Audio book: Heartland

heartandby Sarah Smarsh
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at
Content: There is some frank talk about abuse and drinking as well as a lot of swearing (including multiple f-bombs). It’s in the biography section of the bookstore, but I think a teenager might be interested in this.

This has been a big deal around the store, mostly because Smarsh grew up just outside of Wichita (and rumor has it she’s moved back here), and the places and people in it are pretty much staples in this community. But her story — the child of a teenage mom, growing up in a rural community on a family farm — belongs to much more than those of us here in Wichita. In fact, as I listened to her story — which sometimes got political, but mostly she kept personal — I heard echos of my own mother’s and grandmother’s story — married young, growing up in a small rural community, working hard their entire lives for just barely enough. It’s the story of many, many Americans.

Even so, Smarsh has one thing going for her that many poor do not: she is white. Sometimes, she acknowledges that fact, and tries to be more inclusive in her conclusions. But often, I felt like she was saying “look at me, look how poor we were, look how much I suffered, look at those scars” and I wanted to roll my eyes. Very few of us escape our childhoods without scars. And just because she grew up poor in Wichita and Kingman, doesn’t make her story exceptional.

Except she told it (and read it) well. So I have to give her that.

Audio Book: So Close to Being the S**t, Y’all Don’t Even Know

by Retta
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at
Content:  Lots and lots and lots of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I’ve said it here before: I have a weakness for celebrity memoirs, especially when read by the author. And so, even though I don’t really know a whole lot about Retta (aside from that she was Donna on Parks and Rec), I splurged for this. And I found it to be extremely delightful. She is a funny writer, but more than that, she is a funny story teller. She holds nothing back, from the way she grew up to her struggles with money and finding an acting job, to her accidental love for the LA Kings. It’s an entertaining journey with a lot of laughs along the way.

I’m not sure there’s much else to recommend it, except that it’s utterly delightful and a lot of fun. Sometimes, though, that’s exactly what you need.

Lighter Than My Shadow

by Katie Green
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some disturbing images and language, as well as depictions of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is a graphic memoir depicting Green’s journey and experience with eating disorders. She frames it as reflections from an adult perspective, looking back on her childhood, teens, and twenties as she struggles with anorexia and binge eating. It’s a very frank look — both at the way she perceived herself, but also the small things others around her, from her family to her friends to other students, said that contributed to her negative self-image.

Green tries many treatments, from the hospital to therapy to alternative therapy, but nothing seems to work. She thinks she’s “cured” at one point, but it’s really just a different manifestation for her need for control, which is the root problem.

Green’s not saying that her experience is typical of all anorexic’s experiences. But, that there is something of value in telling her story. And I think there is. I could see some of myself in her; while I have never been anorexic, I do have an inherent dislike of my body, and while I try not to pass that on to my girls, there are times when I’m afraid I have through little things I have unintentionally said.  I want them to have a healthy relationship with food, with their body, and reading books like this help me figure out how to help them have that.

I also really liked how the art reflects the story; Green does amazing things with darkness and shadow and fading images. It not only helped tell the story, it intensified it, giving a depth to this particular story that wouldn’t have come through in a prose book.

A very, very good book.

Searching for John Hughes

searchingforby Jason Diamond
First sentence: “I wasn’t paying attention to the people waiting in line for cupcakes; I was just looking up at a night sky dotted with flurries of snow bravely falling onto rooftops and parked cars, their only purpose in this world was to make things more magical to those queued up for an authentic Magnolia Bakery experience, then they’d hit the roof of a car or the sidewalk and melt away.”
Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Release date: November 29, 2016
Content: Lots of swearing, lots of drinking, lots of drug use. It will be in the biography section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because of the title and cover; while I’m not a film connoisseur, I’ve enjoyed my share of John Hughes movies, and as a kid of the 1980s, I thought this might be fun.


I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t, even though I did try.

It’s Diamond’s memoir of growing up, and while he had the worst childhood ever, that’s not what did me in. (Well, it’s partially what did me in. He didn’t make his crappy childhood compelling enough. That sounds heartless, but it’s true.) I think it’s because I wanted the book to be more about his experiences with the John Hughes movies I loved and less about his crappy childhood. Sure, he did get that in there, but it wasn’t enough to outweigh the negativity.

Or maybe it was just me; I wasn’t in the mood for a memoir about an aimless 20-something who was trying to find meaning in the movies from my childhood.

Either way, this one didn’t do it for me.


textbookby Amy Krouse Rosenthal
First sentence: “Welcome to the first book that offers additional engagement via texting.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s wonderfully interactive, with short vignettes rather than long passages. I’d give it to a middle- or high-schooler who expressed interest. There’s one swear word. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Perhaps with it’s the most unique reading experience I’ve had in a long time. The basic gist is that Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote this as a sequel (of sorts) to Encyclopedia of Me (but  you don’t have to read that one first). It’s a collection (of sorts) of thoughts, musings, Things That Happened, and insights into Amy’s life and mind. But it’s more than that.

Loosely laid out like an actual textbook, there are quizzes, math problems (radiant + redolent + gorgeous + melancholy + patina + rhapsody + calm = words I kept trying to find a home for in this book), Art, observations on Life (both Amy’s and Life in General). And perhaps it was a case of right book for me at the exact right time, but I found it to be charming, interesting, and quite lovely.

A suggestion: go in wanting to be an active participant in the book. Text the number. Follow the instructions. Click on the links. Submit your pictures (I still have one picture I need to submit before I am truly done). The book (and you) will be better for it.

This one is not just a book; it’s an experience. And a delightful one at that.