Category Archives: humor

The Monday Book: UNWIND by Neal Shusterman

So yeah, most readers have a secret fondness for at least one area of YA fiction. Mine is dystopians and fantasy. And frankly, as far as I can tell, these days all YA fantasy IS dystopian.

I picked up UNWIND by Neal Shusterman to shelve it, from a box that came in for trade. And got intrigued with the premise on the back cover, about the last American war (The Heartland War) being fought over reproductive rights. And how now life begins at conception but from 13-18 a child can  be “unwound,” body parts farmed out for all sorts of operations for all sorts of reasons. It’s a boon to the economy and really a good deal for everyone except the Unwound Kids.

And it all goes from there. The book follows three kids, one whose parents give up on him, one a ward of the state, and one a tithe, from a family who has ten kids. Shusterman actually begins the four sections of this novel with quotes from ebay, denying someone the right to sell his soul (because if it doesn’t exist it’s fraud, and if it does exist it’s body parts, which they don’t allow), another about Ukranian orphans being organ harvested in 2003 (mass grave found outside the orphanage and shut down after outrage) and a third about Einstein and consciousness.

Shusterman’s book is intended to be more terrifying than gross. It goes for the jugular. And of course it has parts that just don’t hold up, but one really needs to enter this dystopia with a little willing suspension of disbelief, or what’s the point? And once you have, it’s a lot like reading Sheri Tepper. The exquisite sarcasm crafted so carefully in the words of those who escape Unwinding, reflecting back the odd slogans about bodies and rights, is funny. Dark, but funny.

It’s a creepy book, but well-plotted, with solid characters that don’t just serve as straw men. You know the people in this novel, which makes it all the more disturbing how some of them meet their end.

Two thumbs up (both still attached, thanks) for UNWIND.

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To See Ourselves…

Jack and I have done a lot of festival receptions over the years. Usually attendees are divided into two groups: those who are just so super-excited to be there, and those who are not.

The fun part comes when you have these two types meshed into one person, working the room but pretending to be bored with the whole thing. As we did awhile back, watching two female authors at a reception duke it out for “Queen of the Room.”

They were wearing similar dresses, for a start—which is never a good start. But things were unequal, because the California blond had on high heels, and sunglasses atop her head holding back her hair, Classic Hollywood style.

Since we were in North Carolina, the look was somewhat different from the rest of the room, but it worked for her. Still, the piece de resistance was her watch, a double strand of pearls in its band, diamonds shimmering from the face. She turned it to catch the light as she spoke to everyone who came near the wine table (which she’d strategically claimed as the location of her court on arrival) flopping an insouciant hand to accent a point tossed off as she dominated her conversation clutch.

The clutch consisted of a male sponsor, a female fan, and the second would-be-queen—who was working hard to wrest the conversation from California Girl because she had been the first to position herself at the wine table, and CG had cleverly turned her by speaking as she poured herself a glass, claiming the coveted conversational dominance spot. But Queen II was older, and therefore able to rely more on wit and treachery than spiked heels. As the fan asked CG a question, face turned adoringly upward (everyone has to look up to someone wearing 8-inch heels) Q2 took a step forward and broke the circle. Suddenly FanGirl was looking at Q2 who blithely gave a smiling answer to the question as she wedged back into the wine table hot spot, forcing FanGirl back a few inches.

The male sponsor, sensing a chance to close in, moved across to stand on the other side of CG and she had to turn her head to answer him. Two new conversations formed, but CG was visibly sore about this. As FanGirl continued to enjoy her conversation with Q2 and Mr. Sponsor moved in for the kill, CG, who didn’t seem to know anyone else in the room, flashed a bright smile at a cute guy in a polo shirt, who’d stopped to score some cantaloupe from the table.

Fruit forgotten, he turned and began speaking to CG. Q2, observing, opened her profile with one deft grapevine step, and voila, FanGirl, CG, Polo Cutey, and Q2 were now in a line of conversation that excluded Mr. Sponsor. The dueling queens each turned half profile to Cutey, and FanGirl wandered off as Cutey—who may or may not have known anything about the fiction these women had written—did his best to hang on for the ride. Which was short, for the two queens, perhaps tired of the dance of passive aggression, now began to speak to one another. In honeyed tones. With fluttering eyelashes and much pressing of hands to bosoms. I’m sure their lips read “bless your heart” at one point—which didn’t really work for CG, but hey, who’s to judge? Cutey, his task completed, buzzed away like a drone driven from the hive after mating season.

Now lest you think this vignette harsh, remember, I’m an ethnographer who people watches for fun.  The whole evening felt like watching a television show in which I also played a role. Someone watching me would have seen a woman with frizzy hair in too-casual clothes cheerfully standing in the corner sipping a glass (ok, two) of the (very excellent) red wine provided for the occasion, soaking it all in. The ambiance, not the wine.

The room was crowded with authors making pitches, marketers who came up to talk to me because I own a bookstore, sponsors floating like butterflies among the guests, pouring wine and inquiring whether we were having a good time. The queen-women were just doing their jobs as authors, and if a bit of competition entered the body language, it’s only to be expected. They were oblivious to all else in the crowded room, and pretty much the rest of the authors were working too hard to notice them. I don’t know who they were. But Burns was right: it would be a true gift to see ourselves as others see us.

A toast to authors and receptions everywhere please. *raises glass*

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Saint Beth visits the Virgin Vault

Long story short, Jack is in Scotland, which means I’m throwing away things he won’t miss when he returns, and intaking kittens at an exponential rate.

It’s a marriage thing.

Happily, this Wednesday six of our adult cats are going to an urban no-kill shelter that works with rural rescuers. Even more happily, those not already spayed or neutered don’t have to be, because they have a vet who volunteers these services. Which is a big help on our pocketbook here as my crochet time dwindles for fundraising.

Not, I hasten to point out, that our vet Saint Beth at Powell Valley Animal Hospital is any slouch in the volunteer and low-cost department. She has done stuff for us that defies job description. Just follow Miss Pogo on Facebook to see some of the care Saint Beth provides.

Or feast your eyes on these photos, snapped Friday when Beth arrived with reinforcements – Kendra and Meghan from the Pretty Nurses Brigade – to give the unspayed girls we have in our garage their rabies shots. (We have nicknamed the garage the Virgin Vault, as Fiona and Salome are sojourning there until their Wednesday departure.)

Jack ASSURED me before he left for Scotland that he had “cleaned out” the garage so it could provide overflow for kittens during the summer tsunami.

When a man says he’s cleaned something out, he seems to mean that he’s removed everything from it that is of no use to him. Nothing about stacking, ordering, putting lids back on, etc.

Fair enough. It’s a marriage thing.

So Beth and her team entered a maze of chairs waiting to be caned, empty boxes waiting for who knows what, paint waiting to have its lids put back on, litter boxes waiting for target practice, and two girl cats hiding somewhere in the midst of it all.

Fortunately, Kelley’s son Asher was on hand. Being about 4’3″ and 65 pounds, plus a natural cat whisperer, he quickly found the cats hiding in their respective corners, explained that nothing bad was going to happen, and soon had them in arms. The ladies took their shots like champs, and I grabbed Beth’s phone and took a few shots, too. Heh heh heh.

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Fiona is spotted under a work bench.IMG_2568

Kendra watches cheerfully as Beth and Fiona assume the respective positions.IMG_2569

Kelley and Meghan watch from an even more distant position.IMG_2572

Note Asher under the table, having a heart to heart with Fiona. She came willingly.

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Beth’s fieldwork technique is to be admired.IMG_2575

Asher offers Fiona reassurance as the jab is quickly accomplished.IMG_2576

And to the victor….IMG_2577Victors, actually. Fiona and Salome head out Wednesday with six other cats, for happy safe lives as pampered pets.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Little is the Real Big

Jack is in Scotland for his sister’s funeral (and thank you all for the many kind thoughts and well wishes you have sent). In place of his guest blog, let me offer a commencement speech forwarded by my editor at St. Martin’s Press, the amazing and astute Nichole.

We like ideas that mirror our own, of course, and Nichole and I share a belief that little has always been the real big. The best stories are the little ones we share with each other that bind us together; the stories that happen to us individually may seem small, but they make up the big picture of human existence. Or something like that. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but thanks Nichole for sharing this speech. It’s lovely, affirming, inspiring, and a tiny indictment all at the same time.

Little is the real big. Go for it, ye writers, storytellers, and poets all!

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Commencement Speech at UPenn

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Because Nothing Clears the Air like a good Murder

May 2016 murder 054Last fall when Big Stone was going crazy on itself, we got a nasty letter from the town council saying our lawn was out of order with town order and we’d be fined if we didn’t fix it. Jack called the town planner out, and the poor lad looked things over and said, “Well, this is embarrassing. The part that’s out of order is the part we were supposed to be cutting.” The next day some guys came and cut the verge.

But a couple of days later, a town councilor who shall remain nameless visited the bookstore for the first time in our ten-year-history and offered town resources to cut our herbarium and wildflowers down. “At no cost to you, and they can be here in ten minutes.” We explained again that the seeds had been a wedding present from the Quakers in Scotland, and the unplanned look was deliberate. The councilor left graciously–perhaps unconvinced, but graciously.

May 2016 murder 012Garden Gate, as we came to call it, was silly. Not malicious, just silly, involving misunderstandings about heirloom seeds and personal choice and English wooded gardens. So never mind about that. The fun part was planning a murder mystery based on it.

Heh heh heh.

Fourteen gardeners gathered last night to provide The New Bookstore Lawn, paid for by Big Stone’s new tourism fund. Unfortunately, half were Baptist and half Methodist. Plus we all know what happens when John Bach’s bookstore has more than a dozen people in it at a time…..

Sure enough, Paxton face planted into her salad, and the whodunnit was on. Perhaps it was the hats, or the cupcake-fueled sugar craze, but the attendees were never more in character, and the one-liners flowed faster than red wine. Poor little Girl Detective Margaret Bach coped with her helicopter mom and a room full of flower power as best May 2016 murder 019she could, while Swinger Jimmy begged her to smell his hands, and Grand Mother of Snap Dragons Peony Overbloom snarled at church lady Joy Abounder, “No shit you’re having an affair with my husband! Who do you think engineered it? He’s the most boring man I’ve ever known and you bedding him gives me more time in my flower beds!”

It was that kind of night. Hippie Hannah pepper sprayed people with No Terra oils. Town bimbo Poppy Upster sold secrets on Facebook. Halfway through, the murderer–confused by improvisation rather than scripting–confessed. The undaunted steel magnolias continued unearthing a blackmailing, secret bigamist marriage, and church funds embezzlement before the murderer was finally allowed to repeat her confession, backed by the olfactory powers of No Terra oils.

We blow off more steam this way, and it’s so fun. But bad news, good people of Big Stone: the toilet stays. It’s postmodern ironic. And full of petunias. The rest of us, we’re full of belly laughs from last night.toilet flowers

 

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The Monday Book: MURDER ON ROSEMARY STREET by Mary Fulk Larson

murderonrosemarystreetauthorsThe authors (there are three of them) sent me this book with a request that I review it for the Monday Book. The writing team is based in Virginia, and I’m always happy to bat for the home team.

There are not a lot of surprises in this whodunit that is more charm than thrills. Think Mitford meets Guidepost Mystery series. Nothing R-rated, lots of fun stereotypes (the library committee members all talk too much, etc.) and some really cute zinger lines between friends. (“Did you just file those elbows?” says one after her friend nudges her to be quiet.)

Two of the three authors are librarians, so the library was a natural setting for this debut in their series on the small town of Custer’s Mill. The poisoning (via a cuppa tea) of the town’s wealthy matriarch sets the book’s plot in motion, after development threatens to take the historic library and she finds some dark secrets pertaining thereto.

It’s not an unusual plot, and sometimes the wording is heavy. Much of its chuckle factor rests on the apt (if you can’t say ha, say ouch) depictions of everyday small town life. If you liked Mitford and enjoy character-filled books, you’re going to love Custer’s Mill. The authors certainly hope you do; some of the characters in this book are set up to take their own mysteries forward in future series. Which I look forward to.

Two small-town  thumbs up for Murder on Rosemary Street. And if you’re interested in the real town inspiring these fictitious mysteries, visit the authors’ website.

 

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PAXTON’S PUSHING UP DAISIES!

toilet flowersToday’s blog is the character list for our upcoming murder mystery on Friday, May 13 starting at 7 pm. Wendy has way too much fun writing these. Jack fears she will snap one of these days on the line between fiction and reality…..

The bookstore lawn has long been the talk of the town. Some find their toilet flower container post-modern ironic, others call it disgusting. Then there’s the English garden herbarium, and something called heirloom seeds brought over from a Quaker Peace Garden in some remote Scottish village? All very quaint, but hardly up to standards. So the garden clubs have been sent in to help. John Bach, bookstore owner, finds himself caught between feuding clubs: the Superior Gardener Club of the Ladies of the United Methodists, and the Gardener Superiors of the Southern Baptist Ladies’ Society, Eastern Division, Virginia Chapter.

It’s gonna get ugly, and that’s not just the designs and still life in pot arrangements and perennials on a plate they bring to the meeting. When the Methodist president goes face-down into the fertilizer, whodunit? Come join the fun in PAXTON’S PUSHING UP DAISIES, the 15th Murder Mystery held at the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

When you see the part you want to play, send Wendy a PM on Facebook, or comment here. We regret to say that all parts are assigned, so if you’ve not already asked for one, you are welcome to watch but we can’t offer you a live role. Also if a part is in bold, it has an assigned person. Thanks!

Superior Garden Club President (Methodist) – Paxton

Garden Club Mother Superior (Baptist) Peony  Large – As bombastic as the scent of honeysuckle, and just as strangling. Can you get a word in edgewise? Perhaps she’s the intended victim – people would certainly stand in line to do things to her with a trowel. VIRGIE

Assistant to Superior Garden club Baptist President, Violet Shrink – She has good ideas, if you could hear her. How can anything bloom in the shadows? And is it true she and Paxton were best friends in high school?

Earth Mom and fey Baptist, Hannah Hephzibah-Eleanora Smith – Never underestimate the power of Epsom Salts and good clean living digging in the dirt; but what else has she been digging up? VICKY

Loud Male Chauvinist Council Guy who keeps addressing everyone as ‘Dear’ Christopher Love – here to oversee the competition John Bach didn’t know he was running HARRY

Nerdy swinger just there to pick up girls: Jimmy – He’s like a bee in the flower garden, but maybe he’s the one getting stung (Jimmy Brown)

The Proper Horticulturalist, James, a widower – Is he one of the garden ladies’ fancy man, or does he really know that much about how to make something come to life? JAMES RYAN

Prepper, grow food while you still can, Primrose Evergreen – It’s all going to end badly, like, tomorrow. Of what use are flowers at the end of the world; produce ornamental edibles! Too bad she’s got the wrong idea about some of those poisonous blossoms.

Flirty girl, bimbo, Poppy Upster – Pushing up daisies? No, pushing up something else. Did Paxton’s husband really date her in college? SANDY

Peggy Dunn Good Bach – Margaret Bach, Girl Detective, brings her mom this time! She’s John Bach’s sister-in-law, this helicopter mom determined her little Daisy is getting in the Junior League, come blossom blight or high water. Her daughter will provide the winning garden design, or someone will die trying. The fact that Margaret isn’t interested in flowers is neither here nor there.

Hat saleslady, Ima Millner – Garden, schmarden, she just wants to sell hats and she’s got the wrong idea about this garden club thing. But maybe she’s got a couple of other wrong ideas as well; did she crash this party on purpose?

Sweetness and light to the point you want to drown her, Jonquil May– How can you not love this sweet child? Easy. Can anyone be this nice, or is she a plant? ERIN

Passive aggressive poisonous criticizer Ivy Sue Mac– “Oh, what an… innovative arrangement, dear.” If she said something nice to you, you’d know you had a terminal illness.

Overly enthusiastic gardener, Joy Abounder – The quintessential church lady; when she says “Bless you” it sounds as though it starts with “F” JERRY LOU BROWN

Social Climber Hyacinth Bucket – She came from the dirt, so it’s only natural she should use gardening to rake her way to the top; was Paxton in her way?

 

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