Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: The Last Thing I Remember

While browsing in the young adult section, this recent library acquisition caught my eye.  The cover is enticing.  The back cover included an endorsement by Stephen King, hailing Andrew Klavan as "the most original novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich."  I have no clue who Cornell Woolrich is, which indicates I'm not up on my crime/suspense literature, but an endorsement by King is really saying something.  I clearly understood it to be an adventure/suspense novel geared towards teen boys.  Sadly, I found myself somewhat disappointed with the book.  However, I do indeed think it would appeal to your average teenage boy.

Charlie West is an outstanding young man who earns good grades, practices karate and dreams of becoming an air force pilot.  He awakens one day to discover he is strapped to a chair, bruised and bloody, with torture instruments next to him.  He cannot remember how he got there.  This book follows Charlie as he attempts to unravel his memories of his last recollected day and the whys behind his new perilous existence.  He is being tortured by the Homelanders, an organization he knows nothing about.  When he escapes and seeks the aid of the police, he discovers they will not be of any assistance to him either.

The book is full of action and escape sequences.  It has no foul language.  It bears a message of perseverance, with Charlie clinging to the advice of Winston Churchill to "never give up."  Published by Thomas Nelson, it is clearly a book well suited to Christian teens.

Although the book kept me riveted (wanting to find out how Charlie ended up in his predicament), I found it tiresome.  The action seemed overly dramatized.  A teenage boy manages to escape the clutches of trained killers and secret service agents?  There was a great deal of redundancy (constantly turning over Churchill's advice, little sermonettes on trusting God when things look confusing, and repetitively outlining the main character's sense of confusion and strongly held political and religious beliefs).

Sadly, I never got to find out how Charlie ended where he was because the book is a cliffhanger.  This wouldn't be a problem for me if there were some basic story to the first installment, but it was all a lead-up to the future installments.  I'm just as confused as I was in the beginning.  I have more questions than answers.  How did the progression of his relationship with his love interest move so quickly?  Why is Charlie connected to the Homelanders in some way when he is diametrically opposed to the very things they stand for?  How could he possibly elude police pursuit when he never bothers to disguise himself in any way?

I don't know if I'll give the second installment a whirl or not.  At the moment, I doubt our library has a copy and I'm not willing to shell out money since I didn't exactly end with positive feelings towards this first book.

However, having said that, I still believe that this author probably does hold great promise.  I haven't read his other books, but did see a movie version of one of them, "True Lies," and it was entirely action-packed.  I'm pretty sure this writer does a better job when he is not trying to write for a specific Christian teen audience.  For the audience he targeted, he probably fulfilled his goals, though.  My reluctant reader, Bryce, would definitely find it wanting since it is long and never gets to the point of resolution.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: The Cardturner

Louis Sachar is a great name in children's literature.  I generally look forward to reading one of his books.  While this book was good, I'm not sure it will hold the interest of young people because of its intense focus on the card game of Bridge.  Granted, I'm not a card game enthusiast, especially when it comes to partnering card games.  I have horrible memories of attempting to play Euchre with a guy I really liked.  He was deeply disappointed in my abilities and I found the whole experience quite frustrating.

Thankfully, The Cardturner had enough of a story behind the game to keep me interested in that.  Alton Richards is a teenager facing a summer of forced servitude to his "favorite uncle Lester."  His mother insists on Alton's services as Lester's cardturner because Lester has a lot of money and she wants to ensure their place in Lester's will.  Lester requires a cardturner because he has recently lost his sight, but still wants to play the game. 

The previous cardturner, Toni, lost her position when she questioned one of his moves.  Lester is an amazingly proficient card player and has a phenomenal memory for the cards he is told he has been dealt.  In the midst of developing a bit of a relationship with his uncle Lester, Alton becomes interested in the game of Bridge and in Toni, as well.  Of course, the fact that she becomes interested in his best friend complicates things.

Sachar tries to give warnings when the drudgery of Bridge explanation is coming, but it didn't really make the explanations any more palatable.  I merely zoned out during those bits and stayed alert for the story line, which was worthwhile and interesting enough to hold my attention.  Sadly, I'm afraid young adults will fail to give this a chance because they'll feel bogged down by the game descriptions.  If they stick with it, though, the story is quite enjoyable.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Perfect Health

A friend mentioned this book on Facebook and I was intrigued enough to buy it.  My initial reaction is that the author, Mary-Ann Shearer, is quite fanatical about her diet.  She declares that "giving children refined sugar ... is a form of child abuse."  She urges you to eliminate milk from the diet along with animal products and meats.  She suggests that one can get all the calcium and protein needed from various raw fruits and vegetables.  She repeatedly touts fruit as the perfect food.  It sounds like she is primarily a fruitarian/vegetarian.

After listing a myriad of health ailments, Shearer promises to eliminate all illness by following her "Perfect Health lifestyle."  My biggest beef (ha - no pun intended) is with her idea of God-made food.  She says, "we have God-made bodies and if we put God-made food into God-made bodies it will result in God-made health."  But her belief is that our bodies are only biologically designed to eat fruits and vegetables and nuts.  I kept thinking about the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, being fed on manna and quail.  Quail would be an animal product, a meat, thus it would be outlawed from the Perfect Health plan.  Yet, it was truly God-made and it was God's distinct provision for that time.  God outlines animals which may not be eaten, thus He clearly expected that others would be eaten.

Now, I'm not arguing with her complaints against the many additives and chemicals we are now ingesting in our highly processed diets.  And I agree that our bodies would benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables.  I'm just not willing to chuck everything else out the window.  Perhaps it is just my stubborn desire to keep my ice cream and my dark chocolate and my trips to the Mexican restaurant for spinach quesadillas and beefy-cheese dip.  Perhaps, I simply lack the will-power to give this plan a whirl.  I know that I'm not ready to do the recommended lengthy fasting detoxes (frankly, I've seen video coverage of individuals after a month-long detox and they look perfectly unhealthy, if you ask me ... one struggled to eat a prune after a month of detoxing).  And I don't want to become a food snob, the type of person who looks down on everyone else because their diet is obviously not as wholesome and good as your own.

At the same time, I have already begun attempting some of the changes recommended by this book (I'm certain that there is a middle line and I hope to find it).  I cannot swallow the idea of switching entirely to a diet of raw fruits and vegetables.  Yikes!  But, I can make small changes in my daily food choices.

Shearer recommends five steps for converting to her lifestyle plan.  Step one is to eat one fruit meal a day.  I can handle that and have been trying to eat either mandarin oranges or a banana along with some sunflower seeds for breakfast in the morning.  That is entirely do-able.  Step two is to snack on raw fruit or vegetables before you eat refined sugar or heated fats.  Step three is to start all cooked meals with raw vegetables.  I can manage a salad, but still find myself getting tired of it and really hate the idea of munching on raw carrots or celery or roughage like that.  Step four is food combining (not sure I buy into this whole idea either - can think of too many meals I enjoy which combine a starch and a protein in the same meal).  Finally, step five is to try to eat animal protein no more than once a day, preferably no more than three times a week.  (She does allow for people who embrace animal protein but she insists that it is unnecessary for receiving your daily protein requirements).

There was definitely good advice given here, I just can't jump on board with the extremes.  At the end of the book, Shearer provides many healthy recipes which would work with her lifestyle plan.  Personally, I can't see my family making the switch to this lifestyle plan.  It would be very hard going.  I'm not saying it wouldn't be worthwhile.  I think it would probably lead to better weight and healthier bodies.  But, I doubt it would lead to "perfect health" with no ailments to deal with.  For example, Bryce suffers from supra ventricular tachycardia.  That was not caused by his diet and it will not be cured by his diet.  I just believe there are illnesses that will come in this life and any claim to be able to sidestep all illness seems like a pretty tall boast.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Book Review: The Tiger's Wife

I'm frustrated with Blogger because it is not allowing me to select the size of the image for this book review!  I'm frustrated because they keep changing things up.  If it isn't broken, please stop trying to fix it.  I don't think the changes were an improvement.  The other system was far easier to navigate.

Enough griping about Blogger!  On to this book ...

I read this book for my book club and then ended up not attending because Sean wasn't feeling well after his shots.  I was very curious to know the reactions of the other women in the group, but I will probably have to wait until next month to pose that question (we don't really e-mail between sessions).

Natalia is a doctor on her way to immunize children at a small orphanage when she receives the news of her grandfather's death. He had told the family that he was heading to see her, but she knew nothing of this arrangement. In addition, there is a family (battling illness) in the nearby vineyard digging at all hours of the day and night. As Natalia seeks to find the answers for her grandfather's isolated death, she remembers her grandfather's stories of the deathless man and the tiger's wife.

I was disappointed with this book.  It was apparently hyped as one of the best books of the year.  I found it difficult to read.  I couldn't seem to connect to the characters in any way.  Although the fable aspects were strong and the writing was very well done, it just didn't hold my interest.  I found myself slogging through just to be able to say I finished.  I suppose I was also expecting some big reveal (as to why the men were digging in the vineyard and why the main character's grandfather slipped off to an unknown area to die) and the reveal was a bit of a let-down.

I will say I am duly impressed with this young author's writing abilities.  She weaves her story as if it was an effortless venture.  Tea Obreht has been named one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty.  At age 26, this is a remarkable achievement.  I will keep her on my radar and perhaps her next story will draw me in and pull on my emotions more fully.  Her talent is not in question.  Her story just didn't grip me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Worrying Shot Reaction

My photography skills leave much to be desired (I cannot seem to hold the camera still and unlike my last camera, this one doesn't have image stabilization).  Still, I think you'll get somewhat of an idea of what we've been horrified by after Sean's kindergarten shots.  The welt is almost six inches in diameter today and the middle is starting to reveal a horrible bruise.  He was so sore on Wednesday that he could barely walk and couldn't bend at all.  Thankfully, I convinced him to just skip the outdoor play part (they were scheduled to ride bikes) of his last day of preschool and go in towards the end to say good-bye to his friends.  One of the other moms, who is a nurse, took a look at the welt and seemed as concerned as I was.  However, when I called the doctor's office, they assured me that this is within the realm of normal for bad reactions to a shot.  Really?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reminding Myself That's He's Sweet

Today Trevor walked in the door bearing bad news. He was apparently summoned to the principal's office today. As he tells it he was joking around, but his joking was taken as a threat. In his own words "I guess you can't joke around with somebody at school, Mom." He informed me that I will be receiving an e-mail from the principal about it.


Still, if such a thing had happened to my first son, he certainly wouldn't have fessed up to the problem until the authorities contacted me. He wasn't about to turn himself in (after all, remember the story about the neighbor boy and the glass and the mother who expected Bryce to come home and confess to it all).

Thankfully, I have on my table a reminder of how sweet Trevor can be. He made me a home-made Mother's Day card. I thought it was amazingly creative and well-done:
It is a picture of an I-pod Touch with the words, "Your day is gona ... Touch your Hart." If only that sweetheart of a boy could stay out of trouble now.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bits of Nothing

Brace yourself for stream-of-consciousness (if I can manage consciousness, that is).

I am looking out the window at some men who are here to trim our trees.  I don't mean they are just trimming them.  They are up in the trees cutting limbs, then cutting sections of trunk, then all the way down to a remaining stump.  A short while ago, I heard a tremendous crash and wondered aloud if they had dropped one of the trees on the house.  But no, it fell beside the house.  It was just VERY LARGE.  Anyway, I keep glancing out, expecting to see one of these guys fall from a tree.  They climb into the uppermost branches and hook themselves on with some manner of safety belt.  Of course, when they are moving from limb to limb, they are not in the safety harness.  You couldn't pay me to go up and do what they are doing.  Since they wield chain-saws, I'm not about to let the boys go outside either.

The boys have been cooped up inside all day (and it is a nice one), now because of the trimmers, earlier because John and I went to a neighboring community town hall to have a garage sale.  It is really a worthwhile venture even though we never break $200 and I always work myself up with stress and dread before the event.  Since it is right on town hall property, it gets plenty of traffic.

I really shouldn't have stressed.  We already had things boxed up and ready from our last sale.  All I did this time was clean out a closet of old shoes, boots and winter clothes.  Basically, John loaded the vehicle this morning, I gathered the money for making change and a few copied images of larger furniture we weren't able to bring but hoped to sell, and we headed off for the grand event at quarter to seven this morning.  By 12:30 we were done and home with $135 in profits (and a piece of furniture pending for another $15).

The group next to us made a killing.  Since several of them had gone in together for the space, they continually asked where they were at in profits.  They had reams and reams of adorable baby girl clothes (all of it from one child, I overheard).  I think the one with the baby clothes and little girl items made over $400.  Shwew!  I'm not complaining, though.  We had a lot of old junk and so much of it was hand-me-down to begin with that I feel quite pleased with our take.  Plus, an older couple across the way from us brought numerous hand-painted bed-frames and yard ornaments.  As far as my eye could tell, they only sold one item.  Poor things.  Hopefully that one item paid for their booth rental.

Needless to say, I'm exhausted.  Plus this week was full to the brim.  Thursday alone could have killed me.  On that day, I had the cardiologist appointment for Bryce (John took him, thankfully, and his surgery is scheduled for early June), two dental appointments, a pre-school graduation ceremony and a kindergarten registration.  Plus, during the week we had a sports physical and two physical therapy appointments (for Bryce's high-ankle sprain).

Now, the men have vanished to take a load of branches and trunks back into the woods for disposal.  A hummingbird has taken advantage of the quiet and is sipping at our hummingbird feeder just outside the window by my computer.  We have all grown quite fond of birdwatching lately.

In fact, we are so fond of our birds that we hired an animal control agency to come this week to root out a bit of a raccoon problem we have been having.  The coons were stealing the bird food from the feeders and leaving waste on the back patio.  It was quite troublesome.   The boys have been excited, though, to watch the traps catch three gigantic raccoons (one, they told us, was pregnant).  We are waiting to see if we net any more.

Well, that's enough nothing for now.  I'd better get off this computer and attempt to read The Tiger's Wife for my upcoming book club meeting.  I've never put it off so late before.  I may just have to skip this month.  Not sure if the book even interests me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: Reading Like a Writer

The title of this book jumped out at me because I've always believed that the best way to learn proper grammar and writing skills is through the action of reading good literature.  I'm not a big fan of studying grammar.  I hated teaching it in school so much that I resorted to having the students break the task into sections and teach it to their classmates through colorful visual aids, short quizzes and imaginative games.  They had more fun learning this way and I cleverly avoided the monotony of teaching the rules of writing.

I should also admit that grammar is not my greatest strength.  My husband has a far more solid grasp of grammar than I do.  But, what I do know, I'm sure I learned through reading.

Thus, you'd think I would have enjoyed this writing book more than I actually did.  Alas, it wasn't my favorite instructional book on writing.  Of course, given the title, it is supposed to be about reading intentionally.  I get that.    But the sub-title suggested it would be appropriate for me: "A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them."  It still was a difficult read.  I found myself skimming through the examples of outstanding writing.  The examples just weren't interesting enough to hold me.

I suppose, despite a sympathetic view on reading intentionally, I still failed to appreciate her suggestions.  At the beginning, she spent two or three chapters encouraging writers to read great writers and pick apart the text, word by word, to determine its greatness.  To me, really great writing is the writing where you forget there is a writer because you are so engrossed and pulled into the story that you feel you are living it.  She compares intentional reading to the role of a mechanic taking apart an engine.  I find this nit-picking.  Instead of zoning in on minute words, I want the words to carry me into the larger picture so I don't even recognize that words are flowing by.

The author never references popular fiction, but only literary fiction.  It felt similar to what happens sometimes with Christians.  They attempt to be so super-spiritual, above the realm of others, that they lose their ability to really speak and change the masses.  Others have coined the phrase, "too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good."  I'd rather be closer to the literature of the common man than that of the literati.  I'd rather focus on what is said as a whole, rather than how it is said.  The examples used seemed boring rather than beautiful.

Now, I know that I'm not the best writer in the world.  And I know I have far more to learn about honing my own writing skills.  Indeed, my reluctance to accept the suggestions in this book is probably due to the fact that I'm not a better writer than I am.  I will try to put these suggestions to use.  I will try to narrow my focus and take more care in determining why a book is good literature.  I just don't think I'm ready to chuck popular fiction and focus entirely on classical literature or literary fiction.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Recent Concerns

Warts, warts and more warts!  We are plagued with plantar warts these days.  We had nary a wart until six years ago, when I was pregnant with my youngest and swimming for exercise.  Somehow, I picked up a plantar wart at the pool.  Since they advise against freezing a wart during pregnancy (why?  I don't remember), I left it and it grew.  By the time Sean was a few months old, I went in to have it treated, expecting them to freeze the darn thing off.  Alas, before I knew what was happening, they administered a shot and cut the thing out, leaving a gaping hole in my foot.  I hoped that would be the end of it.

The persistent wart grew back.  I went in to have it removed by a different dermatologist - also cut out.  It grew back again, larger.  Plus, more warts grew on both feet.  I presently have three on one foot and four on the other.  Gross, I know.

I have tried everything to get rid of them.  I tried salicylic acid treatments.  I tried duct tape.  I tried banana peel and duct tape.  I tried baking soda pastes and vitamin E.  Nothing kills this insipid virus.

A few months ago, we had our downstairs bathroom remodeled.  This is Bryce's bathroom, so he had to move his things upstairs and shower where I shower.  You guessed it - he developed a series of warts on his left foot.  Then, Trevor developed a horrific-looking growth on one of his toes.  I had to check Sean's feet and sure enough, two tiny warts were there.  Now, I spray the tub down with Lysol after every shower and wear socks at all times.  Groan.

So, a few weeks back, we headed off to the dermatologist again.  I didn't schedule an appointment for myself because I knew what they would say.  Their final option for me is to have laser treatment to remove the warts.  With my fear of pain and shots, this is as agonizing an idea as having them cut out (although they do offer a prescription for a cream that would numb the skin area).

Trevor and Bryce both saw the doctor.  They received several shots of yeast into the warts.  The idea is that the body sees the yeast as a foreign entity and in attempt at fighting off the foreign entity, fights off the wart virus as well.  We were told they would turn black and simply go away.  If not, we must return for the laser treatment.

Neither boy is having much success with this treatment and my two youngest guys are really agonizing about the whole thing.  In our nightly prayers, they often bring up the warts and ask God to remove them miraculously (without any pain or treatment).  Sean is most fearful and cries about having his warts treated.  I have promised to try other things with his, since they are still small.  But, needless to say, we are all sick to death of warts!

In addition, Bryce is clamoring to have the Cryoablation surgery for his heart problem.  Last year, Bryce began experiencing an irregular heart-beat during sprints and lifting.  They finally diagnosed it as Supraventricular Tachycardia and placed him on a drug regimen of Atenolol.  They offered the surgery as an option, but suggested trying the medication first.  Now, Bryce is tired of the thought of taking this pill every day (although it is minuscule) and wants to have the surgery.

It sounds horrible to me.  They will go in through both the groin and the armpit to get to the heart and then they will cauterize the area where the heart is mis-firing to correct the problem permanently.  Of course, any surgery carries risks and both my husband and I would rather he continue with the medication.  But, Bryce persisted in harassing us until my husband made a follow-up appointment with the doctor for next week.

Finally, the most ridiculous concern centers on Trevor.  The boy will not stop licking his lips and has a McDonald's-style red rash around his upper lip and chin.  When we saw the dermatologist, she placed him on a high-dose steroid cream for five days and a lower dose until it resolves.  However, it is not resolving because he simply will not stop licking.

It is terrible to say, but I'm embarrassed by him.  Everywhere we go, we receive stares.  He doesn't like the way it looks any more than I do, yet he cannot stop this nervous tic of licking,  Even more concerning is the fact that this is an OCD-type of behavior.  I find myself wondering if I should take him to a psychologist for assessment or something.  Makes me want to get a taser gun and shock him every time I catch him licking (just kidding - ha!).

Thankfully, these are all nuisance concerns.  Nothing major.  No life-threatening diseases.  Life is still good, but we'd love life even more if we could only rid ourselves of warts, surgery fears and obsessive licking.