Book Review | The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin, Link Neal, and Lance Rubin

Title: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek
Author(s): Rhett McLaughlin, Link Neal, Lance Rubin
Publication Date: 2019
Length: 326 pages
Genres: horror, mystery, humor, ya (it’s not branded as such, but it’s pretty much there)

Ah, family reunions… well, forced togetherness at holidays at least… I both look forward to it and dread it every single year. Thanksgiving, in the past, has tended to be a calmer affair at least, but still, sitting at my parent’s table this past November I knew at any time I could run into a landmine of some sort. Thankfully, I had this book to push my nose into when things got a little too uncomfortable.

Considering some of the themes of the story, it fit pretty well for the family disconnect that shows up that time of year, and I kept dipping in even amidst the relatively calm moments.

In short, I devoured the thing, just as easily as I did the pumpkin pie.

Admittedly, I’m not certain if the quick work I made of the book was because of it being a page-turner, or because I was stuck at a family get-together and had to have some means to distance myself from the chaos.

I have a feeling it’s a little bit of a and a bit of b.

Now, going into the story, I honestly had no clue what to expect from it. I knew, from the preview, that it was set in the 1990s and in the south- and it probably had some weird shit going on. Still, I didn’t foresee many of its twists. It was certainly a strange ride.

Take three teenage friends, add southern small town eccentricities, tack on a reform school outside of town and a few mysterious deaths, and then dump in a bunch of paranormal weirdness and there you go. The book isn’t YA, though throughout I wondered why not- because there’s nothing incredibly offensive in the book and there are so many elements in it that remind me of the sort of stuff I absolutely loved as a kid. I suppose, though, I can’t blame Rhett and Link for not wanting to fence themselves in as YA authors, especially in their first fictional work.

I’ll be honest, their inexperience, the fact that they are not first and foremost authors, shows (though evidently they have a more experienced co-writer in Lance Rubin). The story, is in many ways, rough. The tone veers into melodrama when the emotions are high, the writing is at times on the clunky side, and there was one chapter in particular that just felt tacked on.

But the other thing about Rhett and Link is they are entertainers. And boy was I entertained. As many problems as the story has- as weird as it got, I also found myself being sucked in by both the plot and the characters (well, most of them). There’s this weird verisimilitude that comes from so much of the characters and setting being… well… them, and their home. Rex and Leif are Rhett and Link in as many ways as they are not- and those voices come through loud and clear.

My favorite character though, is neither Rex nor Leif, though they’re both weirdly endearing. No, my favorite character is the third member of the protagonist trio, Alicia. Her place in this trio is an interesting one, as she’s both the ringleader of the group as well as an outsider regarding the Rex and Leif brotp- which she’s very aware of. Alicia is strong, and curious, and stuck in a place that punishes her for being the awesome person that she is. And, finding herself in the center of the stories events, she’s probably the character who’s affected the most. Ultimately though, there are very few characters, or relationships, that remain untouched in some way.

So, to wrap this up, is the story perfect?

No.

But it was also fun as heck, and I was so thrilled when I saw that it left itself open for future works.

If you want a dip into something a little weird, and a little retro, with a heavy dose of best-friend dynamics, try this sucker out for size.

Thankful Thursday – Have Yourself a Pepto Bismol Christmas

Well, when I posted last Thursday’s thankful post talking about how the end of the semester was within sight I didn’t realize just how close to the end I was.

Okay, that sounds pretty ominous.

Don’t worry, nothing catastrophic- but I did end up stuck in bed for a few days due to the stomach bug that hit the school shortly before Christmas break. Thus, this week I was so thankful for…

Ice chips
Weird thing to be thankful for I know, but when you have difficulty dealing with much going on your stomach ice chips can be such a help. For about a day this was all I consumed, and I will forever be grateful for the fact that we had a full bad in the freezer.

Almost-decent Timing
The bug hit me and possibly the best time, comparatively- I was mostly recovered in time to do a bit of something for Yule, though not as much as usual, and I haven’t had much issue with Christmas food either. The hubby is another story, but at least he got to enjoy himself on Christmas Eve before it got him.

Coloring Books
With hubby spending most of the day asleep, Christmas Day was pretty quiet this year. Thankfully, I had some coloring books to take up the time, and get my mind off of plans going by the wayside.

Family
We haven’t been able to spend much time with the hubby’s side of the family this year, since Christmas Day is when we meet up with them, but we got a relaxing Christmas Eve with my folks at least. It’s taken a while to get used to the flip-flop routine of spending time with both families, but it’s nice when it works out. This year, of course, things were a little different. Hubby’s family, though, took it in stride. This just means Christmas isn’t completely over yet.

Book Review|The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden

Title: The Story of Holly and Ivy
Author: Rumer Godden
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
Publication Date: 1985 (originally published in 1957)
Length: 32 pages
Genre: Picture book, Christmas

Something I’ve learned this school year is that, working as a teacher- constantly surrounded by kids and literature made for kids- I’m gaining a greater appreciation for the complexities of adult fiction. Sometimes it’s just so nice being able to sit down with something controversial, or difficult, or just not geared towards people with less than a decade and a half of life experience.

And then sometimes my inner kid rears its head and screams, demanding a bedtime story.

And after way too many meetings and too many graded and yet-to grade papers my inner kid was absolutely bawling, so I finally yielded and pulled out The Story of Holly and Ivy.

Not a very surprising decision, all in all, since I’ve read the book every Christmas season since second grade- all beginning with an accident. One of those ‘sorry, the book you ordered from scholastic isn’t available so we just sent you something random’ accidents.

It’s probably one of happiest accidents I’ve ever ran into- both in terms of my love for this story, as well as the story itself. And all in all, rather fitting.

You see, The Story of Holly and Ivy is all about possibilities and chances. About the stars aligning to put everything in the right place.

And, above all else, about wishes.

Holly is a doll- a Christmas doll- wishing for a girl.

And Ivy is a small girl wishing for a home, and a grandmother… and a doll.

And one Christmas night their worlds begin to intertwine.

Of course, there’s a whole host of things to make that difficult- like window panes, a mean-spirited stuffed owl, and being lost and alone in the cold.

This is one of those picture books that is geared for read-aloud, full of vivid descriptions and details. As an adult, it takes me well over a half-hour to read the story- that’s if I don’t pause at the illustrations, a feat I find absolutely impossible.

The writing, alone, is wonderful, and enough to pull you into a bit of a Christmas spell, but the illustrations by Barbara Cooney- all soft, with gentle colors and lines- add a whole other level to the story. There’s an age there in her illustrations, something even beyond the old-fashioned clothes and details, that evokes nostalgia for a time long before my own. Of the many illustrators who’ve had a hand in bringing this story to life since 1957, Cooney is in my opinion the best.

For those curious, in the early 90s, CBS made a for-tv animated version of the story titled “The Wish that Changed Christmas”. They tried to replicate elements of Cooney’s style but, like the script of the special, there’s something just a little too bright despite their attempts. If you’d like to see what the story is about, it’s easily found on youtube (or at least it was when I published this review). It’s a cute tv special, and not badly done, but it never quite manages the gentleness of the original book; for that, I recommend hunting the book down. It’s out of print, but not difficult to find- either online or at a library. It’s definitely worth the search.

Yule- Looking for Light

Change is never easy.

Discovering the ways you look at the world, shedding old ideas, embracing new ones- it’s wonderful, and exhilarating…

And so very painful, sometimes.

It’s something I’ve learned plenty about over the past few years.

Some things however, don’t change at all.

Of the many things attached the winter holidays – food, music, stories- the thing that stands out the most in my memories, a touchstone for this time of year, is light.

The lights shining out through the darkness and lighting up the homes that dot the hillsides, the electric candelabra in my grandparent’s living room window- lit up with bright blue lightbulbs, the cardboard star covered with gold wrapping-paper- reflecting one solitary light during the church Christmas play.

My life may have changed, my view of the world, but the core of those memories and what they mean- joy, and warmth, and hope- cannot.

So tonight, as I’m wondering my neighborhood in search of glittering white, shining red and green, and tomorrow morning when I watch the glow rise over the hills, I’ll keep those memories with me- lighting the darkness and acting as a beacon to where I’m meant to go- like the star I sang about so often as a child.

Whatever your life is like at the moment, whatever holiday you celebrate this winter season (or if you don’t celebrate any at all), I hope you find a little bit of light in this season of darkness, to light your way and grant some cheer and hope.

Happy winter solstice

Thankful Thursday – Hanging in There

So, this weeks list might be a little short… well, shorter than it was last week at least. Not to say that this week’s been bad. It hasn’t. Not at all. It has, however, been stressful, and I vaguely feel like my brain is made of swiss cheese at the moment. My mental energy is lacking, to say the least.

Fuzzy Socks
It’s finally chilly enough to pull out the fuzzy socks I got for myself a month or so ago. Well, technically it’s been chilly enough for the for a while now, but I’d kind of lost them in my rocking chair/dumping ground. However, I finally dug them out and got some use out of them, and they are as wonderfully fluffy and soft as I had hoped. Now if I can just remember to actually use them, instead of just curling my feet up underneath my legs like usual.

Diane Birch
I’ve been listening to Speak a Little Louder on repeat this week. Not sure what it is about that album right now, whether it’s that nice mix of up and down tempo, or the soft rock meshing with soul, but it’s scratching a particular itch- letting my brain loosen just a bit.

Christmas Tree
So I know last week I listed holiday decorations, so this is kind of repetitive, but I really like them, and we finally managed to get the tree decorated this week. It’d been sitting in the living room for the past couple of weeks- lit, but pretty bare, save a tiny stuffed Santa sitting on one of the branches and the a gold star on the top. Now though, it’s decked out in all its glittery glory, like it should be.

And finally…

The End’s Within Sight
Thank God the semester’s almost over. Not a moment too soon in my opinion… well, aside from the whole not having time enough to get everything done… but my brain’s screaming for a break. And for a fresh start. Just one more day and I’ll be free ’til January.

Book Review| Julie & Julia: My year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

Title: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
Author: Julie Powell
Publication Date: 2006
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Memoir, Food/Cooking

It seems fitting to start up my new write-ups with this book. Sometimes it takes reading about a change in someone else’s life to make a change in your own, I think.

Not that my own project is anything like the changes that Julie Powell made to hers when she undertook the project of cooking (in the span of one year) every recipe in the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking– and blogging about it. This book is all about the many misadventures that befell her along the way, blackouts, calf-hoof aspic, lobster murder, and all.

It’s also one of the easiest ways to get a taste of that year, as the blog is now defunct- available only through some searching utilizing the wayback machine*. Oh well, Julie’s prose is more developed in the book anyway- exhibiting the same low-key verbosity that’s found in her blog albeit in a less raw form. As much as I like the film version (which I saw years ago) that was one of the things that it lacked, even considering the segments that Julie narrates.

The other thing it lacked was the time-capsule quality of the book- sealing in moments from the internet’s (as we know it) toddlerhood… blogging’s infancy. Back when that world was smaller and much less visual (a food blog mostly without photos- the mind boggles) when there was another odd-ball republican president (because politicians are weird- no matter their party imo) and 9/11 was still fresh on people’s minds.

Ultimately though, my favorite part isn’t the writing style necessarily, or the nostalgia factor, that makes me like this book so much. No, it’s the shear insanity of the thought ‘I’m gonna pull out this insanely hard cookbook and do it all!’ Having read the whole book I’m still find myself asking the question that Julie was plagued with at the beginning of (and throughout) her project.

Why?

To which I find myself answering back ‘why not?’

Julie had her reasons, which she talks about in the book- but really, sometimes I think the big undertakings don’t necessarily always have to be completely sensical.

After all is said and done, it’s the holy-cow-what-a-decision-ness that keeps me reading, and I suppose what got so much attention in the first place. Sometimes you just need to read about someone taking a chance on the seemingly impossible.

*try https://web.archive.org/web/20040815082608/http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/  – and go backwards – there’s an annoying little missing link hopping from November to December.