Peachy Books June in Review: In The Woods by Tana French, Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book - 11th Edition, Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell
Blog Roll, Contemporary Fiction, Monthly Reading Recall

Peachy Books’ June in Review

June was slower in the reading department than I would have liked, but I’m all right with that, given the time I’ve spent on this blog. I still managed a cookbook and five fictional books, with two of them reviewed and posted. If you haven’t, be sure to check those out below, and stay tuned for reviews of the middle-grade hits: The Good Thieves and Aliens on Vacation, which are on deck!

In The Woods by Tana French

The first volume in the highly popular Dublin Murder Squad Series, In The Woods, is a thrill-ride in psychology and the complexity of relationships… and there’s a murder to be solved too.

Tana French lulls you with prose whilst burying you deeper into the myriad of plotlines that she weaves together like a fine tapestry. If you’re not one of the more than a million people who have already read it, don’t miss this gripping tale that may even shed some light on the people in your life who have often left you feeling perplexed.

Read the full review and see the Celtic bookmark I was inspired to make here.

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith

While his busy parents tend to their ever-consuming careers, David, aka Scrub, is shipped off to The Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast for the summer. It is at this wild and wacky place that he’ll get to know his estranged Grandmother, a few of her unique guests, and a special friend named Amy.

What an enjoyable middle-grade story this was, with my son. The well-drawn characters were odd and expressive, which led to some funny voices for the reading. I especially enjoyed Scrub’s hippie Grandma with the rose-coloured glasses.

Check out the excerpt that I read for Storytime Saturday here.

And the full review here.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Get out your tissues, you’re going to need them!

Ultimately, this is contemplative tale of a cantankerous man trying to come to terms with living (and dying) after suffering the most considerable loss of his life.

A Man Called Ove reminds us that regardless of assumption, one can never really know what people are going through when we encounter them in our daily existence, and how kindness, connection, and a sense of purpose can go a long way.

To read the complete review and see the bookmark I was moved to make, click here.

To listen to the audio review instead, click here.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook – 11th Edition

This read was a blast from the past, and is the quintessential cook book of my childhood. Although I don’t turn to it very often, it is a great selection for bake sale items, and classic North American fare, that will always occupy a spot on my cookbook shelf.

Find photos of the recipe trials I performed for 3 of the dishes my son picked out, in The Cookery, here.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

A semi-autobiographical novel by one of the great polarising artists of the last century, Ham on Rye gives us the scary, sorrowful, and sudsy retelling of a hard-knock life.

This one brought up many emotions for me, as I empathised with Henry Chinaski and his abusive and isolating beginnings. Reading this book just before Father’s Day had a profound effect on my review.

Don’t miss the full review: written and audio

Coming Soon to Peachy Books…

Book Review art for The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showing the back of a woman with red hair and a transparent strip of blue running across her face, with a backdrop of the Kentucky mountains that says: Read the book review for this story of resilience, loyalty, and love.
Blog Roll, book reviews, Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Book Cover for The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Listen to this review here.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Kim Michele Richardson

The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.

T.S. Eliot (as quoted in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek)

… and if people would stop dog-earring the pages, and folding the covers behind the spines of those books, I might hold out that hope, but that’s a topic for another time.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is the fictional tale of Cussy Mary Carter, whose story comes alive through the interweaving of the factual historical Pack Horse Librarian Project (PHLP) and the distressing genetic fate that befalls The Fugates: a real Kentucky family that suffers from a rare blue-skin condition. A genetic anomaly causes their blood to be chocolate brown from a lack of oxygen, which gives their skin a blue tint, as a result. The medical term for this condition is Methemoglobinemia, and although as of today the Fugate family descendants have lost their blue colouring, it can appear visible when they are cold or become flushed with emotion. This hereditary disorder is the ostracising affliction that Cussy Mary bears, and is that which causes many of the horrid trials and tribulations she faces throughout this harrowing novel by Kim Michele Richardson.

Cussy Mary doesn’t hear her real name very often. She is fondly referred to, by the folks on her route, as the ‘Book Woman,’ and to others in the community she is simply ‘Bluet.’ As a dutiful and proud packhorse librarian for the destitute hill-people of Kentucky, her job is as dangerous as it is essential. Still, there is nothing else in the world that she would prefer to do.

In fact, there isn’t much else she is allowed to do, as she is the last of the ‘blue people.’ The Carter clan has the peculiar occurrence of being born with blue-tinged skin. Cussy Mary and her family have been discriminated against and mistreated because of the fear that grips some of the townsfolk, as they worry that they may catch this affliction like a common cold, and end up outcasts like the Carters. Little was known of this condition, so their ignorance reigned, and they chose to hate.

Cussy Mary’s book route and beloved position as librarian came via the WPA (Works Progress Administration) initiative, put forth by the Roosevelt government during the depression era. This transformational project ran from 1935 to 1943 and provided books to 1.5 million Kentuckians, and allowed for almost 1,000 women to support their families in 48 counties throughout the state. For our unrelenting protagonist, being a librarian was a calling that fostered purpose, determination, and self-worth, amidst a world that otherwise offered her nothing.

It is painful to read of the abuse that Cussy Mary has to endure at the hands of some members of her community. No matter how dark things get or what befalls her, the light of Cussy Mary’s spirit lifts her above it. Her kindness and merciful disposition see her forgive those that mistreat her, even as they continually try to bring her down. Her stoicism exemplifies humility and mercy, while the bigots arrogantly rally for cruelty.

Not all the Kentucky people were vicious in this story. Many of Cussy Mary’s patrons were her biggest champions and proved loyal to her until the end. The excitement that beamed from the book lovers of her route was infectious and was second only to the impact these written treasures she would provide them had upon their lives. It was a joyous occasion for the ‘Book Woman’ every time she rode up on her ornery mule Junia (See the crocheted bookmark I made of her below!) and deposited knowledge into the waiting arms of her devoted readers. I was fascinated by the creative ways the librarians would shield disappointment from their awaiting communities by enhancing their inadequate libraries and making sure there was enough material to loan.

In our spare time, us librarians made books filled with hill wisdom, recipes and sewing patterns, health remedies, and cleaning tips that folks passed on. Newspapers sent us their old issues, and we’d cut out poems, articles, essays, and other news from the world, and pack the mountain books.

Richardson has crafted a fascinating tale made richer by the gorgeous prose and imagery as she carries you away to another time and place. I found myself flying through this compulsively readable story and admit that I wasn’t ready for it to end.

‘In the dust-bitten yard, a leaning chicken coop and tiny wooden goat pen nestled beside the tall one-room school, its chestnut harvested from the forest, the log gaps daubed with mud and grasses. Smoke percolated from the chimney, curling over black hand-split shingles and skittering up the side of a craggy, treed hill.

There are painful moments within these pages, dealing with starvation, racism, bigotry, sexual assault, and death, so please be forewarned that this may not be a book that just anyone would want to take on. The strong themes of loyalty and love, mixed with the importance of the librarians and their books, make this story endearing to me. If you have the fortitude to withstand the discomfort that lies within these truths, the reward is a beautiful tale of resiliency that will warm your heart and have you cheering for The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.

Song of Songs quote from The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek on a yellow, orange, pink and brown backdrop of mountains and the setting son: 'Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm: for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.'

Here’s Junia! She was my favourite character in the novel, so I made her into a bookmark.

Crochet bookmark of a tan coloured mule with a blue bridle and brown tail
Crochet mule bookmark

Advertising Artwork for The Read-a-Loud Book Review of Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, from Peachy Books, with a bar top holding empty margarita glasses in the background.
Blog Roll, Saturday in Stereo

Saturday in Stereo – Book Review Read-a-Loud: Ham on Rye

In case you missed it, last Sunday was Father’s day, and I wrote a review of Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, in honour of the day. For your listening pleasure, this week on Saturday in Stereo I’ve published the read-a-loud for that review.

Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest read-a-louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!

Friday Favourites Meme on Peachy Books: Top 5 Stunning YA Book Covers in blues and pinks
Blog Roll

Friday Favourites: Top 5 Stunning YA Book Covers

Friday Favourites Meme on Peachy Books: Top 5 Stunning YA Book Covers in blues and pinks

Although a cover isn’t everything, there is no question that it can attract or repel a reader. These are the YA covers that stopped me in my tracks and left me stunned by their beauty. It should also be noted that given the genres of these books, I wouldn’t likely have found them if not for their artwork.

Book Cover for A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood, coloured in purple and gold, showing the back view of a longhaired woman wading in the middle of a ring of water, looking up into the sky.

Simple yet majestic, with a deep eggplant purple, richly gilded, this cover mesmerised me when I first saw it. I wanted to reach through the screen and touch it, trace my fingers along the texture of its depressions.

A Sky Painted Gold has received some high praise from a wide audience, so I’m hopeful it will be a win for me. This YA historical fiction offering from Laura Wood purports to be perfect for fans of the YA classic I Capture The Castle, and reminiscent of Gatsby; now, that’s a mix, I’m intrigued!

With moonlight cocktail parties and glamour in abundance at the grand Cardew House, our young writer will forge her way in this coming-of-age tale. Have you read this one? Let me know what you thought.

Book cover for The Ten Thousand Doors of January, showing a detailed brass door handle on a black door covered in a border of colourful flowers of all hues and size.

Would you take a look at that gorgeous cover, WOW. Flowers always look beautiful, but when they are emboldened by a black background it just seems to make the colours POP. And who wouldn’t love the fine detail of that brass door handle, its knob an intricate mandala.

“The will to be polite, to maintain civility and normalcy, is fearfully strong. I wonder sometimes how much evil is permitted to run unchecked simply because it would be rude to interrupt it.”
― Alix E. HarrowThe Ten Thousand Doors of January

Historical fiction meets fantasy is not something I’ve read much of, but I’m in! I’m especially giddy after finding the above quote, which I happen to want to shout from the rooftops. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is sure to be original for my reading experience, so I’m moving it up my list.

Book Cover for Unwritten by Alicia J. Novo that says: 'For some the only the beginning, showing a metal nibbed dip pen with a plume of smoke bursting off the end and showing a city scape with a full moon glowing above it as part of the smoke.

Imaginations ignite when you scan this cover and see the mystical cityscape dwarfed by the full moon backdrop, all expelled and afloat from the nib of a dip pen.

Unwritten is book #1 of the Zweeshen Chronicles, written by Alicia J. Novo. Beatrix Alba, our bullied heroine brings us a story about books, with magic, high fantasy, and romance intermingled. I look forward to getting lost in this enchanting world.

Book Cover for The Between showing a girl running across a twisted big ben style clock that seems to be shooting up into the clouds, as though set askew because of a natural disaster or scifi occurence.

Confusion strikes me when taking in David Hofmeyr’s cover for this sci-fi dystopian thriller, every time I see it. I can’t comprehend all of the impossible things happening at once, so I freeze. With a tilt of the head, a little willing suspension of disbelief, and an admiring eye for aesthetics, this awe-inspiring cover has made the list.

Ana Moon is our seventeen year old heroine of The Between, and has the misfortune of watching her best friend get taken by a terrifying beast, during a shocking train crash. In search of answers that will bring her friend home, she joins forces with the mysterious Malik and his clan.

Book Cover for The Fire Keeper's Daughter showing indigenous artwork with two female faces coming together like a butterly, with flames below them, and birds flanking the flames.

Take the time to digest the stunning artistry here. The artwork for the Firekeeper’s daughter is bold, intuitive, and evocative of the beautiful imagery of mythology and lives passed. With Angeline Boulley’s cover I especially love the butterfly created with the convergence of the women’s faces. Of the bunch, this is definitely my favourite.

Daunis Fontaine, is an outcast both in her home town and the neighbouring Ojibwe reserve, because of her mixed race, as well as a scandal. Amongst these ever present issues our heroine must care for her ailing mother whilst protecting her community, after witnessing a startling murder. This mystery novel has received mixed reviews, so I have no idea what to expect, but am looking forward to it anyway.

Blog Roll, book reviews, Middle Grade, non-fiction

Book Review: Who Was P.T. Barnum? by Kirsten Anderson

Book Cover for Who Was P.T. Barnum? written by Kristen Anderson and part of the Who HQ Series

Who Was P.T. Barnum? by Kirsten Anderson, illustrated by Stephen Marchesi

I wonder how many people have been to a circus. I was excited about reading this one, as I’ve never been. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Circuses weren’t around much when I was a kid, and they were pricey compared to carnivals. I’d been to a few fairs in small towns, and loved the travelling amusement park that would set up all of its rickety rides and RVs for a week, once a year, in the local mall’s parking lot. You could revel in the rigged games and attractions, without having to spend an arm and a leg. When I imagine a circus, it seems like it would be a mashup of The Zoo and one of these carnival-type places, resulting in the parading around of animals (and humans), with a dressing of swindle.

Before there was Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, there was P.T. Barnum, informally called ‘Taylor.’ Who Was P.T. Barnum? affords us a look into the life of ‘The Great American Showman,’ as he was widely known – and likely named himself. Inheriting more than just his grandfather Phineas’ name, from a young age Taylor shared in his namesake’s trickster sense of humour, and fierce entrepreneurial spirit. He started his journey into business by selling refreshments in town and saved up the proceeds to purchase livestock at the age of 21. And so it went until he had a general store, sold lottery tickets, and even owned a politically focused newspaper named The Herald of Freedom.

Quote from P.T. Barnum: "If you hesitate, some bolder hand will stretch out before you and take the prize." with a yellow and red striped background to mimic a circus tent

As one of the original purveyors of fake news and media manipulation, Taylor had a penchant for advertising and knew how to drum up excitement for any idea he wanted to sell, whether it was based in reality or contrived. When a customer at his store tipped him off to a lucrative opportunity, it ignited what would be a lifelong endeavour into the exploitation of humans and animals alike, an undertaking that was all the more successful due to his talents of persuasion.

P.T. Barnum quote: "Without promotion, something terrible happens...nothing!" on a red and yellow striped background, to mimic a circus tent.

The impetus for this path was a woman named Joice Heth. Taylor was eager to ‘rent’ the enslaved, weak, and blind woman, who regaled audiences with songs and stories where she claimed to be 161-years old, and the former nanny of George Washington. He booked a theatre, advertised her amazing story all over the city, and wrote rave reviews for the show. With the exhibit’s newfound success, Taylor sent Heth on tour in New England, until her eventual death in 1836.

Newspaper advertisement for Barnum's first live exhibit, showcasing a 161-year old woman named Joice Heth
Newspaper Advertising the Joice Heth Show

Taylor had promised a curious doctor wanting to investigate her age, the rights to an autopsy of the miraculous woman. The merciless showman continued to profit from Heth’s death as he did her life, producing a public autopsy, which he thirstily charged admission to. It was proven that she was likely no more than 80 years old. Even though there was talk that Taylor had altered documents to assist with his trifling claims throughout the show’s run, he maintained that he knew nothing of her real age, and presented himself as shocked as anyone, when the news came out.

He made a handsome sum from these shenanigans, and off the back of Joice Heth, but more importantly to him, Taylor learned how a human exhibit could provide for his pocketbook. With this new model of entertainment being en vogue, from here he expanded to open The American Museum, which he eventually took on the road as the P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, before venturing under the big top in his 60s.

This HQ Series Biography explores some of Taylor’s more popular exhibits such as the Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, and the highly deceptive Feejee Mermaid attraction. We learn how Taylor would move on to politics and write an autobiography that, like all of his ventures, he adeptly marketed producing mammoth sales. He even spent time doing seminars, where he promoted his self-help book entitled: The Art of Money Getting. If this is sounding a little Trumpian to you, you’re not alone.

An image of the encased Feejee Mermaid, with a sign reading: P.T. Barnum's 'Fiji Mermaid' on loan from [sic] Boston Museum

Overall, this middle-grade history book provides a lot of fascinating details about the inventive and highly ambitious Taylor, even if it chooses to leave out some of his more unappealing attributes. The beautiful sketches throughout are the perfect accompaniment to his story and shine a spotlight on the whimsy of his special brand of entertainment. Regardless of all this, I will hold back and rate this one 3.5/5 peaches, in reverence to authenticity, or the lack thereof.

Have a look at the crochet circus tent bookmark that I was inspired to make from reading Who Is P.T. Barnum?

Crochet Bookmark of a red and yellow striped circus tent with a yellow flag on top
Advert for Peachy Books website and book review with a picture of a glass of whiskey on the rocks beside the front cover of Charles Bukowski's Ham on Rye that says: Happy Father's Day... Sort Of. If you can handle the dark, don't miss this book review and biting 'ode' to (some) Fathers.
Blog Roll, book reviews

Father’s Day Book Review – Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Listen to the read-a-loud for this review

“Fiction is an improvement on life.”

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Dedication in Ham On Rye: ‘For all the Fathers’

*This review has some spoilers*

There was a time in my life when thinking of Father’s Day would conjure up the prose of Charles Bukowski, as opposed to the angelic verse you find in the greeting card section of your local shop. It’s been a passing thought, more than once, that I would prefer a brand of greeting that was honest about the failings of the recipient, not some gilded version of what they could have been, had they been someone completely different. Why must those of us with the misfortune of having bad parents be tortured twice a year into pretending that our dear old dads taught us everything we know, or how our magnificent moms used to cut the crusts off our nut butter and organic preserve sandwiches, just right?

When I used to think of fathers – the ones that most of my classmates seemed to have, those on sitcoms, or even the one my mother had – I would get a little Bukowski-esque: bitter, resentful, and then after enough alcohol, apathetic. Father’s day was nothing but a week-long leadup to a depressing day with torturous reminders that everyone else seemed to get handed a protective and nurturing knight for their Dad, and instead, I would spend the rest of my life trying to heal from the gaping wounds left by mine. My father was a toxic mixture of Bukowski the drunk, and his strop-wielding maker, with some extra poison for good measure. This review, were he alive today, would be the closest thing to a tribute that he would ever receive.

I want to be clear, I hold nothing against those good people out there that were fortuitous enough to have such shining examples of greatness at the helm of their beginnings, at least in this stage of my journey. My bitterness surrounding the issue of these commemorative days has more to do with a system that inflates them into commercial spending sprees and does so by media manipulation and over-saturation throughout society. (Please note, I am now a cog in this machine, as of late, with my post about the Top 5 Books For Dad, so welcome to the height of hypocrisy). 

Of course, in the last decade this type of toxic marketing, amongst others, has become amplified via the monster that is social media, properly slaying nations and their children. This beast is a malevolent force that reminds a person what they are lacking, in glaring and constant ways, thus pushing insecurities deeper, whilst eroding confidence and drive. Sounds almost like what happened to Bukowski, except for him it was due to a different ogre: his father.

Life wasn’t easy for Henry, the literary stand-in of Bukowski’s creation, and agonist of this semi-autobiography, Ham on Rye. One doesn’t know exactly what parts of the book weren’t truly Bukowski’s story, but you don’t have to look too far into his other work to see the pain and trauma that he asserts came at the hands of his detestable, racist, and raunchy father. 

Henry was a young boy growing up in the depression era, a time which saw many families with fathers out of work, his being no exception. Poverty and malnutrition were commonplace in his neighbourhood, but his was the only father that simultaneously pretended they were rich.

We all came from depression families and most of us were ill-fed, yet we had grown up to be huge and strong. Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love and kindness from anybody.’

Henry’s father would see beans and weenies on his plate and boast of how they were eating the finest meal. He would rise early each morning and leave the house, only to return after the length of a typical workday, just so the neighbours wouldn’t know that he too was unemployed. He was larger than life.

‘I heard my father come in. He always slammed the door, walked heavily, and talked loudly. He was home. After a few moments the bedroom door opened. He was six feet two, a large man. Everything vanished, the chair I was sitting in, wallpaper, the walls, all of my thoughts. He was the dark covering the sun, the violence of him made everything else utterly disappear. He was all ears, nose, mouth, I couldn’t look at his eyes, there was only his red angry face.’

All of that emasculation, frustration, and delusion resulted in an angry tyrant who felt no weight about taking things out on his son. Playing with local ‘hooligans,’ writing stories, or the old standby: a failed attempt to remove every last blade of rogue grass missed with the mower; anything could result in Henry incurring his father’s strop, often 2-3 times a week.

Charles Bukowski Quote from Ham on Rye, with a backdrop of bottles on display at a bar: 'I felt even the sun belonged to my father, that I had no right to it because it was shining upon my father's house. I was like his roses, something that belonged to him and not to me...'

As this terrible man continued to treat Henry in these vile ways, while his mother just sat there agreeing with everything he said and calling him ‘Daddy,’ *cringe* I could feel my jaw clenching. I was reminded of the man we meet in the first chapter of the book, Henry’s alcoholic grandfather, and questioned what role he had to play in who his father had become. It is likely to have been considerable, as both his uncles were also alcoholics, and his aunt was estranged from the family. Shit rolls downhill, as they say.

“My father didn’t like people. He didn’t like me. “Children should be seen and not heard,” he told me.”

I became hopeful for a moment, with the appreciation his writing received from his fifth-grade teacher for an embellished paper that he had submitted about having attended a local visit from President Hoover. This gave Henry a sense of pride and satisfaction for the first time. He had a skill, with value. He had found currency, not only with his teacher but with the other students, even the bullies. But it wasn’t enough to last, and he was soon destitute once again.

Given Henry’s isolation from other children whilst growing up, and his needing to withstand his childhood within the confines of his mind, he acquired a propensity to daydream, and a survivour’s need of dissociation. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that he became the writer he did, and explains both his imagination and his inability to form real connections with others throughout his journey.

‘… since some people had told me that I was ugly, I always preferred shade to the sun, darkness to the light.’

Henry had a protective nature towards animals and other vulnerable beings in general, a quality that I’ve noticed in many others who have lived a life mired in trauma. He had an affinity for collecting strays and misfits. At school, the outcasts were drawn to him, and whether he liked it or not, he couldn’t shake them because he knew what it felt like to be cast aside. When he wasn’t able to sufficiently protect whatever sorry soul he was in defence of, he castigated himself for being a weakling.

‘He was so pitiful that I couldn’t tell him to get lost. He was like a mongrel dog, starved and kicked. Yet it didn’t make me feel good going around with him. But since I knew that mongrel dog feeling, I let him hang around.’

In 7th grade, he tried alcohol for the first time at a friend’s house. Life began for Henry that fateful day, as the clouds parted and the sun shone on his face from the heavens above; after 13 years he had finally found a way to feel good.

‘Never had I felt so good. It was better than masturbating. I went from barrel to barrel. It was magic. Why hadn’t someone told me? With this, life was great, a man was perfect, nothing could touch him.’

Except for his father and the strop, especially when he found out his son was partaking in an activity that he despised. After seeing the effects of alcohol on his father and brothers, Henry’s father wanted nothing to do with drunks, which no doubt made the drug all the more enticing to our rebellious antihero.

A violent and soul-crushing family life wasn’t all that Henry had to contend with, as he had hormonal issues that resulted in debilitating acne. The vivid descriptions of the medical procedures that he had to withstand, and the pain that he had to endure multiple times, for months, were hard to read. Other than the friend he eventually found in alcohol, there was no form of solace or saving grace for Henry throughout this story, save for a kind nurse that he never saw again once his invasive acne treatments were complete. I felt perpetually sad for him, increasingly so.

The beauty of healing through art was one of few tools that Henry availed himself of, as he spent his spare time recovering from his devastating acne by filling a notebook with the escapades of his hero and creation, Baron Von Himmlen.

‘The Baron went on doing magic things. Half the notebook was filled with Baron Von Himmlen. It made me feel good to write about the Baron. A man needed somebody. There wasn’t anybody around, so you had to makeup somebody, make him up to be like a man should be. It wasn’t make-believe or cheating. The other way was make-believe and cheating: living your life without a man like him around.’

I also empathised with his existential confrontation with God during those lonely days of healing. I’m sure religion and faith are laughable things when you are a young man suffering through the hardships of the depression-era, unloving and abusive parents, and trapped in absolute isolation. It is almost certain that one would feel forsaken.

‘All right, God, say that you are really there. You have put me in this fix. You want to test me. Suppose I test you? Suppose I say that You are not there. You’ve given me a supreme test with my parents and with these boils. I think that I have passed your test. I am tougher than You. If You will come down here right now, I will spit into Your face, if You have a face… I think you have been picking on me too much so I am asking You to come down here so I can put You to the test.’

The library was a saviour for Henry, as it has been for much struggling youth, myself included. He was thrilled by the possibility found in the words of others, and the healing that reading books can offer.

Charles Bukowski Quote from Ham on Rye: It all came rushing at me. One book led to the next...It was a joy. Words weren't dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could love without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.'

There came a point when Henry needed to forge his path, and find his own identity; one that wasn’t an extension of his father’s. He found that route through alcohol and a tough-guy persona. He was proud when his coach from middle school referred to him as one of the ‘bad guys,’ or when the girls were shocked by his brutish antics. At least he could be someone of his own making.

At times disgusting, and others hilarious, it was always interesting to read the locker room banter between the young lads, where Henry vacillated between victim and perpetrator, and they all, collectively, struggled to find out who they were, and where their place was in the hierarchy that is high school.

Bukowski pontificated on the insufferableness of the limited choices for a young and poor person making their way through school. How things are tailor-made to break one’s spirit, to better facilitate the transition and assimilation into the adult world, and I found myself in agreement.

‘The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.’

He was bitter and felt it unfair that he would have to work a dead-end job because he didn’t have the means to be properly educated to get a high-paying one. He claimed that his apathy and lack of drive were a direct result of his father’s desire to be rich, which in turn made him want to be a bum. Part of that is likely true, but another aspect could be that he made himself believe he didn’t want anything and became lazy so as not to be exceedingly disappointed by not being able to have these things afforded the lucky ones. A get them before they get me, mentality.

‘Now, I thought, pushing my cart along, I have this job. Is this to be it? No wonder men robbed banks. There were too many demeaning jobs. Why the hell wasn’t I a superior court judge or a concert pianist? Because it took training and training cost money. But I didn’t want to be anything anyhow. And I was certainly succeeding.’

I was pulling for Henry, I wanted him to have a loving and dependable person stand up for him in his early life. I think that would have made all the difference, and that he might not have remained stagnant in his development if there were someone there to show him about love. But alas, there was no guardian angel, and he just continued to exist. Sure, it was on his terms, as he bolted from home early and lived in rooming houses; struggling, boozing, and brawling. It wasn’t what I would call, even mildly, ‘healthy’ living, never mind whether it was truly enjoyable.

Even as he was adamant in the later chapters of the book that his life was how he wanted it – without the anchor of a job, a wife, or kids – he offers glimpses into the loneliness that shrouded him. There were parts of Ham on Rye when Henry would request the company of strangers, almost begging for them to join him in his drinking binges. Those were the times when I felt the saddest for him. His defeat, however, was laced with pride, as he appreciated himself too much to simply just end it. I found this excerpt to be a clear view into his bitterness that was forever gnawing at his soul. 

‘Sitting there drinking, I considered suicide, but I felt a strange fondness for my body, my life. Scarred as they were, they were mine. I would look into the dresser mirror and grin: if you’re going to go, you might as well take eight, or ten or twenty of them with you…’

After I had finished reading this tragedy of a broken life I was left with pity, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of melancholy for a man that was too numb to feel any of these things himself. His prose is sparse but concise and pointed. I agreed with some of his commentary on society and war, but I didn’t find his words to be overly profound, so my rating sits at 4 peaches for Ham On Rye. It should be noted that my original rating was 3.5, but after assessing the book and his words deeper for the writing of this review, I’ve bumped it up. I will read the other Henry Chinaski books, partly because I’m curious about how much of a trainwreck this guy will become, but also for the dark humour bestrewn within the writing.

As for me and my Bukowski-like bitterness, I’ve developed an appreciation of what Mums and Dads should be, which I’ve acquired through life with my chosen clan, post-family-from-hell. I would surely hide in a technology-free zone, on the second Sunday of every May and June for the rest of eternity, drowning myself in spirits and the caustic words of Bukowski had I not my son’s father to love, or my cherished position as Mummy to fill. The reading of this book has reminded me how I’d narrowly averted that boozy bullet. I am forever grateful to my guys for lifting me out of my previous vitriolic existence, and I can’t help but feel sorry for Bukowski for not having had the same chance. Who knows? He clearly and repeatedly stated throughout his works that this sort of saving was something he not only didn’t need but was repelled by. Instead, he seemed to find solace in the bottom of a bottle, and redemption through words on a page, so maybe in the end that was good enough for him.

Happy Father’s Day to the amazing Daddies out there, like my son’s. The world would be much darker (and ‘drunker’) without you.

A young Charles Bukowski with his parents and the poem he wrote for his father.

Here is the sudsy beer mug bookmark I made, inspired by Ham on Rye.

Crochet bookmark of a sudsy beer mug with a flaming tassel in yellow, orange and red, with a tree bark background, superimposed on an orange painted background
Image advertising the Where Is The Eiffel Tower Book review by Peachy Books with a crochet bookmark of the Tricolore Flag
book reviews, Middle Grade, non-fiction

Book Review: Where is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio

Book Cover for Where Is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio, from the Who HQ Series.

Where is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio, illustrated by Tim Foley

March 31, 1889, marked a triumphant day for France, as the ‘Tricolore,’ blue, white, and red flag was displayed atop the newly erected, bold, and beautiful Eiffel Tower, an astounding 934 feet in the air. This marvel of artistry and architecture would, at that time, hold the title of the world’s tallest structure. Gustave Eiffel was properly impressed by his tower and its distinct beauty, but its critics, however – and there were many – called it a ‘monstrosity,’ a ‘giant ugly smokestack.’

Gustave wasn’t the only one who appreciated this modern wonder, as others reveled in its great size and uniqueness, but unfortunately, there were also a great many who questioned what the iron thing even was. Some French people were so put off by it that they wrote letters to the editor protesting the tower. France was a country patterned with gorgeous, old stone buildings and historical monuments, and the new tower’s detractors felt it just didn’t fit in. Little did they know that the Eiffel Tower would go on to become one of the most famous landmarks in the world!

Image of the Eiffel Tower with a beautiful blue and cloudy sky as the backdrop
Eiffel Tower

Where Is the Eiffel Tower? is another installment of the lovely Who HQ series of books, that we have grown to love so much in my household. As an avid history buff at the ripe old age of seven, my son really appreciates this wonderful series, as do I. Among many other fascinating details about the Eiffel Tower and the European French Republic, this book shares with us the details of Gustave’s early life and his ascent into an engineer and inventive businessman.

As a clever young boy, he found himself bored by school, and his grades reflected his disinterest. With his parents owning a successful coal transporting company, he would much prefer to watch the ships loading and unloading coal at the canal port in Dijon, France. Eventually, he met the right teachers who helped him foster an appreciation for literature, history, and science, and his grades soared. It was at college that Gustave met his first true love: metal.

Gustave’s fondness for this revolutionary building material came with an abundance of curiosity, as he began to investigate how he could bend, shape, and use the element innovatively. After enrolling in engineering school, and working as an unpaid apprentice at his brother-in-law’s iron foundry to learn all he could, he went on to open his own company, the Société des Établissements Eiffel. His team consisted of engineers, architects, and designers, and from 1879 to 1883 they would work on their most famous project to that date, creating the metal framework inside the USA’s Statue of Liberty.

Photo depicting the Inner framework of the Statue of Liberty as constructed by Gustave Eiffels company
Inner Framework of the Statue of Liberty

After adding such an important element to the fabric of American society, Gustave went on to produce a structure equally as majestic for his homeland. The Eiffel Tower was introduced to the French people and the world, by providing the entry point to the Exposition Universelle, an internationally celebrated fair held in Paris that year, which hosted exhibits from all over the world. Some 61,000 exhibitors displayed products, artwork, and held performances of dance, music, and theatre. A few of the more popular American offerings were Thomas Edison’s electric lights, and tin-foil phonograph, Alexander Graham Bell’s line of telephones, and a Wild West show put on by Buffalo Bill.

The abundantly successful fair went on for three months, and after its completion, Paris officials called to have the Eiffel Tower removed. At once clever and determined, Gustave Eiffel was narrowly able to keep his tower a part of the city’s skyline. Where is the Eiffel Tower? lays out for us how his resourceful mind was able to save one of the world’s most iconic structures for millions of tourists and dilettantes to continue to enjoy more than a century later.

Not unlike other volumes in the Who HQ series, this informative book treats us to detailed sketches that depict the various buildings and sites discussed within, which helped to give this reader a well-rounded and visually enhanced perspective. The lattice ironwork and creative details that are a part of the Eiffel Tower’s construction were stunning.

Enjoy a short video of historical images of the tower:

Eiffel Tower Construction 1887-1889 Paris Photos by mycompasstv on YouTube

Take a look at the ‘Tricolore’ flag bookmark I was inclined to make upon reading Where is the Eiffel Tower? I think it makes an excellent addition to our growing collection!

So if architecture and history are your (peach) jam, and your littles love non-fiction books as much as my lad does, be sure to pick this one up, as you’re all sure to learn something, and have a great time doing so!

Flyer for the Peachy Books review of The Library with accompanying crochet bookmark inspired by the book.
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Listen to this review read-a-loud

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

My local library was my first true love, and will always remain the top place holder on my literary dance card. Growing up with a portal to unknown and enchanting worlds, only a ten-minute walk from my home was a blessing I took for granted in my early years, but is in no way lost on me now.

The nostalgia that Susan Orlean was able to elicit in The Library Book, transported me back in time to my childhood happy place. I would tear off on my bicycle and spend lazy summer days walking up and down the aisles, my eyes full of wonder at all there was to soak up about the world. It was an escape into better lands, ones filled with promise and hope, others offering solace in their dark authenticity. It was a refuge that I didn’t know I desperately needed at the time, and I’m so grateful for it when I look through the window of hindsight.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "Destroying a culture's books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never lived."

The Library Book’s focal point is the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown LA, as it chronicles the history, architecture, and most profoundly, the devastating fire that left more than 1 million books damaged or destroyed in its wake. April 29th of 2021 marked 35 years since this tragic disaster. The greatest loss to any public library in the United States history, the (first) LAPL fire was both a sad and fascinating story that begged to be told. Orlean offers us a true-crime retelling of the happenings on that fateful day in 1986, as we try to figure out why someone would do such a destructive thing to historical data, art, and literature that was as important to the citizens of LA as it was to humanity as a whole.

I enjoyed reading about the influential role libraries play in society, and how they are a hub for the young, new immigrants, and the homeless; where they can assist in education, and offer coordination for community resources. It was powerful to read about the City Librarian for Los Angeles, John Szabo, and how he had teamed up with local outreach programs, to assist his patrons, and the greater community.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "The Library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever."

Orlean had spent some time shadowing employees at the LAPL and shares with us the day-to-day of the motley cast of characters she encountered there. We get to know the people that served the position of head librarian over the years at the LAPL, learn about patrons, and community volunteers that lent their time and hearts to the teardown and restoration of the fire-damaged library. There was a long list of admirable philanthropists who donated their dollars to the costly and noble cause of its repair, celebrities included. Some participated in the Save The Books Telethon that aired to raise money for the replacement of the books that were lost in the blaze. If you’re interested, take five minutes to watch this spooky advertisement that was aired during the fundraiser.

I appreciated the intimate parallels Orlean shared, of her writing the book whilst her mother, the inspiration for her passion behind books and libraries, was fading away with dementia. I did, however, struggle with some of the excessive detail afforded some of the less interesting, fringe characters peppered throughout, and the more mundane events that were strung together to complete the timeline. At various intervals I had to really push myself to keep going. It could be that a local to LA might find these specifics more entertaining, but for this Canadian girl, it caused the story to drag on.

Overall, this was still worth the slow read for the shared library appreciation, fond memories, and some blogworthy quotes. And it was fun to web search all the LA libraries as they were mentioned along the way, just to add some visuals to the story. I love when a book has a game with it, haha. I’m not the only one that does this sort of thing, am I?

A 6.5 minute video recapping the fire:

Saving Central Library: Remembering the Fire and Recovery – LA Public Library

Here is the bookmark I made in honour of The Library Book:

Crochet bookmark of red books with flames on the front, inspired by the The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and made by Peachy Books.
Peachy Books Storytime Saturday Cover for Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith
Blog Roll, Middle Grade, Storytime

Peachy Books | Storytime Sunday | Read-a-Loud: Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith

Image of Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith with a blue alien crochet bookmark

Welcome to Peachy Books Storytime Sunday!

To hear the reading for Chapter 2 of Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith, please visit the Peachy Books YouTube Channel or click on the video below.

To read the review for Aliens on Vacation please click here.

My son and I are really enjoying the wacky adventures that our hero David (aka Scrub), is faced with at The Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast! The aliens within this engaging tale are so inspiring that I decided to make my own little alien, Zarnox, to vacation at our house, whilst we make our way through this hilarious story.

Take a look at these fun action shots of Zarnox having a blast in our backyard. It’s our favourite place to be, and it looks like this little cutie is fitting right in.

Enjoyed by children and parents alike, Clete Barrett Smith is an amazing author that is not to be missed. So don’t hesitate to get Aliens on Vacation, as well as the other books from this fabulous series, to share with your family today!