Let's Review "Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Memoir" by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson is a super-popular blogger known as "The Bloggess." Last year, I read and reviewed her second book Furiously Happy. This Christmas, my husband bought me a signed copy of her first book Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Memoir. It's been a damn rollercoaster, but I finished up Let's Pretend This Never Happened and am happy to say Jenny Lawson is a talented writer who you should be following.

Lawson is a Texas gal born to a taxidermist and his long-suffering wife. In Let's Pretend This Never Happened, she takes us through some often hilarious and sometimes worrisome misadventures with wild creatures–both alive and in various states of death. I say states of death because dead animals, in Jenny's household, could be dead, disemboweled or reanimated as a cutesy wall or desk ornament. She is both horrified by and okay with the live random bobcats and turkey stalkers as well as large animal corpses hanging out around her house.

Jenny Lawson has about as many health problems as an inbred show dog. That's not to say that she's inbred, though she is from Texas. (Come on. Low-hanging fruit!) You can't help but feel sorry for her as she navigates her way through rare disorders, mental illnesses and even rheumatoid arthritis. If she ever gets a break, it's probably going to need an x-ray.

Somehow, in spite of the wacky family, or maybe because of it, Jenny Lawson is able to pull through an eating disorder, failed pregnancies, being a human pincushion to have a baby, a marriage with some kind of financial professional,  being a mother, having OCD and even vultures trying to eat her zombie dog. Her memoirs show that sometimes strong stuff is made of chipped and cracked glass. They prove that even women without pajama sets can make friends with other women. They make you feel like trying harder because if Jenny Lawson can have a popular blog, bestsellers and a driver's license, you can definitely get off your ass and take that cooking class.

Now, all I want to do is praise Lawson's bravery in baring her soul for the world to see, even if she does exaggerate. However, I would be remiss if I didn't warn you that this Let's Pretend This Never Happened goes a million miles a minute, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I can't even imagine what it looked like before an editor got his hands on it. You have to work hard to keep up, but that's okay. It's worth charging through the author's thought process to get to the tales of laughter and woe that lie beneath.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" by Fannie Flagg

Years ago, I watched the movie Fried Green Tomatoes for the first time. More than a stereotypical chick flick, this movie was funny, energetic and wholesome while tackling heavy topics. It's always been one of my favorites, yet I somehow never knew it was adapted from a novel. I learned that a few weeks ago when my sister asked me if I wanted to borrow Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg from her before she dug into it. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and here I am.

At its core, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is about a woman named Idgie and her family. Idgie's sister-in-law narrates some of the story while telling tales of her life to her friend in the nursing home. However, there is much more to it than the core tale. While jumping around from the past to the future and back again at odd points, this book encompasses a lot of folks, all Southern and all just a little countrified.

In contrast to Idgie's adventurous and daring spirit, there is Evelyn Couch­–a modern housewife struggling through menopause and a crippling lack of confidence. Her friend Ninny is a bit like Idgie and encourages Evelyn to be herself and find help for her health issues. While Ninny often narrates some of the story of her friends and family's history, the book also slips into third-person, so the reader can get a glimpse of events Ninny didn't see, from murders to elephant marches. Also intertwined with these stories are fictional clippings from local newspapers involving characters and settings. I wasn't expecting that, and they proved to be quite funny at times.

Idgie is the soul of the novel and her soul mate is a woman named Ruth. I was a little surprised at how casually Fannie Flagg handled the fact that Ruth and Idgie were obviously gay. People around them knew it and this is Depression-era Alabama. I'm not entirely sure if people in that time and place would have been as accepting of such a relationship as the characters in the novel are or if Flagg wanted to leave that kind of bigotry out of the novel. In any event, it doesn't seem out of place.

There are a number of black characters in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Some are staff and all are friends of the central cast of characters. Bigotry and racial violence is handled extensively and I think tastefully. From the shame of being thought an Uncle Tom to the added difficulties of being black, homeless and hungry during the Depression, readers get what feels like an inside look into life before Civil Rights. It feels genuine and thoughtful at every step.

Homelessness, alcoholism, spousal abuse, disability and loss are all interwoven into this otherwise uplifting novel. Love, affection, unconditional friendship and humor all appear to counterbalance these difficult, but relevant issues. For me, humor is what came through the most. A few tall tales, a parking lot run-in and some good food jokes all made Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe a happy, inspiring novel that is well worth the attention it, and its silver screen counterpart, has garnered over the years.

Shelly Barclay

The 39 Clues: The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis

The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis is book three in the children's book series, The 39 Clues. It is the first of The 39 Clues books to feature prolonged "alliances" between the protagonists–Amy and Dan Cahill–and their flawed family members. It is also the first book to hint at a future romance between Amy Cahill and her spoiled cousin, Ian Kabra. (They are very distant cousins.)

Peter Lerangis follows the tradition of the first two 39 Clues books by having Amy and Dan Cahill antagonized persistently by their competition in the race for the 39 Clues. All of the previous characters have cameos, but the readers learn more about Ian Kabra and Alistair Oh. Natalie Kabra is also featured prominently in the book, but Peter has nothing to add to her vapid character. Alistair and Ian, on the other hand, become more multi-faceted and intriguing (for 8 and 12-year olds).

The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis takes the search for the 39 Clues to Japan and Korea. The ancestor behind the third clue is a gold-crazy warrior by the name of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi is a former ruler of Japan and samurai warrior. He is probably best known for his restriction of weapons in the country. He ordered the 1588 Sword Hunt, which stripped the peasants of their swords. He also ruled that only samurai could carry weapons. He is the first of the ancestors pointing the way in The 39 Clues series to be a dubious historical character. It is a welcome change after the revered historical characters leading the way in books one and two.

As with the previous two The 39 Clues books, The Sword Thief adheres to the series' way of teaching young minds history while occupying them with trivial sibling rivalry, cool music, game and hobby references and, above all, adventure. Peter Lerangis and his predecessors could be the same writers as far as their miniature readers are concerned. The flow of the series is flawless, though doubtless easily rendered consistent given the simple context of the novels. Nonetheless, there is obviously some research involved in writing a The 39 Clues books.

The Sword Thief
by Peter Lerangis is a likable novel overall. He targets his audience well (like his predecessors) and has obviously left people wanting more, in a good way. The series is up to its tenth installment at the time this article was written. Peter Lerangis has been back since his first installment. He authored The Viper's Nest, which is book seven in The 39 Clues series.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

It took me longer than expected, but I have finally finished Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I'm having mixed feelings about the whole thing. I know there are Potterheads among us who hate at least the print version of the play, and I know that there are those who insist its faults lie in its being a play. The latter believe seeing it in person resolves those flaws. I fall somewhat in the middle.

I'm not going to speak to the story line at all in this review because the book is still fairly new. Also, I think you can say a lot about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child without giving away the plot, so I'll do that. Suffice to say that you'll see heroes and antagonists old and new.

I was off to a rough start with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I found the dialogue off-putting, to say the least. Old characters lacked the charm they possessed in the novels. New characters had stilted and even corny lines. I've had people tell me "That's because it's a play!" This isn't the first play I've read. The dialogue was not appealing to me. Worse, I didn't get caught up enough in the plot to make up for it.

Now, I told you I was somewhere in the middle in terms of my enjoyment of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I began to enjoy it more somewhere around the third act. Some of the dialogue got a little more compelling, the action was a bit more convincing, and the old characters weren't as stupendously out of character. I did enjoy reading the play from this point on, though it still had its shortcomings. I've yet to see how it translates to the stage, so I'll reserve judgment on the final product.

While, as I said, I found Harry Potter and the Cursed Child enjoyable to a certain degree, I wasn't moved by it. In the novels, I was at times in tears. I laughed out loud. I grew to love the characters. None of that was happening with this play, and I'm afraid it had nothing to do with the lack of prose that comes with the format. I've enough imagination to fill in the blanks. I just wasn't swept away enough to laugh, cry or anything close.

All of the above being said, I'm so ready for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. If this isn't the last of the bunch, I really hope Rowling is the only writer of canonical Potter texts in the future.

Review and Summary: "The Giver" by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry
Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel

What can I possibly say about Lois Lowry's The Giver that hasn't already been said about this award-winning novel? Probably not much. Many a more astute reviewer has rattled on about it in the past decades. Nonetheless, I've set out to tell you about most of the books I read, so I'm going to do that now in the knowledge that you should just stop reading this and go read The Giver. Seriously.

*Some spoilers

I was born in the 80s and had a developed love of literature by the 90s. Lois Lowry was one of the first writers to hit me square in the feels. She did it with Number the Stars–a kiddo-friendly look at the horrors of the Holocaust. Because I loved that book so much as a kid, I determined to read The Giver long ago, but have only just got around to it. I shouldn't have waited.

They say there are no original ideas left, but I think there are a few that come close enough or are executed so well that it hardly matters. The Giver is a bit of both. For some reason, I was nostalgic for A Wrinkle in Time and 1984 when I read it. Neither had parallel stories, but a similar feel definitely permeated all three (only for a brief section in the case of A Wrinkle in Time). That nostalgic feeling was there, but the story was also so individual that I devoured it.

In a world filled with Sameness, a young man named Jonas is chosen to be the only one among his people with memories of suffering and joy. He is to receive all of the memories of their history by a man he comes to know as The Giver. The Giver labors under the weight of these memories and, while sympathetic with Jonas, is eager to relieve his pain. However, as Jonas learns the truth about his life, he and The Giver must decide if it's time to release their burden.

The Giver is a short, simple read with complex, thought-provoking themes. Yes, it is categorized as children's literature. It's not. It is a book that people of most age groups can appreciate that happens to be at an easy reading comprehension level. This novel moved me at the age of 33. I've been thinking about it since I completed it last night and will surely remember it fondly for the rest of my life.

Shelly Barclay