Did You Know? (Thorn Edition)

Roses have prickles and not thorns?

A thorn is a sharp modified stem that grows out of the woody stems of many kinds of trees and shrubs such as honey locust and hawthorn with a short growth period that ends with a formation of a sharp, hardened tip. Prickles, which grow on roses, are simple outgrowths of the surface of the stem and spines are the thorn-like structures that are actually modified leaves on plants such as cactus, black locust and barberry. I found this in Volume 19, for the letter T, of the 2017 World Book Encyclopedia.

Ortho’s All about Roses will tell you about the planting, pruning, feeding and selection of the best roses for your gardening needs. It also has plenty of informative pictures of proper pruning as well as information about possible insect damage and control.

Encyclopedia of Roses by Charles & Brigid Quest-Ritson is just that, over 2000 beautiful pictures of different roses including information on hardiness zones, sizes and scents. The Rose: A True History by Jennifer Potter, a horticultural historian, gives us the history of the ‘Queen of Flowers’ from all over the world. You will know more about roses than you ever thought possible!

Whether it has prickles, thorns or spines, many plants make great decorations. Beautiful Winter by Edle Catharina Norman and Branches and Blooms by Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo both have some beautiful ideas for wreaths, garlands and table decorations using all sorts of branches, flowers and natural materials.

Thorns, prickles, and spines are confusing enough, but let us add spikes to the mix! Dracaena, or spike plant, was traditionally considered a houseplant for years. However, it is finding favor in annual container gardens where the spiky upright leaves provide height and textural contrast to bushy and cascading annual flowers.

A prickle also describes an experience of a tingling sensation, especially as a result of strong emotion or to have a creeping sensation. Oh! I think just reading that gave me a prickle up my spine! Mr. Prickles: a Quill fated Love Story by Kara LaReau is a story about a porcupine with no friends because he is prickly, until he meets Miss Pointypants. There really is someone for everyone!

Some Types of Punk Music!

I have become fascinated with the definition of punk rock. There’s little doubt that the term was first applied to bands of the same ilk as the Sex Pistols, but as time passed punk became a blanket term for a variety of styles.

You’ve got your hardcore, your horror punk, Oi!, grindcore and pop punk just to name a few. And you can’t identify your genre without a scorecard. So, in the interest of Properly-Defined Genre Understanding (PDGU) I give you: SOME TYPES OF PUNK MUSIC!

Punk: ClassicPunk® bands, also known simply as punk bands, play ramped up rock and roll. Not so different from 50s rock, add distortion and politics, shake well, go heavy on the melody and voila!
Group punkHardcore: A response to what was seen as the selling-out of punk. Fast, loud, aggressive and hard-hitting. Rhythm is more important than melody and vocals are typically shouted. The standard verse-chorus song structure, a staple of punk, is not used.
Group hardcoreHorror punk: A highly visual subgenre steeped in horror and sci-fi movie imagery. Elements of goth and punk mix with doo-wop and rockabilly, creating a unique sound.

Group horror

Pop punk: Punk was never commercially successful. Until someone thought to add pleasant melodies to fast and furious music. Hey, that kinda sounds like ClassicPunk®, don’t it?

Group PopPunk

But wait, there’s more! Crust, thrashcore, anarcho-punk, D-beat, stenchcore, powerviolence… It kind of makes a person want to create their own subgenres: sniffletrot, bonesaw-crunch, free retch… Ah, I see a hobby in my future.

But I digress.

My point today, if I do indeed have a point, is that the term punk has shifted in meaning over the years. The original punk bands, i.e. ClassicPunk® bands, are not significantly removed from the mainstream of rock music. Hardcore bands, on the other hand, are an entirely different beast. The aggression, the shouting, the breakneck speeds all combine to form a new type of musical expression. And in my mind, if not in the minds of others, punk has come to mean hardcore punk.

So while I struggled for many years with the label punk being applied to bands like the Buzzcocks, I now realize that their 3 minute songs of teenage angst, love and fast cars are all magnificent pop gems that we simply decided to call punk. And while there may have been but a single flavor of punk for a short time, now there are many. To be entirely clear one must cite which type of punk music one is speaking of.

So be the coolest kid on your block and check out some horror punk or crust or bloodspattergorefest (I made that one up!) from your nearest public library. Remember: Leather jackets are optional but open minds are mandatory!

Who is Vera Kelly?

Student, activist…spy? Who is Vera Kelly? is a spy novel by Rosalie Knecht published earlier this week by Tin House Books. It’s also a question I asked myself many times while reading this engrossing novel of intrigue and identity. What Vera Kelly is not is your typical school girl, and she’s definitely not your typical spy.

1966 is a dangerous time to be living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. For those of you who may have forgotten your world history, events in the summer of 1966 sparked the Argentine Revolution that overthrew the government and began a long period of dictatorship. Up until 1966 Vera was supplementing her low-wage radio station job doing occasional weekend surveillance jobs for the CIA, but the Buenos Aires job would be quite different. I’ll let Vera explain herself:

My handler pitched it to me in January 1966, in a diner where he liked to meet on East Fifty-Second Street. The Argentine president was weak, there could be a coup anytime, and KGB activity had picked up in Buenos Aires. I would have to do infiltration work as well as surveillance. I would be gone indefinitely, months or a year, and I would have to quit my job. For this they would pay me thirty-five thousand dollars.

You math nerds and currency freaks will realize how much thirty-five thousand dollars was in 1966, but I’ll spell it out so the rest of us can understand. According to one inflation calculator I consulted, that would be over $270,000 in today’s dollars. For someone scraping by at $38/per week at her day job (about $259 in today’s dollars) it was kind of a no-brainer financially for Vera to accept the job.

But even more than the money, Vera has found a sense of accomplishment in her work with the CIA. The satisfaction of a job well done in service to her country is what helps make the rest of her lonely existence worth getting up for every morning. I say lonely because Vera is a closeted lesbian and in the 1960s it wasn’t impossible to find female companionship in New York City, but doing so could possibly jeopardize her security clearance. This is a sad way of telling you that Vera suppressed a lot of her identity in service to her country, but she wasn’t always so noble.

The chapters alternate between Vera’s present-day espionage and her formative years growing up in Chevy Chase, MD. Vera’s battles with undiagnosed depression eventually led to a suicide attempt. This is revealed in the very first paragraphs of the book (you’ll get no spoilers from me, but do consider this a trigger warning for a suicide attempt right at the top of the story). Vera’s recovery shut her off even more from a world that didn’t understand her, and would eventually lead to heartbreak and a brush with the law. That sounds very depressing, and it is! But it does steer her down a winding path to the CIA and her life of adventure.

Vera spends much of her time surrounded by other people, and though it’s the nature of the job as a spy to lie to people and not trust what she’s told in return, Vera is essentially a woman alone. It’s hard to make friends when you’re a spy and it’s even harder to find romance or even simple physical companionship when you don’t fit into society’s prescribed heteronormative expectations and ideals.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give more of a taste of the espionage portion of the plot because if this book’s plot were a pepperoni pizza, the spy parts are the cheese and the character development is the pepperoni. It’s got a good sprinkling of character development, but every bite is covered in the cheese of espionage.

The best books make me scattered in my retellings. Just take my awkward pizza metaphor as the gold star this book deserves!

Once the coup in Argentina begins, Vera’s plans go up in smoke and she’s forced to improvise in order to escape the police state and survive. This is where Vera surprises both the reader and herself as she depends entirely on her instincts and cunning to get herself home.

There are secrets, betrayals, weapons, and kisses. This is a book that really does have it all.

I’m not usually a fan of character-driven literature, but apparently if you throw in an engrossing spy plot and some witty dialogue I will fall at your feet in worship. My girl Amy Stewart blurbed this book as “The twisty, literary, woman-driven spy novel you’ve always wanted to read. Dazzling.” And of course she’s right. Vera Kelly is 100% the spy I’ve always wanted. Thank you, Rosalie Knecht, for bringing her into my life.

Now please, please, PLEASE tell me this will be a series?! Because like all great literary characters, after meeting Vera Kelly I’m not ready to say goodbye.

Heartwood 8:2 – Philosophical Toys by Susana Medina

Susana Medina’s novel Philosophical Toys is told from the perspective of a young woman, Nina, about her alcoholic mother, who died when the narrator was six; her father, who develops full-blown Alzheimer’s in the course of the novel; and the time Nina spent in London where she was befriended by aspiring artist, Mary Jane. The story pops back and forth between London and southern Spain. In one of her trips home to Almería, to see her father and to help clear out his house so he can move into an assisted living “commune,” Nina discovers ninety-five shoeboxes containing all kinds of women’s shoes. As she tries to unravel why all these shoes are there, she looks back on her mother’s life and remembers her spell of work as a “foot extra” and that she, or her feet, may actually have appeared in one of Luis Buñuel’s films. She also wonders if her father might be a shoe-fetishist.

Back in London, Mary Jane convinces Nina to be a partner in a gallery show in which Nina will exhibit her mother’s shoes. She reluctantly agrees and is surprised later on when a collector who had seen the exhibit wants to purchase a particular pair of boots. He is building what he calls The Museum of Relevant Moments which is comprised of props from Buñuel’s films, and the boots are the same make and style of the ones that appear in Diary of a Chambermaid (and may be the actual pair).

Toward the end of the book there’s a fine chapter that focuses on problems of authenticity, and it circles back to an early scene where Nina and Mary Jane are in a café commenting on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa hanging there. They observe that what makes a painting valuable is the space in which it is displayed – the one in the café could in no way be valuable due to its mundane surroundings, but the one in the Louvre is valued precisely because it is there. This is true even if it were to turn out that the café iteration is the original and what hangs in the Louvre is a mere copy.

Nina feels a sense of dislocation in language and geography, desire and longing, and her journey includes coming to terms with a mother she barely knew and a father whose memory and life is being ravaged by disease. Medina presents Nina’s world through language that feels completely comfortable and lived in, even as she delves into rather esoteric terrain such as Freudian fetishism, simulacra, and our relationship with objects.

There are many other topics touched on in these pages; in fact, Medina has constructed a narrative not unlike the roped-together shoeboxes that appear on the cover. If you like novels of ideas, with a brainy central character, and an unusually nimble literary style, you should enjoy going through the shoeboxes of Philosophical Toys.

Celebrate Pride and Read a Book

June is all about LGBTQ pride. I am proud to be a part of this community and for me, it is a time to celebrate who I am and remember all of those who have fought for LGBTQ rights. It is not just a time of celebration, but also a time of reflection. Pride celebrations are often held in June to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Snohomo Pride had their pride celebration on Sunday June 3 at Willis Tucker Park. Pride events will happen throughout the entire month of June in Seattle.

Going to events and parades is one way to celebrate pride. I am celebrating pride this year by reading newly published LGBTQ books throughout the month of June. The list below includes a variety of titles for adults, teens, and children.

Adult:

tina allen

Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives by Tina Allen

Tina Allen grew up the youngest of thirteen children in a strict Catholic family with her father “Sir John” at the helm. It was the 1980s and they lived in suburban Maryland where her father ran a travel agency that focused on tours to the Holy Land and the Vatican. Tina knew she liked girls from a young age and hid the secret until her father found out when she was eighteen. She expected her father to disown her, but instead he revealed that he was gay as well. This revelation brought them much closer and together they hid their secret from the rest of the family. The story becomes even more twisted when Tina discovers another facet of her father’s life.

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Hollinghurst has written a novel that spans multiple generations starting in 1940 to the present day. It focuses on the pivotal relationship between David Sparsholt and Evert Dax who meet when they are students at Oxford during World War Two. The story captures shifts in social mores through specific events: a Sparsholt holiday in Cornwall, eccentric gatherings at the Dax family home, and the adventures of David’s son Johnny. This beautifully written work will capture readers with its emotional depth, complex relationships, and detailed history.

memoir

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms by Michelle Tea

This book is unlike any other that Michelle Tea has written before. She is well known for her memoirs, but this book explores the lives of other people such as Valerie Solanas and a troubled lesbian biker gang. Parts of Tea’s life are actually revealed through the documentation and exploration of other queer people.

lucky

So Lucky by Nicola Griffith

Mara Tagarelli is a force to be reckoned with: she is the head of a national AIDS foundation and an accomplished martial artist. Everything drastically changes in the course of one week when she is left by her wife and she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Griffith explores the inhumane way in which disabled and chronically ill people are treated in America. She also explores survival and creates a sense of hope for what can happen when you start listening to yourself.

Children and Teens:

leah

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

You must read Leah on the Offbeat if you read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda because this is the sequel. Leah is Simon’s best friend and she is in the throes of her senior year dealing with friendships and romance.

Leah knows she is bisexual and so does her mom, but she hasn’t shared this with any of her friends including Simon who is out. The stress of her senior year is palpable with the upcoming prom, college and the surprising feelings she has developed for one of her friends.

prince

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian’s parents are worried because they have not found a potential bride for him. This is the last thing on the prince’s mind because he is hiding a secret that he holds dear. He loves dresses and at night he puts them on and goes out into the streets and clubs of Paris. He soon becomes the “it” girl of Paris and is referred to as Lady Crystallia. The person who makes all of this possible for him is Frances, a dressmaker. She has always dreamed of being a famous designer, but she must hide in the wings as one of the prince’s secrets. This graphic novel for tweens and teens explores identity, romantic love and family relationships.

true way

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

The year is 1977 and Allie’s parents are going through a divorce. She has just moved to a new town with her mother and is starting middle school. She meets Sam on the first day of school and they instantly become friends. Sam is gregarious, athletic, and liked by everyone at school. Allie and Sam soon realize that they have feelings for each other. This book explores how they navigate their relationship with their families and the community. Sam comes from a very religious family and her sexuality is ignored. Allie’s mom is reticent at first, but through conversation and sharing she becomes more comfortable with the idea of her daughter having a crush on a girl. Allie and Sam also find support in the community from the local minister and a lesbian couple who both happen to be teachers at her school.

knight

Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack

This picture book in rhyme is great for kids who love fairy tales. The prince is not interested in any of the young ladies he has been introduced to by the King and Queen. He leaves the kingdom to do some soul searching and in the process he meets a knight. Together, they slay a dragon who is threatening the royal family. They fall in love, marry, and the prince’s family is thrilled.

pride

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

This informational picture book celebrates the 40th anniversary of the pride flag. It traces the origins of the flag from when it was first thought of in 1978 by activist Harvey Milk and a designer named Gilbert Baker. It is a great book to share with kids when introducing them to the history of pride.

Darkness at the Edge of Town

Whenever I’m reading something online I always appreciate the kind souls who write in bold capitals: WARNING! SPOILERS! There are some mean-spirited folks out there who seem to delight in spoiling a movie or a TV series or even a book. Some butthead online ruined an episode of The Walking Dead way back in season 6 and I stopped watching the show. It was ruined.

So when I heard Stephen King was coming out with a new book titled The Outsider, I was hesitant about reading anything about it online. But being me, I went online because I had no idea what the book was about. The first word in an article about the book that caught my eye was ‘crime procedural.’ My gut sank. I may have even switched to YouTube to watch clips of cats falling off stuff.

I didn’t want a King book about crime and murder. Well, yeah, I wanted the murder part but what I wanted to read about was a monster. Give me a little of that old something’s-hiding-under-my-bed-and-is-reaching-out-to-touch-my-foot. The Outsider didn’t seem to offer up anything supernatural but hell, it’s a Stephen King book. And in the words of Misery’s Annie Wilkes, “I’m his number one fan.”

Set in the small town of Flint City, Oklahoma, The Outsider opens with the discovery of the body of 11-year-old Frank Peterson. Horrible things have been done to him. Throat ripped out, violated with a tree branch. The stuff of every parent’s nightmare. Detective Ralph Anderson begins pulling in eyewitnesses who all describe seeing the same man in the vicinity of Frank Peterson: Terry Maitland, teacher and Little League coach. In fact, Terry is a well-known and well liked citizen and has coached hundreds of children over the years. He even coached Detective Anderson’s son back in the day.

The evidence is stacking up against Terry Maitland and when the DNA comes back from samples collected from the Peterson boy it’s a match for Terry. With a few other officers in tow, Anderson decides to arrest Maitland during a huge Little League game. With the stands filled with nearly 1,500 spectators, Anderson approaches the dugout, handcuffs Maitland’s hands in front of him, and reads him his rights. Now, I know what you’re thinking (and no, I haven’t been drinking): of course this guy is guilty as hell. He tore the throat out of a child, raped him, and left enough physical evidence behind to send him to death row to ride the needle.

As Terry pleads his innocence, a little niggling worry started in the back of my mind. And I think everyone is guilty of something. But something about Terry Maitland comes across as innocent. Detective Anderson has seen many horrors during his career. He knows a child rapist and killer could be beloved by the town, attend church every Sunday, and still be a predator. Anderson thinks he has this case closed and solved, eager for Terry Maitland to go to trial and get the needle.

Then the unexpected happens and throws a wrench in Anderson’s case. At the time of Frank Peterson’s murder, Terry Maitland was 200 miles away attending a conference which had the author Harlan Coben as a guest speaker. Not only was Terry with several other teachers, the event was taped. During the question and answer period of the talk, a camera shows Terry stand up to ask a question. There’s no way Terry Maitland killed Frank Peterson. But all that DNA….how is that even possible? I went down several rabbit holes trying to think of a way that could happen. I got stuck in one rabbit hole thinking maybe Terry had a twin he didn’t know about and the twin shows up exacting some kind of ancient twin revenge. Detective Anderson is spinning his wheels, wanting Terry to go to trial and death row but also having heavy doubts.

DON’T WORRY! NO SPOILERS AHEAD.

Remember how I said I wanted a monster, something supernatural? I wanted a good old Stephen King book that was like his first dozen books? Well, he delivered. I’ll give you this little morsel. Picture it: a man with a lumpy, misshapen face and straw for eyes. That is all.

The Outsider is like a comfortable old sweater that fell in the back of your closet and is discovered only when you turn 40 and crawl into the back of your closet to cry and eat a sleeve of Oreos. Not that I do that. Often. King has created memorable characters (I was at work the other day and suddenly found myself thinking about one of them and wondering what they would do next with their life) and a plot so fast and full of action that I was saddened when I reached the end. If you’re looking for a return of the old King (Return of the King! See what I did there?) where he indulges all your dark obsessions and fears, The Outsider is a book to pick up and devour. But keep your feet from dangling off the end of the bed.

Spot-Lit for June 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2018 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction