House Rules

The other day my squirts and I were wandering the halls of the Little Library after playing at the adjacent park.  After my oldest collected a pile of American Girl magazines and my youngest discovered Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, I found my way to the memoirs as I often do.  Running my finger along the spines of the hardcovers, Rachel Sontag’s House Rules caught my attention.  Pulling the book in question from the shelf and flipping to the back cover, I discovered the author is a fellow Illinoisan, so I was sold.  Leaving the library juggling thirteen items, we were all ready to return home and snuggle in for some quality read time.

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In House Rules, Sontag retells her abusive childhood with vivid imagery and heart wrenching dialogue, words no child should ever have to hear from the mouths of her parents.  Her parents, a medical doctor for a father and a social worker for a mother, chose to emotionally and physically abuse Sontag while abusing Sontag’s sibling via neglect.  Sontag herself has a hard time remembering if her sister was with the family on various outings or instances of abuse, but she verifies the sister’s existence by noting her presence in pictures; thus concluding, she must have been present, too.

On numerous occasions, she looks to her mother for rescuing from her father’s verbal abuse, but her mother is mostly a mute presence.  One time late at night, her mother wakes Sontag in the middle of the night telling of her plans to escape having researched a small community in Wisconsin in which to flee.  Repeated late night talks with her mother fill Sontag with hope that a reprieve from the paternal abuse is right around the corner.  Yet, when divorce papers arrive in the mail and Sontag’s mother is berated by Sontag’s father, her mother takes out her frustration on Sontag by climbing on top of her and repeatedly banging her daughter’s head against the kitchen floor.  Further empty promises to divorce her father continue for years until Sontag, after much therapy realizes:

I wanted her.  I wanted Mom to be someone she wasn’t, to take on a strength she never possessed, to do what I hoped I would have done in her situation.  I thought that mothers were naturally inclined to protect their children, and she was failing.. . . I remember the aching way in which I knew wanting her would ruin my life. . . . In the years that followed I cut myself off from her completely. . . . I didn’t owe her anything because I’d escaped and she hadn’t.  That was her choice . . ..  (176, 231, 243)

Thus, when Sontag’s mother calls and pleads with Sontag to write a general apology letter to her father so that she would be allowed to attend Sontag’s college graduation, Sontag refuses.  Enough was enough for her.

Sontag’s prose is honest and insightful, and as reader, I find myself cheering her on for her survival and ultimate discovery of happiness with friends and loved ones whom she now considers her family:

The versions of ourselves we present to the world are perhaps the versions of ourselves we most want others to know.  We split and divide at the core, recreating ourselves, until we determine the perception we best like. . . . I was sad knowing that I could never go back . . . . That returning would not be reconciling with Mom and Dad but arriving in a place where I was creating ways to live, not just trying to survive.  (258-259).

The Secret of the Old Clock

My momma-in-law recently hooked my oldest daughter on the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories written by Carolyn Keene.  Telling how she used to ride her bike as a young girl to the library in order to exchange read books for the next couple of books in the series, my mother-in-law noted how the librarian suggested she should be choosing more elevated reading.  Of course, my daughter and I giggled at the thought of a librarian doing anything but praising a child for reading.

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Never having read any Nancy Drew myself, I borrowed the first novel, The Secret of the Old Clock, from my daughter.  The first line drew me in, but not in the traditional, “I was hooked by the hook of the novel,” kind of way:  “Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen . . ..”  (1).  Granted, this novel in question was first published in 1930, but it is interesting to recognize the stylistic differences.  A few lines further, the reader learns just what defines attractive, “. . .blond, blue-eyed . . ..”  (1).  Nancy’s father, a prominent lawyer in town is described as ” . . . her tall, handsome father . . ..”  (13).  Yet, the reader never learns what “tall” and “handsome” looks like to the author.  So, was there a generally accepted ideal of “tall” and “handsome” during this time period?  I could continue with the exploration of Nancy being a recent high school graduate, yet there is never any mention of a job or college aspirations.  Instead, she finds it “‘ . . . fun to help in his work . . . [because] Dad depends on my intuition'”  (1).  Okay, seeing I could write a thesis for a women’s studies course based solely on page 1, I had better move along.

As for the story itself, it was refreshing to read a young adult novel which actually made me think, use deductive reasoning, draw conclusions, etc.  I appreciated, of course, the beautiful grammar and mechanics and elevated word choices.  In addition, reading about a protagonist who truly cared about other people she came into contact with is a welcome addition to any young adult novel.

Five Minute Friday: Family

The other day my sister from another mister gave my daughter’s Girl Scout troop the assignment of writing a haiku, a three-line poem which comprises five syllables in the first line, three syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the concluding line.  She so enjoyed this assignment that I thought I would give it a try for this week’s Five Minute Friday with the prompt, Family.

Family

Therefore encourage

each other

. . . build each other up.

-1 Thessalonians 5:11

A favorite Bible verse of a dear friend and the current Beth Moore Bible study at our church, I believe 1 Thessalonians 5:11 defines Family in a nutshell.  These people whom encourage and build others up are the people I call Family in my own life.

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Image found at ispygod.net. What a cool super power for which to strive.

A Thousand Stars

Devastated. . .  I finished reading Rhonda Tibbs’ A Thousand Stars two days ago, a day after receiving the book (if this tells you anything), and I am just now able to write about it.  A Thousand Stars is Tibbs’ third and final book in the series which also comprises Shadow and Season of Hope.

athousandstars2Following the life of protagonist Danny Coulter, his extended family, and the life of his adolescent love, Isabelle Long, this third installment offers the reader closure, but not in the neatly packaged, predictable manner one may expect (i.e. Tibbs is no Nicholas Sparks).  Tibbs, instead, writes with such honesty in her fictional realism one may find herself repeatedly checking the genre of A Thousand Stars just to be sure this book is not a work of nonfiction.

Of course, I had hoped all along I would be the one to end up with Danny, but by page 395, I realized this was not meant to be.  However, the reader might just be as surprised as I was when the final words of this trilogy are read.  The pages are filled with mystery, murder, romance, compassion, illness, jealousy, heartbreak, and recovery to name a few;  what we as human beings witness, endure, and strive for on a near daily basis.

Just as Tibbs’ chosen epigraph, a quote by e.e. cummings states, “I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than to teach ten thousand stars how not to dance,”  I believe Tibbs allows the reader to “sing” through her writing, and I hope this is not the last of her teaching of the human experience through the written word.

Day out of Days

Lately, I have been on a short story kick.  Perhaps with my kiddos home with me for the summer, I can only find time to read in short increments which is just fine with me because I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else besides savoring every minute I can with my squirts.

So, while searching for books in the short story genre, I came across Sam Shepards’s Day out of Days.  Having enjoyed his work on the big screen, I was anxious to discover his writing.

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Immediately I was taken with Shepard’s choice of epigraph, a quote from Samuel Beckett, “That’s the mistake I made . . . to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.”  I found this quote fascinating as I once read (can’t recall where now) an interview with Shepard where he was compared to the above Irish author.

Shepard’s writing style is conversational to the point I felt as if  he was in the same room with me telling me stories.  In “The Lost Art of Wandering,” Shepard captures the reality of human misunderstandings in speech and gesture through the telling of an American assisting a German stranger.  When the German man repeatedly offers the American money for solving the problem with his Kodak camera and the American matches each offering with a refusal,  a fist fight nearly ensues until eventually the money is lost to them both when two children snatch the bills and run away.  The absurdity of the situation simply brings to light how quickly good intentions can result in less than savory outcomes.

“Normal (Highway 39 South)” again offers the reader the complex in what some can construe as mundane when considering “. . . scrapings on the steel frame of the window”  (210) in a jail cell.  What one prisoner may glance over or miss altogether, the narrator goes to great length contemplating how such marks could be made so high when all pocket contents are confiscated from people once arrested and held.  One scenario the storyteller envisions is that the one being held must have used a zipper to create such markings, but ponders, “. . . how anyone [could] manage to get their crotch up that high to the window frame without being spotted through the thick glass by one of the zealous young officers in crew cuts”  (210).  Yes, by this time I was giggling aloud on a flight to the happiest place on earth.

Speaking of flights, in “Land of the Living,” the narrator while conversing with his wife in the customs line describes his euphoria when he survives travel by airplane:

I always feel like I’m actually going to die when I get on an airplane.  Like this is it, the end of the line;  inevitable.  Then, after we land and get back on dry land it feels as though I’ve lived through a certain kind of death and come out the other end.  (226).

Thus, a prime example of an author writing what he/she knows as Shepard has revealed in interviews his distaste for flying.  Thus, his description accurately (spooky accurately, in fact) summarized my own less than favorable thoughts about flying.

A keen representation of the human essence with all its unique characteristics, Sam Shepard’s Day out of Days is a must read.

RSVP from Heaven

If people watching and listening to other people’s stories interests you in the least bit, then Marie Saint-Louis’ autobiographical account of her life as a psychic medium, RSVP from Heaven is the next read for you.

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A teacher by day, Saint-Louis began her psychic medium work at her kitchen table with callers, but has since evolved into working at events which is where RSVP from Heaven commences, at the Golden Eagle Casino Swap Meet to be more specific.

What follows is rich descriptions of people from all walks of life searching for answers in their lives and to be connected one more time with loved ones whom have passed, sceptics included.  With honesty, Saint-Louis reveals working such events is not all glitz and glam, but persistence and a lot of manual labor when setting up shop in various locales:

I peeked over my shoulder just as the attendant bent over in skintight khaki shorts, pulling white tube socks up to his knee caps.

Grasping the luggage piece, I heaved it over the barricades, sucked in my stomach and squeezed between them.  . . . As I stepped aside, the luggage wheels jammed and my high heels sank into the damp ground.  The contents clanked together inside my case as sweat began trickling down my back.  This was the consequence for taking the ill-fated short cut.  (69)

A Christian and believer in Heaven, “The best way to describe Heaven is serene.  There is no illness, struggles and life battles.  It’s [Heaven] is a feeling of pure love and completion from how we lived our life on Earth”  (76), Saint-Louis is forthright when telling of the naysayers she encounters with one woman telling Saint-Louis early on she was going to go to Hell for her work as a psychic medium, work “. . . against . . . [the woman’s] beliefs”  (3).

As for the grammatical and mechanical aspect of this book, my youngest would say this was the “sloppy copy,” a copy still in need of a final revision.  Missing quotation marks, wrong word choices,  capitalization errors, and missing articles were abundant throughout as I had numerous Post-its throughout, a habit formed from teaching.  A few examples follow:

” . . . I would openly question her reasoning on have [sic] a private session with me”  (54).

“Erica’s [sic] went on talking”  (63).

And, when one is referring to the death of a loved one, the spelling is “lose,” not “loose” as misspelled on pages 123 and 128.

In addition,  I was curious to know how Saint-Louis became aware of her spiritual gifts and at what age as well as why she opted to transition more to readings at public events.

Overall, an interesting read which offers an ethnographical look into people searching for answers and as Saint-Louis summarizes in her Reflection, “Each of us can find solace in realizing there is another person out there who is experiencing similar situations”  (201).

If you would like to know more about Marie Saint-Louis, read her author interview here.

Marie Saint-Louis

Why do you write?: I write because the people I was meeting asked me to write a book. As a psychic medium, I meet people when they are often at their lowest. They are dealing with failed relationships, unfulfilling careers, pondering relocation, family members causing havoc in their lives, and others. Basically real life for all of us. I wanted to share with people that everyone is fighting their own personal battles.

Describe where you write.: Wherever I go, either to a party or an event, I pack a handful of pens and notebooks to record my experiences in a journal. Later, I head for my home office, and with my two cats to keep me company, I begin to write about my experiences that evening. I want to keep everything fresh in my mind.

Who or what is your muse?: My clients were my inspiration. They have constantly asked about me about my psychic readings and kept asking me when I was going to write a book about them. This was something I had never thought of. After much thought and encouragement from my brother, my book was born.

Three wishes . . .: Good health. A productive second half to my life filled with positively touching other people’s lives. To meet all my readers in person.

Favorite childhood book, and why?: Clifford The Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell As an animal lover, I always loved the fact Clifford was the runt of the litter but grew up to be this enormous dog that everyone loves. Clifford is a friendly and outgoing dog but he also got into a little bit of trouble. I have been known to not always follow the rules, so I am bit like Clifford.

Explain when is your ideal time to write.: I mainly write in the evening, after my appointments with clients. I usually stay up until 3am, even though I’m not really a night person. I live in Arizona, and love nothing more that opening the windows and hearing the coyotes howl!

Name a book you would reread again and again, and why.: I have a lot of favorite books but the one which brings me good memories is The Pact: Three Young Men Make A Promise and Fulfill a Dream: by Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt At the time, I had a classroom of over 40 high school students who hated to read and couldn’t read well. I only had one copy so we passed the book around and everyone read a sentence or paragraph. If anyone laughed because a student couldn’t read I’d kick them out of class. Never had one student leave the room.

E-book or print? Why?: Both. I’ve been asking readers which they prefer and it’s a tie

Favorite magazine, and why?: Just one? I love magazines and will read about anything that catches my eye. They are a quick read. I’m the person at the supermarket with milk, eggs, and cheese in my basket while I’m reading an article in aisle seven.

What would you like readers to take away from your writing?: “We all have uncertainties about our life direction and purpose.” I’ve have the pleasure to meet and guide people from all walks of life; college students, teachers, accountants, police officers, surgeons and even adult film stars. All of my stories make for a more interesting experience for my readers. Throughout the book, readers will witness people coming to me when they are searching for direction and needing hope. We all have been there before; when our relationships are breaking apart, we are unfulfilled in our careers, family members causing havoc, and wondering if relocation will give us new opportunities and a new lease on life. There are many people having a similar struggle within their own lives. It may not be the exact situation, but they are hurting as much as you or even more . “Value your time with loved ones and make peace with them if you need to.”What I hear from clients is that they wished they had spent more time with loved ones before they passed. I love the part in the book where I read at a festival for a young man from Detroit, Michigan. Dion was unsure about having his first psychic medium reading but once he sat down, I read for him for over an hour. I still remember when I connected Dion to his deceased brother Bernard. At one point during the session, Dion looked at me and said. “Damn, the last time I saw my brother we fought over something real stupid. I wish I could take it all back because weeks later Bernard was murdered.”

Marie Saint-Louis

Leeway

Intrigued by a college student studying English and American Studies who has recently written her first novel, I knew I wanted to read Colleen Caitin’s Leeway.

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The story revolves around Captain Lian, a pirate with dreamy green eyes, and Princess Mila, the youngest and often ignored daughter of King Aaron IV of Platgo.  When the two meet by chance, both learn appearances and preconceived notions are not always what they seem to be.

Told from the alternating point of views of the two protagonists, initially the novel has a slow, nearly repetitive start with both Mila and Lian’s telling, but quickly picks up momentum and complexity as the pages are turned with elements of the deep sea supernatural and the unfolding of less than ideal childhoods.  In fact, the end of this breakthrough fiction leaves me wanting to read more.

As always, the English teacher within longs for a more thorough editing throughout of this work.  Quotation mark errors and wrong word errors such as “Her eyelids flatter. . .” (7) which should read “flutter” and “. . . now wears a red west instead of a black one” (62) which should read “vest” do make my skin crawl.  In addition, “overboard” is one word, not two.

Nevertheless, an ambitious piece of literature for an aspiring young author, and one whose body of work, I hope, continues to grow.

If you would like to read more about author Colleen Caitin, read through her  author interview here.

The Woods

I’ll admit it;  I volunteered to run all errands and transport the kiddos everywhere so that I could finish Harlan Coben’s audiobook The Woods, read by Scott Brick.  Selected for me by a phenomenal librarian (shout out to all librarians everywhere) at Maryville Community Library, I had a feeling it was going to be good, and it was.  Not certain of the genre or even the storyline, I popped it into my mom-van CD player  and entered county prosecutor Paul Copeland’s world.

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Copeland, a recent widower and now single father of a six-year-old daughter, is in the midst of a high profile rape case while thrown back in time when asked to identify a dead body, a body he hadn’t seen in twenty years.  A body connected with the death of his sister and responsible for the loss of his first love, a love Sheryl Crow would agree ” . . . is the deepest.”

On his journey to uncover the truth, Copeland revisits his adolescent youth while uncovering his own familial history.  Think KGB meets summer camp.

Read by Scott Brick, winner of over thirty Earphone Awards, I was able to keep Russian characters separate from Latino characters separate from . . ..  In other words, I was never lost in the complexity of the characters with only one actor speaking all the parts.  Bravo!

I am looking forward to a return trip to the berry so that I can be surprised again by a librarian extraordinaire’s selection of an audiobook.  You can’t beat a free listen!

The 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my daughter and her third-grade class on a field trip to The 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House.  Having recently visited Conner Prairie, an interactive 1800s historical park, it was nice to view a similar piece of the nineteenth century, one located in our own backyard.

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Upon arrival, no time was wasted (which I like) as our group was led into the orientation room by a female docent dressed in period clothing.  Here we viewed a video explaining the history of the Stephenson family in Illinois, highlighting their time in Edwardsville and this Stephenson House. 

Once the video was complete, we were ushered outside where a male docent (again, in period dress) with quite a sense of humor explained the architecture of the house both inside and out. 

From there, our group entered a separate building which housed the kitchen.  Educating us on the particulars of canning and food preservation, students were given the opportunity to string beans for drying above the fireplace and tamp down the cabbage for the purpose of making sauerkraut. 

Our final station consisted of learning how water was transported by the use of a shoulder yoke and how those living in the 1800s cleaned their clothing.  Again, this interactive tour allowed students to try on a shoulder yoke as well as stir the laundry in the boiling pot and attempt to remove stains by the use of a washboard.

Disappointed our tour had come to an end, I look forward to revisiting the Benjamin Stephenson House while my daughter looks forward to Mrs. Lucy’s Academy for Young Ladies, a summer camp offered at The 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House.