Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: My Emily

It was the cover of this e-book which drew me in. I loved the poignant photos of this little girl with Down's Syndrome. I don't think I realized it would be about a battle with leukemia (something which hits close to home because my own niece, Amelia, battled ALL - acute lymphoid leukemia - and is now a survivor for over 5 years). I don't think I realized it would be so sad.

Matt Patterson's beautiful first-born daughter was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome at birth. If that wasn't enough of an obstacle, she developed ALL around the age of two (same age Amelia was diagnosed). Although they were able to get Emily to remission, within a short amount of time the cancer returned. It is a quick read and a beautiful story of a father's love for his daughter and his journey through the dark days of a battle with cancer.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tiny World Photography

It has been a while since I've highlighted an admired photographer. But, when I saw a link for a Bored Panda article on this photographer named Samsofy, I wanted to share. He is an expert at creating microcosms and plays with scale to alter perceptions. Here are a few of my favorites of his humorous photos:

For more of his perspective shots, you can read the Bored Panda article here or visit his website here. Trevor would have loved hanging a few of these in his room back in his super heroes phase (like the one with Superman holding up a metal grate). Which ones are your favorites?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Best Laid Plans

Don't ya love it when a plan comes together? Don't ya hate it when a wrinkle in the plan sabotages everything? Yep. That's where we're at for now.

Way back on Valentine's Day, hubby took me furniture shopping. Our original plan was to find something to replace the ancient couch and chairs in our sun room (this is the place where we all gather when my large family descends upon us in December, so it is essential to have comfortable seating options). Thus, we started at the furniture resale stores, hoping to find something second hand which would do the job. We ended up finding a really lovely new reclining sofa/love seat set at a different store. Thinking the new set would be too nice to use for the sun room, we decided to put the new set in the living room and shift our tan sofa and chair set into the sun room. The perfect plan.

First, we waited and waited for the furniture to be delivered. Two separate delivery dates were set and scuttled, thanks to delays on the store end. When the set finally arrived on Tuesday, we discovered a giant glitch in the perfect plan. The tan set cannot be moved into the sun room because of the new sliding glass doors we had installed about a year ago. The couch is about an inch and a half too big. Goodwill picked up the old furniture on the porch/sun room on Wednesday. Now we are stuck with the couch and recliner in the dining room (awaiting a decision on where they will go).

We thought about moving the couch from our guest room into the sun room, but that one is patterned and not the best match for the other sun room furniture (two old orange - yes, you read that right, orange recliners). There's an old neutral couch in the basement (a room we hope to turn into a gaming room for the younger boys once they reach middle school), but it is almost too heavy to move (seriously, it is like the thing is made out of bricks). So, for now, we are inundated with furniture in our front rooms and don't know how long this situation will last before we resolve the furniture dilemma.

The shifting couch dilemma is compounded by the entertainment center dilemma. We had one of those old giant oak entertainment centers in the living room. It matched the oak desk nicely and fit with the rest of the furniture, but hubby hated the whole wall being crammed with furniture.

He also thought the entertainment center was out of style. Thus, he purchased a sleek glass t.v. stand and a newer flat-screen television to replace the old behemoth in the photo. We shifted the oak clunker to the dining room awaiting its sale on Craigslist. Alas, no one is buying the outdated entertainment centers, so as expected, it failed to sell. Thus, it is in the dining room as well (you might wonder how we can even eat with so much furniture crammed into this room, but it is spacious enough to still leave room for comfortable eating around the table).

I hate the new t.v. stand. It shows every drop of dust moments after dusting it. Moreover, with fewer shelves, it didn't allow enough room to leave our old turntable record player plugged in (yes, we still have one of those and records to go with it, not that we use it, as my husband is keen to point out). I'm not a fashion-conscious individual, so I'm trying to convince him to move the big, old oak piece back into the living room and shift the t.v. stand into the boy's room (currently crammed with a daybed with trundle, a captain's bed and a bunk bed set, which we are attempting to sell, as well). Alas, until the bunk bed goes, we cannot shift the t.v. stand or the oak entertainment center. So, we are stuck with furniture all over the place, basically.

We don't have a showcase home. Thankfully, we're not the type who entertain. Apart from school friends who come over, we never invite people over. Still, it's going to be a bit uncomfortable to have all this shifting furniture taking up space until we sort the whole thing out. It almost makes me laugh.

The plans certainly have "gone awry," but in light of recent days, we can thankfully look at the furniture issue as a mere wrinkle. My mother went into the emergency room this past weekend with chest pains radiating into her chin. They kept her over the weekend and finally, after performing a heart catheterization, discovered a blockage in an artery to the heart and were able to put in a stent. The doctor said that if they hadn't found this at this time, she would have certainly suffered a heart attack. We are so grateful for the doctor's intervention.

There was a brief period where she was very confused and I was concerned that she had suffered a stroke. The thought of not being able to communicate clearly with my mom was a significant blow and I was reeling. I was also thanking the Lord for our recent trip down to visit my parents in Florida over spring break. A reminder that you never know when life will take you down a different path and things will change forever. Thus, the furniture is an inconvenience that will eventually get sorted. Despite our plans going awry, we have much to be grateful for and I'm going to give my mother a gigantic hug the next time I see her (hopefully soon, as they often come in June). And, as an added bonus, she'll have lots of seating options when she comes - ha!
Wrote the above post on Thursday. Today, all is well again. We were able to move the tan furniture into the guest room (where it has produced a cozy little reading nook in one corner which I certainly expect to utilize fully). The older couch in the guest room easily fit through the sliding doors to go in the sun room and a couch cover makes it a decent match. Hubby still won't agree to give me back my huge entertainment center (is simply going to donate it to Goodwill), but it was a good thing we still had all those beds in the little boys' room for a sleepover Trevor hosted last night. Also, called my mother yesterday and she is doing really well. So the plans all went well after all, just not as anticipated. As ever, learning to go with the flow.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: Expectation Hangover

I've been dealing with some periods of extensive discouragement lately. Most of it centers on frustrations with my writing. Some of it comes from disappointment with how my life is going (especially as I approach a significant birthday). Thus, I leaped at the chance to secure this book, by Christine Hassler, from the library.  Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life is a book about just such periods of disillusionment.

We build up such expectations for what our lives will amount to and then when life hands us less than what we envisioned, we feel let down. For me, this was probably exacerbated by my near-death experience as a toddler. I was always assured that there was a reason God stepped in and miraculously brought me back from the brink. Surely, there was a greater purpose that He intended to accomplish in and through me. Was that purpose simply for me to bear the three gifts of my sons or is there something still in the works for me to pursue? I don't know.

Hassler does a great job of helping the reader to visualize the changes she suggests. She paints vivid word pictures and structures these pictures effectively. Basically, she encourages the reader to see themselves as relying on four internal mechanisms labelled the "surfer" (who assists in riding the waves of emotions), the "horseback rider" (who silences the inner critic - "whoa" - and redirects), the "scientist" (who analyzes the situation completely and sets in place actions to make changes), and the "seeker" (who nurtures your spiritual side as it relates to the tangible life experiences you are going through).

I, personally, felt the voice of the book to be a bit too new-age for my tastes. A "Higher Power" is invoked, with whatever name you wish to use. The meditative exercises often were prefaced with the encouragement to make statements like "May only that which is for my Higher Good come forward." But the value of the insights outweighed the jargon and style of suggested meditative exercises. I certainly needed the particular chapter which highlighted finding your inner superpowers (the things which give you the biggest charge and joy). I benefited from the encouragement to look beyond the discouragement for the lesson hidden in the trials. So, there is good to be gleaned, even if you don't particularly see eye-to-eye with the author's generalized presentation (basically saying "call it whatever you need to call it in order to get it done").

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: Countdown

After my extreme disappointment over the Newbery winner, Criss Cross, I am wondering why this book by Deborah Wiles didn't rack up any awards. While both Criss Cross and Countdown take place in the 1960's, this book offers a far more interesting, detailed, and engaging story than found in Criss Cross. It was extremely well done and I cannot praise it enough.

Wiles skillfully weaves a story of a conflict between Franny Chapman and her neighbor and long-time best friend, Margie, into the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I'm so glad I listened to this in audio form, because I think it thoroughly enhanced the scrapbook feel of the book. In between portions of narrative, you hear snippets of news bites, song lyrics, and advertisements of the time. With a prevailing theme of what to do in case of an atomic bomb detonation ("duck and cover"), the various soundbites enhance the suspense of the story and the emotional pull of both internal and external conflict. This was a tense moment in history, and the story of Frannie and Margie parallels the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The takeaway was extremely valuable as the reader is reminded that our humanity unites us and it is imperative to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.

The Amazon link identifies Countdown as the first in the Sixties Trilogy. Therefore, I am assuming there will be two more similar books available. The second book, called Revolution, which came out last year, apparently highlights the "Freedom Summer." I was thrilled to discover that our library has that book in audio form as well (and that book also includes snippets of historic coverage).

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: The Bone Clocks

I love it when I find other bloggers who tend to like the same kinds of books that I like. I always look forward to their recommendations and plan much of my to-be-read list based on suggestions gleaned from other book review bloggers I trust. Therefore, I had high hopes for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. In her blog review of the book, Catherine, of A Spirited Mind blog, labelled it one of her favorite books from 2014. Alas, there are times when even kindred spirits have vastly different experiences with a book. Sadly, I find I am not a huge fan of this book.

It pulled me in right away with the story of fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes who is running away to join her boyfriend. Her plans are dashed when she finds him with her best friend. She takes off on her own, intending to make her way in the world rather than trudge home like a dog with its tail between its legs. However, soon after her departure, she is called home when her younger brother disappears. Okay, I am thoroughly hooked now. In the background we have the information that Holly hears voices and entertains spectral visitors from time to time and the compelling detail that Holly saw the image of her brother on the very night he supposedly disappeared. So far so good.

The novel is structured in six parts, with Holly's story framing the first and last perspective pieces and four other characters rounding out their perspectives in the middle. I found the shifts to another perspective to be difficult to follow at the outset of each section. Moreover, the section on the author Crispin Hershey felt entirely unnecessary to the development of the story and a bit too much like the author imposing himself into the story (since Crispin is an author who is having a hard time following up on a wildly successful novel and is embittered by the critical reviews his work receives). Even more perplexing, the point-of-view seemed to shift between third person and first person throughout that whole section. For example: "Two bikes are leaning against the lighthouse when Crispin Hershey finally arrives, which displeases him. I dismount, sticky with sweat ..." (the him and the I both refer to Crispin, yet why must his entire section confuse the reader by referring to himself in the third person and then switching back to first person?) Here it occurs within the space of one sentence: "Back in his hotel room on the twenty-ninth floor, Crispin Hershey showers away his sticky day and flumps back onto his snowy bed, clad in boxers and a T-shirt emblazoned with Beckett's 'fail better' quote I was given in Santa Fe." (Grrr!) The only thing I can think is that the author is trying to make a point of this character's inflated view of himself, which leads him to refer to himself frequently in the third person. Crispin's story was tiresome, whiny, and well ... unnecessary to the plot development.

I also failed to be sucked in for the section featuring Hugo Lamb, an unscrupulous Cambridge student who eventually joins the dark side in this tale of good vs. evil. His life intersects with Holly's and his character is indeed pertinent to the story line about the psychic activity going on in Holly's world, but it felt like a window on boys behaving badly (his drunken buddies bring home some women and are shocked to discover that they are prostitutes now expecting exorbitant payment).

To be frank, the further I got into the book, the less I liked it. It was hard to follow and had so much going on that it truly was a puzzle as the front flap of the book asserts: "Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together." For me, it felt like the novel was just all over the place. Yes, the characters were well-drawn and yes, the story had a beginning, middle, and end, but figuring everything out was more work than I wanted to put in.

I guess it also felt a bit like a gavel to me. The author spent so much time presenting opinions about the world and how it is going and where it is headed. Political perspectives were explored concerning numerous countries and policies. Mankind was portrayed as sucking all the resources dry without really putting anything of value back into the world. In the end, the world decays into a barren wasteland full of bandits. Even though the story returns to Holly Sykes, I didn't care for the resolution.

I'm sure we will have an interesting discussion on the book for our book club gathering. Perhaps the other women in the group feel more in line with Catherine's perspective and see great depths in the novel to plumb and dissect. For me, it was a bit of a let-down, since I had really anticipated enjoying this novel. So many others, like Catherine, gave it rave reviews. Again, the inside flap declares, "An eloquent conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist, David Mitchell has become one of the leading literary voices of his generation." The Washington Post calls him "the novelist who's been showing us the future of fiction." I guess, I just don't get it. I guess it was simply too deep for me to keep track of and glean anything of value from. Mea culpa.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

I don't always write up reviews for the books I read aloud to Sean and Trevor, but this was too good a book to ignore. We thoroughly enjoyed the read and have been thinking and talking about it ever since we finished it. Moreover, at the end of the book, in an author's note, Chris Grabenstein mentions that there was an additional puzzle in the book that wasn't in the story and he welcomes readers to write to him with the solution, when they find it. Oh, how I want to discover the puzzle and the solution (you can find an additional hint here). Oh, how I want to write to him triumphantly with the answer (even though the contest for figuring out the solution has come and gone). Alas, for now, we cannot ferret it out.

When Kyle Keeley fails to give his best to an essay contest, he is sure that he will not win a place at the opening night lock-in at Mr. Lemoncello's new library. Surprisingly, his weak effort is rewarded, but that is only the beginning of the story. Now that the grand and illustrious library has been unveiled, the group of twelve twelve-year-olds invited to the lock-in find they must play a game in order to escape from the library before time ticks out. Packed with clues and rebus puzzles, the story brings the reader along as the children attempt to figure out the only possible exit. Sean was thoroughly enthralled and eager to figure out the keys to the mystery. Plus, we loved hearing all the references to books we know of or have read. Sean marveled at how current the book was.

When we completed the story, Sean declared it to be one of his top five favorite books. Here are his favorites in order: 1) The Harry Potter series (which we are reading again for the umpteenth time), 2) The Just Grace series, 3) The Boys Against the Girls series, 4) The Ivy and Bean series, and 5) Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (the only stand-alone book). While I wouldn't put the book in my top five, it was still an outstanding read, full of intrigue and suspense. A great book for bibliophiles and a great book to keep the brain working over the summer break from school.