Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days At Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Read by Kirsten Potter
Published March 2014 by Gale Group
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several of those caregivers faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

My Thoughts:
Do you ever watch Dateline? If you do, you're familiar with the way they present a story in such a way that you are absolutely certain you know what happened and who the bad guy is...and then they present the contradictory evidence and you have no idea what the truth is.

I got that same feeling as I listened to Five Days At Memorial.

Fink begins by bringing readers up to speed with New Orlean's history of flooding and the measures that could have been, but weren't, put in place to prevent future disasters. And then she brings on the disaster. Fink wants readers to know the people who were trapped in Memorial Hospital when Katrina came ashore; more importantly, she wants us to care. Which makes it all the more appalling when the generators stop working. When communications with possible rescuers go to hell. When it becomes so hot inside the building that employees and families (who took shelter at the hospital) are forced to use furniture to break out windows. Medications ran low. Moving patients to the helipad or the parking garage ramp that became a boat rescue landing space was exhausting; and because patients had to be ready to go when rescue arrived, they often spent hours outside. Family members were called into action to help carry patients to rescue and fan those who were bed ridden. Stairwells were dark, floors became slick with the humidity. Difficult decisions had to be made as to who would be rescued first; then, as the situation changed, those decisions were changed. Patients died. And administrators, doctors, and nurses talked about easing patients' pain.

On the fifth day, some medical professionals gave nine patients high doses of medication to relieve their suffering. All nine of those patients died.

When I'd heard about those patients all those years ago, I felt certain that if the choice had been made to euthanize patients, it was the right choice given the dire circumstances and the patients' conditions. By the time those patients died in the book, I wasn't so sure. After all, on day five, even as the patients were being given the medications, mass evacuation was beginning. In the second half of the book, Fink explores the aftermath of the disaster at Memorial that culminated in the arrest of Dr. Anna Pou and two nurses for second degree murder. And here is where your mind really becomes muddled. The investigators, coroners, and prosecutors make valid cases for charging some of the caregivers with murder. But their motives are suspect and their handling of the cases are mangled. Public opinion among the medical community and those who went through Katrina was decidedly biased.

There's no question that there is plenty of blame to go around for all of the deaths that happened with Katrina. The government had known for eighty years that there were things that could, and should, be done to shore up the levee system. Tenet  Healthcare, owner of Memorial Hospital, did not have a proper emergency plan, hadn't moved generators to higher ground, and hadn't even insured that their helipad was safe for landing. The evacuation of the areas impacted was badly mishandled and communication was horrific.

In the end, Fink wants readers to understand that the measures in place when Katrina struck were woefully lacking, from the levees to the power supply to the evacuation procedures to the plan for how to allocate limited supplies in the event of a major crisis. What's more, in the Epilogue Fink details time she spent in Bellevue Hospital in New York when Super Storm Sandy flooding New York City and finds that some of the same problems still existed years later.

As much as I really enjoyed Potter's reading, I often wished that I had been reading this one in print so I could keep track of the players better and so I could highlight the heck out of it. I saw Fink talking about what happened at Memorial a few years ago and knew I was going to love her writing. I was right. This book brings up important questions, it made me think. It made me think that I may need to buy a copy of this book to read again. It was that good.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Life: It Goes On - November 25

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and are getting to enjoy a four-day weekend. Ours has been fun; but, like all weekends, I could use one more day!

It's a good thing I had been reading voraciously up until this week so I had some reviews to post because this week I have done very little reading. I don't anticipate doing much today, either. It's not even that I'm not enjoying the books I'm reading and listening to; I am. It's just that my focus has been everywhere else. And I do mean everywhere. Which means that nothing has gotten my full attention. My novel for NaNoWriMo? I'm about 29,000 words behind. I've spent a fair amount of time considering how I will decorate for winter/Christmas but only yesterday did I take down the fall/Thanksgiving decor and pull up the Christmas bins.

One of the things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving is that we have this extra week between now and the next holidays. I need it!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'll finally be finishing Five Days At Memorial today. It's very well read and an incredible piece of journalism.

Watched: Football, volleyball, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, more football, and, last night I stayed up late watching My Cousin Vinny. I'm always blown away by Marisa Tomei's performance in that movie.

Read: Still working my way through Heirs of the Founders and What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.

Made: Two of the best looking pumpkin pies I've ever made, gingerbread with golden raisins, and chocolate chip cookies. I'm sure I made something healthy and wholesome for actual meals but I can't remember what that might have been.

Enjoyed: Spending time with family, especially The Princess, who kept us all entertained. Thursday she "helped" her grandma by picking up the potato peels Grandma was putting on the table and putting them into a pan. You know, the pan Grandma would have been putting the peels into if The Princess wasn't there "helping!" She was so proud of herself.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting the Christmas/winter decorations put up this week.

Thinking About: Traditions. We had a much smaller group for Thanksgiving this year, just 11 adults. But we still carried on the traditions. The guys went off Thursday afternoon (which was gorgeous, btw) to kick field goals and the ladies went off and did some damage on Black Friday. It wasn't quite the same but it still feels good to keep things going.

Feeling: Like I should set aside that novel - there's no way I'm getting to 50,000 words in the next week and I've already written more than I've ever written before so it seems pointless to continue on with it. NaNoWriMo is a great idea but it would work a lot better for me if it were in, say, February, when there's not so much going on.

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

Question of the week: I've been looking at ways lately to lighten up and one of the ways is to do less decorating for the holidays, a trend I've seen on blogs and Instagram. I'm going to try it this year but I'm a little afraid it won't feel so much like Christmas. Are you part of that less-is-fine camp or are  you still looking forward to getting your full festive on?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Whiskey In A Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me about Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon

Whiskey In A Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me about Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon
Narrated by Reese Witherspoon
Published September 2018 by Touchstone
Source: audiobook checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Reese Witherspoon’s grandmother Dorothea always said that a combination of beauty and strength made southern women “whiskey in a teacup.” We may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside we’re strong and fiery.

Reese’s southern heritage informs her whole life, and she loves sharing the joys of southern living with practically everyone she meets. She takes the South wherever she goes with bluegrass, big holiday parties, and plenty of Dorothea’s fried chicken. It’s reflected in how she entertains, decorates her home, and makes holidays special for her kids—not to mention how she talks, dances, and does her hair (in these pages, you will learn Reese’s fail-proof, only slightly insane hot-roller technique). Reese loves sharing Dorothea’s most delicious recipes as well as her favorite southern traditions, from midnight barn parties to backyard bridal showers, magical Christmas mornings to rollicking honky-tonks.

It’s easy to bring a little bit of Reese’s world into your home, no matter where you live. After all, there’s a southern side to every place in the world, right?

My Thoughts:
Guys, do not check out the audiobook copy of this book from your local library. Nothing against Witherspoon's narration (well, sort of, but more on that later); but you're missing all of the recipes, tips, and pictures. There is a pdf that includes all of these things if you've bought the audiobook, but I didn't and I think it took away from the book. I really don't even know why the library carries the book on audio, given how much you lose by listening.

Now, back to that narration. I love, love Reese Witherspoon. She's a woman who has managed to have a successful acting career for almost 30 years, she's an entrepreneur, and she's huge book lover who has done a lot to promote books. And I've always thought her voice was charming and sweet. But, I'm sorry to say, it really started to grate on my nerves as the book went on. Now I'm a little worried that the next time I see her in a movie, I'm going to have this experience coloring my impression of her performance.

I'm sorry to say that's not my only beef with this book.

The book is, of course, Witherspoon's take on her life growing up in the South. But throughout the book, she seems to imply that all Southern women mind their manners, love hot rollers, and wallpaper and monogram everything. The thing is, Witherspoon's experience is as a privileged, white woman. I've been to the South and can vouch that not every woman in that part of the country wears pearls to the grocery story and minds her manners in public. Again, Witherspoon is writing from her own experience, but in trying to wrap her lily-white arms around all women, she's largely ignoring a huge population of Southern women. She does periodically talk about "strong black women" and civil rights activism, but those pieces felt compulsory and not as heart-felt as the rest of the book.

Once in a while, too, I got the impression that Witherspoon was a woman who had never much been out of the South, which is obviously not true. How else, then, to account for the fact that she seems to think that some sayings, some behaviors, are strictly Southern? For example, more than once she talked about how friendly the people are in the South. But I'm told on a regular basis, by people who've come to Nebraska from other places, that the Midwest has the nicest people. I'm not saying we're the only nice people in the country; I'm just saying Witherspoon should be aware that Southerners are either.

These are all things that might not have been as noticeable to me if I had been looking at this book, eager to turn the shiny pages and see the next beautiful image.

All of that being said, I did like this book (and I'm sure it will be hugely successful despite its flaws). Witherspoon's personality shines throughout the book as she shares family stories, the ways her upbringing formed her, and lots of humor. I mean, who else is going to give you a two-page spread about how to hot-roller your hair (that includes telling you to leave the house with the rollers still in your hair!)?

I did learn some things about the South that do make it unique. That Easter scene in the movie Steel Magnolias? Apparently, that's common in the South. Of course, they can probably count on warmer temps in Tennessee at Easter than we can count on in Nebraska. I think my favorite parts of the book were when Witherspoon got personal. In one story, Witherspoon tells about how, on the day of her wedding to her current husband, her best friend reminded her that "You only get married for the second time once,"making Reese crack up laughing and easing the tension. I sort of love her best friend!

I will be checking out the print copy of this book as soon as it's available because I have to get my hands on some of the recipes Witherspoon includes in the book. She talks a lot about food in this book and it's only through tremendous willpower that I didn't find myself regularly driving off to find some comfort food (although even Witherspoon couldn't talk me into trying black-eyed peas again).

I'd also like to be able to get a copy of all of the books she recommends here in both the book club section and a section where she talks about Southern novels she loves.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Life: It Goes On: November 18

Ugh. More snow yesterday. Not enough to get out and play in (not that I do that, but you know what I mean); just enough to make the roads slippery and dangerous. I'm not sure what I'm complaining about. This meant I got to come home from errands yesterday afternoon and stay home the rest of the day without having to make up excuses. And you all know what a homebody I am.

Speaking of home, I find myself being drawn more and more to home blogs and Instagram accounts about home decor. I used to be really into that kind of thing, lots of magazine subscriptions and inspiration books; but that went by the wayside when my time and attention got sidetracked by things (like a ridiculous amount of volunteering in the kids' schools). Consequently, things have gotten more than a little stagnant around here. No big changes for now, because I'm all about Christmas right now. But come the first of the year...I think I'm likely to make my hubby crazy!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Reese Witherspoon's Whiskey In A Teacup and now I'm back to Five Days At Memorial which I should be able to finally finish.

Watched: David Grann (The Lost City of Z, Killers of The Flower Moon) speak about his latest book The White Darkness. He's a fabulous speaker; I'd definitely recommend catching him if he comes to your local library. A signed copy may just be found under our tree come Christmas.

Read: I'm making my way through Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of Great Americans. I am enjoying it so much and I'm wishing I had it print so that I could pass it on to my dad. Oh, wait! I can probably buy it to give to him, right?!

Look how square
top piece was!
Made: A mess of my backyard when I put together my new flocked tree. Yep, I did it. Put up a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I hope this doesn't bring bad luck or anything. In my defense, I knew it was going to make a mess so I wanted to get it done on a warm day when I could do it outside. And I haven't actually decorated it yet. So I hope I haven't angered any Thanksgiving gods.

Enjoyed: Book club although I'm not sure we talked about the books ten minutes total. And we even liked the book!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: To get food ready for Thanksgiving at my parents' then, hopefully, three days of decorating for Christmas, working on NaNoWriMo (I'm way behind but still working on it), and reading.

Thinking About: How much I hate winter. It hasn't even started yet, officially, and I'm already tired of being cold and having snow impact my driving. It's going to be a long four months.

Feeling: Excited for my great-nephew who verbally committed yesterday to play football for the University of Michigan. So proud of all of his hard work and we can't wait to see him play at the next level. Even if it means he's playing for a Husker rival.

Looking forward to: The upcoming four-day weekend, duh!

Question of the week: How will you be spending Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
Read by Bahni Tupin
Published August 2014 by Harper Collins
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

My Thoughts:
If you are not made uncomfortable by this collection of essays, I want to meet you, I think. You are either the most culturally aware, well-educated and understanding person I have heard of, in which case I need to pick your brain. Or, you really don't get it and you are just the kind of person that will cause me to bang my head on the table in frustration.

I thought I was getting a book of essays about feminism, which, as you can see from the summary is not all this collection includes. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get what I wanted, in that regard. On the other hand, Gay certainly gives readers a lot to think about with this collection, in which she takes aim at everyone - men, women, whites, blacks, Quentin Tarantino, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen, and Tyler Perry. And Caitlin Moran. You know how much I love Moran and how much I loved her book, How To Be A Woman so you can imagine how my hackles were raised when Gay questioned some of the statements Moran made in that book. I can't deny that Gay raises legitimate points, though.

Many of the essays were remarkably eye-opening for this white woman who is trying hard to understand what life is like for black people in this country. I'm feeling pretty damn guilty now for enjoying both the book The Help and the movie adaptation of it. I'm almost afraid to go read my review of that book now. Gay doesn't just want white people to face up to the racism we don't even see. She is definitely not a fan of Tyler Perry, seeming to feel that he has built a career on stereotypes of race and sex. In The Racism We All Carry, Gay talks about the rules of racism and the fact that everyone carries some degree of racism even if we largely keep it hidden from the world.

Other essays made this liberal, feminist lady cheer, especially The Alienable Rights of Women, which talks about the right of women to control their own bodies, and Bad Feminist Take Two, which talks about the struggle women have with being feminists (is it ok to like fashion if we truly want to be considered a feminist?).

Yet others broke my heart. Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response. talks about our response to the world's tragedies, both large and small, including the massacre in Norway and the death of Amy Winehouse. The Careless Language of Sexual Violence is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

If you're ready to be pushed out of your comfort zone, if you're ready to think about uncomfortable subjects, I can definitely recommend this collection. And now I have to go rethink a lot of what I've said and done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Published October 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
With his crooked tail--a sign of good fortune--and adventurous spirit, Nana is the perfect companion for the man who took him in as a stray. And as they travel in a silver van across Japan, with its ever-changing scenery and seasons, they will learn the true meaning of courage and gratitude, of loyalty and love.

My Thoughts: 
Normally I wouldn't review a book I haven't finished. It seems a little unfair to the book and how much can I really say about a book I haven't given a full chance to impress me. This one seems different to me, for some reason. Maybe because it's, apparently, an international bestseller that's been made into a movie. Maybe because I really am a cat lover so this one should be right in my wheelhouse. I'm not writing the review to bash the book, although I am going to tell you my problems with it. Instead I'm writing to make you aware of it. Because, even if it is an international bestseller, I'd never heard about it before. Maybe you haven't either. And maybe you're someone who really likes books with a cat for a narrator. Maybe you're a fan of books written by Japanese authors, which have been translated into English and happen to feature a cat.

What a minute! I'm a person who likes books written by a Japanese author who regularly includes cats in his books. Here's the thing, though: Haruki Murakami may have his cats talk, even; but they are not the narrators of the books. That seems to have been my biggest problem with the book. Arikawa uses Nana as a pretense to take readers from one story about Saturi and a friend of his to another. Those stories interested me; I liked the way Arikawa was able to fully develop each new character, from the time he met Saturi to his adult self. It wasn't an altogether off-putting idea to use a cat as the narrator to tie the stories together. I mean, I do always wonder what my cat's thinking. But after twenty pages or so, it started to feel a bit like a childish to me, perhaps a little to gimmicky.

It's a short book, only about 150 pages; once I was half way in, I sort of felt like I might as well finish. But I have a lot of books I want to get to by the end of the year. I began to realize that I don't have time, or the desire, to read a book I'm not thoroughly enjoying. So I set this one aside. It wasn't for me, at least not at this time. Maybe if I were looking for something that was completely different from what I'd been reading, this one might have worked better for me. Which is why I wanted to bring it to your attention; this might just be the right book for you.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne

A Ladder To The Sky by John Boyne
Published November 2018 by Hogarth Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for success. The one thing he doesn't have is talent - but he's not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don't need to be his own. Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful - but desperately lonely - older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice's first novel.

Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall...

My Thoughts:
As I was scanning through upcoming books some weeks ago, I saw that John Boyne had a new book coming out this fall. That's as far as I read before I requested this book. I went into the book having absolutely no idea what this collection of closely connected short stories was about.

Because of that, as I was reading the first story, I almost set the book aside. I thought this was going to be about Erich Ackermann, an aging author who had only ever had mediocre success and then won a prize. It was too close to Andrew Sean Greer's Less, which was still fairly fresh in my mind. I'd enjoyed that book quite a bit but I wasn't ready to read another one so similar.

Fortunately, Boyne's writing is so wonderful that I wasn't ready to give up on the book after the first story. This is a long quote, but well worth the time it will take you to read it:
"I found myself drinking a glass of rose outside a bar in Montmartre, a chestnut tree shading me from the late summer sunlight, while I observed the closing moments of a marriage. A woman in her late forties, very beautiful, with short black hair and expensive sunglasses, had been sitting alone since my arrival with a large glass of white wine and an envelope on the table before her. She had already smoked three cigarettes and was lighting a fourth when a man appeared, perhaps a little older thinner but dressed just as smartly, holding his hands in the air in apology for his tardiness, and she stood to allow him to kiss her on both cheeks. The waitress brought a second glass and she poured some wine for him as he reached into his bag and removed a similar envelope to hers. They spoke for some time and at one point he laughed and put an arm around her shoulders before they picked up the envelopes and took out two lengthy documents. Turning to the last page of each they allowed their pens to hover over the paper for only a moment before signing simultaneously, then passed each one to the other, whereupon they signed again. Finally, the man returned both forms to his bag and the couple removed their wedding rings, dropping each one into their glasses before standing up, kissing on the kips and walking off in opposite directions, their hands drifting out behind them, their fingers touching momentarily before they disappeared from my sight an, presumably, from each other's lives."
I just love the way Boyne has told an entire story in one paragraph and the way I am able to so clearly see this scene playing out before me.

As you'll have noticed in the summary, this isn't, after all, Erich Ackermann's story. It's Maurice's story but told through the eyes of several different people as Maurice's life progresses, including one story written in first person by Maurice's wife with a twist I definitely didn't see coming.

Maurice is not without talent; he can write well. But he has no creativity and is incapable of coming up with fresh new ideas for books. And therein lies his moral dilemma. From the minute he takes Erich's life story and turns it into a best-selling novel, the line between right and wrong blurs for Maurice.
"You've written a novel that features Erich Ackermann as a character?" asked Howard.
"I suppose that's a reasonable way of putting it, yes."
"And does he mind?"
"He hasn't said one way or the other."
"Did you have to ask his permission?"
"Isn't there some sort of moral conflict there then?" asked Howard.
"None whatsoever,"said Dash. "There can be no discussion of morality when it comes to art. A writer must tell the story that captures his soul."
Dash goes on here to point out that many authors write about the lives of other people, tell their stories, and no one questions their right to do so. The historical fiction genre is loaded with books that rely on the stories of real people to create their story around. When have you crossed the line? When you take other people's story ideas when their lack of skill will never allow that story to see the light of day? Or must you steal an entire book and pass it off as your own?
"And you've heard the old proverb about ambition, haven't you?"He shook his head."That it's like setting a ladder to the sky. A pointless waste of energy."
Maurice is so driving to succeed as a writer that he never entertains the possibility that he won't succeed, never sees it as a pointless waste of energy. Even when he is caught out, he has so convinced himself that he has done nothing wrong, that he is almost able to justify to the reader as well.

I haven't read a book with this unlikable a character in a long while but Boyne just proves that point that characters need not be likable to make you appreciate them as a character, to make their story worth reading. And Maurice's story is definitely one worth reading.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Life: It Goes On - November 11

I could have used a snowy pic today; we did have our first snowfall. But I'm so over that snowfall that I can't bear to look at snow again anytime soon. We only got a couple of inches Friday, but it started falling at 6 a.m. and by the time I left for work 45 minutes later, traffic was at a standstill. After over an hour on the "expressway," I bailed and headed home. Others spent more than two hours trying to get into work. Once it stopped snowing, the sun came out, the roads got much better and I headed into work. I have rarely seen traffic the way it was Friday morning and that's saying something, coming from someone who has lived her entire life in a land where it snows. It's going to be a long winter!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Five Days At Memorial. I am getting so angry listening to this book. So many people did so many things wrong before, during and after Katrina hit New Orleans, causing so many people to suffer and die.

Watched: We saw Bohemian Rhapsody this week. Overall, we really liked it a lot. A little emotionally manipulative, but such great acting and oh, that music!

Read: I'm DNF'ing The Traveling Cat Chronicles after reading half of this short book. I'm a cat lady but a book that's largely told through a cat's eyes just doesn't work for me. Today I'm starting What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape as part of Nonfiction November. This one's going to be a tough read.

Made: We made a big pot of chicken and noodles that we grazed on through the week. One night The Big Guy made some roasted brussels sprouts which were so good; he pulled each sprout all apart so that we had a pan full of individual leaves that got nice and crunchy.

Enjoyed: Getting a text from my son on Wednesday, asking if we were protesting to protect the Mueller investigation. I love that my kids are getting so involved in politics and want to join me in making our voices heard. Mini-him, BG and I all headed out into the cold and joined a hundred or so of our rabble-rousing friends for a spur of the moment protest. And then we rewarded ourselves by grabbing some delicious seafood eats and cocktails. Always enjoy spending time with my kids!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On working some more on a few projects, including more work on my basement and more work on NaNoWriMo (which, I must confess, is not going so well).

Thinking About: Christmas. I'm sorry, I'm trying to not jump ahead but I'm also thinking of ways to get a jump on things so life is not so stressful in December. Have you guys seen these Christmas tree collars that you use instead of a tree skirt? I'm loving them but I'd like to figure out how to make one instead of spending the money on one.

Feeling: Grateful for good friends.
Giada's prosciutto turkey

Looking forward to: Seeing my newest great-nephew, The Prince, in a few hours. He's four months old this past week and we haven't seen him since he was three weeks old.

Question of the week: Anyone else watching all of the cooking shows about Thanksgiving meals obsessively? No? Just me? Mind you, we can't change anything we have on actual Thanksgiving - it's all about tradition, you know. But dang, I'm thinking I need to make a second Thanksgiving meal with some of these great ideas.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday...Wednesday - Backlist Books I Want To Read

This week That Artsy Reader Girl (a.k.a. Jana) has asked us to make a list of ten backlist titles we want to read. Let’s be honest, my actual list is about 900 books. But here are ten by authors whose work I’ve enjoyed and want to read more of, in no particular order:

1. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

4. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

5. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

6. Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

7. Affinity by Sarah Waters

8. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

9. Orpheus: Fifty New Myths by Kate Bernheimer

10. The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Have you read any of these? Which do you think I should move to the top of my reading list?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Apollo To The Moon: A History In 50 Objects by Teasel Muir-Harmony

Apollo To The Moon: A History in 50 Objects by Teasel Muir-Harmony
Published October 2018 by National Geographic Society
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Bold photographs, fascinating graphics, and engaging stories commemorate the 20th century's most important space endeavor: NASA's Apollo program to reach the moon. From the lunar rover and a survival kit to space food and moon rocks, it's a carefully curated array of objects—complete with intriguing back stories and profiles of key participants.

This book showcases the historic space exploration program that landed humans on the moon, advanced the world's capabilities for space travel, and revolutionized our sense of humanity's place in the universe. Each historic accomplishment is symbolized by a different object, from a Russian stamp honoring Yuri Gagarin and plastic astronaut action figures to the Apollo 11 command module, piloted by Michael Collins as Armstrong and Aldrin made the first moonwalk, together with the monumental art inspired by these moon missions. Throughout, Apollo to the Moon also tells the story of people who made the journey possible: the heroic astronauts as well as their supporters, including President John F. Kennedy, newsman Walter Cronkite, and NASA scientists such as Margaret Hamilton.

My Thoughts:
I vividly remember where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing July 16, 1969, the night Apollo 11's Lunar Module landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took that first step onto that unknown surface. I don't pretend to understand to all of the science involved (other than to know it took a lot of people who knew a hell of a lot about it), but it space travel has fascinated me ever since.

Friday night we went to see First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Saturday I started this book. I didn't plan for that but what wonderful serendipity.  While the movie is Armstrong's story, it is also the story of all of the other people involved in getting Armstrong to the moon and all of the scientific and engineering innovations it took. In Apollo To The Moon, Muir-Harmony takes readers even deeper into that story, and all of the other stories that make up the full Apollo history, literally piece by piece.

Muir-Harmony is the curator of the Smithsonian Nation Air and Space Museum and a scholar of space history. She has access to everything in the museum's collection so you can be sure that's she's given considerable thought to what she wanted to include in this book to tell a story. Among the things she's included a piece of the Wright Brothers' airplane to moon rocks, from cameras and pen lights to a lunar rover wheel. But Muir-Harmony doesn't just tell the story of the 50 objects; she has included brief stories of people she calls Apollo VIPs (Wernher von Braun, Margaret Hamilton, and John F. Kennedy's Space Policy), and backstory pieces (Apollo Mission Insignia, Nixon's Speech, and The NASA Art Program). The book is also filled with photos, drawings, and other art work that add the visual piece that makes this type of book for getting bogged down in facts.

I got just enough information from each of the pieces to give me what felt like a well-rounded history of the Apollo program. There is something here for everyone from the person who doesn't know about these missions at all to the person who is looking to fill in the spaces of their knowledge. I see this book as an excellent addition to school media centers for middle- and high-schools. In my house, I know my husband will be picking it up to read soon and I'm sure I'll be passing it along - with the proviso that it make it back to my house as a nice resource. I definitely recommend this book for those of you with readers in your house from ten to eighty years old.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Read by Bahni Turpin
Published February 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Thoughts:
I started listening to this book and then saw the movie before I was able to finish the book. That made it tough not to spend the last half of the book comparing it to the movie: "This isn't the way they did it in the movie," "This seems more realistic than this scene did in the movie," "Wait! This character wasn't even in the movie - but they did do a good job in the movie of working in the important parts of his story." Honestly, I think both the movie and the book suffered for my having seen the movie in the middle of listening to the book.

The book is not as emotionally manipulative as is the movie. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the movie and it did need to say in just two hours what the book got 464 pages to say. I appreciated the slower pace of the book, the chance to get to know the characters better and Turpin's narration, which really made me feel like Starr was telling me her story.

Thomas gives readers so much to think about in this book - race, privilege, code-switching, the ways in which people use situations for their own benefit, the way people can become radicalized. Importantly, while she has written a book for young people, this is a book that speaks to people of all ages, of all colors. And while the message is clear, Thomas doesn't let African-Americans off entirely,  calling out a culture where "snitching" is taboo.

Pop culture plays a big role in this book, especially Harry Potter and the music of Tupac Shakur, from whom the book takes its title. These references don't feel like merely a way to capture reader's attention; instead Thomas uses them in ways that advance the story. In one memorable scene, Thomas argues that the houses of Hogwarts are gangs:
“They have their own colours, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron and Hermione never snitch on each other, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that “He Who Shall Not Be Named” stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging right there.”
I love that and I certainly came away from the book with a new appreciation of Shakur's music. And a new way of thinking about Hogwarts!

The book wasn't as visceral an experience for me as having the whole story told to me in two hours in a darkened theater was. But I just as much moved by the story and came away feeling like Thomas has told a story that can open people's eyes and make people think in a way that is universally appealing. I hope it works.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Life: It Goes On - November 4

One last week for the picture at the left. In another week, most of the leaves will be gone and even though it won't officially be winter yet, it will start to feel that way. Try as I might to not think about winter coming, it's hard to avoid when the five-month season of bare branches has begun. I'm working hard making things warm and cozy and bright around here to avoid getting dragged down - I'm burning candles, making hardy breakfasts, walking outside as much as I can.

What haven't done this week is very much reading. I'm distracted by too many other things and working through a book that's not grabbing me. I'm so distracted, in fact, that I've actually started to plan Christmas decorating!
A lot of what distracted me this week was good stuff. I got a new phone on Monday so I spent an evening setting that up. Thursday we went and voted early so we spent a good part of Wednesday evening researching our choices. And Wednesday, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (more on that later).

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finally got The Hate U Give Back and have finished that. Today I'm starting, at long last, Sheri Fink's Five Days At Memorial. Some of my Litsy friends tell me it's a tough one to keep track of on audio but I'm going to give it a shot.

Watched: Last night The Big Guy and I went to First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (The Crown). Their performances were both fantastic. The movie is a curious blend of very intimate, quiet moments and, as you would imagine, very big, loud, incredible moments. We both liked it a lot but it's a surprisingly slow movie and I'm not sure it's a movie for everyone.

Read: I've been working on John Boyne's Ladder To The Sky this week. It may be too close toe Andrew Sean Greer's Less for me; I'm having a hard time getting in to it. Today I'm moving on to Apollo To The Moon, a nice tie in to having just seen First Man!

Made: BG made broccoli-cauliflower soup which we enjoyed for a couple of meals. We also ate out three times and had popcorn for dinner at the movie one night so there wasn't really a lot of cooking in our house this week.

Enjoyed: Celebrating our 36th anniversary on Tuesday and two evenings with friends. Last night we got together with friends we've known for decades but haven't seen in more than a year. Their daughter, son-in-law, and grandson joined us later so it was fun to catch up with them as well.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On spending a fair amount of time working on my novel. Partly because I'm already behind. To stay on track with writing 50,000 words in one month, writers need to be cranking out almost 1700 pages a day. So I should be at 6800 pages by the end of today. So far, I've written about 1700. I'm hoping to get another 1700 done today. I'll share more on this as the month progresses.

Thinking About: Bangs. I got talked into a haircut yesterday that included bangs. I'm learning to like them but I haven't had to make them do what I want them to do myself yet. We'll see if I can figure that out and then I'll decide if I keep them.

Feeling: Excited to get off the computer and down to the basement to start working on cleaning out some stuff. BG's agreed to help and I'm going to be so happy if he actually bags up some things!

Looking forward to: I'd like to say the election on Tuesday but after election night two years ago, I'm nervous. We may go to a movie and ignore the results until later in the evening.

Question of the week: Have you ever considered writing a novel? Have you ever actually written one? If so, what tips can you give me for staying on track?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Published October 2018 by Nelson, Thomas Inc.
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.

My Thoughts:
I first became aware for Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis when I watched the movie Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger in 1993. So, as I read this book, those are the images I had of Davidman and Lewis. Starting to write this review, I looked up the real images of this couple. I'm sort of glad I didn't look at those earlier, to be honest. Although, the reality makes it all the more obvious that if these two people truly loved each other, as Callahan wants readers to believe, it was clearly because they first fell in love with each other's minds. Given the years they spent corresponding before they ever met, and the years they were friends before they married, seems right.

Callahan does a fine job of telling Davidman's story and helping readers understand what might have motivated her, how she came to leave her husband and why, and how she became the muse and invaluable aide to one of the last century's great writers. Not only that, but by telling this story, Callahan is dropping readers into a time when the tales of Narnia, as well as Middle Earth, were just being released to the world. It's sometimes hard to imagine a time when The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of The Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien) trilogy weren't classics, but new works just being putting into readers' hands. Lewis and Tolkien (whom Lewis called "Tollers") were fast friends; in fact, Lewis ran with a very well-known literary group. But then Davidman was no slouch in that department either, befriending science fiction mega star Arthur Clarke during her time in London.

The more the book honed in, though, on the relationship between Jack and Joy, the more attached to the characters I became. In Callahan's tale of their time together, Davidman realizes early on that she is in love with Lewis; but he has to nearly lose her to be willing to let his feelings be realized. And I so badly wanted him to do that because it was clear that he was a man capable of deep feelings, as demonstrated by his devotion to his brother and his fondness for Davidman's sons. Callahan takes the readers through a time of great sadness but avoids leaving her readers in tears by carefully moving the end of the book to a place of looking back.

This book comes in at just over 400 pages long; it could have been cut 50 pages or so and not so often gotten lost in rambling that often had me setting aside the book. It's a shame because it's otherwise a very interesting story that touched my emotions without being maudlin, a very sweet love story about two people who found each other when neither of them expected to find "the one."