Whistling Past the Graveyard

Susan Crandall’s Whistling Past the Graveyard was a book I wanted to read just from looking at an online description of the book. It features a unique protagonist, a 10 year old girl named Starla Jane Claudelle, who was born to two teenage parents. All she wants is to see her family back together again since her mother left her and her dad when she was only three years old to try to become a famous country singer in Nashville.

In the beginning of the novel, Starla is 9 ½ years old and lives in Cayuga Springs, Alabama, with her maternal grandmother. Her father works out on the Gulf on the oil tankers. She doesn’t have the chance to see him too often. She feels that her grandmother hates her because of the way she is treated by her and how she keeps trying to change Starla into someone she doesn’t want to be. Starla is very much a tomboy and loves hanging out in her fort and spending time with her best friend, Patti Lynn.

She decided to run away on July 4 after she was grounded by her grandmother, Mamie, because she broke the nose of a boy who was picking on a five year old girl. She had then pushed the boy’s mother to the ground. On her way walking out of town, she was offered water by a black woman, Eula, who had a white baby boy in the backseat of her car. At first she refused but was so thirsty by then that she couldn’t say no.

Eula offered to take her to Nashville to find her mother. Along the way she found out more about Eula and how she ended up with the baby. They stopped at the home that Eula shared with her boyfriend, Wallace. He was an alcoholic who was very ill-tempered and yelled at her for bringing home the baby and Starla.

Starla learned that Eula was abused by Wallace and that Eula’s life had been a difficult one.  Eula, the baby, and Starla were finally able to escape from Wallace and continue on their journey to Nashville. Along the way they met a woman who was able to provide them with the bus tickets that they would need to get to Nashville.

It was only when they arrived in Nashville did Starla learn the truth about her family and on the way home with her father told him everything that had happened during her time away from home. She had truly grown as a person and learned just how pervasive segregation was in the South during the early 1960s. At times she was even ashamed to be white.

This novel truly opened my eyes to the racial inequalities that existed in the South during this period of time and in some ways continue still today. Starla is a memorable young girl who you feel you can relate to. Although some parts of the novel seemed implausible and at times the book was slow I still relished every moment spent reading this book.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher. It will be published on July 1, 2013.

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“Z”: An Extraordinary Woman’s Story

Z by Theresa Ann Fowler is the story of a woman who was quite remarkable for her time and whose marriage to one of the most famous writers in the literary canon has fascinated many over the years. Z is the story of Zelda Sayre’s life from her years growing up in Montgomery to the fateful meeting with a boy with “Irish Sea eyes” that changed the course of her life forever. Zelda was the daughter of an Alabama judge and had a great passion for dance. On the night of her last performance with her dance school she had her first glimpse of the man who would take her on a journey into a world she had never experienced before.

This man was Scott Fitzgerald, a lieutenant with the US Marine Corps, who was briefly stationed in Montgomery before heading off to France to fight in World War I. Zelda and Scott spent a few weeks together before he had to leave for France. Fortunately he never had to face battle and came back to Montgomery again to see her. He told her that he was a writer who had sent his novel to Scribner’s, a publishing house in New York, that was then one of the most prestigious publishing houses in America. Her father thought that he should enter into a profession that would provide him with a more stable livelihood than writing.

Scott proposed to her two years after they met in 1918 and in 1920 Zelda became known as Zelda Fitzgerald once they married in New York at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Scott was now a newly famous writer who had finally had his first novel, This Side of Paradise, published by Scribner’s. He introduced her to some of his former classmates from Princeton and admirers of his work. She was so proud of his great accomplishment and enjoyed the parties and gatherings they went to together.

Things changed though when she became pregnant with her only child, a girl, who was named Frances Scott Fitzgerald and was nicknamed “Scottie” by Scott. At the time of Scottie’s birth, they were living in Paris and met other artists and writers. Zelda began dancing again and started to dabble in writing. Any story of hers that was published though had Scott’s name before hers because of his popularity as a writer.

This was to become one of the many issues that affected their relationship. Scott was very controlling and wanted her to focus more on managing the household. He drank heavily which dramatically affected their marriage.

Z was a book that took me into the life of a woman I had known little about before reading the book. Fowler’s Zelda was a woman who was very active and wanted to establish a name for herself. In a period of history when women were still very much subordinate to men, she tried to prove that she was as capable as her husband at achieving great things. This is a book I would highly recommend to anyone who loves reading about extraordinary women.

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The Condition

Jennifer Haigh’s The Condition is an enthralling glimpse into the life of a dysfunctional family. The McKotch family of Concord, Massachusetts had been a relatively happy upper middle class family until one summer trip to their home in Cape Cod changed their lives forever. Frank and Paulette McKotch had given birth to three children—two boys and a girl—and all were healthy, happy children until that summer.

That summer for the first time it became clear to Frank, a scientist who studied molecular developmental biology at MIT, that something was wrong with his then 12 year old daughter, Gwen. After seeing her with her cousin of the same age, Charlotte, he noticed major differences in how they were developing. Charlotte, the younger of the two, was at least a head taller than Gwen and was starting her pubertal development while Gwen still looked very much like a child. He mentioned his observations to Paulette but she denied anything was wrong. She claimed that she had been petite when she was younger as well. It was when she was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that affects 1 in 2000 females, that the two divorced. The divorce ended their summers at the Cape.

The novel truly begins twenty years after Gwen’s diagnosis in 1977and fast forwards to 1997. By that time the eldest son, Billy, was a cardiologist in New York; Gwen worked in the basement of the Stott Museum in Cambridge as a collections assistant; and Scott, the youngest, had just moved back to Massachusetts after getting married at a young age in California. He now worked as a soccer coach and English teacher at Ruxton, a private school. The only two siblings that had any kind of bond were Billy and Gwen who talked on the phone twice a week. Scott rarely contacted his siblings and his two children, Ian and Sabrina, had only first Paulette when they were respectively five and seven. Frank by this time was on the scientific advisory board of a pharmaceutical company and taught at the Grohl Institute at MIT. Paulette lived alone in Concord in the house the children had grown up in and Frank had left. Paulette continued to be in denial about Gwen’s condition and avoided discussing it with her family. Despite the fact that Gwen was the only one diagnosed with a condition, it seemed like each member of the family had conditions of their own.

Billy was hiding from his family the fact that he was gay and had a partner who was a scientist like Frank. Scott was addicted to smoking weed and had also been a drug user with his wife. Paulette hated the fact that she had lost her former beauty with age and Frank worried about the fact that he was not able to be as sexually active as he had once been. Gwen, despite the fact that she had Turner Syndrome, seemed to be the most well-adjusted of the family.

The family came together again towards the end of the novel when Gwen fell in love for the first time. Paulette who had always babied Gwen feared that she was being taken advantage of because of her condition while Billy and Frank thought there was nothing wrong with her new situation at all. In the end the family appeared to become more functional again bonding over this revelation.

The way the author wrote about the family made the characters seem more relatable to the reader. She clearly had done her research about Turner Syndrome and this novel serves as a great introduction to a condition that is common but uncommonly known. It proves that a condition does not have to limit what you are able to accomplish.

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A Good Taste of What’s to Come: Buzz Books Spring/Summer 2013

Buzz Books 2013: Spring/Summer was a great taste of what to expect for the spring and summer season in books. Included were 28 excerpts from books in various genres and while some were books I can’t wait to read, others did not appeal to me as much. I felt it was a good mix of genres and could appeal to a diverse readership.

What was included within the book were excerpts from books by debut authors which provides readers of this book the opportunity to get a good feel for the writing style of the author. One favorite was Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls which was about a 15 year old girl whose involvement in a family tragedy caused her to be sent in the late summer to the camp which will be released in June. This is a period novel so those who enjoy history may be interested in the book.

There were also some interesting nonfiction selections including Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club which is already in film development about a group of wives of the first American astronauts beginning in 1961 with Mercury 7 to the Apollo mission of 1969. This provided a glimpse into their world which is filled with magazine covers, reporters converging on their front lawns, and visits to the developing Cape Canaveral. Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath helps readers with their decision-making processes.

This was the first sampler from a publisher that I have tried and I liked how it provided lengthy excerpts from the books so you could make an educated decision on whether you wanted to purchase the book when it was released. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to find out about noteworthy books before they are released. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, Publishers Lunch.

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A Unique Perspective on Madness in “The Trajectory of Dreams”

Nicole Wolverton’s The Trajectory of Dreams illuminated psychosis to an extent that I had never experienced before in a novel. In the novel, Lela White is a sleep lab technician who observes the sleep practices of astronauts before they leave on missions into space. She believes that they are asleep when the shuttle takes off into space and that what she does is a necessary endeavor.

Lela had a difficult childhood with a mother who thought her to be weird because she observed her sleep patterns. Her mother also dealt with psychological issues. Her father doted on Lela and stood up for her when her mother ranted against her actions. Lela grew up reading books that were far more advanced than those of her peers and had difficulty relating to her classmates.

Her difficulties relating to others continued into her adulthood and she is closer to her cat, Nike, than anyone else in the world. She believes that her cat converses with her and agrees with her mission to save the astronauts. She thinks that her colleague is working against her and regrets letting her colleague stay with her later in the novel because she thinks that her plan will be figured out and thwarted.

This novel proved to be unique and although it was slow going at points the plot twists more than made up for any issues the book had. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about psychological issues or psychology in general. It was a book unlike any I have ever read before.

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Your life can change in the blink of an eye…

This was first published on Blogcritics:


Lauren Scruggs’s Still LoLo is quite an inspirational and moving memoir. In the aftermath of a terrible life-altering accident, Lauren and her family managed to maintain their faith in God and know that he is still there looking after the family. Lauren’s story is sad at times but also radiates positivity when you see how supportive her family is of her and her actions.

The memoir emphasizes the fact that even when confronted with great disability, there is still a chance to have strong ability. Lauren was badly injured in an accident where she was walking off a plane and walked into the still spinning propeller. She fractured part of her skull, had major damage to her left eye, and had her left hand severed. It was a horrific accident that changed her life forever.

Before the accident she had been a vibrant, energetic, and passionate journalist who had created her own lifestyle magazine with a friend from college, LoLo Magazine. Her parents had divorced when she was only four which certainly impacted her and her identical twin sister, Brittany. They remarried when the sisters were eleven, which was the answer to their fervent prayers, and any hard feelings their parents held towards one another seemed to have been resolved. The sisters had attended the same college although Lauren had been indecisive about what she wanted to do with her life and had spent one spring interning in the fashion industry, which helped to grow her passion for style and beauty.

After the accident when she was lucid enough to realize what had happened to her, she went through a very dark period where she struggled to deal with the pain of losing her eye and hand and having the left side of her face scarred. Her parents, sister, and friends were tremendously helpful to her during her recovery, and with time she learned that she would still be able to do many of the activities she had been involved in before the accident.

This book proved to be a beautifully written story of faith, hope, and love–and shows that even in the darkest of times there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. Though the accident changed the Scruggs family, it also brought them closer together as they encouraged and supported Lauren through every step of her journey to recovery.

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Get sucked into the world of “Shadowhunters and Downworlders”

Shadowhunters and Downworlders

Edited by Cassandra Clare

                Shadowhunters and Downworlders is a collection of essays reflecting on the relationships between major characters in the “Mortal Instruments” series, the characters and their personal qualities, and even the art of the rune.  Before reading this book I had not read many literary analyses so this proved to be a unique reading experience. It allowed me to see what different writers of young adult fiction were able to gain from the world that Cassandra Clare created in her popular series.

The book begins by examining the location and how it affects Clary’s perception of the world. Locations are very important in the series as pivotal events occur in both the real world and the world of the Shadowhunters. The first essay delves into the author’s reflections on New York City and Brooklyn and then goes into her views on City of Bones, the first book in the series. Clary had a very clear sense of her world which was thrown off balance when her mother went missing and she was thrust into the world of the Shadowhunters. It caused her to have an altered perspective on where she had lived all her life.

A unique essay reflected on Clary as a warrior and how her power to create new runes enabled her to be successful in battle. This showed that you didn’t necessarily have to possess physical strength to be a warrior and that mental strength could perhaps be even more advantageous to a warrior. Clary possessed the mind of an artist and her creativity was her strongest weapon.

Some essays proved to be more interesting than others as not all of the essay topics piqued my interest. I thought that the book overall gave fans of the series new perspectives on the characters and maybe even inspired others to try the books for the first time. It certainly provides for some interesting discussion topics such as the concept of “the Other” and the incest taboo. The book was thought-provoking and broadened my understanding of a series that I have been a fan of since book one.

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