Friday, July 30, 2010

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil ...

Or something like that.

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Books #69 and #70 of 2010

Book #69 of 2010 was a teen novel "Shiver" by Maggie Stiefvater.

Grace, 17, loves the peace and tranquility of the woods behind her home. It is here during the cold winter months that she gets to see her wolf—the one with the yellow eyes. Grace is sure that he saved her from an attack by other wolves when she was nine. Over the ensuing years he has returned each season, watching her with those haunting eyes as if longing for something to happen. When a teen is killed by wolves, a hunting party decides to retaliate. Grace races through the woods and discovers a wounded boy shivering on her back porch. One look at his yellow eyes and she knows that this is her wolf in human form. Fate has finally brought Sam and Grace together, and as their love grows and intensifies, so does the reality of what awaits them. It is only a matter of time before the winter cold changes him back into a wolf, and this time he might stay that way forever.

If you like the teen angst of Twilight, you will probably like this book. I have read that Stiefvater wrote this book before Twilight was a twinkle in Meyer's eye so you could say she started the supernatural trend. "Shiver" is certainly not an earth shattering read but it was entertainment.

Book #70 of 2010 was "Mudbound" by Hillary Jordan.

It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where Memphis-bred Laura McAllan is struggling to adjust to farm life, rear her daughters with a modicum of manners and gentility, and be the wife her land-loving husband, Henry, wants her to be. It is an uphill battle every day. Things started badly when Henry's trusting nature resulted in the family being done out of a nice house in town, thus relegating them to a shack on their property. In addition, Henry's father, Pappy, a sour, mean-spirited devil of a man, moves in with them.

The real heart of the story, however, is the friendship between Jamie, Henry's too-charming brother, and Ronsel Jackson, son of sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm. They have both returned from the war changed men: Jamie has developed a deep love for alcohol and has recurring nightmares; Ronsel, after fighting valiantly for his country and being seen as a man by the world outside the South, is now back to being just another black "boy."

Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story unfolds with a chilling inevitability.

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I knew from the first paragraph that I'd be drawn in. Jordan has a gift for writing and I look forward to her future novels.

Up next is "The Girl who Played with Fire" by Stieg Larsson.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Books #66, #67 and #68 of 2010

I finished three books since I last blogged and not one of them was the one I said I was going to read.

First, #66 was the non-fiction book "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.

From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories?

I picked this book up on a whim at the library and I am so glad I did. I was -- and still am -- amazed by this story. I think you can enjoy this book even if scientific books about genetics and medicine isn't your usual genre. There is plenty of science in this book but it was never too far above my head The narrative of Lacks' life (and her descendants) is a worthy read on its own. I really can't properly express my feelings about this book. If you like non-fiction, go read it.

Book #67 was "The Department of Lost and Found" by Allison Winn Scotch.

Natalie Miller, a driven 30-year-old senior aideto a woman senator from New York, is having a rough time: just days after she's diagnosed with breast cancer, her cheating live-in boyfriend ditches her. She's feeling gloomy, then, when she begins chemo. (Her hunky and sweet gynecologist, Zach, is a mitigating factor.) Though the election is six weeks away, Natalie is ordered to stay home, where she writes in her diary (excerpts appear throughout) and becomes addicted to The Price Is Right while an ambitious junior aide takes over her job. Natalie battles through rounds of chemo and a mastectomy until, out of the blue, an old love, up-and-coming rocker Jake, comes back to take care of her. He seems intent on making things work, but Natalie's long-simmering (and seemingly requited) attraction to Zach only intensifies. Meanwhile, Natalie's journalist friend Sally lands her first big story: an exposé of Natalie's boss. Her loyalties on the line and her cancer on the wane, Natalie makes some tough choices about the post-cancer person she wants to be.

Despite the heavy topic, this was still a quick, enjoyable read. Scotch lost a friend to breast cancer and says that she gave her story a happy ending in contrast.

Book #68 was "When Did I Get Like This" by Amy Wilson.

"When Did I Get Like This?" is the hilarious story of one mother's struggle to shrug off the ridiculous standards of modern parenting, and remember how to enjoy her children.

Super fast read - one woman's take on motherhood and all that's involved with it.

Up next is "Shiver" by Maggie Stiefvater which is a young adult novel involving werewolves (because if its not vampires, its werewolves).

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blueberries and Book #65 of 2010

We decided the kids around here need to start earning their keep so sent them to a blueberry farm.

Happy hired help!

Jacob decided to go on strike before he even started.

A thank you to the nice people at Blueberry Trails in Conklin, Michigan. The blueberries are YUMMY!

Now on to books ... Book #65 of 2010 was "The Almond Picker" by Simonetta Agnello Hornby.

A family saga, Sicilian style. The tale opens with the death of the woman Mennulara, whose name in Sicilian dialect means the almond picker. And so she was in her youth, trying to support an impoverished and sickly family. Before her death, Mennu, who had been in service to the matriarch of the Alfallipe family since she was 13, leaves cryptic instructions for the squabbling and disagreeable family. Hornby tells her story by spiraling back through Mennu's hard life. In the process, she emerges as a kind of secular saint, not only caring for her own family and the Alfallipes but also learning to read, overseeing the household accounts, managing investments, studying local archaeology and music, and even having secret ties to the Mafia and to the family.

I am not sure how to describe this story - it is not fast paced or full of action but rather a study of one person's impact on an entire family and town. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it.

Up next is "City of Bells" by Elizabeth Goudge.
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Book #64 of 2010

Book #64 of 2010 was "After You" by Julie Buxbaum.

When American ex-pat Lucy Stafford is killed by a mugger, her lifelong best friend Ellie Lerner drops everything to fly to London. Ellie stays on after Lucy's funeral to care for her friend's eight-year-old daughter, Sophie, who witnessed her mom's violent death and has since retreated into silence. Ellie also worries about Lucy's husband, Greg, who confesses that he can barely even look at his daughter; her own divorced parents' on-again, off-again relationship; and her long-suffering husband, waiting for her in the Boston suburbs. Ellie finds London as much a refuge as a place of mourning; she's been unable to move past the birth of a stillborn child and feels the need to borrow Sophie. As she uncovers more of Lucy's life, Ellie finds her own spinning out of control, and soon she's forced to reassess even her deeply held certainties.

Up next is a book I started several weeks ago but didn't finish ... "The Almond Picker" by Simonetta Agnello Hornby.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book #63 of 2010 ...

Book #63 of 2010 was ... "The One That I Want" by Allison Winn Scotch.

Tilly Farmer is thirty-two years old and has the perfect life she always dreamed of: married to her high school sweetheart, working as a guidance counselor in her hometown, trying for a baby. Perfect.

In fact, on the surface you might never know how tough things used to be. At seventeen, Tilly lost her mother to cancer, her father drowned his grief in alcohol, and she played parent to her two younger sisters more often than being a kid herself. Still Tilly never let tragedy overtake her belief that hard work and good cheer could solve any problem. Of course she’s also spent a lifetime plastering a smile on her face and putting everyone else’s problems ahead of her own.

But that relentless happiness has served her well—her sisters are grown and content, her dad is ten years sober, and she’s helping her students achieve all their dreams while she and her husband, Tyler, start a family. A perfect life indeed.

Then one sweltering afternoon at the local fair, everything changes. Tilly wanders into the fortune teller’s tent and is greeted by an old childhood friend, now a psychic, who offers her more than just a reading. “I’m giving you the gift of clarity,” her friend says. “It’s what I always thought you needed.” And soon enough, Tilly starts seeing things: her father relapsing, staggering out of a bar with his car keys in hand; Tyler uprooting their happy, stable life, a packed U-Haul in their driveway; and even more disturbing, these visions start coming true. Suddenly Tilly’s perfect life, so meticulously mapped out, seems to be crumbling around her. And she’s not sure what’s more frightening: that she’s begun to see the future or what the future holds . . .

As Tilly furiously races to keep up with—and hopefully change—her destiny, she faces the question: Which is the life she wants? The one she’s carefully nursed for decades, or the one she never considered possible?

Up next is "After You" by Julie Buxbaum.

To make up for a lack of a review, here is a picture of the kids on their first day of camp. Note Jacob's enthusiasm for the event.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Lots of books, vacation and an ear infection

We just got back from 10 days of vacation in our new (to us) camper. We went from Grand Rapids to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to North Bay, Ontario to Alfred-Plantagenet, Ontario to our friend's house in Woolwich, ME (then back home through Buffalo, NY after a visit to the in-laws).

Some highlights:

1.) Getting to Canadian border in the U.P. and thinking we didn't have the kid's birth certificates.

2.) Paying $1 for five minutes of showering.

3.) Being the only people not speaking French at a campground. Parlez vous Francais? Non.

4.) Getting an ear infection (me) and having to go to an urgent care clinic in New York.

5.) Seeing a moose pooping warning sign. Still not sure if that was for real.

So the books I read (or listened to) were:

#58 "Ten Minutes From Home" by Beth Greenfield.

#59 "Girl From Foreign" by Sadia Shepard

#60 "The Good Life" by Jay Mcinerney.

#61 "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides

#62 "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday" by Laura

I really liked "Girl From Foreign" and "Middlesex". I hated "The Good Life" but finished it because I was desperate for something to listen to on the drive.

And now I am reading "The One That I Want" by Allison Winn Scotch.

Now that I updated you, I am going to return to my Vicodin haze.

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