1

Monkey Puzzle

Not only did I finish one book since I finished revising my prelims, but I finished a second! Incroyable, as the French might say. So here’s my review, without further ado, of What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. This wasn’t on any list I had, it was just a completely random pluck from the shelf in Memorial Library and I’m glad I plucked it because it was pretty fantastic.

What Was Lost, the debut novel by Catherine O’Flynn, is a mystery straddling the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, developing exciting storylines while commenting on urban blight (it is not, though, urban fantasy). We start in 1984, through the eyes of 10-year-old Kate Meaney, an aspiring detective, as she roams around Birmingham with her partner Mickey (a stuffed monkey) looking for crimes and adventure. She has a friend in 22-year-old Adrian, a local shop worker, and the people around her find it quite strange. One day, Adrian sees Kate off on a bus to take an entrance exam at a boarding school…and Kate is never seen again. After being hounded by the press, Adrian disappears as well.

Fast forward to 2004. Kurt, a security guard at the dying Green Oaks Mall, is manning the cameras one night when he sees the image of a little girl on the screen, holding a backpack, notebook, and toy monkey. He never finds the little girl again, but he does encounter Lisa, who works at one of the stores in the mall, who randomly found the stuffed monkey toy in a crevice in the wall. The two become friends, and after Kurt shares his mysterious sighting on the camera, Lisa shares that her brother, Adrian, disappeared twenty years ago, after the disappearance of Kate, who a) owned a toy monkey, b) regularly hung out at what is now Green Oaks, and c) may have been there on the day of her disappearance. Obviously, the girl Kurt saw on the camera wasn’t Kate, but it does bring some attention back to her disappearance, leading to more clues, unexpected arrivals, and ultimately, the fate of Kate.

O’Flynn’s writing style is very natural and flows well, it’s a page-turner both in form and content. Unlike the book I reviewed two posts ago (The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters by Timothy Schaffert), this was a book where I could skim here and there without missing anything major. Although I was much more interested in the Kate story line than the Kurt/Lisa story line, seeing these two disillusioned, unhappy retail workers find the answers to a long-forgotten urban mystery, little by little, made me want to keep reading. It’s also a rather slim volume, at around 150 pages; an easy read on a bus, train, or plane ride.

Some of the things that I found off about the book were the random asides, and Kurt’s involvement in the whole thing. Kurt is the first character we meet in the 2004 section of the book, and he really has no connection to Kate whatsoever, but randomly happens to see a girl (or so he thinks) who matches Kate’s description, even though it’s obviously not Kate, because she would be 30 years old by then. After meeting Lisa, who has an actual connection to Kate and Adrian, it just seems like a strange coincidence that he’d report seeing someone who looked like Kate despite a) never having met her before, b) not knowing what she looked like, or that she owned a notebook and a monkey toy, and c) never even knowing of her existence before Lisa entered the picture. Then, there are random asides in italics at certain points, by “Mystery Shopper” or “Shop Customer” that don’t seem to add a lot to the plot, other than giving some more establishing imagery/context, but ultimately, they don’t have names and there’s no real consistency to them.

I think that the book had some decent messages, especially considering the title, What Was Lost. Obviously, Kate and Adrian are physically missing, but in a way, it also describes the bleak existences of Kurt and Lisa who are trapped in retail hell at a dying mall, and the other characters too, including the ones who have no names but comment on the goings-on of the mall. On the whole, it’s an homage to turn-of-the-century urban ennui, adding a little bit of mystery through a quirky 10-year-old wannabe detective. I’m really glad I picked it up and I’ve already gone back to get another of O’Flynn’s books.

This book review was brought to you by my cold being over, but the rest of me not quite ready to return to normal life yet.

4

Ten Things I Don’t Understand About Myself/Things I Do But Don’t Know Why

I haven’t made a good list in a while, and it’s like having a good cry, so here goes.

Ten Things I Don’t Understand About Myself/Things I Do But Don’t Know Why

  1. I do laundry, but I cannot fold it until I know that there is something online or on TV that I want to watch so I can multitask. I can’t fold laundry without doing something else at the same time, and since laundry-folding requires two hands, TV just requires my two eyes.
  2. I wash dishes…in the morning, while my coffee is being made. Yep, that’s the only time I will hand-wash dishes. Usually I am still in pajamas so if I get splashed it’s not such a huge deal. That’s somewhat logical, but why not just wash them right away? And today I got Starbucks before going to work rather than making my own coffee, so…sorry, sink full of dishes.
  3. I can’t play Words with Friends while walking. Doesn’t work for me. Must be either seated, standing, or lying down.
  4. I never have any clothes, and then when I go on shopping sprees and spend a lot of money on clothes, they all seem to disappear. Currently, I’m down to two pairs of khakis, two pairs of dress pants, and ONE pair of jeans. Jeans don’t seem to last long, especially if you have an active life and are walking around campus all day.
  5. I tell everyone that I keep my car clean, but it’s really not clean. I mean, the front seat is okay, sometimes has some papers or pens on it, and the backseat isn’t bad, but I throw stuff in the trunk and have no idea how much has accumulated back there until I have to squish things to get my groceries in.
  6. I can’t ever have just one piece of gum. Right now, for example, I’m chewing four pieces, like some kind of barbarian.
  7. I have an order of how I read books, but I’m constantly forgetting it/changing it.
  8. I have shows I watch religiously online, but I’ve never seen an episode of said show live/on TV. Yep, the Late Show, Colbert Report, Late Late…and I’m usually awake, too. Watching clips on YouTube.
  9. I never use anything handicapped, except bathroom stalls. I feel like it’s just a bad omen, from parking spots to using ramps instead of steps. I think I walked up the ramp to get into my building once, because I was talking with someone, and I had a split-second anxiety attack. Handicapped bathroom stalls are fair game, because it would be quite rare for me to be using the stall when an actual handicapped person might need it, and if I’m in there, I’m usually out pretty quickly.
  10. I wait all day to post something, just before midnight. Even though I sometimes come up with multiple ideas a day, it takes me until the witching hour to get it down. It doesn’t matter whether I have a free hour for lunch or something, it doesn’t get from brain to blog until this time of day, when I’m already tired and stressed.
6

Need A Cure for Kicking the TV Habit? Get Sick

Hey y’all, or as my immune system might say, “hnff heck hack.”

It wasn’t working in a germ factory, or even going out with a wet head that got me congested and sniffly, but I think it might have had to do with some spicy fries I ate on Saturday night after Salsa Saturday and could still taste Sunday afternoon. Ever since then, I’ve been mostly just sniffling, with a few minor coughs and a sneeze here and there. It feels like I have water in my nose, and that my eyes just want to close. I’m not sure that it’s a sore throat, because cough drops only irritated it more. Today, while teaching my first class, I had a fit of hacking, at the end of which I pronounced “brb, dying,” and after one or two more coughs, pronounced myself dead.

But hey, when you’re teaching Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd, it works.

Anyway, all I wanted to do after I got home from school and meetings was to lie down on the couch and watch TV.

Except…

THERE’S. NOTHING. ON.

I flip through channels, and go through the TV guide, and…nothing appealing. When I’m well, there are all sorts of things that I’d like to watch but either don’t have the time to or just forget about. But of course, when I want to relax and watch something good, all that’s on: sports, weather, news, infomercials, crappy Christmas movies (which could be its own generator, future post idea!), televangelists, murder dramas, pointless reality shows, and whatever’s on the Spanish channel.

I could go to bed early, or read or lesson plan or something, but I think I’ll just write a blog post about it and see where it goes.

8

The Antique Shop at the End of the Universe

I actually finished a book recently! Review of The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters by Timothy Schaffert comin’ up!

(Review added 12/7.)

Ever since I’d had to read an excerpt from one of Schaffert’s novels for a history class last year, I’d wanted to read one of his novels. I ordered one off of Peebs, and decided that no day like today to get it read, reviewed, and passed on (I’ll be mailing it to Florida later today). So please enjoy this review.

The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters takes place in an antique shop in rural Nebraska, home to teenage sisters Lily and Mabel, who have been abandoned by their mother after their father’s suicide. Mabel, the older sister, is more methodical and introspective, whereas Lily is more impulsive and flirtatious. I wasn’t quite sure where the novel was going at first, but after we get to know their story a little better, we meet Jordan, a local boy who’s in a bit of a love triangle with both sisters. The story splits apart when Lily and Jordan hit the road in search of the sisters’ mother without telling Mabel, while back in Nebraska, Mabel searches for answers about her late father and ends up becoming quite involved with a family who have lost a young daughter. The story takes a lot of twists and turns, and honestly, I could not have begun to predict where it would end up.

One of the most beautiful things (or most annoying things) about the book is Schaffert’s language. He is incredibly descriptive, to the point where you have to actually be sitting up and paying full attention to every single word. It’s a fun place to imagine, with tons of creative details like Lily’s hollowed out school bus apartment to the descriptions of all the items in the shop. You can easily get lost in the richness of rural Nebraska, which, ironically, is probably poor and boring in real life. However, this does present a problem for reading this book before going to sleep; if you hypno-read, like I sometimes do, or skim pages, you can miss details which are incredibly important. For example, towards the end of the book, Mabel wakes up in the Roseleafs’ basement in her underwear, and when Wyatt and his brothers wake her up to take her to the Stitch farm, her clothes are still soaked from the rainstorm the night before. They have a box of miscellaneous clothes, and instruct Mabel to pick out something to wear. Then, there’s a paragraph describing the t-shirt she selected, which was a favorite of Callie’s. They then stuff her in the car, and when they arrive at the farm, Mabel decides she doesn’t want to get out, so Wyatt pulls her out of the car and through the mud. I was a little taken aback, thinking that Mabel, a young adult, was just wearing a t-shirt and underwear, riding in a truck with 4 men, and then dragged out and taken to the Stitch farm, but I turned to the previous page. Sure enough, in the paragraph where Mabel grabs clothes from the box, it also says that she gets a denim skirt with a butterfly appliqued on it, and a pair of jelly sandals, which makes it a lot less weird.

Another thing that’s interesting about this book is just the quirkiness of all the characters. To a degree, they all seem impulsive, and they seem to just do things at random, unexpectedly, which makes them fun but at the same time, a little questionable. For example, Lily has a habit of putting coins in her mouth (something she does several times in the book), and Mabel spray-paints her sneakers red for no real reason at all. Just like, yeah, let’s do it.

Overall, if you’re looking to go on an adventure but not as far as outer space, another dimension, or a world of wizards and witches, I recommend this book. The fact that there’s absolutely no magic in it makes it even more magical of a read.

2

Some Goals for December

Hey y’all!

Okay, so now that the hellish month known as November is dunzo, and school/work is tapering off as winter break gets closer, and other stuff, it’s time for a comeback, and instead of lamenting my lack of quality ideas for posts, I’m just going to make this goals list for December and see how it goes:

Goals for December 2016

Blogging

  • Write something every day, or at least as close to that as possible.
  • Think of a new blogging project/game/blogsperiment for 2017.
  • Update/fix up some half-finished posts.

Real-Life Stuff

  • Work on finding new place to live.
  • Go through closet and determine what clothes need replacing.
  • Deep clean kitchen/bathroom.
  • Read more books, especially library books.

Finish strong!

2

A Just Right Thanksgiving

After a crazy few days of travel and stress, enter Thanksgiving.

In our times, Thanksgiving is thought of as such a holiday of excess. Too many people, too much food, too much consumerism. But this year, it was just right.

I flew back to Baltimore two days ago via Detroit, spent the night at home, then yesterday we drove down to Ocean City, and then today, up to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for Thanksgiving. There were 25 of us, which is almost everyone on the planet with whom I’m related. My cousins have the most gorgeous beach house, and there was just enough food that I felt satisfied without overeating. Plus, it was nice enough outside afterwards to walk around in short sleeves, and I caught up on some sleep while we had our traditional post-dinner Sharknado marathon. One of my cousins said that it was nice that nobody was gluten-free, but there’s more than that. This year, there was no whining or crying, no cringeworthy or awkward conversations, it just kinda flowed, like the ocean right outside.

Right now, I’m listening to the waves of the Atlantic that I’ve missed so much crashing just outside the house here in Ocean City. I’m still overloaded with stress thinking about work and school and everything, but at least I’m not alone and I’m in on of my most favorite places on earth.

Yeah, kind of sappy, I know, but hey, it’s just been a long few weeks, in many ways. November’s taken a lot out of me, and hopefully December will put some of it back.