Thursday, August 25, 2016

Future Olympic Event: Synchronized Shelving

Librarians in New Zealand were so inspired by the Rio Olympics, they invented a new sport: synchronized shelving. They put together this adorable video as a petition to get their tongue-in-cheek sport into the Tokyo 2020 games!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

#DollarReads Review: The Queen of Whale Cay

As a faithful book nerd, I pick up books wherever I can find them, and the thrill of the hunt is strongest at spots like dollar stores, library sales and used books shops. I found THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY: THE ECCENTRIC STORY OF JOE CARSTAIRS, FASTEST WOMAN ON WATER by Kate Summerscale and it did not disappoint. Yes, that's a doll on her shoulder in the cover photo; more on that in a minute.

Marion Carstairs was born at the turn of the 20th century. Her father was out of the picture, and her relationship with her mother was dysfunctional at best. She was a fast-moving person of little inner reflection, a woman who wanted to live as a man. Between her ambition and her family's money, she charged ahead with many jaw-dropping accomplishments considering the period: she was a driver during World War I, opening a garage with her war buddies afterward; she raced custom-made speedboats alongside men in world championships, and even bought and ran an entire island community in the Caribbean. She also renamed herself Joe, dressed as a man, smoked cigars, had tattoos, and was a lesbian with a voracious sexual appetite: the book estimates she had more than 120 girlfriends during her life, including Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. She kept photos of most of them, souvenirs of the roguish lifestyle she fashioned for herself.

During and immediately after World War I, gender roles were loosened for women due to the shortage of young men. This was the perfect time for Joe, where she could feel free to act as she wanted. That wouldn't last, but Joe would; she never changed her hard-driving ways even though society eyed her with suspicion. In order to deal with her emotions and family dysfunction, she learned to connect with inanimate objects rather than people. The doll, Lord Tod, was a gift from a lover and Joe funneled part of her soul into him, making him part of her ultimate wish to be a man. The doll was the one person she stayed with throughout her life, until her death at age 93.

The book was written in the late 1990s, and it presents Carstairs as eccentric. This may well be, but reading it in 2016 presents the question of Joe's gender disparity. She lived hard and fast, reveling in eternal boyhood, splintering her mind so she could cope. It's a fascinating and often entertaining read that stays with you long after the book is closed.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The compassion of Hawthorne's daughter

Rose Hawthorne was born on May 20, 1851, to famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia.  Rose spent her youth in Europe, marrying George Lathrop when she was 20, after the death of her mother.  Married life wasn’t kind to Rose, who suffered the death of her five-year-old son and an ongoing relationship with an apparently abusive alcoholic husband.  She wrote poetry and short stories, trying to channel the talent of her father; in her volume of poetry, Along the Shore, she talks of his gifts:

“Where spells were wrought he sat alone,
The wizard touching minds of men
Through far-swung avenues of power,
And proudly held the magic pen.”

Even though her poetry has a sweet, innocent tone, she didn’t achieve the success she hoped in writing. More and more, she spent time away from her husband and delved into social work. She did write one more book, a recollection of her father’s life called Memories of Hawthorne. The book was written as she began a new chapter in her life in 1897. Her husband died two years before, and she trained to become a nurse in 1896 to further her skills in caring for those who needed it most. Her book consists of her mother’s letters and her own commentary, and it seemed to reclaim her family name and identity. Mentions of literary stars like Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others brighten the pages, making it a very tame celebrity tell-all.  

Shortly after publishing it, Rose made her dedication to God and charity official, becoming Mother Mary Alphonsa and starting the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. She spent the rest of her life caring for disadvantaged cancer patients until she passed peacefully at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and sacrifice. Both of her books are currently available for free at Project Gutenberg. Just click the links above.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: The Forgotten Flapper

The idea of novelizing a real person’s life intrigues me, especially when it involves one of my favorite topics, women’s history. THE FORGOTTEN FLAPPER: A NOVEL OF OLIVE THOMAS by Laini Giles uses the construct of a first-person ghost story as the author takes the bare facts of Olive Thomas’ life and weaves them into a juicy celebrity tell-all from the dawn of the silent movie era.

Thomas went from innocent artists’ model to Ziegfield Follies showgirl and followed a path of sex, booze, drugs and luxury to become one of the best-known actresses in the “flickers” before her sudden death at 25. Famous in her own right, Thomas married into the Pickford family, becoming sister-in-law to Mary Pickford but never retaining her place in pop culture history as Mary did. 

Giles paints a complex picture of a complicated woman who was uneducated yet curious, loyal but quick-tempered and impressively independent in an age when women were fighting for the right to vote.  Thoroughly researched and historically accurate, the book recaptures the voice and feel of a long forgotten chapter in show business, and the period settings come alive. It's easy to see turn-of-the-century New York City and Los Angeles in your mind, thanks to Giles' detailed and vibrant sense of place.

THE FORGOTTEN FLAPPER was an enjoyable read, and apparently is the first of a historic series from Giles. Somewhere in the Great Beyond, Olive Thomas is celebrating being in the spotlight again.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: Welcome to Night Vale

I was a blank slate before reading WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and only had a passing familiarity with the podcast of the same name. In a way, I'm glad, because the spooky, trippy mystery had a deeper impact unhindered by expectation. The authors have created podcasts and live shows about the city where nothing and everything can happen, but it takes a steady hand to go from 30 minutes of blowing your mind to stepping up the intensity in a novel. 

The book centers on Jackie, a pawn store manager who's been nineteen forever, and Diane, a single mom who works in an office and has a shape-changing teenage son. Jackie can't remember her own mother or the house where she grew up, and Diane is trying to keep her son, Josh, from finding his dad. In a town where the Community Dog Park is patrolled by hooded figures, the City Council eats people who rebel and everyone's terrified of the librarians, the ladies' problems seem small, but they're all connected no matter how random everything seems. There's also the problem of a man in a tan jacket who everyone has seen, but no one can remember.

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE does the best thing a fantasy book can possibly do: it makes you wonder about the very existence of our reality and occasionally our sanity. The book can be creepy without showing gore, funny without being slapstick, and heartfelt without being sappy. It's a fun read, especially if you open it at midnight and let yourself enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Blog Tour Stop: Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

Hillary and Bill show the ghost of Jackie O around Arkansas' haunted Crescent Hotel. Even ghosts need a holiday break! The Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset is available now from #Quirk Books, and it comes with backgrounds, more characters and lots of fun!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holiday Gift Ideas for Flat Broke Writers

You’re a writer, the holidays are creeping up and your bank account is so empty, it echoes. Being a participant in involuntary simplicity doesn’t mean your friends and family go gift-free. You have the skills and savvy to make their holidays brighter without setting your stocking on fire.

For everyone
Throw down some words. We’ve all had non-writing friends and relatives ask what we do for a living, and when we say “Write,” they always ask “Did you write a book? Have you met Stephen King yet?” Ha ha, Grandma.  But actually seeing something you’ve written gets the message across, and it’s a gift from the heart. Pen a lovely poem, sarcastic haiku or even a bit of flash fiction starring your father and that Dodge Charger he gave up when you were born. It could be the nudge he needs to forgive you for existing, and if that doesn’t express the holiday sentiment, nothing else does. Extra points if you print something out and frame it. People love frames.

For readers and writers
When you write, your first go-to move for gifts usually involves books. It's easy to drop fifty bucks (if you have the cash) on a couple of hardcovers at the bookstore, but you can trump that with the wonder of the Internet. We live in a glorious world of free ebooks, digital entertainment as far as the eye can see. We’re not talking piracy, either, because that’s wrong and an erudite grizzly bear will smack you in the face with a rolled-up newspaper filled with bologna if you do it. Every major book selling site offers freebies, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, All Romance, etc., and don’t forget classic sites like OpenCulture and Project Gutenberg.

It works best if the giftee shares a home with you, so you can download books to a reader on a shared computer or their personal ereader. If they know how to manage data transfers, you can save the goodies to a flash drive and wrap it in some snazzy paper to make your gift look even cooler. When giving free ebooks, don’t focus on scoring their favorite authors, although you’ll occasionally find one or two offering freebies. You’ll have better luck matching them up with new reads and fresh voices in the same style or genre they already enjoy. You may introduce them to a new favorite author or two, and they’ll buy more books. Yay! Everyone wins!

For writers

Don’t worry about the taxidermied rabbits dressed like Pride & Prejudice characters that you just spied on eBay; the best thing you can give writers is attention. Designate a “Pimp Day” for each of your writer friends and publicize their work. Give them a lovely Amazon review, tweet their book links, splash their book covers on Pinterest, talk them up on Goodreads and Facebook. If some of your friends don’t have books, pimp out what they do have! Comment on their blogs, share their articles, and let the world know how talented they are. Your gift will distract them from obsessing over their inboxes and drinking wine in the morning. Helpful hint: tell them about their Pimp Day first, so they have something for you to promote, and only do one Pimp Day a week on all your social media outlets so you don’t overwhelm your own readers. We all crave attention, but no one wants to be the spammy coal in the bottom of the stocking.