The Emperor of Any Place, A Review

IMG_8958The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones was a book chosen by my Facebook YA book club. Most of the people in the group said that they had a hard time getting into it. I had put it on hold at the library, but by the time I picked it up, I’d almost decided not to bother reading it. After all, I have about a thousand other books on my TBR.

I read the jacket copy, and the premise intrigued me, so I started reading, fulling intending to abandon it at the first sign of boredom.

That never happened.

It’s not a typical book. It starts off with 16-year-old Evan’s father dying. While Evan is overwhelmed with grief, he allows someone to call his estranged grandfather, Griff.

Evan has never met Griff, but Evan’s father had nothing but negative things to say about him. In the meantime, Evan finds a handwritten book his father was reading before he died, about an American and Japanese soldier stranded on a ghost-infested island during WWII. Somehow, it has something to do with Evan’s grandfather, but no one will give any answers.

The story shifts in point of view between Evan, the Japanese soldier, and the American soldier. It’s a strange story, but I had no trouble suspending disbelief throughout.

I sped through this book, couldn’t put it down. I wanted to solve the mystery and find out the truth about Griff. I wanted Evan and Griff to work through their anger and listen to one another.

I take book recommendations from other people, but this is why I don’t allow other people’s opinions to stop me from at least trying a book. If I’d assumed that because it was hard for others to get into, it would also be hard for me to connect, I would have missed a fantastic book. Allowing myself the option to abandon a book means that I never have to finish something I hate. It’s liberating, and means I can try books I’m just not sure I’ll like.

What books have you read (and enjoyed) that others didn’t like?

G is for the Great Gilly Hopkins

Unknown-1This was perhaps the first letter where I really, really had a hard time choosing what to do. It was between Gilly and Grimm’s fairy tales, as they both influenced me a lot, just in different ways.  So… I’ll probably do a bonus blog all about fairy tales and mythology once this challenge is over.

Anyway, The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson gave me so many different things.  The book is about Gilly, who’s in foster care and goes to live with Maime Trotter, a fat woman with a huge heart, and William Ernest, who’s a younger child in the home and a bit of a sissy.  Gilly is mean, and like most foster children who’ve been moved from home to home and been promised things that never happened, is hardened, focused on her fantasy mother, who she believes will save her.

When she gets to Trotter’s home, she does everything she can to escape.  But Trotter never gives up on her, and Gilly eventually falls in love and realizes what family really means.

Gilly taught me that people who act mean often do so because they have a story, and that hard shell is mostly just armor.  She taught me that when you fight against something too much, you might get something you didn’t bargain for.  (Gilly eventually goes to live with her biological grandmother, and then realizes that she wanted to stay with Trotter.)

This book also introduced me to my love of poetry.  It contains an excerpt of Ode, by William Wordsworth.  I didn’t know it was an excerpt, of course, and it was the first poem that I copied into a notebook and then memorized.  Imagine my surprise when I eventually located the poem and found out that it was about four times longer than I thought!  I can still recite the excerpt, and it’s still one of my favorites.

I didn’t understand it when I read it (I think I was maybe 11 or 12 at the time), but the poem had a profound effect on me emotionally.  I felt it reverberate through my heart in a way that very poems ever have.

I drive my critique partner crazy.  He’s firmly in the camp of not adding quotes, poetry, or song lyrics from other people’s work into stories.  He feels that the author shouldn’t have to borrow emotional impact.

I do it though, because I remember how, without this book, I probably never would have read this poem.  This book is the first of many to not just introduce me to the world in the book, but to broaden my universe beyond it.

Thus began a life-long love affair with poetry.  It set me on the path for an empathetic life.  Years later, when I worked for CPS and saw hurt and emotionally injured children come through, I remembered this book, remembered Gilly, and it helped me to remember that everyone has a story.

That’s a lot of influence for 148 pages of book.

“Once the tugboat takes you out to the ocean liner, you got to get all the way on board. Can’t straddle both decks.”
— Katherine Patterson

Feel Good Friday

Hello!  It’s Friday again, many people’s favorite day of the week (second only to Saturday).

I’ve summed up the stories I’ve posted, but these aren’t the complete stories.  Click the link to read the entire articles, see the pictures, or watch the videos.  Thanks for stopping by, and I hope these stories make you smile, the same way they did for me.

911 operator buys food for an elderly vet who needed help.  He was in the hospital, and when he was discharged, he had no food at home, no family to help, and no way of buying groceries.  The 911 operator and police bought him food and took it to his house.  He is now receiving assistance from social services.

A Phoenix police officer helped a homeless man by taking him to the hospital and making sure he had a plan to care for himself after surgery.  These things weren’t his job, but he did them anyway.  If he didn’t do them, they might not have gotten done, and the man obviously needed the help.

A school sends home an uplifting letter before a big test, to remind children that the test does not measure everything that’s important.  The original letter was apparently written in 1999, and it occasionally goes viral.  It just goes to show that we’re all hungry for positive feedback and that tests measure very little of who we actually are.

A teenaged boy took his great-grandmother to prom because “she’s the prettiest woman.”  The month before (linked in this article), another teen took her grandfather to prom.  Proms have come under fire for being superficial and girls wearing inappropriate dresses, so it’s nice to see this newer trend with teens taking family members or friends to prom.  (I’m a sucker for these stories.)  Here’s a link to another one where the high school quarterback took his friend, a girl with Down’s Syndrome, to the prom.

Shelter dog scheduled for euthanasia is adopted by a veteran, and is now in the running for hero dog of the year for helping the vet manage his PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, but that’s obviously not all the news.  Remember, there’s a lot of good things in the world.  It’s what you focus on that matters.

Have a wonderful weekend!

G is for Grandparents

Sorry this is so late today. Through a glitch, I thought it was scheduled to be posted earlier. And by glitch, I mean user error.

My grandparents were and still are some of the most important people in my life. My grandmother died when I was 16, and my grandfather when I was 29. I was lucky enough to have them as long as I did, but every life event I’ve had, I think about them, and how much I wish they were there for it.

I’ve always loved to read, but my grandma is the one who taught me to love stories. The first book I remember loving, Orange Oliver: The Kitten Who Wore Glasses, by Robert Lasson, sat on a bookshelf in the hallway entry to her home. I read it every time I went over there until I “outgrew” it. Obviously I never did, if I still remember it all these years later.

My parents both worked, and they read me stories at bedtime, but it was my grandma who told me about The Little Match Girl, Snow White and Rose Red, and strangely, Liberace. She watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with me. She encouraged me to tell stories to her, and she listened, nurturing the storyteller in me.

She drew numbers and told me to make pictures out of the numbers. I knew even then that I wasn’t a good artist. Not only were my drawings not very good, but they weren’t very creative. I learned that I’m good with words, less so with any visual arts. I don’t remember whether she told me that my drawings were good when I told her I didn’t think they were, but I do remember her encouraging me to draw anyway. I wouldn’t understand the lesson for years, but it was there. It didn’t matter if I was good at it or not; if I liked it, I should do it.

My grandpa could be gruff, but not with me. With me, he was patient. He liked to teach me about antiques and baking. He loved to laugh, and could be silly when I didn’t expect it. One time I put a spoon on the end of my nose, and straight faced, he did it too. One of my favorite memories of him was when I made some comment about not being sure if he knew how to use the voicemail on his cell phone. He said something like, “Of course I know how to use my voicemail. It’s my phone, isn’t it?” I retold that story as just a funny story for years, until I realized that I learned a lesson from it. If you own it, know how to use it.

Although I lost them way too young, I learned many important things from them, and I still miss them. They say you can’t pick your family, and that’s true. But if I had to pick, I couldn’t have done better than the people who were gifted to me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo credit: Doree Weller

Photo credit: Doree Weller

In my family, Thanksgiving has always been all about the food.  I love the filling, the sweet potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the dessert.  In recent years, I’ve started to reflect on why we celebrate Thanksgiving, and it boils down to gratitude.

I’m a big believer in having a gratitude practice, and studies back it up.  People suffering from depression and anxiety do see improvements by practicing gratitude daily.  The holidays are a great time to start a gratitude practice, as most of us tend to see family more often during the holidays, and we’re reminded of what we have to be grateful for.

For me, the things I’m grateful for don’t tend to change much, and that’s how you know they’re valuable.  I’m grateful for my wonderful family who loves and supports me.  I’m grateful for my husband, who encourages me and shows me the best parts of myself.  I’m grateful for my friends, especially those I consider family.  Without these wonderful friends, I wouldn’t be who I am.  I’m grateful for my dogs, who love me no matter what and provide constant reminders that they think I’m wonderful.  I’m grateful for books and the authors who wrote them, as they’ve introduced me to worlds I otherwise never would have explored.  I’m grateful that I have enough and some extra.  Having enough is a wonderful thing.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?  What are you grateful for?

Open Letter to My Pets

IMG_1833Dear Furbabies,

I just read an article on Facebook that really hurt me.  It was about a dog who had been shot for no reason, by a stranger.  His parents took him to the vet, went outside to discuss the cost of surgery, and never returned.  I presume they couldn’t or didn’t want to afford the cost of surgery, but I just can’t imagine leaving any one of you to wonder if I were going to return.  I’d never do that.  When I bring you home, it’s forever, for better or worse, and I mean it 100%.

I know that I’m your whole world.  I know that because I see the way you look at me, the way you greet me at the door when I come home.  The way you snuggle against me, or nudge my hand when I’m not paying close enough attention to you.  I know that I’m your only source of food and water, but what you want from me more than those basics is my love and attention.  Sometimes I get busy or stressed and don’t think about it the way I should.  I’m sorry for that.  It doesn’t mean that I love you less; it just means that I’m human: selfish and flawed.

Even if I don’t always give you enough attention or playtime, I promise you that I love you and will never leave you behind.  I’d rather live with you in a cardboard box than alone in a mansion.  I’ll be with you until the end.  I’ll make the hard decisions when I have to, because that’s what I took on when I brought you home.  Whenever that time comes, I take comfort in knowing that you, and all the ones who’ve gone before, will be waiting at the Rainbow Bridge.

It doesn’t matter what happens: there will always be room for you in my life.  That’s a promise.

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F is for Family

Growing up, we were a small, close-knit family, and I always wished we would get together more often with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and do things.  Sure, we visited with them, but we never had big family dinners or family parties like you see on TV.

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Midnyte and Moonshyne

I always hated history, but now that I’ve grown older, I’ve started to get interested in family history. Of course, the people who could tell me the most about it are long gone.  Why is that?  By the time you get old enough to be interested in history, you have to look for it.  I did some research on ancestry.com, and while it was interesting to me, it wasn’t what I wanted to know, which is those family stories that have been passed down, that are more fragile than spun glass heirlooms.

A couple years ago, my husband found tons of black and white pictures of his family from back in Poland.  Some of the people he could identify, and others, he had no idea.  Taking black and white photos in the early 1900s wasn’t like snapping a photo today.  I can take a 1000 pictures and have all of them be meaningless.  (Not that they all are, but it’s just that easy).  Back then, if there was a photo, it meant something, and I just wonder what story was lost to the family as the photo was passed down but the story wasn’t.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was quoted as saying that she wrote the Little House on the Prairie books because she saw how the pioneer way of life was dying, and she wanted to preserve it.  I thank her for that, because I learned more about that time period from her than I did from the history books in whose pages I drifted off to sleep.

But in the end, what’s important about family?  Is it all those stories I’ve forgotten?  Or the ones I remember?  I would like to know how my grandparents met (I should ask my mom or uncle about that), but I have a million images and stories in my head from my time with them.  My grandmother was actually the one who “trained” me to be a therapist.  When I was around 5, we played “psychiatrist.”  She would tell me all her “problems” and have me solve them.  Her “problems” were things like being picked on and called names.  Clever, huh?  I didn’t have a clue until years later.

As my grandfather got older, he had a cell phone.  My parents didn’t know how to use their voicemail, so I assumed he didn’t either.  I must have said something well-intentioned about it one day, because he responded, “I own it, don’t I?  I know how to check my voicemail.”  That sums up my grandfather.  He loved his constant companion, Amie, a Beagle rejected by another family.

Maybe that’s what matters about family.  Still, it wouldn’t kill me to write down a few stories about those that came before… before I don’t have a chance to decide if I want to or not.

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. ~Shirley Abbott