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March 30, 2014

Gratitude Lately

Lately, I've been thankful for gorgeous sunrises

Sunny afternoons

Walks in the park

A new mug for tea



Tried-and-true recipes that bring smiles

The arrival of spring flowers

Dog parties

And for music in my home.

Happy Sunday, friends. 
What are you grateful for this week?

March 26, 2014

March 24, 2014

Top Ten Books for Spring


Inspired by Trish's recent post (and her pretty button, pictured above) in which she lists her Top Ten picks for springtime reading, I decided to gather a stack of my own books to focus on, hopefully beginning in another week. Yes, I realize spring began on the 20th, so I'm a tad bit late to the party, but I'm currently reading East of Eden (finally made it to the last third of the novel!) and have high hopes to finish before I head out of town on the 1st. It's too big of a book to haul in my carry-on bag!

Here are the books that I'm most anxious to read before summer arrives. Some have been on my shelves for a few years, some were given to my by a wonderful friend, one is on loan from a co-worker, and the rest were either sent to me by the publisher or purchased at work. Now to decide which to read first! Any suggestions?


Not familiar with some of these gems? Click on the links to read more. I've heard nothing but great things about all of this books!

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Gemini by Carol Cassella

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown


Yep. That's an ambitious list (and 11 books, not 10), but the first day of summer isn't until June 21st. Of course, I'd have to read one book a week in order to finish this entire stack, but you never know. With the crazy weather we've had this winter, we could wind up getting snowed in anytime in April. You just never know with the weather in Nebraska! ;)

March 23, 2014

Reconstructing Amelia



Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Fiction/Mystery/Thriller
2013 Harper Audio
Reader: Khristine Hvam
Finished on 1/23/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)



The real story of Amelia's life and death emerges slowly, through a creative blend of Kate's present, Amelia's past, and such varied communication methods as texts, e-mails, blog entries, and Facebook status updates. . . . McCreight portrays the darkness of adolescence, complete with doomed love, bullies, poisonous friendship, and insecurity. Fans of literary thrillers will enjoy the novel's dark mood and clever form.
— Publishers Weekly

Overview

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is shocked when her daughter's exclusive Brooklyn private school calls to tell her that Amelia—her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old—has been caught cheating. But when Kate arrives at Grace Hall, she's blindsided by far more devastating news: Amelia is dead. Despondent, she's jumped from the school's roof. At least that's what Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. It's what she believes, too, until she gets the anonymous text: Amelia didn't jump. Now, Kate is going to find the truth—no matter where it leads. Sifting through Amelia's e-mails, text messages, and Facebook posts, Kate reconstructs the pieces of her daughter's life and the people in it, uncovering why she was on Grace Hall's roof that day—and how she died.

A superb blend of Tana French and Jodi Picoult, Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, friends and bullies. It's about how well any parent really knows their child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.

I listened to this audio thriller a couple of months ago and while I’ve forgotten some of the more minute details, I do remember feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness for today’s children. When I was growing up, I knew who the mean girls were. I knew who enjoyed picking on those who weren’t cool or who didn’t fit in. I knew who egged my parents’ house and let the air out of the tires of my mom’s car. But with Facebook and texting, those “mean girls” can hide while they hurt and, possibly, destroy a life simply because they can. In this new age of cyber-bullying, it’s more difficult to know who your enemies are.

This compelling thriller kept me guessing from beginning to end, but it’s been two months since I finished the book and the story is quickly fading. I suppose a thriller, in spite of the dark undertones, can be considered “brain candy.” However, while somewhat forgettable, this story has left its mark and while I am breathing a sigh of relief that my daughter is past the age of this type of bullying, I do worry about my granddaughter and nieces. Unfortunately, it’s probably about time to talk to each of them and tell them they can always come to me if they are ever in a similar situation as Amelia. Sigh.

Behind the Book (an excerpt from the author’s website):

And how on earth—in a world so filled with dangers, big and small—will I ever keep them safe?

More than once, I’ve turned a corner on the way to pick up one of my children and seen an ambulance parked in front of one of their schools. Or at least that’s the way it looks, from several blocks away, down a busy Brooklyn avenue. Every time, I tell myself that my child has not accidentally eaten one of those cashews that she is so allergic to or fallen off the monkey bars or choked on a carrot. No, my child is fine.

And yet, I always walk a little faster, eyes locked on the ambulance, until I can confirm that it’s actually just parked, off-duty. Perhaps, I worry because I’m especially fatalistic. But I don’t think so. I think I worry because, deep down, I know the truth: that there is only so much I can do to protect my girls.

That’s what I thought a couple years back when I read about the star student and athlete who committed suicide by jumping out a window at Dalton. It’s what I thought about when I first heard about Tyler Clementi’s tragic leap from the George Washington Bridge after being surreptitiously taped. And it was brought back to me again when New Jersey teen Lennon Baldwin hanged himself allegedly in response to bullying.

My novel is told from the alternating perspectives of both Amelia and her mother Kate, to show how children—no matter how well-adjusted, no matter how well-loved—can be so easily singled out for abuse and suffer its inevitably heartbreaking consequences. Reconstructing Amelia explores how our children can get so terribly lost, despite the fact that we’re trying our best to keep them found.

March 17, 2014

Ordinary Grace



Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mystery
2013 Atria Books
Finished on 1/11/14
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)




Addendum: William Ken Krueger will be at MY Barnes & Noble store in Lincoln, Nebraska (SouthPointe Pavillions) on April 27th at 1:00 pm. I am so excited!

Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Best Novel of the Year

Overview:

NOMINATED FOR THE 2014 EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum, a preacher’s son, it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

Told from Frank’s perspective forty years later, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.

“A pitch-perfect, wonderfully evocative examination of violent loss. In Frank Drum's journey away from the shores of childhood—a journey from which he can never return—we recognize the heartbreaking price of adulthood and it's 'wisdoms.' I loved this book.” (Dennis Lehane, New York Times bestselling author of Live by Night and The Given Day)

I, too, loved this book!

Ordinary Grace is the second book I finished reading this year and I knew early on that it was not only sure to be a winner, but that it would be the first title on my 2014 Top Ten list. Seven books later, it remains at the top of that list.

Part coming-of-age, part mystery, Krueger’s stand-alone novel is reminiscent of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Prayer For Owen Meany. I quickly fell in love with this author’s prose, characters, and sense of place, and was eager to tell my friends and co-workers about this amazing novel. The writing is so lovely and I can hardly wait to try the audio book later this year.

On the gift of music:
When my mother sang I almost believed in heaven. It wasn’t just that she had a beautiful voice but also that she had a way of delivering a piece that pierced your heart. Oh when she sang she could make a fence post cry. When she sang she could make people laugh or dance or fall in love or go to war. In the pause before she began, the only sound in the church was the breeze whispering through the open doorway. The Coles had chosen the hymn and it seemed an odd choice, one that had probably come from Mrs. Cole whose roots were in southern Missouri. She’d asked my mother to sing a spiritual, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

When my mother finally sang it was not just a hymn she offered, it was consummate comfort. She sang slowly and richly and delivered the heart of that great spiritual as if she was delivering heaven itself and her face was beautiful and full of peace. I shut my eyes and her voice reached out to wipe away my tears and enfold my heart and assure me absolutely that Bobby Cole was being carried home. It made me almost happy for him, a sweet boy who didn’t have to worry anymore about understanding a world that would always be more incomprehensible to him than not. Who didn’t have to endure anymore all the cruel mockeries. Who would never have to concern himself with what kind of a man he would grow into and what would become of him when his aged parents could no longer protect and care for him. My mother’s singing made me believe that God had taken Bobby Cole for the best of reasons.

And when she finished the sound of the breeze through the doorway was like the sigh of angels well pleased.

Final Thoughts:

I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I believe it’s destined to become a classic.

William Kent Krueger is the author of the Cork O’Connor series, which I quickly jumped into after finishing Ordinary Grace. There are 13 books in this series, so I have plenty to look forward to by this gifted storyteller. I’m most anxious, though, for the companion novel to Ordinary Grace, on which Krueger is currently working! I'm also thrilled to learn that the author will be in Nebraska (at the Keene Memorial Library in Fremont) on April 26th.

March 15, 2014

Still Foolin' 'Em


Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal
Memoir
2013 Macmillan Audio
Reader: Billy Crystal
Finished on 1/3/14
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)



Overview

Hilarious and heartfelt observations on aging from one of America’s favorite comedians as he turns 65, and a look back at a remarkable career.

Billy Crystal is turning 65, and he’s not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like “Buying the Plot” and “Nodding Off,” Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. Readers get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever “test positive for Maalox”), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion (“the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac”), grandparenting, and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal’s reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived.

Nora Ephron may feel bad about her neck, but Billy Crystal feels terrible about turning 65! The first three chapters of this memoir, which are read before a live audience (on this audio production), are laugh-out-loud hilarious . One might say they’re crass, but they are oh, so funny. After listening to them on my Nano at work, I came home and played them for my husband, who agreed they were very funny. Unfortunately, the remainder of the book fell flat. I’m not sure if my disappointment lies in the performance by Crystal or in the material. As a stand-up comedian, Billy Crystal is extremely funny, but the remaining chapters (which weren’t performed before a live audience) are read exactly as written in the book. This is what one would expect from an audio book, but Crystal’s timing was off as he stumbled over the words, pausing at the wrong place in his anecdote, making for a very awkward listening experience. If that wasn’t enough, I also grew weary of the constant name-dropping, which made this memoir feel like one big brag fest.

Final Thoughts:

I loved Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, Forget Paris and City Slickers. I also enjoyed watching him when he hosted the Oscars and I think it would be great fun to see him perform before a live audience. However, listening to him read his own memoir was quite the disappointment. If you’re still curious, borrow the book from your library. This one's not a keeper.

March 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Our first dog, Sidney
August 1988 - March 3, 2003












March 7, 2014

Oxygen



Oxygen by Carol Cassella
Fiction
2008 Simon & Schuster
Finished on 12/7/13
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)



 
Publisher’s Blurb:

Jodi Picoult meets Atul Gawande.

In this riveting new novel by a real-life anesthesiologist, an intimate story of relationships and family collides with a high-stakes medical drama.

Dr. Marie Heaton is an anesthesiologist at the height of her profession. She has worked, lived and breathed her career since medical school, and she now practices at a top Seattle hospital. Marie has carefully constructed and constricted her life according to empirical truths, to the science and art of medicine. But when her tried-and-true formula suddenly deserts her during a routine surgery, she must explain the nightmarish operating room disaster and face the resulting malpractice suit. Marie’s best friend, colleague and former love, Dr. Joe Hillary, becomes her closest confidant as she twists through depositions, accusations and a remorseful preoccupation with the mother of the patient in question. As she struggles to salvage her career and reputation, Marie must face hard truths about the path she’s chosen, the bridges she’s burned and the colleagues and superiors she may have mistaken for friends.

A quieter crisis is simultaneously unfolding within Marie’s family. Her aging father is losing his sight and approaching an awkward dependency on Marie and her sister, Lori. But Lori has taken a more traditional path than Marie and is busy raising a family. Although Marie has been estranged from her Texas roots for decades, the ultimate responsibility for their father’s care is falling on her.

As her carefully structured life begins to collapse, Marie confronts questions of love and betrayal, family bonds and the price of her own choices. Set against the natural splendor of Seattle, and inside the closed vaults of hospital operating rooms, Oxygen climaxes in a final twist that is as heartrending as it is redeeming.

I’ve always been fascinated by medical dramas. Over the past four decades, I’ve watched countless episodes of Emergency!, Chicago Hope, E.R., Grey’s Anatomy, and House. I’m intrigued by the specific details of medical care, whether I’m watching a TV show, reading a novel, or hearing about someone’s recent surgery. I’m probably one of those annoying patients (or the spouse of a patient) who asks far too many questions about a specific procedure. ;)

Anesthesia has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. I can never quite shake that strange feeling upon awakening from surgery. One minute you’re awake, waiting to drift off to sleep, and in the blink of an eye a nurse is gently waking you and you feel like you just missed out on a big chunk of your life.
Anesthesia was the antithesis of the complete, personally involved physician I had idealized to myself and my parents for all the years I studied chemistry and physics and biology alongside music and literature. It came as an unexpected, almost uncomfortable surprise to me when I discovered the immediate gratification of my specialty—injecting a local anesthetic at the precise nerve plexus to relieve the unrelenting pain of strained backs or injured limbs; calming a terrified obstetrical patient rushed into an emergency cesarean section, keeping her pain-free and hopeful, so her infant could make the miraculous transition from fetus to newborn uninjured; pulling the sleeping heart bypass patient back to consciousness and the inexpressible relief that they are still among the living. All of this, I discovered, was in contrast to general medicine, which could often do little more than shift the incessant, declining slope of mortality that begins the day we are born.
I understood the general concept of anesthesia (well, as much as a layman can understand something so complex), but until I read Carol Cassella’s compelling drama, Oxygen, I failed to appreciate the incredible talent of an anesthesiologist. It is not simply the job of an anesthesiologist to keep a patient sedated, but it is also his or her responsibility to anticipate the patient’s pain in response to the various stages of the surgery, adjusting or adding the various drugs to maintain the patient’s comfort. Of course, now that makes sense, but it’s not something to which I’d ever given any thought until reading this novel.
People feel so strong, so durable. I anesthetize airline pilots, corporate executives, high school principals, mothers of well-brought-up children, judges and janitors, psychiatrists and salespeople, mountain climbers and musicians. People who have strutted and struggled and breathed on this planet for twenty, thirty, seventy years defying the inexorable, entropic decay of all living things. All of them clinging to existence by one molecule: oxygen.

There is a moment during the induction of general anesthesia when I am intimately bonded to my patient. A moment of transferred power. I squeeze the drug out of the syringe, into the IV line, and watch the face slacken, watch the last organized thoughts slip from consciousness, see breathing shallow, slow, stop. 

I received an ARC of Cassella’s debut novel way back in early 2008. It sat on my desk for a few months and eventually found its way to one of my stacks of ARCs, where I promptly forgot about it. Over the course of that year, I started seeing great reviews for Oxygen and yet it remained in my stacks, soon to be completely buried. I’m not sure what finally prompted me to dig it out after more than five years, but I’m so very glad I did. Cassella’s narrative drew me in from the opening scene and I became completely engrossed, particularly with those sections involving a specific operation.

On the fear of flying: 
Joe squeezes my hand as he pulls out into the runway and waits for clearance. He sounds different talking into his headset, a clipped song in the shorthand lingo of flight. My breath jumps high into my throat when we leave the ground. He banks out over the sound—the city looks like it's cupped inside the protective palms of encircling peaks: the eastern Cascades and western Olympics, the northern and southern volcanoes of Mount Baker and Mount Rainer. From this height the geometry of bridged lakes and islanded ocean sprawls like a rumpled quilt in greens and blues. It's worth the price of fear.

On Texas heat:
Lori lives in the plains just west of Fort Worth, where cattle drives used to camp on their way to the transcontinental railroads and settlers laid claim to Indian lands with barbed wire. Now, a grid of pavement allots quarter-acre swatches of azaleas and scrappy live oaks to homeowners who coax green growth out of the dust. The lushly watered lawns invite barefoot play, until the Texas sun slaps you back inside. 

Carol Cassella is a consummate storyteller and when it comes to medicine, specifically anesthesia, she knows her stuff. She majored in English Literature at Duke University and graduated from medical school in 1986. She is a practicing physician, board certified in both internal medicine and anesthesiology, and has recently published her third novel, Gemini. As luck would have it, I came upon an ARC of Gemini a couple of months ago and I am very anxious to give it a read. And I can assure you that I won’t be waiting five years!

Have you read any books by Carol Cassella? If so, which is your favorite? Healer sounds quite intriguing, too!

March 5, 2014

Bird's-Eye View (III)

Name that mountain!







For more posts about flying, click here.

March 2, 2014

The Sunday Salon



I'm procrastinating. It's so freaking cold outside and I really hate the thought of going to the grocery store. It's not the errand I dread, but getting back into my car after shopping for half an hour. I can warm up the car in my driveway, but that's not as easy when it's in a parking lot. Oh, wait! I have a husband... He could go with me. ;)




It's been such a miserably cold winter, but at least we haven't had to deal with quite as much snow as those of you to the east of us. We were supposed to get 4-8 inches yesterday, but all we got was a dusting. I can't imagine what Rod's book signing would have been like with the cold temps and snow. He signed for an hour and had a nice turnout, in spite of the frigid temps, so we were very pleased.



I'm finally feeling like I might just about be over with the terrible cold I came down with two weeks ago. Almost. I was so miserable; I pretty much stayed in bed for 48 hours straight. One of my sweet neighbors became concerned when she noticed my car hadn't moved for several days (and she hadn't seen me walking Annie in the afternoon), so after learning that I'd been sick, she brought over The.Most.Delicious chicken soup (and salad, bread and cookies!) for our dinner one night. I think it was the soup that cured me! I've got the recipe and plan to make it for dinner tomorrow night, so I'll try to get a photo and post the recipe next weekend.

I've never really been a big fan of tea, but after returning to work I discovered a delicious new tea and have since given up my second cup of coffee for a big mug of this bold blend. Suffice it to say, I will never drink Celestial Seasonings tea again!





But what about books, you ask? I have one more review to post and I'll be finished with 2013. Woot! But what have I read recently? Well, let's see. I won't go all the way back to January's list, but in February I finished the following:

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen (quite good)
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison (meh)
Iron Lake by William Kent Kreuger (very good)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (loved!)
A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante (good, but not great)
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (loved!!)

I'm currently listening to Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and have started reading On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle. I plan to read the Coyle mystery at work on my breaks and will attempt to focus on reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck during the month of March. Thanks for the nudge, Trish

Alright. Time to bundle up and get to the store. Have a good week, friends. Stay warm! Who's keeping your tootsies warm tonight?