Friday, January 30, 2015

Sorry I Haven't Visited Lately But I'm Reading!

I can't chat long, I've got to get back to my books but wanted to let you know if you needed an excuse to plop down and read all weekend, it's never to late to join the A Winter's Respite Read-A-Thon. 
I'm taking advantage of it to work my way through several books I have going. I read and reviewed Mr. Popper's Penguins, which was on my Classics Club list, I've got a good start on Girl Runner for an upcoming TLC Book Tour and I'm making good progress (finally!) on Death Comes To Pemberly, for a readalong. A nasty allergic reaction one day, some extra hours at work, and a birthday have cut into my reading time some but I'm hoping to get things in order so that I can spend most of Sunday reading. I'll finish the books I've gotten started and then I think it's time for another nonfiction read. I'm thinking maybe Tolstoy's Purple Chair. Or not. Whatever strikes my fancy when the time comes!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
First Published 1938
Source: purchased our copy for my children

In the 1930's in small-town Stillwater, Mr. and Mrs. Popper and their two children are scraping by on the seasonal work Mr. Popper does painting and wallpapering houses. Mr. Popper is a man who dreams of the Antarctic and grand adventures and is content to spend his off season reading about that part of the world and following the explorations of Admiral Drake. He's even written to the Admiral who one evening surprises the family by addressing Mr. Popper on the radio, telling him that a gift is on it's way.

Shortly, a special delivery arrives on the Popper's doorstep - a penguin Mr. Popper names Captain Cook. Soon the refrigerator is fitted out as a home for Captain Cook and the well-behaved penguin becomes something of a local celebrity. When he becomes ill and it's clear he is lonely, Greta comes to join the family as well. Before long, ten eggs result in ten more penguins and the Popper's basement becomes a frozen home and playground for the feathered family. Just as the expense of keeping the penguins becomes more than the Poppers can manage, a solution presents itself and off go the Poppers and then penguins on a national theater tour.

My Thoughts:
In the 1930's in small town America, penguins were still such a novelty that it's entirely believable that people wouldn't even know what the creatures were. Even today, the penguin exhibit at the zoo is one of the most popular and I've often said I could go to the zoo just to sit and watch them.

Maybe that's why, even though this story is preposterous, it's also so charming. I love that Mr. Popper's dreams come true and that the practical Mrs. Popper succumbs to the birds' charms. The drawings are delightful and there's actually quite a lot to be learned from the book. Perhaps because it was already an older book when I first read it, it feels less dated to me than other childhood favorites I've reread and it's one I look forward to reading to my someday grandchildren.

That movie adaptation, starring Jim Carrey, however...what were they thinking?!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad #5) by   French
Published September 2014 by Viking Adult
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

My Thoughts:
In The Secret Place, French alternates chapters between Moran and Conway in the present (two loners who will have to learn to trust each other and work together) and Holly and her group of friends, both past and present, as they try desperately to hold onto the bonds of a friendship they were once certain was unbreakable. It's a tool that works well for the most part, often giving readers a peek into things the detectives have yet to discover; but it also made things just that much more confusing. Which may have been French's intent. Because if you tell me you figured out who killed Chris Harper and why before the end of the book, I'd be sorely tempted to call you a liar.

Liars, in fact abound, in The Secret Place. French's teenaged girls use lies to both hurt and protect and  only through manipulation and their own lies are the detectives likely to get anything useful out of them. All of those lies will slowly unravel but the damage has long since been done by the time they do.

My favorite things about this book? The dialect, the relationship  between Conway and Moran, and the Mackeys, both father and daughter. A couple of gripes: the slang occasionally felt like a bit too much and, at 452 pages, it felt about 25-30 pages too long. Some things just got a bit repetitive. But, again, since the present day portion of the book is all set within one long, draining day, perhaps French wanted readers to feel that same exhaustion, that feel of going no where. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because I really liked this book, despite a being left with a feeling of hopelessness for the characters.

If you're a fan of mysteries or have heard great things about French and want to read one of her books, start at the beginning of the series. I didn't do that. I started the series with the fourth book, Broken Harbor; this is my second in the series. Unlike other series, it's not essential to start with book one; there's not a continuum of events and not all of the characters carry through from book to book. But French does carry some characters from one book into later books (primarily moving a character that had been secondary into the forefront), and knowing the background would be helpful in understanding the interplay of the characters.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Life: It Goes On - January 25

Well, we've had a fun weekend! Miss H spent the night Friday night so that the two of us could have some girl time Saturday; brunch and a couple of movies. Then The Big Guy and I took off for Kansas City. He needed to pick up a work car and convinced the powers that be that it was cheaper to pay for us to have a fun evening on them than to have the car shipped up. So we both drove a car back up to Omaha. Okay, that part was not so much fun! We got back to Omaha in time to for an early birthday lunch for BG with the kids (well, Miss H wasn't actually eating with us; she had to work so we let her wait on us).

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I started listening to Life After Life on my drive back from Kansas City. Really loving it so far.

Watching: Yesterday Miss H and I watched "Grease" and "Freaky Friday." Today I'm watching "I Captured The Castle" and "Across The Universe." I'm hoping to talk BG into sopping up a lot of BBC America off Netflix this week since it will soon be gone from there and there is a lot there that I'd like to get caught up with.

Reading: I finally finished The Secret Place this morning while we were lounging around the hotel. I have no idea why I could not make myself sit down and read it; I really did like it quite a lot. Today I'm starting Girl Runner for an upcoming TLC Book review.

Making: Two vinaigrettes (raspberry balsamic and honey mustard), honey mustard chicken, and pork chops. I'm sure there must have been more. I know we ate every night this past week!

Planning: In the kitchen, more new recipes. On the organizing front, it's time to start the dining room. Plus, I'm ready to get back into "my" room; it continues to be a work in progress.

Grateful for: Making the right choice 32+ years ago. We tease BG about what a grumpy old man he's going to be but I can't imagine myself with anyone else. He makes me laugh and talks me down when I'm getting high strung.

Enjoying: BG let me spend an entire hour browsing in the four-story Barnes and Noble last night. In the end, I only came away with two books: The Autobiography of Malcolm X for book club and Frozen In Time which I found on clearance. Am I the only one who gets a little pain when you find a really great book stacked on the clearance shelf like some has been?

Feeling: Excited about all of the great books that have come into my house this week. Beside the two I got last night and Life After Life, which I picked up Friday for the trip, I also picked up Tell The Wolves I'm Home and Love and Friendship And Other Early Works by Jane Austen arrived on my doorstep. Glad the reading bug bit me again this weekend!

Looking forward to: A (hopefully) quiet week with lots of time to read and a mellower work week. BG's actual birthday is Wednesday but it will be a low-key affair on account of all of the celebrating this weekend. What are you looking forward to this week?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Published: 1967 by Atheneum
Source: I bought this copy for my kids almost twenty years ago

Publisher's Summary:
When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn't just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere -- to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother Jamie has money and thus can help her with a serious cash-flow problem, she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn't it? Claudia is determined to find out. Her quest leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue, and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

My Thoughts:
It was odd, as I started reading, to get my head wrapped around the demographic the book was aimed at and enjoy it as it's meant to be enjoyed. And it was hard to imagine, in these days, that two children could get away with living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had to remind myself that times were different then. It was good to remember a time when that could, perhaps, have happened. When research had to be done in a library. When there were no cell phones. When less than $30 might be enough to live on for a few days.

Claudia and Jamie had to work as a team, using each of their gifts and their brains to succeed in their grand adventure; wonderful lessons for people of all ages. When they finally arrive on Mrs. Frankweiler's doorstep, she helps them consider their adventure in a new, more adult way.
"The adventure is over. Everything gets over, and nothing is ever enough. Except the part you carry with you. It's the same as going on a vacation. Some people spend all their time on a vacation taking pictures so that when they get home they can show their friends evidence that they had a good time. They don't pause to let the vacation enter inside of them and take that home."
Konigsburg won the Newbery award for From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in 1968. I'm certain it had to do with her ability to write for her target audience without talking down to them.
"I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. An you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them."
Now I'm wondering if we still have A View From Saturday somewhere. I just might have to pick up another of Konigsburg's books - it's good to touch base with the writers who encouraged you to become a reader.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Death Comes To Pemberly Read Along

This is one of the reasons I love following A Novel Challenge - I wouldn't have found out about this read along otherwise. Death Comes To Pemberley is on my TBR Pile Challenge list so I was excited to find that A Bookish Girl will be hosting a read along starting today. I need to finish up The Secret Place still but then I'll move on to Death Comes to Pemberley in a couple of days. I'll have to work in some scheduled reviews along the way but I'm looking forward to reading my first P. D. James book. If you're interested in joining us, here's the plan:

The posts will be broken up into sections:
1st post is for the Prologue and Book One
2nd post is for Book Two
3rd post is for Book Three
4th post is for Book Four
5th post is for Book Five
6th post is for Book Six

 The book discussion/read along posts will have a summary of each section plus discussion questions to inspire you to get talking to me and one another about the book. The discussion will take place in the comment section of each part of the book's post. I am putting them up all at once because I know everyone reads at different paces so this way you can respond to each section after you have read it and it is fresh in your mind.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Life: It Goes On - January 18

Any one else starting to get so paranoid about the flu that's going around that you're becoming a hermit? Every little sniffle making you nervous? No? Just me? I'm so freaked out about it that when I was feeling a bit "off" the other night, I even missed a girls' night. So unlike me!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Besides the podcasts that have been filling my drive time, I've been listening to a lot of music lately. No new musical discoveries though.

Watching: "Downtown Abbey" is back! We are actually talking about cutting back on our cable package so there will be fewer choices on tv for me. There is so often nothing on to watch even with all of the channels we have and it's much too expensive for that to happen. I think I have finally convinced The Big Guy that we could actually just turn the tv off more often. I'm going to get so much more reading done! Or we will become Netflix addicts.

Reading: I am stuck. I've been reading Tana French's The Secret Place for almost a week. And I'm not even half way finished with it. The worst part is that it is really quite good. But I just can't make myself sit down and read right now.

Making: Cream of corn soup, Chinese lemon chicken, taco pie, peanut butter popcorn, turkey and the fixings, and (with the leftover turkey) turkey and rice soup. Today I'm pulling the cookbooks out again to find some other new recipes to try.

Planning: On finishing up my decluttering of the kitchen this week. I got waylaid in that process this weekend when I did some work on the front hallway. You wouldn't think a closet and a dresser would take so long. I need to get a shelf up in the closet to get it finished but that's just a matter of finding what I need in the basement.

Grateful for: The gorgeous weather we've been having. We have the door open today! It's weather breaks like this that make it possible to survive winter.

Enjoying: Time with all three of my kids this weekend.

Feeling: Productive - the pile to "donate" grows every day. Now to get it out of my house.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. We'll be discussing Rainbow Rowell's Landline. I'm eager to hear what everyone thought of this one; I'm anticipating some mixed feelings but that makes for great discussion.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Oh, Hey - It's Mini-Bloggiesta Time!

A.K.A. - the weekend when non-bloggers tune out. That's okay; I understand.

My weekend is pretty full - extra work during the week has backed things up and I'll be in to work in the morning for a few hours so there won't be much time to devote to the blog this weekend. is the perfect excuse to spend at least a few hours working to get things back under control around here. So my top goals will be the same as they always are: clean up my mailbox and clean up my reader. Without just marking everything read on both. If, by some odd chance, there is still time to do more, I'd really like to clean up my page tabs and labels. I'd love to add a catalog of all of the books I've read and reviewed during the next full Bloggiesta so I need to get ready for that.

And now I'm off to be productive. Or sleep. Whichever comes first.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Island Fog by John Vanderslice

Island Fog by John Vanderslice
Published: April 2014 by Lavender Ink
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Island Fog is a thematic, novel-length collection of stories, all set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. Nantucket as we know it began as an English settlement relatively early in the colonial period of the United States. In the heyday of its nineteenth century success as a whaling center, the island, for being as small as it is, was quite the cosmopolitan center. Sailors from across the globe mingled with a mixed local population of descendants of the original English settlers, black Americans, and Native Americans. Today too Nantucket is known as being especially open to visitors from around the world. When one travels there, one feels that one is no longer in the United States but in a culturally indistinct, in-between land, somehow equidistant from North America, the Caribbean, and Northern Europe.

Island Fog captures the physical, social, and political atmosphere of the island from both historical and contemporary perspectives. It is divided into two halves, with the first half containing five historical fictions and the latter half containing six contemporary ones. The first historical fiction is set in 1795, only a decade removed from the young America’s formalized independence from Britain, and the last historical fiction is set in 1920, one year after America’s passage of the infamous Volstead Act (prohibition). The middle three historical stories are set, respectively, in 1823, 1837, and 1846, the period when the whaling industry enjoyed its greatest profitability and the island its greatest wealth. The set of contemporary fictions begin in the late twentieth century and continue into the middle of the first decade of this century. Thus the stories of Island Fog bridge four centuries of Nantucket history.

My Thoughts:
In the both the historical and contemporary stories in this collection, Vanderslice does a fine job of using fictional characters and  Nantucket's history to explore a wide variety human experiences and themes including racism, religion, mental illness, sexuality, loss, marriage, and, heaven help us, cannibalism. In each of the stories, Vanderslice's characters come to unsettling realizations about their lives, realizations that leave the reader unsettled as well. There's a darkness to the stories that has stayed with me days after I finished reading them and a depth to the characters that made me want to learn more about them.

My own quibble with this book was that it was physically difficult to read - the binding was so tight it, I had to work to keep the book open to read it  and the writing was quite small. I get a little cranky when I have to break out the readers!

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. It was good for me to range out into short stories and this collection was stronger than most I've read. For more opinions on this book, check out the full tour.

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where he also serves as associate editor of Toad Suck Review magazine. His fiction, poetry, essays, and one-act plays have appeared in Seattle Review, Laurel Review, Sou’wester, Crazyhorse, Southern Humanities Review, 1966, Exquisite Corpse, and dozens of other journals. He has also published short stories in several fiction anthologies, including Appalachian Voice, Redacted Story, Chick for a Day, The Best of the First Line: Editors Picks 2002-2006, and Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers. His new book of short stories, Island Fog, published by Lavender Ink, is a linked collection, with every story set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Saving Grace by Jane Green
Published December 2014 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue. To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity. With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

My Thoughts:
Ever since I started blogging, I've been reading glowing things about Jane Green's books. When I was offered a chance to read this one, I didn't hesitate to yes, thinking it was about time for me to see what all of the fuss was about.

Fair disclosure: this type of women's fiction is not my usual fare. I think those of you who enjoy Ms. Green's work or who regularly read this type of story may really enjoy it. I had issues with it.

The publisher calls the book "riveting" and says it will have you on "the edge of your seat." But they've all but told you what's going to happen in the book in their own summary and Ms. Green foreshadows every later event early on in the book.  Do you know about the dramatic principle called "Chekov's gun?" Chekov said if there's a gun on the wall in the first chapter, by the second or third chapter it should be fired. If it's not, it shouldn't have been in the chapter. It does not mean that all of the guns that will later be fired must be included in the first chapter which is what I felt like Green did here. I would have liked to be surprised by the turns the book took. It seemed to me that Green might have held back some. As Grace begins to fall apart, I never felt that it that it was a mystery what was happening.

There's a lot going on in Saving Grace; it is definitely not a light, fluff piece. Green does a fine job of exploring mental illness - it's effect on families, the differences in the ways it is treated in different countries and the ways the perception of mental illness has changed over time. What hasn't changed, though, is the stigma associated with mental illness and it's that stigma that drives Grace's behavior throughout the book. It's her fear that drove a normal woman (albeit one with an abnormally abusive and demanding husband) to forget how normal she was and to forget her own strength. So, even while there were times I wanted to grab her and shake her, I couldn't give up on Grace.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life: It Goes On - January 11

You know, it felt kind of good to get back into something resembling a routine this week. We ate better, we got back to our walking routine, and I had time to read and get things done around the house. We've already been out walking this morning (and by "out," I mean to the YMCA). I can understand why so many like to get up and get their workouts in early; it's nice to have it out of the way and have the day to use the energy it give you. I'm still not getting up and working out before I go to work, though!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish listening to this season of "Serial" this week then I'm hoping to get to the library book sale to find some books to listen to for the rest of the week. I've listened to more music this week - lots of 80's alternative music, some classical stuff, and some angry young men rock.

Watching: Not everything I'd like to thanks to a pissing match between our cable carrier and the corporation that owns our local NBC affiliate. It's probably going to result in us looking for a new cable and internet carrier this week. What a pain!

Yesterday, Miss H came over to do laundry and she and I watched "Crazy Stupid Love." So many great laughs!

Reading: I read my first Jane Green book this week, her latest "Saving Grace." Midway through, I tweeted that I felt like it could have been much better. To which I received a response from Ms. Green. No doubt she felt like some schmuck like me had no business make that call and I did feel bad that she had seen it. But I stick with that opinion. My review will post this week.

Making: Pizza, beef enchiladas, chicken and noodles, chocolate chip cookies and prickly pear margaritas. The best thing that was made in my kitchen this week wasn't made by me, though. Mini-me and his girlfriend came out Friday night and cooked tamales that they'd put together earlier. Delicious!

Planning: On finishing up my kitchen sorting this week. I'd like to free up enough space to do a little reorganizing but I'm not sure that will happen until I get our new bar area set up later this spring. Then I'm on to the dining room.

Grateful for: Time with each of my kids this week.

Enjoying: I got to have lunch with two friends this week, one of whom I haven't seen in a couple of years. We all used to work together and I miss seeing them every day. Time with old friends is good for the soul.

Feeling: Happy today - the sun is shining, the temperatures are tolerable today, and I'm kicking butt around the house. Life is good!

Looking forward to: Drinks with girlfriends this week. Some poor bartender will have to put up with us for several hours! What are you looking forward to this week?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fairy Tale Friday - This And That

Easing back into Fairy Tale Fridays for 2015 with a few bits of fairy tale news:

Congratulations to Marina Warner, professor of English and creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London, who was recently knighted for services to higher education and literary scholarship. Did you even know you could be knighted for that? Dame Marina is best known, to me at least, as kind of a fairy tale goddess. Lady knows her stuff and, apparently, even the Queen is impressed!

Do you know about the new live-action Disney adaptation of "Cinderella?' I've got my concerns (so many disappointing fairy tale
adaptations recently) and it is Disney so I think we can safely assume that all of the really awful bits will be left out so as not to scar the children (never good for them to watch young women chop of bits of their feet to fit into shoes that don't even belong to them). But...Kenneth Branagh has directed it and I do adore him. So maybe. Here's what he has to say about Cinderella:
I think that she learns to turn the other cheek with strength. She has no sense of self-pity, no sense of being a victim. She makes her own choices, She doesn’t indulge in her own pain or hardships. She looks at the world with compassion. I find her such good company because she’s so un-showy, and yet she’s so charismatic. I think she really knows herself.
The movie comes out March 13, 2015. I wonder if I  can talk my ten-year-old great-niece into taking me to it?

Speaking of fairy tale movies, have any of you seen "Into The
Woods" yet? I was kinda, sorta hoping I could talk the family into going to it the weekend after Christmas but we were hard pressed to get done what we traditionally do let alone add a movie to the mix. Reviews are generally pretty good, even by those who are diehard fans of the play. Still hoping to get to see it soon; I think it needs to be seen on the big screen.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Published November 2012 by Free Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

My Thoughts: 
This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for over two years, despite the fact that I told the publisher when I accepted it that it sounded "fascinating." Despite the fact that I've read several reviews since then that confirmed that it is, in fact, fascinating.

Why did I finally pick it up? Because I was looking for something I thought would be a quick read at the end of the year so that I could start 2015 with a new book. Not because I thought it would be fascinating but because I thought I could blow through it. Not really fair to any book. Fortunately, this book demanded that I not just blow through it.

The publisher's summary makes it sound as if Ms. Cahalan just woke up one morning unable to move or speak. In fact, her first indication that anything was amiss was the day she notice two spots on her arm she assumed were bedbug bites. She instantly became obsessed with ridding her apartment of bedbugs despite there being no evidence that she had bedbugs. Over the next few weeks, her symptoms began to escalate and she ceased to be able to function normally. Despite an inability to focus, extreme emotional highs and lows, and some hallucinatory episodes, every test she had, every doctor she saw told Cahalan that she was "normal."

Is it normal for a twenty-four-year-old to have to be watched over by her parents and boyfriend because she has become so unstable? Is it normal for a young woman to be hearing things? Is it normal for someone's personality to rapidly change? Cahalan's family and friends knew things were not normal but there seemed to be no answer as to why. Even after she began to have seizures.

With all of the advances in medicine, with the ability to share information greater than ever, it always amazes me how often doctors are unable to correctly diagnose patients. To be far, Cahalan's true diagnosis was relatively newly discovered and required experimental treatment. But it seemed that her doctors were entirely too quick to blame mental illness when the first tests couldn't find a physical problem. Cahalan's condition had progressed to the point where she might not have been healed had not just the right doctor become involved in her case. She knows that had she been any where else in the country when she became ill, she might not never have recovered or even died.

Brain On Fire was the perfect blend, for me, of science and personal story. Cahalan has developed much of the book from videos taken in the hospital, her parents' diaries, her own diaries from that time, and the recollections of family and friends because she recalls almost nothing from her time in the hospital. She also gives the medical explanation as to why she was misdiagnosed, how her brain turned on her, and how she was finally treated that lead to her cure. It truly is fascinating reading.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Joy Street by Laura Foley

Joy Street by Laura Foley
Published July 2014 by Headmistress Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Each poem in this radiantly plainspoken collection offers subtle and penetrating observations that swell to a rich tapestry of ordinary life, beheld from a stance of grace and buoyancy. Starting with intimations of desire in childhood, these poems travel through ordinary domestic scenes to the blessing of a maturity in which the narrator, still embracing desire and wild promise, thrives in the midst of life's darker gifts. This collection is truly a joy to read. It puts to shame those of us who walk through our days with "the din of loneliness," ignoring life's many invitations for bliss.

My Thoughts:
I'm not sure that qualifies as a publisher's summary; it's certainly more of a glowing review the publisher wrote to convince readers of poetry to choose this slim volume. So let's just see how it compares to what I thought of the collection:

1. Plainspoken - Very true. I was never left wondering what it was Foley was trying to convey.

2. Rich tapestry - At just 33 pages, with most poems not more than a stanza, I'd be hard pressed to call this collection a "rich tapestry." There's just not enough here for me to feel that way about it.

3. Subtle and penetrating - This one's a toss up - there are some poems that definitely look deeply into Foley's life but to say that they are subtle seems to contradict #1. This is, after all, a collection which contains the poem "Queer" in which Foley announces (discovers?) quite plainly that she is gay.

Laura Foley
I very much enjoyed Foley's style and her exploration of a new direction in her life following the death of her husband, her joy in finding this new love, the pleasure she takes in her new home, and the reality of explaining this choice to others.
I eye-roll Aunt Lizzie, who can't see me over the phone, tell her I'm dating a woman now, but at ninety she's adrift in uncharted seas, till i say we may marry - and she crests the wave, her kind old voice soothing: Oh, but Laura, you're still attractive to men, grasping the rudder with practiced hands.
This is the first collection of poems I've read that read that included so many narrative poems and I quite liked that. They feel very much like Foley just sat down and jotted some thoughts about life, very organic. It is, I think, the kind of poetry I'd enjoy writing myself if I were to do that. Who knows? Foley didn't start writing poetry until her forties. There may be hope for me yet!

Thanks to TLC for introducing me to a new poet. For more opinions about Joy Street, check out the full tour.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Life: It Goes On - January 6

Mini-me was out for the day on Sunday and things just don't get done when he's around (like this post). We tend to spend a lot of time talking, watching movies, and eating when he's here. This week we watched "Moonstruck" so we could show him that, once upon a time, Nicholas Cage could act.

The Christmas decorations are down and the cats are not happy that the lovely tree we'd put up just for them to lounge under and play with it gone. I always have mixed feelings about taking everything down. I'm definitely tired of the excess but it is pretty and it always looks so bare once it's down. I'm letting it be blank for a few days so I can ponder different things I might try. How do you feel about taking down the decorations?

This Week I'm:
Serial: the story of the murder of Hae Min
Lee and the conviction of Adnan Syed

Listening To: The "Serial" podcast. If you like the shows like 48 Hours and Dateline, this just might be for you. I'm completely sucked in after four episodes.

Watching: New Year's Eve we saw "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. The Big Guy and I really liked it but our friend felt like it didn't need to be on the big screen.

Reading: I'm switching back and forth between John Vanderslice's Island Fog and Jane Green's Saving Grace. Can you believe I have never read anything by Jane Green before?

Making: This past week we largely used leftovers up so nothing fancy coming out of our kitchen.

Planning: Still tweaking plans for our basement bar area and for "my" room. I'm also putting into motion a year-long decluttering plan with a room by room monthly battle plan. January is the kitchen. BG and I almost came to blows tonight when I insisted that we had to get rid of two coffee mugs because we got two new mugs for Christmas. This year is going to be an uphill battle!

Grateful for: Heaters. And fuzzy slippers. And scarves. Baby, it's cold outside!

Enjoying: The possibilities that a new year always seems to bring.

Inspired by: Melissa and The Inspired Home. Nothing too revolutionary but a lot of ideas coming together that I know will work for me with the tools to make it happen. I've already got a bag of kitchen things ready to go to Miss H!

Looking forward to: A quiet week with lots of time for the Bout of Books read-a-thon.

Bout of Books 12

After the hubbub of the holidays, I'm giving myself permission to just relax this week.
Therefore, Bout of Books Read-a-Thon. 
From The Bout of Books blog:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 5th and runs through Sunday, January 11th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 12 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.

First up, Island Fog by John Vanderslice. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Published March 2004 by Gale Group
Source: Bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
The Time Traveler's Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals--steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

My Thoughts:
Four years ago I read Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry (my review) and, while I found much to like about the book, I was left wondering "do I bother with The Time Traveler's Wife?" But I had it on my shelves already and, because it is so beloved by so many, I decided to add it to my 2014 TBR Challenge list of books. Even then I put it off to the very end of the year.

Why???? Oh yeah...time travel. A subject I've always shied away from. Until 2014 when two of my favorite books involved time travel.

When I mentioned in a December post that it was taking me a long time to read this book, many of you commented that it's a book I needed to make sure to take my time with and be focused on. So very true. It turns out to have been a good thing that I didn't have the time to blow through this book; it's a book that demands that you pay attention. And to really think. Because Niffenegger gives readers a whole new way to think about time travel. What if you really couldn't change anything by going back in time? What if you couldn't control time travel? What if someone moved back and forth in time continually?

Even though the time travel piece of this story is key to the entire novel, The Time Traveler's Wife is, at its heart, a love story.  Not just the love of a man and a woman but love of family and the pain that love can create. Niffenegger's love story is, in fact, filled with pain but also the redemptive power of love. And there is Clare. As much as I came to care about Henry, it was Clare who carried the story for me.