Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Butterfly Garden

Literature has given us some of the scariest monsters imaginable, conjured from our deepest and darkest fears; Dracula, Frankenstein, and Pennywise (It), to name but a few. In truth though, the scariest monsters to fear are those of the human-variety; those that hide their depravity and twisted souls behind smiling masks of normalcy and benevolence. The best psychological thrillers are those that can harness that truth, like The Silence of the Lambs, and give us riveting drama, heart-pounding suspense, and at times gut-churning fear all in the comfort and safety of our own home. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison does a darn good job of giving us one such new monster, the Gardener, to add to that lore.

From the publisher: “Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden. In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens. When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself. As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding…”

This was a great yet unsettling read; dark, twisted, and chilling in its depiction of one person’s capacity for evil; definitely not for the faint of heart. The reader learns the truth of this sinister tale through the at times cold and detached interrogation answers provided by the novel’s protagonist, Maya. Her strength, wit, stoicism, and aloofness seem the antithesis of what we expect of a victim, but in truth her bravado hides a girl as scarred and haunted as the rest of the Gardener’s victim; just one so previously battle-hardened and disillusioned by life that she won't let this experience break her. As for our villain, he would be your garden-variety psychopath if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s so disconcertingly oblivious to his own evil, exhibiting a warped reasoning and sick perversion of love that was downright nauseating.

The pacing, narrative and plot of the tale were pretty close to perfect. The author masterfully built the tension, ratcheting up the readers need to know more and more of Maya’s tale, while reasonably raising doubts to our narrator’s honesty and reliability. My one small gripe was the anti-climactic reveal of Maya’s big ‘secret,’ which I felt added nothing to the tale, though in fairness it didn’t detract from it either.

Not a book to be loved per se given its subject, The Butterfly Garden is nonetheless a compelling read. While its darkness ensnares and captivates, it’s the depictions of hope, friendship and the sheer strength of the human spirit to survive in the face of unspeakable horror which resonate the loudest.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a heartbreaking but life-affirming small book; a memoir posthumously published after the author's death at the too young age of 37. Paul Kalanithi was a brilliant young doctor training as a neurosurgeon when diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.

The book is subdivided into two parts; pre- and post-cancer diagnosis. The first half chronicles Paul's path as a young man starting his future, torn between his love of literature and medicine; driven by the need to understand what makes human life meaningful. To him "literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain." Despite his love of the spoken and written word, Paul ultimately listened to his heart's calling and following graduation applied to medical school. With warmth and humanity Paul shares insights into the stresses and moral burdens carried by doctors in the decisions they make for their patients and the lives they touch day-to-day. He shares the sad fact that the first birth he witnessed was also the first death or that he lost his first patient on a Tuesday. Each touching account is laden with compassion and uncompromising honesty.

In deciding to specialize in neurosurgery, Paul explains that "while all doctors treat diseases, neurosurgeons work in the crucible of identity: every operation on the brain is, by necessity, a manipulation of the substance of our selves." Later affirming "Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one's own excellence and a commitment to another's identity". Can you imagine the weight of knowing that you can irreparably change the course of someone's life forever? For better or worse. Through every recollection of patients and surgeries, the reader is given a glimpse into the integral parts of Paul, the man and surgeon. The reader gets a true measure of the man, so that when he says "the call to protect life - and not merely life but another's identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another's soul - was obvious in its sacredness," you sense the truth and conviction of his words. They are more than mere words used to fill a page in a book.

While the first part of the book gives the reader an insight into the man, his talent and calling, the second part gives us an insight into his soul as he lays it bare for us to share in the fears, pain, and sorrows faced as he battled for his life. Through it all, he fought. With his love, Lucy, by his side and later his baby girl Cady, he battled. The words "I can't go on. I'll go on" were his battle cry, until he could fight no more. Though the book ends with an epilogue written by Lucy, recounting Paul's final days, since he was unable to finish the tale of his own odyssey, it is that last paragraph written by his hand addressed to Cady that grips your heart and squeezes, leaving a fist-sized knot in your throat and tears in your eyes, for in them the beauty of this man loved and mourned by so many shines through.

Sometimes in our deepest sorrow and darkest days we find the most profound truths about life and ourselves. When Breath Becomes Air offers a poignant, beautiful and heart-wrenching story of courage, love and honesty, and in so doing, teaches us a little about life as we face our own mortality.

Friday, May 27, 2016


When it comes to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it’s impossible to improve upon perfection, though countless have tried. Both in books and movies, Austen’s classic has seen a veritable smorgasbord of iterations; from Mr. Darcy’s Diary which shared Elizabeth and Darcy’s courtship through our hero’s POV, to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (the title speaks for itself), to Bridget Jones’s Diary, a funny contemporary adaptation, to name only a few. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is the latest modern retelling and brings the Bennet clan across the pond to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

From the publisher: “This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches. Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.”

Love and laughter meet in this likable new novel. Familiar yet new; like finding a favorite toy in a brand new package. The reader has the pleasure of reconnecting with old friends, yet their story sounds new and hip; a fact I found a little disconcerting at times. Some changes were needed (I guess), for example, in today’s day and age, there’s no such thing as a 20+ year old spinster, so writing Liz and Jane as nearing 40 made sense; though in my opinion it sort of changes the dynamic of the tale, doesn’t it? I mean the way you think, feel and love at 20 is so different from 40; at 20, you’re still bold and unfettered by old hurts and heartaches.

Most of the characters retained their charm; loved the father’s pithy sarcastic comments, Mary was annoying as ever, and Kitty and Lydia were a foul-mouthed hoot throughout, breathing a ton of life and uproarious hilarity into most of their scenes. As for Liz and Darcy, the old spark was there but seemed to have lost some of its glimmer, as their courtship lacked the sentimentality and poignancy found in the classic; it felt almost too modern and hip at times with things like “hate sex” thrown into the mix. In some regards I felt that in her attempts to drag the story into the 21st century, the author went above and beyond, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the tale, including hot button topics like reality TV, Obamacare, racism, in vitro fertilization, and even a main character who’s transgender. We’re in the 21st century you say, well yeah sure, those things are part of our current culture, but would ONE American family confront them all?

Eligible was a fun read; clever, engaging, and fresh; but lacking the depth and heart-melting romance of the original. Not true love material, but a fun beach read nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Readathon Anyone?

This might not be doable by those with a spouse, significant other, child, or a life, but since I have none of the aforementioned emotional attachments, and the life part is questionable at times, I'm going for broke. I recently came across a website called Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, which is an actual organized event that takes place twice a year. Thousands sign up, participate and connect via social media. The next one isn't until October, so with no plans for the upcoming holiday weekend, I'm getting in my dry run. As the name would imply it's a reading marathon where you read or listen to as many books as possible within a 24-hour time span. Why? I haven't figured that one out yet. Bragging rights? I mean running the 26.2 mile variety isn’t in my foreseeable future, not if I want a foreseeable future, but if I do this I could honestly say that I participated in a 'marathon' and technically not be lying. Just kidding! I do it for the books of course. It’s all about the books.

Any successful event requires planning, and here a key will be a lot of great books. I’ll have to hit up the library, of course, for my book lineup. I’ll definitely include one or two audiobooks, so I can see the light of day without being stuck at home; I could get my ‘read’ on at the park or at the mall. Snacks are undoubtedly a must. Ooh and some good tea. Having rain fall softly outside my window as I read is a hope outside my purview and would also be a selfish wish given everyone else’s mad rush to the beach during this our official kick-off to summer. As for attire, my yoga pants that have led an unfulfilled life as regular stretchy pants since they've never stepped foot in a yoga class are a perfect go to with an oversized tee. I guess there really isn't that much planning needed after all.

Wish me luck. I'll let you know if I cross the finish line or cramp up and hit the proverbial 'wall' before hour 24. Books, snacks and my couch? I got this in the bag!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sentimental Ol’ Me

I’m slightly ashamed to admit this bit of over the top sentimentality (blame middle age or hormones), but last night a commercial made me cry. Not sob, but the eyes were definitely brimming with tears, though no spill over (thankfully). The saddest part is that it wasn't even Hallmark; they're always good for a tug of your heartstrings. It wasn't the ASPCA Sarah McLachlan one with sad puppy eyes; that ad gets me in the feels every time. But no, not that one either. It was for Lowe’s. Lowe’s, the home improvement store.

In my defense, it was so enchanting, sweet and romantic that it could reduce the biggest curmudgeon to tears. Heck, it could make the Grinch's heart grow three sizes for sure. The ad which I saw while watching The Voice depicts two kids falling in love, but here's the kicker, so do their homes! Take a look for yourself and feel free to mock me next time you see me if you don't agree.

Cue the feelings, right?

It Was Never A Dress

Superherodom is a mantle we women wear well. We might not be Wonder Woman, though no one's ever seen one of us and Wonder Woman in the same room, but darn it if we don't save the day every so often. Seriously, moms, teachers, attorneys, taxi drivers, athletes, politicians, doctors, actors, and so many other roles; we are whatever we set our mind to and we do it well. Ladies, you are awesome and you rock!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Obsession

You can usually tell how much I've loved a book by the amount of time it took for me to read it. One-sitting reads are indicative of a barn-burner of a book that has captured both my heart and imagination. Two-sitting reads imply either a slightly lower level of sentimental engagement to the tale and characters or an undeniable need for sleep. Anything above two sittings means I'm in the weeds for any number of reasons but reluctantly trudging towards the finish line. For example, Find Her was a marathon one-sitting read without even a bathroom break; quite possibly too much information, but that little detail expresses more than words my level of enjoyment and love.

Right about now, you're probably saying, get to the point. Well, this should say it all; Nora Roberts latest novel, The Obsession, took me a week to finish. I'll share some thoughts, but first here's a synopsis from the publisher: “Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes. Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, a rambling old house in need of repair, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the kindly residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton. Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But the sins of her father can become an obsession, and, as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.”

Sounds promising, right? I thought so too. The book starts off great, it's chilling, gripping and emotional. Our main protagonist, for all that she's merely a child at the book's onset, exhibits both a strength and resiliency of character that any reader couldn't help but admire. An integral part of a good book is great supporting characters and here they abound (Seth & Harry, Naomi's loving uncle and partner who become her small family's saving grace; Mason, the younger brother wise beyond his years who becomes Naomi's rock and source of love and support; her mother, a lost and broken woman unable to cope with the truth about the man she loves). Each help to engage the reader and inspire an emotional connection. As the story progresses, our heroine is yet again battered by life but not broken, rising to the occasion and facing the future head on. Good so far.

The novel falters when it reaches present day and we get to the heart of now 28-year old Naomi's tale. Here the novel's high-drama takes a back seat to a budding but less than sizzling romance (it is a Roberts, queen of romantic suspense, novel after all) and the story begins to drag, relentlessly. If you have a good mystery, who needs romance, but here Roberts adds insult to injury by integrating the drama of the novel as seemingly a mere afterthought; a couple murders occur near the last third of the book, the killer's identity is a matter of common sense, leaving the book's ending and resolution rushed and crammed into the last handful of pages.

The Obsession had limitless potential, especially coming from this brilliant author, but for a number of reasons fell short in the delivery. While I feel that this wasn't Roberts at her best, the book might still appeal to her loyal fans or those looking for more romance than riveting suspense.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Son of Saul

I fat assed my Friday night away on the couch with Jasmin watching of all things, Son of Saul, a Hungarian Holocaust film set in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Not the most uplifting of evenings, but I had actually wanted to see the film for some time since it not only won this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but also had the distinct honor of being last year's Grand Prize winner at Cannes.

Simple in plot but complex in its delivery, the film tells the story of Saul, a Jewish concentration-camp prisoner desperately trying to give a boy, whom he's claimed is his son (a fact left in question throughout the film, since other prisoners insist he doesn't have a son), a proper Jewish burial. The horrors of Auschwitz are compounded by guilt for Saul, as he's a member of the camp's Sonderkommando. Prisoners and slave laborers like the rest of their compatriots, the Sonderkommando were given slightly better living conditions (housing, rations, etc.) and their own deaths temporarily delayed, in exchange for the soul-wrenching duty of shepherding their own (men, women and children) to their deaths. Like lambs to the slaughter, they guided new arrivals to the gas chambers; appeasing their fears and easing their panic with their mere presence, as fellow Jews, and promises of a hot tea after a hot shower. Only to have to clean up afterwards, not only discarding of now ownerless belongings but bodies.

I love any film or book that makes me feel; that opens my eyes to someone's plight; that lets me walk a mile in their shoes; especially if it shines a light on our own common humanity. If I experience tears in the course of this endeavor, they are but a small price to pay for what I take away from the experience. With all that said, I'll honestly confess that I found Son of Saul uniquely disconcerting; a riveting, yet grim and tense experience, but one lacking in expressive emotion. First of all, the visuals I think have a lot to do with the general feel of the film. The film is shot in tight close ups, a lot from directly behind the main protagonist's shoulder, and the periphery of the frame is constantly left a blur (a fact you'll look on in gratitude in some instances). The dialogue is limited; no sweeping soundtrack, instead sounds are limited to cries of fear, gasps, quiet conspiratorial conversations, and whispers from Saul. As for the acting, namely the main actor portraying Saul, there is quiet brilliance in every blank stare that chills you in its starkness. Almost like the walking dead, Saul's face and limited words convey no fear, anger or even sorrow, leaving you at a loss to whether he's indifferent to his duties or just numb. The only answer comes in the pained intensity of his eyes and his desperation to fulfill this one act of compassion. In his Oscar acceptance speech, the director said "You know, even in the darkest hours of mankind … there might be a voice within us, that allows us to remain human." I think Saul's obsession with this child (his or not) was his bid to remain human, a fact brilliantly conveyed by both film and actors.

Son of Saul is not mere entertainment, but an eye-opening experience; a new film worthy of being added to the expansive library of Holocaust films, it offers a different perspective from what we've become accustomed. While most other Holocaust films evoke a deep emotional reaction as the viewer connects and empathizes with the effusive and poignant sorrow, horror, and pain conveyed on the screen, Son of Saul instead leaves you almost shellshocked, dazed and unsure of this frightening reality, and in so doing gives us a mind-rattling glimpse at the numbness, apathy, isolation, and silent desperation shared by those mired in hopelessness and disillusionment during this dark time in our history.

Friday, May 20, 2016

I've learned...

I've learned...that the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.
I've learned...that when you're in love, it shows.
I've learned...that just one person saying to me, "You've made my day!" makes my day.
I've learned...that being kind is more important than being right.
I've learned...that I can always pray for someone when I don't have the strength to help him in some other way.
I've learned...that sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand.
I've learned...that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.
I've learned...that we should be glad God doesn't give us everything we ask for.
I've learned...that it's those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.
I've learned...that the Lord didn't do it all in one day. What makes me think I can?
I've learned...that to ignore the facts does not change the facts.
I've learned...that love, not time, heals all wounds.
I've learned...that everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile.
I've learned...that no one is perfect until you fall in love with them.
I've learned...that life is tough, but I am tougher.
I've learned...that opportunities are never lost; someone will take the ones you miss.
I've learned...that when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.
I've learned...that I wish I could have told my mom that I love her one more time before she passed away.
I've learned...that one should keep his words both soft and tender, because tomorrow he may have to eat them.
I've learned...that a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.
I've learned...that I can't choose how I feel, but I can choose what I do about it.

By Andy Rooney (excerpt)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Things I'm Loving Lately

"Happiness is only real, when shared." A sentiment with which I heartily agree! With that thought in mind, I thought I’d share with all of you, some of the lovely things I’m loving lately. Maybe you can find some lovely things of your own through the links provided.
  1. I fell in love with this Blue A-line Sweet Printed Shirt Dress from Stylewe as soon as I saw it. I’m not a regular dress wearer, but I do wear them for special occasions and what could be more special than my knucklehead’s high school graduation! It’s colorful and sharp without being overly dressy. I don't normally order clothes online, so I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed that it fits me as nicely as in the picture. By the way, the dresses on this site are downright dreamy; I mean look at this or this. I have nowhere to wear them, but I was tempted to buy one and just wear it around the house while cleaning.
  2. I recently posted about Letters of Note, but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to reiterate what a movingly beautiful book this is or how much I loved it. Not only do you get to enjoy the poignancy of the letters, but in some instances you'll be looking at a piece of history, since the book not only contains the typed transcript of the letter but in many cases copies of the original in the writer’s own handwriting.
  3. I got such a chuckle when I found these socks on BlueQ. I love the idea of wearing a simple pair of slacks and top, but finishing off my outfit with these naughty socks on my feet. They’re $9.99 a pair, so I started my collection with just the two shown above ('Sup Nerd and There Are Assholes Everywhere (because there are, aren’t there?) It’s kind of like wearing sexy lingerie under drab clothing with no one the wiser; but since this body is not made for sexy lingerie, I figured I'd settle for some funny and/or expletive covered socks. If blue language doesn't tickle your funny bone, know that there's tons of adorable socks from which to choose. My next purchase will definitely include "I love bread" (yes, can you believe it, that's one of the styles).
  4. I got this library card tote to carry what else...but my library books. I thought it was so cute and whimsical, harkening back to the good 'ole days when we actually used library cards instead of bar codes and scanners. Out of Print celebrates great stories through fashion. They have books on t-shirts and other personal and home accessories. Also, for each product sold, one book is donated to a community in need.
  5. I'm loving Britain’s Got Talent! I don’t think it airs here in the U.S., but every season I follow it online via YouTube. Not only do the judges (Simon Cowell (the old curmudgeon has become a big softie since becoming a dad), David Walliams, Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon) have amazing chemistry, but they also attract such an eclectic array of talent year after year and this season is no exception. Standouts so far are Beau Dermott , who sang a goose-bump inducing version of Defying Gravity; Shannon and Peter, a pair of retired professional dancers that mesmerized with a breathtaking and romantic ballet performance; and an emotional duet from mother and daughter Ana and Fia, to only name a few. While there are plenty of singers like most reality competitions, there is also a puppeteer (sweet & silly), acrobat (sexy), and even a sword swallower (scary & thrilling). A little something for everyone.
Lest I forget, let me add that it goes without saying that one constant in my 'things I'm loving' list is all of you! I love y'all like a kid loves Christmas or a mouse loves cheese or I love bread. You get the idea.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In the Blink of An Eye

"The trouble is, you think you have time." - Buddha
I recently viewed a great interview between Barbara and Laura Bush. It was part of an online parent-child interview series titled “Talk to Me.” It was warm, engaging and honestly very touching, as the former First Lady reminisced about her life and shared insightful words of wisdom with her daughter. Near the end of the piece, when asked what she wished she’d known at 34 years old, Barbara’s own age, Laura replied that it was how short life is and that time passes so quickly, a lot faster than you think it’s going to, and to take advantage of every single minute. The truth of those simple words struck me deeply, and I wished that someone had shared them with me when I was younger, because I didn’t grasp them at the time.

Time IS so fleeting but you don't realize that when you're 20 or even 30. You don't realize that in the blink of an eye, you'll be at the midpoint of your life; no longer facing a seemingly limitless number of years in front of you, but instead a finite number. No longer counting up, but counting down. Funny that; it seems I blinked and I'm middle aged. I don't necessarily feel old, but I don't feel young either. I don't have the same idealism of my 20s. I'm a little more cynical about life and people and the world in general. I still believe in the innate goodness of human beings and the fact that there's more good than evil in the world, but now I look at people with a slightly more skeptical eye. While life and time hasn’t diminished my belief in true love, I have grudgingly accepted that not everyone gets a happy ending.

Granted, age is just a number; 48 is the new 38. No? It seems human years have an ever-changing equivalency these days, kinda like dog years. And while I'm not in my dotage, I will confess that though my dreams still linger – a white knight, a happily ever after, writing the next great American novel –reality has reared its ugly head and made me more cognizant that the odds are against me. I'm content (an underappreciated state) and grateful for my countless blessings, because there are many - great and small - despite the lack of a sweeping love story or life-affirming personal accomplishment. In all honesty though, now my grandest hopes and dreams are reserved for my boys, my knuckleheads.

Here too I blinked and my little boys are gone, replaced by two young men bursting at the seams with plans for their future; time leaving behind only the sweet memories of their childhood. Gone are the squirmy little beings that I gently cuddled in my arms; gone are the little boys who smiled with gap-toothed pride when I arrived to their special friends breakfast at school - an honor on par with a knighthood from the queen herself – at least in my heart; gone are the young boys who on a bright blue-skied mother’s day walked across a soccer field to give me, their aunt, two bright yellow roses to mark the day (the roses dried for posterity and in my dresser drawer with countless other mementos); in their place instead are two handsome, amazing teenagers, proudly making plans for proms, sharing photos of new girlfriends, celebrating their teams latest soccer wins and one - dare I say it - packing for college. What will the next blink bring? Hopefully, two amazing men – healthy, happy, fulfilled, loved, and at peace.

Time waits for no man; I'll share that bit of wisdom with my boys, so it doesn't come as news or a surprise to them when they're 48 like me. I'll remind them to enjoy every moment, strive for every dream, live it to the fullest, enjoy it, and bask in the beauty of each new God-given day before it slips through their fingers and most importantly I'll remind them that it all means a little less if they don't share the journey with those they love.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Books, Books and More Books!

Good morning, and in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night! Despite all appearances to the contrary, namely my only handful of posts since January, I’ve been reading tons lately. You’ll be glad to know that I’ve even cast my net wider than usual so far as genres go, and have read something other than my typical mystery/thrillers. Shocking, I know. They’re still my go-to for pure enjoyment, but I’ve sprinkled some biographies and non-fiction books into the mix for good measure, and to my surprise, I’ve loved those too.

Where are the reviews you ask? Hamana, hamana, hamana, as Ralph Kramden used to say. Just kidding! I do have reviews to share, but they’re just a little shorter than usual. Let me explain. While I love being able to share my thoughts on life in general, great new books, and to just kvetch about life’s little headaches and heartaches with each of you on this blog, I’ve always found writing the book reviews a bit of a chore. Going forward therefore I’m going to forego the long detailed reviews I used to post and opt for more simple capsule reviews that are two or three paragraphs in length. I’ve been posting some at work for a Book Club group found on my employer’s Yammer network, and found writing them a much less tedious and more enjoyable experience.

I know there’s only a handful of you guys still reading my blog (thanks, whoever you are), but nonetheless I wanna share all of the amazingly thrilling, gripping, moving, or even downright hilarious books I’ve read so far this year. So, just ‘cause I love you, I’m going to transfer all my early 2016 Yammer reviews here. I have close to a dozen books, which I’ll post on using the dates around which I read them, so peruse the blog carefully and catch them all. Believe me, you’ll be thanking me when you do.

Find Her

A great book can grab its reader right away and keep them reading. In Find Her by Lisa Gardner the book grabs you in the first full sentence (“These are the things I didn’t know: When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening.”) By the end of chapter 2, it’s grabbed you by the throat, slapped you around and said ‘you better keep reading or else.’ If you’re smart, you will, because you’ll end up reading one of the best psychological thrillers of the year.

From the publisher: "Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure…When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape.”

This book was gut-wrenching and gripping and thrilling and, I could go on and on. I loved its suspenseful plot, pacing, and characters, but for me the book’s beating heart was its main protagonist, Flora. Flora was three-dimensional, flawed and real, and I believed and felt her pain and guilt, and I rooted for her to find the peace and redemption for which she searched. Yes, she was scarred, lost and broken, but ultimately a survivor. While some might find fault with her choices, I felt her every decision was shaped by the horrors she experienced, which as a reader we learn about through alternating past and present chapters in the book.

Find Her was an insightful, emotional thriller and a MUST read totally worth last night’s 2:00 AM bedtime.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Letters of Note

Over the last two days I read the most amazing book, Letters of Note. I couldn’t wait to finish it in order to share it with everyone. Yes, I’m one of those. I believe the Latin term is pestis molestus. Undoubtedly, you’ve come across my kind in your daily life, maybe a friend, old aunt or acquaintance that makes an annoying pest of themselves telling everyone they know of any newly discovered book (or movie, or other remotely interesting find), extolling its virtues and not giving up until you’ve experienced its joy too. Don’t you just love us!

Anyway, I digress. Letters of Note is just what its subtitle says “an eclectic collection of correspondence deserving of a wider audience.” It is pure unadulterated brilliance. A collection of 125 letters that will make you laugh, cry and feel every other emotion in between. You’ll find a taunting note from Jack the Ripper that closes with “catch me when you can”, Virginia Woolf’s heartbreaking yet beautiful suicide letter to her beloved husband, a funny and moving response letter from Louis Armstrong to a U.S. Marine stationed in Vietnam (“Music is life itself. What would this world be without good music. No matter what kind it is.”), Leonardo Da Vinci’s job application letter (“Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.”), an escaped slave’s letter to his old master upon a request that he return to work on the old plantation, and my personal favorite, a love letter from renowned physicist Richard Feynman to his deceased wife (oh to be loved like that; its every word had tears rolling down my face), to mention only a few.

While I took the book out of the library, I will be buying my own copy ASAP, because it is a book worthy of being read and re-read so the emotion immortalized on its pages and phrases is forever engraved in my memory. It is a book that will undoubtedly gather dust and dog-eared pages in my nightstand drawer over years and years to come.

PS. A new volume with more letters, including Richard Burton's farewell note to Elizabeth Taylor, Helen Keller's letter to The New York Symphony Orchestra about 'hearing' their concert through her fingers, and the final missives from a doomed Japan Airlines flight in 1985, will be available in October. I can’t wait!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Man's Search for Meaning

In a few regards I found Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl a contradiction in terms; small in size but consequential in its substance, simple in its message but profound in its impact. I stumbled my way to it this weekend in a sheer stroke of luck. It’s not a hot new bestseller, in fact it was first published in 1946 and by the time of the author’s death back in 1997 it had supposedly sold 10 million copies in 24 languages, so I’m undoubtedly preaching to the choir to many of you in singing its praises.

For those of you that like me hadn’t been lucky enough to discover it, I hope you’ll take the time to pick up or download a copy. The book chronicles legendary psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s time as an Auschwitz concentration camp prisoner, and describes his theory which he termed logotherapy that holds that life is not a quest for pleasure or power, but a search for meaning, and stresses that “those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” Relying on his own life experiences as the true testament and foundation for his beliefs, he movingly asserts that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

The meaning of life is different for each of us, but Frankl reminds us that we each have our “own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out” which demands fulfillment. In those words of wisdom along with countless others, like “don’t aim at success…for success, like happiness, cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself,” and through his life’s example he gently guides each of us towards finding our own path to a more meaningful life.

Friday, May 6, 2016

It's Not Easy Bein' Me

I’m the world’s biggest sap when it comes to a good underdog story; one in which the lovable loser beats insurmountable odds and proves all the naysayers wrong, so Rodney Dangerfield’s autobiography, It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me, checked all the boxes for me. This weekend’s read was equal parts funny, entertaining, and touching. Rodney wrote the book in his 80s, and captured a host of fascinating topics; from his less than ideal childhood which really served as the impetus for his career and lifelong search for love and acceptance, his experiences in the comedy club scene of years past, and his departure from the industry at 28 and surprisingly successful comeback in his 40s.

Rodney interspersed life stories with his classic jokes and brought the reader along on a fun filled ride. Here are a few of my favorites:
"I told my doctor I broke my arm in two places. He told me to keep out of those places."

"I live in a tough neighborhood. They got a children's zoo. Last week, four kids escaped."

"A homeless guy came up to me on the street, said he hadn't eaten in four days. I told him, "Man, I wish I had your willpower.""

"I was an ugly kid. I worked in a pet store. People kept asking how big I get."
While I knew Rodney was a comedy icon, before this book I had no idea that we had him to thank for discovering other comedy greats like Jim Carrey, Sam Kinison and Roseanne Barr. With a career that touched fans of all ages, having appeared on shows from The Ed Sullivan Show to Late Night with Conan O’Brien, his trip down memory lane made for a fascinating read. As Jim Carrey said in the book’s foreword, while “I don’t get no respect” might have been Rodney’s classic setup for jokes, this comedy legend has always received nothing but love and respect from his fans – this new fan included.