Author Archives: Cassie


Words and Their Meaning by Kate Bassett (Flux Publishing)

This book had perfect timing.

This book was too overwhelming to read in a day.

This book was too tender to feel all at once.

And yet, it wasn’t bleak, it was fervent.

It’s hard sometimes to be pushed by a book.  You don’t want to believe the heat of your own nerves.  But this book is unfathomable.  I was moved more than any book I’ve read this year and I think this book is categorized YA.  However, it’s one of those books that will sit in every section of the bookstore.  It actually aches to know that because this book was published by Flux Publishing (quickly becoming one of my new favorite publishers) it may not get a chance at large retail stores.  So, before we get into anything, here is the link to preorder this book.  Which, you must, you must. I will become fervent, the word of this review.

Grief by Edgar Bertram Mackennal (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Okay, I know right now that everyone is obsessed with the okay? okay. of The Fault In Our Stars. However, grief has other angles.  Grief isn’t a box, it has too many sides, and can’t be constructed together with engineering, or math.  It has several smells, several letters, and there is no google search that will tell you how many words for “sad” that any language has.  (If you find one, link to it). Wikipedia hasn’t even tried to tackle the “sad” arena.  The best way I can describe the characters of this book is by using the word: saudade. I wrote it on my very first pair of pink converses from 9th grade.  It’s a Portuguese word for “melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return” (Wikipedia).

COMMISSION: Coffin Set 1 by CiLiNDr0 @ Deviant Art (Google Image Creative Commons)

Anna is a girl consumed so much with grief that she practices coffin yoga.  The art of making yourself so still that death is close, breathing on your cheek.  It means holding your breath, it means stillness, it means the calmness that comes from within the closed coffin.  She thinks of the coffin as her secret keeper, where all the thoughts she doesn’t want to think can go and die.   Her grief, like everyone’s grief, is not rational.  Her family life has fallen apart.  Her sister, Bea, tracks her grief by hiding for hours in areas like the oven (Holy shit is right).  Which leads to Anna’s references to literature (Hey, Sylvia, I’m lookin’ at you girl).

“The shrinks all want to talk about coffin yoga.  They can’t fathom the way some people have no rhyme or reason to their mourning.  How maybe there are more ways to grieve than the stupid five steps outlined in their colorful pamphlets.  Next time I see my new doc, I’ll probably tell her I’m adding a no-thinking rule into coffin yoga.  She’ll ask what it might symbolize.  And I’ll glare at her ridiculous red-rimmed glasses and flowing tunic.  I’ll speak slow and clear, so she might understand there’s nothing representative about this.  My mind just needs the break.  Because: That crack in the ceiling looks like a vein” (Words and Their Meanings).

Notegraphy-Made Quote from Words and Their Meanings

Notegraphy-Made Quote from Words and Their Meanings

Anna’s grief is real.  It will break you as you read.  It would be especially hard to be her best friend, Nat, because I can’t imagine trying to build a bridge to reach her.  She’s so inside the tunnel of herself that nothing exists outside of that shadow.  She’s in the darkness so often, it’s impossible to even reach under into the “coffin” and pull on her arm.  While Anna is the main character, the other character’s are just as strong.  Nat, the best friend, has her own story of love and loss.  Gramps is a maker of machines, a fixer, an upper, (separately and together), and he folds creases into cranes with his grandchildren.  Joe is the cause of the grief, he is Anna’s Bruncle.  They share roof and cloud philosophy and then they begin to separate.  They try to hurt one another in order to save one another.  It’s a difficult relationship, and it’s even more difficult for the reader because Joe never has a voice in the novel, he is built by the characters around him that are crumbling.  The family is beautiful and broken and the best part is that you never hate one of these characters.  They are consumed with otherness and yet, they are still lovely.  It just proves, love the broken things; don’t throw the mug away without the handle, don’t laugh at the girl with the scars, hug the people who were built on a foundation of cracks.

“Our relationship still has too many blank spaces, and I’m sick of people I love being defined by stories I haven’t heard first hand” (Words and Their Meanings).

Then, there’s a boy. We all knew that was coming. However, like Frozen, he is not the answer to all of Anna’s problems. And he has his own story.  That’s the best part of this novel, each character has a distinct story that is enough to make them.  He is swoon-worthy though, as expected.  We all would have wanted to meet him in high school.

I loved this book.  I was a mountain while I read, it was that good.  In the end, I had tears in my eyes because of Anna’s own becoming.  She’s a writer, this book is full of art and lies and the dynamics of family that has been torn apart to be put back together.  It’s a story of the flower of grief that can clog our throats and trap our humanness in its roots.  The plot was so new, and so inviting.  It left me.

“I can still taste what it feels like to be sixteen and totally f#$ked up” (Words and Their Meanings). 

Holly Kuchera Leftover Camera: Canon G9 8.21mm – f3.2 – 1/60 sec (@ Flickr – Creative Commons)

It just left me. There’s no way it left me, it just left me. I sat there puzzled and immediately wanted to review it.  I can’t even explain how good this book is, what an amazing story and what an important story for teenagers and people who once were teenagers (cough, cough).  Anna is all of us.  She’s me when I cut all my Barbie’s hair at seven and they all forever wore pixie cuts.   She’s me when I taped sad Tumblr quotes to my mirror about teenagehood when I was sixteen.  She’s me when I stood in a row of bleachers tonight and prayed with over two hundred people for our county quarterback.  Grief is a thing.  It grows, it forms fists, and it listens while people beg for it to leave.  But it’s a silent killer.  And I think this book shows how grief can own someone.

Someone once said, “Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle,” and this book is the truth of that statement.  Every single person in this story has an inner self and an outer self and they’re always at odds.  I think we all live that battle a little bit, especially in a social media world where everything is how we present ourselves on the interwebs vs. who we are in real life.

Kindness Quote @ Creative Commons (Flickr –

“We’re all made of opposites, and they often crucify us” (Words and Their Meanings).

And if we could each get closer to that small spark that makes us who we are in real life then just imagine what kind of things we could conquer.  We could be the Beyonce.  We could be the cornerstone. We could be the flashlight that alights someone stuck in their wood coffin.

This book is out September 8th from Flux Publishing.  It can be preordered now.  Be sure to comment your thoughts below or visit the Books & Bowel Movements instagram @bookishcassie to see my 15-second book review.


Don’t Save The Drama FO’ YO’ MOMMA.

Empire State Building (Wikipedia Commons)

This book tried to stand very tall in its own way. It was the Empire State Building of self-sabotage. And the only spot of damage control it had was the fact that Amy Bloom is the author.  Let’s be fair, the characters weren’t all wretched human beings, and it was a soap opera of WWII proportional drama.  Literally, it was set before and during WWII, and figuratively, there was just a whole bunch of she said, he said, drop your kid off on someone’s front porch, become a lesbian, be the only white man drinking whiskey sours at an all African-American jazz club, and death by fire.

No soap opera is complete without death by fire.

Veronica Lake, 1940s noir film star (Wikipedia Commons)

And these characters were anything but subdued.  It opens with Eva who is living a honky-dory lifestyle with her single mother where her father visits to “bounce her on his knee” every Sunday.  His mojo is a classic case of the other family.  Heck, before social media, we could have all had alien brothers and sisters, making the phrase “brotha from anotha motha” so outdated and unfortunately, unable to be used in the literal sense at all anymore.  What happened to the good ol’ days when Cheaters wasn’t on call and messaging was taken by a swirly cord phone in the living room with your stifling father sitting right there.  I tell ya’ folks.

Eva enjoys her blissfully ignorant life until her father’s other family has an unfortunate death and her mother leaves her and her dainty little nine-year-old suitcase on the steps of the front porch.  Eva meets her beautifully disadvantaged, indifferent, unapologetic half-sister, Iris, who does little to coddle, but a lot to teach.  Iris and Eva advance to Hollywood where Iris is THAT much more disadvantaged by her beauty.  People just don’t understand her.

If you’re a heroine, here’s where you throw the kerchief and the back of your soft, pearl hand against your forehead and sigh about luxury and first world problems.


All My Children Cast Members, 1972 (Wikipedia Commons)

Eva and Iris meet a make-up designer to the stars (keep in mind we’re just before WWII at this point) and he picks up the pieces of Iris’ misunderstandings.  The girls return to their hometown with their father where they all live happily ever after, causing no more drama, and eating warm bread from the oven that they have worked on while buffering their nails.

Just kidding.

Creative Commons – Tom Woodward – Flickr

Drama ensues.  More characters are added, including this witty American fellow, mistaken for German, who sweet talks his way into card games with the little sister while his wife….does other things.  This is actually the serious part of the novel where we get a glimpse into America’s missed seams during WWII.  We see this through the character, Gus (also the name of my first and only hamster who died of a mere heart attack, scared to death by the cat).  Gus is …. well, he’s the witty American fellow, who’s wifed up to a dime piece who works in the kitchen of a “new money” family in the suburbs.

At this point you have to be starting to understand the soap opera of it all.

If I could tell you about Iris’s infidelities then this twisted plot would become even more odd, but I can’t.  You must read.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (Goodreads Cover Photo)

I will tell you that there’s a pop-up psychic, a woman who brings ham to a funeral that has to be hidden, a young lesbian starlet, short glimpses into WWII paparazzi, two city hair dresses with big attitudes, a Harlem jazz singer, and Edgar (father without a conscience).

If the psychic wasn’t enough to convince you, there’s another psychic who solves murders…. in french.

I’ve certainly won you over at this point. And, I haven’t even told you the name of the book.  Lucky Us by Amy Bloom came out on August 26th, I got a magnificent review copy off of NetGalley and I think I’ll continue to talk like a 42-year-old Elizabeth Taylor for the rest of this week because it’s just too fabulous darling, I can’t live it down.

Just imagine this review was brought to you by the same campaign that brought you ICE YOURSELF by Matthew McConaughey in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

Deck yourself in expensive jewelry, creep around in costume diamonds, sass your way through with sparkle, and come out the other side having read an absurd book, with even more absurd pacing.  Truly, I’m not even going to mention the pacing because I want you to read this one.  It brings a strange new glow into the fiction world.

Mad Woman Wasting

“Don’t waste your love on somebody, who doesn’t value it.” 
— Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

From The Land of the Moon by Milena Agus @ Goodreads

The question is: who determines what’s wasted?

In one of my new favorite books, From the Land of The Moon, Milena Agus answers this question.  At first, I thought this was just a simple story of a typical (Sardinian) woman.  The only interesting part was that the grandmother thought herself mad.  She had a bit of Alice and a bit of Sexton with a pinch of history.

“And later, when she lost the babies in the first months of pregnancy, she said that she would not have been a good mother because she lacked the principal thing, and her children were not born because they, too, lacked that thing, and so she shut herself up in her world of the moon.”

Early in the grandmother’s life, her entire family was upset with her especially when she chased away suitors writing them love poems like a mad Dickinson (aren’t all Dickinson’s mad)?.  I should probably tell you that this family is Sardinian (a small island in the Mediterranean, don’t feel bad, I had to Google it too).  I find it really interesting that all over Google, it says that Sardinian women are the most beautiful women in the world, and that they age most gracefully and beautifully as well, living longer than most other cultures. This book shows them as so much the opposite of that.

It’s narrated by a granddaughter looking back at her grandmother’s life.  Her grandmother had a very secret life, not because she held a lot of secrets, but because she stayed mostly within her own head.

Sardinia, Italy (Wikipedia Commons)

“In fact she thinks we should be grateful to grandmother, because she took on herself all the disorder that might have touched papa and me. In every family there’s someone who pays the tribute, so that the balance between order and disorder and the world doesn’t come to a halt.”

When she’s already a rotten egg according to the fairytales and her family no longer believes she’s going to be married, a man comes to stay in their house after his whole family is killed in a bombing during WWII.  It might be worth reading the book, just to read the story of the birthday cake.  The family signs her away to this unknown visiter and for the rest of her life, she questions their love.  At first, she’s afraid to bring him his morning tea and just sets it in the floorboards below before he wakes up.  Then, she convinces him to no longer attend the “happy ending” houses in their neighborhood.  I think this is one of the more true love stories of our generation.  There wasn’t ever a complete 180 in acknowledgement that this was a true love, one that stood the test of time, and wasn’t made of superficial conversations, Facebook photos, and no compromise.

This relationship really begins when she is sent away to get well after continually carrying kidney stones instead of children.  Her husbands sends her to a spa escape where she rarely eats, watches men read newspapers on a balcony overlooking the sea, and buries the stones where they can’t block her children from coming any longer.

Friedrich Kellner diary Oct 6, 1939 (Wikipedia Commons)

I wasn’t a believer in this relationship until the very end of this book when I was tearing up.  There’s a parallel love story that I can’t really tell you anything about, which makes it really hard to review this book, but also makes it one of the most complete works of fiction (imagination).  This book examines the truths of diaries.  Even I sometimes wonder whether I should actually write what I’ve written into my diaries.  Or should I sugar coat some of the parts.  As I write, I imagine a future daughter reading it and sometimes I crumple a little bit, lack courage in my actual thoughts.  It displays my real insecurities.  My mom asked me yesterday if I had already asked a friend to burn them after I die like Oprah, but I’m not sure I can.  There’s so much raw truth of myself in those diaries.  I think it would be unfair to that part of myself that leaves nothing unsaid.

And that’s what this book does.  It leaves it all on the page. It leaves letters, truths, disappointments, madness, sexual rebellion, sexual expectation, desires, looming memories, distant travels, and the wants of an everyday woman that are so similar to some of my wants, it’s odd.  Milena Agus knows her women and knows what they hide in the folds of their aprons, and the locked drawers of their desks.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and it’s a book that I may have wanted to write in the future, but I was lucky enough to be a reader instead.  I’m wondering now which life the grandmother chose to lead, the one of her imagination or the one with a man who would walk through the snow without a scarf, missing his local potato ravioli and porchetto.


Coffee Binging a few weeks ago.

And which man is more real to the woman feeding them?  You’ll have to read this one.  Short enough to read during afternoon tea at only 108 pages, if you’re in Britain, or if you’re american one of those all day coffee binges like I’m having now.

Binge on books. Binge on coffee.

The Epigraph, one of my favorites.

The Epigraph, one of my favorites. LOVING my electric blue nails.

“…her husband was a lucky man, really, and not, as she said, unfortunate, cursed with a poor madwoman; she wasn’t mad, she was a creature made at a moment when God simply had no wish for the usual mass-produced woman and, being in a poetic vein, had created her.”

What are the truest love stories you have read lately? What love stories may have changed your idea of love? How do we determine what is world literature and what isn’t, or what deserves to be a vintage book? Do you plan on reading this one or did my review not do it justice? Talk below. 


A lovely acquaintance, Mollie, made a bookish instagram for her editing called Molliereads (  AND it inspired me to make an instagram for bookishness and blogging and happiness and words and connecting.

Find me on Instagram @ bookishcassie

You can view my bookish life as it unfolds and we can share favorite books, book photos, and book comments together in a smaller platform.

See photos like the following:



YES. LET’S DO IT. If we can get a few followers from the blog maybe I’ll do Project 365 the Bookish Edition. That would actually be incredibly fun.  I’d have to read everyday for sure (not that I don’t, you know you have to get your before bed read on).

Newsday Tuesday


Favorite Tweets:

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.36.57 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.37.06 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.37.12 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.37.24 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.37.29 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.37.48 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.37.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.38.01 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.38.10 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.38.27 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.39.28 PM

Favorite Search Terms:

  • boobs beach: Are they searching for beaches where they can be top-free or are they just searching for boobs on a beach? Because someone should send this person a sand mermaid.
  • Handwritten tutorials bowl movements: Is someone looking for a how-to-to-poop? SERIOUSLY GOOGLE?
  • how to use power point and make a project a cat come to the bowel and than cursior click tail of cat and than cat was go back: Yea, this person definitely meant to get my blog.
  • i have an idea that my guardian angel often looks like this fb meme: Your search has been answered.

Meme from…Are memes under fair use?

Book News:





David Bowie:

The Results of Hyper Academia

This is me learning how to be a video journalist.

This is me learning how to be a video journalist.

This past week I participated in what I like to now call “hyper academia.”  I was lucky enough to earn a fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for teaching journalism to secondary students and I was more concerned with what I would pack to wear than with the actual academic merit of the course.  I may or may not have hung the acceptance letter on my fridge next to pictures of my grandmother bass fishing and my boyfriend’s duck face.  In reality, I was taking a graduate school class in a week.

This is my favorite spot on UNC campus. And my favorite War letter on a sidewalk.

This is my favorite spot on UNC campus. And my favorite War letter on a sidewalk.

The girl I semi-roomed with (we shared a bathroom and she peed with the room doors open which made us immediate friends) said she “knew all along what was coming and felt prepared.” BAH. WHAT. Prepared to take class from 9-5 with an hour for lunch (some days) and then study the text book and do homework until 1 am every night? Because I’ve never been prepared for that.  I’m a girl who needs the Disney amount of sleep.  Spinning wheel or not, I am neither beautiful, nor filled with niceties if I don’t get sleep.  In fact, my boyfriend calls this, and the times that I don’t eat at regular intervals, “The diva mode.” If it has a name, it must be true.

I’m not here to bash the course, it was awesome.  I learned so much about how to format my class, how to work in an online journalism platform, and how to teach my students that platform.  I made my own video on a street artist in Chapel Hill.  I built and now manage an online literary magazine and online newspaper for my students, thanks to WordPress and two fabulous professors.  I may not have eaten anything healthy, and this may have been the first time that a class caused me to be so tired that I got a sore throat and smushed my face into the text book while the professor was lecturing, but I learned some really valuable things.  AND ONE OF THESE THINGS…pertains to all of us.

This is my Black Eyed Susan tribute. Notice: Pencil necklace.

This is my Black Eyed Susan tribute. Notice: Pencil necklace.

We did a little bit on the ethics of journalism in the course, and fair use laws.  And I’m here to say that I’m just as bad as my students and have been completely abusing fair use laws on this blog.  And I actually think a lot of us do this thinking that in a world of Pinterest, and Tumblr, that fair use laws on the internet don’t actually matter.  If you put your naked body on Tumblr, then everyone and their mother, and crazy Uncle Steve, can go on Tumblr and repost that sucker.  This is just not the case. Fair use laws are serious and we can all be sued for our lack of depth or knowledge in this area.

Everyone knows a post with images is a post people like better.  Look at BuzzFeed, the queens of all image lists. I am sure of one thing, they’re following fair use laws.  Think of all the cat ladies they had to contact to create that post…hoards. BA-DUM-CHA.

I love the use of images, I think most people like a blog that separates the words with cute, intelligent, or interesting images and LOTS of white space.  In fact, according to online column rules, this post is probably already too long.

Copyright License Choice BY Opensourceway @ Flickr (Click for site)

Copyright License Choice BY Opensourceway @ Flickr (Click for site)

I think it’s time that we all educated ourselves on copyright and fair use laws so that we don’t become “those people” who are stealing from the interwebs of the actual creative minds who photographed, created, or distributed these lovely images for the masses to see.  I thought I was doing a good job of using the @ sign to link to where I got the image and that was enough, but it’s not.  Real people took these images.  Real people deserve the credit for these images.

Now I know, we aren’t stealing cars.  But we’re stealing someone else’s creativity and isn’t that almost worse? We might not drive it off a cliff when we’re done with it, nor did we finagle it with hot-wire tactics, but someone brilliant isn’t being noticed behind their images if we’re just distractedly linking from Google.

From now on, I’m going to ONLY use images from Creative Commons, my own Instagram account or baby Nikon, and other images that have attribution licenses.  I’m going to do my best to ask permission from the ORIGINAL owner (no more Tumblr images because I can imagine that unless it’s art, it’s practically impossible to find the Original Gangsta who created some of those images) and I’m going to promote fair use as much as I can.

I would hate if someone stole my writing and publicized it as their own.  I don’t want to be “THAT person” who does that with anyone else’s work.

If you’re a person who thinks as long as you site the website where you got the image and you link back to that site that it’s okay to take the image, then you need to read up on Intellectual Property.   If the goodness of your heart hasn’t swayed you to become a blogger, or continue being a blogger, that follows fair use guidelines, then read Roni Loren’s story and get with the program.  Pardon me while I go through 467 posts and edit out the images where I didn’t follow fair use.

Corvo Azul

Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa

Who doesn’t love a Brazilian treasure hunt set partway in the sands of Copacabana, brushed through the natural Amazon forests where Araguaia freedom fighters leave their protests on the knives of military forces, and a slow drive through the sucked dry beds of New Mexico.  The coyotes come at night. The military darkens the bolded words of “SECRET” at the top of folders marked with the deaths of guerrilla fighters.  A young girl, Vanja, finds a home on the signature line of a birth certificate.  This is Adriana Lisboa’s first publication from the UK and is on sale in the US TODAY!  Get excited, people.  Don’t listen to my unhappy rantings about the missing double-fs in every word that had them like, coffee, official, suffering, but instead look at the positives. Let’s start there as this is a Tuesday filled with happiness and a globally-important young adult release called Crow Blue.

“Beautiful Little Fool” @ OnHerVanity (WordPress Blog)

I was so enamored with this book for one of the very reasons that I didn’t really enjoy it.  Like To Kill A Mockingbird, I find it hard to read young adult books (which TKAM really isn’t) that write from the perspective of the adult looking back.  It almost isn’t truly young adult because the author is no longer in the shoes that they were in and can’t really tell the story as accurately as a teenager with teenage notions.  I look back on my fourteen-year-old self, in love with a boy named B. Jones who was bad news and blues and would pick fights at football games and I think, how silly that little girl was, what “a beautiful little fool,” to make this a full out allusion day.  (Thanks, Daisy, owe ya one).  In the time I was that girl, I thought myself a funky fashionista who needed to hide things from my mother and acted as a witty damsel in distress to earn the affection of “hot” boy-faced boys.  That’s probably not true either though, as I write this my from my adult, NPR-listening, eat alone in restaurants perspective.

Translation Day @ World Accent

Books like this are sometimes hard to read, but what made this accessible for readers like me was the BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE.  I have no time to regret the point of view when I experience language as powerful and persuasive and philosophical (had to finish off the alliteration) and truly thoughtful as this.  It was like the author was in my head and putting my “Explainer” qualities into words.  And this book is a translation from Portuguese so that says a lot about both the translator,  Alison Entrekin, and the reasons behind my wishing to speak every language in the world so I could read books in their true form and their true beauty.  Just take a look at some of these quotes and more importantly thoughts on the world and thoughts on writing (clearly this writer has an artistic gift).

  • “Elegance? I wondered. No, not elegance.  Perhaps a certain mistrust of the act of walking.  Perhaps she was trying to remind us that we need to be ceremonious with the world, that this here is no joke, that this is something serious and dangerous, and that the mere act of walking on the ground bestows an unimaginable responsibility on you.”
  • “The mountains of Rio de Janeiro were laughing, deep in their intimacy of earth and stone and roots and organic matter from dead leaves and animals and dumped dead bodies: they were laughing at all that anxious human drama: people love one another, kill one another, roll boulders, and at the end of the day none of it makes much difference.  The mountains’ time is different; so are their time frames of reference.”
  • “A curious phenomenon happens when you have been away from home for too long.  Your idea of what home is – a city, a country – slowly fades like a colorful image exposed to the sun on a daily basis.  But you don’t quickly acquire another image to put in its place.  Try: act like, dress like, speak like the people around you.  Use the slang, go to the “in” places, make an effort to understand the political spaces.  Try not to be surprised every time you see people selling second-hand furniture and clothes and books from their garages (the sign on the street corner announces: garage sale), or the supermarkets offering tones of pumpkins in October and tolls for sculpting them, or corn mazes.  Pretend none of that is new to you. Do it all, act like.”

Her thoughts on the world were just so aligned with this stagnant, spongy place that I think it is.  And if we have souls, and they float when we no longer lay claim to our scarred, nicked, and stretched skin, then my soul likes this book because it believes in this world where it must try to fit in all its odd shaped and shifting glory.

There are also elements of this book that were really interesting in young adult literature.  The author didn’t dumb-down her information for a young audience, she faced dead-on history that most Americans wouldn’t know.  I had no idea that Brazil contained a guerrilla army in the 1960s and 70s.  Lisboa is almost sympathetic with the guerrilla movement in the story, but she also shows the terror in plan-lacking military force.  Using one of the main characters in Vanja’s story, Fernando, Lisboa tells the untold story of Fernando’s experience as a guerrilla who walked away and only learned the outcome of his groups’ fight after he deserted them in the forest.  He moved to Colorado and never thought of the experience again, after years of training in China, following a communist doctrine, and leaving a woman that he loved and continued to love in all the elements that she left in her daughter.  Fernando takes Vanja in and they share their stories with one another.  A young girl who is lost in a world she is forced to understand in its grandness and its hesitance in sharing it’s own story (land wise and people wise), and a man who has been lost his entire life and needs someone to call home.

I loved this book as a road trip collection.  The journey was far better than where I ended up at the end.  I trusted Fernando, both rebel and keeper of secrets and I trusted Vanja in telling the story of her country and the story of herself.  Instead of being a girl lost and forced into a bubble of a forced freedom, she becomes a girl with a story so thick with characters that she creates a map of family. Plus, there’s a boy who believes in the power of papers to create a hometown and he gets to discover it’s people, not papers that make you a citizen of the world.

The Dead Are Picking Vegetables in the Garden

I am blogging again. My life is lonely and stonish without this community. Stonish (ston/ish) adj. looking or displaying features like a stone.

If you’ve read this blog for a while then you know that I live in fear of seeing ghosts, specifically my grandparents.  My mom told me that after a funeral once, when she was scared of the dead coming back as orbs, her father told her, “Why would they come back to scare you, they love you too much to do that.”  I believe this is true and so I reconcile this fear with the fear that any ghost that I see will not so much love me, but instead be there to either A. run me out of the place or B. give me visions to the future.  I’ve given this a lot of thought.  I’m that person who won’t hold their face under the shower head with their eyes closed for too long in case an apparition, or just overall “scary person” is standing behind her.

It scared me a little just to do a Google Search of this. (@Disney)

So. It’s probably not the best idea for me to go on a ghost tour. BUT…I did. (Let me preface this story with the fact that I have had a life long fear of Jafar as an old man from Aladdin.  Not sure why, and yes, the Disney version.  He’s just old, and crotchety and hunched over, and just one of the more scary of the villains in my opinion).  So, when the ghost tour man in Williamsburg brings us to the “Most Haunted House in America” that is, I kid you not, the color of blood (everywhere, even shutters) and dark and ominous at 11:07 at night, I’m already more than freaked out.  Then he starts in on the story of the Peyton Randolph House.

Peyton Randolph House @ Bluffton.Edu

It wasn’t the mysterious deaths from back in the day all the way up to EVERY security guard who worked the house in 2011 dying, or the fact that the upper right side windows looked as if a light was shining behind them at 11:07 when everything was pitch black, or the weirdness that no one in our group (of 22 people, I counted) could get a picture of the house.  When you tried to take a picture, the iPhone said there was a picture there, but it was just a white screen.  No, none of these things got to me, what got to me, was the woman he claimed haunted these lit up windows.  He gave her the delicate nickname of “the shrew.”  I was gone after that.  He described her wringing her hands at the foot of the guest’s bed.  She would shake her head and whisper only once, “get out.”  She even wore an old-time night cap and night dress which for some reason scares the crap out of me and reminds me of The Night Before Christmas at the same time.  See, people, everything connects to books.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

It is this “shrew” that kept me up last night reading until 1 am. And every time I woke up to roll over, I made sure not to look around and focused instead on the cats own stonish bodies instead of focusing on something that could or could not be at the foot of my bed.  The moral of this story, when you’re scared to death past the middle of the night, there is always a fabulous book to comfort you.  I was lucky enough to have Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing.  It’s the story of an Indian family that has been transplanted to the dusty desert of the US because the head of household has taken up a career as a brain surgeon.  There are so many subplots throughout the 500 page story, but the best by far for me was the story of the children, Akhil and Amina.  There’s so much I can say about this book that I have no idea where to begin.

The Eapen family hides their secrets and when they all come to the surface, their house becomes a circus of buzzing activity with family members adding too little spices to dishes of comfort, and women running around trying to give advice to all members of the family.  The first inkling that the reader gets that this isn’t the happy American family is when the family visits India and must leave early for a beach getaway because they can’t get along with their Indian relatives.  The mother, Kamala, is clearly disappointed that they aren’t still living in India and I found that this argument was the day she let the length between her and India be the true length between her and her husband.  There is some fuss in India over relations between Thomas Eapen and his family, but I can’t tell you quite what because then I would ruin it.  Disaster strikes for the side of their family still living in India later in the novel.  The two most interesting characters of those in India are Ammachy who is a pushy and a braggart grandmother (as they usually are) that is very focused on the honorable way of doing things.  Then, Sunil, the brother of Thomas Eapen who might have a bit of a drinking and dancing problem (but don’t worry Mom’s, he’s not dancing on bars or anything, just in the privacy of his own drawing room).

I think this is truly the catalyst for the rest of the book which is filled with wonder and experience.  The key to my ghost story up there is that some of the characters in this story see their dead relatives through photos, hiding among the vegetables in the garden, and puffing a cigarette under the bleachers of a very expensive predatory school.  The relatives are not haunting the family, so much as invited into the novel as conversationalists.  They are the unscary of ghosts, and instead are welcomed.  You’re not sure as the reader, whether they’re welcomed due to medical trauma or just because this family is so lost by the departure of these relatives and the way their lived lives have unfolded that they need the guidance of their dead relatives.  It’s just brilliantly done in a way that makes it completely believable and I almost feel unlucky that none of my dead relatives have come onto my porch as I read and asked to sit across from me and talk.  Then again, I’m not even sure what we would talk about, but I’m sure we would think of something.

Amina, who is arguably the main character, is really interesting on her own.  She has left a career of photojournalism after getting THE photo of a man committing suicide off of a bridge.  Everyone is willing to pay her an arcade load of money for the photo, but instead of feeling accomplished, she feels finished.  She tries out for a position photographing weddings and gets the job spending five years and her sanity there.  There are a few kinks in her wedding photos though that lead the reader on an unexpected mission to her transplant home (her American home) where we see the true mix of her strong American identity with her family’s needs that she follow Indian customs.  There’s a great juxtaposition of this book between Native American tribes and immigrants from India.  There’s also a wonderfully constructed family in a constant state of repair that I found really compelling to read.  Truly, every family is dysfunctional in its own way and I love it best when I can find my family in a family so seemingly unlike mine.

Quotes @ Gravity Falls

  • “She’s half grandmother, half wolf, you know,’ Akhil whispered a few seconds later, and already have dreaming, she took it to be truth in a way unfathomable things can be.  She had seen the cool lupine glow in her grandmother’s eyes, her arthritic hands curled into paws.  In the days that followed, her hand would instinctively cover her throat whenever Ammachy looked directly at her” (307/8061).
  • “Burned?’ Amina said, the word aloud unhinging whatever it is in humans that keeps them standing upright and balanced” (2444/8061).
  • “Nobody in my dreams understands anybody else” (2496/8061).

And my favorite one, which is the epitome of “Talk Nerdy To Me” |

  • “Oh.’ Amina tried for nonchalance, but she didn’t personally know any freshman who had gotten high, or at any rate, high enough to get kicked out of school.  Something about it excited her terribly.  She wanted to lead Jamie back into the light and check his pupils and reflexes, maybe test his memory” (3898/8061).

This book was kindly given to me by Random House and went on sale YESTERDAY | July 1, 2014.  It is SO (emphasis on SO) worth picking up.  Also, Mira Jacob is a Goodreads author, and she’s pretty hilarious with her comments, so check her out as well.



Question: Is there a connection between these “orbs” and the bubbles that Fairy Godmother’s come in? Maybe we just have it all wrong, ya’ll.


39% Horror, and 18% Forced Coincidence | I never said I was a math teacher.

WARNING: spoilers and non-sequential conversation.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It was a teacher workday today, so instead of cleaning out my desk drawers and taking down posters with inspiring thoughts “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the poop,” I spent the day finishing The Kite Runner.  225 pages in last night I was tweeting that I’m not sure I can teach this book because I found out the major hunch of Baba and Hassan and Amir.  And then I was PISSED at Baba.  I understood the two halves of himself coming together, but in the beginning I hated him for being a parent annoyed with the fact that his child is not a mini-him, then I grew to love him and his slight hobble asking for the sweet hand of a hook-nosed girl for his son, and then, I loathed him a little more than the beginning due to the secret he took to the grave.

Apparently, The Kite Runner is a graphic novel as well.

Around 300 pages in, I had to walk down to Hawke’s room and ask her if I should keep reading and if Assef “gets his.”  I’m putting a few almost spoilers in this review because I’m assuming that I’m the last person to actually read this book.  It spent 101 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List, so someone out there had to read it and then recommend it to all of their friends. I seriously wasn’t sure in those climactic moments that Amir could take the nazi (never deserves capitalization, I don’t care if it’s a “proper” noun) that is Assef.  What a dick.  The last time someone was stoned at a sporting event for me was reading “The Lottery” in my classroom and letting my students throw paper balls at the kid who won.  (We weren’t killing trees, they had to write all their work on those papers and then de-ball them in order to turn them in.  Sometimes fun is worth the crinkle of paper from a pocket binder).  In other words, no one has ever been stoned at a sporting event…in my conscious….ever.

I felt so dang American when I read this book.  I was beyond out of my element.  I wanted to simultaneously look away in horror, fly a non-paper-cutting-kite, hug a small child, serve tea, and reanalyze France’s decision on banning burqas.  It was 70% tragedy, 100% humanity, 39% horror, and 18% forced coincidence.  I never said I was a math teacher, which is precisely why I finally read this book.  I had already heard about the first horror of the book and knew just from that-that I wouldn’t be interested in a book like this.  Who wants to read a book where their favorite character will be abused before the hundred-page mark?  It’s like getting sick at breakfast and not being able to eat for the rest of the day due to your disturbing and wretched food poisoning.  BUT, tenth grade at my school teaches The Kite Runner, so I had to trial run it.

Movie Image @ Crash Landen

Taliban @ Wikipedia Commons

As soon as I finished, I knew my students would love this book if they could get through the density of it.  My freshman really appreciated Night, I’m not sure anyone can claim they enjoyed that one, and in Of Mice and Men, I had three girls cry and a choir of tense pressure build up by the end.  Kids who claimed to hate reading told their friends “even I liked that book.” They were both wins for the academics of high school forced-reading and for humanity as a whole as my students learned what empathy truly means through the best superpower, reading. If we covered World War II in 9th grade, maybe covering the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the introduction to Americans of Taliban, and the lead-in to America’s role in a war with Afghanistan might be something golden to teach in 10th grade, especially to students who weren’t even walking when September 11th happened.

Slingshot @ Pixabay (Creative Commons)

To own our history, we must understand the history of those around us.  I’m not sure one person can ever analyze, or study all the histories of the world (obviously), but I am sure that students can understand history that directly relates to their lives and the times in which they have lived.  I am SO looking forward to teaching my students this book.  Although it was kitschy at times; the slingshot, the kite, the brotherhood, the unveiling of Assef and unbearding of Amir, it was still such an amazing book.  I found myself getting nervous in the stadium with the characters, hearing the woman in the already dug grave screaming, seeing the old man ask for coins with his one spoiled eye, carving my name in the pomegranate tree along with Hassan and Amir.

I almost cried at the death of Baba especially when Amir said, “And for the first time in his life, Baba was alone.”  I never want anyone in death to feel lonely even though they’re not bodily with their relatives. BAH.  I fell in love when Amir met Soraya because she was such an honest female character. She’s one of the best-written minor female characters that I’ve read in a long time.  Khaled Hosseini made her so likable in so few paragraphs.  I’ll admit, her husband, it took time for me to like him, but what I like about that is that I only liked him at the time he also finally liked himself completely.  It wasn’t until he had fully forgiven himself that I fully forgave him as well.  Tone and mood came together, my feelings and his matched from that naked bathtub scene to the very end.

Old Television @ D.F. Shapinsky (Creative Commons)

Just, what a great book.  What a great book for the education it makes you research, for the simple fact that sometimes it’s important to feel like an “other,” like you know nothing about the world and pitfalls of the people in that world that live nothing like you (they didn’t even have television, just imagine America in that telescope). There are few books that are both enjoyable and drive their reader to keep reading books on the same topic.  I want to learn more about literature of the Middle East and I want to start right now.  I want to load up my cart and suck the life out of this history so that I can teach as many aspects as I please next year.  This is a book that you will read through the dead heat of night this summer if you haven’t yet picked it up.

I do wonder if I will ever get at the true feelings of what it is to be an Afghani if I can’t read Farsi.  This is one of those times that that the translation can never be as good as the book in the actual language.  I will always be reading from the point of view of the “other” if I can’t learn different languages.  What a disappointing epiphany brought out my an honorable work of literature.


Any recommendations for literature from or about the Middle East? What did you think about The Kite Runner and other books by Khaled Hosseini (that I need to read)? If there are any teachers out there, how do you teach this book? What is your favorite lesson?  SHARE AWAY!


What Must A One Eyed Raven Say?

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

  1. Is there a difference between sacrifice and giving up and must you give up in order to have sacrifice?
  2. Is it a true sacrifice if there isn’t any giving in to others/world?
  3. Is revenge ever fruitful?
  4. Why are there such clear divides between Native Americans in this book and yet, American History 101 lumps them all together like a field of sheep.

Did you know sheep have no idea how to be a leader, they only know how to follow.  It may be the thick band of black in their eye, a censor bar to any sort of theory, or it may just be that they come as a clump and fall as a clump.  So much so that recently, 450 sheep jumped to their death in an effort to play follow the leader.  This is the metaphor the Christian faith has chosen to describe Jesus and his followers which simultaneously makes me feel full of strength because I’m surrounded by community, but full of fear that no one knows the answers.

  1. (This should be five) Should we all have a death song?
  2. Are out of body experiences literal? (Is anything literal)
  3. Do animals have Orenda (a supernatural force to be present in all object and persons)? said that Orenda is a thing of only the Iroquois First Nations, but I think this book would take that offensively as the groups are so disparate in their group-hood, but the same in so many ritualistic ways.

  1. (This should be eight) Does the whole world look at Catholics as evil?
  2. Did missionaries (and do they) ever really help the people that they surround? Was that a bias question?
  3. Can a missionary become part of the people without giving up their mission?
  4. Will torture always cause what we call today, PTSD?
  5. Is an act of sacrifice righteous in itself regardless of its reasons?
  6. What does it mean to be moral? Are the standards similar for everyone? (no.)
  7. Why are we scared to get blood on our hands?
  8. Is the act of “blood brothers” a nod to a First Nation history (more research needed).
  9. Define savages and civilized and give a brief example of each.
  10. Will you read this book to discover the prompt of these questions?

Okay, I can stop now.

Native American Indians in Canoe – Hiawatha´s Sailing @

While I thought the pacing of this book was sluggish at best, it took me a month to read it, LITERALLY.  The fact that it left me with so many burning questions (METAPHORICAL) makes me think that it deserves more than the three stars that I gave it on Goodreads.  The problem is, I didn’t really enjoy it.  In fact, I didn’t really like it at all.  It might be one of those situations when you go through a bad break up and you’re like “It’s not me, it’s you.”  I’m not sure if it’s the book in this case or it’s me being a lazy reader.

I’m going to blame the book.

This book was SLOW. It took hot baths and forcing myself to get the bar on my E-reader to move up another 20% each day for the last two days.   There were other problems with this book than just pacing.  The best character is a sorceress (the reader isn’t sure if the powers are developed throughout her tribe, or if they come to only her Orenda, but it doesn’t really matter).  She’s easily the most powerful character in this book as she constantly goes against the Catholic missionaries with a sly smile and cannon eyes, but in the end she folds under the birth of twins and becomes another harborer of death.  She can’t save the girl who is the true hero of this story, and she is still an outsider even in the end of the book, when the reader realizes they too have become an outsider, and have always been an outsider.

John White’s Depiction of a small palisades village in North Carolina

The hero girl, Snow Falls, is the truest of characters because she actually experiences real change in the story.  Most of the characters stay flat (other than Christophe Crow, the main Catholic missionary).  Snow Falls is only interesting because she surrounds herself with “drama.”  At least that’s how my high schoolers would say it.  She’s raped (almost, or definitely) three times in the story, she’s stolen from her family in the very beginning and fights off the bondage by taking off two fingers (of who I cannot say).  She keeps a totem raven with seashell eyes.  Occasionally, there’s hints that Gosling’s sorcery will one day become hers, but that’s never realized.  She kills a Haudenosaunee without ever having picked up a large, sharp tool.  She’s just a BAD B, if you know what I mean.  Her dad (adopted dad – she adopts him as much as he adopts her) is a brilliant father figure and village leader (named Bird), but he never really changes from the swift fighter and sentimental lover that he is from the beginning.  He follows the village ritual book to the T, even when walls are crumbling around him and corn is gray with rot.

Painter Robert Griffing placed Father Joseph Pierre Bonnecamp @ Explore PA History

Fox, Bird’s best friend, is a great minor character, but he’s unfortunately MINOR.  All of the members mentioned are Wendat tribesmen and women who accept the coming of Europe as a way to have easier trade deals.  What they don’t accept is the sickness and direct confrontations they have with these people.  All the questions about sacrifice come from the main Jesuit missionary, Christophe Crow, who is likable and dislikable at the same time.  He’s a friend to the Wendat, he’s willing to die for the Wendat, and he may be an equal leader to Bird, only he’s powerful in words where Bird is powerful in action.  Together, they’re an odd, but fruitful pair.  Christophe Crow is the first “crow” and missionary to “descend” on the village, but two others become main-minors as the story goes, Issac and Gabriel.  Neither are as strong as the first Crow in deed or manner, but Issac is really likable due to what he suffers at the hands of his first journey.  He threatens to kill you at the end though, hate it when that happens.

A Jesuit Missionary, Jean de Brebeuf, was the first person to document lacrosse in 1636. Then, in the 1840s French settlers in Canada took up the game. @ The History of Lacrosse

I am not sure though about other reader’s claims that these missionaries (European invaders) are seen for what they are (invaders).  I’m not sure that that’s the message of this book at all.  First, there’s no direct blame on them for the illnesses (that’s our own assumptions from history, which I think are accurate, but still).  They’re all willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the First Nations, even if it is to fulfill their own goals of bringing more people to the “Great Voice.”  They suffer right alongside on cold winters, huddling in their beaver skins.  However, there’s the other side.  There are hints of rape (as everyone loves to put in their books using the Catholic Church as a vehicle), and then there are not-so-hints of rape.  There are poisonings, nastiness, bitterness, worry, boring, BORING, letters home to France.  However, Boyden ends the book with the true suffering and resolve of one of the key members forcing the reader to realize that there is some missed connection between the First Nations and the missionaries.

The true beauty of this book is that there is very little judgment from the author.  He could play sides very easily in this war that the United States has been fighting since before its creation through revolution.  He doesn’t though.  He keeps it very clear that there are no two, three, four sides to humanity, only humans acting for the betterment of themselves, until their empathy or arrogance forces them to act for the betterment of others. Throw loyalty in there too while you’re at it.


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