Tag Archives: humor

The Book of Polly: a novel

 

THE BOOK OF POLLY

by KATHY HEPINSTALL

Pamela Dorman Books | 2017
Hardcover: 322 pages
ISBN: 9780399562099
Genre: FICTION/COMING-OF-AGE
Review Source: ARC e-book from Edelweiss

★★★★☆

EXCERPT

I’m not sure at what age I became frozen with the knowledge, certainty, and horror that mother would die one day. . . One of my earliest memories was reaching up and trying to snatch a cigarette from her lips. Even then I knew my enemy.

[Polly] had conceived me in something close to a bona fide miracle, when she and her soon-to-be-late husband of thirty-seven years consummated their love for the last time. From the absurdity of that union came the news that my mother received from her doctor three days after my father’s funeral: Polly, [58], was due to have one more child in the year 1992. [Me.] Willow.

Eight months later I  was born, my family already gone like a train pulled out of the station: my father dead, my brother and sister grown and gone. . . 

Don’t you love a book that latches onto your funny bone? My first impression of Polly Haven reminded me of my favorite cartoon character, Maxine; brash, fearless and prickly. This is truly a southern tale filled with a small cast of unique characters much like Fried Green Tomatoes’s Iggy Threadgoode or Steel Magnolias’ “Ouiser” played by Shirley MacLaine.

Willow narrates the book beginning when she is a 10-year-old sharing her feelings, thoughts and emotions about living with a gun-toting, Virginia Slims smoking, foul-mouthed, Margarita slurping mother who loves her dearly; but Polly’s actions, viewed through a child’s eyes make you wonder if she was a spawn of the devil. The novel covers the next six years of their lives. Six years filled with tit-for-tat conflicts between a septuagenarian mother and a teenage terror with a propensity for lying. The narration in a child’s voice is a softening agent for adult topics like alcoholism, marital disharmony, religion and terminal illness and engenders sympathy for teenage angst and budding first love.

One of Polly’s traits that drives Willow crazy is her unwillingness to share her past life – life before Willow – one that includes deeply held dark secrets.  Willow is determined to peel the onion on that story and other guarded truths in order to find a place for herself in the family timeline. Some place where she understands where she came from and where she will be in the future. She is terrified of finding herself alone in the world without – her mother.

Polly’s cigarette habit frightens Willow the most. She does everything she can to make her mother miserable in attempt to ward off the “Bear”, her mother’s term for cancer.  Her efforts to prolong her mother’s life produce some deeply touching moments and some rather explosive reactions between them.

Polly’s over-the-top reactions to perceived or actual attacks rankles school authorities, her equally cantankerous neighbors and the world at-large. That includes the squirrels that invade her precious pecan tree.

I loved this coming-of-age story and I had more than a few hearty chuckles over the neighbor’s cat straddling the rickety fence, the next door neighbor’s free-range undisciplined Montessori twins, Dalton and Willow’s budding romance, and the bond between her brother’s friend and Polly.

Underlying all the spats and bluster lies the meaning of life for all of us. And the feel good ending, seen coming a mile away, reminded me of the last verse of Desiderata:

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Desiderata by Max Ehrman

 

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Sometimes I’m So Smart I Almost Feel Like A Real Person

SOMETIMES I’M SO SMART I ALMOST FEEL LIKE A REAL PERSON

by Graham Parke

No Hope Media | 2017
Paperback
ISBN: 978-9491919039
Genre: Fiction / Millennials / Social Angst

Review Source: Kindle copy provided by the author in exchange for my honest review

★★★★☆

A lot has happened since you left, Eric.

For one thing, I had to deal with this really bad break up. Not one to waste time, I immediately turned to my oldest and dearest friend: Google. After…countless generations suffered this fate before me…[all searching] for the best way to deal with the rejections, the heartache, and that longing to spend the days with [The One], it should be known by now.

Not so.

…opening paragraph in the preface

First off, I loved this book.

As Harold begins to describe his story, it is obvious from the get-go that it’s going to be somewhat of a Debbie-Downer.  However, the author has found a way to make loneliness and love-sickness amusing and entertaining. The book is written in a funny self-deprecating style and has the reader flipping pages to see what emotional hole Harold will dig for himself next.

Harold is a 30 year-old socially challenged accountant who still lives with his mother. Together they share a raucous relationship tempered with love. They rarely see eye-to-eye on anything. His mother is fond of reminding him that it is her house. Harold is quick to point out that he pays rent like any boarder and expects his privacy. Sparks fly and doors slam. The house creaks with secrets that neither one wants to admit are there.

Mom recognizes that Harold has social issues and presses him to date or make friends but goes about it in all the wrong ways. Yet her interference does reap rewards in its own way. Here’s one of my favorite lines:

“When I arrive [home from work], Mom’s already complaining. Sometimes I think she starts before she even opens the door, perhaps warming up by telling the wall to stop slouching and stand up straight.”

The failure to find the answer to his love-sick blues on Google leads Harold to set up his own YouTube video blog.  He first calls it: How to get over someone in 600 easy steps. After reflection he changed it to 27 simple steps to happiness.  Each carefully scripted message is a 5 minute vblog narrated anonymously by disguising his face with a Zorro mask and adopting the online name of Leverage.

Despite his hope to spread his “wise-isms” anonymously, he is discovered by several of his followers. Each discovery leads Harold down another road less traveled in his life. One of his followers, using his “wise-isms” becomes a rival to Harold’s best hope for love. The charming and flirtatious sales clerk, Emma, at the Ye Olde Peanut Shoppe strings Harold along by tweeting all day but giving him the Heisman when pressed for a real date. He becomes so obsessed with Emma that he begins imaginary dialogues with her.

Harold’s wild emotional roller coaster relationship with Emma goes from heart pounding infatuation to friendship fatigue. He eventually finds out about her boyfriend and the futility of his hopes. When she continues to text he begins weaning himself away from her.

So that was Part One of my story, Eric.

I hope you understand why I had no choice but to divert all mental resources away from “attracting The One” and on to something much more important.

There’s less snark and more heartfelt substance in Part Two. He has discovered that what he felt for Emma was just a pipe-dream. Now having cleared his mind of mischief he faces several issues in his life that were in limbo. If I elaborate, it would be a spoiler. Best you find out things for yourself. The tone becomes more serious but no less engaging.

The book ended with a few loose threads but not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment. Aside from the quirky repartees, I liked that Harold “found himself”.

Recommended to any reader who love quirky and comical characters.

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Clancys of Queens

clancys cover.jpg

by Tara Clancy

tara-clancy-1

Hardcover: 256 pages
Crown Publishing | 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-90311-7
Genre: Personal Memoir

★★★★☆

Print ARC won via LibraryThing/Early Readers and e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased honest review.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
queens

Recipe For Self-Deprecating
Coming-Of-Age Memoir

Take one five-year old Irish-Italian school girl from New York City (Queens) with the energy of the “Roadrunner” and the mischievous bent of “Wile E. Coyote”; a self identified whirling dervish with a penchant for mayhem.

Pass her around Queens like an invitation to a “progressive dinner”.

Start her out weekdays in the care of her Italian grandparents, Rosalie and “Ricky” Riccobono and their geriatric relatives and neighbors on 251st Street in Bellerose, Queens. Indulge her free spirit and fill her days with love and a generous dose of Rosalie’s Italian salty invectives.

[I enter the kitchen and sneak up on Grandma as she is about to tell me to do something.] I’m a few feet below Grandma’s sight line…her head slowly swiveling left, then right, then left again with a fixed, fuming gaze, looking like a cyborg in a housedress. Right before her eyes start pulsing red and she turns real-life Terminator, her head tilts down and there I am, standing at her heels and choking down a laugh…[She starts her instructions as she always does with her favorite opening cussword. She means nothing by it, it’s just her catch-all punctuation.]

Weekday evenings hand her over to her loving and patient mother for the quiet solitude of each other’s company. As quiet as life can be with a dervish in the house.

Two weekends a month gift her to her caring father, a dirt-poor Irish-American police officer and his pull out sofa bed in his one-room converted boat shed near Jamaica Bay. Saturday evenings, the two sit high above the crowd in the Crow’s Nest at Gregory’s Bar and Restaurant in Broad Channel, Queens collecting treats and high fives from the regulars.

ps133-logoThe other two weekends place her in the back of a stretch limo, alone, to arrive at the luxurious Bridgehampton estate of her mother’s boyfriend. Incongruously parked at the formal entrance of the main house is her plastic electric Power Wheels pickup charged and ready for her first tour of the estate grounds.

Stir together blending all characters into one big extended family that protects, loves and supports our little dervish as she crashes and blasts her way through grade school, middle school and into high school. Tara goes through schools like Imelda Marcos does shoes.

Tara tells her story as if she is riding the subway sharing anecdotes over time to a seatmate. Each story awash in a fresh memory that exposes more of herself not deeply but openly and often with humor. Along the way we learn a lot about Queens and meet some wonderful people with colorful nicknames such Uncle Jelly, Mumbling Joe and Jimmy the Hat. (Wait until you meet Rosemary. Sorry no hints. Won’t spoil the surprise.)

The story is not all fun and games. She openly shares her darker issues such as alcohol abuse and the struggle for sexual identity but she always finds a way to tell it with tongue-in-cheek humor. In true New York style everything and everyone feels larger than life but the overall emotion that rings through the clatter and clutter is unconditional love. Tara has a way of expressing her love for her parents, grandparents and extended family in all her stories that makes you want to head to Grandma Rosalie’s for Christmas dinner.

Believe me you are in for a surprise when you read what turns her life around at the end!

Recommended.

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The Invoice

The invoice

The Invoice

by Jonas Karlsson

Hogarth/Crown| July 2016
Hardcover: 208 pages
ISBN: 978-1-101-90514-2
Genre: Fiction/Humor/Satire

ARC Paperback from LibraryThing/Early Readers in exchange for an unbiased review.

Published as “Fakturan” in the short story collection Spelrelerna by Wahlstrom & Widstrand (2011)

★★★☆☆

Having read several emotionally draining books recently I went on a search through my to-be-read books and decided it was time to read something lighter and fluffier. I picked up the tiny book, The Invoice, and read the book synopsis I had printed out when I received it from the publisher.  The blurb described the book as hilarious, profound, and achingly true-to-life- Jonas Karlsson’s new novel explores the true nature of happiness through the eyes of hero you won’t soon forget.

Sounded perfect to me!  So let me get it off my chest right away. I didn’t find it hilarious and profound. In some respects it felt achingly true-to-life. My overall impression was that it should have been left as a short story.

Now with all that negative bluster let me tell you what I did like about the book.

Description
The unnamed Swedish protagonist lives a very simple life. By day he works part-time at Jugges Flicks spending most of his time staring out the window or re-watching classic films. By night he dines on take-outs from the same restaurants, favors the same ice cream parlor and reminisces over good times with a lost love and old friends that have married and moved on. He loves his low-rent apartment with the crushed cushion couch.

A strange letter appears in his mail one day that, at first, seemed a joke. The letter was an invoice from some outfit called WRD and claimed he owed 5.7 million kronor for EH. The figure was so outrageous and the abstract nature of the invoice had to be a joke or at best a mistake so he tossed it aside. But soon a second invoice arrived with added interest for late payment from a debt collection agency and he was rattled to his core.

Calling the help line for WRD resulted in an experience familiar to anyone calling a major customer service number...your expected wait time is..…..  “What can I do for you?” Must have been a mistake. “No mistake.” I didn’t order anything. “Don’t you read the papers, watch television or keep up the news?”  I had to admit I didn’t. “Well“, she said. “It’s time to pay up.”…What am I supposed to be paying for? “Everything.” What do you mean…everything? “Look around you..” I see clouds, people, children playing, trees… “What do you feel?”  Happy.  “What do you smell?” Something cooking, garbage, flowers… “Do you imagine all that is free? I thought so. “Being alive costs.

The remainder of the book describes his thoughts, telephone conversations with the customer service clerk named Maud, and his interactions with the honchos at WRD.

Just so you won’t go crazy trying to find the meaning of WRD and EH I will tell you. WRD is World Resources Distribution and EH is Experienced Happiness. Every human has been sliced and diced through some complicated system that evaluates their life from birth to present resulting in the cost of acquiring their EH.

My thoughts and feelings
As I said earlier, I didn’t find the satire hysterically funny. But then, I don’t usually read satire. I did find the time he spent as a young man with his girlfriend, Sunita, lovely but immature. His siphoning friend, Roger, needs to get a job and his own life. Our Swede misses his mother and has buried his grief. And the story has a happy ending. No need for a tissue or regret.

So in the end I did have to admit that I had some deep personal thoughts about happiness and what is “true” happiness. As I live a life somewhat remote and hermit-like myself, I did question whether I was happy (I think so) or am I keeping conflict away and outside.

So here’s what I concluded. If you are taking a flight, riding shotgun on a long trip, or basking in the sun and want an easy read this book is for you. It took about 4 hours to read. I read slowly. It won’t offend you and it might cause you to reevaluate your place in the world.

P.S. I hate anonymous characters so I decided to call him Olaf in my mind.

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Wangs vs. The World

wangs vs. the world netgalley

WANGS vs. The World

by Jade Chang

Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt | Oct 2016
Paperback: 368 pages (978-0544734098)
Genre: Fiction/Asian American/Humor/Coming of Age

ARC: NETGALLEY in exchange for an unbiased review. 

 ★★★★

Charles Wang has always felt gypped.  Years ago the Communists confiscated his family’s ancestral lands and Charles lives with the belief that he was robbed of his birthright as a landed aristocrat.  His family was forced to join hordes of Chinese escapees to the island of Taiwan where his fmercedes sketchather built a grim little factory that supplied urea to fertilizer manufacturers.  His disgraced father had been reduced to a dealing in pee.  “Not even real honest piss – artificial piss.  Faux pee.  A nitrogen-carrying ammonia substitute…

Sure that he could regain his family’s fortune and status, Charles headed to the United States to sell faux pee to American fertilizer manufacturers.  Airsick and relegated to the in-flight restroom, Charles practices his English reading the label of a mini-bar of soap and makes a monumental discovery…urea is an ingredient in this sweet smelling soap.

And with that discovery Charles was able to turn “Shit into Shinola” citing one of his favorite American movie phrases.  In fact he made two hundred million dollars worth of Shinola and became an American cosmetics tycoon.

Living the good life in sunny California set his initial purpose of restoring the family lands in China way back in a dusty corner of his mind. He had the money but he was having too much fun with it. So much fun that he let it distract his best business sense and when turned down for a loan to start a new cosmetic line he put his his entire fortune up as collateral… the Bel Aire house, the cigarette boat, the children’s trust funds.  Everything.

The new cosmetics line failed and at the same time America crashed headlong into the Great Recession of 2008. Overnight Charles lost it all.  And by extension his three children and his wife lost everything too.  And he did all this in secret from his family.

After shocking his spoiled and pampered wife, Barbra, with the news Charles packs a confused Barbra and his childhood nanny, Ama, into the only car available to him…the powder-blue 1980 Mercedes station wagon long ago sold to Ama.   Lights off on the old car they roll down the long driveway in the dead of night to avoid the embarrassment of discovery by their neighbors to begin a long arduous journey across the US to move in with their oldest daughter in her old farm house in rural New York State.

Along the way they will pick up the other two children both away at school. The children discover abruptly that their own world just collapsed; their lives reduced to fast food restaurants and sleazy hotel rooms as they travel cross country.

And this is where the story gets crazy. Anyone who has ever taken a family vacation stuffed in a station wagon with all their squabbles and perceived injustices can relate. As the reality of their sudden drop in social standing hits them, they all work their way through the emotions of loss and the realization that their future will be far different from their recent past.

Bumping along in the old car, we watch, look and listen as we are taken back to Taiwan, disco lounge or college dorm flipping around the past and present of each character.  Slowly each character changes, often subtly, until this family discovers the heart is the true source of riches.

The book was hyped as hysterically funny.  Nada.  But I did smile often and found it entertaining.  Sometimes I wanted to reach over and step on the gas to speed things up a bit. At times Charles was so shallow and narcissistic I was turned off.  Barbra, playing the role of the unloved step-mother, discovers her softer side.

When an unexpected event turns the road trip into something much more serious, I was surprised. Talk about a knock up side of the head to realign your priorities. And the final chapters were very engaging leaving me sad and hopeful at the same time.

I couldn’t help but think that this was a nice read but would make a great movie.  So read the book, it will be out in October 2016.  I am willing to bet you will see it screen soon after that!

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