Book Review: Carrying Albert Home – Homer Hickam

9780062325914Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Publisher:  HarperCollins
Release Date:  
13 October 2015
Rating:  
5/5  (or a billion out of five)
Synopsis:  

Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam (the father of the author) were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.

Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she raised in the only bathroom in the house. When Albert scared Homer by grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or that alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do: Carry Albert home.

Carrying Albert Home is the funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic tale of a young couple and a special alligator on a crazy 1,000-mile adventure. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking tale is ultimately a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.

Every now and again a book comes my way that I just want to shove at everyone and scream “READ THIS!  READ IT NOW!”  Carrying Albert Home is one of those books.  It arrived on my doorstep (how it fit through the mail slot on my door is beyond me!) and I popped it on my shelf to look at later.  Promptly forgot it for a week (hey, I’ve got a lot on) and picked it up at random one sunny day and got sucked in immediately.  I even put aside all of my podcasts to read this one, and that says a lot!

By far, the star of this book for me was Albert, the alligator.  To be able to build such a strong character that can’t talk or do or be anything outside his own animal-ness is an amazing feat which Hickam has done very well.  I loved Albert’s little yeah-yeah-yeah sounds whenever he got excited–honestly, I giggled out loud every time just picturing it.  I cared for all of the characters, even Elsie, but I was seriously invested in Albert.  A wedding gift from Elsie’s first love, Buddy Ebsen, Albert is a point of contention between Elsie and her husband, Homer.

Elsie and Homer are likable in their own ways.  While selfish and brash, Elsie has pluck and she’s adventurous which I greatly admired and enjoyed.  She knows what she wants and she does it–plain and simple.  Homer, on the other hand, is just as strong of a character but in a much softer, kinder way.  His aim is simple–keep Elsie happy and continue be a coal miner (sans Albert).

All of the minor characters are great too–some famous, some otherwise–and they’re all brilliantly done.  I didn’t feel like the famous characters, Buddy Ebsen, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck (to name a few) were overdone or were at all cheesy… a hard balance to achieve.

And then there’s the rooster… there for no apparent reason other than he wants to be.

The plot of Carrying Albert Home should be simple–Homer and Elsie travel from a small coal mining town in West Virginia to Florida to release Albert back into the wild.  With several scrapes, mini-adventures and distractions that present themselves, what starts off as a two week trip turns into an odyssey not too unlike Homer’s Odyssey.  There are gangsters, bank robberies, baseball teams, ship wrecks and kidnappings to contend with before the touching and heartbreaking end.  I won’t lie, I found myself sobbing when I finished this book.  It ended way too soon.

Carrying Albert Home… I don’t think there are more words that I can say about this one–it really is a book everyone should read, if for no other reason than for a good laugh.  There are many of those for sure.

steph2

Holiday Reading… Help!

I have a problem.

A book problem.

N and I are heading off to Seville soon, and I haven’t put together a bunch of books to read.  Normally by now I’d have a list and a ‘collection’ on my Kindle all ready to go.

This year?  Nada.  I’ve got some interesting review books that’ve been sent my way but, well, we’re flying Easyjet/Ryanair and I’m pretty sure I’d have to pay to use my oxygen mask in an emergency, so I ideally would rather take my Kindle.

And it’s not that my Kindle isn’t loaded… oh no… I’ve got a lot of books on there.  But the problem is that I’ve got so many I’m slightly overwhelmed.  I know the only one I plan on definitely reading is Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?: (And Other Concerns).  Other than that?

Totally stumped.

So I need your help… give me your best summer reads!

steph2

Humans of Central Appalachia

I think it’s fair to say I’ve been fairly busy lately.  Between a nightmare inducing time at work, dealing with visa stuff, cranking out the odd book review, bingeing on brilliant podcasts and books as well as coordinating everyday life so we don’t go without food and clean clothes, I’ve been spending my time doing something pretty darn interesting.  Since the end of June, I’ve been a part of an amazing community which has grown by leaps and bounds in a matter of weeks.

10514414_699806353485719_5282005959972094272_oThe Humans of Central Appalachia project was started only back in May of this year, but Malcolm Wilson’s photography and the words of his subjects have attracted (now) over 15,000 likes on their Facebook page.  Malcolm and his wife run the project in their spare time, gathering interviews and photos largely at festivals and events where they can meet with several people at one time.

I first came across HOCA thanks to the Kentucky for Kentucky blog (also a great project) and was instantly attracted to Malcolm’s photography style.  It was only after spending an hour or so reading through every post from the very beginning that I realised I was hooked.  I also wanted to see if I could be involved in some way.  Luckily for me, HOCA put out a call for volunteers and I’m now a ‘Word Wrangler’… each week I transcribe anywhere from one to five interviews ranging in length from a few minutes to 30.  And I absolutely love it.  I get the chance to hear amazing stories from normal people, a variety of viewpoints on Appalachian culture.

Let me just say… I’m not from Appalachia.  But I am from Kentucky and I do identify with Appalachian culture.  I went to school in the foothills of Appalachia (Berea College) and those four years were some of the best of my life.   I wear my Kentucky necklace every single day with pride. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to moving back to the region.

Paul Kuczko... One of my favourite pieces to transcribe so far! Click the photo to read his story.

Paul Kuczko… One of my favourite pieces to transcribe so far! Click the photo to read his story.

I think Appalachia needs more positive projects like HOCA to help combat all of the negative stereotypes about the region.  Living over here in London, I can tell you that even just telling people I’m from Kentucky invites a whole slew of assumptions.  Things I’ve heard or been asked (by complete strangers, clients etc) include:

  • Kentucky?  Oh, like the fried chicken.
  • Do you play the banjo?
  • You’ve got all of your teeth!
  • So when you go home do you still wear shoes?
  • But you haven’t got a heavy (Southern) accent!

I wish I was making all of that up, but they’re all true.  If that’s the way outsiders see Kentuckians (and I’m from a big city) I can only imagine what they might say if I told them I was from a small town in Central Appalachia.  I think the stereotypes surrounding Appalachia are just as much of a problem as the economy, drugs/alcohol and decline of coal mining.  I’m proud to be part of something that’s looking to change all of that, one person at a time.

Hailey Mullins... also a favourite. As a bonus, you get to hear her voice at the end of the Inside Appalachia podcast (see below for link).

Hailey Mullins… also a favourite. As a bonus, you get to hear her voice at the end of the Inside Appalachia podcast (see below for link).

If you want to know more about the Humans of Central Appalachia project or want to check out some of their amazing photos and stories, check out their Facebook page.  Also, recently (and excitingly!) one of my favourite podcasts, NPR’s Inside Appalachia, interviewed Malcom about HOCA for an episode called ‘What Happens When Strangers With Cameras Travel Inside Appalachia‘.  The whole episode is just under an hour and is insanely interesting and touches on the recent VICE photo essay called ‘Two Days in Appalachia’ and the controversy surrounding the piece.  It’s definitely worth a listen (as are the other episodes).  Check out the full episode here or subscribe and download the episode via your podcast app of choice.

steph2

Photos from Humans of Central Appalachia used with permission. 

July 2015 Book Wrap Up

Hullo, hullo!!

Bit more productive on the book front this past month for a total of four books finished. I did, to be fair, start a few others that I just couldn’t get into, but that’s the way it goes!

July BQ

Books Read:  4

Currently Reading:  The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

steph2

Dark Place to Hide Blog Tour & Review

Exciting times, folks!  I haven’t been part of a blog tour in ages so when AJ Waines got in touch to see if I’d be interesting in reviewing her newest book, Dark Place to Hide, as part of her tour, I of course jumped at the chance!

You’ll probably remember AJ Waines from her guest post a few years back and from my review of her brilliant novel, The Evil Beneath.  Well she’s back again with another super suspenseful read for all you thriller junkies out there.

DARKLargeEBook

Dark Place to Hide
Publisher:  Self-published
Release Date:  30 July 2015 (that’s today, people!!!)
Rating:  4.5/5
Source: Sent over by the author
Synopsis:  
She’s trying to tell you – if only you’d listen…

About to break the news to his wife, Diane, that he’s infertile, criminology expert, Harper Penn, gets a call to say she’s been rushed to hospital with a miscarriage. Five days later, when Diane fails to return from the village shop, police think she must have taken off with a secret lover, but Harper is convinced the online messages are not from her.

In the same Hampshire village, plucky seven-year-old Clara has retreated into a make-believe world after an accident. Then she, too, goes missing.

As Harper sets out on a desperate quest to find them both, he has no idea what he’s up against. Could the threat be closer than he thinks? And is there a hidden message in Clara’s fairy tales?

DARK PLACE TO HIDE is a chilling psychological mystery with a cold-blooded deviant lurking at the core.

As I’ve said in the past, Waines is good at what she does.  Her characters are well thought out from their virtues to their deepest flaws.  In Dark Place to Hide, our hero Harper is a bit of an anti-hero at times.  He’s searching for his missing wife and a missing child from the village, and, while it’s obvious that he himself has done nothing nefarious, he’s still got some issues.  There’s the borderline alcoholism (very ‘in’ with novels this season!) and his anger issues to contend with and, at times, he made me slightly nervous.  Despite that, he’s the closest thing to a hero we get and he does pay off in that department.

I felt like out of all of the characters, Diane could have been a bit more fleshed out.  True, she spends much of the book in captivity so the glimpses we do get of her are mostly flashbacks.  Sadly to me she came across as slightly ‘baby crazy’ and not much else.  I didn’t honestly know if this was a Gone Girl type scenario here and she was the reason seven year old Clara had gone missing as well… I had no idea what to think about Diane as I didn’t have as much to go off of.  All I know is that she could do with some nicer colleagues!

Dark Place to Hide was a bit of a doozy with an ending that came straight from left field.  There were moments throughout the book where I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what was going on, only to find out pages later that I was totally wrong.  That’s what I look for in a good mystery and Waines has certainly aced that!

Dark Place to Hide is available today from Amazon UK.

And make sure you check out some of the other stops on the Dark Place to Hide blog tour!

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AJWainesleftAJ Waines was a Psychotherapist for fifteen years, during which time she worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, giving her a rare insight into abnormal psychology. She is now a full-time novelist with an Agent and has publishing deals in France and Germany (Random House). Both her debut novels, The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train have been Number One in ‘Murder’ and ‘Psychological Thrillers’ in the UK Kindle Charts. Girl on a Train has also been a Number One Bestseller in the entire Kindle Chart in Australia. In 2015, she was ranked in the Top 100 UK authors on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

Her new psychological thriller, Dark Place to Hide, is released on July 30, 2015 – you can pre-order it HERE.

Alison lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

New Beginnings…

Sometimes in life the stars seem to align and things just happen, or you’re in the right place at the right time talking to the right person.  Sometimes, all of the pain, sweat and sleepless nights pay off.  Sometimes serendipity really is a thing.

That’s been my life the past few weeks.  Or more to the point our lives.

All of the job rejections, the unhappiness with city life, the terrible homesickness that’s only gotten worse over the years… they’ve all neatly lined up, one after the other and led us to where we are now… or where we will be in several months.

We’re moving to Virginia.

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Neither did we.

Like I said, sometimes things just fall into place and the universe (finally) conspires to give you a bit of a helping hand and nudge into a new, exciting direction. N and I are about to embark on a new adventure… an adventure that, we think, is going to pretty much change everything and open up a whole new world of possibilities for both of us.

Moving back to the USA has always been an option, an idea saved for musing upon on a sleepless night.  We just didn’t think it would happen this way with such an amazing opportunity.  We always envisioned it would involve Kentucky, my family helping out and having to move back in with my grandparents for a time.  Instead, it’s scarier than that–we’ll be on our own.  It’s a terrifying thought but not terrifying enough to stop us.

There aren’t any set moving dates yet.  We’re at the mercy of the US visa and immigration system (which I’m sure you’ll get many angsty posts about) so it could either be super quick or super long.  We’re setting our sights on the end of September or early October as a benchmark.

Watch this space!

steph2

June 2015 Book Wrap Up

One is the loneliest number for sure.

I read a single, solitary book this month.

I’m almost disappointed in myself except for the fact that I know just how much crap is going on in my life right now.  So you know what?

Whatever.  I read a book.

6289283Born to Run:  A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christopher McDougall