Wow! What a band! Daisy Jones and The Six rocked the 70s! Remember when we were kids and we’d dress up like Daisy or get all dreamy-eyed over that far out poster of Billy Dunne? They were our hopes and our dreams and the soundtrack of our formative years. And then they broke up and ripped our world apart. Where can I buy these records? Because I really, really want to listen to them again now that I know the stories behind the band.

Of course, I can never listen to them because both Daisy Jones and The Six are fictional recording artists. But, whatever. I want what I want and what I want right now is Daisy Jones and The Six.

So, the question you might be asking is who exactly are these musical artists I can’t get enough of even though I’ve never heard any of their music? And, in fact, their music doesn’t even exist? The fact is, these icons are created by one Taylor Jenkins Reid in a sublime book titled – what else? – Daisy Jones and The Six. One is an up and coming rock group, the other is an ex-groupie “It” girl with a rising solo career. It’s the 1970s with all the sex, drugs, ill-fated relationships, rehab stays, and over the top drama that only rock and roll can breed. Think of bands like Fleetwood Mac or The Eagles – brilliant musical minds with the excesses of fame and fortune thrown at their feet and internal fights that reverberate for decades. This is the world of Daisy Jones and The Six. Separately, they are on the verge of greatness but when they come together for what is meant to be one song, their fame explodes like fireworks at Disneyworld. As the tale unfolds, you learn about the struggling beginnings; the juxtaposition of two great talents; the ruling of worlds that only great bands can manage; and the inevitable fall back to earth as they implode from their success.

The book is brilliantly told from current day perspectives – sort of like the shows Breaking the Band or Behind the Music. Each band member gives their reminiscences of the rise and ultimate fall of Daisy Jones and The Six. It’s raucous and heartbreaking, poignant and bittersweet. Stories of the band sometimes differ according to who is telling them, but the tale is woven together in a way that makes it very grounded and coherent. You follow along, becoming fans of this group of musicians along the way. The story has some twists and turns, and the end might just make a tear or two well up in your eye. I listened to the audiobook which has a full cast recording that includes the likes of Jennifer Beals and Benjamin Bratt, so you really get the interview experience while listening.

You know I hate spoilers, so I won’t delve much into the dynamics of the band but I will highly recommend this audiobook. And, we may yet get to actually hear some of the songs discussed in the book when Reese Witherspoon’s televised version airs on Amazon Prime. Although there is no release date yet, we do know that Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis Presley, will play the enigmatic Daisy Jones. That’s a promising start!

Author Taylor Jenkins Reid gave an interview with Rolling Stone (also featured prominently in Daisy Jones and The Six) that you can read here and another review of the book from The New York Times here. One of the dilemmas Reid discusses in an interview is the struggle to create songs for the series that will live up to the hype they are given in the book. As she so aptly put it, she’s glad it’s not her problem. Here’s hoping someone breathtakingly talented takes up the gauntlet and rocks it. Meanwhile, you have the audiobook and your imagination to tide you over. Peace out!

Book I Meant to Read in 2018 – Celebrity Memoir

Y’all! This girl! She is crazy, and I say that in recognition of like meeting like. Or rather, like reading like. She is crazy!

I’m a little late to the party, I know. This book was on my radar last year and I just didn’t get to it. The title caught my eye, because “unicorn,” but I didn’t really know who Haddish was at the time. Comedian? Singer? Grownup child star? I knew it was some type of celebrity memoir, but I didn’t know if it was spiritual, self-help, funny, or what. Turns out, it’s all three.

If you also don’t know who Haddish is, she’s a super funny chick who starred in Girls Trip and Night School, comedy specials, and stand-up shows, and several other things. Not having seen those, I know her from her hilarious Groupon commercials and as that chick who always shows up at events in the same white designer dress that she says she wears all the time to get her money’s worth! I listened to the audiobook which Haddish reads herself, and it was a great option.

I laughed till I cried and then cried until I laughed. Really. She’s got some stories to tell. Some are small vignettes of a day in the life, others are much more personal, some are deeply disturbing. To hear Haddish tell them though, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and most of the time she prefers that you laugh. As Haddish says, she doesn’t like to dive in the “emotion ocean,” just skim along the top. She shares some heavy stuff but in an honest, offhand way. For example, Haddish talks about being molested at 13 in a foster home by an older man who said sucking on her prepubescent boobs would help them grow. Only, Haddish didn’t know she was being molested, didn’t realize until she was an adult and talking with another female friends about the things young girls do to make their boobs grow. According to Haddish, the man never did any of the things people warned her molestors would do: he didn’t try to touch her privates, he didn’t ask her to touch his, and he didn’t tell her not to tell anybody. She didn’t know. She just thought he was doing her a favor. It’s not a funny story. Neither are the beatings she endures from a variety of people throughout her life, people who should have loved and protected her for the most part. Not funny stories at all, but there is something in the telling of it where Haddish manages to make you smile despite the horror.

There’s funny stuff, too. Haddish takes Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a swamp tour in New Orleans, tickets she bought through Groupon (whom she currently endorses). According to Haddish, Jada thought “Groupon” was a private tour boat, as in you take a group on it, and was surprised when they all three turned up for a tour with the masses. With Haddish driving. High. In a $20 a day rental car. No security, no tinted windows. They took the tour and ended up having a great time by her account. Wish I had been there! She also out-pimps her wannabe pimp ex-boyfriend, stealing his girlfriend out from under him and getting the girl better gigs and more money. That’s how you get revenge. Don’t get me started on the sex tape bootlegs or her praying to Jesus in front of a live audience to give her the strength to beat a drunk girl’s a$$ at a show! I would hang with her anytime.

Haddish covers being bullied due to her looks (a wart grew in the middle of her forehead and led to her being called a ‘dirty ass unicorn’); her childhood with a mentally ill parent; living in foster care; dealing with racism and sexism in the entertainment industry; really bad relationships; and surviving to succeed. Among other accolades, she’s the first black female stand-up comic to host Saturday Night Live and she was hilarious! Like I said, you’ll be crying laughing and then shocked to your core at some of the things she has been through. Her personality really comes through in the audio version and you can’t help but be won over!

Here is a clip from The View with Haddish as a guest just after her book came out. You can get a good idea of her particular charm, humble but proud and she has every right to be. She’s come a long way from her childhood and overcome tragedies that might break the rest of us. And, please, if you listen to the audiobook, listen all the way to the end. The Last Black Unicorn song Haddish sings is not to be missed! I promise!

It’s Sunday Night – Are You Ready for Droughtlander?

Are you an Outlander fan? Book or TV show, it makes no matter. With the Season 4 finale of the Starz television series recently airing and book nine of Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular Outlander series expected somewhere in the (hopefully) not far distant horizon, Outlander fans have a bit of a wait to get through, a wait known in the fandom as Droughtlander. It’s real and it’s here. At least until Season 5 or the publication of Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone – whichever come first. Meanwhile, there is time to kill and you can can rewatch and reread but you can also try something new!

Here’s a very brief synopsis of Outlander if you’re scratching your head and trying to figure out what we’re all talking about. Claire Randall is a WWII nurse who accidentally travels through time and meets the dashing James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, a Highlander in the 1700s. Claire is already married when she travels through time, and that story interweaves with her narrative in the 1700s. The set of novels chronicle Claire and Jamie’s lives and family over generations. Eight are published so far, with ten as the expected total number in the series. As I said above, book nine is in the works complete with a name but no publication date.

We’re taking a trip to the 80s and 90s today, revisiting some of the novels I remember from around the time Outlander was published, books and authors that either preceded or came up the ranks with Gabaldon. There’s plenty of read-alike lists on the internet suggesting current titles for Gabaldon fans longing for a substitute, and I’m not discrediting those at all. I, however, want to time travel a little on my own and share some of my favorites that are worth the search at libraries and used bookstores. Most are also still in print.

I have to admit, although Outlander is a favorite of mine, I lost interest in the series somewhere in the third book for a variety of reasons and never finished it or the rest of the saga. I have read Outlander more than once, though, and I really love what has been done with the television adaptation. I feel the need to say that because despite my waning interest in the books, Jamie Fraser is one of my favorite all time romantic heroes in a novel and Outlander will always hold a special place on my shelf. In fact, my first copy looked just like the image I chose above from back in 1991. Outlander is a sweeping story, full of romance and adventure and just the slightest bit of fantasy with the time travel component: all the elements I love in a story and, as you’ll see in the list, mirrored and complemented by the other titles here. Let’s go!

Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine (1986): Jo Clifford is a journalist out to debunk past-life regression. When she goes under hypnosis, she relives the life of Matilda, Lady of Hay, wife of a baron during King John’s reign. The story alternates between Jo’s real life and the periods of regression. There is history, romance, love triangles, betrayal, heartbreak, and family drama. Jo’s men in her 1980s life are intertwined with the men in Matilda’s life and, as usual, they are not always who they seem. The past-life regression takes the place of time travel and Matilda is a real person from history, although facts are changed somewhat to suit Erskine’s story. The novel is self-contained, not part of a series, but Erskine has written quite a bit and you may find additional titles by her that interest you.

Through A Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen (1986): Barbara Alderley is a 15-year-old noblewoman engaged to a much older (than her) man, handsome 40ish Roger MontGeoffry. Barbara is close to her duchess grandmother but not so much with her mother, a somewhat nasty piece of work. The story takes place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries of England and France, so a grand backdrop with a fair share of drama, intrigue, romance, family, and history. This is the first novel by Koen, and she wrote both a sequel (Now Face to Face, 1995) and a prequel (Dark Angels, 2006) to this novel. Admittedly, I had to wait 10 years between the first and second book but it was totally worth it and I love the pair of them, even though they made me cry more than once. Haven’t read the prequel, but now I’m inspired to go back and read all three!

North and South by John Jakes (1982): Talk about making me cry – I wept and wept during this trilogy. Jakes wrenched my heart with this set of novels and I loved the miniseries, too! North and South is the first of the three, followed by Love and War, then Heaven and Hell. Yes, I cried, but I also laughed and talk about steamy! Girl, please. I was a late teen reading these things and let me tell you. They were smokin’ to me and my friend. Definitely the swoon factor, but blood, war, death, love, family, history. Jakes knows how to write his stuff and he was prolific with other series that are, I’m told, just as riveting. These are the holy trinity for me, though, and I haven’t ventured away from them!

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel (1980): You have to give Auel credit – she wrote an impressive odyssey of six books over 30 years. Each book is rich in detail, although science and fiction are blended by Auel for the sake of storytelling. She did loads of research, though, and you will not be disappointed in protagonist Ayla’s saga and the story of the beginnings of mankind as we know it. Once again, you’re given family drama, history, adventure, tragedy, and human foibles. Clan of the Cave Bear was amazing and even if you don’t like your history Prehistoric you owe it to yourself to at least read this one!

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996): The Stark family is rewarded/punished for their loyalty to the King in this medieval-style fantasy that spans several years and several families battling for the ultimate rulership of the land. How is this similar to Outlander? There’s more these two series have in common than you might realize. First books published just a few years apart, both series are hefty with high family drama, both series have highly successful television adaptations, and both book series are still unfinished with authors giving fans the blues by not writing faster! One is just a little more bloody and incestuous than the other, that’s all. The other coincidence? I didn’t finish this series either, but I am crazy about the TV show! As with Clan of the Cave Bear, at least read this first book if you think high fantasy is not your genre. Martin is a great author and fearless in his decision to kill off absolutely anybody. Plus, Gabaldon and Martin are apparently friends, so that’s a fun bonus!

Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small (1980): Getting back to romance, this series has several books following the vibrant Skye O’Malley and her life and loves and family. Several books follow her children, as well. Set in Elizabethan England, the series is rich in period detail and historical figures mixed in with the fictional. Skye is a strong heroine and author Small was know for her steamy sex scenes, so I certainly remember this book being a page-turner! Loved the whole series and you see the span of Skye’s life as it plays out through her many adventures.

A Knight In Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux (1989): I mean, come on – when you go to an author’s website and you can search through their body of work where the titles are sectionalized by alphabetical tabs? That’s a large body of work and Devereaux ruled romance for many, many years. A Knight In Shining Armor is part of Devereaux’s massive Montgomery family saga (that starts with The Black Lyon), and Douglass is our heroine who tugs Lord Nicholas Stafford forward in time from his own year of 1564. She then travels to his time as well. Again, there is history, romance, a larger family saga in other books, and time travel.


There’s more. There’s always more. Read This Calder Sky by Janet Daily and the rest of the Calder series. Johanna Lindsey’s Malory series was big during the timeframe I’m talking about. I read the hell out of those, especially if Fabio was on the cover! Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love was another favorite. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote some great historical-type fantasy with strong women protagonists. I especially loved The Mists of Avalon and The Firebrand.

This should give you a good start on finding something to get you through Droughtlander. Please feel free to let me know your favorites!

**I have to mention these titles may not all be PC by our current standards and the #MeToo movement. I’m aware that the bloom might be off the rose if I go back and reread some of these, and I do remember forcible sex between hero and heroine in several books, like on a wedding night in the historical fiction books. It was the time of Luke and Laura on daytime TV, remember? He raped her and then they fell in love and had one of the highest-rated weddings ever? I’m not saying it was right, I’m just saying that it was a common storyline at that time and go into some of these books understanding what was accepted by society as a “manly man” at that time or what the historical perspective was for the book. (Sexual assault plot points have never been a favorite and turned me off of more than one author, including Gabaldon.)

Book Featuring An Amateur Detective

What a year 2019 has been so far! Super busy and we’re not even thru the first month yet! I have managed to read a few books, but one in particular is a favorite.

Maybe you aren’t a person who enjoys mystery genres, but believe me when I say you need to read or listen to these books! Agatha Raisin is a character you need to meet. Written by the sublime M.C. Beaton, The Dead Ringer is Agatha Raisin’s 29th mystery. With a new book once a year, I have an annual visit with this irascible lady. She makes me laugh, she makes me cringe, she gives me hope, and, by the way, she also solves mysteries along the way in a cozy Cotswold village.

I first came across Agatha in Y2K when I noticed Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam on the new book shelf of my local library. Intrigued by the title alone, I read the dust jacket and realized I needed to backtrack. I wandered upstairs and found Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, the first of her adventures, published in 1992. Not only had I found a potentially great new series, but there were many already published which gave me a reprieve from that dreaded gap we face when in between books of our favorite authors.

Agatha is in her 50s, a successful owner of a public relations firm who grew up in a hard knock London childhood with drunken parents. Her dream becomes reality when she retires early to the Cotswolds, a place she visited as a child. As you can imagine, city folk don’t always adapt quickly to country life and Agatha, who has always had to bite and claw her way to the top, never quite becomes the village paragon she hopes. And we don’t want her to. Agatha is surrounded by a cast of characters who adore her, but our Aggie has never really had friends before and never quite knows the thing to say or do. She wants to impress and can’t just “be.” As in, be still, be calm, be settled. Don’t get me started on her love life! We keep rooting for Agatha and she ends up with self-sabotaging behavior that is equally amusing and heartbreaking. The mysteries? Well, they give Agatha notoriety and keep her busy, but the real draw is Agatha herself and the other relationships in the Cotswolds. The books are quick and funny and endearing. You’ll find no pages of prose like Stephen King or Diana Gabaldon, but every author has their own charms and Beaton’s Agatha Raisin is a favorite of mine! Hence my statement earlier – you won’t need to be a true mystery buff to enjoy these stories because the mystery takes a back seat to the characters.

For The Dead Ringer, Agatha tackles the quintessential British church volunteer job, the bell ringer. When one is found murdered in a neighboring village, Agatha uncovers a sketchy, skirt-chasing minister, creepy twin spinsters, a fundraising problem, and a handful of suspects. Agatha has keen instincts and a blundering, bulldog-like manner that serve her well, much to the chagrin of the local police. All the while, she juggles her work and her love life. Remember, Agatha is a career woman at heart, so her work instincts are great, but her love life? Not so much. Plus, Agatha is dealing with life in her 50s, a fact I have come to appreciate more in the 19 years I’ve been reading her books. She and I have come closer in age and I can appreciate her struggle more than ever!

The reading list for Agatha Raisin is long, as I stated earlier, and M.C. Beaton also writes other series and under other names. In the last couple of years, Agatha Raisin has been adapted as a British television show. There are a few changes and modernizations to Agatha. As with most of these types of book-to-screen leaps, there is much to appreciate in both formats and I approve of the television project very much.

Also, you know my penchant for audiobooks! I discovered that the awesome Dame Penelope Keith reads the audio versions, so I have started the whole series over so I can listen to her interpretation. I like them that much! (Plus, if you’re an Anglophile like me, catch Keith’s Hidden Villages for an insider look at life in British villages, including the Cotswolds!)

While this one is not my favorite book in the series, I’m always happy to visit with Agatha! Plus, this book certainly leaves us with a cliffhanger ending and I can’t wait to see what Agatha will be up to next!

2018 – A Look Back; 2019 – The Year Ahead

Well, I didn’t read as much as I wanted to this year, especially the last couple of months of 2018. However, I did read more than I thought I did when I looked back over the list. Plus, I read some really good stuff! Quality over quantity, right?

I was trying to make a decision on what was my top, top read of the year. It was really tough, and I ended up with a Top 5. The list includes a variety of genres as you’ll see, and I think they are a good smattering of tastes and styles, old and new. You can go back and read the individual reviews at your leisure; I’m just listing why they made me happy!

First, I want to give a shout out to So Not A Superhero by S.J. Delos. It’s a self-published book and it’s a great example of the quality of writing in self-published material. I know non-traditionally published books often get a bad rap, but that’s changed a lot in the last few years. If you’ve given your blood, sweat and tears to a manuscript, why have your work sit in someone’s slush pile indefinitely when you can post it up on Amazon and reach millions of people instantly? So Not A Superhero is so worth the investment and so are many others you’ll find. Don’t be a publishing snob – you’ll miss out on some great stuff and I’m glad I took a chance on this book.

Second, I would be remiss to not mention Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston. If Kossola’s story doesn’t touch your heart, you don’t have one. This dialogue between Hurston and him is so poignant and so eye-opening and so, so heartbreaking. I’m betting that most of you only ever thought about the blight of slavery as happening to a group of people and not considered their individual horrors because that’s how it’s generally handled in history class. If so, then then you need to take the time to read this. Scratch that. You need to take the time to read this no matter what.

Third, I want to talk about Callahan Garrity and Heart Trouble. This is the last book in this series which was written in the 1990s. I devoured them in a short amount of time, not realizing how short the series is. Mary Kay Andrews has written a great deal, and this particular series was written earlier in her career and under the name Kathy Hogan Trochek. If you like mysteries where the characters and relationships are at the forefront and the mystery is secondary, you’ll love this series about a former cop turned private investigator who also owns a cleaning company. There is humor, drama, romance, and some really great storytelling. I haven’t gotten past the fact that there are no more Callahan Garrity books to be able to try Andrews’ other books but I will. I’ll get there. I’ve been assured they are just as good. Maybe 2019.

Fourth, I really, really enjoyed Erotic Stories of Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. It was perhaps the most surprisingly delightful book out of everything I read. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I started it, but I found it funny, heartwarming, heart wrenching, and, yes, erotic. I said in my review that it is very reminiscent of Maeve Binchy’s work and I stand by that. I don’t always like books that celebrities go on about, but this one holds up well to the hype. Give it a try – I think you’ll enjoy it! (P.S. – I read it before Reese picked it!)

Last but not least is the book that I think I enjoyed the most because it was such a sweet surprise. – The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This book was recommended by a coworker and I kind of got it on a whim. I listened to the audiobook, which was sublime. Mythology was always a favorite subject of mine, so I liked that aspect. Plus, it’s rare that you get new information on characters you think you know and this book brought a different take to the table about the Achilles story. Additionally, it’s quite simply a beautiful love story and a book that I thought about long after I finished it. Read it and see for yourself. Miller’s new book, Circe, will be on my 2019 list for sure!

Speaking of 2019, here’s the reading list I’ll be using for the next year with the option to make up my own categories as the need arises! Happy reading and happy 2019!

Book Made Into A Movie

The things we do for money when we get desperate: sell plasma, pawn family heirlooms, barter agreements of various natures, forge letters from famous people and sell them to memorabilia collectors…bet you hadn’t even thought of the last one, had you? You’re welcome!

It takes real skill and imagination to create believable forgeries of some of the most well known names in Americana – Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Louise Brooks. It also takes real desperation and chutzpah to keep doing it. Stealing personal correspondences from a library collection, buying antique typewriters from an exact time period, creating a fake uncle of your own from whom you inherited these personal treasures that you can hardly bear to part with (wink, wink)…it’s a lot of work. In fact, it sounds like a caper from a movie that might star someone like, let’s say, Melissa McCarthy. Drama, hijinks, laughs, and a lesson learned at the end. Throw your popcorn away and go home.

If that’s a movie you want to see, you can! It’s real and so is Lee Israel’s story, a fact I didn’t realize when I plucked this book from a library display. I glanced at the back cover blurb, not reading it too closely (obviously) and thought it sounded interesting. It wasn’t until I got a little ways into the book and did my usual Google searches that I put the pieces together. Israel was a successful and respected celebrity biographer in the 1970’s and 1980’s, thus her skill in working out the nuances of a person’s character in the faux personal correspondences when she turned to forgery for a living. Israel’s fall came from a biography on Estée Lauder that was rushed to publication before it was ready (trying to beat the real Estée Lauder’s own memoir) and received with lackluster reviews. It was the failure that curtailed her professional writing career. That failure and her own difficult personality made her practically unhireable and she was on the brink of destitution. To top it off, her beloved cat was sick and she couldn’t afford the vet fees. That is what caused her to steal and sell her first celebrity letter and spurred her forward into the world of forgery.

As a matter of “professional pride as a writer,” Israel never directly plagiarized her material. Rather, she researched and read and studied other correspondence and life events of her subject and wrote the letters “in the style of” the subject, adding small details and personal thoughts from her vividly accurate imagination. Sometimes, the more embellished or racy the gossipy letter was, the more money she would get. As Israel writes, “I had already discovered that the scandalous pleased the dealers. A clucked tongue meant a better price.” Don’t we all love those scurrilous details? I’ve included a link here to an interview Israel did with NPR in 2008. It’s fascinating.

Sadly, Israel was a gifted writer but is mostly known for her criminal dealings. She died alone in 2015. I have not seen the film adaptation of this book yet, but I did find a trailer here. The movie was releases this week and hopefully is playing somewhere near you. This Vox article has some great tidbits about Israel’s life, including her purposeful downplaying of her partner in crime, Jack Hock. Israel never seemed very contrite about her con jobs and, in fact, was paid to write about her life and forgeries after being caught, as we know by this book review you’re reading! Others also seemed to admire her despite the criminality. The lead FBI investigator on Israel’s case, Carl Burrell, called her “brilliant” in her obituary and has stated his favorite letter of hers was one signed as Ernest Hemingway where he complained of Spencer Tracy’s casting in The Old Man and the Sea. Even those who bought the forgeries were not as angry as you might think. In this New York Times article, Naomi Hample, one former buyer of Israel’s faux letters, said, “I’m certainly not angry anymore, though it was an expensive and very large learning experience for me,” Ms. Hample said. “And she’s really an excellent writer. She made the letters terrific.”

For a slim volume (127 pages), there are certainly a lot of layers to peel through. If you’re very lucky, you may find one of the forgeries that are rumored to still be in circulation. Ironically, an Israel forgery can be pretty valuable. After all, they were so good that two of them were put into a collection of Noel Coward’s letters – as his own work! Now, that’s some good writing!

Book With A One Word Title

I’ve been reading a smattering of children’s literature lately to help friends sort through potential award nominees. One of the titles I came across was Dirt, a novel I would have loved as a kid.

The premise is one of hope and friendship. Yonder, a young girl whose mom has died, has quit talking. Period. She can talk, she just hasn’t since her mom died in a car accident. Her kind-hearted dad is despondent and drinks too much since his wife’s death, hardly noticing the comings and goings of his little girl. Yonder is teased and bullied at school, too stubborn to make her side of the story known. Our girl Yonder doesn’t take the bullying lightly, though, and gets a few licks in on the bullies. Of course, she is the one who gets suspended from school. After being suspended, she decides to skip school for a week, figuring nobody will notice. She busies herself around the shack she and her father call home and ventures out in the rain one evening. In the pouring rain she comes face to face with the little round Shetland pony from the neighbor’s house.

Yonder recognizes the pony and knows his reputation. The pony’s owner, Miss Enid, complains that the pony eats everything – glasses, newspaper, trash, iced tea (and the pitcher), tape, signs, and also has a penchant for pumpkins! Miss Enid calls him “evil pony beast,” so Yonder is hesitant to be around him. The pony has one eye and no name, but a mischievous and sweet personality that endears him to Yonder. She ends up calling him Dirt because he loves to eat it, play in it, and roll in it. Dirt becomes a regular visitor to Yonder and she realizes he is not an evil pony beast. He responds to Yonder even though she doesn’t speak. They quickly bond during Yonder’s week of being AWOL from school and Yonder finally has someone who cares about her and whom she can love in return.

The good times can’t last forever when you’re a young girl ditching school. The social worker shows up Monday to find out why she hasn’t been at school. Yonder nonverbally communicates she’s sick. Each day, Yonder promises to go to school. When she doesn’t show, the social worker forces her out the door. Off to school she goes only to come home and find she’s had a visitor. Dirt has made himself at home, getting into the “special cider” and taking a long nap in her house. Yonder and Dirt fall into a pattern of after school visits and they communicate wordlessly, growing closer as the days go by. Yonder worries that Dirt is not cared for when he wanders back to his home each night, just as Yonder is neglected by her own father as he falls into a deeper depression and drunken stupors.

One evening, Yonder is out walking and realizes Miss Enid is selling Dirt. And not as a pet. The sign in her yard says “Pony for sale. Good quality horsemeat.” Horrified, Yonder takes off to find Dirt to make sure he hasn’t already been sent away. Dirt is at her home, eating a fresh pumpkin. Yonder decides to move him into her house, hoping her father, in his stupor, won’t notice. He notices. Her dad agrees that Dirt can’t be sold for meat and offers to try and help Yonder keep him and, just like that, Yonder’s best friend moves in. Yonder heads to the library (my girl!) to research the care and keeping of Shetlands and finds it’s not unheard of for Shetlands to live in a home.

The two have an affectionate relationship. Yonder sets about getting Dirt’s room ready, training him to potty outside, and exercising him in secret. They play and nuzzle and enjoy each other’s company, often leaning up against each other and staring up at the sky. As Yonder says, “Sometimes the weight of a friend who needs you can lessen your load.”

The routine that Dirt and Yonder fall into is interrupted. Another bullying incident happens and Yonder decides she’s done with school. Social services eventually comes knocking again, and time’s up for Yonder, Dirt, and her dad. Things go from bad to worse as Yonder is placed in foster care and her father has a stroke from the stress. The doctor says Yonder’s dad will be in the hospital for quite awhile as he recovers, which means longer foster care for Yonder. Realizing she can’t do more for her father than the hospital can, Yonder hopes she can at least save Dirt. The rest of the book follows Yonder’s quest to track down her beloved friend, encountering a slew of people and animals along the way and using her determination and ingenuity to track down Dirt. He nasty Miss Enid brags she sold him to the junk man; he has sold Dirt to his brother; the brother has sold him to a petting zoo…you get the idea. It’s an ongoing chase to a satisfying conclusion.

The author, Denise Gosliner Orenstein, is pictured above with what I assume is the inspiration for Dirt. It’s a good story, reminiscent of other equine classics like Misty of Chincoteague, Black Beauty or The Black Stallion, one of my personal childhood favorites. Horse lovers and book lovers will enjoy this one!

Book Based On It’s Cover

Do you love IKEA? Me, too! The cozy home-like display rooms, the ingenious small space solutions, the inexpensive kitchen items, the meatballs! Heaven on Earth! Sneak into a small corner somewhere, wait till closing, and have the whole night to pretend to live in the tiny homey spaces! My love for IKEA is what drew me to the cover of this book. When the lights go out, however, what really happens? Horrorstor has some ideas about that.

A Home for the Everyone! That’s the motto for Orsk, a fictitious furniture superstore that was created to be a direct competitor with the superior IKEA. Orsk markets the same sleek, simple (and hard to put together) designs that IKEA offers, as well as the store model and naming style. However, someone seems to be getting a little too comfortable in the staged home areas, and employees notice weirdly placed fecal remains, broken items, and graffiti happening every night after the store closes. Has someone decided to vandalize the store? Are homeless people getting in? Disgruntled employees? Someone or something else? Five employees stay late one night to find out.

Basil is the upwardly ambitious supervisor. Amy is the unhappy employee who hates him. Ruth Ann is the “go to” employee for anything unpleasant that needs to be done. Matt and Trinity are the wannabe ghost hunters (Bravo, not A&E). Together, they spend the night to find an answer to the mystery.

Basil, Amy, and Ruth Ann are actually on the clock. While on patrol around the store, they find that fellow employees Matt and Trinity have snuck in also, not knowing the other three would be in the building. Matt and Trinity are hoping to use the investigation to make their big break to national ghost hunting fame. They are the only two who are actually glad to be there. The group gains a little bit of insight about each other while they wait out the night, but it’s not long before the group has more to deal with than office politics.

There are explainable noises, and the group does find a homeless man in the store. He denies being the one who defaces and damages the store, though. That’s not nearly the end of the bizarre happenings. Amy ends up calling the police once they encounter the homeless man. Even though she tries to call them off, they are obligated to arrive. However, there is a weird vibe in the building that makes employees feel lost and bewildered and it apparently extends to the outside world. The police call for directions more than once, but can’t seem to find their way to the massive store. Basil goes out to try to flag them down. Meanwhile, the rest of the group (including the homeless guy) decide to hold a seance to test for any ghosts in the building. Guess what? It works. Our group encounters The Warden, an evil entity attached to the former prison that used to be at the same property.

One by one, the group encounters The Warden and his crew who get into their heads, convincing them that they are worthless. Why fight the truth? You’re only good enough to run a register or answer call center phones. Stop resisting. More frightening and gruesome things happen to the group, just like any other horror story. However, the underscoring theme is the hell of retail and the churning out of bodies who make the minimum in order for upper management to make the maximum. Am I right? Ghastly. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked a lot of retail and loved it for what it was, but it’s not always workable to be a helping hand up.

No surprise, I chose the audiobook. Bronson Pinchot is a guest narrator giving the Orsk commercial blurbs throughout the regular narration given by Tai Sammons. The real book has more of a catalog feel to it. The image below is a screenshot from it, with story and fake catalog side by side.

It’s an interesting listen, a good quick horror story as we head into October. You can take it at face value or appreciate the satire. Either way, it’s entertaining and seems to have a cultish following. Here’s a quirky little book trailer for Horrorstor. Evidently, a television show was in development in 2015 but no word now on what became of it that I can find. In TV land, “in development” runs on its own timeline. I also found this Q & A with author Grady Hendrix.

Book About Books

Love letters and Dear John letters comprise this collection where a librarian waxes poetic about books she loves and hates and some to which she has to bid a fond farewell. The librarian in question, author Annie Spence, covers a broad range of titles in her collection of letters. As she explains, librarians are always working those books shelves for personal reading, recommendations for others or checking condition and use of each title for a final withdrawal from the collection. Spence singles out certain titles or authors and then writes personal letters to them that include anecdotes from library interactions, personal reflections, and always entertaining dialog on the pros and cons of popular selections.

The letters are funny and not remorseful at all of the books she doesn’t like or has never read. For example, Spence takes home Anna Karenina for a month, never reading a page of it. It sits around her home, waiting for The Bachelor to be over or for Rainbow Rowell and Dolly Parton’s biography to vacate her bed. Sadly, Anna Karenina is not to be and Spence’s letter apologetically relegates the tome back to the stacks.

As an example, The Time Travelers Wife is a personal favorite of hers, partly due to the main character working at the same library she did at the time. However, her reflection on the book goes much deeper and she discusses how reading and re-reading the book at different ages gave it a different but no less significant meaning to her life. This could be true of many favorites you read and re-read throughout our lives; different ages give different perspectives. You pick up nuances you missed before or passages that didn’t matter that much on the first reading take on a new life when read again. The Virgin Suicides is a 15-year favorite book of hers and the most perfectly written book in her opinion which affected her deeply. 50 Shades of Grey takes a beating (rightly so, imho) as does Twilight and Bill O’Reilly, and Spence shares her woe about the constant requests for these books (50 Shades made her say the word erotica to an old lady!) while they are surrounded by much better choices.

I chose the audiobook for this one and I was not disappointed. Spence and I actually share a lot of favorite titles and opinions on books (although we disappointingly disagree on The Hobbit), so it was an entertaining list to go back and revisit, comparing my feelings and thoughts to hers. There is even some book shelf envy in the passages, which is a real thing when you’re trying to organize a personal collection. The struggle is real, people. There are also titles I haven’t read, so it was nice to have something like a conversational book talk about several things that are now on my TBR list. There is humor, yes, but also a poignancy about the books that helped raise her, saw her through adulthood and the single years, marriage, childbirth, and post-partum depression.

I won’t lie, there are some spoilers throughout the letters. The book is organized in a way that you could skip the ones you don’t want to read just yet, and then go back later and pick them up once you’ve read the book. This book reminds me of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust series, Bibliotherapy, and other reading guides but with more personal anecdotes. not necessarily a book you want to read or listen to in one setting, but it’s a great book to browse as your mood suits you and one you will probably refer to over and over again. NPR’s article about the book is here. It’s a great choice for book lovers, either yourself or a friend. I’m betting you’ll find some as yet undiscovered gems!