Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf
(SLG Publishing, 2008, 144 pages)
Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf is a graphic novel set in Akron, Ohio in 1980. It’s the story of a group of high school boys led by Otto, the one guy with a car with a backseat floor that flies up upon acceleration. Despite being bullied in his early years, Otto has gained a healthy sense of self-esteem and refers to himself as The Baron. The story follows the boys’ obsessions with girls and music, with much of the story set in a club called The Bank, exploring the beginning of the punk rock scene. Otto ends up getting a job at The Bank and chauffeuring around soon-to-be-famous punk rock artists, including The Ramones, and eventually singing lead in a band, as his popularity soars. This quick read kept my interest, but it’s probably not for everyone, unless you don’t mind teenage boys’ obsession with sex mixed with some punk rock history.
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
(Delacorte Press, 2011, 424 pages)
I enjoyed this fictionalized account of Mrs. Tom Thumb, otherwise known as Lavinia (“Vinnie”) Warren Stratton. Born in the mid-19th century, Vinnie was most definitely viewed as “special.” She reached her full height of 32 inches around the age of 2 and would be understood today as having proportional dwarfism. At a little over two feet tall Vinnie’s view of the world was obviously different from the rest of her family – excluding her younger sister, Minnie, who was born with the same condition (though she was smaller than Vinnie). Vinnie didn’t want her size to limit her, however, and so when she was offered the chance to tour the United States as a unique act she jumped at the chance. As she traveled with a man known as Colonel Wood and his steamboat of other acts Vinnie was portrayed as a curiosity. She quickly made the decision to humanize herself by refusing to simply stand and be gawked at; she was a performer and she awed her audiences. Colonel Wood was not the best man to be working for and it was “fortunate” for Vinnie that the beginnings of the Civil War brought an end to her time with him.
Vinnie’s return home made it clear to her that she would never be content living out the rest of her days with her parents and sister. She reached out to P. T. Barnum and became one of his top performers. The two formed a fast bond and were able to talk to one another in a way no one else could. It was under his tutelage that Vinnie was introduced to General Tom Thumb (one of Barnum’s first attractions) and the two soon wed. The rest of the novel recounts Vinnie’s life as she and her husband were admired and traveled the globe. We also get a look at the struggles Vinnie and her husband faced as they tried to navigate a world that wasn’t built with them in mind and as the changing nation found General and Mrs. Tom Thumb to be less exciting than they once were.
The amount of research Benjamin did for this book is evident as you read. I was impressed with the detail and the cultural references sprinkled throughout the text. I also really appreciated the detailed Afterword that explains how the author decided to write this fictionalized account of Vinnie’s life and where she gathered much of her information. I was able to read the book quickly and I was definitely engaged in the story. It had me eager to learn more about Vinnie and P. T. Barnum. The time in which they thrived was a unique time in American history when the nation was coming into its own while in the midst of tragic events like the Trail of Tears and the Civil War. If you like historical fiction, fictionalized biographies, have an interest in 19th/20th century performers, and/or just appreciate a good story, I think you’ll enjoy The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.
Dolan’s Cadillac: And Other Stories by Stephen King
read by Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Curry, Yeardley Smith, & Rob Lowe
( Simon & Schuster, 2009, 141 pages)
I listened to the audiobook, Dolan’s Cadillac: And Other Stories, by Stephen King. The four stories were read by Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Curry, Yeardley Smith, and Rob Lowe, respectively. I had never read or listened to any Stephen King books, so the twist I was expecting at the end of each story never came. These are no Twilight Zone episodes; they’re just pure horror. Horror doesn’t typically scare me, so I found myself laughing at the absurdity of some things, like a storm of toads falling from the sky. Of course these were scary toads, which could break through glass, latch onto you, and, upon getting squished, would bleed black blood. I enjoyed 3 of the 4 stories, including the storming toads (Rainy Season), a teacher whose students drive her to insanity (Suffer the Little Children), and the final story, Dolan’s Cadillac, in which a husband seeks revenge for his wife’s untimely death. The story I had difficulty following, Crouch End, was set in London, and involved a wife seeking help from the police to find her missing husband.
I enjoyed the actors who read the stories, particularly Yeardley Smith, otherwise known as the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons television show. There was something eerie about hearing Lisa Simpson read a horror story, particularly one about killer toads. I picked up the book in the first place to hear Rob Lowe read Dolan’s Cadillac, and he didn’t disappoint. So… skip the second story, but, for a good scare (or laugh, depending on your personality), get this one for the other three.
A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
(Penguin Press, 2012, 336 pages)
Neill is at a strange point in his life. He’s in his 30s still living in the apartment he shared with his ex-wife. He’s started a relationship with Rachel, who is 20 and belongs to a strange cult. And his job is to work on a computer all day that has been uploaded with all of his father’s journals, who committed suicide years ago. Neill and his partners are trying to construct the first intelligent computer but the more successful they are, the more Neill starts to doubt his past. The computer, Dr. Bassett, is obsessed with the year 1976, which is strangely the year Neill was born and the year journals are missing out of his collection. Now Neill must discover what happened in the past so Dr. Bassett can move on to his unknown future.
I love weird books and this was a weird book. It centered around Neill’s personal relationship with Rachel and his professional life with Dr. Bassett. Throughout the book, it was difficult to see how the two stories connected but in the end, everything made sense. My favorite thing about Neill was his weird sense of humor and thought process. There were some choices that I just couldn’t understand but seemed to help Neill and his relationships.
The Beach Club by Elin Hilderbrand
(St. Martin’s Press, 2000, 320 pages)
The Nantucket Beach Club and Hotel opens every summer for its members and guests and this year proves to be a season no one will forget. Mack, the club’s manager, has two major decisions to make in his life and he’s hoping if he just keeps pushing them off, he’ll never have to decide. Bill and Theresa are trying to inspire their daughter Cecily to take over the hotel but Cecily is more interested in pursuing her boyfriend. Love desperately wants to get pregnant by a man who will leave her alone to raise the child. And Vance is still holding onto his anger at Mack who accidentally stole the manager job from him twelve years ago.
This was a satisfying read because I think the characters all ended up with what they needed instead of what they wanted. There were a lot of character stories to follow and a lot of drama to happen during one summer. But all the characters had such unique stories and twists to them. For example, it’s not unusual for a book to be about a woman wanting a baby but it is unique for that woman to seek out a man who will leave her alone with the baby afterwards.
The Elite by Kiera Cass
(HarperTeen, 2013, 336 pages)
I’m not even going to put a summary because this was a straight filler book for the series. Anything important that did happen could have easily been added to the previous book or the last book coming out in May. Plus America was so frustrating in this book. I mean it makes no sense for her to whine about Maxon dating other girls when she is dating another guy during the whole process for Maxon to find a suitable wife. The first book was much more entertaining which is why I’ll still give the last book in the series a chance, especially if America goes back to be the strong character she was.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
(Riverhead Books, 2013, 480 pages)
Jules was transformed when she went to summer camp after her father died. There she met Ethan, Ash, Jonah, Goodman, and Cathy and they formed The Interestings and Julie became Jules. As the years pass, some members of The Interestings leave the group after a New Year’s Eve incident that changes the course of their lives. Years later, Ethan and Ash are a successful and happy couple while Jules and her husband Dennis are struggling to keep up with the basics. The Interestings have always pledged to be loyal to one another, but that doesn’t mean they each don’t have their own secrets or jealousies to hide.
I thought this was an interesting concept to explore. Throughout the read, it was revealed that everyone was envious or wanted something they couldn’t have. This was especially true for Jules but it also might seem that way since the majority of the book was told from her point of view. The least envious character was Ash but it’s also curious that the reader never received her narrative. This was definitely a read I pondered long after I finished with it.
You can also check out Julia’s review of this title.