Spoiler Warning

Book reviews and discussions may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Friday, October 24, 2014

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Thank You.
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Advert Agent,
Burger King Corporation.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Let's revive the SRBC!! The first book will be: Shadow and Bone: By Leigh Bardugo

Not as much pressure this time around!! Just post reviews on the SRBC page the last weekend of September and we can discuss through the comments at our own convenience! Did anyone else miss this as much as I did? I am seriously excited :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Discussion for The Language of Flowers will be rescheduled.  Please make a comment on when would be a good time for you.  I will be out of town next Sunday so I'm not sure when you all want to discuss this book.  Or maybe we want to move on to the next book?  Let me know!

And may the odds be ever in your favor.  Oops, wrong book.

The Language of Flowers

If I were a flower I would be a poppy because I desire eternal sleep, I live in blissful oblivion, I have an over-active imagination, and my dreaminess is apparent the first time you step into my house.  

If I were meeting my first love for the first time I would give him bamboo because he is strong and loyal.

At our wedding we did not know about the language of flowers but in my bouquet I had stephanotis which is happiness in marriage, desire to travel, and good luck.  I guess we started out on the right foot!

The Language of Flowers touched my heart on a personal level.  A little back ground on me.....in college I thought I wanted to be a social worker so I took the classes and did a practicum with a social worker.  I was with her on many visits to families and witnessed the complexity of human relationships.

I never did become a social worker, I knew I would care too much and burn out.  Then, as a young mom, the opportunity came for me to take in someone who had no place else to turn.  Our family took her in.......well, I've done it again and haven't left enough time to finish writing this.  I will have to come back to it as it is 9:00.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hello Smart Remarkers,

A warm welcome to our newest member , Teresa, who joins us from ...... I don't know, where you are from Teresa?  You'll have to tell us about yourself when you write your review.  So welcome aboard, we are so happy you will be reading and discussing with us.

I hope you all have snagged a copy of The Language of Flowers either via audio book, paper and glue hardback, or digital download by now.  I would like to set our discussion day and time for Sunday, April 1st, that would be April's Fools Day for those of you who are a little slow, at 9pm MST. 

Please have your reviews written prior to the discussion (Amanda, I am talking to you) and your essay questions completed.  If you choose not to do the essay questions, well, then it won't be as fun, and I may have to send you a bouquet of geraniums.  You will also receive a zero on this assignment.

The questions again are :  "If I were a flower I would be  _______ because _________  .  And "If I were meeting my true love for the first time I would give him or her _______ because __________. 

Here is a website to help you with the language of flowers.  http://www.perfect-wedding-day.com/flower-meanings-bridal-flowers.html 

I am looking forward to discussing this book with you all on Sunday, April 1st, and that's no joke.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wanna read this for March?

Looks like someone dished out the big bucks to have the place remodeled.  I like it!  Beautiful book shelf, all very nice and straight this time, some new books swished in there -- looks good.

I think it's time for a new book.  What do you think?  Besides being incredibly moved, you might learn something from this one.  I know I did.  You see in elementary school I learned Pig Latin and in high school I learned
Sarcasm and Spanish.   In college I thought I'd like to learn Italian because I thought it was cool,and I was in love with the Renaissance, but I never did learn the Language of Flowers.  Yeah, there was a touch of it in that one book The Age of Innocence, which I know you all are groaning about right now, but not enough to make you feel like you could pass a test on it afterwards.  Trust me, after you read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh you are going to be itching for a #2 and a bubble sheet.  You are going to be the sensei of sunflower speak.

So be ready, because this month we are going to learn more about the language of flowers.  And what exactly is the language of flowers?  Well, according to Wikipedia,  "The language of flowers, sometimes called floriography, was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. This language was most commonly communicated through Tussie-Mussies, an art which has a following today.

The nuances of the language are now mostly forgotten, but red roses still imply passionate, romantic love and pink roses a lesser affection; white roses suggest virtue and chastity and yellow roses still stand for friendship or devotion." 

Coded messages?  I wonder what the Victorian coded message would be for "I really want to get in your pants but I totally can't because I'm kind of engaged to your cousin?"  Oh, that's right, we know that one from The Age of Innocence.  Didn't Newland send Countess Elenska yellow roses?    Ding, ding, ding.
Ok, I have a little assignment for you this month.   1)  Read the book  2) Write your review 3) Answer the following questions, "If I were a flower I would be  _______ because _________  and "If I were meeting my true love for the first time I would give him or her _______ because __________.

Although I love flowers, it wasn't the title of the book that got me to read its pages.  I heard the author on NPR one night and was mesmerized by the interview.  It was the phrase "attachment disorder" that caught my attention first.  I listened to Vanessa as she recalled mentoring a foster child that she loved yet felt she never truly connected with.  She spoke of her experiences with many foster children who struggled to find their identity when they were born without one.

Finding yourself in this world is hard enough when you come from two parents, I can't imagine coming from none.  This debut novel is a fictional work with a foundation in real experience.  The disconnect that Diffenbaugh explores is the impetus for the language of flowers and crucial to the narrative and what got me interested in reading the novel in the first place.

If you are a sucker for dysfuction (and I am NOT talking the Jace-and-Clary kind of dysfunction) I highly recommend The Language of Flowers.  The writing is excellent with strong characterization, steady pacing and depth, and the protagonist isn't a whiney-girl for a change.  Every word counts in this novel so I recommend reading it S L O W L Y, especially the conclusion, which was too brief for me the first time I read it.  I had to go back over and reread it to savor the ending.   (The audio book is also excellent).      

The NPR interview can be found at this link: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/27/139985995/speaking-of-foster-care-in-the-language-of-flowers

Amazon link is here and Goodreads link is here

Monday, January 30, 2012

Le Curse of el Tigre!

The Tiger's Curse review by Jespy Espy


I wanted to be obsessed with this book, like everybody else. I wanted to devour the first book and then rush out and get the next two books in an obsessed frenzy. But I’m starting to realize that I don’t always get everything I want, no matter how much I scream and fail my arms.

The author did an excellent job of describing the tiger(s). The tigers felt real and I would find myself getting lost in the story particularly when Ren was in Tiger form. ßI wrote that because I felt bad about the rest of my review. Ahem.

I know a lot of people were feeling Kelsey and Ren’s relationship, but I felt no chemistry between them. In the beginning, when Ren was still in his tiger form, their relationship felt like that of a young girl and her pet tiger. Then, when he finally took his human form, their romantic relationship happened quite simply and without tension.

Whenever Ren would go back to his tiger form, their relationship would regress to that of child/pet, making it hard to get a good feel for Kelsey because she would act/speak very immaturely and treat Ren like a silly pet. But then Ren would take his human form again, and Kelsey would become an uptight, middle-aged librarian with a crush. I didn’t care so much how she acted, I just needed consistency. I couldn't figure out who she was.

The instant physical attraction between them whenever Ren was in human form did not have any effect on me. Ren was endlessly caressing her check with his knuckles, brushing hands with her, touching the tip of her nose, calling her beautiful, etc. That crap might work if there had been any tension, but otherwise it’s just words on a page.

Then about 2/3 into the book, it was as if the author suddenly realized this was all progressing too quickly, so she put the breaks on the relationship the only way she knew how: by simply making Kelsey reject Ren. The reason was pathetic. I don’t stand for that “I’m not worthy of your love, you’d be better off without me, because I’m not as attractive as you” nonsense. Then, as Kelsey’s logic follows, she painstakingly began to push him away in the meanest possible way, and treated him terribly for the rest of the book in order to accomplish this (except for a couple of three-page kisses that happened after the fact). Couldn’t there have been a better way to break up? Maybe a nice text message?

This reminded me of the end scene in Harry and the Hendersons, when John Lithgow’s character employed the same “go on, get outta here, we don’t want you anymore” technique on Harry, because it was for his own good.

(I always hated that part. Was the slap really necessary? And no, that quiet, “my friend” he added after Harry left did not soften the blow.)

Another negative for me were the long Q&As between Kelsey and Mr. Kadan. Unfortunately for us, Mr. Kadam was like a human Wikipedia, so we were subjected to page upon page of information regarding tigers, airplane engines, Indian myths, the caste system, etc. Kelsey (inconveniently) found it all so fascinating and encouraged him to continue his lectures quite frequently. It got to the point that I’d start skimming whenever Mr. Kadan walked onto the page. And Kelsey was equally guilty of doing this. She would oft. wax poetic about her many likes and dislikes, her favorite poems, her childhood, what she does for fun, etc. It felt like an attempt to help the reader get to know Kelsey better. The most uncomfortable was when she would start info-dumping on Ren when he was in tiger form, and he couldn’t respond.

Finally, (and this is just me being picky) I have a short list of things in books that drive me crazy to the point that I can’t let it go and enjoy the story. I tried to ignore it in The Tiger’s Curse, but it got to be too much. This is my fictionalized example:

“Look at this, Ren.”

“What is it, Kells?”

“Ren, it looks like a statue. What do you think it means, Ren?”

“I don’t know, Kells.”


“Yeah, Kells?”

“I like your name, Ren. I’m gonna say it almost every time I speak to you. Even when we are the only two people in a room and it’s clear I could only be speaking to you, Ren.”
“Thank you, Kells. I like yours as well, so I will say yours no less than two times per page. When I’m feeling playful, I’ll call you Kells, and when I’m feeling passionate, I will address you by your full name. Kelsey.”


“What is it, Kelsey?”

“Do people in real life say each others names this much?”

I should end with something positive! I feel bad. Um, the descriptions of the tigers were so good!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tigers Curse Discussion

Lets discuss Tigers curse here tomorrow night @ 8:30pm PT.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Is there anyone out there to discuss tigers curse? I put this up just in case.

I have the tigers curse

Well I guess I have the tigers curse because I love these books. I must have seen right through Colleen's "bad writing" because I didn't see what was wrong with it. I loved her descriptive writing even though it may have all been pulled from Wikipedia. She really did a good job making you feel like you were in India with her research. Kelsey wasn't too annoying for me, I've read books with more annoying girls. Dont get me started on ren and Kishan. I can see why there is a love triangle. It is hard for me to choose what one I would rather have her end up with. Anyway I better see if there is anyone to discuss with. I'm a sucker for twilight knockoffs guys. I could read a million of them, good or bad and never get sick of it :o)

Trussssst in Meeeee...

"I don't know any hot Indian men"... ha ha, nice one Flem. I'm afraid I had the same thought. To me all Indian men wear big cotton diapers and weigh as much as a small child. I also can't keep from doing the Simpsons Apu accent whenever any of them are speaking... even Kelsey sometimes, 'cause... you know... she wouldn't be able to help herself, it's just so fun to talk like that.
There were several annoyances for me. First of all, I missed Baloo, Bagheera, the wolf pack, and the marching elephants. Also I didn't fall in love with Kelsey like everyone else did. Other than apparently having some ability to help break the curse I didn't see anything in her that would make me want to give her sports cars, homes, credit cards, and college tuition. It was particularly annoying how she kept pushing Ren away because she felt she just wasn't in his league. I also thought Kishan was a jerk and didn't get how Kelsey liked him. I stopped reading this series about a third of the way through book two when it became apparent that the author was setting up a love triangle that made no sense to me whatsoever.
Despite the annoyances, I didn't hate it. It was light entertaining reading, a nice diversion from tech manuals and textbooks. I actually think the movie version has the potential to be even better than the book; especially if they have the budget to do Avatar-like effects, 'cause tigers are just so cool.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tiger's Curse

The Tiger's Curse is real you guys.

You know how I know?  Because I listened to the three books on audible, what I thought was a trilogy, and when I got to the end and realized it wasn't finished?  That is when I felt it.  The curse.

Because really, most of the way through the book(s) I was like "come on now!!" for so many reasons.  Like:

--Low self-esteem girls, I just don't get them
--Totally predictable moments, I was hardly ever surprised
--Too much focus on the body. Okay we get it, hot Indian men!  But can we focus on the charm and the how they made you feel emotionally too?  That didn't come until WAY too late for my liking.  Then again, I don't know any hot Indian men.
--Are we seriously bringing in every possible mythology ever?

In spite of those elements, I was fairly devastated it was over.  I felt so, so sad.  That is when I realized that this little vixen of an author is tricky.  She did her homework about a TON of crap:  SCUBA, Tigers, Indian lore, boats, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. She must have read and studied constantly while working on this.

She did a good job of building up a little sultry romance, even if the amount of conflict they encountered was a little over the top.

Original--an Indian prince, half-tiger/half-man, a brother duo, and a grandfatherly figure.

She described food and clothing in extensive detail, made you feel like you were there.

Lastly, I thought the main character was a nice balance of courage and reliance on the male leads.

In the end, I have to say I really enjoyed reading these books and I look forward to the 4th one.  Even if I have to put up with all those annoying little elements.

Tiger's Curse, a mixed review

This will be quick since the discussion is about to begin.  I have mixed feelings about the book and the series.  The first three nights I read the book as a bedtime story as it quickly put me to sleep each night.  On night three I decided to skip ahead to see if I wanted to continue reading this book or let it go the way of that one book about the short lady, oh what was it called?  Exactly.  When I found the words "kiss" and "kissing" I continued.  Aw, this is more like it.  I  read a little bit of the kissing scenes, okay all of them, and then went back and read the book.  Then I read the next book.  Then the next book.  Books Two and Three I finished in a matter of days.  So as you can see for I devoured the books.  

Now did I like them?  Well, yes I did, but I'm not sure why.  There are so many reasons not to like them.  Kelsey was completely unlikable -- really flat, uninteresting, selfish, and shallow.  The potential to go really deep with her was there, with her being orphaned and everything, but I never really felt the loss of her parents.  I never connected or sympathized for her which is a red flag for me.  I know I'm never going to connect in the way I like to connect when I can't FEEL for the characters.  Reading about them is one thing, but feeling them is another.  The books that are my favorites are the books in which I can feel the characters.  I know.  I'm weird.  

Often when I read a book I get a sense of the author.   It's not that I dislike Colleen, I think she's great (I especially like that we graduated from the same college) it's just that I can tell we are really different in the way we view the world as she is more of a "ST" and I am a total "NF" if you'll remember back to our personality discush.  ;)  I only mention this because I love "NF" books.  Funny that INFPs often love the same books.  "The Giving Tree" being high on the list.  Anyhoo, I didn't mean to get off topic.

If I may have a word with some people for a second, I have a few unanswered questions.

Kelsey-- Who are you, girl?  What makes you special?  Why, out of all the young women in the world, are you the only person who can break the Tiger's Curse?  Why, oh why, oh why?  I seriously don't get it.  You frustrate me, you bore me, you're kind of a jerk, you lack direction, and your creator has yet to show me why you aren't just like any other girl out there.  And if that's the point, then that's really lame.

Mr Kadam--  Oh Mr. Kadam, why are so flat?  You bored me to tears.  ::shaking my head::

Ren.  I like you.  Underneath that hot bod you actually have a personality.  The trouble is I would really like to know you but I can't.  I'm stuck in Kelsey's head when I'd much rather being in your arms head.  I get the feeling there is more to you than just your looks.  Wanna have lunch?  I'll wear my saree.    

Kishan.  I like you as well.  So why are you being completely and totally emasculated in Book Three?  Push back against the author's agenda and stop being a fool.  Hello.

Collen.  Overall I found your writing to be okay, but not good.  In fact, at times it was really elementary.  I would love to see varied sentence structure, improved vocabulary, more figurative language, more feeling infused into the thoughts, words, and action, more showing and less telling, and either a third-person point of view, or a least alternating first-person points of view between Kelsey, Ren, and Kishan.   Develop and strengthen the characters.  (Don't get me wrong with this feedback;  I'm not any better, I just see room for improvement).  Kudos to you for doing a lot of research, but I often felt Wikipedia sitting with me as I read, a constant weight on my shoulder.  Research is great for research papers, but for novels I've always heard it's good to write what you know.  (Just my take on it).  Also, a word about the food.  Don't these people ever eat anything other than carbs?  Come on.  You are totally pushing the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) on these Indian characters and I'm afraid they'll all be type 2 diabetic by the time we reach Book Four.   (You're lucky I've decided to save my Paula Deen rant for another day).  I know this is a fantasy book but it does need to be a bit more practical in the food department.   May I suggest more natural, whole, raw foods (think fruit, veggies, greens) for these characters and less talk about it?  

Okay, now on to what I liked.  I liked the way I was completely A.D.D. the week I read the series-- reminded me of my love affair with Twilight.  I couldn't give the kid a bath without the book right next to the tub or sit at the stoplight without the book in my lap.  I'd find excuses to go to bed early, feign sickness, or sneak into my bedroom book in hand.   When I wasn't reading, and my kids were talking to me, I couldn't hear a word they said as I was too busy thinking about how/when I'd get my next Tiger's Curse fix.  I even PAID FOR (which I never do) the third book because the waiting list at the library was much too long and I had to read it NOW.  Thank you Amazon for your quick delivery.  I felt so undone without it.   The other thing I loved was how the author credited Twilight for being the inspiration for the book. From the interview that I watched, Colleen explained how she enjoyed the Edward/Jacob dichotomy and wanted to re-create something similar.  So Tiger's Curse may be yet another Twilight knock-off but it's the best knock-off I've read and the author gives credit where credit is due.      

Overall, I enjoyed this page-turner of a book and have recommended it to fiction-loving friends.  Can't wait to read about what they eat in Book Four.  ;)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

An English teacher's dream

I can't count the number of times this book made me smile.  I'm not lying.  It was that good.

In fact, I haven't smiled this much since The Book Thief and The Hunger Games series.  If I were an English teacher I would get busy putting this book in my lesson plans.  In fact, I bet there are a lot of curriculum nerds going nuts out there right now fitting this book into English classes everywhere.  It truly is an English teacher's dream.  There is so much to explore.  Well, I better go since the discush is starting but i will finish this later.

OKAY FOR NOW discussion...

Better than okay, in fact, amazing.

I already reviewed this on Goodreads, but I just want to add...

After reading scores of YA and MG novels (in and out of this book club), I've come to realize how difficult it can be for a writer to give their young protagonist an authentic voice. Too much angst can come across whiny and annoying, giving birth to an unlikable character. Yes, birth. This problem has killed many a YA book for me (I'm not naming names Graceling ahem). Too little angst, and the character can seem inauthentic or 2-dimensional. It's a fine line, mi amigos. In my professional book club opinion, Doug Swieteck walked that fine line perfectly, not a single misstep. Doug is what made this book so great. Because if all that stuff would have happened to some random kid that didn't seem so dang real, I wouldn't have cared half as much.

Katniss Everdeen
Captain Peter Blood
Doug Swieteck

Let's discuss now, shall we?

Two Thumbs Up


That's how I felt about this book.  Having a 13 yr old boy myself I cannot begin to understand how the author captured the "phase" so perfectly.  And yet, this boy is so different from mine in so many ways.  Obv he doesn't have an abusive, loveless father, etc.  But, how is he so strong?  How can he maintain his ability to get up every day and not curl up in a ball and give up?  It was inspiring to me that a young boy could be so strong,...so caring,....so, so,...............tenacious.  I'm not making sense.  To be honest I didn't think this was gonna happen since I hadn't seen a post from Jespy about a discush.  But yay!!  I loved this book and have already recommended it to a dozen people at least.  Let's do this!

I Was a Chump

I was a chump at least 4 times reading this book.  So what?  So what?  You probably were too. 

Here are the stats on that:

1 time when that kid gave him the Joe Pepitone jacket when he was moving away.
1 time when Douggo stopped by the paper mill and I realized his dad had kept the money and baseball and hadn't said a stupid word to him about it.
1 time when the boss at the paper mill gave him that bomber jacket.

And one other time that I can't remember but you can probably figure it out for yourself.

If you are paying attention you'll see I didn't exactly take stupid notes.

There was a point where I was mad at Jenny for picking this book and making me read it.  I think it was the part where stupid Lucas came upstairs and beat up Doug and took his Joe Pepitone baseball hat.  Yup.  That was exactly when.  Like I wanted to be all depressed.  But Doug had already grabbed me by my stupid heart and that was that.  I was glad I read it and didn't even care it made me act like a chump.   The parts that got me good were the ones where the smallest actions made the biggest differences.  It made me realize that the little things I say or don't say to people can impact them.  Young artist.  Mamma's Baby. 

I  loved the writing style.  If I could trace my finger over it and copy it like Doug did with the Arctic Tern I would in a second.  I have a feeling it's a lot harder than creating stability or movement in a sketch though  A lot harder.

I am so glad I just read Jane Eyre a month ago. 

Fantastic book.  I loved it.  So what?

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Book Selection

I'm just gonna step right in and pick a book, if that's okay for now with you people.
The book is called Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.

Have you forgotten why you love reading, my friends? Have you lost your reading mojos, mi amigos? Has your book list gone from totally chic to totally geek, my comrades? Well, here is a book that will get you back in the reading groove. After you read this, you will scower (how do you spell scower, fhs?) the Internet, looking for more books with teenage boy protagonists (and you'll have a hard time finding anything that measures up). This is a book you can safely purchase, rather than borrow from the library. This is a book you will continue to think about long after you close it/power it off. This is a book you will recommend to acquaintances during awkward lulls in conversation. This is a book you will bake a cake about.

You can read my review of it HERE on Goodreads if you need more convincing.

--Jenny ESP

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Discussion Place for The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, a Novel

And go...

Only a little bit of Love

I was curious about the circus thing. I even got a little bit pulled into the story there for a few minutes. But Vinnie was so unlikeable. I couldn't stop wondering the whole book how she never wanted, felt, tried, wished, missed, or thought about doing it with Charles. And I felt so so sorry for him. I hated all of the travelogue stuff. Again? We have to hear about every city, the dirty wagons, trudging through the mud? Months and months of ships and trains and ugh! That could have been summed up pretty easily in a page or two.

I too googled pictures of Lavinia and her little husband. She wasn't that pretty. I wish I could find better pictures of her. What an ego the author gave her. So anyway. The other reviews are much better phrased and written than mine. A big thumbs up Landee. I felt the same way!!

"Landee Loved This Book" and other Humbugs

Alternate Title:  Landee Gives Mrs. Tom Thumb Two GIGANTIC Thumbs Down

First of all, I looked at the photos of Miss Lavinia Warren Bump.   She's no Beauty Queen.  Perfectly proportioned?  I'm gonna go with no.  MORE perfectly proportioned than the peeps on Little People, Big World, yes, I'll give her that.  But still.  Her head is bigger than it should be.  Minnie is adorable though... I just want to put her in my pocketbook and carry her around!

#2, Vinnie was highly unlikable.  Who ever heard of a snotty dwarf/pituitary disorder?  I recently found out that my ancestors also came over on the Mayflower and you don't see me with my tiny nose stuck in the air, do you?  I can't like a snob, no matter how tiny she is.  Therefore, I couldn't completely enjoy the story as it is told entirely from within her tiny brain.  I can't forgive her for being so cold with poor Charles either.  I mean, I wasn't looking forward to any nasty tiny person intimacy scenes or anything, but geez!  A man has needs, I don't care how wee he is.

C.  I LOVE P.T. Barnum.  If he really is anything like how he is portrayed in this book then I want to know more.  I guess that is one good thing about this book... it did make me want to know more about these people.

4th, the writing was subpar.  I wanted less of a travelogue and more of a character driven story.  The foreshadowing was driving me crazy too.  Things like "I would later look back at that handshake and remember it as the moment I sentenced Minnie to death"  (not an exact quote, but who cares?).  Rarely did actual events live up to to the drama of the foreshadow.   I was totally expecting Barnum to have strangled Minnie with his bare hands!  As it turns out, he happened to have introduced Minnie to some short-ish dude whom she married, got pregnant with and then died in childbirth.  Give it a rest, Vinnie, fhs.

Lastly, between this and Water For Elephants I'm starting to think that circus freaks are the new vampire.

Landee out.

Markie's Review of Mrs. Tom Thumb

While this book wasn't particularly entertaining; definitely not a page turner and nothing I would read again, I found the subject quite fascinating and I'm glad I read it. What fascinated me? Well, first off the idea that a person can be born a normal sized baby and then at at couple years old stop growing vertically, while otherwise continuing to age and develop normally in every other way. Apparently this type of dwarfism is not common today because it's easily treatable with hormone therapy. I guess that's why you never see little teeny tiny pocket people around any more. Kinda sad. I miss them... not that I ever had them... but still... I miss them.

I'm also fascinated by what kind of challenges one would face being a teeny tiny person in a normal world (or being a normal person in a world of giants depending on your perspective). "I had always looked up, of course; that was my natural position, just as a flamingo stands on one leg or an otter swims on its back" - challenging, both on a practical basis; things like boarding a train, getting into bed, using a bathroom, cooking, finding clothes, etc.; and on a social basis - the constant stares and whispers, and the challenge of finding a companion. In the case of Miss Lavinia Warren Bump there were extremely limited options.

I also think its facinating the way the author gave a personality and voice to this little person. I have no idea whether it was accurate or not; whether she was the nicest kindest bravest person in the world, or a selfish, bitter, cynical beotch. I suspect like most of us she was some of all the above. For me, I found the personality and voice that the author gave her to be believable, and I did not dislike her. I thought her motivations seemed genuine and I never had a "gimme-a-break" moment where I felt like nobody would act/feel/behave that way.

I don't know how I would handle being a teeny tiny person. Probably not gracefully. I think I would have been very reclusive, willing to stay on the farm and be sheltered and protected, and terrified of the day when my parents would no longer be around to provide that shelter and protection. I loved the fact that Vinnie did not want to be defined by her size, and had the courage and determination to first become a school teacher, and then to go explore the world. I didn't think there was anything incongruous or disingenuous about her wanting to protect her little sister, while at the same time feeling the need to get off the farm herself, see the world, and have people know and remember her.

I also can't judge her for marrying for practical and financial reasons rather than for love. I believe people have been doing that for generations. In fact I think the idea of marrying solely because you are in love is a relatively modern idea. Arranged marriages still happen today in many parts of the world. And again, her options were very limited. Marrying a normal (or giant depending on perspective) sized person would be out of the question for reasons I would think I need not explain. I think it was very sad that she never had any intimacy in her marriage (according the author) - I felt particularly sad for her husband, but again I can't blame her. Indeed she saw her worst fears played out when Minny foolishly did what Vinnie knew she could never do. It's just sad they didn't have something better than prevention powders in those days. Or maybe they did, but these tiny people just didn't know about it, or couldn't find anything their size. Poor little people.

I found P.T. Barnum fascinating too, and I wouldn't mind learning more about him. He certainly left a legacy. The Barnum & Bailey circus still travels around the country today. I liked the way the author portrayed him and would like to think it was accurate. I felt that while he was clearly a business man and out to provide entertainment and make a buck, he respected his employees. I personally don't have any problem with his passing off a wrinkled old lady as being 161 years old and the nanny of George Washington, or sewing half a monkey to half a fish and calling it a mermaid. I love that in our nation a person is free to find suckers and take their money. I did have a problem with his taking orphans and trying to pass them off as the Thumb's child; while at the same time being impressed by the brazenness of it. I think he probably should have done some jail time for that one given that people around the world sent expensive gifts for the baby's birth, and again for its supposed death.

I like the way that the author focused the narrative on the relationship between Barnum and Vinnie. I was sad that Vinnie blamed herself and Barnum for her sisters death, but again I found it genuine and didn't question it. I was happy that they reconciled in the end. These are two people that I will add to my list of people I'd like to meet on the other side. Of course I also found her interaction with, and feelings about the Mormons interesting. I completely understand her disgust at Polygamy. I wish I knew more about her meeting with Brigham Young.

I'm actually old enough, and maybe some of you are too, to remember "Freak Shows". I remember one "human oddity" I saw as a child. It was a tiny man. I paid my dime or whatever it was, and climbed the stairs into a trailer where we stood behind some Plexiglas staring at a little man in a tiny recliner watching TV. He wasn't an every day Oompa Loompa like midget, but he also wasn't a perfectly proportioned little man like Tom Thumb. He was rather misshapen, hunched over, and looked like he must be in constant pain. He looked to be in his middle ages and quite unhappy. I can't blame him. In the few minutes that I was there I witnessed several Cletuses banging on the Plexiglas, and shouting things to try and get the little guy to do something, like Dudley Dursely trying to get the attention of the Burmese Python. But the tiny man never acknowledged the people on the other side of the glass. I felt very sorry for this little person, and wondered about the ethics of this situation. On the one hand we were providing him with an honest living (assuming his employers were treating him fairly) while on the other hand it may have been at the expense of his dignity and self worth.

I pondered this ethical question throughout the book. It's one of the reasons I ultimately give this book thumbs up. It made me ponder some big questions. I like how the Author addressed this issue and how it must have always been a part of Vinnie's thinking. "There were hundreds of 'Tom Thumb Wedding' parties; 'Tom Thumb Wedding" fundraisers; 'Tom Thumb wedding' pageants at schools. Was I supposed to be touched by this, viewing it as a tribute to our love? Or was I supposed to be offended, seeing it as a mockery, a joke? I never could decide." When an Elvis impersonator marries a couple in Vegas, or dozens of them parachute from an airplane is it a tribute? a mockery? Both? Can you really pay tribute to somebody while you are making a joke of their appearance/size/voice/style/etc.?

Other passages that made me ponder:
"I wondered if this was how it always felt when all your dreams came true. Perhaps, after living with them for so long, did you simply toss them away - and begin to dream about something else?"
- Discussion point: Have you ever had a dream come true; one that you thought if only you had that one thing you would be happy for the rest of your life? How did you feel immediately after? 1,5,10 years after? Are you still waiting for your dreams to come true, and provide you the happiness you long for?
"I must confess, right here and now, to making a dreadful assumption. And that assumption was that a person this tall who moved this slowly, must be very slow of mind and wit and well."
- Discussion point: What assumptions do you make based on appearances? Are others justified in making assumptions about us based on our appearance, religious belief, occupation, etc.?
"I imagined what it would be like to be able to walk around freely, anonymously, nothing about me remarkable in any way. Would I like it? Would I trade my fame if it meant that I never had to suffer fools hugging me to them ever again? I honestly did not know. And I was more than a little relieved that it was a moot point, after all."
- Discussion point: Have you ever wanted to be a movie star/sports hero/national leader/famous singer/etc.? Do we envy them without considering what they sacrifice in return for their fame? Would you be willing to pay the price in lost freedom and privacy?

Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the authors portrayal of Vinnie and whether or not you think she was a good or bad person there is no disputing the fact that this tiny person had the courage to travel the world, meeting kings, queens and heads of state, and on one tour alone "traveled 55,487 miles (31,216 of them by sea) and gave 1,472 entertainments in 587 different cities and towns in all climates of the world without missing a single performance because of accident or illness" and this without most of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. That's a pretty amazing feat IMHO and deserves my admiration and respect, if for nothing else.

Little Person, Giant Ego

JennyESP's review of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

The Writing:

The writing was very nice if you take it sentence by sentence. But those well-written sentences did not always move the story along. They sometimes just sat on the page looking pretty. And at times the dialog felt inauthentic, as if the characters were speaking for the sole purpose of informing the reader. (There would be long paragraphs of dialog from one character, saying things the other characters in the room had to have already known.)

The Pace:

Slow. Slow. Quick, quick, slow. I danced the Tango with this book, when I much prefer the Running Man. There were whole chapters that didn’t seem to add anything to the story and were, in fact, very dull. (Like chapter 5, for instance. You can skip chapter 5 and you won’t miss anything. Actually, you can skip the whole book and read about Vinnie Warren on Wikipedia.) Conversely, the parts of Vinnie’s life that I was particularly interested in reading about were skimmed over in a sentence or skipped entirely. For example, her courtship with her future little husband, Charles Stratton, Mr. Tom Thumb himself! I had to muck through 40% of the book, which included a lot of daily snobbery, before they finally met, only to have their courtship summed up in one unsatisfying “by the way, I agreed to marry Charles” sentence. (More on that relationship later…)

Mrs. Tom Thumb (aka Vinnie):

“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it would be defined as a self-absorbed, selfish, arrogant, condescending, uppity, heartless, cold, manipulative, opportunistic, cruel, self-righteous, judgmental hypocrite.” (Edits.)

The list of Vinnie’s unlikeable attributes grew and expanded as the story dragged on until any hope of redemption was lost. Although, such little effort was made to redeem this character that I have to wonder if the author intended for us to dislike Vinnie. Or perhaps the author and I simply define “strong, driven, independent female” differently. Either way, I utterly disliked Vinnie in an overwhelming contemptuous far-out way, and in the end, she killed this book for me. The most satisfying part of the book was when P.T. Barnum finally chewed her out, although it wasn’t nearly long enough and he failed to kick her into a thorny bush, as I was hoping. Vinnie never apologizes for her faults and never changes. If anything, she gets worse as the story progresses. Her mistreatment of her husband is particularly heartbreaking.

P.T. Barnum:

He was by far the best character in the novel. He shared many of Vinnie’s flaws, yet he was surprisingly down-to-earth and likeable. His relationship with Vinnie felt authentic.

General Tom Thumb (aka Charles Stratton):

Excuse me while I wipe the mud from this poor gentleman’s name.

Credibility (or lack thereof):

**spoilers ahead, and some frank talk about love-making, but I suggest you read on**

Charles Stratton was a real man. Vinnie Warren Stratton was a real woman. In this fictional autobiography, the author wants us to believe Charles and Vinnie never consummate their marriage.

Vinnie, the cold-hearted snake, only marries to advance her career. Unbeknownst to Charles, she never intends to consummate their marriage, or have children (adopted or otherwise, as children literally give her the heebie-jeebies). By the time the author is done with her, Vinnie is a 43-year-old, widowed virgin who is terrified of sex. Again, the author and I have different ideas about what makes a woman strong, driven, and independent.

Stretching the imagination even further, Charles, who married Vinnie for love, is blindsided by her unwillingness to consummate their marriage, but after a few rejections in the bedroom, he never presses the issue, never complains, and never strays from the marriage. He is given an almost child-like sensibility after that, as if he hasn’t any strong adult male desires. This is attributed to his small size and his “simplemindedness.”

I found this suggestion not only insulting, but lacking credibility. I read the author’s note at the end to see how she came to such bold conclusions about Vinnie and Charles, and found that the little evidence she gave to support her claims actually implies the opposite of how she portrayed them to be, if you ask me.

On Benjamin’s (author) website, she answers the question of how she balances “fact versus fiction” in her writing. Her reply: “I like to say that I never let the truth get in the way of a good story! There's a reason why "A Novel" is on the front of the book. It's fiction, and I trust the readers to know that it is. Always, my hope is that, after reading one of my books, the reader is then inspired to learn more about these remarkable people. However, I do use the known facts as a template; they're the "bones" upon which I hang the "skin"—the story, the fiction. But sometimes you do have to take liberties—although I always try to take them with people whose motivations are truly unclear in the historical record. Or with events whose details remain unknown to us.”

Oh, how I would've preferred if M. Benjamin had let a little more truth get in the way of her fiction! Her bones of facts were too easily broken. Indeed, I was inspired to read more about these real people, just as she hoped, and I believe she sold them short. Pun intended!

Here are some confirmed facts, not mentioned in the novel: Vinnie married an Italian Count (another little person) a few years after Charles’s death. She and the Count were together until her death, 34 years later. However, when she died, she was buried next to her first husband, Charles, and her grave stone simply reads “His Wife.” No name, no tiny life-size statue like her husband got, and no mention of her being a Countess. Just simply “His Wife.”

Yeah. They consummated their marriage, all right. In fancy hotels all over the world, including that weird little Mormon town in UT.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I know other people think you're all that but, well....

Dear Vinnie,
I'm sorry to say it, but I don't like you enough to keep reading.  I spent four nights with you.  Four nights that I could have been doing something else like watching Seinfeld reruns or reading Twilight fan fiction, but I wanted to give you a chance.  After reaching page 124, I just couldn't give you any more of my time.  I'd been disappointed again.  You're finally back home with your family and I'm not feeling the warmth you have for your sister that I thought you said you loved.  The problem is this: I don't think your author really knows you.  She can't explain to me why you do the things you do.  From the very beginning there was this disconnect.  A lack of authenticity.  I first felt it when you decided to give up being a school teacher to join Colonel Wood.  I wasn't set up well enough for that.  I couldn't understand your decision-making for that one when I had thought you to be an intellectual school teacher.  Your naivete was a bit jarring and, honestly, I never got the respect back.  You left your little sister whom you said you loved and wanted to protect but you left without the approval of her or your family.   What?  That's not cool.  So it was downhill from there.  I'm sure you have a lovely story.  Maybe someone else can sum it up for me in a paragraph or two.  

Your typical 5'2"gal  in Meridian, ID, nothin' to write home about here

Monday, July 18, 2011

SRBC Book of the Month - A Markie Pick.

Well, I had all but made up my mind to go with another Dystopian YA book and one that came highly recommended by my daughter Samantha. The book is called Divergent and while I'm sure its awesome, it's another first in a trilogy where the other books are yet to be written. I'm not a fan of being left hanging and I have such a short term memory that I always have to re-read the prior books again when the sequels come out so I usually prefer to wait until an entire series is finished before jumping into it. Having said that, my pick is not due to be released until a week from tomorrow (which works out nicely for me since we will be on vacation for the next week) so if you are interested you probably have time to read Divergent while you are waiting to get the official pick of the month - which is....

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel
Author: Melanie Benjamin

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Discussion HERE for Heaven is For Real

Heaven IS for Real, but .... what?

I tried to cling to the few inspiring things this little boy had to say about his visit to heaven. But the more I read, the more 'off' it all was and left a bad taste behind. I have, many times, reconsidered his assertion that his miscarried sister was in heaven waiting. And I've tried to consider if that could really be possible. And yet, what I already know to be true just makes more sense. But, she was sad because nobody ever named her? I think if we're all children of God and knew Him before, He certainly had a name for us before we came to earth too, right? I also tried to imagine that maybe he saw / described heaven a certain way simply because he was such a young boy. But, that didn't really pan out for me either.

I love a good died-and-gone-to-heaven-and-came-back story. I watch I Survived... Beyond and Back often. I've seen probably more than a dozen different people on that show describing their experience. There is a consistent theme to them all. I love hearing people, who aren't well acquainted with religion, describing things, such as God's voice as sounding like thunder or the rushing of water. I love that they all realize in the end that there isn't an end. But none of them talk about wings or that sort of thing.

Does this make me a weirdie? I don't really care, actually. Whether or not the little boy really saw what he said he saw is beside the point, I decided. The fact that his parents are now fully subscribed to the idea of heaven and eternal families is a good thing I think. But I'm not jumping out of my skin to recommend this book to people. Or, recommending it at all. It's a good story in that it was such a hard experience for them to go through and the little boy lived. Hooray! Yikes. From growing up in WY I know about those hospitals where they aren't equipped or experienced enough to really know much of anything. So pitiful. Even this week, my nephew is finally coming to Denver for his third knee surgery because the guys in Casper couldn't figure it out. Sorry. I guess this is all beside the point.

Loved that it was a short read. Loved that it made me question a little. Love that I already sort of know pretty much most of the answers, kind of. :)

Landee Calls BS

Thank goodness Pop had mentioned that he wanted to have Jesus in his heart a week before dying.  PHEW!!  Can you imagine if he hadn't?  No heaven for you Pops!  But luckily, that was all it took to get into the literal pearly gates.

But yeah.  This book was no bueno, as my dear friend Flemsta would say.

Now, I'm not saying this book doesn't have its place in this world.  It certainly does.  Say, for example, you have no religion in your life.  Say, you have lost a loved one and honestly don't know where they had gone.  Perhaps you have never believed in anything higher than yourself yet you've felt the light of Christ in your life but didn't know what to call it.   Then I can see this book being inspiring.  I can see it giving hope where there is none.  

Unfortunately for Todd Burpo that is not me.  

Now, if there is, at some point an addendum added where, when the kid is 25 and meets the missionaries and they show him a pic of Joseph Smith and he's all "Wait...that's who?"  and they're all "This is Joseph Smith" and he's all "Ok, this is weird.... he was like, the third dude who talked to me up in heaven but I am just remembering that now" and they're all "Well he restored the gospel to the earth" and he's all "Oh yeah!  He mentioned that!  Holy crap... when can I be baptized?"  then fine.

Side notes:

  • Burpo is one of the most unfortunate last names I've ever heard.
  • Sonja sounds like a B.
  • I've been to the Butterfly Museum, Beebs has held Rosie the tarantula and I can testify that part of the story is true.
  • I do love that picture of Christ at the end by that little girl.  Like, really really love.  The hair is slightly Hasselhoff but I love the face.

The Correct Answer?

I thought the book "Heaven Is Real" was clearly breaking the number one rule of the Smart Remarks Book Club - No nonfiction - but I was wrong. Heaven may be real, but the assertions in the book are pure fiction. I knew this at 8% through (Kindle version) when Colten mentioned that the Angels sang "Jesus Loves Me" and Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho". We all know that if this book were real the Angels would have been singing "I am a Child of God" and "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree".

The fact is that this story is completely tainted by the fact that the father of this misguided child is a Methodist Pastor. I just find it hard to accept that out of the over 4,200 religions out there that this boy comes back from his near death experience regurgitating everything that his dad had been preaching since the day he was born; including the interesting fact that we all sprout wings after we die. I hope mine are hunter green.

I would have found this story much more compelling and believable if this boy had returned from the other side telling about the 40 virgins that he is going to have waiting for him when he dies, or about the six manifestations of God - Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya, and Skanda - he spent time with; or if this had been a story written by a Budhist Monk who's son came back from the other side describing his meeting with Joseph Smith, or the Prophet Mohammed; or if it was the child of a Shinto Priest who claims he is now an Operating Thetan (see Scientology); Or if it had been a Mormon Bishop's son who's visit to the afterlife included an Easter mass.

The part at the morturary where they about had to gag and forcibly remove this kid from the room because of his panic attack about whether the deceased had Jesus in his heart was creepy. I think despite the insistance from Dad that he tried very hard not to ask any "leading" questions, the fact is that he had been "leading" this child since birth. I'm not saying that this kid, or even his parents were blatanly lying, but I think kids are much more observant than we give them credit for and this child drew on everything he had been taught and observed in his short little life to give an account of Heaven that fit perfectly with what his parents expected to hear.

Or I'm wrong and the correct answer is... The Methodists... yes Methodist is the correct answer. http://mormondirection.com/2008/10/18/the-final-exam-a-light-moment/