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Review: Where it All Lands

Where it All Lands by Jennie Wexler centers around the lives of three teens: Drew, Shane, and Stevie.

Drew and Shane have been best friends since childhood, bonded by the loss of their fathers (Shane’s due to death, Drew’s from divorce). They also share a deep passion for music.

Enter Stevie Rosenstein. Stevie has moved to yet another new town, as her father’s career as a sports coach, has uprooted them on almost a yearly basis most of her life.

Both boys are instantly drawn to Stevie, who is determined to simply get through the year without forming any deep emotional attachments. With a flip of a coin the boys decide which one of them gets to ask Stevie out first. In the first half of the book, the coin lands on heads, with Drew winning the toss. In the second half of the book, the coin lands on tails, with Shane as the winner. What follows is a retelling of how that toss has a sort of butterfly effect on their lives.

Each of the characters is well developed with relatable flaws and issues. Drew is consumed with anger towards his father for breaking up their family, while Shane would give anything to have his own father alive again.

Chapters alternate by character, each told from their perspective. The voices are well established and distinct enough that it is easy to tell which character you are reading simply by the tone of the narrative.

Wexler weaves music throughout the story, deeply impacting the way Drew, Shane, and Stevie view and process the world around them.

The book is divided into two distinct tellings of the same events, each one unfolding in a different way, but Wexler intersects them in such away that they read as a single narrative.

Readers who liked All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nivens, or Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, might also enjoy Where It All Lands.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Offbeat Almanac – March 2021

The month of March has some wonderful and not so wonderful holidays. As a month, March is host to National Frozen Food Month (frozen pizza anyone?), National Nutrition Month (one of these things is not like the other) and National Peanut Month (what, are they trying to kill me??)

It is also host to some fun and different daily holidays.

March 1 is another holiday of spreading good will and cheer to others with World Compliment Day. As you go about your day, tell someone how much you admire their style or talent. While we’re on the topic of compliments, might I say you look very nice today, Mrs. Cleaver?

March 2 is Old Stuff Day or as I like to call it “Be Nice to My Husband Day!” Celebrate by clearing out some old clutter. But don’t clear out your spouse, they fall under “vintage”. Besides, you’d just have to break in someone new.

March 3 is a scary one for the pet owners. Today is What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day! Can you imagine? Dogs might be acceptable, but if cats gained opposable thumbs, we’d all be toast!

March 4 is Grammar Day. On this day I’d like to advocate for the Oxford Comma. The following snippet from an actual news article shows why the Oxford Comma is important: “…highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800 year old demigod and a dildo collector.”

March 5 is World Book Day! Celebrate by heading over to my Literary Junkie column and picking up a copy of the book I reviewed!

March 6 is Dress in Blue Day. Fun fact: owls are the only bird that can see the color blue. Well, except for the Louisiana state bird, the mosquito, which is attracted to blue twice as much as any other color.

March 7 is cereal day! The first cold breakfast cereal was invented in the U.S. in 1863, which is about the expiration date on that carton of milk you forgot to empty.

March 8 is Unique Names Day. North West, Buzz Michelangelo Fletcher, and Moon Unit Zappa should all feel at home on this day!

March 9 may incite fear and mayhem with Panic Day. Fear not, however as it is also False Teeth Day. Just pop those pearly whites back in your mouth, and the fear and mayhem should subside.

March 10 happens to be one of my favorite holidays – Popcorn Lover’s Day. If you ask me, there’s not much better than a bucket full of movie popcorn with tons of fake buttery topping. Except when it falls on the floor, and you find yourself weighing the five second rule. That part sucks.

March 11 is National Eat Your Noodles Day. If you’re a poor college student, celebrating this day should be simple. Microwave some ramen and voila! If you’re a Canadian university student, the equivalent of this would be ketchup and Kraft dinner.

March 12 sounds like a fun day with Genealogy Day! Fun genealogy fact: nearly everyone with European or Asian ancestry carries between 1-4 percent Neanderthal DNA. Perhaps not surprising, Ozzy Osbourne is in the 4 percent category. Maybe that explains the bat biting?

March 13 could save your life. It’s Check Your Batteries Day. Today is a good day to make sure the batteries on your smoke or carbon monoxide detector are in working order. It’s also a good idea to make sure the batteries on things like your iPod are charged. Can you imagine the horror if you got out someplace and your iPod was dead?! The very thought gives me the chills!

March 14 as we all know is National Pi Day (3/14), but more importantly it is National Potato Chip Day! Legend has it that a finicky customer at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs kept complaining that the fries were too thick. George Crum, the head chef, kept slicing them thinner until finally they were little more than a thin crisp. Thus the Saratoga Chip was born. The famous finicky customer? None other than Cornelius Vanderbilt. It’s all folklore to be sure but still a fun tale to tell over say a basket of chips.

March 15 is True Confessions Day. In the spirit of the holiday, I present two truths and a lie: 1) I’ve visited 49 of the 50 states. 2) I’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz and 3) I love snakes!

March 16 is Everything You Do is Right Day! No matter what you do today, you can’t go wrong, because as the day says, everything you do is right. So get out there, be bold! Don’t be afraid of making a mistake because today, you can’t. Unless I’m wrong, in which case things suddenly got awkward.

March 17 is Submarine Day. My research wasn’t clear on whether today commemorates the hero sandwich or the boat. Just to cover my bases, I think I’ll sit inside a submarine, eating a hero sandwich while listening to “Yellow Submarine.”

March 18 gives you an excuse for those moments in which you say the wrong thing at just the wrong moment, or you pause too long after a question, or maybe you trip on your shoelaces and fall down the stairs. Tell everyone that you are celebrating Awkward Moments Day, and revel in the fact that now the moment is awkward for them!

March 19 is Poultry Day! Don’t chicken out on celebrating today, or you’ll end up with egg on your face!

March 20 is Extraterrestrial Abductions Day! Catch up on the return of the X-Files, binge watch Roswell, reminisce with 3rd Rock from the Sun! Oh, and watch out for grey men with probes.

March 21 is Credit Card Reduction Day. You can celebrate by reducing the debt on my credit card. Don’t worry, I won’t mind!

March 22 presents the perfect excuse to play hooky and go to the park to throw a frisbee with a dog. Or for sitting around doing nothing! It’s National Goof Off Day! When your boss questions why you didn’t come to work today, point them to this column. On second thought, leave me out of it. I don’t like your boss anyway.

March 23 is Near Miss Day! On this day in history in 1989, a large asteroid missed the Earth by a mere 500 thousand miles. In astronomical terms, that’s pretty darned close. Celebrate by checking out my review of The Last Policeman from August of 2014.

March 24 is Tuberculosis Day! Consumption be done about it? Of cough, of cough! But it’ll take a lung lung time!

March 25 is the perfect opportunity to pull out your Middle Earth Maps and your Rune to English Dictionary for Tolkien Reading Day! Check out the Orcs of New York Facebook page for some insight on what’s happening since Frodo and the gang tossed that pesky ring!

March 26 is Make Up Your Own Holiday Day, or as I like to call it “My Husband Brings Me Breakfast in Bed Day! See what I did there? Now it’s your turn.

March 27 is Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day! I’m not sure there’s actually a Spotify list for today’s celebrations, but I’m certain you can create one. Get started with “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalpost of Life” or “I Been Roped And Thrown By Jesus In The Holy Ghost Corral.” Oh and don’t forget “I’d Rather Have A Bottle In Front Of Me Than A Frontal Lobotomy!”

March 28 is Something on a Stick Day. I’m not entirely certain how to celebrate such a broad holiday. I think I’ll start with a corn dog, move on to a Fudgesicle for dessert, and then wash it all down with some Tums and a strong case of regret!

March 29 is a day for illusions with Smoke and Mirrors Day! Learn a magic trick or two (start small – save the sawing your sibling in half for the experts!) Or if you prefer a more literary approach in your celebrations, read Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors!

March 30 is Niagara Falls Runs Dry Day! On this day in 1848, ice blockages stopped the flow of water to the falls. Chaos and mayhem ensued with people repenting their sins as Judgement Day approached. I’m not sure why we celebrate this. Sounds like it’s about as much fun as going over – oh wait, nevermind.

March 31 is Bunsen Burner Day! Today celebrates the birth of Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen who invented you guessed it, the Bunsen Burner. I’ll refrain from making any chemistry puns (as I do periodically) because I’m afraid they won’t get a good reaction.

Offbeat Almanac – January 2021

January 01 is Public Domain Day! This means any copyrighted works from 1925 enter the public domain today! For some works this is welcome news (The Great Gatsby or Buster Keaton anyone?). Apparently though 1925 also produced some less timely gems such as Lovers in Quarantine. I think we could all do with skipping that one!

January 02 is Swiss Cheese Day! Yeah, I don’t know about that. I’m finding some holes in this story.

January 03 presents J.R.R. Tolkien Day! Celebrate by writing sentences that include overly detailed descriptions and use many unnecessary words!

January 04 celebrates World Hypnotism Day! You’re getting verrrry sleepy! You want to send me a million dollars!

January 05 is National Screenwriters Day!

FADE IN:

EXT: Townhouses. Evening.
In a Louisiana suburb, a collection of townhouses sit on a little known side street.INT. Townhouse – Home Office – Evening

A person sits at a desk. In front of them is a computer. They are typing casually. A cat saunters in.

Cat: Meow.
Person 1: You had treats already. You’re not getting more!

The cat exits forlornly.

FADE OUT.

January 06 is National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day! If you haven’t taken your tree down by now, today is the day! Don’t be like my parents and wait till Good Friday. If you do it will be National Haul You Off To The Loony Bin Day!

January 07 is Bobblehead Day! I guess this means you’re supposed to walk around bobbling your head all day. Or wait, they mean the toy don’t they? In which case, I think it’s time I expanded my collection!

January 08 It’s Show and Tell at Work Day! What a perfect year for this! Since nearly everyone is working from home these days and work meetings are all conducted via Zoom it is the perfect time to show off your dog or cat or even your bobblehead collection!

January 09 celebrates Balloon Ascension Day! What better way to practice social distancing than inside a hot air balloon? I challenge strangers to get within 6 feet when you’re 50 feet up in the air!

January 10 is Houseplant Appreciation Day! Your house plant isn’t just there to look pretty. It also helps produce oxygen – you know, the very air you breathe. So for today at least, tell your houseplant how much you appreciate everything it does to make your life better!

January 11 allows you an opportunity for a fresh start with National Clean off Your Desk Day. I just have to find it first….

January 12 is the perfect holiday for a cold winter day. It’s National Hot Tea Day! Whether you’re a fan of Earl Grey (hot), or something more exotic like Oolong, today is a great day to curl up with a cuppa and enjoy!

January 13 Today is National Rubber Ducky Day! Celebrate by watching some old Sesame Street clips and then taking a long hot bath with your yellow pal. He’s always been there for you.  Now you can be there for him!

January 14 livens things up with National Dress Up Your Pet Day! Dress your dog in a pirates costume, or put your cat in a fancy dress! No matter your pet, get creative! For some fun pet silliness, check out the Cat Named Carot!

January 15 is National Hat Day! Whether you’re a hat aficionado or just someone who likes to occasionally toss on a baseball cap, today is your day! I say spice it up a bit by donning a tricorn hat, sticking a feather in it, and calling it macaroni. Oh wait, I think that’s been done. Never mind.

January 16 Today is Fig Newton Day! It is a little known fact that fig newtons are named such because it was actually a fig tree that Isaac Newton sat under first. Figs aren’t very heavy though so it’s fortunate he chose an apple tree. It is perhaps a lesser known fact that I completely made that up! No matter, if fig newtons are your thing, then today is your day!

January 17 is Popeye Day! Open a can of spinach, flex your muscles, and buy your best friend a hamburger! Or you know, you could just go to Popeye’s chicken… your choice.

January 18 is Thesaurus Day! This is amazing, outstanding, incredible, sensational, and downright glorious!

January 19 celebrates World Quark Day! Apparently this day commemorates a weird European cheese alternative. I don’t know about you, but that does not sound very gouda to me!

January 20 observes Penguin Appreciation Day! Do you know penguins sometimes wear glasses? It helps their ice-sight! Penguins are notoriously difficult to get along with though because they’re always fishing for compliments! Thank you, I’ll be here all month. Try the er, fish.

January 21 is International Sweatpants Day! Or as it’s known in my household “Thursday”. No matter how you celebrate, do it in comfort. Just be sure to tie the draw string as it isn’t International Moon your Friends Day!

January 22 is Blonde Brownie Day! Honestly, this smells a bit like discrimination to me. What about brunette and red headed brownies? I’m going to look into this just as soon as the oven timer goes off….

January 23 steps into Measure Your Feet Day! I tried it, and they’re about a foot long! Oh come on, don’t step on my toes. That joke was funny!

January 24 celebrates National Compliment Day! My, aren’t you looking lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver?

January 25 is Opposite Day! Whatever you do, don’t celebrate this day!

January 26 is Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement! I’m not sure why toads need encouragement but hey, I’m not one to judge. If you’re reading this and you’re a toad, well, you’re ahead of the game already! Go on and be the best darn toad you can be!

January 27 is Chocolate Cake Day! The best way to celebrate this day is to bake your favorite columnist a lovely, rich, and fluffy chocolate cake. Trust me, I’ll – I mean they – will thank you for it later!

January 28 It’s National Kazoo Day! What do you say when a kazoo sneezes? Kazoontite! Yeah, I’ll show myself out…

January 29 is Curmudgeons Day! Be the most curmudgeonly curmudgeon you can be by beating people with your cane or tripping them with your walker. Now pull up your pants and get off my lawn, you damned kids!

January 30 is Fruitcake Toss Day! Honestly, anyone who still has a fruitcake in their house at this point desperately needs this holiday. What are you waiting for? Get rid of that thing! You can order a new doorstop online!

January 31 is Gorilla Suit Day! I dare you to celebrate by putting on your best gorilla suit and wearing it to your next Zoom call! Trust me, your boss will love it!

Review: Classic Halloween Stories

In the last decade, there have been countless vampire, zombie and similarly themed books.  A television series of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow began airing recently on FOX, NBC has commissioned a modern retelling of Dracula, and the BBC did it’s own interpretation of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2007).  Submitted for your consideration are recommendations of four horror literature classics in honor of Halloween.

In Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein, never having fully recovered from the death of his mother, becomes convinced he can create an immortal being.  Modern film adaptations tend to focus their attentions on the monster, creating a horror tale, rather than the original focus of caution against the misuse of science.  I recommend reading both the original 1818 version and Shelley’s 1831 revision.  The 1818 version has a more autobiographical slant, hinting more at Shelley’s feelings of competition with her stepmother, her guilt over her mother’s death in childbirth, and her own feelings of ambivalence towards her children.  The 1831 revision takes a more conservative approach, making Victor more a victim of fate and circumstance than someone suffering the consequences of poor choices.  The 1831 revision also puts Elizabeth (Victor’s wife) in a more subservient role rather than as an equal.


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is another classic many of us have grown up with.  Modern retellings embellish the character of Ichabod Crane and make the Headless Horseman into an evil, ethereal creature.  In reality, Sleepy Hollow was likely derived from German folklore about “The Wild Huntsman”, whose victims were full of arrogance and held little moral value.  In Irving’s rendition, Crane is in competition with Abraham Van Brunt for the hand of Katrina, the only child of a wealthy local farmer.  Crane is a scheming outsider who cares only for Katrina’s inheritance, whereas Van Brunt is well known within the town as someone of strong moral character.

Many themes have been argued for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but some scholars agree that having been forced into bankruptcy after the War of 1812, Irving was disillusioned with the idea of America as the land of opportunity and instead saw Europe as a place superior in culture and history.


Dracula by Bram Stoker has been the primary source for all things vampire over the last century.  The idea of a vampire-like creature has existed in stories for centuries.  From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to True Blood to Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, the vampire myth is seen throughout popular culture.  While Transylvania seems more than a bit removed from Sunnydale or Bon Temps, all of these retellings have drawn some inspiration from Dracula.

Many adaptations such as the two Dracula films from the 1970’s or Dracula the Undead by Darce Stoker (Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew) stick closely to the original novel.  Others take a less conventional turn such as The Batman vs. Dracula or Sherlock Holmes and Count DraculaWhile Dracula was originally published as a horror novel, no one seems able to agree on one central theme with suggestions ranging from subtle homoeroticism to the urgent need for Christian salvation.


No discussion of classic horror literature would be complete without Edgar Allen Poe – the author of many poems and short stories such as “The Raven” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” that continue to haunt readers today

As with many of Poe’s writings, both of these works deal with themes of death and loss.  In “The Raven”, the narrator dwells on the recent loss of his love and finds himself sinking into hopelessness and despair as he engages in a one-sided conversation with the Raven.  Through this discussion, the narrator sinks into hopelessness and despair. The bird’s incessant “Nevermore” eventually convinces him that his soul is damned and that he will never see his lost love again in the afterlife.

In “The Pit and the Pendulum”, the narrator finds himself locked in a small cell where he nearly falls into a pit.  He then loses consciousness and when he regains it, finds himself strapped to a board with a pendulum slowly lowering, ready to slice him in two.  Thanks to the gnawings of some clever rats, he is saved, but then the walls start closing in.  Eventually, he has no choice but to jump into the pit.  Each of these incidents demonstrates the psychological impact that terror has on a person, a theme that is recurrent throughout Poe’s work.

The death of Poe’s wife at the age of nineteen has frequently been suggested as a driving force behind his continual themes of loss, dying and terror.  In addition, Poe was a contemporary of and was well acquainted with both Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Gothic literature was a significant trend at that time, so this undoubtedly influenced each author’s writings.

Poe and many of his works have permeated pop culture, and Poe himself is a frequent figure in movies, television and books.  In an episode of The Simpson’s, “The Raven” was adapted with Marge playing the role of Lenore and Bart as the narrator.  As with Dracula, Poe also teamed up with Batman to solve a series of murders in Batman: Nevermore and “The Telltale Heart” and “The Raven” have also been adapted to film.  “The Pit and the Pendulum” has been adapted to film several times, and John Cusack starred in a 2012 film entitled The Raven, which centers around the last days of Poe’s life.

 

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