Fact or Fiction?: A Look at Memoirs

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I make an exception for biographies and memoirs. My interest is especially piqued by “the story behind the story” books, that reveal what really happened to a person when the public image of that tale is either very one-sided, or a lot of facts have been left out. (Marie Antoinette is a great example of this.)

I also appreciate memoirs by still living people that are somewhat famous for something not necessarily related to what the book is about — like, we all know Stephen King is a horror author, but I’ve loved reading his autobiographical essays that don’t focus on his writing, and discuss just regular life stuff from his past, the things that helped shape who he is as a person, not simply as a writer.

Because of this interest, I went through a phase when I gobbled up a number of Bill Bryson’s travel audiobooks (when he’s known as more of a historian and journalist), the autobiography of advice columnist Amy Dickinson (mostly because she literally lives five miles from my house, and I’d run into her at the local library a few times), and several other, varied lifestories of people who worked at the Ivy League university near my residence. The “behind the scenes” looks at the non-famous, non-public-image sides of these real, still human people.

Anyway, as I’ve completed these, I’ve come to find there are some major differences between biography and memoir, the most obvious being that memoir is, of course, more reliant on the subjective feelings and views of the author. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And sometimes that’s what we’re after. Sometimes we don’t want to read “just the facts, ma’am.” When I choose a memoir over a biography, it’s because I’m in the mood for those “behind the scenes” tidbits.

But recently, I finished two memoirs that were touted more as biographies, and both included a fair amount of “facts” — but I realized after reading, while reflecting on the content, that a whole lot of what the authors discussed as “actually happening” simply didn’t add up to, well, being that.

First is Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, who is a journalist who has worked in New York City for a long time and for a number of publications. The short, uncontested version is that she came from a very poor family from West Virginia, with neglectful, borderline abusive parents, and she and her siblings worked hard for their college scholarships that got them decent jobs and out of a bad home situation. All of this is easily backed up or confirmed; and, unfortunately, realistic enough that I highly doubt anyone would immediately claim fictionalization. However. There are many things brought up in the course of this book that make me seriously wonder.

To begin with, Walls refers to various incidents from her childhood that sound downright horrific — such as catching herself on fire while cooking for herself, because her mother wouldn’t (yes, wouldn’t) — and yet, there seem to be no follow-up actions, consequences, or events to things that should have been incredibly impactful on Walls’ entire life. Supposedly, the family was constantly “on the run” until Walls was a tween, because the father was an alcoholic who charmed people and then conned them out of money, and the mother was a manic depressive who would rather paint landscapes and still-lifes than take care of her children. The impression is given early on that bill collectors, social services, and extended relatives were frequently trying to track the family down — and I don’t give a damn that this was the 1960s and 70s, the fact is, if the children were THAT neglected and THAT much on the official radar, SOMEBODY would have eventually caught up to them and taken the kids away or put the father in jail or SOMETHING.

It makes a lot more sense that, once the family was back in West Virginia (after traveling across many states in Walls’ early life), the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s depressive episodes were easier to hide in a small town where people weren’t quite sure what to do. The idea that the school/teachers helped the kids work their hardest to get top marks and huge scholarships so they could get away from this type of homelife totally rings true. But. And it’s a pretty huge but. The intense contradiction of the portrayal of Walls’ childhood versus her adolescence makes me, quite honestly, feel that the former was largely fictionalized to sell books.

I mean, if a young child burns herself badly, wouldn’t there be, well, problems arising from that? Wouldn’t she suffer from PTSD, including nightmares, an intense fear of fire, a refusal to cook, to undress around anyone else (because of the scar tissue???), and other, natural reactions to such an accident? Wouldn’t she have physical obstacles, such as skin that didn’t heal well, or a limited range of motion in certain limbs, or…again, scar tissue? The impression is given that Walls experienced this and it’s used as a way to show how terrible her parents were — and then it’s never really brought up again. Apparently this sort of thing — which supposedly was happening to Walls and her siblings often — didn’t emotionally traumatize them or result in any rebellious behavior on their part. They’re all portrayed as model students and well-liked adults, and the idea that repeatedly being malnourished and possibly abused by relatives and witnessing their parents’ drinking and arguing and hitting each other did not do anything to them long-term — other than make them want to be financially secure — is downright RIDICULIOUS.

Again, it leads me to conclude that the most basic version of Walls’ parents — alcoholic and manic depressive, not good with money, wanting to love their kids but not being sure how to — is what’s really true. And I have to believe that most of the rest was created by editors wanting to capitalize on Walls’ established name as a well-known journalist.

This is a theory shared by many other readers of this “biography.” A lot of the reviews I read cited the way Walls describes certain things that she’d have no accurate memory of, because she was so young — which was something I noted — as well as the lack of coherent follow-through that would have been occurred with (for example!) major accidents or life-threatening circumstances. I was also deeply disturbed by the notion that Walls’ parents literally almost killed her or a sibling (more than once!) because they were such clueless morons, AND YET when the kids grew up they still wanted to take care of their dying father and forgive their pathetic excuse of a mother. Bunches of real people have cut ties with their abusive families and never looked back — and THAT makes sense, considering human nature, societal advances, and modern therapists’ advice. Walls’ story just does not.

The other memoir that will be sticking in my craw (and very possibly moving me away from the genre) is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This is the tale, supposedly, of one woman who, grieving the loss of her mother, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (which does exist, and runs from the California-Mexico border to Washington state). And, yes, her mother did die, from cancer. Yes, that sucks. So, I’m definitely not here to claim the author had no trauma or crap she was dealing with, because she clearly was.

My complaints begin with the idea that a person who was — by her own admission — so incredibly unprepared for such a major undertaking — in the legit wilderness — actually survived. Without being eaten by a bear, falling off a cliff, getting overheated in the desert, running out of clean water, getting done in by one of the many hitchhikers she got rides from (when she got lost or exhausted on the trail, which happened a lot), or collapsing into the snow that she didn’t think would still be on the Sierra Nevadas in June.

There is NO WAY this woman hiked even the part of the Pacific Crest Trail she claimed to. It’s extremely possible that she indeed planned to do this, started to, made it maybe a few days, before realizing how extremely not cut out for this she was, and then took a Greyhound bus to Portland, Oregon, where she eventually settled. Honestly, if that was the truth, and the book was about the acceptance of her failure, and how even the attempt had changed her thinking about her loss and her life, I would’ve been fine with that.

Instead, the book switches back and forth between her “hike” and remembering things that happened right around or after her mother’s death. The hiking chapters are filled with elaborate descriptions of Strayed, with some Superwoman-like ability, managing to develop Green-Beret-level survival skills, and getting herself through desert, snow, past wild animals, finding her way back to the trail after going miles off course (despite barely understanding how to use a compass), and being beloved by every other hiker she encounters and the many random motorists who pick her up (right off the trail, hefting a massive backpack, dirty and smelly and looking like a strung-out hippie). NOPE. Nope, nope, nope!

I don’t buy for an instant that people were in awe of her, a young single woman, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail — since women have been hiking the Appalachian Trail for years — nor that all those people would’ve immediately seen her as worthy of their friendship, when she portrays numerous instances when she needed help from more experienced hikers, and got it, but didn’t even seem grateful, and did nothing for them in return. She claims that later down the trail, she’d meet up with these people again, and everyone would be so excited to see her, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Why???

The flashbacks about Strayed’s behavior after her mother’s death are deeply upsetting. She freely admits to heroin use, to cheating on her husband (with a bunch of different men, by the way), and not being able to maintain relationships with her siblings and stepfather (gee, can’t imagine why…). She agrees that these actions led to her husband wanting a divorce, but also wails on for several chapters about having to let him go (while acknowledging she singlehandedly destroyed their marriage).

She also constantly touts her academic achievements (a double major in college), but shows that apparently all she has are book smarts — the ongoing issue with her hiking boots being too small, and she keeps losing toenails because of it, for example, is a recurring theme throughout the PCT chapters. It takes her about four weeks, if I followed the timeline correctly, to find a way to call the store where she bought the boots and ask for a different size. She even keeps track of how many toenails she has left, in a similar fashion to keeping a scorecard — and, just, WHAT?!

There was also, close to the end of the book, a big hippie music thing, where, while on a break from the trail, she ate a bunch of vegan food and hooked up with someone in a band, and… Well, it just felt surreal after all the wilderness exploits and raw and even gruesome comments about her mother’s death and her drug-and-sex-addled past. And it also made me feel that this woman who was so concerned about growing up, about acting mature after ruining her marriage and her health and possibly any chance at higher education or a good career…had, after at least a month on the trail, learned absolutely nothing. If, after enduring all the weather and animal and getting lost drama, she jumps at the first opportunity to get drunk and high with a bunch of hippies and have a one-night stand with one of them, this indicates she didn’t actually want to change. This does not sound like a person who really took some intense real-world lessons to heart. It made me feel very ambivalent towards the author as I continued reading.

Especially since it was soon after the hippie music stuff that Strayed admitted…her mother was a terrible parent. Her mother was often neglectful, selfish, didn’t encourage her children, or even seem to care what they needed out of life; she was so stuck on toxic positivity that she never recognized her own failings or tried to adjust her parenting style so that she wasn’t stoned, or working too late when the kids didn’t have a babysitter, or not deliberately trying to piss off the neighbors, so that no one wanted to socialize with the family. Her kids were isolated, and insulated from the real world, and because of this bombshell, a lot of Strayed’s previous narration now makes sense. Her utter entitlement — doing drugs because she felt like it, sleeping around because she felt like it — driving a wedge between herself and her family but not recognizing her part in it, being somewhat aware how she was living was damaging but trying to deflect the fact she needed to take responsibility for super-crappy decisions. Like mother, like daughter, it would absolutely seem.

And it made me wonder — more than the disparate “facts” about her ability to survive in the wilderness with no formal training and little preparation — just how true this account is. I mean, Strayed spends big chunks of the book professing how much she loved her mother, how close they were, how she hated that they wouldn’t get to share so many more years together. And, yet. This sudden confession that, actually, the mom was a failed, flaky hippie with a chip on her shoulder about mainstream society, who taught her kids they didn’t need anything but each other… That’s not loving. That’s not wholesome, or uplifting. That’s controlling, manipulative, and unbalanced.

And after getting that bombshell dropped on my head less than 100 pages from the end of the book, I feel manipulated. Which is it, Strayed? Was your mom awesome, a paragon of parenting? Or was she a terrible witch and deep down you always knew that but didn’t want to say it out loud because she’d suddenly died?

If the book had started with all the mom’s failings, and a contrite, confused author’s response to the news this person whom she kind of despised had cancer, it would have felt completely different.

When Strayed finally reaches her end goal of the Bridge of the Gods in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t experience elation or satisfaction; I truly felt cheated. So much of this tale seems fabricated, or at the very least highly exaggerated, and I know it’s meant to be inspiring and we’re supposed to root for the narrator…but I seriously couldn’t believe this woman actually does have a successful career, as an advice columnist, nonetheless. If she was half as irritating and dumb in real life as she came across in Wild, I’m genuinely shocked she went on to find such vocational acclaim.

I mean, yes, people do change, and sometimes when it’s been years since we did something (Strayed took her hike in the late 1990s, which we all know was a while ago now), we can develop rose-tinted views of events or people that in the moment we were either angry or hurt or stupid over. But this whole reading experience made me think, “If this is a person who becomes a lauded advice columnist…this could be why the world is such a mess.”

The only good thing is that I got the book from a Little Free Library.

It’s going into my recycling bin.

Memoirs aren’t meant to be entirely factual, because you can’t make concrete statements about someone’s feelings or opinions. But when editors and publishers don’t fact check the parts of memoirs that require it (as one reviewer pointed out, Strayed wrote that she brought a professional camera on her hike, but she doesn’t have a single photograph of her time on the PCT, and that in itself is quite sketchy), they are simply letting down readers, and really the whole of society. How many publishers have gotten in trouble for not looking into a slightly dodgy or slightly unbelievable account, and later journalists or attorneys proved to them the “firsthand” tale was totally made up? (Hint: There are enough to make my point.)

All in all, I think I’m done reading “biographies” for a while.


I Went to a Book Sale, and Now I Have Questions

Yesterday I braved the long lines and crowded aisles at my local Friends of the Library book sale, a bi-annual event in my area that boasts an entire warehouse full of all genres of books, movies, audio and music, puzzles and board games for all ages. It’s a well-organized, well-attended sale that’s well-known in the region, and I engage all my coping mechanisms one weekend every spring and fall so that I can hopefully find my own low-priced treasures.

Maybe I was just in an introspective mood, but as I perused the many, many selections, I found myself wondering: Were there always this many titles in the Outlander series and I legit just never noticed? Hey, did they move the travel section? Where are the hardcovers, again? How come I’ve seen this person on Twitter and never found their books in real life — oh my gosh, there it is!

As the years pass, you can always tell what’s fallen out of favor with the reading public (for example, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are now consistently seen, despite their ongoing popularity for many people), as well as being able to tell what was a garage or attic clearout (most of the stock comes from donations), versus library discards. On the children’s shelves especially, I saw many older publications (Beverly Cleary, James Howe, Gary Paulsen), which are great stories, but just don’t translate for the new generation. For the first time ever, there was an entire rack devoted to graphic novels for kids, and it was full, unfortunately for me, mostly with titles Muffin has either already read or dismissed as not for him. But this rack also showed signs of having been browsed a lot just in the few hours the sale had been open, backing up my recently-developed theory that graphic novels are only going to keep growing in popularity. And when compared to the overstuffed (and unattended) juvenile chapter books section, this definitely indicates my observation on what’s truly popular with children (less words, more pictures) rings true.

The other thing that really sunk in was that I didn’t see any indie titles. Sure, used book sales often do acquire the mass market paperbacks and outdated non-fiction that clutters up people’s attics, or that stop circulating in libraries because tastes change. But I had to wonder — is that because readers are more likely to keep indie-pubbed books (because they were a gift, or they’re showing support for an author/community), or is it due to readers simply…not buying that much indie pub. The latter definitely gave me a moment’s pause.

And then Muffin called my cell, having a separation anxiety meltdown. While I was trying to head for the checkout line. Behind at least 20 other people who had finished their browsing and were just hoping to get out of there. So, yeah, ruminations got pushed aside.

When I got home, and showed off to my children what prizes I had found (and in a place that size, with that much inventory, you do have to hunt for them), I compared what I’d brought to hauls of previous years, and realized this was the least amount of books and movies since, well, ever. On the one hand, yes, I came in well under my allotted budget, which was cool. But, on the other, it was for the very discouraging reason of, Muffin’s already read that, I don’t like that genre, I could get this from the library, that’s too expensive if Muffin changes his mind, who knows what White Fang’s into nowadays. I also realized that certain categories — like the board games and jigsaw puzzles — held no appeal, not because we don’t like those things (we do), but due to the lack of something new. I don’t mean fresh from the factory; I mean, you can only look at the piles and piles of Life and Candyland and Monopoly for so long (in my case, I think 10 minutes is my limit) without wanting something else.

And, yes, I’m aware that modern tabletop roleplaying games, that are presently on people’s kitchen tables rather than in their garages, won’t likely turn up at used book sales. But all the repetition I saw on the shelves (throughout categories and genres and format) led me to this musing: How many times do we have to cycle through the same old thing, before we decide it’s time to let go of the whole idea?

Yeah, I know, the point is bargain hunting, to each their own, one person’s trash… Blah de blah.

But, still…I have questions.


Horror with Heart: A Review of Such Sharp Teeth

I just read this book in two days. I am still reeling — in such a good way. I don’t like horror, I don’t care for most romance, and I hadn’t even read a werewolf-themed book in over a decade. But when this title crossed my path at work, I stopped sorting the check-ins to give it a second look. I took a few seconds to read most of the blurb, and was immediately sold.

My instincts were right on. This book, everyone. THIS. BOOK. Such Sharp Teeth is the first I’ve read by author Rachel Harrison, and although I realistically won’t try her other work — her genre of choice just is not my thing — it totally made my week, probably my month, hell, maybe even my century.

The core plot is the plight that befalls 20-something Rory (Aurora) Morris, when driving home late one night and accidentally hitting a huge animal with her car. Yup, I kind of gave it away — said huge animal is a werewolf, and Rory gets bitten, and yes, there are then transformation issues about to ensue. Of course, the dust jacket gives away that much.

The deeper story is that Rory has become a career-driven person, not really going in for relationships, and she seems to be holding some inner pain at bay. She came from a small town and escaped to the big city as soon as she could. When her twin sister, Scarlett, heavily pregnant, tells Rory that the baby’s father is no longer in the picture, Rory puts everything on hold to go back to this suburban dullness she ran from, because it’s her sister. The werewolf thing, naturally, comes at a really bad time (well, when is there ever a good time to become a lycanthrope?), since the baby is coming soon, Rory plans to go back to her job in the city eventually, and Rory’s former high school suitor is really making her re-think her no-relationship rule.

THIS. BOOK, everyone. The way the author explores the complicated dynamics of a family that’s dysfunctional but trying not to be, of trying to heal after trauma, of trying not just to survive but to make yourself better, for yourself, all wove together in the narrative, all went deep, all felt so true. Eventually we do find out what took place in Rory’s childhood to make her put up a wall, not want to trust or grow close to people (especially men). The fact she struggles with so much anger and grief after the bite, of being frustrated and frightened that, now she’s a werewolf there are moments when she can’t be in control of her own body and mind, is such a relatable metaphor.

The other thing this author completely does right in her narration is LETTING her protagonist feel all the range of feelings, without self-shaming or falling for the lie that “the right kind of man” will help her “get over it all.” Yes, Rory’s love interest, Ian, does play a role in her journey from hating her new werewolf self to acceptance. BUT — and this is the part so many of these publications get wrong — Rory reaches the conclusion that she could be lovable, that she might want to be with Ian no matter what, ON HER OWN. She gets there over the course of the story, through a lot of reflection, mistakes, following patterns that actually don’t help, of simply being a human doing her best to recover from a horrific experience.

THIS! BOOK! Considering I’m only recently out of an abusive relationship, and my children and myself are presently dealing with pain, regret, a sense of loss, some guilt, and a bit of rather justified anger, this book spoke to me on SO many levels. Rory’s desire to retain some sense of normalcy, in the face of something utterly catastrophic, her determination to stay optimistic, gave me hope for my own uncertain future. Our heroine’s practical, proactive nature resonated so strongly with me (after spending the last six months clearing the clutter out of my house and rearranging spaces that for too long had been claimed by other people’s resentments and denial). My connection to Rory made immediate sense, and made me want to consume this story in as few hours as possible.

The other thing, times two, that the author does so right (when too many other authors totally screw it up) is her secondary characters are NOT annoying, NOT complete asshats, NOT self-righteous jerkwads. Scarlett is facing her own demons, trying to be a good sister and aware she might be failing, hoping to be a good mother and worried she’ll implode. The sisters’ mother is a bit of a mess, but she’s also somewhat conscious of that, and she really doesn’t know how to fix it, but at least she recognizes that Rory has reason to be upset about the past. The men in this story — the sisters’ stepfather, their best friend’s husband — are DECENT PEOPLE. Ian, Rory’s love interest, is a solid example of positive masculinity. Even Scarlett’s maybe-ex-significant other turns out to have more layers to him.

This isn’t your stereotypical werewolf tale, either. There are no warring packs, no complicated hierarchies to master, no the-novice-must-prove-themself premise. Rory only has to conquer her own fears, expectations, and setbacks as a wolf. There’s a good deal of humor and moments to make you smile sprinkled through the pages, so that you don’t get bogged down in too much angst or despair. Yes, there is plenty of crap going on, and Rory is dealing with a mountain of it, but she doesn’t give in easily. She’s far from a damsel in distress; she’s focused on rescuing herself, not waiting around for someone else to do it. That is also a fantastic message to send to survivors: You matter. Not “because” anything — you matter, period. You are worth the effort to heal. Not just for the hypothetical perfect future partner. For yourself.

The ending shows that all the characters, even those with furry sides, are still human, struggling with the complex factors of supposedly the most mundane kind of life; and while it turns out there isn’t exactly a villain, the antagonist does play an important role in plot and protagonist arc. There’s action, and gore — werewolves, after all — and drama, that never quite gets to soap opera status, a rare and welcome departure from most paranormal romances on the market. This novel hit all the high notes for me, and provided some surprising little gems of self-actualization, too.

I know that with the the R-rated content, this won’t be on every reader’s radar, but if you like horror or monster stories, especially contemporaries with relatable characters, snappy dialogue, and an engaging pace, then absolutely give Such Sharp Teeth a go.


7-Year Blog-iversary: The Moth Rises from the Flames

Good morning! As we wrap up the holiday season, we’re coming to the mark of yet another year of this blog existing! When I originally created a profile and wracked my brains for blog topics, I was an aspiring author with a tween and a newborn and a neurotic but awesome furry soulmate. A bit of a learning curve, and several turns of imposter syndrome, later, I managed to garner a following and now have several publications under my name.

There were months when it seemed near impossible to keep going, and having a touchstone to come back to of people who believed in me has been invaluable. Some of you have been with me for years now, and your ongoing support and encouragement mean so, so much more than I can actually put into words. While I don’t know just what awaits, I am looking forward to sharing the journey! Again, and as always, thank you all!


2022 End of Year Wrap-up: Basically Just Consistent Screaming into the Void

2022 was…a year for me. Some of you may have noticed it got pretty quiet around here, and whenever I tend to fade into the background on this platform, there’s always a reason; in the past, either it’s been health issues or needing to take the time to finish a project or focus on teaching a class. But this year, there was so much going on that I didn’t know how to put into words yet, or there were certain things I really didn’t want to talk about — and, hey, it’s my blog, so I get to choose the topic. I discussed some subjects a little more on Twitter, but in general I’m not an open book on all of this, and in some instances, there are very good legal reasons for me to stay a bit quieter.

So, for those of you who aren’t aware, I have been separated from my spouse since the beginning of June. It was my choice, but the decision became necessary, and it was by no means a simple one. The short version of the past six months is that it’s just been me and the kids, and I’ve been torn between spending my spare time working on cleaning out the decades of accumulated junk in the house, and writing and finally finishing Volume 4. That’s partly why I haven’t been very active on the blog these past two seasons, I simply have devoted myself to other endeavors. I’ve managed to get a lot done on the first, and some done on the second.

Last week I found out that my library aide position is being eliminated from the 2023 schedule. So, in just another week, I am out of a job. The “good” news is that, since I generally work two or more part-time jobs almost all the time, I still have a reliable source of income. But, and there’s no way of slicing this in a positive light, the fact that I’m getting kicked out of a position I’m good at and enjoy just sucks. And given the lost wages, it is more important than ever that I finish and at long last publish Volume 4 — but right now I don’t have much energy or emotion for creative writing. So I’ve become my own worst enemy on the publishing front, but my origin story is justified.

Because of all of this, I also haven’t read nearly as much as I was hoping to this fall. Over the summer, I got back into a pretty good habit about reading 4-5 times a week (instead of the 1-2 I’d dropped to). But I haven’t even cracked open my beloved and much-awaited Lore Olympus #3. I have absolutely no idea where to begin on the mountain of library discards. So I have very little content to post in the way of reviews or discussions on specific titles or series. That’s another reason I don’t imagine blogging very much in the next few months.

I also have decided not to be whiny during this time, so whenever I was just in a rotten mood, I chose not to create a post complaining about publishing tactics I don’t agree with, or authors whose works I don’t care for, or the fact I wish Tiktok would stop teaching my kid the most annoying memes. Despite the truth of my life being a pretty raging dumpster fire these days, I am still trying to maintain some semblence of positive vibes.

It has definitely been far from easy. There are moments I really feel lonely; moments I feel like just pushing on for another day is not enough; when I desperately crave someone else being the adult. But I’m also aware that wallowing more than temporarily also won’t change anything, and sometimes all I can do, the only option available to me, is to just keep pushing on.

And I know there’s no point in constantly announcing further delays to Volume 4; it’s why I stopped posting updates on that a while ago. I’ve even stopped setting myself deadlines; it gets done when it gets done. Although I will admit this does hurt my heart a little; this series has been so near and dear to me, and the work I’ve completed on it so far is a big source of pride for this little moth. So needing to draw back from it when I could really use the comfort has stung a bit.

So, basically that’s what’s going on. 2022 will forever be a stand-out, but not for the best reasons, so I’ll be going into 2023 with a touch of a cynical view (not gonna lie), but also with the hope for better. In some ways, I have more hope for better than I have in a long time, and that is its own brand of special.


The Littlest Dinosaur’s First Christmas: The Adorable Picture Book Series Continues!

Good morning! Today I’m back with R&R Book Tours, highlighting the festive holiday installment of The Littlest Dinosaur series! This is an absolutely wonderful picture book series, perfect for young ones who love dinosaurs, and parents will also enjoy the lovely illustrations and heartwarming messages about friendship, tolerance, found family, and what kindness really means.

(For anybody who’s interested, the other titles are “The Littlest Dinosaur,” “The Littlest Dinosaur Finds a Home,” and “The Littlest Dinosaur Goes to School.”)

The Littlest Dinosaur’s First Christmas was published last year, by the same authors of the other titles, Bryce Raffle and Steven Kothlow, and the pictures by Tessa Verplancke are just beautiful to look at, the soft lines and deep shades pull me right in. In this installment, Mama T-Rex and her child, Ty, and her adopted, Littlest, are getting ready to celebrate Christmas — and, in traditional form for these tales — the kids learn a beautiful lesson about generosity and the true tidings of the season. (I can’t even go into details, because, spoilers, but also, I’ll start getting all teary!)

I highly recommend these books for families hoping to find more stories for children that authentically weave themes of diversity and inclusion, with cute characters you’ll be rooting for, a bit of appropriate humor, and some excellent positive vibes!

About the Authors:

Bryce Raffle was the lead writer for the video game studio Ironclad Games. He also writes
stories for young adults and designs book covers.
Steven Kothlow is making his debut as a children’s book writer. He hopes to tell many more
stories that help spread a message of diversity and inclusion especially in children’s literature.

Tessa Verplancke is a sound designer by day and an illustrator by night. She lives to tell
stories through as many mediums as possible.

Book Blitz Organized By:

R&R Book Tours


A Few of My New Favorite Things

So, this was the year that the entertainment industries really tested my mettle. I was fed up with endless sequels to dying franchises, reboots of movies or shows I’d either never heard of or had no interest in; I ran out of authors to try, genres that didn’t make my eye twitch, and titles that didn’t sound hackneyed and trite. I didn’t even recognize most of the music artists in the Top 40. I felt bled dry, and when you’re a creative, you need to refuel that space inside you that’s meant to thrum with intrigue and inspiration.

So I decided to go waaaay far afield, give up on all known entities (for the time being, at least), and explore vast, uncharted galaxies of story, visuals, and harmonies. Here are some of my wins in this venture…

(On Netflix) Love, Death and Robots. OH. MY. GOD, just eeeeeeeee!!! with how much I LOVED some of these episodes! This show is definitely adults-only, and there were a few that I just didn’t care for, but I am sooooooo glad I took a chance on this anthology series. It’s a collection of mostly animated short tales (many only 20 or so minutes long), some based on novellas or stories by well-known sci-fi or horror authors; others are ideas that apparently just came up in the writers’ room, and the result is simply great. In no particular order, here are my personal faves:

“Mason’s Rats”: Once upon a time, in a not-too-distant future, an elderly curmudgeon of a Scottish farmer had a rat problem. He employed the most modern robotic methods of extermination, and didn’t quite get the results he expected…but they do turn out to be the results he needed. A truly heartwarming ending.

“Jibaro”: This is a truly groundbreaking piece. One of the few episodes using live action and actual humans, it was told without a single line of discernable dialogue. The scene opens on a medieval forest, and a group of soldiers on their way to wherever. Our protagonist is a deaf man who communicates with his colleagues through sign language. In the beginning, all sounds — conversation, wildlife, the wind, the river, the horses — are significantly decreased and muffled for the audience, presenting how it’s experienced by the hearing-impaired main character. As the rest of his army is drawn into the river by a siren’s song, he gets the chance to escape, because his deafness protects him from her dangerous call. Most of the story between the solider and the siren is told through pantomime and dance (downright excellent choreography), and it is spellbinding until the end.

“The Tall Grass”: This was a thought-provoking, honestly pretty scary, little tale of a train pausing unexpectedly among uncut fields, what an unwitting passenger discovers there, and the frankly wonderful conductor who saves him. Again, it’s only about 15 minutes long, and there is a LOT to unpack after those few precious moments onscreen. Masterfully portrayed.

“The Drowned Giant”: One day, in England (probably late 20th century, based on the fashions and technology), a literal dead giant washes up on a beach. It’s seriously a human easily 60 feet tall, and he’s just plain deceased. He looks young, and there are no clues to how he passed, where he came from, or how he ended up on this beach. Of course humans come to investigate, and everyone from scientists to trophy hunters to local tradesmen begin taking parts of the body; eventually what’s left starts to fall away, and will soon be reclaimed by the waves and sand. Even before that’s finished, the rumors begin — the giant was never really there, it’s an urban legend, it was a case of mistaken identity, and so forth. But the locals know the truth, even if they don’t talk about it anymore. A really interesting take on the subject.

“Sucker of Souls”: If you don’t mind some gore, if you’re into anime, and vampires, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this snappy little episode about archeologists and their hired bodyguards getting stuck in an underground vault with Count Dracula — gone full bat-monster-mode.

“When the Yogurt Took Over”: Narrated by Maurice LaMarche (of Pinky and the Brain and Futurama), this is a delightful short satire on the concept of yogurt becoming sentient and one day ruling the world. I absolutely loved listening to The Brain calmly telling me about how soon we’d all be outdone by advanced dairy products. Brilliant.

“Ice Age”: One of my absolute favorites, this is an adorable story of a young couple who move into a new apartment, and discover in the freezer of an antique refrigerator an entire, thriving, tiny civilization. Simply charming.

“The Secret War”: A Soviet platoon responds to a distress call in a remote village, where something sinister and apparently not human has been up to no good. When realizing just how serious the situation is, the soldiers must fight to defend not only themselves, but possibly their whole country, and their sacrifices will require the utmost courage and comradery. Despite the violence, the animation in this one is fantastic.

“And now, for something completely different…”

(Graphic novel) Lore Olympus. MY. GOSH. THIS. SERIES! I wasn’t familiar with the webcomic, so when I picked up the first printed installment of episodes 1-25, I had no idea what a treat I was in for. This is a modern retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth — one of my favorites — and the art, the characters, the evvvvverrryyyything is just superb. Because it’s in graphic novel format, it’s an easy read, but in noooo way does “easy” mean underperforming. Author and artist Rachel Smythe packs alllll the feels into her chosen medium, and Lore Olympus is premium storytelling.

The relevant aspects of the Greek myth are all present — for example, Hades is the god of the underworld, Persephone a spring goddess and daughter of Demeter; they meet suddenly, and Hades is immediately taken with Persephone, but she’s very on the fence about how to proceed. The emotional processes are updated, along with the setting — Olympus is now basically a parallel realm to today, with the ancient deities wearing modern clothes, having cell phones, newspapers, the internet, and cars. Unlike the version in most English class textbooks, which is rather truncated, Smythe’s retelling involves many different gods/goddesses and creatures and entities from the rich and broad Greek mythological pantheon.

Volumes 1-3 are available in print format, and there’s more to come, based on what’s already been released in the webcomic (over 200 episodes!). I am more than ready to find a way to make space on my already overflowing shelves for these gorgeous creations!

“And now, for something…”

Audiobooks narrated by actors, not readers — Most recent example: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton.

Generally I like audiobooks — sometimes the format is preferable, because I can do chores or browse the web while listening, instead of needing to devote all my attention (and hands and eyes) to printed words and a tangible object. But I discovered pretty quickly that the major downside to audio is the narrator can make or break the story. Earlier this year, I didn’t finish several books on CD because the reading was so stilted and dull, or had the strangest take on a character’s accent or pronunciation, and understanding what was actually said was almost impossible.

It turns out the alternative, and often, fix to this is to find audiobooks read by actual actors. Whether they’ve worked in films, theatre, or animation, people who have been trained in making sure everyone can know what they’re saying will deliver a much more satisfying listening experience. After accidentally ordering the audio version of Stephen King’s novella, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, from the library system, I realized how valuable the choice of narrator is. Will Patton, a seasoned actor, was an absolute delight to listen to, as he took the audience through this non-horror, still a little spooky, but also very charming, King tale.

By the way, Netflix made a movie version, which I’ve watched as well, and really enjoyed. How am I batting two for two on this selection?! Actually, never mind, let’s just take the win and run with it.

“And now…”

(You Tube channel) Music Video Sins. Already being a fan of Cinema Sins and TV Sins, I fangirled a little too hard (until 1 a.m., to be precise) when I discovered these content creators also had a short-lived foray into sinning music videos. Most of the hip-hop/rap tracks I’d never even heard of (please don’t call me old), but it was a lot of fun catching up with bands and artists I knew about but lost touch with their work when I stopped listening to mainstream radio.

It turns out my music preferences haven’t changed that much in the last 10 years…which presents an interesting conundrum. I could either…ahem…try to keep up with “what the cool kids are into these days,” or accept that I’ve apparently reached my peak of crafting my taste when it comes to melodies and lyrics, and just be content with that fact. The last couple of years, I find myself much more drawn to the likes of indie alternative bands and video game soundtracks, rather than what’s topping the Billboard charts, anyway, so I guess deciding to pass on Taylor Swift’s and Adele’s new albums isn’t too much of a loss. (Just please don’t call me old…)

And there we have it! What were some of your favorite entertainment discoveries this year? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Who Knew?

So it’s a very rainy day. Muffin is back at school. I’m in Target, moving past the children’s clothing section, where I’ve just scored a deal on sweatpants for my now-3rd-grader, and the song on the storewide stereo system changes, from some easily-background-blendy tune to one I am intimately familiar with: “Who Knew?”, by Pink.

And I literally stop pushing my cart right in the aisle between Home Furnishings and Kids’ Decor, look up to the ceiling, and mouth, “Now?”

Many falls ago, I was back in this country after living abroad for several years, newly single and trying to navigate heartbreak and parenthood, and driving again and listening to American radio for the first time in a long while, and “Who Knew?” was then a new release. It was absolutely a case of right time, right song. At a point when I wasn’t even sure what artists or albums or good break-up music I could listen to that wouldn’t remind me of my then-soon-to-be-ex, this was something I came across on my own, without bias, while carrying a lot of baggage that needed some airing out. It was so cathartic.

The strange, interesting thing is the fact that every fall since then, without fail, I’ll be simply driving along, or listening to music while doing chores, and some algorithm somewhere in the cloud, or whatever radio stations use these days, decides it’s time for me to hear “Who Knew?” again.

It’s the most poignant and bittersweet sort of anniversary; I’m remembering a lot of good things, and some bad, I’m sad and happy and nostalgic and wanting to hold on and let go all at once. It ties me to my past while firmly rooting that influence on my present, who I was and who I became, and gives a subtle nudge in the direction of understanding and respecting all of it.

So I was good; I took my time finding the new, cheapest wastebaskets to replace the ancient, falling-apart ones in my house, not straying too far from the reach of the overhead speakers, and let the lyrics wash over me for probably the hundredth time. I let myself remember why I need to hear it, why it needs to be a few moments of quiet reflection, why it has to continue to relate to that point in my life.

This summer has been a tough one for my family. It was a season of unexpected but necessary changes, facing head-on challenges that we definitely would’ve chosen to put off or ignore, and somehow managing through it all to still get up every day and do normal stuff like cook and clean and take out the trash. It’s ushered in some positive things, too, but in no way was it easy, and it was absolutely not my preferred method for getting rid of unhealthy situations and environments.

But this spring, my family was on the edge of drowning under the weight of a lot of harmful influences and damaging routines, and getting away from that has brought an immense lightness to my mind and heart. As dark, harsh, and angry as some of our processing of recent events has been — and some of that was expected — the idea of moving forward, of a chance to do so, seems so real now, when a few months ago, it didn’t.

Little things like browsing Target for new wastebaskets makes me stupidly happy right now. I know I’m on the cusp of something different, when before I felt stuck. The sense of good change being a possibility is so freeing.

To get here, I had to drag myself out of a stupor of accepting less, of not reaching for better, of having given up on what if. At first, it felt so raw and frightening; now I realize that capitulating to being stuck was slowly draining me.

Just like that fall a decade and a half ago, I am facing the unknown — but now, I feel pretty good about it.

I can’t stop myself from wondering what my ex of back then — the reason “Who Knew?” made me cry until I couldn’t breathe — would think of my decisions now. And, no, I don’t necessarily care. But I do believe there’d be a sense of approval, and that does mean something.

The first few times I heard that song, I didn’t yet have in motion the plans for finishing a college degree, raising White Fang, or becoming a published author, all things I wanted to do, had to do, was longing to do. 15 years later, I’m there. I did it.

And this spring, when faced with a massive decision with no clear outcome, I took one path, and prayed to all the divine forces out there that it was the right one. I did it again.

Who knew?


Where the Hell Did This Spring Go?

The short answer, I guess, is that someone has been stealing pockets of time and placing it in different spots since about 2018. I suppose I was lucky to be in an area where apparently we were granted additional minutes, even hours, on certain days or weeks, until somewhere around 2021; I feel like some months I got so much accomplished, and then in others, I know for a fact at least a third of the hours in my life were robbed or deliberately misplaced. This must be the reason it took me approximately a decade and a half to write Volume 4, but I managed to get almost all of my Christmas-splurge-TBR read by April.

Also, this spring seemed to keep changing its mind about when it would arrive; I mean, we were still getting snow in my region two weeks before Easter, and a lot of May was distinctly below the temperatures we expected. It’s like spring packed its bags of flowers and rabbits and degrees above 50, moved to step over the border from winter, then saw that Jurassic World Dominion wasn’t out yet, and went, “Nope, forget this, I’ll be back later.”

Therefore, by the time I realized it was well and truly June, that summer was approaching, I felt like we hadn’t really had a spring. For me, this feeling was compounded by the fact I usually relish those last six weeks before the end of the school year, take that time to get ready for the change in routine, prepare for the summer in terms of plans, and mentally/emotionally for the new season. But this year, all of that seemed to fly right by, and while I thought I was taking notice of it, now that we’re actually in summer itself — after all, it is July now! — at this moment, so much feels like just a blur.

Maybe part of it was the fact some things happened that I’ve been waiting a long time for. White Fang graduated from high school. That’s an event literally years in the making, and yet, it still seems to have snuck up on me. Muffin finished second grade — second grade. I am in no mood to think about changes like college, or no longer needing a booster seat in the car. I am not ready for the next stage of life. I am not, universe, and I will fight you on this!

I also believe that the ways in which I used to measure the passage of time have altered. Usually it’s by which holiday is coming next, or which school vacation. Now I’m breaking down chunks of my calendar by which new movie release Muffin is most excited about.

I catch myself feeling officially old. I realize that I’m really not aware of what’s “in” this summer, what vacation spots are trending, what new books are being published in the next two months. And, to be brutally honest, I’m not sure I care. I am in a very big mood to focus on the stuff I already know I like, rather than chasing after the latest and hype-ist.

Maybe I’m just digging in my heels as a reaction to life apparently moving forward without my consent. On the other hand, in the dead of night, when I’m half awake, listening to a thunderstorm, or the complete silence, or hear a neighbor’s canine companion bark, I wonder: How about finally going back to the beach? Maybe I should try one of those sleep meditation apps? What if we got a dog?

Maybe I need to grab time by the scruff of its neck and make it behave. So I have a chance to decide what I’m doing next — and then go out and do it.


Running Up That Hill

“And if I only could… I’d be running up that hill…with no problems…” – Kate Bush

This is going to be a sad post. I’ve put it off for the last couple weeks, because no matter what, it will make me sad, and I’m already sad. For those of you who have been around this little corner of the blogisphere for a while, you’ll be familiar with the furry love featured above. His name is Toby, and for the last decade and a half, he has been my muse, my companion, our family mascot, and, in the way of all pets, an occasional pain in the ass. He slept with us (stole our body heat), rubbed up against us (begged) for food, got up on forbidden surfaces, left extra hair every and absolutely anywhere it was possible to shed. He braved the cold of coming winter and the wet of new summer rains, to wander his territory and assert his dominance over the squirrels and small birds. He meowed too loudly in the middle of the night, and barged through doors that weren’t shut tight. We would never have been without him.

Except, now, we are without him. Toby passed away on May 3rd, 2022, with a bit of a whine of indignation (he always hated getting shots), and then a last gasp of relaxation into my arms. He was over 18 years old, which is quite an achievement for any domestic feline. He made good use of his time here, hunting, jumping, climbing, loving (and being loved on), sleeping, eating, more sleeping, and watching Netflix with me.

The last several months, he’d been steadily declining. Jumping was harder. Running was harder. Dry food lost its appeal. He couldn’t always remember what he came into a room for.

I knew we’d one day reach the gate to the rainbow bridge, a place I couldn’t follow him. I had to let him cross when he was too old, too in pain, too ready to rest, without us.

And so, on May 3rd, Starclan received its latest Warrior, a fine hunter, the victor of many battles. He’ll always know where to find the plumpest finches, how to cross the widest streams, the best positions for stretching out in sun spots to maximize ultraviolet soakage. He’ll be able to jump and climb the tallest trees, bound across meadows without stopping, and never again forget the name of that minor character in The Vampire Diaries.

He’s still with us, in a sense, always just out of the corner of my eye down the hall, or just flitting off at the edge of the patio. He’s not here, but he isn’t gone.

I love you, Toby, forever and ever, my furbaby. Be at peace, child.