Thursday, March 1, 2018

Book Reviews February 2018

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld.  This was a very good read that was also slightly unusual in concept.  Naomi is a child-finder, a detective of sorts who specializes in finding missing children when no one else can.  When the book begins, she has been hired by the parents of Madison Culver, a girl who went missing in a snowstorm in Oregon three years ago and has not been seen since.  It has become a cold case and most presume she is dead, so Naomi is the parents’ last chance.  Naomi is good at finding missing children partly because her past is similar:  when she was 9 or so she escaped from some kind of captivity she has almost no memory of.  Bits and pieces of her horrific past come back to her, but most of what happened is unknown.  Naomi was raised by a beloved foster parent, who helped her heal by letting her run free.  Anyway, chapters of Naomi’s search are interspersed with chapters of Madison herself, who has been saved yet held captive by a kind of hermit.  She keeps herself sane by thinking of her plight like that of the Snow Girl in her favorite fairy tale.  It was all slightly odd, yet very well-conceived and hard to put down.  I will definitely read her next book.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot.  I loved this book.  Amy Liptrot is in her early thirties and when the book begins has just returned to Orkney, an island off the coast of Scotland on which she grew up.  She spent the majority of her twenties becoming a partying alcoholic in London, and has just completed rehab and is embarking on a sober life.  She writes about her wild downward spiral in London, but the majority of the book is about her learning to live without alcohol, and doing so on Orkney and its surrounding, even smaller islands, which are all wind and sea and migrating birds.  She’s such a good writer:  there are no lectures or typical flashbacks or sobriety-speak.  Rather, she concentrates on the small things, and on really seeing and experiencing, and random and poignant lessons learned.  Part of what is so fascinating about it is the nature of those islands – they sounded to me like another planet, and one I would like to experience.  I will read again.

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley.  This was a wonderful read: there was nothing extraneous in the writing, the story was exciting, and the characters well-created.  There is a plane accident, and a painter from Martha’s Vineyard rescues someone and swims for eight hours to safety.  Hawley examines one by one the experiences of all the passengers in the days leading up to the plane crash.  Then he details the painter’s immediate post-crash life, as well as the investigation into what went wrong and whether it was an accident or a terrorist act.  It also ends up being an astute examination of our current 24-hour news cycle, and how the potential story is more important than the facts.  It was excellent!

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish.  I kept reading people say that this is one of the parenting books that they return to again and again, so finally got curious enough to procure myself a copy.  And it was interesting – although my problem with the parenting books I’ve read so far, is that you basically get all you need to know from the first chapter, and then are stuck reading and reading and reading all the examples and the reiterations.  If I were less OCD I would just, you know, read ONE chapter; but I can’t do that.  So I read the whole thing and learned some good techniques about how not to shut your child down when they speak, and how not to lecture, but rather to re-phrase what the child has just told you, so that s/he feels heard and understood.

The Martian by Andy Weir.  I read and reviewed this book a couple of years ago, so won’t write much again.  I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago and decided it would be fun to read again.  And it was!  Just as good the second time around.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper.  The tag line for this new mystery by Jane Harper (her second) is:  “5 women go on a hike.  Only 4 return.”  Ha!  ‘Tis true, and it is up to Aaron Falk – the main character of her first mystery, The Dry, to figure out what happened.  Things are complicated by the fact that one of the women was helping them build a case against the employer that sent the women into the bush in the first place (it was a company character/trust-building mandatory trip).  Harper switches back and forth from current day and Falk and his partner’s work on the case, to the four days of the camping trip.  It was really well-done and a fun read.  Harper gets people right, and she focuses in on all the cross-currents between the women.  It was suspenseful.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell.  This was a really wonderful memoir, conceived when O’Farrell’s middle child is diagnosed as a baby with horrible allergies.  They are always having to administer her shots and rush her to a hospital, and it got her thinking about her own “brushes with death” in her life, and how experiencing such moments in life really isn’t an unusual thing.  So she writes chapters of all different lengths and about moments as diverse as running into the street as a toddler to getting caught in a riptide to being mugged.  It’s a brilliant idea and her writing is excellent.  Her first story is about hiking to the top of a mountain by herself and encountering a lone man whom she immediately knew meant her extreme harm.  It was the most terrifying story I’ve ever read!!  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  O’Farrell doesn’t shy away from, well, anything, and her writing is as brave as she.  It’s a fascinating book and I now want to read her novels.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.  I had heard a lot about this book before I purchased it and then had it around for a while before reading it.  I was a little resistant to what she was doing when I first began – which is writing a book that is many genres wrapped into one, mainly memoir and theory – the theory part of my brain is rusty from lack of use and at first resisted being awakened.  However, I ended up really loving it and finding most of it quite interesting and very well done.  Nelson writes of becoming a mother for the first time at a late-ish age, and dives deep into family and gender, queer theory, and heteronormative restrictions.  While she was pregnant, her partner was having trans surgery, and she writes of the peculiars of that situation.  She brings in a lot of art theory and exhibits she visits that are about gender and family, and then also writes a lot about the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and perversions and marriage.  It’s much more cohesive than I’m making it out to be, and is very smart and thought-provoking.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Posy In Distress

With three pets, there seems to always be something going on with one of them, health-wise, and this winter it is Posy’s turn in the spotlight.  For most of the past few months she has looked like this:

Or this:

Basically at the beginning of January I slowly noticed that Posy – who cleans herself constantly on a normal day – was paying way too much attention to cleaning the tip of her tail.  I felt it and could feel some bumps that I thought were scabs, and figured she must have a skin condition that she gets from time to time, which is scabby in nature and tends to go away relatively quickly.  But the slurping of the tail continued, and the next time I looked a few days later, it was all bloody, so off to the vet we went!

It was determined that perhaps in response to an injury, Posy had practically licked off the tip of her tail;  ick, I know – the wound wasn’t pretty.  We didn’t see our usual vet, and the guy we did see suggested I get a blow-up e-collar, that would allegedly be more comfortable than the usual e-collar.  I ordered one and when it came I realized it wouldn’t work for Posy, who is a tiny cat, but has a thick neck and very constricted airways.  So I tried a soft e-collar (the blue one in the picture above), but when I first put it on, she looked at me and commenced licking the tip of her tail with the e-collar on, all challenging-like.

I was taking Plum to the vet for a check-up, so brought Posy along for the ride, and our usual vet thought she could bandage the tail.  This was a Saturday morning and actually worked beautifully until Sunday night when Posy decided she had had enough of the bandage, thank you very much.  So I put the blue cone of shame back on, and this time Posy seemed to have forgotten that she could technically still reach her tail from it.

Since then, she’s worn the collar for five or so days, and then I’ve taken it off and she’s been fine for a few days, until the wound starts to itch again and she returns to licking and then I find pools of blood on the floor and the collar goes back on.  The wound is definitely healing – it’s about a third the size it was originally, but she has real problems leaving it alone.

The obvious solution is that I need to leave the collar on longer than five or so days, but she gets so dejected with it on!  And she follows me around and purrs and is all around very needy, poor thing.  The vet shaved the end of her tail, too, so it looks like a deflating balloon now. 

She is really such a sweet cat, on the whole.  She lets me put the collar on, and she is very, very tolerant with Owen, who gives her a little too much lovin’.  Owen will now imitate the voice I give Posy and will make her talk back to him, which makes me very proud, like my work here is done [brushes off hands].

Monday, February 12, 2018

Star Wars Valentines

Owen is all about Star Wars right now, so when I saw Star Wars valentines in the store a couple of weeks ago, I bought them without examining them too closely.  Yesterday we got them out so that he could address them to his friends, and I realized that they didn’t have envelopes, and the spot where he had to write the names was a relatively small circle. 

I talked him into not attempting to write his classmates’ names (they are up to letter Q in pre-K so he can mostly write A-Q, but a) not small and b) if he forgets how a letter goes he tends to just make it up with a few extra squiggles), and to just concentrate on writing O-W-E-N in the small “from” circle allotted.

Luckily we had a lot of extras so there was room for error.  He can write a respectable OWEN when he is in the mood, but this was the first time he had to write twenty Owens in a row.  He did a good job, despite all my nagging (he doesn’t yet understand that he really has to write the four letters in a particular order, and thus didn’t understand why O-E-N with a W fit in randomly underneath or on top or on the side might be a little cryptic to a beginning reader; he also likes to experiment with new ways of “holding” the pen.  Sigh.)

Here are some of the outtakes that didn't make the cut:

And then since we had extra, he wanted to write a valentine to his favorite cat, Posy.  He brought it upstairs and put it on her main bed on the sink, so that she could find it next time she settled there:


I’m sure Posy was pleased.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January 2018 Book Reviews

The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths.  My friend recommended Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries to me (thanks, Judith!) and I very much enjoyed the first two.  In fact, when I finished the first I went right on to the second, and was tempted to move on to the third as well; I’m going to see if my library has the rest.  Ruth is an archaeologist who specializes in bones and lives on the edge of a salt marsh in which she had her first successful dig.  She’s an academic who teaches at the nearby university in Norfolk.  In the first book, she is contacted by a detective, Harry Nelson, who has found some child’s bones in the saltmarsh and thinks they might be those of a child who went missing a few years ago.  When Ruth examines the bones, however, they are from the iron age – her area of expertise.  She and Nelson become friends of a sort, and she gets involved in his investigations, often sharing in his discoveries and in the danger.  They are quick reads – there’s not a huge amount of detail, but they are interesting and fun, and Ruth is refreshing.  She’s single and chubby and is happy to spend an evening with her books, her wine, and her cats.  It was also interesting to hear what Ruth explains about the iron age and the accompanying myths and ways of the area.

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry.  This was a moody and sad read, yet was hard to put down.  The book begins with Nora taking the train out to the English countryside to visit her sister, Rachel, with whom she is very close.  When she gets there, she discovers Rachel’s gruesomely murdered body.  She stays in the town in a state of shock and works with the police to try to figure out who killed Rachel.  Soon some of the police begin to treat Nora herself as a suspect.  It’s a really moving exploration of grief and jealousy and the complex relationship between siblings.  I highly recommend it.

Shrill by Lindy West.  Lindy West started writing editorials for the New York Times a few months ago, and I’ve been very much enjoying what she has to say, so I thought I’d read her book of essays.  She is wonderful at conveying her viewpoint:  her arguments are always really impressive and clear and biting and funny.  I found that I’m more interested in her political topics than I am in the topics of this book, however, which were basically fat acceptance/pride, and misogyny in comedy.  The essays were also biographical, and that aspect I enjoyed.  She is appealingly witty.

The Dry by Jane Harper.  This was a good read; it’s a thriller/mystery that takes place somewhere in the country outside of Melbourne, Australia.  Aaron Falk returns to his hometown when his childhood best friend is thought to have killed his wife and son and then himself.  His friend’s parents don’t believe that he did this, and since Aaron works as a policeman with an expert in financial matters – and Luke, the friend, was having financial difficulties – his parents think Aaron might be able to discover the truth.  Aaron starts working off the record with the local policeman, who also suspects something is amiss.  There’s a lot of going back and forth from the past to the present.  It’s a very backwoods place, and Aaron and his father were driven out of the town due to the death of a friend of his when he was a teen, so a lot of people are upset that he is back.  It’s interesting, suspenseful, and well-conceived.

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo.  I thought I had read this before, and was re-reading it so that I could go on to read the newer Everybody’s Fool, but as it turns out, this was my first time reading it.  I had gotten it mixed up with either Bridge of Sighs or Empire Falls.  At any rate, it’s a very “old-school” kind of novel about a small town in upstate New York that has fallen on hard times (in the eighties).  The main character is Sully, who was played by Paul Newman in the movie (which my sister tells me I saw with her, but I also have no memory of.  I think I need to start taking some gingko biloba).  Sully is a charismatic man in his sixties who lives hand to mouth and is both lovable and highly exasperating.  He rents some rooms from the elderly Beryl Peoples, a retired 8thgrade teacher, with an acerbic wit.  It’s a very long book that takes place only over two or so weeks.  Sully goes about his days and we meet everyone he comes across.  I looked forward to reading my daily 25 or so pages and joining Sully in his world.  Now I’m on to Everybody’s Fool.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Book Reviews December 2017

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers.  This was an interesting novel and I really like Dave Eggers’s writing—he has such an unique turn of phrase, and he is always very wry and funny.  It’s not a happy novel, and I did spend an inordinate amount of time hoping for the narrator to find happiness – even if doing so would have made no sense to the story.  It’s about Josie, who is having a crisis of sorts.  She’s a dentist but she got sued by a patient who had cancer she thought Josie should have detected, so she ends up selling her practice, and taking her two young children on an adventure in a camper van in Alaska.  She is fleeing from suburbia, definitely, and the materialism that is so often attached to it.  She isn’t sure, however, what she is fleeing to.  The book then consists of the adventures that Josie and her children, Paul and Ana have.  Although they are nominally in Alaska, they really could be in any kind of semi-wilderness: the novel doesn’t strike me as being very specific to place.  And often one wants Josie to snap out of it and be a better parent to her clearly very worried son.  But on the whole I found it unusual and interesting and funny.  Josie’s quest is an important one, and although she is disorganized and klutzy in its execution, she is on track by dint of being on a trek.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  This book was recommended to me by my niece and I enjoyed it.  It was made into a movie, too, and I can see how a movie would be good.  It reads as a comedy, mostly, although the topics are serious.  Madame Michel is the main character, but the chapters switch back and forth from her point of view, to a 12 year old girl, Paloma.  Madame Michel is the  concierge in an apartment building in Paris.  She is a self-taught intellectual, but pretends to be stupid so people will leave her alone.  One day a new tenant moves into the building, a wealthy Japanese man, and when he makes a reference to War &  Peace, Madame Michel mistakenly responds.  She tries to then cover up her intelligence, but Mr. Ozu is on to her, and sets about trying to catch her out.  Meanwhile, Paloma is a smart, quirky girl who has decided that on her next birthday she shall commit suicide and burn the place down, because people are phony and this phoniness is unbearable.  Soon Paloma and Mr. Ozu join forces and befriend Madame Michel.  It is all very funny and well-observed. 

Plot 29: A Love Affair With Land by Allan Jenkins.  This is a very interesting, poignant, and well done memoir by Allan Jenkins who writes for The Guardian and is a foodie (I think he has a cookbook).  He has a garden plot in London and started to write about a year of his gardening life, and ended up writing about his childhood and the search for his biological parents.  His childhood is a mix of nice and very grim:  he spent most of the first five years in a home or in foster care, as his mother wouldn’t care for him.  He and his older brother, Christopher, are finally taken in by a childless couple in the countryside, but they end up never officially adopting the kids and then trying to get rid of both in their midteens.  He is reunited with various family members over the years and makes some very interesting discoveries as to who his parents were and what was going on with them.  This is all interspersed with his gardening on the plot and at a house in Denmark.  His memoir parts aren’t written linearly, necessarily, and sometimes I found his reluctance to explicitly state the details frustrating.  But it was an often fascinating book and a good mix of subject.

Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood.  This memoir made it to the New York Times 10 best books of 2017 list and it is really worth reading.  Lockwood is a poet and an infamous tweeter, and in her early thirties when she and her husband go to live with her parents after suffering a physical and financial setback.  Her parents are cheerily crazy – her father became a catholic priest after he was married, and went on to have five children while working full-time as a priest.  To say he is a “character” is to put it mildly.  Lockwood treats him kindly; more power to her.  The book is ostensibly about her father, but really about her childhood.  Both are interesting, but it is her writing that is the real draw.  She has an amazing and very funny way of putting things, and whereas most good books have a good paragraph here and there, with Lockwood it is really amazing sentence after amazing sentence.  Although it’s hard to not get annoyed at her while reading, it’s a phenomenal book.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.  I really enjoyed reading Backman's A Man Called Ove, but when I had glanced at this book, it looked too similar to Ove, so I passed on it for a while.   But then I kept hearing how enjoyable it was, so I read Britt-Marie:  and it IS similar to Ove in concept, in that you have a main character who is kind of on the spectrum and set in his/her ways, and the book is what happens when those odd, yet logical, ways meet contemporary norms.  It's a fun read though.  When the novel begins, Britt-Marie has left her husband, and gotten a job for the first time at age 63.  She's a woman with great cleaning ability, yet not a lot of social graces.  This job is really her first contact with the world outside of her flat since childhood.  Britt-Marie gets a job at a recreational center in Borg, a nowhere town on a highway.  It turns out that its down-and-out citizens are just what Britt-Marie needs and vice versa.  It's lighter than Ove and a bit more grasping at straws, but if you liked Ove, you will like this book.

Bon Appetempt: A Coming of Age Story by Amelia Morris.  This is a food-oriented memoir with recipes at the end of chapters, and was an entertaining and interesting read.  Morris grows up shuttling between her parents' in Pittsburgh and Saegertown, PA and is an intense kid.  She and her husband, a high school friend, go to live in LA and try to break into the industry.  While doing so, she starts learning how to cook, and eventually chronicling her efforts in her blog, Bon Appetempt.  I came across her blog about a year ago, which is what lead me to the book -- although she no longer updates it frequently.  When she does, however, it -- like this memoir -- is worth reading.  She's a funny writer with a good ear for the important takeaway.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Let's Hope It's A Good One

Owen's writing is improving and his interest in the alphabet increasing, but he still has trouble with some letters, including mixing up his M's and W's.  It's hard to know when to write down up down up, and when to write up down up down!

Here is an art project he brought home from school with his name carefully lettered:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Is Nigh Approaching

We have been busy this December doing Christmas-y things.

We put up our tree a couple of weeks ago, and Owen was great putting all the ornaments on the bottom half of the tree.  He did have a tendency to put as many ornaments as would fit on one branch; I just figured I could move them later, but when I did, he noticed and objected!  He had three Star Wars ornaments on one branch and told me they had to stay there so they could be friends on the branch.  Well, okay then.

Here is a festive picture of Posy, having inserted herself in the Christmas tablescape:

Owen had his Christmas show yesterday, and sang for the first time in it!  When he remembered, that is.  Some of the time he did the hand motions, and jingled the bells, but never all three at once.  He was very excited to wear the red and green plaid shirt his Granny sent him:

And this picture is a bit dark here, but here is he proudly walking down with his class to perform in the front:

He is very excited for Christmas, but has oddly gained a kind of patience that he definitely didn't have last year.  We were able to put wrapped presents under the tree without them making him go crazy in anticipation.

Sometimes Sean will sing "I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus," though and Owen will turn to me in consternation and say, "You didn't, did you, Mom?"

Today I started baking some Christmas cookies, but Owen wasn't as interested in helping as in years' past.  He was too busy playing with his new Hess truck!