January books — 2013 off to a strong start

Not only is my 2013 off to a very quick start (I’ll never be able to keep up the 10 book/month pace), it’s off to a good one. Of the 10 books I completed in January, most were well above average. A couple surprised me. A couple disappointed me. And all made me glad I love to read.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

4 stars

fun homeA very quick, if mildly disturbing, read. This is my first experience with a graphic-book and I found the illustrations sometimes really added to the limited text,but in some cases stole from the sharp, crisp writing. Bechdel does not shy away from the discomfort inherent in not only her own coming out story, but the complicated back-story of her father’s closeted homosexuality. The complex father-daughter relationship was fascinating to me and I would have liked that to be fleshed out even more (in terms of text). Overall, I was impressed by this memoir.

He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not.”

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

4 stars

Previously reviewed

The air would smell like taffy and drying seaweed, and they would wear white, and there would be still more happiness. So much happiness. It was almost as exhausting as this relentless February.”

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

3.5 stars

Previously reviewed

Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time in which you never lived? I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon in German — beautiful, absurd, and twenty letters long.”

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

3 stars

the chaperoneI really liked so much of this book (including Elizabeth McGovern’s excellent narration), but it just went on so long. I felt like it had several false endings, places where I was finished but then it kept going. Maybe the problem is just that I didn’t expect an epic when I began. The story covers almost 50 years of Cora’s life in a great deal of detail. And while I find the 20th century interesting background, I was frustrated at Moriarty’s need to touch on so many different “issues” — Prohibition, adoption, gay rights, reproductive rights, suffrage. Add to that, Cora happens to witness or read about dozens of historical events. I began to feel manipulated after a while. What a I loved was the relationship between Cora and Louise Brooks. I would have been much more satisfied had she ended the book after their summer together.

The young can cut you with their unrounded edges…but they can also push you right up to the window of the future and push you through.”

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

3.5 stars

Deceptively simple story about a Bengali woman, Amina, who meets her American husband on-line, moves to Rochester and struggles to bring her parents to America. Immigrations, marriage, family, desire, truth are the themes all tangled under the surface story.  I liked Amina a lot and thought the author brought up many interesting questions, but the other characters didn’t seem as truthful to me. I couldn’t understand their motivations or transitions,which is what prevents a higher rating. I would read more of this writer.

You thought you were a permanent part of your own experience, the net that held it all together — until you discovered that there were many selves, dissolving into one another so quickly over time that the buildings and trees and even the pavement turned out to have more substance than you did.”

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

4 stars

Reviewed previously

You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audio)

4 stars

Another great installment of Harry Potter. I can see that the tone of these novels has really darkened considerably. There were moments when my youngest was truly afraid. It’s quite an accomplishment that, even knowing that Harry will survive, I feel the danger and fear he faces. The suspense and environment are so rich, that “spoilers” don’t even interfere with the drama. Can’t wait to start the next one.

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

2.5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this book but I couldn’t. In fact, I cared so little about it when it was over that I didn’t write any sort of review or notes and now I can only remember a disabled teenager, a grieving loser-ish thirty-something and a trip in a van where they pick up all sorts of oddballs. It sounds like a premise I’d love (kind of Little Miss Sunshine), but it never came together.

I know I’ve lost my mind. But I’m not concerned, because it’s the first thing I’ve lost in a long time that actually feels good.”

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories byLudmila Petrushevskaya, Anna Summers (translation)

Dozens of short stories, most about people whose lives are not going to work out no matter what they do or hope for. I’m sure they are a reflection of the author’s Soviet reality, but, not only were they depressing, I never found any one or any moment to hold on to. Reading this was like skipping stones over a very flat, dark, lake. Ultimately unfulfilling. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin Books in exchange for my honest review.

A Red Herring Without Mustard (A Flavia de Luce Mystery #3) by Alan Bradley

4 stars

A Red Herring without MustardWhile other books were failing me, Flavia was there to bring a smile to my face. As usual, this precocious 11 year-old amateur chemist/detective found herself embroiled in murder and mayhem. While there is a certain formula to all these books, Bradley wisely goes deeper into each character with the succession of novels. We learn more about Flavia each time and get to know more about her long-lost mother Harriet, who posthumously plays a huge role in the emotional undercurrent of this book. The “Buckshaw Chronicles” are a smart, entertaining, emotionally fulfilling series of mysteries. I’m so grateful their interesting titles drew my eye a couple of years ago.

Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little.  Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.”

Teaser Tuesday: The Light Between Oceans

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. I actually discovered the idea on one of my favorite blogs, Up All Night Reading. I haven’t posted a Teaser in a good long while, so I thought it might be fun.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

the light between oceansThis week’s teaser is from M.L. Stedman’s latest, The Light Between Oceans. Even though I’ve only begun reading, I am swept away by the sparseness of the setting, the mystery lying between Tom and Isabelle and Stedman’s extended use of “lighthouse” and “island” as metaphors.

Captivating, romantic and engaging. (And, I can rarely settle on just two sentences, so here we go.)

Tom rarely thought of the house in terms of rooms either. It was just “home.” And something in him saddened at the dissection of the island, the splitting off into the good and the bad, the safe and the dangerous. He preferred to think of it as whole. Even more, he was uneasy about parts bearing his name. Janus sis not belong to him; he belonged to it, like the natives thought of the land. His job was just to take care of it.

And what are you reading?

Oh boy. Oh man.

Today, I will keep it very simple, because all I can think about is that my oldest son is twelve today. How is it possible that my little boy is quickly becoming a young man? It seems yesterday he was crawling around with his gigantic smile and discovering new things each day.

He still has the smile and the wonderful sense of discovery, but he’s as tall as I, with larger feet and longer legs. My baby is no more. I have to say that I am really looking forward to getting to know the man.

Happy Birthday my angel.


Beachwalk, 2012

Beachwalk, 2012


The Casual Vacancy – a new review

The Casual VacancyI really enjoyed this novel. I’ve only ever listened to Rowling’s Harry Potter books on audio, but I’ve been consistently impressed by her character development, attention to detail and evocative settings. This book has all of those things.

When Barry Fairbrother dies in a small English town, he leaves “a casual vacancy” in his seat on the local Pagford Parish Council. Through this position, we then meet dozens of his fellow Pagford residents and a few from neighboring Yarvil. Reading about them was like peeking into their diaries. Rowling leaves no stone unturned in searching for her characters’ underbellies, and in turn, the underbelly of the community they represent.

The criticism this novel has received, in fact, revolves in large part around the fact that these characters about whom she writes 500+ pages, are not entirely likable. While that’s true, it didn’t bother me in the least. I didn’t mind that they were petty, guilty, crazy, addicted, ineffectual, suspicious, lewd, sad people. I still liked going along on this journey.

“The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else.”

Rowling is definitely of the school that an author should never introduce a character or plot point that does not have some greater meaning. So in the last 1/3 of the book, I was a little annoyed at some “contrived” meetings of characters and situations. But, this is how she writes. She is making a point about the way in which lives are interconnected. I chose to suspend my disbelief and, in the end, was entirely satisfied with where she left each character.

Did I miss the Harry/Ron/Hermione heroics? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that The Casual Vacancy does have its share of heroes, at least heroic moments. It’s just that they’re human. They’re small and subtle, tiny victories over our more base natures.

“You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”

Daily Prompt: Struggling to Set a Good Example.


Failure_Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

Describe your last attempt to learn something that didn’t come easily to you?

You know how as parents we’re supposed to lead by example? Well, in terms of learning new things, I’m an “epic fail” as my sons would say. I avoid “new” like the plague.

This is not all negative of course. I would argue that I know my own strengths, and in the areas of communication and consensus-building, I excel. I can hold my own on a computer, in social settings, and certainly in the work place. I have a marvelous husband who takes care of all of the home and auto complications (aren’t we deliciously retro?), so I’ve never had to struggle with wiring or plumbing.

I admit my tendency to make the less challenging choice, when possible.

But, in the behavior of my sons, I’ve seen my tendency to avoid challenge in a more negative light. One of my sons struggles in sports. It just doesn’t come easily, the way school and music do. And, really, it breaks my heart to see how badly he wants to be an athletic success, and to fear that it will never happen for him.

And yet, he tries. He tries partly because we won’t let him quit. Once he signs on to a team or a class, he has to follow through. We’ll help him and practice with him, but ultimately, he’s the one on the court or on the field and he gets out there and just does it. (He doesn’t always do it with the best attitude or a big smile, but he does it nonetheless.)

There was a year where he chose not to play his favorite sport because it “wasn’t fun anymore.” My husband and I were fine with his decision, but as he sat on the sidelines and watched his brothers and friends play, he determined to try again. “I think I want to play again next year.” I know he’ll struggle, and feel frustrated and sometimes take it out on us, but I am so proud he wants to try.

So instead of modeling the behavior for my kids, I’m following my son’s lead. I’m trying to open myself up to new skills.

When I started my new job this year, I had to learn a new design program, Adobe Illustrator. I didn’t have a ton of design skills to begin with, and was only familiar with InDesign. In fact, my bosses were open to purchasing a new design program, but I realized that all the files I would need were already in Illustrator. I was being silly. I could learn a new program, right?

I’m still learning (and I still think Illustrator is often frustratingly non-intuitive), but I’m using it almost every day and getting happier with the finished product all the time. I’ve added several other programs to my resume in a few short months. I’ve improved my photography skills by sheer determination and practice, not letting my fear of failure prevent my success.

I will not quit because something is challenging. I will meet that challenge, overcome it, and move on to the next. Because that’s life, right? I will try to do this with good humor and an ability to appreciate failure as a part of the process instead of a final result.

This is the model I want to provide for my sons.

Thanks, once again, to Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.

This post puts me in mind of Frank Sinatra singing “High Hopes”.  Just what did make that little ole ant think he could move a rubber tree plant?

My blog personality. I’m an edmt.

I’m not even sure how I stumbled across rarasaur, but I’ve fallen in love with the blog and its brilliance which masquerades as seeming randomness. In searching through the backlog of posts I stumbled upon the Blogger Personality Test. What fun, I thought.

To give you a little history, I’m one of those people who ALWAYS takes the personality quizzes in magazines. I’ve done it since I was a young girl reading Tiger Beat and trying to find out (in the way only an anonymous quiz can tell me), if I should be dating the jock, the bad boy or the shy genius. I did so many of these quizzes that I was able to provide the “correct” answer to get any outcome I wanted.

Fast forward to 2013 and here I am still trying to figure out what I want my blog to be (other than seeming randomness not yet coming close to approaching brilliance.) And here was a completely unscientific, rather hilarious personality quiz.

Imagine my joy when rarasaur told me that I’m “a harmonious blogger with a welcoming blog that inspires discussion.” That’s just what I want to be. Never mind that I’m not much of a cereal eater, this quiz was 100% correct that, back in my Tiger Beat days, I planned for my bridesmaids to wear evergreen, long-sleeved velvet dresses. Genius, right?


I encourage all you bloggers out there to take the quiz and see how rarasaur does in guessing your blogger personality. Then come back and let me know if you’re an edmt too.



Where do the weeks go? It’s Wednesday again Feel free to play along. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? The Casual Vacancy, which received a lot of flak for its bevy of unlikable characters, but I’m liking them so far. Not sure what it says about me, but I love the small-town politics and intrigue. Listening to the 3rd installment of the Flavia de Luce series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and enjoying it immensely. Flavia always brings a smile to my face. Also from J.K. Rowling, my sons and I are on the last disc of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We are definitely on the edge of our seats at the moment. These books are a real thrill.

What did you recently finish reading? Finished an advanced copy of a disturbing new memoir, With or Without You, by Dominca Ruta. Sometimes reading about another person’s crazy scary childhood makes me feel like my life has pretty much been a cakewalk. Also read The Newlyweds, which was a very interesting novel about a Bengali bride trying to make a marriage and life in America work, all the while missing her family in Bangladesh. (That is a really simple sentence about a really complex book.)

What do you think you’ll read next? Eager to start This is How You Lose Her on audio and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving in hardback. I’ve been wanting to read both for a long time.

What are your W…W…W… titles?

With or Without You – a new review

with or without youI read a Tweet recently along the lines that memoirs need not be the “Olympics of tragedy.” I apologize for my inability to credit the source, but the phrase stuck with me. I had just finished reading With or Without You, a new memoir by Domenica Ruta, whose life seems like the 1600 IM of tragedy and abuse.

The daughter of a drug addict, albeit a high-functioning and dynamic one, Ruta writes about coming of age among drugs, sexual abuse and addiction. But, remarkably, that’s not really what the book is about. The story derives its drama from the unusual mother-daughter relationship (another prevailing memoir theme).

It is the declaration of every thinking woman at some point in her life, a manifesto that crosses all barriers of class or color or whatever arbitrary thing we try to pretend separates us. It starts out as a girlish whisper, grows louder with each passing year, until that faint promise we traced in the sand becomes a declarative, then an imperative: I will not become my mother.”

The drugs, sex and neglect of her childhood seem almost like minor details compared to the agony of her painful mother love. It took me a while to understand that, in my horror at her upbringing, I was missing the main point of this memoir.

Understanding how much Ruta wished she, and not addiction, were the center of her mom’s universe was heartbreaking. Kathi is a flamboyant, intelligent, (formerly) beautiful, larger-than-life character, at least in Ruta’s retelling. As a reader, as angry as I felt at her actions, I couldn’t help but like, and sometimes even admire, her.

In this way, Ruta provides an unusual tension in the story-telling. Over the course of her life, you can almost see the logical part of brain, which writes almost clinically about her mother, fighting with her heart which writes with emotion and longing.

Ruta wisely includes a great deal of self-deprecating humor to break up the pathos.

Kathi and I were the two most outrageous snobs ever to receive public assistance.”

“Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time in which you never lived? I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon in German — beautiful, absurd, and twenty letters long.”

She also shines the harsh spotlight on her own flaws and addiction, but perhaps I wanted even more in terms of soul searching. I was horrified throughout, but I never came to love her (which I want in an Olympian…oops…I mean a memoirist).

I received an Advanced Reading Edition of this book as part of the Random House Reading Circle. Please note that the quotes included in this review are not taken from the final edition. Expected publication date is February 26, 2013.

Surrendering to Helplessness

Parenting requires surrendering to helplessness. There are so many things, big and little, that we cannot control. From the bodily bumps and scrapes, to the emotional and social bruises my son have suffered, I have often felt helpless. Do I understand that these injuries are all part of growing up? Of course. But would I prevent those hurts from ever occurring if I could? Probably.

My instinct is to protect, to shelter, and, above all, to keep them safe.

In this regard I have never felt more helpless than the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. As I watched the news come in, and realized the horror of what had occurred in a grammar school, I could only think of those families’ pain. I am positive all of those parents in Connecticut share my instinct to protect, and yet, they were helpless in the face of one young man with guns.

I know I hugged my sons tighter that evening. I didn’t want to scare them with details, but I wanted them to understand and be able to talk about the images and news flashes that surrounded us. So, I decided to tell them in the simplest terms possible.

“There was a tragedy in Connecticut.”  “A very sick man went into a school and killed children.”  “We need to keep all of those families in our prayers.”

I watched their faces and reactions carefully. My oldest just kind of gulped and looked away. It turns out he already knew about it from classmates and wasn’t sure if I knew. He didn’t want me to feel bad. My youngest two cried, especially when they asked about how old and how many kids. Of course, my youngest (8) wanted me to promise it could never happen to him.

What could I say? I was helpless in the face of his direct question, “Mom, will I always be safe at school?” Of course I said that I believe his teachers and principal do everything they can to make his school safe. I reminded him about the security doors, and asked about their emergency plans. I was grateful for our faith, which provides the solace of both Heaven and prayer.

And yet,

When it came time to drop them off at school, I was helpless to stop my own tears. I was terribly afraid to leave them there. Afraid of my own fear that a wave in the doorway could be the last time I saw my beautiful boys; afraid that I could be rendered utterly helpless against random violence, mental illness and too many guns.

Less than a month later, drop off has gotten easier. My sons know I love them. I refuse to raise them in a climate of fear. It’s no way to live. I determine to believe the best and trust that they will come home to me each day.

That trust, too, is a surrender to helplessness.

I thank Daily Prompt for inspiring this particular post.




Another Wednesday has arrived. (Does this week seem endless to anyone else?) At least it’s an excuse to talk books (as if I need one). Feel free to play along. Just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading? Learning a lot about Bangladesh and the immigrant experience in The Newlyweds, a good suggestion from a good friend. Just started to listen to A Red Herring without Mustard, #3 in the Flavia de Luce series. I adore Flavia and the audio version is perfect for the car – I only wish I had a longer commute.

What did you recently finish reading? Finally finished the audio version of The Chaperone. There is so much to like about this book, but ultimately it was too much for me. I wanted a more narrow focus and more about Cora & Louise instead of mentioning every historical touchstone in the 20th Century. Loved The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Just a beautiful, thoughtful book. It too spans much of the century, but to much greater effect.

What do you think you’ll read next? Just received noticed that The Casual Vacancy has finally arrived for me at the library. That will have to be next. My friends and critics I trust are evenly divided on this novel so I look forward to adding my two cents.

What are your W…W…W… titles?