Friday, June 28, 2013

City of Hope: A Novel by Kate Kerrigan

City of Hope: A NovelCity of Hope: A Novel by Kate Kerrigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: An uplifting, inspiring and heartwarming story of a woman truly ahead of her time, City of Hope is the heart-rending but inspiring follow-up to Ellis Island

It is the 1930s and when her beloved husband, John, suddenly dies, young Ellie Hogan decides to leave Ireland and return to New York. She hopes that the city's vibrancy will distract her from her grief. But the Depression has rendered the city unrecognizable-gone is the energy and atmosphere of fun that Ellie fell in love with ten years before.

Plunging headfirst into a new life, Ellie pours all her passion and energy into running a home and refuge for the homeless. In return they give her the kind of love, support and friendship she needs to try and overcome her grief. Until, one day, someone she thought she'd never see again steps through her door. It seems that even the Atlantic isn't big enough to prevent the tragedies of the past from catching up with her.

My thoughts: I absolutely love Kerrigan's writing style and insights. The protagonist is a woman ahead of her time in that she is independent and career driven when she is unable to bear children. On the other hand, she is a little cold and prickly in the beginning and does not deviate from her somewhat self centeredness throughout, although her actions are selfless.

The author has a way of articulating a woman's inner most thoughts and feelings that is spot on. Ellie may not be altruistic but her thoughts and feelings are honest and, in some way, most woman can identify with them.

Ellie is the narrator. She tells the story. She tells it the way she experiences and uses little convention of mystery and slowly revealing. She is straight forward and right. She rarely questions her rightness. Although the style is nit conventional, I enjoyed it immensely. The story is told without question and with insights I found piercing to the core.

The book gives a clear picture of New York after the stock market crash, an era and setting largely ignored. The depression in a big city without social policies was big and overwhelming. in Ellie's attempt to escape her grief and possible culpability, she suddenly leaves Ireland to live the big life in New York as she remembered it years before when she was more shallow. Once in New York, she finds her grief has followed her so she finds a mission to keep herself busy. I so enjoyed the book. I really wanted a happy ending. Therein lies my one complaint. The nonending. There is more to the story and another book. I definitely will read it. I must find out what happens to Ellie and the other characters. I want to know if Ellie evolves to match her actions. I love Ellie. I want a happy ending.

3.75 stars

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

My thoughts: In usual Neil Gaiman style, this is an odd and extraordinary book. It's more like his book Stardust than the Book Thief. He mixes the ordinary, burnt toast that is cold thus embarrassing, with the extraordinary, Old Mrs. Hempstock likes the full moon to hang so she can see at night. She also remembers when the moon was made.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a one-sitting book. Open it and read the first chapter and you are swallowed up in the details of every day life with hints of the extraordinary and the odd. There is an opal miner who runs over the protagonist's kitten. He had a very red face and suspenders. He replaced the kitten with a mean tom cat that slinked around. Then the mini was stolen but before the family realized it was stolen, it was found. At the end of the Lane. Where the Hempstocks live. The circumstances of the mini being stolen and found are not such that a 7 year old boy should be exposed to and so the youngest Hempstock takes him back to her house where the real fun begins. You know, with a dead fish in the pond, er, I mean ocean.

Rather than tell the story, I will simply say that the time spent reading it is delightful and best read with a British accent in your head. If you are familiar with the British accents, add a Sussex country twang. The writing is charming and perfect in every way. The story is original and wonderful. So highly recommend. But I still liked Stardust better.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

The Illusion of SeparatenessThe Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Whether they are pursued by Nazi soldiers, old age, shame, deformity, disease, or regret, the varied characters of Simon Van Booy's utterly compelling novel The Illusion of Separateness discover in their darkest moments of fear and isolation that they are not alone, that they were never alone, that every human being is a link in an unseen chain.

This gripping, emotional story intertwines the stories of several compelling characters: a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; Jewish-American newlyweds separated by war; a lost child on the brink of starvation; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. The same world moves beneath each of them, and one by one, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, they discover the vital parts they have played in each other's lives, a realization that shatters the illusion of their separateness. Moving back and forth in time and across continents,

The Illusion of Separateness displays the breathtaking skill of, "a truly special writer who does things with abstract language that is so evocative and original your breath literally catches in your chest" (Andre Dubus III).

My thoughts: This is a short book featuring people who are seemingly unrelated. Each chapter is told by a different voice and each voice adds more to the relationships. Most are unaware how each of the characters play a pivotal point in the others lives. By the end, the reader knows how they are all related even if the characters don't.

I liked the book just fine. I enjoyed the writing style. I was not particularly moved but I did like the concept. I found the interconnectedness both lonely because they didn't realize it which was sad. Yet there was a smidgen of hope.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers GIVEAWAY

From the author of Miss Garnet’s Angel, a story of the redemptive power of love and community in the famous French cathedral town

There is something very special about Agnès Morel. A quiet presence in the small French town of Chartres, she can be found cleaning the famed medieval cathedral each morning and doing odd jobs for the townspeople. No one knows where she came from or why. Not Abbé Paul, who discovered her one morning twenty years ago, sleeping on the north porch, and not Alain Fleury, the irreverent young restorer who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes and elusive manner. She has transformed each of their lives in her own subtle way, yet no one suspects the dark secret Agnès is hiding.

When an accidental encounter dredges up a series of tragic incidents from Agnès’s youth, the nasty meddling of town gossips threatens to upend the woman’s simple, peaceful life. Her story reveals a terrible loss, a case of mistaken identity, and a cruel and violent act that haunts her past. Agnès wrestles with her own sense of guilt and enduring heartbreak while the citizens piece together the truth about her life.

This book is coming on June 27th. I can't wait to read it and, if you can't, either, fill out the form below so you can win a copy courtesy of the publisher. 

U.S. Addresses only
No P.O. Boxes
1 copy
Ends June 30th

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin OlympicsThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

My thoughts: Of all the books to skip this summer, this is not one of them. 'Nuff said until my real review.

Want more? Okay. Here you go:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

The Lavender Garden

Lucinda Riley delighted American readers in 2011 with her sweeping, historical novel The Orchid House.  Since its publication in the UK, it has gone on to become a huge international bestseller with more than one and a half million copies sold.  Riley thrilled readers again in 2012 with her next historical novel, The Girl on the Cliff, which achieved further international success, making its debut on the New York Times Bestseller List and achieving #1 in both Germany and Norway.  Lucinda Riley returns to take America by storm once again with THE LAVENDER GARDEN (Atria; June 11, 2013).  Already, international rights for THE LAVENDER GARDEN have sold in twelve countries.  The Lavender Garden, Riley’s most powerful novel so far, is the mesmerizing tale of heroism and betrayal inside an aristocratic French family across half a century.

Le Cote d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martiniéres, the last of her gilded line, finds herself sole inheritor of her childhood home, a magnificent chateau and vineyard.  With the house comes a mountain of debt – and almost as many questions.
Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance she stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain members of the German elite even as they plot to liberate France.  In a city rife with collaborators and brave members of the Resistance, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.
As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the chateau itself will provide clues that can unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future.

This book has been getting amazing reviews. I'd put this one on my summer reading list.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Talmage by Calvin R. Stephens

A Beginner's Guide to TalmageA Beginner's Guide to Talmage by Calvin R. Stephens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Have you ever wanted to read the gospel classics by Elder James E. Talmage but never quite found the time? Or have you wished you could recall highlights from Jesus the Christ or Articles of Faith? Now you can find the best by Elder Talmage all in one place, arranged by the major themes found in his writing. The first in a new series of classic material from beloved writers, A Beginner’s Guide to Talmage brings together the best quotations and hand-selected excerpts from Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, The House of the Lord, The Great Apostasy, The Parables of James E. Talmage, The Story and Philosophy of “Mormonism,” The Vitality of Mormonism, and Elder Talmage’s general conference addresses. A brief introduction offers insight about his life and the influence of his teachings. This thematic arrangement of some of the best thinking from an apostle of the early twentieth century will renew your appreciation for the writings of James E. Talmage.

My thoughts: There are few authors that intimidate me. Those who are intimidating are those who have the enviable gift of writing succinctly and intelligently, possess a spiritual and theological knowledge that is difficult to articulate, and yet they do, and they have higher I.Q.'s than I do. The three that meet this criterion include Neal Maxwell, Hugh Nibley, and James E. Talmage.

All three all intellectuals along with being theologians. I have no doubt that they have had visions of the earth being formed down to chemical reactions and molecules to atoms. Few people have a better understanding of the Atonement, the mission of Jesus Christ, and the nature of Jesus Christ than James E. Talmage. Not only does he have great understanding, he offers supporting documentation and the gift of articulating difficult ideas into a nearly tangible object. But it takes great concentration and time for the reader to grasp these concepts. Which is why each of the aforementioned giants have, on at least one occasion, failed to engage me but succeeded in putting me to sleep.

Before you start judging me, please go check to see if that is a mote in your eye.

And Isaiah. I can't forget to include Isaiah.

So what Calvin Stephens has done has written a book that includes Talmages' greatest insights and/or summaries of gospel principles and has organized them into bite sized sections. It's a topical guide on gospel principles according the man who wrote Jesus the Christ and the many volumes on the Savior. The concepts are organized into chapters and the sub concepts that fit into that chapter are included in natural segues.

I understand Talmage.

I am still struggling with Isaiah. But I'm still reading Isaiah. Until I fall asleep.

Again. Go look to see if you have a mote in your eye before you judge me too harshly.

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Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson Feature and GIVEAWAY

Circle Of Shadows (Crowther and Westerman, #4)
A grisly murder among the German aristocracy propels this tale of eighteenth century forensics and historical crime solving

The forthright Mrs. Harriet Westerman and her reclusive companion, anatomist Gabriel Crowther, tackle their first case outside of England in the fourth installment of Imogen Robertson’s heralded historical suspense series.

As Germany’s elite are celebrating Shrove Tuesday of 1784 with a masked ball, the beautiful Lady Martesen is murdered. Daniel Clode, brother-in-law to Mrs. Westerman, is found near the body. All evidence points to him as the killer. As Daniel awaits execution, Westerman and Crowther arrive and quickly encounter a court full of opulence, intrigue, and deadly secrets—but no one who will talk.

With Anne Perry’s eye for period detail and Tess Gerritsen’s forensics knowledge, Robertson is emerging as a major author of highbrow suspense.

Interesting Info: 

There’s also an interesting true life backstory here: the novel is partially inspired by Count Cagliostro, who was born into poverty but quickly became the most talked about man in Europe during the 1700s due to his alchemical swindling and forgery. By the time he was imprisoned under accusation of being a Freemason in the late 1700s, Cagliostro could count amongst his personal enemies Goethe, Casanova, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette. You can also find traces of him in Faust and Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.  

A note on this as a series: while I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the previous books in order to enjoy this one (Robertson does a good job filling in any missing pieces and on a personal note when I read this one I’d only read the 1st book in the series, skipping the 2nd and 3rd, and didn’t find myself lost or confused). That being said, reading this book will spoil some of what happens in the books before it.

In honor of it being June 18th, I'm hosting a giveaway! Today is:
  • My parents anniversary. 52 years together. Yay, old folks! Clap your hands, everybody!
  • 22 years ago today (yes, on my parents' anniversary), I ran off with a friend and spent the best summer of my single life backpacking through Europe. Since this story takes place in Europe, let's celebrate Europe. Yay, Europe! Clap your hands, everybody!
So if you have been following the series, kudos to you and here's your chance for a copy! If you have not, I bet you will want to now but here's your chance with a copy but be forewarned that it might take some of the fun out of the previous books by telling more than you want to know when you read THOSE book after reading this masterpiece.

And the very difficult task of winning the book is fill out the detailed form below. If you want to tell me nice things in the comment section in addition to filling out the form, I will allow that. I need nice things whispered in my ear. 

You can tell me that I have a nice summer tan (I don't) because I like to hear it.

U.S. only. 
One copy available.
Ends June 30th


What Maisie Knew Feature and GIVEAWAY!

What Maisie Knew
Make sure you have the tissues close by and be ready for a difficult "coming of age too young."Written well over a hundred years ago, the truths told in the book, as seen by the child protagonist watching the disintegration of her parents' marriage, hold true today. So true that someone in Hollywood decided to write an adaptation screenplay. Take the tissues. It's coming.

If you haven't read this classic and you want to, here's your chance. The lovely people at Penguin want you to read it before you watch the movie. That isn't true. I made that up. The lovely people at Penguin want you to read it no matter if you see the movie first or second. Or third or fourth, although I can't imagine what comes in between. So. Fill out the form below for your chance.

What Maisie Knew is a modern-day adaptation of Henry James' 1897 novel of the same name. Set in New York City, it tells the story of young Maisie, the precocious daughter of Susanna, a rock singer, and Beale, an art dealer. Through the aftermath of her parents' ugly divorce, she is forced to confront how selfish and damaged adults can be.

Maisie is played by Onata Aprile, who was six years old at the time of filming. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan play her parents, who constantly neglect and misunderstand their keenly observant daughter. Beale remarries, and his new young wife is Maisie's former nanny, Margo, played by Joanna Vanderham. In order to prove she can provide an equally stable environment, Susanna arranges to marry a younger man, Lincoln, played by Alexander Skarsgard. Lincoln forms a close bond with Maisie. The film explores the difference between nature and nurture and whether it's possible to reconstruct and redefine what family means to you.

The protagonist of What Maisie Knew is a young child, meaning the story reflects a unique view of the world. Even though it's a movie about a little girl, it is aimed at an adult audience and deals with adult issues. The two directors, Scott McGehee and David Siegel, aim to create a realistic depiction of divorce, where the child is caught in the middle and often used as a bargaining chip.

Made for a budget of only $6 million, What Maisie Knew is produced by the independent studio Red Crown Productions. It was an official selection of the 2012 Toronto Film Festival. The tone of the film has been described as realistic melodrama, relying on performance and dialogue to convey the intimacy of the story. Ultimately, it shows that many children all over the world are in the same position as Maisie.

Instructions for a Heatwave

About the Book: Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of forty years has gone to get the paper and vanished, cleaning out his bank account along the way. Gretta's three grown children converge on their parents' home for the first time in years: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aoife, the youngest, now living in Manhattan, a smart, immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret. Maggie O'Farrell writes with exceptional grace and sensitivity about marriage, about the mysteries that inhere within families, and the fault lines over which we build our lives‹the secrets we hide from the people who know and love us best. In a novel that stretches from the heart of London to New York City's Upper West Side to a remote village on the coast of Ireland, O'Farrell paints a bracing portrait of a family falling apart and coming together with hard-won, life-changing truths about who they really are. Maggie O'Farrell is the author of After You'd Gone, winner of a Betty Trask Award; My Lover¹s Lover; The Distance Between Us, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox; and The Hand That First Held Mine, winner of a Costa Novel Award. 

For a sneak peak, click on "Look Inside!" Review to come.

Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit

Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative MedicineDo You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Medical expert and health advocate Dr. Paul A. Offit offers an impassioned and meticulously researched exposé of the alternative medicine industry.

A half century ago, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese herbs, Christian exorcisms, dietary supplements, chiropractic manipulations, and ayurvedic remedies were considered on the fringe of medicine. Now these practices—known variably as alternative, complementary, holistic, or integrative medicine—have become mainstream, used by half of all Americans today seeking to burn fat, detoxify livers, shrink prostates, alleviate colds, stimulate brains, boost energy, reduce stress, enhance immunity, eliminate pain, prevent cancer, and enliven sex.

But as Offit reveals, alternative medicine—an unregulated industry under no legal obligation to prove its claims or admit its risks—can actually be harmful to our health. Even though some popular therapies are remarkably helpful due to the placebo response, many of them are ineffective, expensive, and even deadly. In Do You Believe in Magic? he explains how

megavitamins increase the risk of cancer and heart disease—a fact well known to scientists but virtually unknown to the public; dietary supplements have caused uncontrolled bleeding, heart failure, hallucinations, arrhythmias, seizures, coma, and death; acupuncture needles have pierced hearts, lungs, and livers, and transmitted viruses, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV; chiropractic manipulations have torn arteries.
Dr. Offit debunks the treatments that don't work and explains why. He also takes on the media celebrities who promote alternative medicine, including Mehmet Oz, Suzanne Somers, and Jenny McCarthy. Using dramatic real-life stories, he separates the sense from the nonsense, showing why any therapy—alternative or traditional—should be scrutinized. As he advises us, "There's no such thing as alternative medicine. There's only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't."

My thoughts: I found a lot of value in this book. Living in the mecca of snake oil vendors (Utah), I decided years ago to not buy into all the claims of magic juice that cures whatever ails. The fancy double speak was underwhelming and did nothing to answer questions I had. Yet even when I took a hard line, I've still found myself wandering the homeopathic aisles at stores, comparing labels and walking away completely befuddled.

Offit breaks the book up into 12 easy to read and understand chapters. He explains the FDA, the Dr. Oz superstars, the mega vitamins and special diets, and the science behind all of it. Most disturbing is the politics behind all of it. Pharmaceutical companies have a reputation and have been trashed further with distrust and the "organic" touting companies. Offit does not defend pharmaceutical companies except to explain how drugs are tested and approved by the FDA. He is not a proponent for pharmacology but for science and information.

When we buy our food or drugs at the store, the ingredients are clearly listed. There is oversight in the conditions that our food and drugs are prepared. It is illegal to label our food and drugs with claims that have not been scientifically proven. This is not so when considering alternative medicine. Labels and "specialists" touting cures for cancer, autism, Chronic Lyme Disease (which is not a medically recognized condition), can not be supported by scientific evidence. In fact, the opposite has been true. Many treatments have proven to be nothing but expensive and time consuming. Additionally, some treatments have caused disability and death.

No matter what your political leanings, this is an excellent book to read to trace the ancestry of holistic medicine and the way it is helpful and harmful.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 17, 2013

How I Reviewed a Little Piece of Pinterest and Got Possessed

I don't mean to brag but I pretty much rock.

You know all those cool little DIY crafty projects on Pinterest? Well, I finally lost myself on Pinterest and just emerged with some pretty great crap.

Not only that, but I am providing you with step-by-step instructions, Nancy- Style. Prepare yourself and follow the instructions EXACTLY. Or you'll mess it up.

First, the photos:
Roxie is the neighbor's dog. If I don't "remember Roxie," she will spend all day in her doggie cage in the garage without food and water. That might be a bad thing.

The 13 year old is going to scout camp. He's supposed to be taking care of Roxie. 

And my last creation:

Total cost for all of these decorations (which are going to my work office) = $0. Don't worry. I'll let you in on the how to do all this great stuff. Step by Nancy-Step.

So the decorating style I'm going for at work is old fashioned and barnyard. Surprisingly, I don't have a single chicken or any rendering of our feathered friends. I suddenly got this hankering to make a chalkboard for my office and I was going for the last photo: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. 

I wanted it on chalkboard paper. I hunted all through Pinterest and couldn't find it but I found ALL kinds of chalkboard ideas. Including a scrapbooking type page which I imported into Paint and added some new, fun fonts and, without having a clue what I was doing, I made this:
A good *TADA* would be good right about now. 
And I sent it to the UPS store to be printed.

Meanwhile, my inner 8 year old boy kicked in and I was going, "That looks fun! OOoh! So does that! I really ought to do THAT one, too..." and suddenly I had a few projects going on. Which leads me to my little Father's Day present for Scott:

Which is just black and white photos on thinner photo paper, cut up and modge podged onto canvas then covered in wood stain and modge podged again. I didn't really like how it turned out so I did another one and painted the white part black. So he has two to choose from. So I guess the copies did cost me $.54. 

Sorry about that lie.

So I found that you can make a chalkboard without all that fancy schmancy paint. All you need is a tablespoon of tile grout to one cup of any kind of paint. Like I'm going to measure paint and grout any more than I measure flour, yeast, sugar and water when I make bread. I do measure the salt. I don't know why. But we have grout. We have paint. And we have wood. And this is where the instructions come in. Pay attention. This is important.

Starting with the wood:
  1. Be a dumpster diver.
This is oh-so-very important when your creativity is screaming "good intentions." Rarely does my creativity actually get out but I always want to be prepared! Which leads me to neighborhoods where homes are under construction. That's right. That beadboard was found. . . in a dumpster. All that wood and finish carpentry MDF - in a dumpster.

Just to be clear, there is a right way to do dumpster diving. I'm not really sure what that right way is but I'll tell you how I do it. With good planning. I generally choose to go on Sundays when nobody is working on construction. Ideally, you want to avoid evenings as people in neighborhoods like to walk around, talk to neighbors, and get to know strangers who might be thigh high in a dumpster. You go when there is a high probability that the entire neighborhood is at church. Best time is right after your own church. Best clothing for this activity would definitely be your high heeled sandals and maxi skirt. Find a house that might be doing finish carpentry and stop by dumpster. Climb up, look in. If it hasn't been recently dumped, dive in. Avoid nails but as a precaution, make sure your tetanus shot is current. Best pieces are usually 13 layers down, wedged so that you have to stand on them in order to pull them out which only adds to the excitement as you snag your maxi dress, trip on your high heels, and land on your bottomotomous while praying the nails are facing downward when you land.

In that regard, sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. 

In the good news department, I do not wear pantyhose, therefore, I have never gotten a run in my hose from dumpster diving. So there's always that.

Back home where you are suddenly possessed by the must-make-chalkboard demon, you already have the wood, the paint and, thanks to your husband's thoughtful Mother's Day present, a miter saw. Yes, I really did ask for a miter saw for Mother's Day. I can't begin to tell you how much fun I had with it. Also, I used my husband's nail gun which I am conscientiously wary of using. The large, square-ish frame I made for the huge and heavy chalkboard is made out of some kind of hardwood. I used the big nail gun with the long nails and discovered that the laws of physics changed. When I shot the nail straight through to attach to the other piece of wood, it hit that other piece of wood, bent, and emerged from the wood which is usually a bad thing. Particularly when it comes out next to your thumb. It did hurt. I did yank my hand back. I did see that the skin was broken and feared a puncture wound. I squeezed for about five minutes, trying to get blood from the wound before I realized it only went through the first layer of skin.

"Scott!" I yelled, "No segue here, but when did I get my last tetanus shot?" I admit I was only slightly insulted when he asked if he needed to drive me to the emergency room. Always assuming the worst. 

So all that super cool stuff from one Sunday afternoon (not including the many Sundays in the dumpsters) and I didn't even include one gorgeous frame I made from 6" pine floorboards that I will staining and hanging on the garage wall after I paint a rectangle of chalkboard black and grout for messages within the Taylor tribe. 

More pictures coming when the crafty demon emerges from dormancy in another year or two. I'm so excited!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Curiosity: A Novel by Stephen Kiernan

The Curiosity: A NovelThe Curiosity: A Novel by Stephen Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: Michael Crichton meets The Time Traveler's Wife in this powerful debut novel in which a man, frozen in the Arctic ice for more than a century, awakens in the present day.

"A true page-turner . . . one of the most assured debuts in years, a book that will stop your heart and start it again." - Justin Cronin, author of The Passage and The Twelve

"As thought-provoking and powerful as Flowers for Algernon and the writing is breathtakingly beautiful." -Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls and Midwives 

Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. As a scientist in a groundbreaking project run by the egocentric and paranoid Erastus Carthage, Kate has brought small creatures-plankton, krill, shrimp-"back to life." Never have the team's methods been attempted on a large life form.

Heedless of the consequences, Carthage orders that the frozen man be brought back to the lab in Boston, and reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was-is-a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906. When news of the Lazarus Project and Jeremiah Rice breaks, it ignites a media firestorm and massive protests by religious fundamentalists.

Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah's new life is slipping away. With Carthage planning to exploit Jeremiah while he can, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.

A gripping, poignant, and thoroughly original thriller, Stephen Kiernan's provocative debut novel raises disturbing questions about the very nature of life and humanity-man as a scientific subject, as a tabloid plaything, as a living being: A curiosity.

My thoughts: The book is brilliantly written. Part sci-fi, part historical fiction, part literary fiction, all pieces put together make a delightful and entrancing read. Dr. Kate is rather boring, really. She perks up at the end and Erastus Carthage's point of view is simply hilarious. You know him. He's the Donald Trump of science. He makes money with money. He's short on social graces but very powerful. He fires on a whim. Naturally, my favorite character is Jeremiah. His character is consistent throughout the novel. He's the kind of man you'd want to meet. Maybe even keep. And that's all I'll say.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears

Belonging to Heaven
Belonging to Heaven
by Gale Sears
Published by: Deseret Book

Description: Descended from the Hawaiian royal line, Jonathan Napela became one of the first—and most influential—converts to the Church in Hawaii. A man of intelligence, social status, and wealth, he used his considerable position to further the gospel in his native land. He developed a lifelong bond of brotherhood with Elder George Q. Cannon, helping to translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian and establish a gathering place for the Hawaiian saints in Laie, Oahu. But when his beloved wife, Kitty, was stricken with leprosy, Jonathan made the defining decision of his life. He would leave his life of privilege to become her caretaker and spend the rest of his life on Molokai, the island of lepers. To those who suffered similar heartbreak and banishment, Jonathan's self-sacrifice became their lifeline. Based on true story, this is an extraordinary novel of a man who chose love in the face of death.

My thoughts: The premise of this book is absolutely riveting and fascinating. Jonathan Napela was a pioneer in his own right. Against professional pressure, Napela joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was immediately relieved of his judgeship on the Hawaiian Islands. Highly educated, of royal blood, and influential, Jonathon married his wife, of European descent. Theirs is a beautiful love story. While it is unclear whether or not Kitty, his wife, ever joined the L.D.S. church, she was clearly committed to the man she married and endured the hardships with him while he influenced thousands to listen to the gospel. Because of his early and enduring work, the church is strong in Hawaii. There is no doubt most of the converts of the time can be traced directly back to Napela.

Napela was taught and influenced by the apostle, George Q. Cannon. The story is through the perspective of Cannon, although in third person. This is where I found the story to lose its strength on me. Although Cannon is a key player in the story of Jonathon Napela, the author spends a lot of time including as much factual information and dialogue as possible. I like facts. I like research to be backed up with bibliographies. I don't need every little detail. But that's just me.

Ultimately, this is a love story between a man and his wife. Kitty loved Jonathon enough to support him in his passions and travels. Jonathon loved Kitty enough that, when Kitty contracted leprosy, he would refuse to send her to the leprosy colony on Moloka'i alone. He accompanied her to the colony. Not only did he go to the island with her, he insisted on living with her which was strictly forbidden with the understanding that this would be the end of his freedom of travel. He would never leave Moloka'i. He presided over the Latter Day Saints on the island of Moloka'i until his death from the leprosy he contracted on the island.

This is an amazing story and very worth reading if you don't mind extraneous information that adds to the authenticity. Like I said, I like authenticity, but I really want to read a great book. Jonathon Napela, or his real name is Napelakapuonamahanaonaleleonalani (I am so not making that up), is a fascinating and extraordinary man. The author definitely chose his subject well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

When You Were HereWhen You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity. 

Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

My thoughts: My thoughts: I can't quite decide how well I liked this book. There were things about it that I really liked and then things about it that seemed very pointless. There were some very heartbreaking moments but after awhile, it felt contrived and inauthentic. We start at Danny's graduation. He's popping pills and sleeping with a hot medical resident. He lives alone in a house with a pool, he's valedictorian and he has plenty of money. Must be nice.

What's not nice is that Danny's mom died of cancer two months ago after she promised to make it to his graduation. His dad died 6 years ago in an accident. His adopted sister disowned the family at her high school graduation. He lost his girl when she dumped him. If it were a country song, he'd have lost his dog and pick-up truck. But no, he still has his dog. He never had a pick-up.

So now he, alone, has the onerous chore of cleaning out the house, keeping or selling it, cleaning out the Tokyo apartment, keeping or selling it, figuring out how to keep his dog with him at UCLA, dealing with his grief alone and keeping the love of his life at arm's length because she keeps coming around and pretending like nothing is wrong. So he does the most logical thing in the world. He flies off to Tokyo.

So I think you can see why a reader might be scratching her head at this point. Am I really that out of touch with how a teenage mind thinks? I realize that grieving is an individual thing but his valedictorian speech was one dimensional to me. He's grieving. I get that. He has fallen into the "I get a free pass for any bad behavior for awhile." Ooookaaaay. But the full embracing of that behavior is a little off putting. Especially for a valedictorian.

Okay. But I get it. He's not facing up to the fact that he's not only sad but really ticked off. He's agnostic so he hasn't much to go on about death. I understand that the first few chapters set the scene for how lost he really is. Weird as it seems, when he gets to Tokyo, I started to engage and I ended the book with some satisfaction.

It's really a message of hope, peace, forgiveness and knowing when to let go. The subjects are pretty intense and not for a younger reader. There's a lot of fluff in the story that ends up being part of the message. In regards to the message, it's a worthwhile read. In regards to the story, at least he still has his dog.

Monday, June 3, 2013

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

All the Summer GirlsAll the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can't seem to put down a book--or a cocktail--long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired...again.

In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier--and the secrets that only now threaten to surface.

My thoughts: The book is told from three points of view; Kate, Vanessa, and Dani. The book begins with Kate getting dumped by her fiance who tells her she needs to address the issues surrounding the death of her twin 8 years before. We then meet the three former best friends who each feel responsible for the death of Kate's brother one summer at the beach house.

Honestly, I didn't care for the story, itself. The book plods along to find out what secret each woman is holding from the days of yore. What each did that night that contributed to Collin's death and sowed the seeds of discontent and self loathing and how the decisions they made that night directs their paths today. It was anti-climactic for me.

What I liked about the book was the insightful look at each of the women's personalities and drives. Kate is a micromanager and socially awkward but very beautiful. Vanessa knows her exotic beauty and used it as a weapon until she tired of her toy. But today she is the wife of a good looking man and the mother of a beautiful daughter. But she discontented. Dani is on the path of self destruction. She is aimless and goal-less. She is writing a book but the story has no satisfactory ending. Again, I wasn't crazy about the story but I really did enjoy the way the author got into these women's heads.

I liked the book fine. It just didn't stand out to me.