Saturday, November 19, 2016

No as much action on here because....

I am working on helping my sister in law as a beta reader for a novel she's written. Well, it will be a series of novels, actually. I tried to be a beta reader before, but my life got crazy and I was not able to be a good beta. But I really want to help my SIL, so I am really focusing on reading her manuscript through carefully. Because of this, I don't want to confuse my head with too many storylines at once (like I am known to do...) and I'm not devouring it as fast as I would normally read a book because I want to be careful to pick up on any discrepancies or things that she would or wouldn't want to make it into a final draft. So I'm being careful and taking my time. So in the meantime, I'm really only listening to some audio books.

I've also gotten REALLY busy with all the musical endeavors and jobs in my life-Christmas is the "musical madness month"! I'll be getting back to reading more regularly soon, though!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

I listened to this book on audio, which was interesting because I know this book has a lot of pictures in it and that the pictures are part of the story. So now I'm really interested to look at a physical copy of the book to see how (and what parts) were narrated from the pictures, because I didn't feel like I missed out anything in the story line. The sound effects of this audio were REALLY good. When he's running, you can hear him running, you hear the tick of the clocks, stuff like that.

It had some parts remenicient of Oliver Twist (though not nearly so dark). Overall it was enjoyable and adventurous. Although, being a book geared towards middle readers, it didn't delve very deep into why certain characters made certain choices. Perhaps it's to allow for some discussion for that age group to decide for themselves what would motivate a person to do certain things.

I also liked the connection between imagination of authors and filmmakers with real invention. I think most things of technology were first contrived in the imagination of an author!

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for Goodreads.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Piccadilly Jim, PG Wodehouse

This book was chosen for my book clubs meeting in Sept. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised! It was published in 1917 and I was preparing myself for a certain style of writing. However, what I found was a quite modern approach with TONS of dialog and it made me laugh SO much. The descriptions are delightful, the predicament in which all the characters find themselves in simultaneously are riotous. I kept thinking "I can't believe this is happening!" "I can't believe noone has figured this out yet!"And I laughed a LOT.

I'd never read anything by PG Wodehouse before, but I will probably look at some of his other works now. This was available for free on Kindle, but one of my friends purchased his entire works for something like $1.99 on Kindle.

I looks like there were a couple film adaptations, one in 1936 and one in 2005. I think I might try to get my hands on the 1936 version.

I haven't decided on a star rating for this...I'm leaning towards 4.5 stars, but for Goodreads sake, I think I'm going to tip up to 5 because I thoroughly enjoyed it-even though it was a little slow at first-and the ending was just so classic!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

This one fit into the 2016 Reading Challenge as a "satire". It's a modern satire of a privileged life.

I listened to this on audio and it was narrated by the actress who plays Luke's sister Liz in Gilmore Girls, so I totally pictured her face the whole time. I thought she did a fabulous job!

This book had a little more swearing than I am normally comfortable with. I don't think I would have noticed it as much if I had read it instead of listened.

Anyhow, many entries are from different points of view. Some chapters are emails from one character to another, some are phone calls, letters, etc. I loved having all these different perspectives of the story. There were a LOT of laugh out loud moments. Such as when Audrey is hosting a brunch for perspective "Mercedes" parents to enroll their soon to be kindergarteners in their particular private K-8 prep school, there is so much rain-because this takes place in Seattle- (and other events that I won't spoil for you) that cause a landslide to crash through her house, breaking windows and everything right in the middle of the current kindergarten class playing a recital on Orff instruments and they are all freaking out. One of the moms who had volunteered to be there for some reason, who also happened to be a psychiatrist, describes the mayhem in an email to the parents of the student body to describe the events and offer assistance if any child shows signs of PTSD, says "If there's one thing kindergarteners know how to do very well, it's to line up!" So many instances like that where I could totally say the next few words exactly as written without even knowing for sure they were written. It's SO true! My youngest is a kinder this year, and boy to those kids know how to do lines! :-) The other thing that I thought was true to form was how much parents were willing to ignore in their children's behavior and blame everyone else and fail to see that their child is the only one responsible for their own poor choices. Or even acknowledge poor choices are being made in the first place. I don't think this kind of attitudes are limited to the affluent, either. I think it's quite rampant on a whole.

Anyhow, Bernadette is a curious person and very misunderstood. She's dealing with a lot, and I don't want to give any away. You do get to have a lot of backstory on her. I loved all the information that explains how she ended up making the choices she did. Her only daughter, Bee, is so like I was- a flute player who was also academic and didn't really care too much about the crowd. She was quite level headed.

This book deals with depression, anxiety, keeping up with the Jones's, workplace relationships, there is some infidelity, adolescent drug use, and lots of things that made me shake my head at, like "That's what people who have a ton of money do with their money? Wow."

One character shows a drastic transformation towards the end, and while it's a very nice thought and absolutely essential to the success of the plot line, seemed abrupt enough that I didn't quite buy it.

Overall, I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sarah's Key, Tatiana De Rosnay

I listened to this as an audio book because it happened to be available on overdrive when I needed something new to listen to. It sort of counts as reading about a culture I'm unfamiliar with in the 2016 Reading Challenge because I really have no background on French culture or how they view the world or history. I found it very interesting how the attitudes towards this event were scene by the Parisian characters.

This was a fabulous book! Solid 4 stars. In audio format it was a little hard to figure out when it bounced back and forth between times (modern and 1942), but I got used to it after awhile. This is a heart wrenching story about a side of the Holocaust I had never heard before. This happened in Paris, July 16, 1942. A horrible, horrific event known now as the "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup". I get choked up just typing this. Over 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to this indoor cycling arena next to the Eiffle Tower in what the Nazi's code named "Operation Spring Breeze". However, it was not the Germans who carried out this plan. It was the French Police (acting on German orders). It appears that many Jews came without a fight because it was their own police force asking them to come and not the Nazi's they had come to fear. From the Vel' d'Hiv, they were taken in cattle trains to Auschwitz. Men were separated from their families first. Then the women were separated from their children. They say the screams could be heard for miles. The extremely tragic thing  is that the German's only asked for people within a certain age; they did not ask for the children. But the French were being overzealous in trying to appease their enemies for. From :  "Thursday 16 July 1942, Paris.  The Vel’ d’Hiv round up, named after the sports stadium used to house the Jews who were dragged from their homes that morning and in the hours that followed.   Drancy camp, next stop en route to Auschwitz.   13,152 were arrested, of whom 5802 were women, and 4051 children.  Some of the adults – less than 3% – made it home after the Liberation, to search fruitlessly for news of their children at the Hotel Lut├ętia. None of the children came home." 

There were some children who managed to escape, however, and survive.

Anyhow, in this book, the modern protagonist, Julia, an American born journalist living in Paris with her Parisian husband and 11 year old daughter Zoe was given an assignment from her magazine to write an article about the 60th commemoration of the Vel' d'Div Round Up. The 1942 Protagonist is Sarah, known to you as only "the girl" until about halfway through (but you assume it's the Sarah from the title because of the key she has) and the story toggles with you living the horrific scenes from Sarah's perspective and then Julia's discoveries of the situations and statistics in her research. It's extremely interesting to see those worlds collide. But then, the rest of the story is from Julia's perspective. And I missed Sarah. It's like she disappeared from the reader's view much the same way she tried to disappear from the other character's in the book.

There were parts I didn't really care for, the parts in Julia's personal life that I wasn't sure why they were there, but I guess I can see that the lesson is we are living NOW and we have problems NOW, but they don't stop us from learning about and from the past. There was also the issue of dealing with pain in a way that made your life fall apart instead of knitting people who loved each other closer. There is a time when Julia reveals this information to someone who had not previously known about it, and it relates to them personally. And it nearly destroys them. To not have known and then have the knowledge forced upon them suddenly. It makes you wonder if you would rather want to know your heritage-the bad and the ugly along with the good-or remain blissfully ignorant.

I am sad I never knew this part of history. From what I could gather in the story, it is not in the nature of the French to bring up the unpleasant past. They are not trying to deny that it happened, or disrespect those who had to go through it, they just don't see the point in dwelling on it. There were memorial plaques no one ever read, people working in buildings that housed Jews on their way to their deaths that had been converted to a daycare facility and they didn't even know, didn't even seem to be bothered that they didn't know. There seemed to be collective embarrassment about it. But I'm glad the story is being told now.

One thing that was a little disappointing-and Julia's boss brings it up-there's nothing in there from the perspective of the police officers who were being told to do this horrible thing. There is a police officer that Sarah recognizes as her school crossing officer, and there is a little bit with him, but nothing from a modern perspective looking back. I wonder if the boss calls her out as a way to explain why it's not in the book, or if there really isn't much to go on. I haven't researched this myself. But it would be interesting to see what they thought of it all, how they were able to live their lives after the fact. I would definitely recommend this to a friend! 

*There was also a movie made from this book and I do plan on checking that one out from the library to watch, even though I know I'm just going to be a hot mess the whole time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mindfullness for Beginners, Jon Kaba-Zinn

I listened to the audio of this for the 2016 Reading Challenge "A Self Help Book"

I've always had a mild curiosity about the practice of meditation-since it seems to be recommended by philosophers as well as religious leaders.

Listening to this felt like he wasn't reading the text, but giving it in a way he would if I were attending a conference session about meditation. I feel like I understand the concepts better.

I am not good at meditating. There were some meditation exercises and I couldn't help but do something to keep my hands a little busy while listening to the exercise on some of them. I have a hard time setting aside time to do "nothing" even though it is "something".

One thing that HAS helped me a little is that I always have trouble falling asleep at night. Partly because I have a hard time clearing my mind. So I've been trying to use meditation to help me fall asleep faster and so far it's worked more often than not.

There was also enough humor to keep things going. Like the time when the section on focusing on breathing came up, he said that he was going to be "making the wild assumption that if you are listening to this exercise you are already breathing". I really laughed at that :-)

Definitely informative, insightful, and well put together. Narrated extremely well.

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Sometimes you feel like if you've read one WWII English Evacuee story you've read them all. But this one did not feel like that! Add Ada to this mix. A very special girl born with a clubbed foot tha was never addressed in her infancy. She can only crawl around. Her single mother (her father is dead) never allows her outside. Only her younger brother Jamie (I listened to this as an audio, so I'm not sure if it was spelled traditionally or not) is allowed outside or to go to school. Ada is kept in isolation. She was not supposed to be a refuge, but she loves her brother so much that when he is to be sent away, she decides to go with him.

Some parts of this book were really, really difficult to read. Ada's mother is so incredibly abusive. Both physically and emotionally. She has convinced Ada that she isn't worth anything. That she couldn't be loved. Yet, Ada still has enough self determination to make certain things happen for herself; like what she needed to do in order to evacuate with her brother.

Both children are so ragged that none of the volunteer families chose Ada and Jamie. So the lady in charge takes them to the home of a single lady, Susan, who is still grieving the loss of her best friend and roommate, Becky. She protests saying she's not good with children, that she didn't want children. But everyone must "do their part" so she tries her best. She discovers that these children don't know the simplest things-they've never seen a tablecloth, they've never had bed sheets or dressing gowns. They've never even tried many of the vegetables she has to offer them. She says she's not a nice person, but she IS kind. And Ada finds herself so confused by words she's never heard and doesn't know the meaning of. She wonders that Susan says she's not nice, but they never go to bed hungry and Susan doesn't hit them. In a time and age when child abuse and emotional trauma are not understood, Susan seems to intuit what Ada needs (and doesn't need), when to push and when to pull back, in order for Ada to be able to act like a child and even learn. The thing she tells Ada that takes Ada a while to fully believe is "Your brain is a long way from your foot". Ada has been told that she's stupid and shameful and not able to learn because of her clubbed foot. Susan breaks this notion insisting that her clubbed foot has nothing to do with her capacity to learn and develop academically.

This was a beautiful story of "who saved who"? Did Susan save Ada? Yes. Did Ada save Susan (from her grief and solitude and withdrawn ways)? Yes. We can save ourselves when we reach out to help one another.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Princess Academy, Shannon Hale

I listened to this on audio book because it was available on overdrive and it was on a list of books I had written down for my older daughter to read. I really enjoyed it-it was a Full Cast Audio, which means that every character (including the narrator) had their own voice over. There were also singing parts to it which were interesting.

Like "The Rent Collector" it is amazing to surmise what a bit of intelligence and education can do to improve the life of an entire community. Mt. Escol (I'm only guessing on spellings here) is a hard, mountain life. Most people work in the quarry and have developed a sort of non-verbal communication through contact with the Linder Rock. Miri is really small for her age and has never been allowed to work in the quarry. She feels this makes her useless, though she doesn't learn the true reason her father forbids it until late through the story. She lives with her father and sister. Her mother died shortly after her birth.

One day, a man comes to Mt. Escol and announces that the country's priests have divined that the future bride of the prince resides there. Because they are so far removed from the main territory of Danlund, they have sent a tutor (Olana) to train the girls in proper everything and it's called the Princess Academy and every elegible girl goes. Ages 11 or 12 up to younger than the prince, since he's not allowed to marry anyone older than he-even if it's only a few months.

At first things are horrible, and of course, Miri is a natural leader when it has nothing to do with quarry work, eventually she is able to use the things Olana is teaching in order to broker better conditions. When she learns about commerce and just how much Linder is worth-and compares that to her knowledge of what the traders have been SAYING it's worth, they are able to then improve their trade conditions, which in return improve conditions in the community all around.

The ending was.......interesting......there is a major plot twist (although I had suspected some things along the way). And the possible plot hole was filled in, but it still left me feeling a little off. I guess it's a series so we'll see how things go if I read more.

I would definitely recommend this to my daughter, it teaches diplomacy, quick thinking, how to get along, how to give people a chance, the value of studying hard, the pay offs of hard work, and all sorts of other good traits. It was very enjoyable and I think it is great for middle readers. Solid 4 stars.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

This didn't fit into the 2016 Reading Challenge, but it DID fit in the Rory Gilmore reading challenge and it was short and on the bookshelf at the library when I happened to be there looking for something. So I grabbed it. All I could remember was that my friend Carolyn read it in high school for an honor's English book report. And she didn't like the ending.

It's interesting, all these books that are high school reads, but my high school self did not have enough life experience to fully understand, comprehend, or even begin to appreciate these things. In freshman honor's English, we had to read The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I hated the ending SO much I have never picked up another one of his books since then until now. NOW I can appreciate what he was trying to portray and have an ability to attempt to see a different point of view. I know I was limited in that capacity as a youth, even though I know I truly tried.

Anyhow, this book is interesting because it's told from the objective third person, which isn't common for a novel. It reads almost like a play, and I guess it was turned into a movie, though I haven't watched it. But because of this perspective, you never know what's going on inside of anyone's head. That's one reason it adapts so well to screen; because there are no thoughts to try to figure out how to show or things being left out because they are only thoughts. But it's also hard to draw conclusions because you can't tell for sure what's going on inside minds unless they're verbalized.

So the main characters, Lennie and George are together. Lennie is a really big guy and is mentally slow. George looks after him. You don't find out why they are always together for awhile, which was a bit curiosity for me. And it's interesting, because it was George realizing the depth of Lennie's capacity to understand and his own cruelty towards him before this epiphany that causes him to decide he will take care of Lennie and make sure he's all right. But then something happens and George can no longer do that. In that time (Great Depression era), mental illness was handled in a much different way and many times people who were institutionalized were not treated well. And also, the man who wanted revenge on Lennie was really bent on torture. Something Lennie would have no understanding of. He knew he had done something bad, but he had no comprehension REALLY about what had happened and he wouldn't have connected his actions with cruel punishment. So in that sense I can understand George's ultimate choice. But I still wish there had been a better way.

I tried to find more explanation for this book online, and didn't come up with a whole lot. The purpose was just to show the hard times and the injustice of some people's lives. There wasn't anything about Steinbeck protesting the treatment of mentally ill people, but it could certainly be perceived as that as well.

I gave it 3 stars, but truthfully, I give it a solid 3.5. I just didn't enjoy it enough to bump it up to 4.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Drawing the Ocean, Carolyn McCullough

This was for the 2016 Reading Challenge A Book with a Blue Cover.

Honestly, I just roamed the YA novel section looking for a short blue covered book that looked interesting.

I give this book 2.5 stars. It just felt so stagnate. It was enjoyable, I had no trouble being motivated to read more. There was a little more swearing that I like. There was a nonchalance about drug use (recreational) that I didn't appreciate. The main character was likeable enough and she makes some critical right decisions towards the end, but I just felt like it was just following this girl around.

Her twin brother died, you don't know how at the beginning, which helps with the intrigue a little. She's moved across the country, her parents are a little quirky (and a little clueless). She meets kids from her new school who run in different crowds at different times and then has to decide where she wants to fit in. The one gem of wisdom I got from this book was something Sadie's mom told her about her new boyfriend "Just make sure you like who you are when you're with him." And I think that can be true for any relationship or friendship, you really should like who you are when you're with people, otherwise maybe you shouldn't be around them to begin with.

Still Life, Inspector Gamache #1, Loise Penny

This was for the 2016 Challenge "Murder Mystery". One of my FB friends recommended it (said the community reminded her of Stars Hallow and I was hooked).

Lucky for me it was also available right away on Overdrive for my kindle.

I really enjoyed this! It's been awhile since I read it, so it's not fresh in my mind anymore, but I remember being quite impressed with Inspector Gamache and his intuition and observation skills. I also found some incredibly profound thoughts about life through some of the other characters. For instance, the idea that "life is loss" and once we accept that, loss doesn't debilitate us as much. I highlighted a ton of stuff, but since my kindle updated I haven't figured out where all of my "clips" are....

Anyhow, one of the only TV shows I've gotten into since Gilmore Girls is Castle and it just ended last spring. Castle is a murder mystery writer who ends up finding his muse in one of NYPD's finest female homicide detectives after being brought on to consult on a case with a copycat murder from one of his books and since it gives the PD really good PR, Castle is granted permission to tag along indefinitely. So pretty much every episode is a murder that needs to be solved. We got better at figuring out how to pin the guilty one day as the seasons progressed. But I always loved how they planted seeds of doubt about nearly everyone involved. This was the case with Still Life. I had hunches, many of them, but Penny keeps you guessing by giving you only just enough information until the big reveal. And I loved having that process again. Sometimes I get worried with murder mysteries because they can get gruesome, but this book didn't get gory or anything. It was perfect comfort level, which characters you care about outside of their role in the story line.

The one girl...what was her name...the greenie helper detective, her last name was Nichole...anyway she was the WORST. I don't think you can get a person more dense than her. There are more books with Inspector Gamache, and while they don't need to be read in order, each one can be a stand alone book, I understand there is a character development arc that would be noticed if you read them in order. So I wonder what will happen with this particular character. I can't believe that Penny would introduce someone so antagonistic in the first book and then abandon her all together, especially when she went through all the trouble to give her backstory and tidbits of information even the character doesn't know.

The one thing that was a little confusing is that sometimes characters (detective primarily) would be referred to their last name, but in other instances referred to by their first names, so sometimes I got confused about who was who because I hadn't linked first and last names together very solidly.

I gave this one 4 solid stars.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Sisi, Empress on Her Own, Allison Pataki

I won this book on a Goodreads Giveaway! I don't usually win on drawings, but it's never stopped me from trying and entering and I finally won! Anyhow here is my review: 4.5 stars (Goodreads, we NEED half stars!!) Reviews on Goodreads Giveaway's are encouraged but not required.

First off, while I don't have a personal knowledge of historical accounts of Sisi prior to reading the first novel about her, I've read a lot of criticism about how people are not a fan of Sisi (the person) or how incredibly selfish she was. HOWEVER, I feel that it is incredibly important that we not judge people of the past by today's standards. By today's standards, yes, she was selfish. But when you take into account the world in which she lived-not just the time period, but the constraints of tradition-you may take a different view. How would YOU feel if your children were snatch from you at birth, not being allowed to name them, feed them, or do anything of the sort to bond with them? What if YOU had a person who was hell bent on making sure you didn't ruin those children and as a result, you never got to be a part of their lives? What kind of crazy and/or 'selfish' things would that push you to do? What if you found out that your husband had several trysts with who knows how many women and that it had all been arranged for him because it was expected, accepted, and he was ENTITLED to those things and there was NOTHING you could do to stop it and you were forbidden to mention it and it was implied that you ought to accept it too? This is the kind of stuff that pushed Sisi over the edge and I can hardly blame her.

So I think the key to appreciating this story is to keep your perception in context of the time period and expectations she was held to.

I think I liked this one even better than the first. I think that Sisi's character took on much more depth and a better perception of the world in which she had to live. I feel that Sisi really mellowed out in this account. As she accepted certain things as just "what is" and found ways in which she could cope in her own way. Right or wrong, she did remarkably well reining in her mental struggles-I doubt anyone in Society would have pegged her with a depressive disorder prior to her son's death, whereas others in her family were openly criticized for their mental shortcomings (Rudolf, Ludwig, her father).

This book swirls with emotion; but not that of an adolescent bride forced into a world of protocol and restraints that she does not believe in (and that doesn't believe in her), like the first one this emotion is far more deep. There is deep depression among several. In a world that viewed such conditions as a weakness or selfish choice, depression was rampant in Vienna, nicknamed at one point as the suicide capital of the world. I'm SO glad I live in an age where it is more understood.

The more I read about the imperial family and their relatives, the more it seems like they have their own version of the "Kennedy Curse" or "Romanov Curse"so much tragic death in such a relatively short time. The things that Franz Joseph saw come to pass during his lifetime and how with his life's end came the end of an era of monarchal rule. The whole world shifted away from monarchy's by WWI, and there are few left alive who could remember the days when those in charge ruled by "divine right". How people would balk at such an idea today!

Sisi was a deeply disturbed individual and lacked any of the tools we have in modern society to combat things that plagued her. The inability she had to rear her older children, and no way to reconcile those relationships, her insistence that she not interfere with Rudolf and Stephanie's relationship-but to a fault because such personal matters were not to be discussed, even when it might be to someone's benefit to have the information! How would Rudolf be able to cope with his apparent bi-polar disorder if he knew that his mother suffered from a similar malady? Could Sisi have proven to be a wonderful mother-in-law to Stephanie if she had injected just a friendly conversation here and there instead of the hands off approach. How could things be different if Sisi understood her feelings of restlessness and need to escape had a deeper meaning that maybe she could confront? What if the times were different and she could actually discuss with her husband how his actions made her FEEL and that could have maybe repaired things? Her cousin Ludwig suffered from some degree of mania; though more recent research leads us to believe he was less afflicted than reports wanted you to believe. Rudolf had problems that were exacerbated by the fact that his tutor abused him.

I liked the treatment of Sisi and her supposed affairs. Nothing confirms that she was ever unfaithful physically to her husband. Though, I suppose an emotional affair with Andrassy and/or Bay are definitely plausible, in that time, an emotional affair wasn't anything worth dissolving a marriage over. I like that Pataki kept her physically loyal to her place as wife to Franz Joseph, even if they were never again intimate with each other after the conception of Valerie.

Franz Joseph's motto, from his mother, was "I do not change". And in some ways that served him well, but in others, most certainly served to help ultimately end the era of monarchy.

SO much to think about! I really would like to learn more about Sisi. I feel that in cases like that, that it is a lesson in not judging too harshly. Especially those who seem to "have it all" when we lack. I always have very little sympathy for celebrities or other high profile individuals, because I feel those people sought that life out; they chose that path, they live with the consequences. But in Sisi's case, she only became Empress because of who she was born to. Otherwise, she never would have been an option. So I try not to judge the second generation, people born into a certain situation who really didn't ask to be there. And I try not to judge the others too harshly, because, maybe they DID seek it, but maybe, like Sisi, they didn't truly know what they were getting themselves into.

Comparing Sisi's endeavor's and travels, etc, to that of current political leaders, I can most certainly say I would have been among her critics. Why should she get to spend millions on things and travel when there are citizens in need of anything? From the outside, I 100% get the political criticism she got. I don't approve of the gossip that was unfairly heaped upon her. I rarely give the gossip of political leaders a glance. Given the circumstances of her time, I sympathize with Sisi because she had no other way to cope and "keep up face". But in today's world, there is no excuse to hide depression in spending, and travelling to outrun anything. Although, I don't suspect that to be the reason for any current political figure's personal spending habits in the last 2 decades.

But I think what I loved most was the evident love-so deep and true-that Franz and Sisi had for each other. It was not the infatuation of their youth, and they did not share a physical relationship (as stated earlier), but as the years wore on, they did feel affection towards one another, admiration, respect, and something that is deep, beyond your basic romance. It's good to be reminded that love has many faces, and even though they had their differences, they did love each other. Franz' infidelity was probably not malicious-it was what was done, it was his right, his privilege as Emperor to have certain....pleasures....made available to him, and it probably never crossed his mind that it was truly wrong or that he might offend Sisi. Sisi had probably not been warned past the fact that Franz would not come to their wedding bed a virgin and she should not expect it, because such things were a certain way. Had Franz and Sisi been born a generation later, the idea that a man is entitled to numerous affairs would be less accepted or expected. But I don't blame Sisi for closing off that part of the relationship-she had already been made extremely ill from a sexually transmitted disease. I wouldn't want to chance any more of that-not to mention the emotional issues!

Anyhow, there is so much to this book and to Sisi and her life, it's so complex, and no one will ever REALLY know everything that happened and the inner thoughts of anyone-beyond what they wrote in their journals. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I also loved reading about all the factual accounts that were part of the novel-I'm the kind of person who wouldn't have minded a chapter note with every chapter detailing exactly which parts were fact :-)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Amulet, The Stone Keeper, Kazu Kibuishi

I read this for the 2016 Challenge "Read a Graphic Novel" and my 11 year old owns them all (that are currently published, there is a new, highly anticipated one coming out later this year, I think).

Overall, I think I'd give it 3 stars. I was surprised by how powerful the emotions were, especially for a book geared towards younger readers. Part of me enjoyed being able to whiz through pages just by taking in images and minimal text. Part of me missed being able to decide for myself what the characters and things looked like. It was also kind of science fiction-y in a way that isn't instantly appealing to me.

HOWEVER, I recently was made aware of a condition that exists for some people who absolutely CANNOT think in images. I never knew this wasn't universal to the human race. So for all those kids who have a terrible time reading-and think it's more work than it's worth-maybe they have this inability to transform a description into a vivid as life image in their minds. Especially for that group of people, I think graphic novels serve a really great purpose.

I might explore graphic novels more in the future, just for a change of pace every now and again. I'll probably peruse through the rest of the Amulet series simply so I know what my kids are reading.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells

At first, I picked this book because of its blue cover...and it's on the Rory Gilmore List...But THEN I discovered that in the split narrative, part of it takes place in my home state! And I had been having trouble finding one in that category for the 2016 Reading Challenge. So this is my home state book. The part that takes place in WA.

So split narrative, between Sidda (Siddalee) who is nearing 40, a successful woman in the theater business writing/directing, and split with her mother Vivi, in Cenla (Central Louisiana). Vivi's portions are split between her childhood, teenage years, and current mother to 40 year old Sidda.

I give this 3.5 stars (3 on Goodreads) because it was gripping, entertaining, I have a STRONG urge to start using y'all in my everyday vocabulary (something I haven't done since hanging out with my friend Carolyn in middle/high school-she had transplanted from Texas in the 8th grade), it was poignant, beautiful, tragic, and vivid. BUT it did have quite a bit of language. It had a few too many scenes where Wells kept reminding you that the character was naked (I didn't need that THIRD reminder), and the naked parts didn't make sense. Seriously, would a 40 yr old woman wander around naked in a garden at a hotel in the middle of the night??

So anyhow, Vivi has disowned Sidda because in an interview in the New York Times, Sidda mentioned some of the less wonderful things about her mother, and her mother gets called "A tap dancing child abuser." Vivi has 3 best friends, Teensy, Niece, and Caro, who have been friends since their earliest days and call themselves the Ya-Yas. They grew up together, had kids at the same time, called all their kids the Petites Ya-Yas and it was like one big extended family. Vivi's mother, called Buggy, was a staunch Catholic with no sense of humor at all. I have to say I prefered EVERYTHING written from Vivi's point of view to Sidda's. I'm not sure why, but it just resonated more with me. I felt like Sidda was missing something (which she was). Sidda begged her mom to share with her some of the "divine secrets" of the Ya Yas. How was it that her mother had 3 best friends who were better than sisters, and Sidda didn't have any close girlfriends? Vivi eventually sends her a scrapbook with a bunch of stuff, newspaper clippings, photographs, letters. And Sidda unravels her mother's past and gains the insight and understanding she needs to truly love her mother.

I can't write a lot more without too many spoilers, but I can tell you that I was SO heartbroken to read about a time when women and depression/anxiety were not well treatable. The medication they had access to did more harm than good, and it was a condition not even understood at all. Having experienced post partum depression and anxiety I am so grateful it happened to me in a time when societal norms were starting to shift and it was becoming less of a shame to have it and to be able to be understood and TREATED.

This book also made me think about WHY in the DEVIL do we insist on hiding things from others? From the people we love? Experiences that IF we were to know about and understand could HELP those relationships to be what I'm sure both parties really want it to be? If Sidda knew what her mother had gone through in childhood, in her teen years (especially when her mother sent her away to that God forsaken Catholic boarding school that nearly killed her), the grief and despair she had be privy to, just knowing that her mother had had a mental hurdle to overcome, she could have UNDERSTOOD and none of the crazy bad stuff in their relationship would have happened.

I also liked how this novel showed that in order for reconciliation to occur, BOTH parties need to make an effort. The one who had done the wrong needed to repeatedly apologize and show in both written/spoken words and actions her penance. And the other side needed to accept it (eventually).

And finally, I think the loveliest of lessons: Yes, there were some real bad things. Yes, Vivi did some horrible wrong things. But she did some right things too. And Sidda had spent too long focusing only on the things that had been done wrong. And I know I'm guilty of that too. I feel like sometimes the negative things a person has done outweigh the things they do right. Something about the weight of certain wrong things seem more of an issue. But I can see that I really ought not do that. EVERYONE has things they do wrong, and EVERYONE has things they do right. And I want people to give me grace and not focus on those wrong things, and if I want that, I need to extend that same grace to others, especially to family. It's definitely something I'm going to be working on.

In this book I laughed, I cried (oh how I cried!!), I cringed, I was appalled, heart broken, thinking constantly in a southern drawl. I would definitely recommend this book to others if you can skim over the language and a few scenes. I'm grateful for the lessons I learned. And I wish I could meet the Ya-Yas!

Looking up the picture for this post, I found out it's a movie! (And only PG-13), so I'll see if it's at the library so I can watch it :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birthmarked, Caragh M O'Brien

Some ladies in my neighborhood started a book club and this was the first book. Luckily it also fit into my 2016 Challenge as a Dystopia.

I give this 3.5 stars, rounded up in Goodreads to 4 because it was entertaining and captivating. I read it in just a few days.

This one doesn't have a whole lot of back story about how the world became what it currently is, but it takes place near what used to be one of the great lakes that is now dried up and referred to as the "unlake". There is a society built inside a wall and people who live outside the wall. Reminiscent of 'Divergent' there are genetic problems-for the people inside the wall, it was starting with a too small population and the genetic fall out of inbreeding. So in exchange for meager supplies for survival outside the wall, there is a quota of babies born each month that are forced into being given up for adoption by citizens within the wall. Gaia, our protagonist, is an assistant midwife to her mother, who is the midwife to citizens outside the wall. All is as it should be until Gaia's parents are arrested and then of course, everything she thought she knew about the "system" is shattered and the adventure ensues.

While not terribly original, there's no love triangle, there were some twists and turns that I wasn't expecting. And while Gaia is incredibly naive, it's fairly believable, given her circumstances. I still don't get this society though. For instance, on genetic fall out is that hemophilia is surfacing at an epidemic rate and several children die from bleeding out. However, the doctors in the society are forbidden to keep a blood bank or anything that could save them, because that would take too many resources and they can't focus on the "one" because they have to think for the good of "all". One Dr. gets arrested because she is attempting to find a way to treat it, because of that ideology. But doesn't helping one help all? I mean, if they DID find a cure by trying things out on one, couldn't they reproduce it on a large scale for all? So far, it seems that the governing body only sees a solution in increasing the gene pool's diversity by increasing the baby quota instead of just opening up their city to everyone and doing away with the wall. There is a fun little code to crack, but it's much simpler than the one, say in, "Gregor the Overlander" series. This one was obvious to me quite quickly, whereas the other one had me guessing for awhile.

I didn't realize this was a series until I got near the end and realized that there was no way there could be a solid ending. But I guess there are 3 books and 2 novellas. Luckily for me, they're all published so I won't have to wait. I'm definitely interested enough to see what happens, but I'm not chomping at the bit to get them. I'm going to finish the other two books I have going first. And the one on hold at the library that'll be coming soon (the last Selection one, the sequel to The Heir). Then I'll come back to these maybe in between books for the annual challenge and the Rory Gilmore challenge.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tiger's Curse, Colleen Houck

This book fit into the category of a "book that takes place over the summer". It also takes place partially in Oregon in places I've been (since I grew up in WA on the OR border) and it's always fun to hear places I've been to being described in a book :-)

A neighbor loaned me this book and it's gotten really great reviews and a lot of people I know really liked it. That being said, I really struggled with this book. It was clean, the plot was interesting, I enjoyed learning more about Indian myths, but Kelsey was just not very believable for me. The way she talked, the way she described things, just didn't jive with my idea of a typical 18 year old. Have you heard your average 18 year old use the word "diaphanous"? Kelsey does. I kept trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, I mean, maybe she really WAS just that nerdy. But we don't have enough backstory, she doesn't have any friends, and it was hard for me to connect with her. So it took me MUCH longer to finish this book than it should have. It also took me awhile to get used to the author's writing style. I appreciated the wordy descriptions of scenery, but felt they went overboard when describing details of surroundings and clothing. I think there's a magic level of imagery to be used where the reader has just enough to form a picture, but not quite down to every detail. I feel like I need to go back and read Harry Potter to get a feel for what that perfect level is, because my imagination was going crazy reading those books creating pictures! Now I'm curious to see just how much information my brain was supplied with to begin with. The other thing that got in the way of authenticity for me is that there was only one instance where I felt suspenseful, but I KNEW she wasn't going to kill off a main character because it's a SERIES. So it was a little predictable. I just realized another thing-there needs to be more minor, supporting characters. The other part that bothered me was that when Kelsey returns to Oregon from the summer adventure that her foster family thinks was a summer internship job for an archeologist, her payment includes: a HOUSE, a PORSCHE, her school PAID for, her BOOKS paid for, and a continued summer job each year. And her foster parents think it's super cool! They don't bat an eye. If MY daughter was "paid" in that fashion, I'd be hiring investigators to look into the legitimacy of this employer. Mr. Kadim was very careful to call her foster parents every few days to update them on what Kelsey was "doing" to keep the cover story going, but shouldn't they have been more careful about being a little more discreet or sensible with her "payment"?? Like a honda civic for a car and say that the home belongs to the business and they are allowing her to live there while she goes to school?

I'm not usually very critical of writing because I am *not* a writer. However, in all the reading I've been doing, I've come to expect certain things, I guess. In some ways, it was reminiscent of Percy Jackson, because he has yet to kill off a main character, just a few of the minor supporting cast and you know they are going to get out of every impossible-to-get-out-of situation (however, he builds a lot of suspense into those scenes that make you wonder if just maybe, this one time, he's actually going to off one of the mains). But with Percy Jackson, it made more sense to me, because the original intent of the stories was to be an epic bedtime story told by a dad, and it's exactly that.

I give this a 2.5 star rating (rounding up to be generous on Goodreads because it did pick up and get more interesting towards the end). There are more books in this series and I haven't decided if I want to read them or not....Tiger's Curse was the debut novel for the author, so it is possible that her writing will evolve to something that's more to my taste as she goes.

I just don't understand how a book like this can be a debut novel and make the NY Times Best Seller's list and my friend Renee Collins' book "Until We Meet Again" which was WAY more readable and WAY more authentic characters didn't. Oh well, she just sold another book, so there's another shot!

Apparently, it is becoming a movie as well, and I'm going to be honest that I think I'm going to enjoy it on the screen far more than I did the book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach

I listened to this as an audio book and is part of the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. I couldn't find a way to fit it into the 2016 Reading Challenge, but oh well....

I think I give this book a 3 star rating. Morbidly fascinating. There were definitely times when it made me squirm and feel sick. I could have done without the chapter on cannibalism entirely. I felt like it was just thrown in for shock value and didn't really add to the material in the rest of the book. But I couldn't stop listening. I learned a LOT. There was quite a bit of history about medicine and surgery and all sorts of things. I learned a new alternative to burial vs. cremation, for which I would definitely be inclined to, were my religious beliefs different. So this "new" method (as of early 2000's) is to have the body dipped in liquid nitrogen, completely eliminated of all water content, the bones broken down into smaller pieces (nearly ash-like), and placed in a bio-degradable cornstarch box that can be planted with a memorial tree or shrubbery and will provide nourishment (in a compost like manner) to the memorial plant. I like that idea much better than liquifying inside a coffin, or being cremated. The pros to this newer method are that it's cheaper and more environmentally friendly in numerous ways: no air pollutants (including mercury from the deceased's dental fillings) did you know that crematoriums are not regulated like any other factory that releases pollutants and regulated by the EPA? They release really harmful chemicals, but to be regulated by the EPA, they'd have to be classified as solid waste disposal plants, and no one wants human remains be classified (and thus undignified) as solid waste. I did not know this. It's more cost effective ($20 vs $80) when you cost analyze the main ingredient for disposal. And then the idea is to have a memorial park instead of graveyard, which puts more plants on the earth. I'm not an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination. But I do kind of like the slightly romanticized notion of returning to the dust of the earth in such a literal way. I'm pretty sure I don't want to donate my remains for science. Mostly because you cannot specify what you want to be used for. You could be used as a cadaver crash test dummy, or anatomy labs, or something entirely different. I am certainly an organ donor, and up to now, I have excluded my eyes from this, however I'm starting to wonder if I ought to reconsider since nothing-even embalming-lasts close to forever.

Anyhow, it was quite enlightening and made me think. Which I do like. The narrator's voice was just sardonic enough to make it really work. However, I think I might have been more comfortable with a written copy so I could gloss over certain sections that I didn't really care to know about in such detail.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Blackmoore, Julianne Donaldson

Ok, the only way this one will fit into the 2016 Reading Challenge is a "Book from the library". Overdrive to be specific for my kindle :-) I tried to convince myself that it had a blue cover, but it's just not really blue...more sea green.

Anyhow, this was a fun read. Like Edenbrooke, it is a faster paced Victorian era (aka Jane Austin period) piece. Based on a real location, the descriptions are beautiful. I give it 4 stars because I feel the outcome, while hopelessly romantic (and I knew the outcome would be that way), was highly improbable of the time period. At least, to the miniscule knowledge I have of the time period. And it was quite predictable. Although there were some twists and turns that I couldn't have foreseen, the outcome was exactly as I knew it would be from the very first chapters.

But I do like the idea of women being strong and independent and balking at the traditions that were expected of them. The contrast of the women who rose to their station in a way that seemed eloquent and noble (almost theatrically so), embraced their role in society and actively pursued a match that was more in the interest of their station than their heart (even if that meant marrying a man who was as old-or older-than their own father), to the few women who were genuine and wanted nothing to do with the fakeness of high society. I don't want to seem pious, but I have always felt a little on the outskirts of "society" because I find it exhausting and pointless to play the games necessary to be in the "right" social graces of the "right" people. So I don't even want to think about trying. I was a little like Kate in this book, I truly wanted to be educated so I could have educated conversations about things-deep and meaningful conversations-but I later found out that a vast majority of people are not looking for this type of conversation at parties....but I get so disinterested in small talk. Oh well. Anyhow, I definitely identified with Kate, but I also wonder if that makes her too modern for the time period she was written into. I do however, admire her for making the decision that she felt severed her ties for a "happily ever after". Even though it is apparent to the reader that there will be a happy ending, Kate, in the moment does not, and chooses her fate based upon what is right, not what she wants. Which is admirable in any era. Much the same way I admired the character of America Singer in the Selection series.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Number the Stars, Lois Lowry

I know I said on Goodreads I started reading this book a long time ago, but in all honesty, I only read the introduction by the author when my daughter finished Sword of the Summer and that one was due back at the library first so I quickly switched. So I updated that in Goodreads too, started today, finished today.

This book fits into the 2016 Challenge as: read a book you can finish in a day

I'm not sure if I'll read any others in a single day! I LOVED this perspective and historically accurate depiction of how the Danish reacted to the Nazi occupation. Though the characters are fictitious, nearly all of the occurrences are accurate to history. I know that some feel that WWII is overdone and I'll be the first to admit I know a lot more about WWII than I do about WWI, but I also know that part of that is because of have Jewish ancestry. But I like how in this story, it is from the perspective of a 10 year old girl. My older daughter is almost 11 now. She has been reading all about Malala Yousafzai. She got a book about her from a book order and then in the next book order, she got the Youth Edition of her autobiography. I have been steering her towards literature that teaches about bravery and doing the right thing, and how even in the face of danger, doing what's right is ALWAYS the best choice.

In the afterward, Lois Lowry includes this quote from a boy who was part of the Resistence to help the nearly 7,000 Jewish population of Denmark be smuggled across the sea to Sweden. This quote is from a letter he wrote to his family the night before he was executed after being caught. "...and I want you all to remember-that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create and ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with the pleasure feel he is a part of-something he can work and fight for. Surely that gift-the gift of a world of human decency-is the one that all countries hunger for still. I hope that this story of Denmark, and its people, will remind us all that such a world is possible."

5 stars from me

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

I was looking for an audio book on Overdrive and found The Hobbit. Believe it or not, I've never read it. I had a friend in high school who LOVE the Hobbit. He even could write using its language or something like that, and asked me to learn it so we pass letters to each other in it. I tried, but honestly, Morse Code made more sense to me!

I LOVED this audio production! There were several different narrators for different voices and even music in the background during several spots!

The Hobbit is a true fun adventure story. I kept wondering if there was a "point" or why Gandalf had chosen Bilbo when he didn't even want an adventure to begin with.....but maybe it's just the adventures and enjoying the cunning ability of his mind as he helped to outsmart so many. As with nearly everyone else who has read the Hobbit, I really wonder why the movie has to be a trilogy when it's so short, but it's obviously for money sake and not the sake of the story.

I say 4.5 stars, but I'll round up for the audio production being so well done.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stars Above, Marissa Meyer

This was a great collection of novella's dealing with the Lunar Chronicles.
It fits under the category in the 2016 Reading Challenge as a book published in 2016

I'd give it a solid 4.5 (I think I'll round up for goodreads)

I loved reading the back stories of everyone, especially Michelle Benoit. I always wished I had known more about her. I also appreciated learning more about Cinder's early years in New Beijing, however, I was VERY disappointed in the character of Garan. I had such high expectations of him and the reality (fictional reality...) did not live up to those expectations even in the slightest.

The only story I was confused by was The Little Andriod. It really had absolutely nothing to do with Cinder or her friends. Come to find out on further research, it was a story based on one of the Little Mermaid tales, which makes it make so much more sense, but still, it seemed a little awkward in this collection because it didn't really fit. But then, it wouldn't have really fit ANYWHERE, so then again, why NOT just throw it in the mix?

I still have some unanswered questions about Lunar's and their ability to have a democratic type society. If they can be manipulative still, who's to say they wouldn't be swayed to vote in a particular way? Do they have safeguards in place so that voting can be private enough not to be manipulated? Are speeches all required to be aired over a broadcast where glamours cannot have an effect? I know, I'm probably weird in this and the target audience of teenagers probably would NOT be thinking this way or worrying about those things. *sigh* 

All in all, a fast, fun, clean, delightful collection of more stories about our favorite characters, and who doesn't like that?

The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty

I listened to this as an audio book. I'm not sure I can fit it into any category for the 2016 challenge, but this is the same author as "What Alice Forgot" and I'd heard good things about this one too.

I didn't like this one as much. Too much preoccupation with sex. And quite a bit more swearing than I am happy with. I think when I read the book with my eyes, I can skim over more of that stuff, but when you're listening to it, it's just there-and with expression too!

Aside from that, though, there were many things that make you think, which is what I liked about What Alice Forgot, but this one wasn't quite as compelling. There were 3 different narrators going on and their lives sort of intertwined and sort of didn't. It was slightly predictable in some ways but not in other ways. One question that was raised was, if you do something horribly wrong, but then live the rest of your life as close to being a Saint as you can, does that absolve you of your wrong doing? Are all your good deeds done afterwards invalid because you once did something bad? How do you weigh your good decisions against your bad ones? Can you choose your own penance if you "get away with it"? Or will Karma come to get you in the end? And if you stumble upon someone else's secret, what is your role in keeping it or encouraging the person to confess? What if confession means dissolving everything you know in your life and ruining everything-and you don't feel you deserve that because you didn't know about the secret until you were way too far along with the rest of life? Can people be forgiven? Can people change? What is the price of that? Is harboring ill feelings a benefit in any way? Does it ever end well when you sit and stew on a wrong someone has done you?

She also deals with the concept of love and how we love people based on the knowledge we have of them and how new knowledge, even unpleasant knowledge sometimes doesn't change the fact that we still love them. And the difference between new, exciting love and married for over 10 years love. She explores why we feel this comfortable love is boring and lacking, but how you can change your perception and it becomes something that is different, but not lacking. That just because you've lost that newlywed spark of excitement doesn't mean that you've fallen out of love. And how easy it is to fall in love with someone-but it's the STAYING in love that takes a conscious effort.

Then the epilogue. I don't know if it makes things better or worse! She points out, rightfully so, that we don't know all the parts of the story. We don't know the what if's of life. There are many things, that had we had full disclosure earlier in life, would have completely changed the course of our lives and the way we look at things. I think that is an interesting concept to ponder on its own, but presented as an epilogue with information that only the reader gets, but the characters don't (for the most part), seems rather unfair to those poor fictional characters who have been tormented by their fictional lives.

As for the performance of the narrator, she was absolutely WONDERFUL. Beautiful light Australian accent (I feel I could have picked up a little authenticity for my own future impressions), and she did a delightfully convincing job with the little girl, Esther's, speech impediment.

I think I give this one a solid 3.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

I read this book to fit under the 2016 Reading Challenge "Book written by a celebrity". I *love* Lauren Graham. I loved Gilmore Girls and someday I want to watch the Parenthood series because I heard great things about it.

This book was a little disappointing to me given how much I like Lauren Graham. I just feel that it fell short of its potential. Or maybe I was just hoping the main character would remind me more of Lauren and it didn't. Anyhow, it was a great throwback to the era I grew up in-remembering 1995 in all its pager-is-the-only-on-the-go-communicator-answering-machine-message-phone-tag-filofax glory. It was NOT that long ago, but it was such a different world when it came to communication. I do feel I have a bit more empathy for hopeful stars just wanting to survive by doing what they love.  As a classical musician, there are plenty of people out there who are required to have "real jobs" in addition to doing what they love, so acting doesn't have a monopoly on that type of mentality. Visual artists probably run into the same problem. I did like the confusion that Franny had about who she was-having pretended so much. It makes me wonder if that's why Hollywood relationships (especially the ones where they're both celebrities) rarely last-how could you ever know if you REALLY TRULY knew the REAL person underneath all those acting jobs? How do the celebrities even know who they truly are themselves? I'm sure there are several who feel grounded in who their true self is, but for every one of those, I'm sure there are others who really aren't sure and just play a part all the time depending on what they need to be and who they need to be it for.

It seemed a little stereotypical, since to the reader, the "right" choice was quite obvious, even though it wasn't obvious to Franny. The one fun thing was that one character, whom Franny viewed as a threat towards the beginning turned into a pleasant friendship.

I liked how there are comparisons to different professions and how they measure and/or define "success". Lots of professions have more concrete ways to measure success because it can be shown with numbers on a page. In the arts (and I would dare say education), not all "success" is completely measurable. I mean, how do you measure giving a student more self esteem? It's not quantifiable. A failed audition doesn't mean that you are "the worst" but just that you weren't "the best" on "that particular day". I'm living in a community right now that's quite large. There are 2 large symphonies and several small spin off groups. I had an audition and I got nervous and probably talked too much and then I made a couple mistakes that I've NEVER made in EASY places and was one of the final TWO people to get cut. (This was for a spot playing flute). I've since joined a flute choir just to have some outlet to play in and have discovered that there are several other players who are playing in other, heterogenous groups (which is my favorite-I love mixed instrument groups and enjoy playing in them immensely) who are not as good as I am. As in, they have trouble counting, or keeping intonation consistent or things that I think are pretty basic. BUT they were here first. Those other groups aren't looking for anyone better than what they have. So it's very political, it's very much about relationships (not always talent-which this point is in the book too!), and it's also about seniority and loyalty. I knew that going in to moving here, luckily, because a fellow flutist who is light years better than me warned me. It's really a shame.

Anyhow, back to the book....I liked the best friend Jane a lot, she was a VERY real person to me. Dan was also a fun character and I thought he brought a dose of reality as well. Quintessential nerd who is going against the families wishes to do something practical like become another generation of Dr. and instead wants to write science fiction or at least a screen play. This story is told all over music history with composers. Either the composer came from a musical family and was pretty much expected to continue in music or the family was highly disappointed with a chosen career in music.

I think my absolute favorite character, though, is Franny's dad. He's an English teacher and measures time by his course syllabus. That is EXACTLY how I would measure time as an English teacher. And what I love even MORE is the fact that since he asks Franny to get back to him before he reaches the next novel in the syllabus, you know Franny probably has his syllabus memorized by default as well.

I guess I liked it more than I thought, although I would have liked a slightly more conclusive ending, I mean, you are PRETTY sure things are going to end the way you think they are, or at least you have really good HOPE for it, but it's not for SURE. but I guess nothing in life is.....Anyway, I guess the last part I liked was the universal desire to be liked and accepted by the "right" people. This is shown in two ways with Franny. One is in her choice of agents and the other is in her choice of guy. It's pretty obvious to the reader, like I mentioned before, but I know that as a real human being, I have been in positions where I think the answer should be obvious about which crowd to associate myself with, but I don't necessarily want to go with that answer and I second guess myself. As a species, even if we have strong self esteem and all that, I think we all have this inner desire to be accepted and we feel that because relationships are SO incredibly important that we have to associate ourselves with a specific person or group of people or we will be jeopardizing our future. But, as this story plays out, we realize that sometimes we need to go with our gut and what's best for us, not who we think others would be more impressed by.

So on Goodreads, I gave it a 3, in reality it's a solid 3.5

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Seriously, I'm Kidding, Ellen DeGeneres

I actually started listening to this as an audio book last summer while packing my home, so there were some VERY timely parts that made me laugh out loud. Which I needed, because I did NOT. Want. To. Move. But it was necessary. Anyhow, I never got through it all before the title expired and then moving day came and life was crazy. So I decided to pick it back up as a physical book for the 2016 reading challenge "book written by a comedian". I know she's a talk show host, but she is considered to be a comedian, so that's good enough for me :-) And you have to read this with Ellen's voice in your head. Because in the audio, she narrates it, and that is what makes it funny.

So let me tell you, the FUNNIEST part for me while packing up random stuff in my kitchen, I listen to this chapter on clutter. So here is an excerpt:

Nowadays people are a little more aware of how much stuff they have because there's a bit of social stigma if you have too much stuff. There's even a name for the people who have the most stuff. They're called hoarders. Back in the day they were just called grandmothers. If you want to clean out your house and get rid of stuff, you can always do a good spring cleaning every year. Or you can do what I do. Move. I move a lot. I've moved about ten times over the past fifteen years. I don't move for the sole purpose of getting rid of stuff. I'm not crazy. I also move so that I never have to wash any windows. "Is that a smudge? Time to pack it up. Let's go." When you're packing up a house, you're forced to decide what you really need versus what you can get rid of. You might have been holding on to cases and cases of empty glass jars, but once you have to pack them up and move them, you realize maybe you're not going to harvest your own honey. My mama is similar to me in that she also likes to move a lot. Mama has moved thirty-two times since 1952.....Anyway, my mama might be similar to me as far as moving around goes, but as far as clutter is concerned she's a little different. When she moved into the house she lives in now...., she made it a point to tell me how excited she was because she was going to downsize. She was getting rid of all the stuff she didn't need anymore and starting fresh in her new house. I was so proud of her. I went over to help her settle in and I assumed when I got there, I wouldn't have to unpack much more than a pillow and a spoon. Not so. Let me share with you all the items Betty "I Am Downsizing" DeGeneres asked movers to wrap up, place in a box, seal up the box, put in a van, and move into a while new house so that I could cut open the box, take out hte items, and unwrap them:

1. A three-hole punch
2. A single-hole punch
3. A VHS tape of Abs of Steel
4. An unopened VHS tape of Hip Hop Abs
5. A harmonica
6. Another harmonica
7. A third harmonica
8. A rusty sifter
9. A colander from 1953
10. Biscuit cutters.

Many of these items have moved thirty-two times. And I should point a few things out. First of all, Mama moved into that house in 2010, not 1987, as the VHS tapes would have you believe. Second of all, Mama is not in a blues band. She doesn't play the harmonica and even if she did, the ones I found in that box looked like that had been dug up next to some train tracks. If Mama put her mouth anywhere near them I would immediately taker her for a tetanus shot. Thirdly, Mama does not cook or bake or prepare food in any way. I don't know what sort of imaginary biscuits she thinks she's going to cut."

And I was listening to all of that as I was packing up boxes....some of which had content lists that are just as silly because I didn't have the time (or gumption) to actually go through them as I was packing (in my defense, I pretty much had to pack an entire home on my own in 2 weeks. I THOUGHT I had made excellent progress, but when my husband returned to help with the 'last few things' it turns out you really can hide quite a large amount of THINGS in places that the are "put away" in).

So I would give this a 3.5 star rating because most of it was funny, only a little was annoying, and only a slight bit was a little inappropriate (but not in a hilarious enough way).

Friday, February 19, 2016

What's to Become of the Boy? Or: Something to Do with Books, Heinrich Boll

I found this book looking at a list of books under 150 pages for the 2016 reading challenge, but decided to put it under "Book that's been translated into English" category because I felt it'd be easier to find another short book than another translated work that would pique my interest as much.

This book is a memoir of the author Heinrich Boll that he wrote himself. It's interesting because he admits that he's writing this all down in retrospect trying to remember what happened some 40 years ago (from the time of writing it-it was published in 1981). It has the distinct air of a gentleman getting on in years telling a story to make a point, to help the next generation understand a few things.

Heinrich grew up in a Catholic pacifist family who wanted nothing to do with the Nazi's. There were some things about Germany that I hadn't considered when wondering just how Hitler got into power. Part of it could have been the influenza epidemic weakening the society. Their were economic struggles, which gets people down for sure. I loved how he mentioned that there were plenty of people who DIDN'T support the Nazi movement, but were survivalists, so they put in the minimum, they did their fair share of bribes, of keeping quiet, of complying to only the degree necessary. For instance, there were days when it was compulsory to fly the Nazi flag, so his family purchased a flag for those occasions, "albeit a small one: on days when displaying the flag was compulsory, sentiments could also be deduced from the size of the flags." (page 37). So much of life was structured and I think the degree of risk one took to avoid that must have varied on location as well as how many friends you had in high places. He said that he never felt that he was better than the Nazi's or lifted himself up, there were 2 other boys who also didn't join the Hitler Youth program. His family felt compelled to put up a little bit of a show when in a family council it was voted that his brother would join the Storm Troopers (yet, he was absent most of the time, and the family bribed someone with cigarettes to mark him present). The permeating question, as the title implies, is what would Heinrich do after high school? What profession could he possibly go into? One of his relatives suggested "Something to do with books". It wasn't acceptable for him to declare "book trade" so on his official certificate of Maturation (equivalent of a high school diploma, I suppose) it says "publishing".

Anyhow, I give this book 3.5 stars because it was very interesting, but it was also a bit dry and even at only 82 pages it was a little hard to get through. Some parts were more compelling than others. I was lost in some places because I didn't recognize the names or places in several instances, but I don't think that detracted from the message of the book.

I feel the message was to get across another perspective of that time period. It's very easy, more than 50 years later to look back with all we know and make a judgement call, but we have to remember what it was like for them in the moment because if we are going to be honest, we can only make judgements in light of what was in the moment for them. Otherwise we are only kidding ourselves into being much smarter than we actually are.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Because of Winn Dixie, Kate DiCamillo

I listened to this as an audio book because it happened to be available when I wanted something to listen to while doing chores :-)

I really enjoyed this! The narrator used a thick southern accent (but not so thick that you couldn't understand) and have enough variations in the voices that you knew who was who.

This is a great story of learning how to deal with sorrow, grief (even if it's delayed), starting over, moving, making new friends, not judging others too quickly or too harshly, to give other people a chance, and how animals-especially dogs-are capable of bringing people together in a way people just can't do it on their own. I liked how satisfying the ending was, even though not everything was quintessentially "happy", it had closure for those parts and plenty of happiness and hope for continued happiness.

Now I really want a dog! I don't think I can fit this into any of my 2016 reading challenge books, but it's ok, it was definitely good and I'd definitely recommend it to my daughter (almost 11yrs now) to read. And I think I'll get the movie adaptation from the library to watch as well.

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult

This made the NY Times Bestseller list, so that's where I filed this in the 2016 reading challenge. It's also on Rory's list as well ;-)

I was really loving this book. Sure there were some annoying points (like WHY does Campbell keep telling people different reasons for his service dog? and are people REALLY that ignorant-or at least WERE they at the time-to think that service dogs are ONLY for people who are blind?), but it was engaging and hard to put down. It was a little confusing because it kept jumping narrators and also it kept jumping times. I can't even remember what year it was SUPPOSED to be in the "present" day of this story. There would be flashbacks within the chapters too, so the timeline of everything was sometimes hard to keep up with.

The thing I liked MOST about this book is that it made me think. I also kept juxtaposing the mother, Sara, with my good friend Christy. Christy's oldest child, her 12 year old daughter, was born with a kidney disorder that has always taken a lot of time, effort and resources. Right now, they are on their way to qualifying for transplant. They are required to wait until her kidneys are 100% gone and non-functioning (I don't know why, I don't know if there's a medical reason for this or if it's an arbitrary insurance rule), but they are currently waiting for the insurance to give them the go-ahead for them to test the first likely candidate for a donor. They are hoping to find a related donor, but they are asking that if anyone still wants to have children to NOT consider being a donor and they are NOT asking any of her younger siblings either! I looked up online and I guess in rare cases, there ARE minors who are living donors, but it's definitely not the norm. So the premise of this book from the get go was a little far fetched to me. The other issues Sara had were that she was SO tunnel vision on keeping Kate alive and healthy that she practically forgot that she had a son (and his criminal behaviors were completely ignored up until the last minute-and even then, his parents protected him from natural consequences by not turning him in for any wrong doing) and wasn't very sympathetic to Anna for wanting freedom from being tethered to her sister. That part was believable, because I know as a mom how much you want to do for each of your kids, but looking at my friend Christy, it's obvious that you can be focused on one child and still love and be aware of all your other kids. Christy has 5 children. And they all know as age appropriately as possible what is going on and they all get it. I'm sure they have their moments of jealousy when their mom is spending yet another several days in a totally different city with their sister, but they know how lucky they are to NOT be the one with a medical problem-they see the limitations their sister has because of her condition and they are not jealous of that. When their mom is home, she does her best to be present and there for her other kids as much as she is for her oldest. I'm not sure if it's perspective that this fictional mother lacks, or the refusal to accept anything that her own agenda. About halfway through the book, I was thinking, well, what does KATE want? Why isn't that a top consideration as well? It does come about, but not until much later.

The thing I liked the LEAST was the ending. I won't put any spoilers, but it felt like I was robbed of a decent, believable ending. It wasn't even close to what could have logically happened. I had been giving my husband the reader's digest version of this book because I wanted to talk about the issues it raised about parenting and parenting in the midst of a chronic or terminal illness. When I told him the ending his reaction was "What? It's like she couldn't make the decisions that she was trying to make her characters make so she just made this cop-out ending instead." She doesn't even leave the reader with a "was the right choice made?" because she eliminated choices. It reminded me of Twilight and the debate over whether or not Bella should become a vampire and how Meyer forced the choice upon us because it was either turn into a vampire or die giving birth to a half vampire. Only, I felt like I could accept that in Twlight MORE than I can accept the ending here.

I was going to give this book 4 stars. But just as the ending of "Curious Incident" pushed it up to 5 stars, the ending of this one pushed it down to 3. I'm not even sure I want to watch the movie adaptation.......

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon

This book was mentioned in "Love Anthony" and it was also on the Rory Gilmore reading challenge list. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it work for the 2016 reading challenge, but it was available on kindle, so I checked it out anyway. And that's when I discovered it takes place in England! Score, "Book set in Europe" check!

This book had me all over the place. I was absolutely convinced I'd be giving in a 4 star review. There is a LOT of swearing. A LOT of the f-bomb...more than I'm usually comfortable with. (In fact, I just returned a book I tried reading for the 2016 challenge of a book where the protagonist has the same profession as you, so I picked "The Music Teacher" but it had so much swearing being used in ways I was not comfortable with and also a few other crude/lewd comments). But I just skimmed over those parts as best I could.

This book is told by Christopher, who is 15. Mark Haddon has said that this isn't a book about a specific syndrome or disorder, but about differences. However, with that said, the behaviors that Christopher has are highly correlative to high functioning autism/savant. He is EXTREMELY bright at math. He talks quite a bit about math and shows math equations and my eyes glazed over. I didn't even TRY to understand most of it. But he is not able to decipher non-verbal cues. He has a one on one teacher at his school for children with special needs, Siobhan, who helps him to understand the people around him. Siobhan wrote a happy face and a sad face, and Christopher knows what those mean. But once she starts drawing other emotive faces, he doesn't know what they mean. He doesn't know mad, frustrated, unsure, uneasy, confused, etc. He said he once made Siobhan write them all out and what emotion they were and he was trying to use it as a reference sheet in real live conversations but that the expressions changed too quickly and people were put off by it. He is very literal minded. He said that people are not specific enough. They would ask him to be quiet, but never tell him for how long.

The story starts with him finding his neighbor's dog murdered, being falsely accused of the murder, accidentally on purpose hitting a police officer (he doesn't like being touched, so he hit the officer to get him to stop touching him, but he didn't mean to inflict harm, if that makes sense). He lives with his father who lets him be himself for the most part and indulges him in the "rules" that Christopher has made for himself. He doesn't like yellow or brown things. He doesn't like his food to touch on the plate. If he sees so many red cars in a row on the way to school, it determines how Good of a day it will be, but so many yellow cars in a row make it a "Black Day" where he closes off and doesn't to anything. He is only allowed to have 2 of those days in a row at school. The third day, he shuts his eyes on the way to school so he won't know if he sees so many yellow cars in a row.

He explains that other people don't take in details like he does. If someone were to be in a field with some cows, they'd see some cows, the field, flowers, and then think that it was a beautiful day and their mind would wander to other things. For him, he can tell you the date, day, time, what the cloud formations were, exactly how many cows there were and how many were white with black spots and how many were white with brown spots and that there were two different kinds of flowers in the field, etc. And that he can't help taking in all those details. So when he goes someplace new, he's flooded with all that information and it's too much, which is why he doesn't like new places.

I can't say too much more about the plot without it being a HUGE spoiler, but let me just say that the ending is what tipped me to the 5 star rating. The way things were reconciled in the end both with other people in Christopher's life and with his own self-reflection/perception, made me smile and feel SO good! This story showed how hard it is to learn to live with people who think in such a different way than the majority of society, but how even though it's hard, we CAN figure things out and meaningful ways of communicating. For instance, since Christopher doesn't like being touched, especially not hugged, his parents devised an alternative. They will hold up their right hand, with their fingers fanned out and Christopher will hold up his left and he makes it so all their fingers and thumb touch and that means they love him.

So I think this book helps bring to light more about the similarities between all people rather than the differences. That sometimes there are certain things that are needed-Christopher doesn't mind going to a special needs school because they always have an environment that he is comfortable with-and it's not cruel or treating them as subhuman or anything. That it would be more cruel to ask them to be where they aren't happy or comfortable. And that there are MANY different ways to communicate with people. That adapting ourselves to others and allowing them to be who they are is not really such a hard thing. We do this with lots of people in more subtle ways, so why not just go all the way in more obvious ways when necessary?