Thursday, March 24, 2016

RebL Nation Has a Home

I'm trying something new. It's not so much new as it is all the old stuff at a new place along with new things, which for me is something new. If you want to check it out, visit ReblNation.com. I'm still building, but you should take a look anyway. I already have a few testimonials -- all from my pal Michelle.

I imagine RebL Nation as a place for book chat and begging for freelance writing gigs. Mom-A-Tron should continue to be a place for personal sharing. I'm terrible at work/home boundaries, so this may not be how it works. Also, plenty of personal sharing goes on at Facebook and my kids are at an age where they deserve some privacy regardless of how much better the world is when I share their awesomeness. Ergo, what personal stories remain that could be told here?

This is the Ferris Bueller part where I tell you to go away. Go check out RebL Nation.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Book Review: Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs

Book Review: Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs
Normally, I don't spoil a good read by looking up reviews of books that I want to read, but in the case of Lust and Wonder: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs, I did. Not surprisingly the reviews come in two flavors--favorable and not favorable. The overwhelmingly positive reviews likely come from people who are just diving into Burroughs' work and superfans. Those who didn't review the new memoir kindly probably know too much about Burroughs and feel as though there's not much mystery left. Burroughs' similarly reviews his relationships in Lust and Wonder.

Burroughs is newish to me. Working in the book industry, you can't avoid some level of knowledge about his writing. Also, my brother's theatre troupe in New Orleans shares the name of Burroughs' first memoir, Running with Scissors. To prep for reviewing Lust and Wonder (I'm a professional, people!), I read Dry and Look Me In the Eye. Dry is Burroughs' memoir about getting sober and anything about alcoholism feels like home to me. Look Me In the Eye is the memoir of Burroughs' brother, John Elder Robison. I wanted to hear Robison's story to get an outsider's insider view of Burroughs, but Robison's story of living with undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome and making explosive guitars for Ace Frehley is way more interesting than the fact that his brother is interesting. Storytelling is clearly a family talent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Book Review: Evicted by Matthew Desmond
When a room of parents at a PTA meeting at a Title 1 school audibly squirmed in response to my assertion that I would drink milk on its sell-by date, the armor I wore in childhood to make my poverty less hurtful clamped down around me. Many children at that school would drink milk on its sell-by date and likely have a parent who knows how to make use of spoiled milk. While my early experiences with poverty remain near the surface, the one type of poverty-related insecurity I didn't fear is eviction. That's the focus of Arizona-born Matthew Desmond's new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: The Young Elites Series by Marie Lu

Book Review: The Young Elites Series by Marie Lu
The debate in my house about which is better, Marie Lu's Legend trilogy or The Young Elites trilogy in progress, is more of an exercise in book chat than to make an actual determination. We share an appreciation of both, though we have preferences. My sci-fi boy likes the tech-y world depected in Legend. He read it alongside classic dystopian books, including 1984 and Brave New World. I prefer The Young Elites but not because it takes place in a classical, romantic world.

Series can be tricky as readers often have the experience of chasing the feeling they had when reading a previous book. I experienced the Legend trilogy in this way, but not The Young Elites books. The Young Elites has a compelling plot line and complicated characters. Lu does devote much of the book to world building, which I usually find tedious, but Lu does it unobtrusively. The Rose Society delves deeper into character development and plot complications in rich and complex ways. Because the main character is a villain, I root for situational outcomes rather than for characters. What an immersive way to encounter a story! Nothing is so plainly parsed as "good" or "evil".

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Eleanor by Jason GurleyEleanor: A Novel by Jason Gurley opens with every reader's dream--a rainy Sunday, a steaming cup of tea and a private nook. Moving deeper, "Sometimes Eleanor [grandmother of the titular Eleanor] swore her life was being written by someone else's hand." Yes. I recognize this person.

At this point, I am reading a compelling story about the legacy of maternal depression. The YA Fantasy switch flips at page 72. It is sudden and upsetting because I long for grandmother Eleanor's story and I enjoy the way Gurley squeezes the desperation out of it. I remember from the galley copy that this is YA fantasy and Gurney's writing is compelling, so I continue turning pages. As a slow reader, it might take me a month to read a similar book. This one only took a week, even though working for a bookstore and having a family, this particular week is one of my busiest of the year.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Book Review: We That Are Left by Clare Clark

We That Are Left by Clare Clark
I fell in love with Clare Clark's writing the moment I broke into We That Are Left in spite of the grammatically irritating title. I wondered what she had to say about appearances that deceive and those who are titled pretending at something while we who are not titled aspire to their falsehoods. I jotted down lines and page numbers of favorite descriptions and passages. Such great writing promises a great story. In the end, I felt cheated of that great story just as the wealthy cheat at status and the poor are cheated.

We That Are Left follows the people of Ellinghurst, a home built through farming to appear stately in the Gothic manner and inhabited by the Melville family. The future of the Ellinghurst estate falls into jeopardy as World War I takes its toll on the family as it did all of England. Two narrators share the tale: Jessica, the youngest of the Melville children and Oscar, the math and science obsessed godson of Mrs. Melville. Through Jessica, the reader sees the fuzzy edges of a woman's limitations in a man's world even as too few men were around to enforce those limitations. Through Oscar, we see at once how brutal the system of nobility can be and how patronage helps those on the bubble.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dinner with Goosebumps Author R.L. Stine

Rebecca Ballenger with R.L. Stone
My favorite part of this photo is
how obviously thrilled Stine is.
My second is the eerie specter
looming over Stine's shoulder.
Since the new Goosebumps movie came out on October 3, I decided to revisit my night with R.L. Stine at the 2012 Tucson Festival of Books Author Dinner.

If you are a writer your children will be nonreaders, at least that’s what bestselling author R.L. Stine told me at dinner. He offers his son as an example. His son read book after book of Garfield cartoons but nary a Goosebumps. When I suggested Stine was putting me on about his son not reading his work he says, "That's something nice people like you say." (I often make it through entire meals without revealing my monstrous side.)

Wondering if Stine's parents had better luck raising a reader, I asked what types of literature he enjoyed as a boy. His response was, "Comics." Specifically he read horror comics and Mad (before it was a magazine). Later he tells me his son's major in college was English. The picture is complete. Stine's son is every bit the reader Stine is.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
"Evelyn" like "EEV-lin" in the UK or "Evelyn" like "EH-vah-lin", my Mississippi born, plumber's daughter grandmother? Intentionally or not Stephanie Clifford plays on a class tension among the upwardly mobile in America from the get go through the naming of the protagonist in her novel, Everybody Rise. I never felt on sure footing while reading this book. I was curious about Evelyn and the voyeurism that tempts me with Real Housewives of Everywhere and other reality shows about one percenters kept me reading.

First, a synopsis: It's 2006. Social media is about to hit big and the economic bubble hasn't yet burst. At 26, Evelyn Beegan seeks to establish her place among the New England elite, in spite of or because of her social-climbing mother. It seems possible for her to reach her goal, but with each fumble, it seems less probable.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: How Fiction Ruined My Family

How Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst[Note: Due to a website migration at my day job, some content that I wrote for a local bookstore chain was unpublished, so I'm republishing it here. I wrote reviews to sell books, so I may have sugar coated some things, but my basic feelings are represented.]

In Fiction Ruined My Family, Jeanne Darst isn't posing, bragging or begging. She fully experiences the life of an artist and plies her wares in private homes or working barns or legitimate theater. She tells her story without embellishment, though she admits that perhaps not all the details are entirely true either. She doesn't need our approval, though she has it (or at least the book does).

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin MoranI wrote this review for Bookmans.com in the summer of 2012. When Bookmans did a website redesign and migrated their website database, we unpublished all but 30 posts. I tweaked this review to park it here for now.

Put down 50 Shades of Gray. I've got something equally smutty but infinitely smarter to recommend. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is a feminist manifesto like none you've read. Most of us don't go around reading feminist manifestos but in any case this one is definitely for everyone -- even if you are a dude and maybe even especially so.