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Dec. 27th, 2016


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


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


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).

Nov. 28th, 2016


Last day of Thanksgiving vacation

I took Friday and today off from work to give myself a nice break, and to try to catch up on things. I think what I caught up most on was...sleep :P Ah well, working on laundry now, and updating things here will allow me to put another big checkmark on my mental to-do list.

Weather has stabilized a bit. Last weekend was weird. Friday- it was 70s. Mid-70s. I saw small flower buds on my one shrub. Saturday morning I woke up to snow. By Sunday we had about an inch, maybe two inches, of white stuff on the ground. It's been mid-40s and drizzly since, for the most part. May get up to 60 tomorrow, but then we'll again see a slow turn back to the 40s. Still warm for this time of year though.

I brought my Christmas cacti in last Saturday morning due to the snow. I think this might be the longest they've been outside. They are in full flower now. A bit late, but still lovely. Usually the blooms are starting to fade at this point.

Thanksgiving was nice, as usual. Spent the morning with my parents, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade for the first time in a few years (the channel its on doesn't come in consistently on my television). Then we all went to my aunt and uncle's place. Got to see the newest addition to the family, catch up with family, and enjoy delicious food. I love Thanksgiving.

Went to a wine and canvas event hosted by a friend of mine yesterday. That was a lot of fun! I love those events anyway; my walls are slowly filling up from my paintings from this past year. That evening, I saw Fantastic Beasts with a good friend. WOW! Wonderful movie! Loved loved loved it! It was great seeing such a well-done expansion on the Harry Potter universe. I can hardly wait for the sequels now- this first installment has opened up so many possibilities!

Also had two other new experiences- I tried chicken feet (meh) and pickled onions (delish!). So that brings me up to 22 new experiences!

Now, to update my book list. I can knock off three more items off the Book Riot challenge in this round, leaving me with four left to go (one more is in process). Yeah, doubt I'll make 50 books and I'll be right under the wire with the Book Riot challenge, but given how this summer/early fall fell out... oh well :/

32. The Agency, by Y.S. Lee. This book meets the requirement for reading the first book in a series by an author of color. The first installment, A Spy in the House, introduces the reader to Mary Quinn, a young woman who was saved from certain death and placed into a select boarding school as a child. When Quinn turns 17, she is told that the school is a front for a network of spies -- trained women who infiltrate society to uncover criminal activity. Quinn eagerly joins their ranks and finds herself in the household of a wealthy merchant whom the Agency suspects has been committing insurance fraud. The story is told both from Mary's point of view and James, who has his own reasons for keeping an eye on the merchant's family. Wasn't sure I'd like that approach initially, but Lee pulled it off. What I really liked was the double mystery. Not only does Mary (and the reader) have to piece together what is happening with the ships, but Mary also is on a hunt to discover her own roots. This was a fun, enjoyable read, although some elements require a suspension of belief (the author does stress this is more fiction than historical fiction). Also, admittedly, I guessed whodunit about halfway through the book. I'm curious about the other books in the series now.

33. The Midwife's Tale, by Sam Thomas. This book meets the requirement for reading a historical fiction novel set before 1900. The first installment of this mystery series is set in 1644 in the city of York, towards the end of England's civil war. the central character, Bridget Hodgson,is a genteel widow who serves as one of the city's midwives. Her status as a gentlewoman and a respected midwife allows her to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle despite the civil war that threatens to tear apart the city - both from within and outside. But Hodgson soon finds herself embroiled in another dilemma: Esther, one of her closest friends, is accused of murdering her husband and faces death by burning. Bridget doesn't feel Esther is capable of such an act and begins to take matters into her own hands, with the help of her new servant Martha Hawkins, a young woman with her own share of secrets. This was, all in all, a well-researched novel with a good deal of period detail and a great mystery.I had no idea who the guilty party was until the reveal. More importantly, Bridget is one of the most intriguing heroines I've ever seen. She is a woman of honor and charitable, but she does have her shortcomings and prejudices.Bridget can be generous, but can also be rather cruel to those she thinks have sinned. Even when a young woman is "in trouble" through no fault of her own, her general feeling is one of pity... but.... Bridget is certainly a product of her time, but I wonder if she will slowly soften her rigid code, especially with Martha.

34. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book meets the requirements for reading a nonfiction book on feminist themes. Adichie has written a quick, insightful book on why feminism should not be considered a bad word. Unfortunately, all too often the word feminism has negative connotations. She relates her experiences with misogyny - both subtle and overt- during her years growing up in Nigeria, and living here in the United States. The language of marginalizing women can easily be overlooked because it is so ingrained in society, and the author points out examples of this. Adichie also points out how stereotypes hurt not only women, but men as well. When men are expected and required to act in what can be equally restricting ways, a man's real personality can be lost to the alter of misguided social mores.

35. To Kill a Mockingbird, adapted by Christopher Sergel. This adaptation will be staged by one of our local theaters early next year, and I'm co-designing props for it. So, I thought I'd check out the script for research purposes. I'm also re-reading the novel (I read it in grade school). I believe another theater did this particular adaptation a few years ago as well. It's a good adaptation of this classic novel. Sergel gets the important elements in while keeping the play at a manageable length. True, much has been cut; there's no schoolroom scenes, the items found in the knothole of the tree have been pared down to two and many secondary characters were either cut or combined. But given that the novel is more than 300 pages, that is to be expected. The important development elements and the themes are intact. What's interesting is that while the action in the novel is seen through Scout's eyes, the play is more of an omniscient view. The occasional narrator is actually the Finch's good-hearted neighbor Miss Maudie, who succinctly ties up any loose ends and parses out bits of important information. Looking forward to working on this production!

Currently reading: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Private Doubt, Public Dilemma: Religion and Science Since Jefferson and Darwin, By Keith Stewart Thomson

Oct. 30th, 2016


An eventful couple months, and not in a good way

Again, I did NOT mean for it to be so long between posts. Oy.

The good news is my skin has healed up and my asthma has come back under excellent control, with a changeup of meds. But it was the prednisone that caused my skin to break out so badly; also that last round of antibiotics really took the starch out of me. It was about the last week of September before I felt normal again.

Temperatures have remained on the warm side. I was at Weathervane last night, and heard someone from the Akron Zoo saying they had a record attendance. Also, it was I think the week after Labor Day where several schools closed because of the heat- 90s and humid. In September. That is unheard of (both the high temperatures and schools taking a heat day)!

Midweek this week was cooler, more fall-like, but it was 70s again yesterday, 60s again today and will be 60s and 70s the remainder of this week, last I checked. Then it’s back down to the 50s, which is more typical. The leaves on many trees are still green albeit a bit faded, or just turning colors. My sugar maple’s leaves are finally golden yellow. I imagine the peak color will happen either late this week or early next week- rather late. Usually, most trees have shed their leaves at this point.

Things have calmed down now, at least a bit, but late September and October were not great times. One, I was involved backstage in a show where, well, let’s just say I was so glad when I was done. Not a good time. Also, had a couple bomb shells dropped at work. Four people got laid off, and I’m no longer doing the entertainment beat. I’m with one of the papers. The latter part I saw coming, but the layoffs were completely out of left field. I feel terrible for them, and the atmosphere is just so dark at work. Everyone is upset, angry and scared. Was supposed to be onstage again, but reluctantly decided to drop it because everything is just so upside down. To top it off, I’m on jury duty starting next week (which would have been tech week for that show). Generally I wouldn’t mind but with things being so topsy turvy… just another hassle.

On a lighter note, I got to experience something completely different – I was asked to be a judge for Dessert First, a Girl Scout fundraiser event! I was on the panel of judges to got to sample the various desserts and grade them. A sweet assignment, but something I learned: only take one or two bite of each dessert. I was rather full by the end. Glad there was dinner afterwards to dilute the sugar!
So new experiences= 20. Seems like I might be missing some things, but perhaps not, as screwy as this time period has been.

Saw three plays this weekend, and hope to do short, online followups. All were very good!

Really haven’t done a lot of reading- I think I actually went a month without touching a book. You know things are nuts when this avid bookworm hasn’t read. Still I did finish up some books I haven’t had a chance to do my review on, and am working on a couple others, so I’m back on track. The ones I finished aren’t for the Book Riot challenge (not mine, anyway) but the two I’ve been reading are. I have a feeling I’m going to be down to the wire on the Book Riot challenge and I probably won’t get to 50 books this year, but given recent events, plus the fact that two books took more than a month each, I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

The Book Mouse’s Book Report
27. Best of One Tank Trips, by Neil Zurcher. This was a fun book. Zurcher, who recently retired, is known in this area for his One Tank Trips feature, a segment where he would find fascinating and unusual destinations that could be done in a day. Most of his trips are in Ohio, but a few go out of state. Anyone looking for a good day trip that’s not too far from home should get this book, but even if someone doesn’t like to travel, Zurcher gives you a written tour of the many places listed. Some highlights include a ride-through wildlife park, a place where you can legally drag-race in the family car; an Amish hardware story that only sells non-electric tools, appliances and toys; and the only World War II submarine still in original condition. In addition, this travel veteran shares tips on what to do before venturing out, and gives some of his own anecdotes on his adventures (and even a couple misadventures; one of his final stories had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down for a moment).

28. True Tales from the Buckeye State, by Linda Lehmann Masek. Another book readers may want to consider if they are looking for interesting trips, or even just interesting facts, about Ohio. Masek shares stories about some of the fascinating attractions around Ohio, as well as her own experiences in the buckeye state. Masek goes into the stories of the traffic light, the sea serpent of Lake Erie and the Cat Museum in Alliance. In addition, she also includes a collection of her own poetry, plus information on other interesting historic tidbits not connected to Ohio. These last inclusions were a bit puzzling given the title of the book but were informative.

29. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. This was disappointing. Three-quarters of it was… OK. A bit rough around the edges, especially the beginning, but I did note that the book was branded as a rehearsal copy, which means that it probably wasn’t the final, polished draft. Also, I realize that you can only get so much reading a script. A play was meant to be seen, not just read. So, for the first three-quarters I was willing to give this script some leeway. I noticed a couple minor inconsistencies, but for most of the book I was enjoying the trip back to the Harry Potter universe. The action concerns Harry Potter’s son, Albus Severus, who tries to set right a terrible event from Harry’s past, but unwittingly creates far more problems. The premise is good, for the most part. Not sure I like Ron’s portrayal as a bit of a dolt- he could be smart in canon. But otherwise, it felt like a good, working draft, something with potential. Then- we get to the final one-quarter, where a revelation about a character takes this work from “needs polish but generally pretty good” to REALLY bad fanfic territory. I just lost all enjoyment after this reveal. Not sure I could stomach even watching it on stage now. A pity, because it had such potential.

30. Get Smart, by Christopher Sergel. This is a stage adaptation based on the series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and was the show I was supposed to be in. For those not familiar with the television series, the story lines revolve around secret agent Maxwell Smart, who tends to be more lucky than smart. Smart and Agent 99 work for Control, which always has to attempt to thwart the evil of KAOS. Those familiar with the series will see a lot of the classic lines and moments in this stage adaptation, and the script does an excellent job capturing the spirit of this hilarious series.

31. The Hudson Library and Historical Society. This was a photo book of the Hudson Library and Historical Society. My feelings were mixed. On one hand, the photos are lovely, and capture the beauty of what is considered to be a gem in this area. But I also felt there were missed opportunities as well. There was no cutline information to go with the photos, and no statistics or information about the library as it was depicted in this relatively recent publication. 50 years from now, few if anyone will remember who was pictured, and what the context was.

Currently reading: The Midwife’s Tale, by Sam Thomas, and The Agency: A Spy in the House, by Y.S. Lee.

Aug. 27th, 2016


What a time last weekend!

Wow wow wow wow! Had a whirlwind weekend last weekend as I got to see HAMILTON ON BROADWAY! I wrote a column which gives a pretty thorough account of my adventures: http://fallsnewspress.com/entertainment/2016/08/26/my-shot-in-new-york-editor-takes-in-times-square-sees-hamilton-on-broadway. But, in summary:

- I got to see my first Broadway show! And it was amazing!
- It was my first time in New York since grade school, and I don't recall a lot about it then
- I got to meet up with a friend, Gina, whom I have never had the chance to meet with face-to-face.
- Tried mimosas for the first time (they were...OK. A bit strong for my taste)

So that brings my new experiences count to 19.

Also, finally on the mending end of a series of health issues- I think the heat, humidity and stress brought out the worst in both my asthma and eczema. Had the worst eczema flareup since 1999-2000. I was on four rounds of antibiotics and three rounds of prednisone (although the latter I think did far more harm than good). But my skin is clearing up and the swelling going down. In addition, the doctor put me on a new asthma drug which slowly seems to be improving things. Still, I napped most of the day today. It felt so good.

Also read a couple more books.

The Book Mouse's Book Report:

25. Speaking of Murder, by Les Roberts, with Dan S. Kennedy. Another fun addition to the Milan Jacovich series. Roberts again teams up with Kennedy, this time to explore the world of public speaking and motivational seminars. In this story, Milan and Kevin O'Bannion are hired on as extra security at a convention for high-profile (and some not-so high profile) motivational speakers. Of course, it doesn't take long for one of them to wind up dead, and Milan and his lady friend Tobe Blaine, a homicide detective with the Cleveland police find no shortage of suspects. I have said it before, but I love the dynamic between Milan and Tobe, although I noticed some of the exchanges seemed sharper at times. I was especially happy to see the return of Victor Gaimari, the head of Cleveland's mob. He's a fun character, one you can't decide whether to love him or hate him, and you often wind up doing both in the same book. All in all, this was another excellent mystery, with great dialogue, some good laughs and excellent action. In addition, I had no idea whodunit until the end.

26. Hamilton, the Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I read about two-thirds of this before seeing Hamilton, and finished the rest on the car ride home. If you are a fan of the musical, or curious about it, or like a good behind-the-scenes book on the making of a musical, you must get this book. It's a lovely book, filled with gorgeous full color photos and tons of information on the play. The book is set up with headlines that read like something from Hamilton's era, and the chapters include interviews with the cast (the ensemble as well as the main cast) and the creative team behind this blockbuster show. It also includes Lin-Manuel's notes and pages of early drafts, costume concepts and more. In addition, the book includes the full libretto, with Lin-Manuel's side notes on certain lines and passages sprinkled liberally throughout. Those side notes were my favorite part, and offered a peek into the thought process in forming the lyrics of this work.

Currently reading: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Aug. 14th, 2016


Wow, so much ground to cover!

It’s been an eventful summer, both good and bad. Did not mean to leave off posting for so long and as it is, I hope I don’t forget anything.

One, I was involved in one of the local theater’s production of Beauty and the Beast- my first musical since 2002. I forgot how intense musicals could be! It was grueling, especially the two weeks before the show opened, but no regrets. I was in the ensemble (one of the villagers, or, heh heh, Village People), but I also got to help with set design! Now that was cool, and something I never got to try before.

In fact, I was actually allowed to design the main flat for Gaston’s tavern! They gave me free reign, so I mocked something up on paper, they liked it, so I drew it on the flat. There were some minor modifications (improvements) made later, but for the most part that was my baby  So that is the 13th new thing I got to do for my 42 goals challenge. Woot!

I also painted two portraits – one for the prince, and one for Gaston. I have a whole new level of appreciation for portrait painters. I never considered it easy, but painting portraits (I attempted to use the actors as my models, but both wound up looking more like the animation; ah well) is much more difficult than I could have imagined. That was ambitious but I had fun trying it.

This was not the only new thing I tried.
14. Tried two different types of Margarita. One, at Chipoltes, was… OK. Nice citrus taste going down but strong alcohol afterburn. But I tried a second at Rose’s Run, strawberry- now that was delish.
15. Went to Rose’s Run Country Club for the first time, to hear a local band, The Copper Pennies. I know everyone in the group and that night knew a third of the audience. That evening was a blast! I even danced a bit for the first time in who knows how long. Then, as things were winding up, I turned to Lynn.
“Ah, man, can’t believe the evening is over so soon. I don’t want it to end yet.”
Lynn: “Well, several of us are going out for milkshakes afterwards. Do you want…?”
Me: “You had me at milkshakes. I’m in!”
Was up too late but no regrets. Don’t remember the last time I had that much just pure, unwound fun.
16. Tried a Pink Elephant martini – yum yum yum! Also tried a baby sip of a peach martini. Ehh, a bit too strong for me!

Seems like I might be missing something in terms of new experiences. Hopefully I’ll think of it later. At any rate, I know I’ll have some new experiences to report on next time I post- some really cool experiences, too! Sooooo excited! More later. In addition, fingers crossed, but I hope I’ll have some other exciting news to report as well- something I’ve been hoping and wishing for a very, very long time.

We’re sort of paying for our uber-mild winter with a very hot summer. Nothing off the bell-curve, just high 80s and 90s. For the most part the evenings at least have been cooler, which makes sleeping bearable. So far I’ve been OK with fans. This week has been humid. Not sure what the temps were yesterday but I felt like I was gagging every time I left air conditioning.

Still, could be worse. The south just got hit with massive flooding; I know at least one person who lost everything, save his and his family’s lives. Three young kids.

I’ve also finished three more books. Actually, two books and a play script. That reminds me: I’ll be handling props for Little Shop of Horrors at one of our local theaters. Look forward to this! Should be a fun show. Plan to get started on that full-throttle after this coming weekend. Can’t believe we are in mid-August already. I know I say this every summer (heck, every year) but where does the summer go?

At any rate….

The Book Mouse’s Book Report

22. Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. This one completes my challenge for reading a book about politics. WOW. What can I say that probably hasn’t been said already? It took me most of the summer to read this biography on one of our Founding Fathers, but it was worth it. I’ve heard the storytelling tone described as Dickensonian, especially in describing Hamilton’s early days in the British West Indies. This is apt.
Of course, I became interested in Chernow’s biography when I became hooked on the Broadway musical Hamilton. The musical takes a lot of its inspiration, even some song titles, from this biography, and it was neat for me to read passages and think “OK, I recognize this scene,” or “so that’s the inspiration behind those particular lyrics!”
But back to the novel (I can digress forever on the musical, which I will be seeing very soon!). I really want to check out more of Chernow’s biographies now. I don’t recall the last time I was actually sad when I had finished the last page of a book; probably the seventh book of Harry Potter. I certainly don’t recall that ever happening with a nonfiction book. I tend to be drawn to nonfiction, and love to learn about history, but I was actually a bit blue when I finished this one. It was such a captivating read, on such a fascinating man living through a singularly epic time: the founding of a new country. Chernow has a great gift for not only storytelling, but connecting the dots. Actions early in Hamilton’s life have a deep impact on his thought process and actions later in life, and Chernow points that out without bludgeoning the reader.
I also loved his last chapter, which was dedicated to Elizabeth (Eliza) Hamilton. What an amazing woman, whose own legacy to continue her husband’s work and her own charitable causes cannot be overstated.
Chernow’s treatment of our Founding Father’s is fairly balanced; Hamilton especially is seen, warts and all. I am thinking of reading something on Thomas Jefferson; after reading this book I have to wonder (and I’m not the only one) why Jefferson is lionized so much. Jefferson was a smart man, but at best could be horribly myopic when it came to the future. He also was a walking mass of contradictions. At any rate, I felt Chernow was thorough without delving too much into minutia.
I know many people will feel daunted by the length (it’s 731 “reading” pages, with a lot of index, notes, etc. in the back). It is long, and it is a dense book. You can’t just fly through it. But again, it’s worth the read. It’s a well-told story about a fascinating person in this nation’s history, a person who, until the past couple years, never really got the spotlight he deserved. I mean, this man created our banking system, Wall Street, the coast guard and was one of George Washington’s most trusted advisors. He wrote copious amounts of reports, letters and pamphlets, in an era of the quill and scroll.

23. Little Shop of Horrors, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. This will complete my challenge for reading a play script. Since I’m handling props for an upcoming show, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’ve seen this play before a couple of times, so this was a fairly quick read. I still prefer the movie ending, but it’s a weird, wacky play with a lot of fun songs and memorable characters. The most known character, of course, is Audrey II, a carnivorous plant not just content with Miracle-Gro. No, Audrey II’s tastes are more sanguinary. At any rate, I was reading it from a props perspective, and it makes me appreciate how much is needed for a musical such as this.

24. Murder in Spokane, by Mark Fuhrman. If you can get past who the author is (and the infamous case he was a big part of is mentioned briefly a couple of times), this is actually a good read. It is a bit dated, but it’s an interesting perspective that reads like a whodunit at times. When several bodies of prostitutes start turning up in the mid and late 90s, the local law enforcement in Spokane (and other areas) find themselves looking at a serial killer case. Much of the story concerns the investigation (and what Fuhrman lists as the many, many mistakes made in said investigation). If Fuhrman’s statements can be taken at face value (a cursory check didn’t reveal anything contradictory) then there were a lot of appalling mistakes made by law enforcement, and perhaps as many as nine lives were needlessly lost. Leaving crime scenes overnight. Not following up on tips. Lack of communication and cooperation with other enforcement agencies. In the end, Robert Lee Yates is known to have killed at least 13 female prostitutes, most of them also drug addicts, and probably killed more. It’s sad because you see this a good deal with serial killer cases. With a few exceptions, the victims tend to be marginalized, so no one really notices – or cares – when they turn up dead. Indeed, I guess Fuhrman’s wife was talking to a Spokane resident, who flat out said who cared about a few drug-addicted prostitutes, and perhaps the killer was doing the area a favor. Ouch. I have to wonder if this was a part of the reason for the lackadaisical attitude on the part of law enforcement and the community when it came to these crimes. The Yates case reminds me of the more recent Anthony Sowell case here.

Currently reading: Speaking of Murder, by Les Roberts, and Hamilton, the Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.

Jun. 5th, 2016


Enter, allergy season :P

Well, my allergies for the most part were OK until Memorial Day weekend, then my sinuses decided to go a bit haywire, and I had to break out the allergy OTC. I'm a bit congested even now, and my eyes have been bothering me. But - and I am knocking on wood very hard - in all, even now my allergies are nowhere near as bad as they have been the past few springs. My sinuses have been irritating but manageable with swimming, saline sprays and very occasional allergy meds. Hate allergy season but right now I'm counting my blessings.

Oh, forgot to mention something strange that happened in mid-May. It was a Sunday... maybe two Sundays before Memorial Day weekend? No longer recall precisely when. But it actually snowed. Yes, you read that right, it snowed. In mid-May. North of us, in the Cleveland area, it actually stuck. Someone I know had a picture of her little boy in a snowsuit playing in the snow. In May. That... just does not compute. That's not all. In the span of less than an hour, it clouded up, then rained, then hailed, then snowed, then rained again, then cleared up, then became cloudy, then railed, then snowed again, then rained, then snowed...might not have the precised order but you get the point. Weird weird weird weather day. I mean, I've lived here all my life. Snows in early, even mid-April are not uncommon. But I'm trying to recall if I've ever seen it snow - and that much- in May. Oh, and this is in the middle of the day. NOT at night. Cold weather and frost is not uncommon in early or mid-May, either. Indeed, the rule of thumb around here is to not plant fragile annuals before Memorial Day weekend. But snow. In mid-May. In the middle of the afternoon. That popping sound heard that day was the brains of thousands imploding.

Rehearsals have started, and so far so good. Have a good cast assembled. Nothing about scene painting yet but I imagine that talk - and action - will happen in late June. We had to relocate to the middle school while the many burnt-out lights in the high school auditorium get replaced. Lighting is a good thing to have! Also, better now than closer to production.

Looking forward to next Sunday- the Tony Awards! Now, ordinarily I don't give two hoots for award shows, but there are several of us -- my mom, my lil sis, some friends and I-- are having a Tony party so we can watch Hamilton sweep everything! Woot!

Also tried Chardonnay for the first time Friday. It's OK, for a white wine, not too strong. Still, stomach still feel irritated afterwards. Glad to get something to eat after the show. So far this makes 12 new things.

Also, finished another book. This is my 21 book for the year, and 15th of 24 challenges met for the Book Riot Read Harder challenge

21. Novel Without a Name, by Dương Thu Hương, Nina McPherson (Translator), Phan Huy Đường (Translator). A really powerful book set in Vietnam, during the final days of the Vietnam war. The story is told by Quan, a North Vietnamese soldier who joined the army at 18. Then, he was full of patriotism and ideals. Ten years later, his idealism has worn away and what he is fighting for far less clear, as he sees childhood friends killed, landscapes destroyed and people left destitute. The imagery and language is both beautiful and searing. The reader watches Quan as he tries to make a difference -- usually a futile effort-- and to understand what the purpose of the war really is. I kept thinking of Red Badge of Courage, a book I read in high school. I didn't care for the book then, but it has been on my re-read and "give another chance" list.

Currently reading: Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. This will fulfill the challenge requirement to read a book about politics. So far, loving this one but it's going to be a while before I finish. It's 800+ pages!

May. 24th, 2016


So, so many good things happening!

April and May have just been fantastic months overall.

I have two more exciting pieces of news. One, I've been cast in the ensemble for a local theater's production of Beauty and the Beast. My first musical since 2002! Had the first two rehearsals- yesterday and today. Really excited! It's good to be back.

Also, fingers crossed, I'm hoping I can try my hand at scenic design painting. Now that could be fun. Just imagine, the theater as my canvas mwaahaahaa!!! Oh, I know I won't be the only one- and that's a good thing. Dynamics' stage is cavernous!

In addition, there's even more exciting news. Well, potentially exciting news, it's not definite by a long shot. But my play, the Scarlet Pimpernel, is under consideration for Dynamics' spring 2017 show!!!!!!!!! Yeah, I've been bouncing off the walls since Thursday night, I'm so excited! I was just hoping to pull of a staged reading, a fully staged production wasn't even on my radar!

So, I have a few things to add to my list of new things:

9. I will be in a new play at a theater I've never performed at before

10. A few weeks ago, I tried a chocolate martini. It was... OK. A bit too much of an alcohol-y vibe, and it upset my stomach a bit. Only drank perhaps half of it.

11. Also tried Jameson. None Too Fragile offers Jameson shots, and I kept telling myself I was going to try it, just for the heck of it. Well. I tried it. And I'm good with not trying it again ha ha. Man that stuff is strooooooong, and yes, I only took a tiny sip. Heck, I barely coated my tongue.

Again, it seems like I am missing an item or two, but ah well. I may remember them for next time.

Also finished three more books, two for the Book Riot challenge. I noticed that I misnumbered the last book, which should have been 17- d'oh!

The Book Mouse's Book Report

18. Life Expenctancy, by Dean Koontz. Really enjoyed this novel. Koontz has this knack for making you laugh out loud one moment, then recoil in horror the next. He has this talent for these dark quips and strange twists. Those who like combining dark humor with a thriller will love this. In the story, Jimmy Tock is an unassuming pastry chef, with little self-confidence except when it comes to his culinary skills. But his birth is eventful to say the least. Part of it involves his grandfather, who dies the same day he is born, in the same hospital. Moments before dying, the grandfather makes several predictions about Jimmy, which are accurate. He also foresees five incredibly dark, tragic days in his grandson's life. The other eventful circumstances would involve too many spoilers, but let's just say they wind up impacting the rest of Jimmy's life in unexpected ways.

19. City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris. This completes my Book Riot challenge for reading a story set in the Middle East. This is the second book in a series set in Saudi Arabia. The two central characters are Nayir Sharqi, a conservative desert guide, and forensic scientist Katya Hijazi. This unlikely duo again wind up working together on a case after a young woman is found horribly mutilated, and with her neck broken. After some digging, Katya discovers the dead woman was an aspiring filmmaker. One project included conversations with prostitutes and the condition of women's lives in general. This alone had caused conflicts. However, Leila also had been working on a far more contentious topic when she was killed. I had really enjoyed Finding Nouf, the first book, and this is an excellent encore. Ferraris paints a fascinating picture of Saudi Arabia - both the country's deep flaws and its beauty and variety of people and cultures (and views). The dead Leila is a fascinating character; without giving too much away, she has her shortcomings as well as her strengths. The rollercoaster relationship between the independent Katya and the deeply pious Nayir has been interesting to watch, and I'm glad the book didn't resolve things to tidily. There are actually several mysteries at work here, and I had no idea how things were going to resolve, and my guesses were generally wrong. Excellent mystery, all in all. I'll have to check out the other books in this series.

20. George, by Alex Gino. This fulfills the Book Riot challenge for reading a book about a person who is transgender. This is aimed at older grade school (third through sixth grade). I finished it in one day. The story centers on George. Everyone sees George as a boy, but George never saw herself that way. She keeps her thoughts hidden until her teacher announces her class will stage Charlotte's Web- and George really wants to play Charlotte. George's teacher reject the idea, but Kelly, George's best friend hatches a plan to make her dream come true - both in playing the role, and in having people see her the way she sees herself. This is a fairly balanced book; the outlook may be a good deal more rosy than in real life. But given that this book aims at education, understanding and promoting tolerance, I don't see this as a flaw.

Currently reading: Novel Without a Name, by by Dương Thu Hương, Nina McPherson (Translator), Phan Huy Đường (Translator).

So I have 14 of 24 books checked off, and working on Book 15 (Novel Without a Name) now. This one will fulfill the requirement for reading a book by an author from Southeast Asia.

May. 6th, 2016


Awesome few weeks!

Well, the first big news: I AM SEEING HAMILTON ON BROADWAY IN AUGUST!!!!! SOOOOOOO excited! The more I find out about the musical, the more I fall in love with it. It's just so fascinating, and the music is so addictive. I'm listening to it. Again. I've lost track of how many times I've listened to it.

I have new experiences to add, hope I remember them all...

6. I tried intestine- quite good, actually.

7. Just got home from- yes, another- painting workshop. This one wasn't just for fun (although I had a blast!) This is mom's Mother's Day gift. The workshop was called Mom, the Masterpiece. An artist instructor walked you through how to paint... mom! I'm pretty pleased with the result- I've never tried to paint from a picture. I've never tried to paint architecture. I've also never tried to paint an actual person/people. So this stretched me nicely! I used the picture of my mom and me in Savannah- it's my favorite one of us. I can hardly wait to show her on Sunday :D

8. FINALLY saw Despicable Me. Finally! I love this movie! How could I have waited so freaking long to see this?? Now I need to check out the sequel. May need some arm twisting to watch the Minions movie, though- I think they are cute but can't picture an entire movie with nothing but the minions.

Seems like I am missing something. I might be thinking of the potential for new adventures, between Hamilton and one theater doing Beauty and the Beast.

Also finished another book...including my 12th book for the Book Riot challenge. This is the halfway point!

The Book Mouse's Book Report:

16. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carre. This one fulfills the challenge for the book published in the decade I was born. I misread it, thinking it had to be a book published in the YEAR I was born. There were plenty to choose from, even with that mistake. Still, I have to say, I was only meh about this book. Not my cup of tea. I found it rather boring and confusing. Too many characters, too many points that dragged and too many unexpected leaps back and forth in time. George Smiley was an interesting character- a man who seems plain and unassuming but who has more to him than you'd think. Also, a lot of the dialogue was really good. But it was too slow overall. My brain had already checked out of the story by the time the culprit was revealed.

Currently reading: Life Expectancy, by Dean Koontz, and City of Veils, by Zoe Ferraris

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