Mr. & Mrs. American Pie: review

Mr. & Mrs. American Pie
Juliet McDaniel
Inkshares (August 2018)

mr. & mrs. american pieJuliet McDaniel’s Mr. & Mrs. American Pie is chick lit turned on its head. Call it wacky. Call it madcap. But however you describe it, the novel is 172 pages of fun, largely because the characters and situations are larger-than-life. Here’s a run-down.

Mrs. Maxine Hortence Simmons: Palm Springs junior league social climber, she of the Cartier watch, catered Thanksgiving dinner, and imported gold-foiled wallpaper. A bombshell. Married to airline executive Douglas Simmons–for the first few pages, at least … until she’s exiled to the Kachina Palms Condominiums in Scottsdale, Arizona. Drinks too much.

Robert Hogath: Thirty-something proprietor of the tavern La Dulcinea. A recent transplant from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, he is, by his own admission, a “lifelong bachelor”. It’s 1969. And Robert has a secret.

Charles “Chuck” Bronksi: Age twelve, he has big plans that involve the FBI or CIA. Wakes at 5 AM to do calisthenics. Learning to read lips by watching Bugs Bunny with the sound turned off. Keeps spy notes in a little book. Pretty much the sole caretaker of his nearly two-year-old sister Dawn. He’s got an absentee mom and a dad “fighting the commies in Viet Nam”.

There’s a crazy Thanksgiving dinner scene that ends with the turkey in the pool. There’s a nasty divorce. Exile. More drinking.  Chuck and Dawn become Maxine’s ‘wards’ (her word).  There’s an arrest–for something they used to call lewd and lascivious behavior. A rushed marriage at city hall. A honeymoon with the kids in Old Tucson amusement park.

Now that right there? That would be a fine story in itself. But there’s more …

Maxine decides in an attempt to earn prize money and win back her dignity to enter the Mrs. American Pie beauty pageant. She’s got the family now, after all. And so begins the preparations to become June and Ward, Ozzie and Harriet and take home the prize. But first this.

A doctored photo to dethrone one of the current Mrs. Arizona Pie contestants. And some rumors about the others spread thick. As the now-reigning Mrs. Arizona Pie, there’s a cabin decorating contest, a cooking competition involving a dish called Spam ‘n Limas, and a chorus line of Mrs. wannabees singing and dancing to “It’s a Grand Old Flag”. Maxine’s talent? Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. And a revelation–which comes via Chuck’s sleuthing skills–that just might bring the Director of Pageant Operations down.

The real kicker? The pageant is held at the Whitewater Country Club in Palm Springs. And Maxine’s ex-husband is a judge. But never fear. Alls well for this Mr. and Mrs. Chuck has the last word on the night the winner is crowned: “You won and then you lost because you love us!”

And his sister Dawn has the last last word. It’s 1982 …

[NO Spoiler Alert here]

But the end? It’s a keeper.

You’ll look sweet upon the seat: Hello, Bicycle (review)

Hello Bicycle (Blogging For Books)
Anna Brones
Ten Speed Press

Six years ago I treated myself to a new bicycle. I read reviews, talked with biking friends, browsed online, and finally went to a local bike shop to make my purchase. It was the Real Deal: a shiny black and chrome city bike. I was in love. Twice a week I rode two miles to the Farmer’s Market, packed up my saddle baskets with goodies, and pedaled back home.  I biked to the library. To neighborhood association meetings. And sometimes up to a nearby technical high school just to delight in the winding roads of their campus.

This little gem by Anna Brones, Hello, Bicycle: an inspired guide to the two-wheeled life, makes me long for those lazy summer days when I can get pedaling once again. The book definitely isn’t for the snooty serious rider–those spandexed, be-numbered riders with calves of steel who hunch over handlebars like it’s the Tour de France. Rather, it’s for the rider who might still be a bit daunted riding in traffic and is just getting used to having helmet hair. Hello, Bicycle is like sitting down with a chatty friend who has a few good tips to share. You know, the kind of friend whose enthusiasm is so catching you can’t resist joining their latest adventure.

There are tips I’d put in the everyday advice column: wear a helmet, pack a rain jacket, use bike lanes. And then Brones turns into that chatty friend I mentioned. She oh-so-casually-like-it’s-no-big-deal writes about touring and slow rolls and S240s. Before you know it, I have the Peterson’s Official S240 Packing List” asterisked, as well as arrows drawn on the page “Pantry and Kitchen Essentials for Cyclists.” Who do I think I am?! My longest ride has been all of five miles. But that’s just it–Brones makes it seem doable for even the novice cyclist. Add James Gulliver Hancock’s cute illustrations and catchy graphics, and Hello, Bicycle is both a how-to manual and an inspirational all-in-one. (The photos on this post are from the illustrators website.)

In my own Great Lake state, we’ve put winter behind us. The robins arrived a few weeks ago, and days have lengthened. The snow is long gone (we hope!) and the littlest bit of sunshine has us swapping out our down jackets for windbreakers. I’ve a mind to take my bike out of winter storage this weekend. Hello, Bicycle would be the perfect gift for Someone Special who is thinking about getting back in the saddle seat or who has that new bicycle and is ready to roll.

WWW Wednesday

I’m participating in Taking On a World of Words blog hop this week by answering three Ws: what I’m currently reading, what I just finished reading, and what I think I’ll read next. Comment with your own Ws below, and be sure to hop over to Sam’s blog to connect with other readers on her WWW post.

Release date: March 14, 2017

Currently reading:
I started Himself  by Jess Kidd (NetGalley) last week and it’s taken me to a time and place I’ve never been. Twenty-something Mahoney travels from Dublin to the small village of Mulderrig. He left as an infant, but it’s the circumstances of his leaving that rub. His mother, the village wild thing, disappeared without a trace one day, and Mahoney with her. So how did he end up on the doorstep of a Dublin orphanage? And with a photo of his mum with cryptic note penciled on the back: “Your mammy loved you.” Add to that the fact that Mahoney has a gift: he sees spirits. Right alongside the visible world, Mahoney sees ghost figures walking about, lingering nearly everywhere. Mahoney sets out to uncover the mystery of his mother’s disappearance with the help of an elderly eccentric Mrs. Cauley. The duo is sure to make friends and enemies, in the village and the spirit world, is my guess.

Release date: April 11, 2017

Recently finished:
The last book I finished was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic which really resonated with me. I’m lucky in that the writer’s studio I attend has a facilitator who believes in the serendipity of creativity, so the book itself was more gift than revelation. I’ve read some pretty harsh review of Big Magic (can you say New York Times?), but I think even the first few chapters are worth the price of the book.

Reading next:
I’ve been waiting for how many years for this one? Let’s see. The Historian was published in 2005, so that would make it an even dozen. Elizabeth Kostova’s new novel The Shadow Land is due to be released in April. The story is set in Sofia, Bulgaria once again, and from the publisher’s blurb, it includes an urn, some ashes, mystery, and danger. I’m taking bets on whether or not Vlad will make a reappearance in this novel. I can’t get to this one soon enough.   

Work has been busy (we’re mid-marking period, and I just collected an essay!) so I’m behind on my List; the sad fact is reading slows down considerably during the school year. The struggle is real, my friend. But thanks to Taking On the World Of Words and Sam for allowing me to tag  blog along every few Wednesdays.

My reading vacation

sycamore rowFor at least November, I ordered up a few things I everyone else had read, but me–I’d been too busy reading advanced copies. It was time for a little vacation from those DRCs and how I’ve loved having books in my hand again–ones with real pages I can fold down to mark my spot (yes, I’m that person!) or lie face down opened to the page I left off (I can hear the groans now…). The sight of a TBR stack that’s paper, not digital sets my heart a pitter-patting. I loved cover art right in front of me. Or maybe it’s just all that color–my Kindle is a basic e-reader, black and white, with no frills.

So what have I read on this little reading vacay? I did proper reviews of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and News of the World. Keepers both. I read Girl Waits With Gun which was a hoot–and deserves its own proper review sometime soon.

For fun I’m reading John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. I do like a good John Grisham once in a while (and I’ve learned it doesn’t pay to file a class action suit, so there’s that)  and this one’s got it all. Race, class, good cops lawyers, bad cops lawyers, a hand-written will, and $23 million on the table. Predictable, but very readable.rosie

I am either proud–or ashamed–to say I’m probably the last person in the U.S. to read The Girl on the Train. And it was just what I needed it to be: a compelling, yet undemanding story I could let unravel. It lived up to its Gone Girl comparison, but with characters I didn’t find repulsive.

And oh my goodness! The Rosie Project was the dearest thing I’ve read in quite some time. A sweet little nugget of a book, like finding that chocolate caramel when you were expecting a raspberry creme. Once Thanksgiving break begins, I’ll bring out Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The New York Times called it “comedy heaven” and I’m holding them to it.

It’s been a fairly relaxing reading vacation so far–but time again to return to the work-a-day world of new releases.

Book clubs: the good, the bad, and the ugly

In a perfect world my book club reads fascinating contemporary works (but never the best sellers) with a few classics thrown in to make sure we’re well-rounded and culturally literate. Leaders rotate–everyone takes a turn–and prepare diligently: a review shared, a YouTube video discovered, an NPR interview served up. We are astute. Serious. Profound, even.

But in real life … not so much. (And this is one of those timea when reality trumps fantasy.)

The only book club I’ve been part of is one I was asked to organize several years ago for some teaching friends I work with. We set some ground rules (if you don’t read, you don’t share; everyone takes a turn leading; we agree on books together) and met once a month, give or take. We called ourselves Chicks on Books, maybe because it sounded snappy?! Here are the books we read over the year-and-a-half we were together:
+ Columbine by David Cullen
+ Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
+ Full Dark No Stars by Steven King
+ Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler
+ The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
+ Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhonda Jansen
The Immortal Life of Harriet Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

book clubsHeavy on non-fiction, but that was fine by me–I need encouragement to read something other than fiction. The books sparked wonderful conversation, of course. As you can probably guess, teachers can talk about Columbine for days. Add a book to the mix and we’re set. And we deal almost daily with helicopter moms which are a subcategory of Tiger Mothers, after all. The author of Mennonite is a professor at a private college in our back yard, and so we were able to hear her speak at a local library branch. (Always, always go hear the author speak when you have the chance.) And more than a few of us had families who put the “fun” in dysfunctional (Not!) so between our own childhoods and those of our students, we had more than enough fuel to discuss The Glass Castle.

And like many book clubs, our was not averse to adding a little vino into the mix. Conversation was never an issue–in fact, we had to exercise self-discipline to ensure we talked about the book for at least forty-five minutes so we didn’t talk shop. Our tangents were wonderful, though. Just what I encourage my own students to be open to–reading isn’t about plot lines, conflict, and metaphor; it’s about letting a work touch our souls and inspire us.

So why was our little book club so short-lived? (I’ve heard of some book clubs that go on for decades …) I’m not sure. Some of it was family–half the members had young children. Some of it was plain ol’ time–during the school year we teachers find it difficult to do much more than eat, sleep, grade, repeat. When we first skipped a month, a couple members asked me, “When are we going to meet again?” And my reply would be, “Whenever someone organizes it!” I didn’t want to be the one to run the show and thought if the group was meaningful, someone would keep it going.

But after another missed month, the idea of planning book club again slowly fizzled out–kind of like a book whose pages we stop turning because it’s just not engaging. Or because it’s not what we expected? Or maybe we just got too busy and put it aside. Maybe I should be grateful that we got several chapters in.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll pick up the book club again someday and give it another go.


Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-aug-2016