraging words from Faith and the influence of her activist friend Zee, the shy Greer becomes a feminist and an activist. The Female Persuasion follows Greer through her college years, through her twenties when she works for Faith Frank, and into her early thirties when she becomes a famous feminist herself.

I first knew I was going to relate to this book on the first page, where I read this passage:

Greer, a freshman then at this undistinguished school in southern Connecticut, was selectively but furiously shy. She could give answers easily, but rarely opinions. “Which makes no sense, because I am stuffed with opinions. I am a piñata of opinions,” she said to Cory during one of their nightly Skype sessions since college had separated them.

As a fellow shy piñata of opinions, I was immediately interested in Greer and learning how she would find her voice. And I did enjoy her journey as she first learned to listen and then to speak, to learn from her mentor and then to make her own way. Like Greer, I was fascinated by Faith. Faith Frank is sixty-something when we first meet her. Like Gloria Steinem, she is iconic, sexy, and approachable. Unlike Gloria Steinem, she is more personality than ideas, and her message is characteristic of “white lady feminism,” and even Faith herself would like it to be more.

While this is mostly Greer’s story, it is told from various points of view, including Greer’s, Faith’s, Zee’s, and Cory’s. While it covers more than a decade of Greer’s life and several decades of Faith’s life, it skims over years at a time, just focusing on the moments and the relationships that serve as turning points in the characters’ lives. Wolitzer has created well written and believable characters. Everyone is likable, even when they do things you may not approve of, and I was quite upset with Greer at one point. My favorite character was Zee, Greer’s college best friend, who introduces her to feminism and Faith Frank. Zee is, in many ways, Greer’s opposite. While Greer is at Ryerson because she has excellent grades but no money, Zee has the money but not the grades. While Greer struggles to find her voice, Zee has been an activist since the age of nine. When Greer easily finds her path after college, Zee struggles to find her way.

I do recommend this for your summer reading list. My immediate thought was to recommend it for feminists and other progressives, but its appeal is actually much broader than that. The Female Persuasion is about the relationships that influence the direction of your life.

For more June book reviews, please check out Barrie’s blog by clicking on the image below.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

 

FCC Notice: I bought my own (Kindle) copy.

March Book Review Club: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (short story collection)

BookReview

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado is a collection of eight short stories about living in a female body. Some of the stories have the feel of dark fairy tales told in a literary style, while others feel more experimental.  Many of them have magical or fantastical elements. All of the stories are multi-layered, and the reader puzzles her way through them. Sometimes, a story will seem to be about one thing, then it changes and becomes what you did not expect.

Some of the stories are haunting. In The Husband Stitch, a woman is madly in love with her husband, but he is obsessed with untying the ribbon around her neck, which is the only thing she has ever denied him, explaining the ribbon is hers alone. In Inventory, a woman lives in a world where everyone is dying of a mysterious epidemic. As people head north to Canada in hopes of fleeing the disease, she meets fewer and fewer people, and she creates an inventory of her love affairs in this story of isolation and connection. In Real Women Have Bodies, women are literally fading away and becoming transparent. The narrator is a sales associate in a prom dress boutique who falls in love with another woman just before her girlfriend begins to fade.

Some of the stories focus on the aftermath of trauma.  In The Resident, a writer accepts a residency in Devil’s Throat, an isolated and hilly region, which is the same area where she was victim of bullying as a teenage Girl Scout. As she works on her novel, she feels as though she is trapped in her past. In Difficult at Parties, a woman is recovering from a violent assault and trying to recover her sexuality and her relationship with her partner. She looks to porn videos for inspiration, but finds that she can hear the thoughts of the actors.

The most experimental was Especially Heinous, which is written as a summary of episodes of Law & Order: SVU. The catch is that it’s a nightmare version of Law & Order: SVU, where there is no logic. Benson and Stabler have doppelgangers, Henson and Abler, who try to steal their identities. The ghosts of dead girls haunt Benson’s apartment.  This was a story that I nearly gave up on, as I initially felt like I was reading the plot notes of an extremely drunk writer. I skimmed at first, pondered skipping ahead to the next story, and at some point, I began finding its weirdness appealing.

The most straightforward story was Eight Bites, which focuses on body image. The narrator is the daughter of a thin and very disciplined woman, but she and her sisters all struggle with their weight in adulthood, and one by one, the sisters all undergo bariatric surgery. It takes the woman most of her life to realize that in her quest for an acceptable body, she has rejected her own body and her own daughter.

While my favorites of the stories were The Husband Stitch, Real Women Have Bodies, and The Resident, my least favorite of the collection was Mothers, which was partly about an abusive relationship and partly about motherhood, but mostly it was confusing. While I found the other stories to be complicated, the type of stories where you find new things each time you read them, I was not confused by them. They challenged me, but were not over my head. I am not sure if this one was over my head, but it confused me.

I recommend this short story collection, but it is not a book for the prudish. While Machado does not always write about bodies in a sexual way (some stories deal with illness or body image), there is a lot of sex in these stories and much of this collection focuses on sexual identity. Fans of literary fiction or those looking to add more LGBT authors to their library will likely enjoy this.

FCC Notice: I purchased a Kindle copy.

 

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

 

February Book Review Club: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (nonfiction)

JustMercy

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative and an attorney who represents those who have been wrongly accused of crimes and those who have been given sentences that far exceed their crimes. While Just Mercy spans Stevenson’s entire career in law, the primary focus is on Walter McMillian, a man who was put on death row for a murder he did not commit.

Walter McMillian was found guilty of murder in the same Alabama county where Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. McMillian was an African-American man who was accused of the murder of a white woman. His accuser was a white man who was trying to strike a deal with local law enforcement to escape punishment for his own crimes by “solving” a recent murder that outraged the small town. To the man’s surprise and eventual alarm, local law enforcement immediately latched on to his story about McMillian, even though Walter McMillian had dozens of alibis on the day of the murder. The story grew more fantastical and more “witnesses” were pulled into the scam, aided by local law enforcement who knew they had the wrong man, but wished to be seen by the public as being “tough on crime.”

When Stevenson became involved in the McMillian case, Walter was already on death row. Stevenson was shocked at the flimsiness of the evidence he had been convicted on, as well as by the evidence that had been suppressed. In Monroe County, he learned that those most proud of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird were those quickest to deny that Walter McMillian was their town’s black scapegoat. Stevenson sought to reveal the cover ups and corruption that defined the case, and before long, he was receiving bomb threats at the office.

I loved this book, though it is definitely not an easy read. I connected with Stevenson and his clients and the reading experience was very emotional for me. This was a book that was surprising and not surprising all at the same time. Going in, I knew the death sentence often reflects the prisoner’s ability to afford decent legal counsel more than it affects the seriousness of the crime. I knew that people executed for crimes are sometimes discovered to be innocent when it is too late. I knew the link between race and severity of sentencing. I knew women prisoners are vulnerable to rape by prison guards and that many have given birth while chained to prison beds.

What this book did was make that all personal with stories rather than statistics. And it did at times shock me. I was surprised at the severity of punishment for child offenders. I was surprised by the stories of poor women wrongly accused of murder after delivering stillborn babies. I shouldn’t have been surprised at how recently courts were able to exclude all minorities from juries, but I was surprised.

This is an eye-opening book, and I do recommend it. What I do not recommend is reading it in public. This is not a restaurant book, a Starbucks book, an airplane book, or a train book. Because it will make you cry. And when you cry, it will weird out the person stuck in the middle seat of your airplane row. Consider yourself warned.

FCC Notice: I bought my copy.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

 

January Book Review Club:  Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (thriller/mystery)

Camille Preaker is a second rate journalist, a recovering cutter, a not-so-high-functioning alcoholic, and a survivor of childhood in Wind Gap, Missouri.  When a couple of child murders occur in Camille’s hometown, her boss, Curry, still upset that he missed out on a Pulitzer worthy story in his own hometown, sends her to cover the story. Wind Gap is a David Lynchian town, picture perfect and traditional on the surface. Of course, it has its secrets: gang rape and mean girls and dysfunctional families.

Camille is quick to notice what made the two murdered girls, Ann and Natalie, stand out. In a town where ultra-feminine women and girls are prized, Ann and Natalie are tomboys, smart and reckless. Both girls are rumored to have a history of violence. In Wind Gap, female bullying is ignored and even accepted, but physical violence from females is unexpected. Camille finds that most of her reporting attempts are foiled. The local police will not speak to her nor will Natalie’s family, and her own mother, who hates talk of any unpleasantness brought up by anyone other than herself, forbids Camille to even speak of the murders. Camille soon finds her only source of information is female gossip from her high school friends, her mother’s socialite friends, and that of her disturbed half-sister, Amma.

Sharp Objects
is definitely a psychological thriller.  It is a more straightforward book than Gone Girl, Flynn’s most well-known novel, but there are definitely twists and turns, as well as an extremely creepy ending. Most of the mysteries I have read lately have left me underwhelmed, but this is not one of them. I loved Flynn’s fierce writing, the creepy small town with all of its surprises, and I turned the pages at a quick rate.

I would recommend Sharp Objects to fans of mysteries or anyone who just needs a book that will keep them turning pages.

FCC Notice: I bought my copy.

 

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

November Book Review Club: Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (YA)

dresscodes.jpg

No one in Otters Holt, Kentucky will forget the youth group lock-in at Community Church because that was the night Billie McCaffrey and her friends experimented with microwaving random items, and unfortunate combination of her friend’s smelly sock and her dad’s World’s Best Minister mug resulted in a fire that severely damaged the youth room. Even before she became the girl who nearly burned down the church, Billie has frequently gotten her youth minister father in trouble with the deacons. She has the reputation of being a troublemaker and she’s a tomboy in a town where traditional femininity is prized.

Otters Holt is the home of Molly the Corn Dolly, which is a forty-foot-tall statue that all tourists take pictures with.  Also, a corn dolly is awarded every year to an outstanding woman in the community. To win a corn dolly is the highest honor in town. Corn Dolly winners are pie bakers, gardeners, caregivers, and pillars of the community. As a tomboy and suspected lesbian, Billie is outside the Otters Holt ideal. A couple years earlier, a group of women and their families even left Community Church because of Billie. Her crime? Wearing athletic clothes and tossing a football around the sanctuary during non-church hours. “Those women threw stones over a football and a girl who girled differently from them,” Billie explains.

Billie’s friends are also misfits in Otters Holt. Of her group, which they call “the Hexagon,” Billie says, “The year I was seventeen, I had five best friends–a pixie, a president, a pretender, a puker, and douchebag–and I was in love with all of them for different reasons.” While one might expect Billie and her friends to dismiss Otters Holt traditions like the Harvest Festival and the corn dolly, they actually love this about the town. On the night they nearly burn down the church, Tyson Vilmer (primary patron of the Harvest Festival and grandfather to Hexagon members, Davey and Mash) passes away, putting the tradition in jeopardy. Throughout the novel, the Hexagon develops a fundraising scheme to save the Harvest Festival.

What I liked best about this book was Billie herself. She’s a fresh and innocent character who sees the best in everyone. She’s Anne Shirley in combat boots. She’s smart and thoughtful about her world, but she’s not cynical. Throughout the book, Billie is seeking to understand gender and sexuality. While she is comfortable as a boyish girl, she is upset when her friends jokingly list her as a boy in a Sadie Hawkins chart they create on a whiteboard. She might hang out with mostly boys, but she doesn’t consider herself to be one of the boys. Her sexuality is more of a gray area for her, and she is curious about both her male and female friends. She resents that the church community demands that she can only love boys, but she also resents that her friends assume she is gay simply because she’s a tomboy and that they try to helpfully nudge her out of the closet, when she just wants to figure out her sexual orientation for herself.

This book could have gone very wrong, but it doesn’t, as it is handled with the perfect sensitivity. Given the subject matter, it could have easily been bitter in tone with the church and community members portrayed as closed-minded bigots. Stevens’ world is bigger than that, with saints and sinners who have many layers. Also, given Billie and her friends’ quest to save the Harvest Festival and the corn dolly ceremony, this book could have been saccharine, but it doesn’t do that either. It’s a feel good book for people who don’t typically like feel good books.

I would recommend Dress Codes for Small Towns for fans of realistic YA and also for anyone who grew up in an evangelical church.

FCC Notice: I read a library copy.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy