Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: Finding Dorothy

I thought I recognized Elizabeth Letts' name on the cover of this recent acquisition at our library. Two years ago, when I was at CBLI, I read her Quality of Care. I thoroughly enjoyed this romp in the world of Maud and Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other Oz books). The book alternates back and forth from Maud's life story to her encounters with Judy Garland during the filming of The Wizard of Oz movie.

At first, the movie bits felt intrusive to the much more interesting story of Maud's life story. I wished the author had written the book in a straight chronological order and even wondered if she should have left out the whole story line of Judy Garland. However, by the end of the book, I appreciated the structure the author used and came to understand her purpose. Indeed, Garland's role served as a pinnacle to the life events that led to the book and eventually fleshed out in the movie.

Maud Gage is the daughter of a tireless women's rights campaigner. Her mother keeps her older sister home because of a nervous condition. Maud senses the family's hopes center on her when she heads off to college. But she is not enthusiastic about a degree and ends up falling for a young actor named Frank Baum. Letts does a fine job of presenting the story of their courtship and marriage and paints a realistic picture of the challenges and difficulties of life in that time.

By the end of Finding Dorothy, I learned much about the author and his wife, the book's importance, and the struggles associated with filming the successful movie. This fictional tale, based on solid research, promises to take you (the reader) from your own Kansas, to that place "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." We all experience a sense of longing and books often take us into that anticipated realm. It left me grateful to Frank Baum for persisting through the tragedies and doing the work to offer the world the alternate land of Oz (a land of ooh's and ahh's).

Friday, July 12, 2019

Book Review: The Fast Diet

I am on a two-pronged mission: to lose the 15 pounds I picked up over the past few years and to strengthen my brain health hoping to stave off dementia. The first prong is easy to assess. I'm down 11 pounds and hope to lose possibly 9 more. The second prong seems more a toss-up. I cannot say that I feel more mentally alert or that I no longer forget things or people. But, I definitely believe I am healthier today than I was when I began this experiment, 3 months ago. I revamped what and when I eat.

Ever since I read The End of Alzheimer's and The Circadian Code, I've hoped to attempt their suggested protocols. Indeed, I am fascinated with the ideas of intermittent fasting. To clarify, this fasting is not a spiritual discipline. It would be great if I incorporated such a focus, but I haven't. Mostly, I avoid carbs and sugars (although I'm not strict about it - I allow dark chocolate and even made a pan of spinach-mushroom lasagna to share with my husband). I try to fill my meal plans with plentiful amounts of eggs, chicken, salmon, shrimp, nuts, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, avocados, strawberries, blueberries, and salad. In addition, most days I limit my eating window to 10 to 12 hours (fasting between 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. or 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.).

Wanting even more evidence to support the efficacy of intermittent fasting, I picked up this book by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. The Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting is a quick and easy read. The authors suggest a 5:2 plan - 5 days of normal eating and 2 days of restricting calories to 500 for women and 600 for men. Although it was great to read the many testimonials at the end of this book, I doubt I will begin to count calories. I prefer to think of what I'm doing as time-restricted eating and a roughly ketogenic diet. My only complaint about the book is that it could have been a brief e-book (or perhaps I would have preferred to watch the show that triggered this book - a British Horizon program called Eat, Fast, and Live Longer). I agree with everything touted in this book and plan to continue with intermittent fasting. If I lose the further 10 pounds, I will maintain the weight loss by restricting my eating selections and time-frames. At this point, I'd have to say "try fasting - it helps!" I still recommend the previous two mentioned books, over this one.
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I did not copy down any recipes from this book, but copied down quite a few from two other books I skimmed. In The Keto Reset Diet, by Mark Sisson, I obtained recipes for Burger Skillet, Egg Muffins in Ham Cups, Chicken/Broccoli Casserole, and Pizza Bites. From The Beginner's Guide to Intermittent Keto, I secured recipes for Blueberry Almond Pancakes, Almond Crusted Salmon Patties, Keto Bread, and Zucchini Fries. Can't wait to try these ketogenic recipes. Heck, I even made up a recipe of my own one night, zapping some zucchini noodles in the microwave while heating jarred alfredo sauce with diced chicken and frozen spinach on the stove, then combining them.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: How to Forget

How to Forget by Kate Mulgrew was a hard book to read. The writing flowed seamlessly, and the story was absorbing. However, given my own mother's early stages with dementia, it was difficult to observe the journey play out in someone else's life. Still, I could not look away. The author's storytelling skill enthralled.

Kate Mulgrew is apparently a well-known actress. Having never watched Star Trek, Ryan's Hope, or Orange is the New Black, I wasn't familiar with her. She must be both a talented actress and a skilled writer. She weaves, in two parts, the stories of her father and her mother. Her father, when diagnosed with cancer, decides not to pursue treatment. Her mother battles Alzheimer's. This memoir details Mulgrew's humble origins, but focuses primarily on her parents' lives rather than her own. She doesn't spare her own opinions about matters and seems unconcerned about the differing perspectives of her siblings. I always wonder what it would be like to publish a memoir and experience the friction of different viewpoints. My life hardly bears revealing through a memoir, so I doubt I'll ever need to worry.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Nobody Cares!

(Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash)


The universe has conspired to send this repetitious refrain (already clamoring) into my ear, heart, and soul. I keep encountering the sobering message, in regard to my writing, that nobody cares!

In flipping through the May/June edition of Writer's Digest, the words of Reni Roxas first hit my ears:

"Here's the sorry-ass deal if you are an unknown writer: The world is not waiting for your novel. Nobody cares if you finish it, not even your mother.... Nobody cares. But one. You. You care. Desperately."

How true! My mother will not care (she cannot, thanks to her dementia). Indeed, not a single member of my family, immediate or extended, reads my blog.

In my morning devotions, I am in Ecclesiastes:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!... Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?... Noone remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.... Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." (Ch. 1:2-3,11 and Ch. 2:11 - NIV)

And then, also, in Luke 10, I read the story again of Martha and Mary, where Martha begs Jesus to chide Mary for not focusing on the work at hand, only to be told by Jesus that Mary has chosen what is better. Later, in the same day, I received an email newsletter from Jordan Raynor addressing this same chapter. He wrote: "Martha wasn't focused on what mattered most. In that moment, the most essential thing was ... sitting at the feet of Jesus."

In my current research for a non-fiction work I'm pursuing, it was hammered into me again:

"Nobody cares about your silly book. Nobody cares about my silly books.... What we write doesn't matter half as much as how we live, how we love each other." - Martha Beck

So, how am I living? Am I sitting at the feet of Jesus? How do I love others? Not well enough, I have decided. I am currently dealing with the fall-out from a large blow-up with my sister (never one I have gotten along with well). I cannot see my way to reconciliation or any redemption in the relationship. Is it her unwillingness to see her role in our dysfunctional dance or is it my inability to forgive and forget wounds inflicted. Moreover, other relationships have fractured as well, and for several I am at a loss to know exactly where I went wrong. Somewhere along the line, it seems I've done something to alienate or estrange.

I'm hearing the message loud and clear. Yet, I'm stymied. I don't know what to do with this theme. I would say instead of "doing" I need to focus on "being," but even that rings hollow. Dust to dust, I will be!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

2019 - Second Quarterly Review

To assist my blog readers, I've decided to summarize my reading four times a year, providing a brief description, the page count, and a grading scale (5 thumbs up - Highly Recommend, 4 thumbs up - Enjoyed, 3 thumbs up - Good, but not as satisfying as I'd hoped, 2 thumbs up - Meh, and 1 thumb down - Regret, wishing I could get back the time invested). I might also document the mention of agents in the acknowledgement section - this is primarily for my own purposes, since it benefits a writer to know what agents represented similar works.

I read the following books during the second quarter of 2019 (for my full review, click on title):


The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy, and Transform Your Health from Morning to Midnight by Satchin Panda, PhD - A leading researcher in circadian rhythm science encourages readers to schedule their eating, exercising, and sleeping in alignment with their circadian rhythm to work with the body instead of against the body in fighting weight gain, digestive conditions, and chronic ailments. - 238 pages, 👍👍👍👍

I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel - Modern Mrs. Darcy blogger outlines the joys and frustrations of being a bibliophile. - 145 pages, 👍👍👍👍

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman - Elsa's grandmother sends her on a scavenger hunt to locate and deliver several letters to her closest neighbors, friends, and relatives, conveying her sympathies and apologies. In fulfilling this task, Elsa not only gets to know those around her, but comes to understand the purpose and meaning of her own life. - 370 pages, 👍👍👍👍-1/2

Ten Years Later: Six People Who Faced Adversity and Transformed Their Lives by Hoda Kotb - Biographies of six individuals who overcame extreme adversity to meet their goals and triumph over tragedy. - 240 pages, 👍👍👍

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald - Abi Knight not only discovers her teenage daughter is brain-dead and pregnant, but also learns how damaging deception and infidelity can be. - 339 pages, 👍👍

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - Catherine Morland is thrilled with her invitation to spend time with the Tilney family at Northanger Abbey but must deal with the quirks of society manners and expectations. - (I listened in audio form, 7 CDs, 8-1/4 hours), 👍👍

Candy Cane Murder by Joanne Fluke - Hannah Swensen finds the body of department store owner, Wayne Bergstom, in the snow and follows the clues to find the murderer, while offering up a dozen recipes. - 148 pages, 👍👍

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig - Tom Hazard, who ages slowly, must avoid staying in one place too long and falling in love or else scientists might get ahold of him and use him as a lab rat to determine how to increase longevity. A historical, philosophical story meant to encourage the reader to live in the moment. - 325 pages, 👍👍👍-1/2

Letters Never Sent by Ruth E. Van Reken - Ruth's life, as a missionary kid, evoked feelings of loneliness, anger, insecurity, and guilt and she processes those feelings fully in a this series of letters. - 165 pages, 👍👍👍

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro - When the author's DNA test confirms that her father is not her biological father, she goes on a quest to discover her origins. In the process, she struggles with the ethics of infertility treatments using donor sperm, the fallout of her family's secret, and the meaning it all has for her self-perception. - 249 pages, 👍👍👍👍

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - A poignant coming-of-age story full of racial tension and social commentary, treating ideas of equality, justice, and kindness. - 384 pages (I listened in audio form, 11 CDs, 12-1/4 hours), 👍👍👍👍👍

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives by Matt Richtel - Weaving scientific discoveries with real-life patient stories, Richtel covers a tremendous amount of ground in explaining the immune system and how it both functions and, sometimes, malfunctions. - 409 pages, 👍👍👍👍

Listen to the Marriage by John Jay Osborn - An inside look into a couple's marriage as the counselor encourages the couple, Steve and Gretchen, to listen to their marriage as a third party in the equation. - 246 pages, 👍👍👍-1/2

Cream Puff Murder by Joanne Fluke - Book 11 in the Hannah Swensen murder mystery series - Hannah is on a diet, yet still manages to whip up a dozen new cookie recipes and solve the murder of the town's chief flirt and man-stealer. - 304 pages, (I listened in audio form, 8 CDs, 9-3/4 hours), 👍👍

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray - Three sisters, rocked by the wounds of the past, navigate healing and forgiveness as one sister is incarcerated, one cares for the incarcerated sister's teenaged daughters, and the final sister battles an eating disorder. - 291 pages, 👍👍👍

Elevation by Stephen King - When a man begins steadily losing weight without changing in appearance, he knows that something is up, but doesn't wish to be poked and prodded. Combined with a small story about a widower who takes on a new puppy. - 160 pages, (I listened in audio form, 3 CDs, 3-1/2 hours), 👍👍👍

Educated by Tara Westover - Deprived of a standard education while growing up with a fearful father, the author left her rural roots to pursue an education and, in gaining one, found herself anew. - 329 pages, 👍👍👍👍👍

Point of View: A Fresh Look at Work, Faith, and Freedom by Elizabeth Hasselbeck - A book about a talk show host's journey to making God's point of view her own point of view and getting along with others whose viewpoints differ. - 244 pages (I listened in audio form, 5 CDs, 5 hours), 👍👍👍-1/2

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman - Funny observations about parenthood and life, rather rambling but full of wit and wisdom. - 193 pages, 👍👍👍

The Broken Road by Richard Paul Evans -  Charles James grew up dumpster diving for subsistence, but found passion and wealth in his twenties, so why is he now walking Route 66 and fleeing this coveted lifestyle? - 304 pages (I listened in audio form, 5 CDs, 6 hours), 👍👍-1/2

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby - A compilation of Hornby's monthly column, "Stuff I've Been Reading," for Believer magazine, outlining books bought and read, with extensive commentary on books, reading, and writing. - 464 pages, 👍👍👍👍

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See - Raised in a remote Chinese village with a myriad of superstitious beliefs, Li-yan flees her home to save her illegitimate newborn from certain death. As the decades unfold, the daughter (abandoned at an orphanage and adopted by an American couple) and mother seek each other through information about the Pu'er tea trade (the only identifying marker the daughter has). - 364 pages, 👍👍👍👍

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Book Review: Ten Years in the Tub

If you frequent my blog, chances are strong you take pleasure in following another person's reading path. Have I got a book for you! A book full of news about what a famous writer is reading and recommending. Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books compiles Nick Hornby's Believer magazine columns on books, reading, and writing. To say I could relate to his literary cogitations is an understatement. So many times, he addresses the questions looming in my head: "Why do I read? What do I hope to gain from this obsession? Why the drive to find the most excellent books available? And, as I fight against the burden of this blog, Why do I continue to pitch books to others when no popular magazine is paying me to record books bought and read?"

I first encountered Nick Hornby when I happened upon one of his lesser-known novels, How to Be Good. Published in 2001, I read it after a time of separation from my husband and before the birth of our second son. Although I couldn't tell you what the book is about, I vividly recall feeling that the author must have climbed inside my head and taken dictation. I scrambled for a piece of paper to copy resonating passages. Surely those scraps are somewhere in my basement in the piles and piles of paper my husband wishes I would sort and purge.

I also thoroughly enjoyed About a Boy. Hornby weaves such a tender relationship between the adolescent and the young man (who uses the boy in a twisted plot to woo women). While his books on music or sports never drew me, I eagerly joined my book club in reading A Long Way Down, several years ago. Sadly, I didn't connect with the characters, despite having experienced their struggle. (I even wrote a second review, worried my first review sounded insensitive to those suffering suicidal thoughts).

A reader cannot look for book advice from just anyone. You seek someone whose interests and thoughts parallel your own. This explains my dissatisfaction with Will Schwalbe's End of Your Life Book Club. So few titles mentioned in that book were on my radar. Although I wouldn't say Nick Hornby is a book twin (a term from Anne Bogel's I'd Rather Be Reading), someone whose reading tastes align with my own, I could enjoy many of his discussions over books I've read. At 464 pages, I admit I skimmed many paragraphs detailing books that didn't interest me, but sought Hornby's opinions on my favorite books, like Gilead, The Man Who Was Thursday, Ready Player One, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and any and all references to Charles Dickens (my one-time favorite author, but rarely read now).

I came away with plenty of books I'd like to look into further. He mentioned a series of funny books with boy appeal (Andy Stanton's Mr. Gum books) that I intend to seek for my youngest son. After writing his one YA novel, he recommended several interesting YA authors I've never attempted: David Almond, M.T. Anderson, Phillipa Pearce, and Philip Pullman. He referenced several books about writing/creativity: Like a Fiery Elephant, Ghosting, Imagine: How Creativity Works, This is Your Brain on Music, and The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. And he raved about Cheryl Strayed's Wild, a book my book club read, but I missed (a timing issue).

During his initial columns, it seemed Hornby was one of those atheists angry with the very entity they deny. But, over time his attitudes softened. Indeed, later book purchases indicated he was more spiritually receptive. First, he purchased 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. When he bought and read Francis Spufford's Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, he wrote: "I'm not as young as I was: I am fast approaching the age where I need the answers to questions of metaphysical speculation," and acknowledged "the increasingly pressing need to find out whether He [God] is real." His conclusion seemed fair: "The best reason to read the book is that it enables thought, specifically thought about who we are and what we're doing here and how we intend to negotiate the difficulties and tragedies that are unavoidably a part of being human.... I have not become a Christian as a result of reading this book, but I have a much greater respect for those who are. And I intend to read it again, soon; there was a lot of thought enabled--too much, maybe, for a tired man at the end of a hard year."

Reflecting on Hornby's columns, I'd have to say I would much prefer to write my blog in Hornby's monthly structure (although I seldom buy books). Still, I hope my blog achieves his dual goals: encouraging other readers, and providing a glimpse into who I am based upon the books I select and either love or disdain. And if he didn't offer enough titles to add to my TBR list, I can always seek a further resource he cited: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Hopefully, I have enough mentally conducive years left in me to reach that number.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Book Review: The Broken Road

This relatively new series by Richard Paul Evans, The Broken Road series, begins with an intriguing premise, but takes the entire first book to get to the meat of the matter. Much back story brings the reader to the question of what if you could start over afresh? Charles James, a descendant of outlaw Jesse James, leads wealth seminars and makes a butt-load of money (in many ways, its own form of robbery). In this first installment, we meet him out on the open road of Route 66 and learn that he was presumed dead and has taken this new-found freedom to trek the "broken road." But, the majority of the book is spent laying out his back-story and what led him to disappear and walk from Chicago to California. Bad choices abound. Love is found and lost. The Almighty Dollar is chased. I'm not saying I won't continue with the series (as always, I'm eager for any clean read in audio form), but I'm assuming it will get more to the heart of the matter in the following books of the series. The back cover promises, "an engrossing, contemplative story of redemption and grace and the power of second chances." I'm hoping to get to the redemption soon, because most of book one was the road to ruin. Thankfully, the story was absorbing enough to keep my feet trekking away on my treadmill miles.