Hoot

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When I was in grade school, there was a requirement that you had to read a certain amount of books from the school-provided list each year. After reading the book came the mandatory report, or the occasional more elaborate projects, which over the years came in the forms of cereal box collages (without the cereal) and PowerPoint presentations (complete with the animation and sound effects.) I’m pretty sure Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot was one of the novels on the list, but I never read it. So when I received a free copy at a recent literary event, I decided to check it out, despite being a little older than its intended audience.

Set in Florida, Hoot is the story of Roy Eberhardt, a new student at Trace Adkins Middle School. Friendly and approachable, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the athletic Beatrice Leep and her stepbrother, a mischievous boy nicknamed “Mullet Fingers,” who is stirring up trouble at the site of a future Mother Paul’s Pancake House. Initially confused about the motive, Roy soon discovers the reason behind it: families of burrowing owls. Roy, Beatrice and Mullet Fingers set out to save the owls from the threat of having their habitat being destroyed by the construction.

The story features simple, relatable characters and plenty of humor, involving the two antagonists, a bumbling Officer Delinko and the site supervisor “Curly.” The theme and plot were pretty predictable, but very appropriate for the age group it’s geared toward. Messages include letting people be the way they are and what standing up for an important cause can entail. Plus, I thought was interesting to have a character who’s real name is never revealed throughout the novel, only referred to as his nickname.

Hoot is a fun, quick read that’s worth checking out.

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When Shadow Falls

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Since first discovering J.T. Ellison’s Dr. Samantha Owens series a couple of years ago, I’ve been meaning to read all the book in the series. The novels are set in Washington, D.C. and follow Dr. Owens, a medical examiner. This is a review of the third in the series, entitled When Shadows Fall, coming after Edge Of Black and before What Lies Behind.

In this particular installment, Dr. Owens receives a letter from an unknown man named Timothy Savage asking her to solve his death. The problem is, his death in a remote cabin in the Virginia woods was deemed a suicide by the authorities. However, Sam grows curious when his will requests her autopsy his body and names her a beneficiary to a certain amount of money, along with several others. Aided by her boyfriend Xander and friend Detective Darren Fletcher, Sam uncovers the web of mysteries that involves old kidnappings, cover ups, and a cult in rural Lynchburg, Virginia.

The story is told in both third and first person. The third person focuses on Sam and one of the antagonists. The first person focuses on another person who might be either a good or bad person. I found the first person one the most fascinating since it’s an unreliable narrator, in which the reader is not given all the information and must decide whether the person is telling the whole truth. It definitely keeps your attention.

The novel also touches on the idea of how much you can find out about someone without even meeting them through the Internet and media. Sam has become semi-known through her involvement in the Washington Metro attacks in the previous book, and Savage used his knowledge of her through the media to profile and contact her. It’s a somewhat creepy highlight, because it shows the danger of stalkers and others with unknown purposes.

One of the continuing features of the series I’ve appreciated is Ellison’s decision to make the protagonist a medical examiner. There are a majority of series that focus on the detectives, officers or the victims. From the medical examiner’s point of view, the reader gets an interesting perspective of situations. For example, when Sam autopsies the body, she uses physical evidence and deductive reasoning to determine a cause of death. In another example, when a person is wounded, Sam is able to pinpoint the type of medical attention they need to prevent them from dying.

When Shadows Fall isn’t my favorite in the series, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

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Coming Clean

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Several years ago, I reviewed C.J. Omololu’s novel Dirty Little Secrets, which is about a teenage girl named Lucy who is faced with the possibility that the whole world will find out about her mom’s secret hoarding. While surfing the net looking for memoirs, I found Coming Clean, a memoir about a girl who actually grew up in a hoarding household.

Kimberly Rae Miller is a writer and actress who lives in New York City. Like everyone else, she had a childhood, growing up on Long Island as an only child with her parents. But her childhood had one major secret. Her father was an information hoarder, and loved collecting magazines, newspapers and anything else that contained knowledge. His habit caused several problems for her family as Kimberly was growing up, including a house fire, several health issues, and them having to constantly move.

Memoirs have always fascinated me because of people’s personal stories. There’s something about reading real-life experiences that help you understand people better and even relate them to your own life. This one was no different. I could feel Kimberly’s frustration throughout the memoir. She clearly loves her parents, but wants to forge her own path and make something of her life. Her parents constantly draw her back in as they move from place to place and continue to fill it up with stuff.  She fears growing up to have the same lifestyle as them and having people finding out about her parent’s habits.

The book brings to light the issue of hoarding, which actually affects a million people in the United States alone. I myself didn’t grow up in a hoarding family. (Although my empty nest parents do use my brother’s old bedroom as a “craft room.”) But I can relate to the feeling of not wanting people to know about certain parts of my life because of what they might think. Kimberly admits that the hoarding still affects her psychologically, and that writing was her outlet. I’ve always liked writing about my experiences, because it feels great to get it out in the open.

I definitely recommend Coming Clean because it’s a book about honesty and overcoming obstacles to make your life your own.

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Always the Bridesmaid

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This past weekend I got to be a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding up near my hometown. It was a wonderful weekend, filled with reunions with old friends and the making of new ones. Being in the wedding mood, I found Always the Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk in the ebook selection of D.C.’s online library.

As an event planner assistant, Madeline “Maddie” Fraser has spent the past ten years organizing dozens of weddings, birthday parties and a host of other events. Now, at 31, Maddie is starting to feel restless in both her professional and personal life. She is craving more responsibility at work and hopes to be promoted to an event manager, even if it means continuing to suffer under her strict boss Shona. In her personal life, she is serving as a bridesmaid for her engaged best friend Lauren, which is contrasted by the divorce of their mutual friend Sarah. Soon, her personal life comes crashing into her professional life when Lauren insists that Maddie plan Lauren’s wedding in three short months. Maddie’s life is further made difficult by her successful family’s disapproval of her lifestyle, although she finds relief with her involvement with handsome and charming lawyer Will.

This novel actually takes place in the United Kingdom, which I discovered after reading the first chapter. I spent some time in the UK during college, so I understood most of the vocabulary. For the words I didn’t know, Kindle’s built-in dictionary helped, as did good old-fashioned context clues.

Kelk did a great job of incorporating modern day and relatable issues. One of the biggest ones was the expectations that Maddie’s family had toward her that she should be “settled down” by age 31. This reflects the pressure that most females are supposed to be married and have kids by a certain age. I couldn’t relate to this more, with a Facebook feed full of weddings and kid announcements (although neither are in my near future.) The juxtaposition of Lauren’s engagement and Sarah’s divorce provided an interesting perspective of the opposite ends of a relationship, and added development to Maddie’s character as she struggled with having to comfort Sarah and be excited for Lauren at the same time. The stress affects all of them at several times throughout the story, an accurate portrayal of juggling work and personal life.

The plot also explores the idea of a toxic work environment. Maddie has been in the same job position for over a decade, and has to decide whether it’s worth remaining in it or moving on. Kelk sends the important message of how an unfulfilling job can affect one’s well being.

I definitely recommend this novel because of its accurate depictions of everyday struggles.

Rain (Original Poetry by Me)

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This is a poem I wrote when I was nine or ten and recently rediscovered:

It is raining, the drops hit the ground,

In the sky there is only dark clouds to be found,

I hope it is over soon,

I cannot even see the moon,

I just hope it will be over soon,

Wait, I see sunshine,

It is finally the end of the line,

The sun has come out at last,

Boy, that rain went fast!

Girls in White Dresses

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Continuing my interest in reading wedding-related stories, I found Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer E. Close. Her most recent book The Hopefuls wasn’t my favorite, but I decided to give this one a try.

From it’s title, I expected Girls in White Dresses to be a story about friends being bridesmaids in a mutual friend’s weddings. Instead, I found a series of vignettes that involve the same group of friends from college. The short stories cover several years of their lives, including moving out of their houses and to New York City, experiencing  relationships, getting married and having kids.

I did find some of the topics to be relatable. Reading about being in your 20s and watching friends and classmates get married and have kids describes a majority of my life right now. But that was really the only part of the “novel” that I liked. The female characters were one-dimensional and boring, and they all seemed to blur together after awhile. They were constantly described as uncertain about whether they like their boyfriends or not, and their passive attitudes drove me crazy. Not to say that people aren’t like that in real life, but I’m not sure if every single 20-something feels that way, which is what Close seemed to imply. I’m pretty sure that if you are to marry someone, it should be based off of how you feel and not what others tell you.

I would recommend borrowing this one from the library like I did.

 

 

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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Stephen King is commonly associated with the genre of thrillers or mysteries. But not all of his books are. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of them.

I originally read this book at age 16 as an assignment the summer before my senior year of high school. English was my favorite subject, and having to read a book over the summer didn’t faze me. Besides, I intended to go to college for journalism (which I did end up doing), so I wanted to improve my writing skills.

On Writing is officially billed as a memoir, but it also includes writing tips and tricks based on King’s own experiences, making it a little bit of a hybrid.

The first part of the book is the memoir section. As King writes, “It’s not an autobiography,” (p. 17). Rather, they are bits of memories that he recalls in somewhat random order. He grew up primarily in Maine with his single mother and older brother Dave. The two of them had many adventures growing up, which I could relate to since I have an older brother myself. King’s interest in writing began in childhood when he started making up his own stories, encouraged by his mother and brother. After having some run-ins with the school administration in his writing endeavors, which included inadvertent plagiarism and inappropriate content, they recommended him as a correspondent for the local newspaper. He continued to write and attended college, where he met his wife Tabitha. The years that followed brought the birth of their children and scraping by, until the success of his first novel Carrie, in 1974. King wasn’t afraid to include some personal confessions, such as his problems with drugs and alcohol during some years.

The second part of the book includes tips on writing: spelling, grammar, dialogue, and other basics. As a high school senior, I remember having to do assignments based on this section. King includes suggestions on how to eliminate unnecessary words and lists writing exercises to help practice. One of the most interesting parts was reading where King gets his ideas from. For Carrie, King had gotten the idea after discovering the tampon dispenser in the girl’s locker room during a stint as a custodian He talks about how ideas can come from personal experiences or interests, and how it can’t hurt to combine two ideas together.

A postscript talks about his experience with near death in 1999, when he was hit by a van while walking along a rural road in Maine. I was fascinated by the amount of detail he was able to put into his account, describing the moment he was hit, his injuries and the recovery. I imagine if I was ever in an accident like that that I wouldn’t be able to recall that much detail.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning more about the art of writing and how one of the great authors gets his inspiration from.

In closing, my favorite quote from page 269, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enriching your own life, as well.”

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