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Mar. 5th, 2017

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We've always had weird weather, but...

This one may be for the record books.

Had to bring my Christmas Cacti back in last Saturday. Snow was falling as I brought them back in to warmth and safety, and lows went to the mid-20s. The next few days were mild again. Then there was Wednesday. Woke up around 4 a.m. to strong winds. A half hour, hour later, there were tornado sirens. Tornado warnings reported all over, although there were no touchdowns reported. All in all, it was a weather morning full of sound and fury but signifying little. A few downed trees and a missing roof seemed to be the extent of the damage I heard about, and no injuries thank goodness. Given the strength of the winds and the duration, I consider this a miracle.

Thursday turned cooler, then Thursday night into Friday- snow. Now where I live, we might have had an inch. Less than an hour north was a different story. Was supposed to cover something that morning and saw how bad it was first hand. White out conditions and heavy snowfall in a short time. Honestly, I'm surprised schools weren't closed. I never made it to my event, which turned out to be a good thing. I stopped somewhere for breakfast. I was at the restaurant (Your Truly, one of my favorite haunts) for about an hour. When I went in, the air was clear, no snow. I ordered breakfast (which was delicious!) and tea. Ate breafast, and was finishing my wonderful tea when I looked out the window- whiteout. I could barely see the buildings across the street. I stayed at Yours Truly for another half hour or so to wait for the worst to pass through. When I went to clear off my car, there was about an inch and a half, two inches of snow that had accumulated. In less than an hour. The roads were horrible. A drive back to the office, which would have generally been about 20 minutes from that point, was closer to 50. I went no faster than 10 miles per hour for half that trip, and still felt my car slip and slide. Not. Fun. At. All.

Another new experience- I've put together papers before, but never budgeted the pages in the new system. Will wrap up that process Monday. Hoping for a smooth day *knocks on wood*

Saturday was nice- went to Miss Molly's with my lil sis, mom and some other close friends. We celebrated Kelly's birthday. I haven't been to Miss Molly's in ages; it's a bit of a drive but worth it for the occasional jaunt. It's a charming little Victorian-style tea room that serves teas (YUM) and brunch. Prices aren't too bad, either. Afterwards, I went swimming for the first time in ages. That felt soooo good. Bonus: As I was getting ready to leave, I ran into a friend whom I haven't seen in ages :) My singing buddy, Natalie, was coming in. After a couple years away, she rejoined, so I hope to see her more often- yay!

Today, I indulged in a nice nap. Am doing laundry now. Yay.

Also finished a couple more books, so without further ado...

The book mouse's book report

7. Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn. This fulfills the Book Riot challenge to read a book about books. I'm sure most readers have heard of "The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog." This was the shortest sentence that uses all of the letters of the Roman alphabet at one time. The story takes place in a fictional land called Nollop, named for the (fictionalized) author of this sentence. Nollop has been elevated to near deity status, and the residents even have a statue of Nollop, along with the famous sentence, displayed prominently. The story is told through a series of letters from the Minnow family, their friends and other Nollopians. They pride themselves in their letter writing and commendable use of the English language (there were many times I had to use the dictionary). Trouble starts in Nollop when the tiles from the statue's sentence fall off. The Council proclaims that this is a sign from the Almighty Nollop to stop using the fallen letters, despite efforts to offer more mundane reasons for the demise of the tiles (such as the age of the statue and tiles). This causes all sorts of problems- burning books with the problematic letter(s), renaming people and items, and more. The consequences for violating the prohibitions are severe, up to exile. Problems snowball as more tiles fall and the village leaders get more militant. This book is chilling, especially given the current political climate. My only objection to this book is how it is described as a light-hearted look at the foibles of the town. I was physically shivering at points in the story. The story illustrates so clearly the dangers of eschewing science and logic, and embracing fanaticism. It shows the perils of not nipping idiotic notions in the bud, the grave risks of giving weight to the opinions of lunatics and the consequences of letting stupid, power-mad people rule unchecked. This should be required reading for everyone. Especially now.

Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig. It was tough to decide which category to use this book for in the Book Riot challenge. It can fulfill the categories for a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author; a classic by an author of color; a LGBTQ+ romance novel; and a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. It probably could fit under the frequently challenged category as well. I eventually just did an eenie meenie miney moe... and LGBTQ romance novel it is. I first became familiar with the story through the fantastic musical, which I saw several years ago. The story is set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1970s, a turbulent time in that country. Much of the action takes place in a jail cell, and centers on the cell's occupants Molina and Valentin. Molina is in prison for corrupting a minor; Valentin is a political prisoner, with ties to revolutionaries who are trying to overthrow the government. Molina helps the two pass the time by colorfully narrating the various movies he has seen through the years. An interesting side note: at least two of the movies are real films, and the third movie he describes has elements from another real film. His stories make up much of the book. However, the reader soon finds out that Molina has been put in a tough position by the jail's Warden, who wants Molina to ferret out information on Valentin and his revolutionary friends in exchange for early parole. I loved Molina's narrations and watching him try to juggle his growing friendship with Valentin, while trying to keep the Warden happy. I am glad I saw the movie and know a cursory bit of Argentine history first, because I think large parts of this book would have been confusing otherwise. Also, while I rather liked the dialogue format of the book - different format, but it worked - there also were large parts of the book that were (very) stream of consciousness. I'm not a fan of stream of consciousness writing, and I found these sections difficult to follow and tie into the main story.

Currently reading: Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas.

Feb. 20th, 2017

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Forgot to mention last time

I actually put my Christmas Cacti out on Saturday morning. Yes, my cacti are outside. In late February. Wow. And according to the long-term forecasts they will be good out there at least until Saturday. Will have to watch next weekend's temperatures like a hawk - a bit of a cooling trend is expected - but then it's supposed to warm up again. Again, wow! This could be a record. I usually don't even think about putting my leafy babies out until mid-March, at the earliest.

This weekend in general was just gorgeous- sunny and mid-60s yesterday, sunny again today, and at least mid-60s. I know at around 4:30ish, it was 64 degrees, give or take, so it might have gotten up to 70 today. Unbelievable, and in a way a little unnerving. Was at tech Sunday, and during the dinner break I was talking to one of the actors and one of the volunteers, who commented that this sort of weather is just unheard of. Mind you, I'm happy to never see snow again but at the same time it could be ominous.

As well as the theater, I also caught Allegiance today at the local movie theater. WOW! It was just amazing. Such a human story, wonderful characters, and it depicts a rather shameful event of our past- one we need desperately to be reminded of today.The music is decent, if not entirely memorable. But the characters and the setting are what really matter. So glad I got a chance to see it. Also ran into a couple friends down there, which was nice. Only one disappointment- a pity more people weren't filling those seats. Again- this story needs to be heard.

Another oddity, speaking of the theater- the movie theater near me does assigned seating now. I imagine it's to easier catch the scofflaws who sneak in without a ticket, or who buy a ticket then go from screen to screen for free. Understandable, I suppose, but it's really a pain if you are trying to meet someone and they are running late (or in my case never show :P). Yeah, not sure what happened to the friend I was supposed to meet there today. Hope he's OK. Probably just forgot.

Afterwards, I tried a new restaurant nearby, PizzaFire. I was hoping for pizza, but they only do one size, 12-inch. I think. Too large for a single serving, and it was too warm to store out in my car (the ONLY advantage with cold weather). So I had a salad, chicken ceasar, which was delish. Wish the chicken would have been more bite-sized but it was tender and flavorful. The cookies there are da bomb, too. A bit pricey, but a nice lunch overall.

So that brings me up to 31 new experiences!

Feb. 18th, 2017

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An early spring?

I hope so!

The weird weather trends continue. Thursday, it was snowing and we had a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Today? Mid-60s.

It was a really long, tiring week but so far the weekend has been wonderful. Big time indulged in some badly-needed acrylic therapy. Took two classes at a new location for me. As I said, long week. Great facility, and great results!

Also, a couple more new experiences.

1. Tried a new Mexican restaurant in Stow- Salsitas. Really good food, and fast.

2. Also used Google Sheets for the first time. A nice program. Only disconcerting thing is no save button. Used it for the props list for "Mockingbird." Will have to explore those programs- it's a nice way for two people to both use the same document. Very convenient!

Also finished another book, and put good dents in two more.

6. The Comeback, by Terry Pluto. I'm not much of a sports person but I do believe in trying to read on a variety of different topics. Terry Pluto is thorough, concise and easy to follow. I've read several of his books now and always look forward to reading his newest. This one was especially fun to read because it details an event I honestly never thought I'd see in my lifetime- a national championship trophy. The Cavs won it all, against incredible odds, in 2016. I wouldn't be surprised if there was already a movie script in the works. Pluto states he had been working on this novel for a while, and it must have been rewarding to end it the way he could. He starts with the departure of LeBron James (infamously known as The Decision). He goes through the struggles of the Cavs in the next four years, the return of James, the injury-plagued 2015 championship games and the sweet success of the 2016 victory. Pluto includes scores of interviews and articles from players, coaches and even has a chapter dedicated to fan's reactions during Game 7. I'm sure Cavs fans will want to get this book so they can relive the joy of breaking the 52-year drought of national championships with the sports trinity of pro football, baseball and basketball.

Currently reading: Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig.

Feb. 13th, 2017

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What am I doing up this early ? :P

Well, it's been an interesting couple weeks.

Another huge bombshell got dropped on us at work. Everyone is on edge now, and no one is really happy. Sigh. All I feel comfortable saying for now.

Weather took a cold dive for a while in late January and early February, but now we are back on the meteorological roller coaster ride. Yesterday it was mid-50s. Today, low 40s. This week is supposed to veer from low 30s to mid-40s, then the weekend (at least as of now) is supposed to be mid 50s and 60s. It's more like April than February. We've had some snow, maybe an inch, perhaps two although that is a stretch.

On a brighter note, having fun with props for Mockingbird. Took a shopping trip with my co-conspirator in this; generally I hate shopping but this was fun trip. All in all, a far better experience than the previous play. Hard to believe tech week is next weekend, but I think we're in good shape (at least where props are concerned.) We're pretty much at the "mopping up" stage- where, during the course of a rehearsal, "oh, dear, we need this," or "oops, this needs fixed." The details stuff. We've got this.

OK, and why I am up so early- finished a book that is due tomorrow, errr, today at the library. Hope I'll have other books waiting for me when I drop these off. This update has been a long time in coming. I didn't check page numbers like I usually do and one book was nearly 500 pages, and the other just over 800 pages. Yikes! Don't mind the longer books but...just not all at once. Will have to keep to books that are about 400 pages and under if I want to finish both reading challenges. At least they were good books....

The Book Mouse's Book Report

4. Valley of the Shadow, by Ralph Peters. I'm using this one as my war category for the 2017 Book Riot challenge. Wasn't sure about this one at first; there are so many viewpoints this story is told from, which was a bit jarring in the beginning. But Peters is a master storyteller, and once I caught on to the various voices, I was quickly sucked into the story. Within a few chapters, I could generally identify whose point of view was being told without seeing the name. Now that is expert writing! Valley of the Shadow is a novelized take on the waning years of the Civil War, from the failed attempt of the Confederate army to seize Washington D.C. to the battles of Cedar Creek. As I mentioned, the story is told from many points of view, both Union and Confederate, and what is refreshing is that it is from historic figures that are not generally found in the history books or, if they are mentioned, are barely more than footnotes. There's the young and pious Confederate George Nichols, the foul-mouthed, foul-tempered Confederate General Jubal Early, the short but fiery Philip Sheridan, the level-headed "Rud" Hayes (who would go on to become the 19th president of the United States) and more. Many more. It's a lengthy read, but well worth it. Included are an explanation of military terms, plus several battle maps at the beginning of the chapters. Civil War and history buffs should check this one out.

5. Reporting Vietnam, by Milton J. Bates. This will fulfill the category of reading a book that takes place more than 5,000 miles from here, for the 2017 Book Riot challenge. Reporting Vietnam is one of the harder books I've read, and not just because it is more than 800 pages. It's a compilation of stories, mostly from war correspondents covering the Vietnam War. This is actually volume 2 of a two-part series, and covers the end of the war and some of the aftermath. Some of the stories deal with the controversies on the homefront (of course May 4 at Kent State is covered) but the bulk of it are stories in Vietnam, from the cities to the front lines. Just about every view one can think of -- from President Lyndon B. Johnson to American officers to Vietnamese officers, to those fighting for North Vietnam, to the soldiers on the front line, to Vietnamese civilians, to those supporting the war, to those against the war effort. There's even a column from Sen. John McCain and his experience as a POW. Probably the most moving were the dispatches from Michael Kerr, who was embedded with one unit. The stories pull no punches, and offer a first-hand account of the despair, tragedy and controversy this war produced. For those researching this time period, Reporting Vietnam is an invaluable resource.

Currently reading: The Comeback, by Terry Pluto.

Jan. 23rd, 2017

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Happy 10th year blog anniversary- past a few days

Planned to post anyway but I discovered that on Jan. 5, 2007, I created this blog. Wow, has it really been that long? At any rate, Happy Blogaversary to me!

No new books to report yet- I'm working on two rather long ones right now. One is more than 500 pages, one just more than 800 pages. Yeah, I'm not ambitious, not at all.

Still, I've had several new experiences to report this time around:

1. My lil sis encouraged me to join a Pathfinders playing group. It's been described as being like Dungeons and Dragons, except not as complicated. I've been to two playing sessions and its a blast! Looking forward to more. I've done role playing card games before, but nothing like this. Essentially we all adapt a persona and work together through a set challenge. Really like the cooperative part.

2-4. I went with a friend of mine to the Chagrin/Woodmere area (never been there before) to try out a Lebanese restaurant and to try out a new wine and canvas event (or, as one of my coworkers put it, booze and brushes). Now, Aladdin's has similar dishes, but I've never tried Baba- similar to hummus, except with eggplant. Wow,is that stuff good- and filling. Very filling. A couple slices of pita bread, a banana and this stuff was a filling breakfast,and I had some left over. Essentially, leftovers lasted me over three days. And the rice. Oh. My. Gosh. The rice. I never tasted rice so good. Holy moly. The salmon was excellent as well but my favorite thing was the rice. I cannot overstate it- whatever the chefs do to the rice, it is food fit for the gods. We then went to the wine and canvas event. That was...mixed. I know my friend got a bit frustrated; the instructors had a hard time with the design, and shortly into it, I just forged my own trail. Still, not ruling out giving them another chance, there may have been factors at play beyond their control.

4. This past weekend, I went to my first Gotta Get Away. My mom and aunt have been doing this for years now (I think mom's been since the very first year.) Essentially, you bring a craft project or two, food items to share, do what you like, work on your projects and enjoy the company of some fantastic women. Ah,what memories! It was unusually warm this weekend- felt like late April, not late January. Still on the warm side now, but I see colder weather on the horizon. Nothing too bad, though. Hope I can go again!

So this brings me to 27 new events. Three months to my birthday... need to fit in 15 more...

Jan. 8th, 2017

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Squeezed in one more book

Astounding what you can find when cleaning. I found another Hamilton-related book I had ordered, then completely forgot about. That was a pleasant surprise!

3. The Duel, by Judith St. George. I personally think Ron Chernow's biography is the gold standard for information related to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. However, for those wanting to find out more information on the nation's colorful and dynamic first treasury secretary and his rival Aaron Burr, but are daunted at the prospect of reading Chernow's 700+ page work, The Duel is an excellent alternative. Here, St. George concentrates solely on the startlingly similar lives Hamilton and Burr, whose place in history would be forever cemented by their infamous duel. I was able to finish this in one evening. It's well paced, and there is a nice bibliogrphy at the end. The Duel covers the basic highlights of the lives of the two men, and compares their similarities and notes how often their paths crossed, knowingly and unknowingly. All in all, a good read for either those wanting to find out more about Hamilton or Burr, or those needing a quick refresher.
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Happy New Year- a week in

So far, so... OK.

It's been bitterly cold the past few days- high teens, lows in the single digits. Parts south of the country have seen huge snowfalls- and I mean huge even by standards here. Just glad I didn't have to go anywhere this weekend. Have been trying to catch up around the house. By Monday it's supposed to warm up and high temps are supposed to stay well above freezing. The cold aside, it's acting more like March than January.

Grandpa's funeral is Monday evening. That is going to be a bit rough.

Have a couple new things to add to my new experiences list. One, I went to a Hanukkah party, right there a novelty to me. Also tried latkes, which are quite good. May try them with sour cream next time; didn't care for the combination of potato and applesauce. Ah well! They were also good plain. In addition, I was invited to play a role playing game called Pathfinders. It's been compared to Dungeons and Dragons, except less complicated. Hope I can go back sometime, that was fun!

So that brings me up to 22, I believe.

New Year's was uneventful. Face painted at First Night; there were several other face painters but we got more people than I expected (There was a huge Ohio State game on that evening; the Buckeyes got their keisters handed to them, by the way). The next day I saw The Kingsmen at my lil sis's house. That was a fun movie, if a bit bizarre at times. On Jan. 2 (most places were closed), I went to my parents' place and watched the Rose Bowl parade, went swimming and that's when I played Pathfinders.

Also finished a couple books, both fitting requirements for the 2017 Book Riot challenge...

1. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. This fulfills the challenge for debut novel (could also fit the LGBTQ+ romance novel category). Simon Spier, a junior at his local high school, is fun character. The story is told through his eyes, and in many ways it's a fairly traditional coming-of-age tale. Simon is torn between not wanting things to change, yet slowly acknowledging that things have to progress eventually. The bulk of the story centers on Simon being blackmailed by another student, the awkward Marty, Marty wants to hook up with a girl he has a crush on, Abby, who happens to be a good friend of Simon's. Simon is afraid that if he doesn't help, Marty will expose Simon and his secret correspondence for the past few months, whom Simon only knows as bluegreen. Life becomes a juggling act as Simon reluctantly helps Marty while trying to figure out who bluegreen is (other than a fellow junior at his school). All in all, I really enjoyed this. For the most part, there are no villains (only a handful of bigoted students who largely remain unnamed). I figured out who bluegreen was about halfway through; if I have a nit, the author may have tipped her hand a bit too early with a rather large clue about midway. The humor is great; Simon has a wry, sense of humor and keen observations except when he is being oblivious. His turns of phrase are hilarious and I loved the email exchanges between himself and bluegreen. The exchanges are heartfelt and believable.

2. The Dark Crystal, by A.C.H. Smith. This fulfills the category for reading a book I've read before (could also be used for fantasy). The Dark Crystal is a novelization of the Jim Henson movie. The movie was one of my favorites as a child; heck, it's still a favorite. I read the novel either in late grade school or middle school and was able to find it again on Amazon a couple years ago. It expands on the world of the movie and adds details, such as the names of the individual UrRu and Skeksis. Fans of the movie may want to get their hands on this, if they haven't already. It really helps flesh out the character of Jen, the Gelfling protagonist who was raised by the UrRu after his family was killed by the sinister Skeksis and their Garthim warriors. It adds details such as words in the various languages used, particularly the Skeksis. At least one scene (the funeral of the Skeksis emperor), which was cut from the main release, is included here. I enjoyed it as much now as I did then, perhaps even more.

Currently reading: Valley of the Shadow, by Ralph Peters (for the war novel category), and The Hamilton Papers: Original Documents from the Broadway Musical (because I'm a complete Hamilton addict).

Dec. 27th, 2016

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Well, met one goal this year, at least

As of this evening, I have completed the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder challenge (in addition to several other books). I finished 40 books total this year.

The Book Mouse's Book Report

40. Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacob. This was for the food memoir category. I admit this one is a bit of a stretch for this category; Jacob's book is more a guide on writing a food memoir. Or blog. Or cookbook. Or any food-related publication. Or write reviews. This is a must for anyone wanting to do any writing connected with the culinary world. This book is even a good resource for those who want to write, even if their interest is not in food (I'm about as non-foodie as you get, but even I had some good takeaways from this). Jacob falls back not only on her years of writing experience, but quotes heavily from other food writers (including Cleveland's own Laura Taxel, of Cleveland Ethnic Eats). This book is well organized and easy to follow, and while it is a how-to guide, it's never dry. Really, my only recommendations are that, if there are plans for another revised version, is to add a section on how to handle trolls, troublemakers and flame wars in blogs and social media, and how to best promote yourself via social media. Otherwise, this is quite thorough. There's plenty of recommendations for blogs, writing resources, cookbooks, how to get published, and more. There are even writing exercises throughout.

I've already ordered my first round of books for the 2017 challenge, and hope to pick those up tomorrow or Thursday. Probably Thursday.

Will most likely be my last post for 2016, so- Happy New Year!

Dec. 26th, 2016

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2016... *sigh*

This year can just bite me.

I'm not sure I've ever concluded a year feeling so discouraged or depressed. Yes, there were highlights, such as seeing Hamilton in New York (not just a year highlight, but a life highlight). But this rollercoaster year mostly seemed to go down.

Most recently, my grandpa died. This was the grandpa who had lived with me when he was in town, after he moved to Atlanta for a time. He had been ailing for the past couple years but a medical emergency back in November caused a rapid decline. He died this past Thursday. I went to see him Wednesday. He really wasn't even conscious anymore. The nurse roused him for a brief time - I'm talking maybe 10, 15 seconds but it seemed to agitate him so I didn't push it. Grandpa had suffered enough in the past month. This past week was the first week I started to feel normal again after this stupid cold so it was the first time I could visit without fear of spreading this plague.

I'm really going to miss him. He loved the theater and classical music, and we always had such fun going out. He also had a quirky sense of humor. I remember driving down a nearby boulevard, which had elegant houses always decked out with bright holiday lights, and singing Christmas carols on my way to my aunt and uncle's family holiday party. He also loved to tease me. But he also was a handyman, even when he was older. Up until the last couple years he was pretty independent.

Throw in drastic changes at work (none of them good), a serious illness in a longtime friend, the deaths of a young niece of one friend and the daughter of another, my dad getting seriously hurt on the job, a lot of personal and professional setbacks... this year just sucked. I wish I could say I hoped for more in 2017 but I'm not optimistic, especially given the political climate. Many things have already served as a prologue for what 2017 could be nationally and internationally, and anyone with the sense of cabbage is scared shitless right now.

I have one sliver of hope early next year might start out well on a personal level but if that, too, falls through than I expect this coming year will be painful in more ways than one. I know in past years I reviewed my list of goals and create new ones; I might create new goals later but right now I just don't have the heart to. I feel depleted and defeated.

One goal I do aim to reach- finishing the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I'm one book away from finishing (and I'm less than 100 pages away from completing that book). Once I finish that book (provided I haven't miscounted ha ha) I will have wrapped up the year with 40 books. Given everything, that's not bad. I already have some books on order for the 2017 Book Riot challenge, and my Merry Christmas To Me gift to read (The Hamilton Papers, which contains all the documents - The Federalist Papers, Farmer, Refuted, The Reynolds Pamphlet, Hamilton's final letter to Eliza *siiiigh* - mentioned in the musical. I think this qualifies me as a super nerd. I should get a cape...

38. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. I listened to this on CD; it was an Audie award-winner for fiction in 2016. Wow. Holy crap, this was good. The whole story left me breathless, and the reader Polly Stone captures each individual character to a degree I've heard few other readers accomplish. Fair warning- have tissues on hand, especially towards the end; just when you think things are going to wrap up there are a couple of tear-your-heart-out surprises at the end. But, as painful as these (and other developments) were, they were honest and one dealt with a huge issue where there just were no winners, only losers.
The story is set in France and spans from the start of World War II to the end of the war, with some chapters placed in America in 1995. The book's first chapter starts in 1995, with an elderly woman about to move into an assisted living center. She is going through her things, including an old trunk. The reader (or listener) doesn't know who this woman is for certain, and her identity doesn't come out until the very end. This made for a nice little mystery, and I admit I initially guessed wrong. Much of the story is set in France during the second World War, and follows the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne lives in a quiet village with her husband and her daughter, and is content with her life and surroundings. The quiet, even timid, woman's life is turned upside down when her husband leaves and the Nazis come in, with officers staying under her roof. Vianne had never been one to take charge but now is constantly forced to choose to stand up for her principles and feeding her daughter and herself. Meanwhile, the much younger and idealistic Isabelle joins the Free France movement, and her escapades eventually become legendary -- and puts her in the Nazi government's crosshairs. Each of the sisters is wonderfully fleshed out; they both have their flaws but they also have their own nobility and growth. As readers today, we are more inclined to sympathize with Isabelle's fears and premonitions about the war- she would wind up being more prescient than her older sister. But we have the benefit of hindsight. Also, you see examples of why Vianne would get frustrated with her younger sibling. Their father, too, plays a pivotal role. He's deeply flawed but sympathetic, and in the end redeems himself. Vianne is possibly the most interesting and would be the subject of the most discussion. Many of the things she does would be considered controversial, but I see her as the Everyperson. I think, for better or worse, most of us would be Viannes, especially the Vianne early in the story, and not the more resolute Isabelle. Then again, that may not be entirely fair because Vianne is not just weighing her needs but the needs of her little girl. All in all, a great story. There are many fictional books set in World War II but this gives that pivotal era a look through a fresh perspective.

39. My Schizophrenic Life, by Sandra Yuen MacKay. This fulfills the challenge for reading a book that has a main character with a mental illness. This "main character" is actually an autobiography penned by MacKay, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen. She pulls no punches; MacKay is honest about her struggles and shortcomings in dealing with her illness, and the difficulty of her recovery and managing her life. The reader, through her eyes, gets a glimpse of what schizophrenia is like and why it is such a difficult illness to treat. MacKay freely admits she was not always a model patient. But MacKay was able to work through not just schizophrenia but her own inherent insecurities to become an author, a public speaker and an artist. This is a human story, from a point of view that is often not heard. IT might not be the most polished of narratives but I think that's part of its charm and honesty. All in all, it's an insightful and quick read.

Currently reading: Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacob.

One more book... one more book...one more book...

Dec. 11th, 2016

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Winter snow and cold is here... wheeeeeeee

Yuuuuck. Up to this week it had been warmer than average, and I hoped we'd have another winter like this past one (ie, we had no winter). Alas, earwax. This week, temps went from 50s to 30s for highs, and it's snowing. Only about a couple inches here so far, but I know north and east of us got socked. I think it was Thursday where part of a major highway (I-90) was closed due to a multiple car pileup. Not sure how much of that was the weather, and how much of it was people forgetting their winter driving skills, which would have been especially rusty after last year's unusually mild season. Looking at the long-term forecast, doesn't look like we'll be getting a warmup anytime soon either. Ick.

Grandpa isn't doing well; he's in a nursing home. Also, dad got hurt at work. Hoping he recovers OK. In addition, I've caught my usual holiday creeping crud. Never fails. I would so love to get through a holiday season without coughing and hacking my way through it. Took it easy this weekend, and I do feel better. Just hate being sick.

On a brighter note, I'm listening to the Hamilton Mixtape, which was released earlier this month. It's not quite what I expected... well, OK, I admit I wasn't sure what to expect ha ha. I'd heard a few songs already. So far, I really like it, though.

Also finished a couple more books, one for the Book Riot challenge. Three more to go with that challenge, and I have all three books handy. I can do it I can do it I can do it....

36. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This is actually a reread; I read this in grade school (although I may have read an abridged version, I don't recall). I've been wanting to reread this one for a while now, and this year seemed to be a good time to do just that, since I'm co-props designer for an upcoming staged version of this story (see my previous blog post). I remember really enjoying the adventures of Scout Finch as a child, especially her finding the little treasures in the knothole. As an adult, I picked up on a lot more. I've complained about this before but all too often the word "classic" is overused. Too many so-called "classics" are mind-numbing, pretentious garbage. But this is a novel that richly deserves the name of classic. It's well-written, with memorable and all-too human characters with their own strengths and weaknesses. The story is filtered through young Scout's eyes, and most of the action takes place during the year where her father Atticus Finch is defending a black man from a rape charge, in Depression-era fictional small town in Alabama. Scout is a smart, somewhat rebellious child who gets frustrated with her older, supposedly boring father. But her views slowly change as that summer teachers her about just how strong and how noble Atticus is. By the end of the book, her maturation is evident. This beautifully-written book is a must-read, and it pains me that there are school districts who are mulling the banning of this great work.

37. Private Doubt, Public Dilemma: Religion and Science Since Jefferson and Darwin, By Keith Stewart Thomson. This completes my reading challenge about reading a book on religion. It may be a stretch for this category - it wasn't quite what I expected - but ah well. Thomson is surprisingly even-handed in discussing the issues that came up with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, plus even some of the debates that came up even in the early 1800s, with the Age of Enlightenment. It's a tough issue to balance, since revolution versus creationism are n many ways such polar opposite ideas. My reaction to the book itself is mixed. It's well researched and balanced, but much of it is also boring. Up until the last few chapters I was ready to pan it completely as being as dry as toast. Much of it reads like an academic textbook. The first chapter is especially dull, and had it not been so late in the year, I probably would have given up on it after the first chapter. But then the last few chapters - which concentrates more on the debates between Darwin and those who supported his theories, those who took a different tack to his theory to wed it to religious belief, those who argued against it for scientific reasons and those who opposed it because it does seem to clash with dogma. This part was more interesting. Still, not sure I can really recommend this book because you have to schlep through so much to get to a couple of good chapters. The appendix was somewhat interesting. I guess if you are reading up on the debates of revolution, by all means this is a good source. But if you are looking for a nice, educational read to engage your brain in quieter moments, this may prove to be more of an insomnia cure.

Currently reading: The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (for the Audie Book award winner category in the Book Riot challenge), and Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacob (for the food memoir category).

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