The Goal

To continue to read one book each week
To find authors who inspire me
To teach myself discipline
To share my experiences with others

Sunday, October 2, 2016

College textbooks are terrible.

What if college textbooks were fascinating because of the way they were delivered? What if textbook companies hired iconic audiobook readers like Maya Angelou, Jeremy Irons, or Tom Stechschulte to narrate them? Wouldn't we all be better, more interested students?

Sigh. If only.

Right now, I'm reading about the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and how it impacts the appeals process for Medicaid, Medicare, and Tricare. No one is narrating it. No one. It's a terrible, boring read.


Dear Tom Stechschulte,

Could you please lend your voice to The Essentials of Managed Healthcare so that I can stay awake (and maybe even absorb some of it) while digesting its contents?

Please and thank you,

Yours truly,

Esther Hofknecht Curtis
Desperate in Delaware


By the way, Tom Stechschulte is my favorite audiobook reader. Read more about him here:

P.S. I do know that Maya Angelou is dead and cannot be hired to record any audiobooks. I was using her as an example.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book 135: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I spent two days laughing my head off at this collection of hilarious comics by Allie Brosh. I've giggled at the memes she's drawn, but until now had no idea what a great sense of humor was behind them. From her stories about her dogs to an extremely accurate depiction of depression, I could identify with her every step of the way. And I laughed out loud so many times my boyfriend asked me to put my book away so he could hear the TV.

Pick this up and get the story behind these simple but expressive drawings. If you don't laugh, your sense of humor is damaged.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book 134: Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (Audiobook)

 Let me start out by saying that I picked up this audiobook because it was heralded as one of the most disturbing books of all time. Even my favorite author, Stephen King, sang its praises. And it was extremely disturbing, on many levels. Dan Simmons is pretty messed up. Still, I'm not sure that it was as disturbing as some of the books I've read. I reserve the title of most disturbing for books about real life horrors, like the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and anything written by Ann Coulter. It seems only fair that true tragedy should be much, much more disturbing to us than that which is fictional.

Still, this book was not a disappointment, as far as horror fiction is concerned. The idea of mind vampires - creatures who lived immortal lives and grew younger the more they fed upon their victims - was absolutely terrifying. Their ability to control normal human beings like real-life puppets, even after those humans were clinically dead, was an awful idea for me to entertain.

What begins as an odd series of murders in Charleston ends up being more than that by far, as the book's human characters discover the foul existence of creatures who competed with each other by killing as many people as possible, in the most public manner. They used regular people to carry out their will, making anyone a deadly threat, even a sweet old grandmother or a six-year-old boy.

I enjoyed Simmons' character development, because it made me care so much and hope they would survive. I was heartbroken to lose some of the book's best characters, and I was happy to see those who were evil get their due. Simmons also has a knack for throwing curve balls at his writers; while I was preparing for one outcome, another came out of nowhere. There was not a single boring moment in Carrion Comfort. No character's fate was neatly foreshadowed.

Carrion Comfort was full of surprises and twists to keep you guessing the whole time. I highly recommend this book for those who can take some pretty grisly writing, but I would skip it if you're looking for something you can read in a weekend. After finishing this book, I look forward to experiencing it again, to see what clues I might have missed.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dr. Annie Norman: The quiet visionary who changed my life

A few days ago, I "met" a person who (until that moment) I never knew changed my life: Dr. Annie Norman, Delaware's state librarian. Check out this blog post on her from Wilmington University, where I'm working to complete my Master's of Science in Management. Take a look here:

How did this woman whom I have never met change my life - so dramatically - for the better? I'll tell you. She created the State of Delaware's online library catalog, and integrated 59 state libraries - including those at universities, to provide Delawareans with access to the State's 2.6 million books, CDs, audiobooks, videos, DVDs, and learning materials.

Let me tell you why Dr. Annie Norman's work matters so much to me.

First, I am a voracious reader. If I had endless amounts of cash, I would certainly spend a mind-boggling amount of money on books and audio recordings to feed my addiction. But I do not have endless amounts of cash. I work a regular job and I am a woman, which means I get paid less than a male who would the same job (that's a topic for another day), and I have other problems to solve with my money, such as keeping a roof over my children's heads and making sure their bellies are full. I cannot afford the books I need (those $200 Master's degree specials that I dread to read), much less pay for the books I want.

Second, I dig deep into books to learn how I can improve the life I currently lead. My formal education at universities are important to me, but quite honestly, they do not compare to the amount of learning and self-reflection I have been able to achieve through books. I consider my formal education (Bachelor's complete, Master's in progress) simply an outward validation of the fact that I am not a blithering idiot. Instead, what really matters to me is the fact that reading has given me insight about myself, about relationships with other people, about learning itself, about writing, about leadership, and about other people's lives. And (bonus!) I get a good dose of delightfully grisly horror fiction to indulge my dark side. (It's a good thing to indulge the dark side in reading, rather than action, if one has a choice.)

The Delaware Library Catalog ( allows me to request any item of interest from the 59 participating libraries throughout the state. For no charge, library couriers will deliver my requested items to the library of my choice (Smyrna Public Library), and I get a text message and email when I've got items waiting for me. I can stop by and see my beloved librarians Ms. Nadine, Ms. Jane, Carol, and Kriss, and the items are waiting for me just behind them. Usually, I get my selections within a day or two. And *poof!* I have a copy of the book to read for two weeks, with the option to renew them for up to six weeks. All anyone needs to access this library system is a library card and access to the internet. If a person doesn't have access to the internet, they can simply call their friendly local librarian, who can make a request on their behalf.

Until reading the Wilmington University blog about Annie Norman, I never knew who was behind this beautiful, seamless system I have come to love so completely. Thanks to Dr. Norman, I have cut the barriers between myself and continued learning. The online Delaware Library Catalog has proven to be an invaluable tool for achieving my own personal and career aspirations, and anyone who does not take advantage of this system is missing out.

Thank you, Dr. Norman, for creating a program that has provided me with endless access to books about self-improvement, how to make my own jewelry, genocide, eating the right stuff, Albert Einstein, crazed axe-wielding nurses, caring for and cleaning antiques, Mahatma Ghandi, love and relationships, zombies, Canada, transgender issues, George Carlin, war, peace, death, and taxes. Thank you for helping me learn that I love sociology. Thank you for exposing me to life-changing ideas which have my own understanding of myself and others, and reduced my own ignorance. Thank you for making it possible to avoid paying $22.50 for what I think will be an amazing book, only to open it, read six pages, and decide it's for the birds. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a better person, employee, mother, friend, daughter, and partner through reading and self-discovery.

A library card truly has been my ticket to the world. Thank you, Dr. Norman, from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Challenge, When Master's is Complete

Sooooo... I am a few months away from finishing my Master's of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration. I know that this will free up some time to read, and I intend to catch up on every bit of reading that I've missed while I've been reading ridiculously boring textbooks.

I'm toying with the idea of setting a new goal for myself - one that will require me to have my nose in a book ever spare minute of the day. The goal is to read 100 books in a year - that's about 2 books per week for an entire year.

I got the idea after reading a blog post about how this goal could be attained. The essential idea is to constantly be reading, whenever you can spare a moment. So, I figured why not? Here is my [working] plan:
  • Read e-books on my Kindle, which can bookmark my progress from device to device (I tried it today going from Kindle to smart phone, and it works)
  • Load the Kindle app on my PC at work and catch up on my lunch breaks, between projects, or when my brain needs a rest from writing
  • Keep an audiobook going in my car, listening to it during my commute and any long trips.
  • Keep a book on my bedside table and read - instead of watching TV - for at least thirty minutes before bed.
  • Add audiobooks to my smartphone so that I can listen to them while I'm doing brainless repetitive database work that requires no cerebral effort.
I may decide to subscribe to Audible so I never have any down time between audiobooks, just in case my library holds don't come in in a timely manner.

I'm mom of two kids, with an OCD boyfriend, and a full time job. I figure if I can read 100 books in a year, anybody can do it.

God, just imagine what I'll learn about the world, about others, and about myself.

Book 133: The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery by Sam Kean

It's been weeks since I finished reading this book but it still stick in my memory forever. What a great book about the history of neurosurgery. Author Sam Kean has a way of telling stories about discoveries in science that make them come alive. I loved this book the moment I picked it up; I couldn't put it down and finished it in four days.

Neurosurgery has never been an exact science, and those who dove headfirst into its study were branded sick or crazy. Not surprisingly, a good many of the discoveries in neuroscience were made by mistake or by sheer luck. The author provides a variety of stories from the middle ages with a jousting match gone bad, to a Philadelphia institution where a famed physician studied phantom limbs in Civil War amputees.

Sam Kean is a wonderful storyteller who uses metaphors (thank goodness) to describe complex medical conditions and practices. In some cases, the stories are utterly hilarious. In some cases, totally disheartening, or disgusting. But trust me, if you like history and can handle a mild dose of gore, this book will keep you riveted.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Book 132: Still Alice by Lisa Genova - UBC

UBC = Unfinished by choice

My coworker walked into the lunchroom and said, "You're reading that book?" I said, "Yes, it's for book club. It's really depressing." She said, "Yeah, that's a sob fest." I asked, "It doesn't get any better?" "Nope."

At that point, I made the decision not to read any further.

It turns out although I'm a sucker for the grisliest horror stories around, a story about a woman who has earl-onset Alzheimer's disease is my worst nightmare. At 54, Alice is diagnosed - without a doubt - with the disease that steals memories and lives.

So, after about 64 pages, I gave it up.

Onward and upward!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Book 131: Factotum by Charles Bukowski

I bought this book because the cover caught my eye. Turns out the cover was the most interesting aspect of the book. I still don't know what the point of this book is or why Bukowski even wrote it. I kept thinking that maybe the point of the book was that there was no point.

A factotum is a person who does many different jobs. Charles Bukowski's Factotum is about a young man who drifts from one job to the next with no direction. His main goal is to keep a job just long enough to pay the rent and buy alcohol for him and his unpredictable girlfriend.

Still, even if the topic wasn't all that interesting, the book flowed and continued to hold my interest throughout.

So it wasn't the worst book I ever read, but there was no reason to get excited about it. But like I said, maybe that was the point. Who the heck knows... make the call yourself.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book 130: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

It's difficult for me to review this book. It hit me - emotionally - on so many levels. The biography - into which the writer eventually enters as a character himself - was a deep and probing account of a promising young man's life cut short.

Rob Peace - "Shawn" to his friends - was raised by his mother in East Orange, New Jersey. His mother and father had never married, but both had an impact on Rob's character and future. As he grew, his curiosity and ability became evident, and Jackie provided him with every opportunity she could afford to give. In the end, Rob blows everyone away with his academics and love for others.

Author Jeff Hobbs had to really dig into Rob's past to tell this story. I can imagine he must have conducted hundreds of interviews to have such a well-rounded view of Rob's life. The writing was well organized, engaging, and never boring. I finished this book in just a few days - I couldn't put it down. Kudos to Hobbs - this book was badass.

I'll remember this book - I hope you'll take the time to read it and learn about the life of one Robert Peace. Despite all of his flaws, his story is inspiring, to the very end.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Book 129: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Our Smyrna Public Library Book Club selected this book for all of us to read. I didn't start out loving it, and I didn't end up loving it, either, but it was a good read in the end.

Like The Screwtape Letters (the bane of my assigned reading in high school - only to be topped by the bleary-eyed total aggravation that was Ethan Frome) - this book was written in the letters from one character to another. The reader has to figure out pretty quickly who these characters are, or lose touch completely with the story line. I was immediately put off when I realized the book was formatted this way - it takes so much work to stay on track.

I read the book nearly to completion during the big snowstorm at the end of January. It took 100 pages for me to get hooked in, and normally - if it hadn't been a book club assignment - I would have dropped it altogether. My life's too short to read books that don't grab me and drag me screaming in horror or delight into the depths of its plot.

In the end, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a charming little book, worth the patience it took to get through it. At the end, I was a little bit charmed and certainly in love with many characters within the book, and I forgave the author for dragging me through the first 100 pages.

I would encourage you to give this book a chance, even if the letter format isn't your cup of tea.

Book 128: Incendiary by Chris Cleave

I began this book several years ago but couldn't finish it. Not because it was bad, but because it was wrong for that time of my life and state of mind. I plucked it from my book shelf a few weeks ago because I felt bad that I had left it unfinished. I suppose it made an impact on me, one way or another.

Like it or love it, Cleave's stream-of-consciousness style in Incendiary lends itself to the main character's state of mind, education, and lot in life. The tragic and all-too-real story is told from the perspective of a wife and mother who loses everything in a terrorist attack. Her story is told in the form of a diary or letter - I can't figure out which, exactly - and it's directed to Osama bin Laden.

I won't let loose all of the dirty little details (there are many), but I will tell you that once I started this book - for the second time and at the right time - I couldn't put it down. I read it all in several evenings. It's back on the shelf, but I get the distinct feeling that I've missed some elements that Cleave desperately wanted me to grasp - so a second time through may be warranted.

This book is a bit disturbing, so if you have a problem with sex and violence, you might want to steer clear of it. For me, the disturbing parts were balanced by the character's fortitude and gift for survival despite her circumstances. I'd recommend it, with that in mind.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Books 125, 126, 127 - The Millenium Series Books 1-3 - Audiobooks

As far as I'm concerned, the only way to read these books is to a) listen to them on audiobook and b) listen to them in consecutive order. And that's how I did it. And that's why they rocked.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest are by far some of the most riveting novels I've ever experienced. Among his many talents, the late Stieg Larsson developed characters that were as real and lifelike as any you've met.

Listening to these in audio version made them all the more real and suspenseful. I had to borrow all three of them in a row because I couldn't live without knowing what was going to happen to Lisbeth Salander next. While I was listening to this series, I had a difficult time leaving my car and her riveting story.

Don't miss these - borrow them from your own public library and get caught up.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book 124: Misery by Stephen King

There's nothing quite like reading an old favorite at radically different phases of life. Stephen King's classic Misery was one of the first books I ever dared to borrow from the public library when I was a teenager. More than twenty years of my life has passed since then, and it's just as riveting and scary as ever.

Misery is the story of bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon, who is badly injured in a car wreck in the snow and ice of Colorado. He's "rescued" by mentally ill, horrifyingly unpredictable ex-nurse Annie Wilkes, who "nurses" him back to "health." Wilkes is also a crazed super-fan who decides to hold him hostage until Sheldon revives Misery, the main character of his bestselling novels, whom he killed off in his "final" book

For me, Misery is horrifying on multiple levels. One - being held hostage by an extremely mentally ill woman; two - becoming addicted to pain medications that only pause the agony; and three - living forever with post-traumatic stress. Oh, and having limbs hacked off with an axe and electric knife - yeah, that's terrifying, too.

I've said it a million times - Stephen King is a master at developing characters. It takes imagination, research, and insight to write someone as screwed up as Annie Wilkes. While reading this, I've often wondered how King could acquire such a deep understanding of Paul Sheldon's emotions while trapped in this predicament. It's almost as if King would need to live something as dark and terrible to be privy to Sheldon's thoughts and emotions.

Thirty one years after its publication, Misery is still just as awful, gross, and juicy - and I love it. 

Book 123: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee narrated by Reese Witherspoon (Audiobook)

With all due respect to Harper Lee, this book could have stayed unpublished forever, and we'd all have been better for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and the movie starring Gregory Peck is one of the best book-to-movie classics. Moreover, Atticus Finch has been one of my most beloved characters, so well written he was nearly real. For me, Go Set a Watchman unraveled the hero that was so carefully put together. I am beyond disappointed; I'm heartbroken.

Furthermore, something is wrong with the tone of this book. There's too much of something, and I just couldn't put my finger on it. It's almost as if the two books were written by completely different authors, rather than one person, several years apart. There were disconnections throughout, and story elements seemed to come out of thin air with little explanation. I was lost for a good portion of this book and had to go to online forums to clarify certain parts. What a headache.

This is the first book I've ever truly regretted reading. The beautiful characters I've had in my mind of Scout, Jim, Henry, Dill, Atticus, and Calpurnia have been ruined; I can't get them back.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book 122: The King's Speech: How one man saved the British monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (Audiobook)

Even if you didn't love the movie starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, the story of the speech therapist and his relationship with King George VI is a poignant one.

This book was written by Lionel Logue's grandson, who drew from his family's most precious possessions - the letters between his grandson and the king - to piece together the history of their relationship.

Although I loved the movie and saw it shortly after it was released, I found myself wondering more about this quiet nugget of history. Logue's book fills in many of the gaps - such as how Lionel Logue established himself as a notable speech therapist first in his home country of Australia, then in Great Britain. The book also describes quite differently the persona of King George VI - a.k.a. "Bertie" - and his willingness to not only cooperate but his drive to exceed everyone's expectations. In his journals and correspondence, Lionel Logue describes the king as one of the hardest working students he'd ever had.

The audio version - read by expect narrator and linguist Simon Vance - vividly brings the fantastic story to life. He effortlessly aces British, French, American, and Australian linguistics, lending to the story's credibility and impact on multiple cultures.

If you don't borrow this from your local library, you're missing out. I was impressed on so many levels.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book 121: Revival by Stephen King (Audiobook, read by David Morse)

While some folks may hate Stephen King's reaaaaaaally screwed up brain, I look at it as a national treasure. I've said it before and I'll say it again: King is a master at creating characters that matter to you.

Revival is a messed up, sad, depressing book, but it was so well written. Like many of King's books, he has a way of telling a story that makes you beg for resolution and clarity despite knowing something horrible is waiting right around the corner. And, true to form, King took time in Revival to build his characters, the environs around them, and his creative (if twisted) plot. In this book, he exercised his most voluptuous talent - creating characters so vibrant and thick with realness that my heart broke when theirs did.

This book starts out relatively normal, but hits the crazy skids in no time flat. It is the story of a young boy who meets the new pastor of his family's church, and then tragedy strikes. The pastor's picture-perfect life is shattered, and he transforms from a cool, well-mannered country preacher to a broken, jaded man.

I can't tell you anymore or I'll ruin the story. I'll say this - I do recommend borrowing the audiobook from the library. Listening to David Morse read this story was, in itself, a treat.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Re-reading my truest literary loves

I've said before that I'm a book snob, and that I only read books that hook my attention and maintain it.

There are a few select books that will always be part of my permanent collection. They are the first titles that my eyes see when I look at my shelves - old, familiar friends. I call these - my truest literary loves - the "re-readables."

True "re-readables" are those books that offer tiny details that are missed on the first read-through or are revealed so carefully that one can only see them after finishing the book. Or, perhaps the book has such profound ideas that I want to understand their themes during each stage of my life. In any case, a re-readable grips me so fully that it's impossible to resist another read.

So few books are on my list of "re-readables." They include Diary by Chuck Palahniuk (which I am currently reading for the third time), Where the Birds Never Sing by Jack Sacco, Night by Elie Wiesel, It by Stephen King, Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Innocent Man by John Grisham, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and Last Words by George Carlin.

Choose carefully the books that you allow into your life, and indulge yourself over and again when you find those that truly speak to you. Keep exploring literature and make your own list of re-readables. I promise you won't regret it.

I can't wait until I discover my next true literary love.

Book 120: Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the legacy of mental illness, addiction, and suicide in my family by Mariel Hemingway (Audiobook) with Ben Greenman

Let me start by saying I accidentally borrowed this book from the library while I was trying to find books by Ernest Hemingway. Really, it wasn't half bad. Mariel's story offers insight on one of the America's most famous families.

I felt that Mariel Hemingway wrote a pretty decent book in Out Came the Sun, but the audio version - which the author read herself - was filled with mistakes. Whole sections of the audio book were obviously re-recorded, and I had a difficult time getting past her mispronunciations of words that were certainly not hers, but those of her editor. Mariel would have done well to hire a seasoned reader instead.

Thankfully, the story was an interesting one. Mariel Hemingway is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, and although she never met him, her life was influenced by his legacy. Unfortunately, their family history was riddled with alcoholism, suicide, and mental health issues, and Mariel was all too aware of it from an early age. I found it fascinating that Mariel was almost like an outsider in her own family - seeing her parents and sisters as different from the norm - for better or for worse. Questioning their traditions, their choices, and their way of life.

To be fair, Mariel does say that she did not inherit her grandfather's talent for writing. At times, the book sort of stalled and sputtered. The momentum was sort of off. Still, her life story needed to be told, and as I said, it wasn't half bad.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (Audiobook) - UBC

UBC = Unfinished by Choice

As I was listening to this audiobook, I wished for the simplicity of The Old Man and the Sea. 

For some reason, this book made me anxious. I was waiting for something (anything) interesting to happen. Instead, I was meeting boring characters, one after the other. I kept asking if there was a point, and would we be getting to it soon?

I removed the third CD from my player after I found myself saying aloud, "Oh, shut the hell up, Frances."

My nickname for this book will be Privileged Annoying People in Paris.

To post or not to post... that is the dilemma.

I'm debating whether I should post books that I've hated and haven't finished. There are quite a few books on the "unfinished" list, including (more recently): the Catcher in the Rye, The Black Dahlia Files, The World According to Garp, and so on. I suspect that more Ernest Hemingway books are about to be added to that list.

Maybe I sound like I give up easily, but in reality, I know I can only read so many books in my lifetime. I choose my books like I choose my friends, and I'm very picky. If a book doesn't grab my attention within the first hundred pages, it gets the heave-ho. I don't waste my time on books and authors that don't appeal to me.

That seems so negative. I sound like a snot.

I will post them, but I won't count them against my total books read. And I'll also give the reason why I didn't continue to read them.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Book 119: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Audiobook read by Donald Sutherland)

This summer, my goal was to read the works of Ernest Hemingway. Although I have admired his legacy for being the most flawed and brilliant American author, I haven't been able to read a single one of his books front cover to cover.So far, he has been the only author that I wish I could read, but couldn't bring myself to do it.

Turns out, The Old Man and the Sea, read by Donald Sutherland, was a good place to start.

The story is a simple one. A fisherman down on his luck heads has been been branded by the town as a lost cause. His fishing companion who he calls "the boy," has been instructed by his parents to stay away from the old man, should he become equally cursed. Alone on the 85th day, the old man heads out to sea, hooks an 18-foot marlin, and is dragged - skiff and all - out to the deep, dark sea. A seemingly endless battle between the old man and the marlin ensues, and the fish is finally subdued. The old man lashes the fish to his skiff, only to have it eaten away by sharks before he can get back to shore to show the rest of the town. After the old man collapses in exhaustion, the townspeople find the skeleton of the marlin, still lashed to the skiff, and cannot believe the size of it.

I put myself into the shoes of someone who had never heard of a marlin or harpoon or skiff, and all at once, I got it. The simplicity and beauty of this book lies in Hemingway's ability to observe a fisherman's tasks and write them in a way that they become meaningful to others.

This was an absolutely riveting book, filled with details that only a seasoned observer could relay. The details make this book.

P.S. Before I finished this book, I had a dream that I ran into Donald Sutherland at a restaurant and that I told him I was grateful that he had decided to record this audiobook, because I could actually ingest Hemingway because I love his voice.

Book 118: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build your routine, find your focus & sharpen your creative mind

This little book was a wonderful inspiration to me. It's a compilation of essays on harnessing your creative energy and beating burnout.

The many excellent lessons in this book include waking up early and writing three pages of free flowing thought in order to get your brain moving. Another lesson - working creative time into your work calendar each week, scheduling it as an uninterruptible time for you to explore ideas and create.

Finding the balance between having to be creative at work and wanting to maintain your art is a difficult thing. My obligations at home make it hard to find time to explore my personal hobbies. I'm either too tired when I get back to "play" or I have no desire to pull everything out to make a mess, which is usually necessary to my creative process. I felt like a lot of the suggestions in this book were immediately applicable to my own situation, and to that of others in a similar situation.

No matter how much you may love your job, it's easy to feel beleaguered when you're in a position that requires you to tap into your creativity on an hourly basis. Pick up this book, if for no other reason than to feel like others have the same difficulty.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book 117: Lone Wolf by Jodie Picoult (Audiobook)

First of all, let me say that I really have enjoyed Jodie Picoult's books up until this point. However, this book disappointed me on many levels. And I feel so bad, because Jodie is a badass writer.

I read this book for our book club at the Smyrna Public Library. Sometimes our selections are hit or miss for me. This was a complete miss for me.

Although the premise of the book was really wonderful - the parallels between the familial relationship of wolves and those of the Warren family - I felt that Picoult's execution was lacking. The honest to goodness truth is that toward the middle of the book, I began to get bored. The more it went on, the more bored I got. By the time I got to what I hoped was the end, I was no longer interested in the Warren family. I just wanted their suffering - and my suffering - to be over.

Stephen King is the master of suspense. He is an expert at building momentum and keeping his readers on the edge of their seats. Although Picoult is a creative storyteller, an awesome researcher, and generally knows how to engage her readers, she misses the mark with her attempt at suspense. The problem is, I've read King extensively, and I know what suspense is supposed to feel like. Instead, listening to this book felt like an absolute chore. I wanted it to end long before it did.

Although I missed the book club discussion on Lone Wolf, I've heard that many of those in attendance loved it. Since the book is also a #1 New York Times Bestseller, I suppose this only proves that I'm just as square a peg as I've always been. I'm okay with that.

Book 116: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Hands down, this was one of the most riveting books I've ever read. In fact, I think I finished it in just two days.

This is the story of Michael - a young man who falls in love with a woman - Hanna - who is more than ten years his senior. The circumstances of their first meeting are questionable, and seemed to set the tone for the rest of their relationship. They embark on a physical relationship, and Michael follows every tryst with hours of reading to Hanna.

Their relationship becomes complex, and Hanna eventually disappears. Years later, Michael - a law student - finds himself in a courtroom. To his great surprise, Hanna is the one on trial.

I won't give away the ending, but I will tell you that the entire story was beautifully crafted from beginning to end.

I haven't seen this movie yet, because I've heard mixed reviews. I suppose I'll eventually get to it, but I'm afraid nothing will compare with the experience of reading this book.

Back to it

Well, I've just finished up the last of my coursework for my Bachelor's degree in organizational leadership at Thomas Edison State College. So this means - ta da! - I can read for leisure and professional development again. It's such a relief to be done.

So, I plan to blog about every book I read, because I've missed it. Hope I haven't lost all of my readers by this point!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book 115: An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff

This is a beautiful book that will make you feel like you can really, truly, do more to help your fellow human.

The author Laura Schroff is very straightforward. doesn't coddle her readers with the most illustrious writing you've ever seen. There's no need for that. Her style (and/or that of her editor) is simple, to the point, and effective enough to tell her story, which is profound enough as it is.

This is the story of Laura and Maurice, an advertising executive and a child beggar. Laura saw Maurice on the streets of Manhattan and stopped to take him out for lunch. He was only 10 or 11 at the time, and was starving. His father had disappeared and his mother and grandmother were addicts. They continued to meet for dinner every Monday evening, and through their experience, they each learned invaluable life lessons and gained friendship which in turn, defined them.

This is a must-read, as far as I'm concerned. I couldn't put it down.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book 113: World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom by Jane C. Elkin (Review Requested)

This beautiful little book was so inspiring!

Jane C. Elkin is/was a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language) and taught people of many different nationalities. This tiny book of poetry accomplishes the task of communicating powerful descriptions of her students and her teaching experience with just a few words. She effectively shows variations in her students' cultures and backgrounds, giving us a whiff of their struggles, allowing us to imagine even further their lives outside of the classroom. Her style gives the reader just enough to get the imagination going.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Elkins' collection of poetry, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

Book 114: A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer (Audiobook)

"One of the worst child abuse cases in history came to an end in 1973."

Whether or not all of this story is true, I don't know. There is a debate about its validity. However, I have learned that truth is stranger than fiction, so this story is not all that bizarre when compared to the rest of the crazy stuff that has happened. After all, look at Auschwitz, Dr. Mengele, and people like Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

This is a sad tale. As I listened to Pelzer's account of his mother's crazed behavior directed only at him (while he had three, then four other siblings), I thought about how many children had similar tales and did not survive. 

The fact that this could happen, and that a father could allow a mother to do these horrible things to his own son, while a community could ignore (for the most part) the horrors that occurred within it. This boy's plight, full of horror, was noticed by teachers and reported to child protective services. He was raised in foster care from then on.

Not my favorite narrative style, although the story needs no embellishment to be powerful.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book 112: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (Audiobook)

Okay, so until this point, I haven't really been a fan of Vietnam war stories. Unless it was a protest book, I wouldn't even give it the time of day. However, this was recommended by a friend who is similar in her belief systems.

This is a beautifully written book. Tim O'Brien drew from his own experience in Vietnam and wrote this series of short stories about the experiences of his platoon. The audiobook, read by my very favorite audiobook reader, Tim Stechschulte, who has a raspy, gravelly voice that I just adore.

O'Brien captured - for me - the plight of the soldiers - just trying to survive from day to day in this ridiculous mess they had entered because they were expected to do so. "Too afraid to be brave" to dodge the draft is the term I believe he used. He said he was a coward, so he went to war. That's a different way to put it.

The platoon encounters all of the difficulties most people know about Vietnam - the trenchfoot and the snakes and the bugs - but discusses in further detail the kills, the sadness, the odd appearance of an American civilian, and the sounds of the jungle. This isn't your average Vietnam war memoir.

I don't know that I would have loved this book as much if I had picked up the hard copy. The reader, for me, made this book feel authentic. I loved it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book 111: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (Audiobook)

Well, it isn't every day you get to listen to a book like this. I was fascinated from the very beginning, and it kept my attention all the way through. This book was an emotional roller coaster. 

The audio version was read by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin, who embodied their characters Levinia and Belle with great authenticity. 

Turns out that this book is based on author Kathleen Grissom's experience purchasing land in the deep south, finding something on a map that piqued her curiosity. This excerpt is from her web site, 

"A few years ago, my husband and I restored an old plantation tavern in Virginia. While researching its past I found an old map on which, near our home, was a notation, ‘Negro Hill.’ Unable to determine the story of its origin, local historians suggested that it most likely suggested a tragedy. For months it played on my mind. Each morning, I walked across our land to go down to the stream where I would meditate, and on my return trip I faced the direction of Negro Hill and wondered aloud what had happened there?
     Finally, one morning when I returned from that walk, I sat down to do my daily journaling. What happened next left me baffled. In my mind’s eye I saw a scene play out as clear as a movie. I began to write, and the words flew onto the paper. I followed in the footsteps of a terrified little white girl, running up the hill behind her frantic mother. When they reached the top, through their eyes, I saw a black woman hanging from the limb of a large oak tree. I set my pencil down, appalled at the story line. I had written the prologue toThe Kitchen House. Although fascinated by antebellum history, I abhorred the thought of slavery and had always shied away from the subject. Quickly I slipped the writing in my desk drawer, determined to forget about it.
    Some weeks later, during a conversation with my father, I learned that an acquaintance of his had traced his ancestry back to Ireland. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, this man’s Irish ancestors had come over on board ship and, on that journey, both of the parents had died. Two brothers had survived, along with their little sister. They were able to track what had happened to the boys but they couldn’t find any trace of the little girl. As my father related the story, a deep chill ran through me. In my deepest core, I knew immediately what had happened to her. She was brought home to the Captain’s plantation as an indentured servant in Southside Virginia, and put to work in the kitchen house with the kitchen slaves. She awaited me in my desk drawer.
    I began to do the research. I visited the many plantations in the area, particularly Prestwould Plantation. I studied slave narratives from that time period and interviewed African American people whose ancestors had been slaves. I spent hours in local libraries, the Black History Museum, the Virginia Historical Society and Poplar Forest. I visited Colonial Williamsburg many times over. Finally I began to write. Each day more of the story unfolded and when I finished, often emotionally spent, I was left to wonder what the following day would bring. The only time the work came to a standstill was when the characters took me to an event or to a place where I had not yet done my research.
     I tried on a number of occasions to change some of the events (those that I found profoundly disturbing) but the story would stop when I did that, so I forged ahead to write what was revealed.
    I am forever grateful to the souls who gifted me with their sharing. I can only hope I have served them well."

I love this author for her honesty and for her hopes for authenticity. What an excellent reason for writing a story. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book 110: GOD, NO! by Penn Jillette

Fact #1: Penn Jillette is an atheist.
Fact #2: Penn Jillette is insane.
Fact #3: Penn Jillette is funny as all hell.

This is the first book I've ever read by Penn. Prior to that, I've seen some of his Bullshit! YouTube videos and a few interviews, and I also watched him religiously (ha ha) on The Celebrity Apprentice. I thought his performance on that show was less than effective. Gotta love him though. His suggestions were so out-of-the-box that there were times people just looked at him like he was crazy. : ) (He is.)

Although sometimes disgusting at times (I said, "TMI, dude!!!" about a million times), the book kept my rapt attention. This book is equal parts funny, wise, and inappropriate. Not every story was god-based, but had to do with the reality of life.

The chapters on Penn's kids were priceless, and as a parent, I've had a lot of the same sentiments about God, Santa, Rudolph and... ugh... Dora the Explorer. Honestly, I was cracking up right and left through those chapters.

This book is NOT appropriate for my mother!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book 109: A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs (Audiobook)

Hi there, sorry it's been so long since I've posted any reviews. My education is taking priority right now, plus all the management and leadership books I can stand to read.

First of all, you can say what you want about Augusten Burroughs, but he is an original. I've got to embrace the oddities that make him him because his brain works in ways that are familiar to me, even though i don't always agree with the way he writes (and in this case, narrates) his books.

The Wolf at the Table is an utterly terrifying memoir about Augusten's father. In his previous books, we've gotten random views of his childhood experiences beginning in his early teens with his mother's apparent mental illness and addiction issues, but nothing has been quite this intimate and raw before. The abuse that he suffered at the hands of his father makes my "banner mother" days look like child's play. I thought I would cry when I listened to his story of Ernie, his beloved Guinea pig. R.I.P., Ernie. It's a damn shame, whatever actually happened to you.

Okay, so I was a little bit irritated with some of the more distracting sound effects interspersed throughout the audiobook. Although I knew Augusten was going for something different, I kept thinking, "Come on, Augusten, stop indulging yourself." His narcissism came through loud and clear on this one, although I have to say, at least the guy owns it. It was an experience, listening to this in my car, hearing the emotion in Augusten's sometimes raspy voice. He sometimes got so caught up in his own words that I think he forgot we were all listening. He came unglued a few times. He's human, and maybe that's why I pick up just about everything he publishes.

I think I'll always love Augusten for his ability to yank me from reality, and for his honesty.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book 108: The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin (Audiobook)

Anyone who has ever read a book by Seth Godin knows that it can feel as though he wrote his books just for you. He tackles issues that are universal, yet his style can feel very personal, focused, and singular. This audio version is particularly poignant because it is read by the author.

Icarus Deception is the third or fourth book that I've read by Seth Godin. Seth is a revolutionary thinker who has been ahead of the curve in countless ways. This book is all about creating your own art (not just graphic art or visual art or tactile art) and essentially cutting your own path into the world.

The reason I think I loved this book was because it was short, sweet, and to the point. The Icarus Deception is heartfelt encouragement from the author to live authentic, creative lives, despite discouragement from employers, friends, or colleagues. If you can't do your art where you are, find a person or a company who you can work for and continue to develop your art. It's a fascinating, happy, and brilliant idea. Follow your heart, find your place, stay focused, grow.

Pick this book up as soon as you can, you'll love it.

Book 107: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Audiobook)

So far, this is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read... er... listened to.

Beautifully assembled from beginning to end, Cutting for Stone is the story of conjoined twins who are separated and raised at "Missing Hospital" in Ethiopia. Their story is intriguing - twins who learn the art of medicine from their surrogate parents in a third world country.

Although I could have done without some of the extremely descriptive renderings of surgical procedures (my skin crawled for the first several chapters of this book), the author didn't skimp on anything else, so the gore and violence didn't seem extravagant.

I absolutely loved this book, and I actually listened to the last CD of this audiobook because I felt such a great loss when it ended.

And by the way, to quote my friend T from the Smyrna Book Club, "The narrator can do ANY accent or voice perfectly." The author is a masterful storyteller and the narrator was the perfect addition to the story.

This book was absolutely heart-stopping in places... it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Beautiful, sad, and yet, an absolute delight of literary craftsmanship.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book 106: The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz (Audiobook)


I really, truly, wanted to love this audiobook.

Although I didn't like the narrator much (he was very monotone, I got very tired easily), the book was a bit dry. Usually, I love books on economics and sociology, but this one was difficult to get through.

By no means was the author a bad writer. In fact, he did his job in getting my blood boiling on the topic of corporate greed and government bailouts. In that way, the book was very effective. Joseph Stiglitz is no idiot; and his solutions for restoring the power of the U.S. economic system made a lot of sense to me.

Despite whatever good facets the book had, I wasn't able to get into it. I felt myself wishing it would end a lot sooner than it did. I felt bad for the author, because I think the narrator could have made the audiobook feel more like a book and less like a dreary news report.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Books 104 & 105: "Plugged" & "Screwed" by Eoin Colfer (Audiobooks) Read by John Keating

Although I'm not sure you'll get the chance I did, you'll probably want to pick up both of these audiobooks at the same time. Once I got through Plugged, I wanted to start Screwed right away. 
The story of Daniel McEvoy is, well, crazy. Daniel is an Irish ex-soldier who spent a lot of time in "the Lebanon" doing "peacekeeping" work for the U.N. He leaves the service, emigrates to the U.S., and works in New York City for a while as a bouncer. Eventually, he winds up living and working in a casino in Cloisters, NJ, which is a seedy place at best. 
Daniel McEvoy could have the worst luck of any character ever written, and most of the bad luck comes from being associated with his best friend, also of "the Lebanon", Dr. Zebulon "Zeb" Kronsky. 
On a routine trip to get his hair plugs inspected by Zeb, he finds the office ransacked, accidentally kills a mobster, and finds himself in a hornet's nest that just keeps getting worse. 
These books were filled with scenarios that were riotously funny, keeping me giggling on the ride to and from work. Both stories were out of this world, but Colfer's writing really made the story feel authentic. And John Keating, with his Irish lilt, was the perfect choice as narrator.
I won't tell all Daniel's secrets... you'll have to discover them for yourself. Both of these audiobooks get an A+ rating from me! I absolutely loved them. 
If you have an aversion to violence or profanity, you might want to skip these. Or, you could use them as a delightfully naughty break from the norm. 

Book 103: By Their Father's Hand / The True Story of the Wesson Family Massacre by Monte Francis

True crime is not normally my genre of choice, but I saw this at the library and needed a beach book short notice and it grabbed my curiosity. I have always been a fan of the macabre, but this book took macabre to a new level. 
I'm not sure where to start.
The Wesson family lived in California, in and around the Fresno area. They were an enormous family - 12 people, I think - and they all lived together in campsites, on a defunct freighter, and in a storefront property. Marcus Wesson, father, led them from one place to another, living on welfare checks and foodstamps to keep the family afloat. Wesson was father to all, uncle and husband to some, grandfather and father to others. He had sexual relations with all of his daughters and nieces with his wife's permission. Eventually, he was responsible in some way for their deaths, either committing the murders himself or orchestrating and carrying out a family murder-suicide plan.
Believe it or not, this story gets weirder, but I'll let you discover this for yourself. It was not a pleasant book to read, although it gripped me from the outset. 

Book 102: That Book Woman by Heather Henson (Pics by David Small)

As you well know, this is not a blog for children's books. However, once in a while one will touch my heart and I have to write about it.

This is a beautiful book about a child who never understood the power of reading until he watched a "book woman" travel in rain, sleet, and snow to deliver library books to his younger sister. He snubs reading and sees it as a luxury.

One day, he asks his sister to read with him. Although he's hesitant at first, he eventually comes around. The story is simple, beautiful, and made me smile.

Pick up this book if you love a reluctant, hard-headed little boy, like I do.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Great Article for Summer Reading / 10 Books to Better Understand the World by Jacqueline Novogratz

I pulled this article from my LinkedIn News this morning - make sure you read the comments at the end of the article if you go to the original article!
By Jacqueline Novogratz
I always think that summer is going to be a time to slow down, but in many ways, life continues apace at Acumen – and increasingly, for everyone I know. While I love traveling for work and pleasure, I also find deep joy in exploring the world through reading. My list is actually a lot longer than the following 10, but here's what I've been reading lately.
1. Lesley Hazleton – After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam
This is a must-read to understand the history of the Shia-Sunni divide. Lesley Hazleton writes with the eye and voice of a novelist and brings the people and stories of Islam to life in a way that is at once powerful and unforgettable. Given all that is happening in the Middle East, this should be required reading for all global citizens, really. I promise you will not only learn a lot, but this is one you can read on the beach as well. I started reading it on a rainy Sunday morning and didn't get off the couch until I'd turned the last page.
2. Vali Nasr – The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
Moving from the history of Islam, Nasr draws us into the state of Islam today. He addresses Middle East foreign policy and the future of American influence and power. Vali is an important voice in foreign affairs and this is the right time to read this book.
3. Taiye Selasi – Ghana Must Go and 4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
Two beautiful works of fiction that I promise will captivate you in remarkable ways. Ghana Must Go follows a family brought together in Accra after a father’s death and Americanahis centered on a Nigerian woman living in the U.S. Both novels deal with torn identities and the power of Diaspora communities in today's modern world. You will feel absorbed into these strong character’s lives as their stories unfold. I love that they are written by remarkable African women – voices for a new generation.
5. Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance
Bombay is one of my favorite cities and I’ve regularly visited it over the last decade. A Fine Balance is Dickensian in spirit and scope – fundamental reading to understand what it means to be poor in India – to be human, really. The narrative follows lovable but authentic characters as they battle the effects of political chaos, and divides in society.
6. Joseph Stiglitz – The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future
Professor Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics, dives into the sickening cost of inequality. The concentration of wealth to the top one percent is not good for anyone – and is a phenomenon the wealthy will regret as well as the poor. Stiglitz is a critical voice on this issue and his thinking continues to have enormous impact on our work (he serves as an Acumen board member).
7. Jonathan Rieder – Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation
On April 16 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. If there is a single text that I read each year, it is this one – and it is at the core of Acumen's own reading list given the document's soaring rhetoric and focus on ideas of justice, of equality and of activism. Indeed, we speak often of "moral imagination" or the ability to put oneself in another's shoes and this document is breathtaking in reflecting this idea. Jonathan Rieder has studied King and the Letter extensively, and brings a refreshing perspective to its words and to the writer, social activist and minister who changed the course of history.
8. Mary Oliver – Why I Wake Early
What can I say? I love poetry in general (Hafiz, Rumi, Rilke, Yeats, Heaney, among others), but there is no one I read more consistently than Mary Oliver. Her poems ground me in the beauty of the world, and remind me to observe nature more carefully and thoughtfully, to start my days with gratitude, to feel the sun on my face. Her book Why I Wake Early is the perfect selection of poems for summertime, though I carry a number of the poems in this book with me throughout the year.
9. Seth Godin – The Icarus Deception
Acumen advisor and dear friend Seth Godin continues to push us and his readers past our comfort zones and into creativity. This book explores how all of us can embrace our artistic side and use it to offer something unique to the world. Seth will wake you up to diving more fully into life and refusing "to hide".
10. Chris Lowney – Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World
If you are interested in leadership, I cannot recommend this book more highly. Chris Lowney spent seven years as a Jesuit seminarian and then pursued a long career with JP Morgan as a Managing Director. He found himself asking why we have a crisis of leadership given all the corporate money spent on leadership training, and so explored the work of building the Jesuit "company". He describes the four pillars of Jesuit training — self-awareness, ingenuity (embracing change), love and heroism (energizing ambitions) – and connects these pillars to historic characters, and inspires the reader to want to do and be more. I've come back to read this book twice already and see it as almost a handbook for the kinds of organizations we need to develop in our complex world.
What other books do you recommend that help you understand the world?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book 101: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (Audiobook)

Going Postal is the story of Moist von Lipwig, a conman who miraculously survives an execution and is therefore pardoned from death, only to find himself assigned to a new job: postmaster of the Ankh-Morpork post office, a once-renowned institution that is now horrendously defunct.

Mr. Lipwig finds himself responsible for a post office that has stopped delivering mail. Piled to the ceiling with letters, the building is almost impossible to navigate. Lipwig's odd counterparts hold themselves to a standard on other aspects of the postal service - such as filling the inkwells - despite never delivering the mail. His plight is daunting, but he does the best he can, and winds up experiencing fairly-won victory for the first time in his life.

What a great story line. Terry Pratchett drew me in so quickly that I had a difficult time leaving my car when I was in the middle of a chapter. The imagery and characters made me feel like I had been to Ankh Morpork myself. The characters of Moist, Stanley, Groat, Mr. Pump, Ms. Dearheart, and others kept me laughing.

I would recommend this book to people who love fantasy books that have a resemblance to real life. Anyone who knows a postal employee would get a kick out of this book.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book 100: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (Audiobook)

The story of Shin, a young North Korean, is a riveting one. Shin is, officially, the only person born into captivity in the North Korean camps who successfully escaped.
North Korea is a mystery to many of us. What I have heard scares me. Very few people are allowed into the country, and those that are do not see the brutal reality of life in North Korea. In this book, we learn through Shin's experience that people who were considered subversives as far back as the 1960's have a very serious punishment: imprisonment for them and their families for the next two generations. The idea is to exterminate the entire family line or bleed the "subversive" out of them. Beatings, mental abuse, and physical degradation are the government's methods. People are literally worked to death.

Outside of the camps, in a country where an electric rice cooker is considered a status symbol, you can probably expect that poverty is rampant. Kim Jong Il, his father, and now his son represent the only three-generation dictatorship that has ever existed on earth. The family embezzles the country's resources and leaves the leftovers for the citizens. The country can never be totally self-sufficient but will not allow trade with outside countries. Black market trading is rampant. Shin's own escape was made possible through bribery of starving border guards. The situation is frighteningly dire. All I kept thinking was, "These people are supposed to be developing a nuclear program? With what?"

I was surprised at what Shin revealed to the author Blaine Harden in their interviews. His account is not only riveting, but it was very brave - and risky - for him to share it with us.

My reaction to this book was one of the greatest appreciation.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book 99: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (Audiobook)

BE WARNED: There are several audio versions of this book. One narrator has a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard and another has a soft, warm voice. If you start the audio CD and it bothers you straight away, return it and get the other version.

The problem is, the narrator with the irritating voice reads the unabridged version while the narrator with the pleasant voice reads the abridged version. The end result was I listened to about 1/3 of the unabridged version before I had to shut it off for reasons of self-preservation; then I picked up with the abridged version, and I felt like I was missing large chunks of the story. (The abridged version cuts out a lot of the dialogue.) Whatever. By then, I was so frustrated that I didn't care. I just listened to the rest of the abridged version.

Okay - back to poor old Victor Hugo - the author. He wrote an awesome story. Set in the years prior to the French Revolution, Les Miserables is the story of a convict (Jean Valjean) who is given a second chance at life and chooses to use it for good. I love the character of Jean Valjean because he is imperfect and yet because of his struggles, he becomes perfect. "A saint" according to the young Marius, who courts Valjean's daughter Cosette.

If you felt that the movie or Broadway versions of Les Miserable were a little bit puzzling, it's because they're missing key pieces of Victor's story. For one, I never could figure out how in the world a convict could become a mayor of a town in just a few short years. Well, Hugo's book explains it.

Many of us are so brainwashed by the Cameron Mackintosh Broadway version that we don't think about the intrinsic value of the original text. For me, it was a great idea to begin again to better understand why Cameron Mackintosh chose to build an entire cult phenomenon from this book.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book 98: Adventures with Buster by London Lake Pickett (Review Requested)

I don't usually review children's books but when Ms. Pickett requested a review, I couldn't say no. ("Buster" is the name of my favorite crocheted stuffed dog, lovingly made by my mother, and my daughter Katelyn now sleeps with him every night.) This adorable children's book was sent to me by London Lake Pickett herself. I know we will treasure our copy and the beautiful handwritten note that accompanied it.

When we got the book in the mail, I thought, "Well, I'll get through this in a couple of minutes," so I waited to read it with my seven year old daughter and my four year old son. With London's blessing, I asked the kids to help me review it, and they agreed. Last night we finally got some time to ourselves and sat down and read it, and they loved it.

First, the paintings in this book are gorgeous. Every picture is vibrant and memorable. Second, the book taught us that we didn't know anything about guide dogs. I mean it when I say we knew nothing at all. The kids were stunned when we read the part about Buster wearing a badge that said, "Don't pet me. I'm working." They were amazed that Buster could go to the grocery store with Ms. Pickett. The kids laughed out loud when we read about the rabbit incident. And I myself was surprised that a guide dog's owner has to go through 28 days of conditioning and training prior to taking the dog home. It must be like boot camp, I thought several times. What seemed to make the most impact on me, however, was Ms. Pickett's ability to explain her own vision deficits to children.

The book is on Amazon, but the best way to buy it is to write London Pickett yourself. She is planning to make a series out of the Buster books and continue to write about their lives together. You can reach her at

Thanks, London, for the chance to read and review your story! You have earned Kate & Nate's Official Seal of Approval. I wish you and Buster all the best in your next adventure!
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