Tag Archive: book review

Apr 07 2014

#FromLeft2Write: The Opposite of Maybe

The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie DawsonThis post was inspired by the novel  The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson. At the age of 44, Rosie finds herself suddenly single and pregnant. She tries to run away, hiding in her grandmother’s home, but instead is transformed by two men who change her life forever. Join From Left to Write on April 8 as we discuss The Opposite of Maybe. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

It wasn’t until Rosie’s hometown was revealed to be North Haven that I realized the author, Maddie Dawson, lives in my home state. Or, at least, lived there at some point. I was sitting in Starbucks, escaping from my workday for a brief moment, and I literally put the book down to absorb this information. Who writes about Connecticut, anyway? I pulled out my phone and performed a quick search, confirming–yup, only people who live here. And somehow, that made me feel a little more connected.

North Haven–the location of the home where Soapie brought Rosie to raise her–is near West Haven, where my husband’s grandparents lived. His grandfather built the house himself and lived there for more than fifty years. I can still picture the road leading to the shore, less than a mile from his house on the hill. Both his grandparents passed away before we were married–his grandmother, sadly, suffered from Alzheimer’s the entire time I knew her. His grandfather was by her side as much as he could be, even when she eventually had to be admitted to a nursing home. He cared for her til her end. And then he didn’t last much longer before he went off to join her in the afterlife.

When Rosie and Tony take Milo to Kid City in Middletown, I could imagine every step they took because I’ve brought my kids there many times before. When they were little and I was a stay-at-home mom, rainy days would be spent at Kid City (and places like it) in order to preserve some semblance of sanity. The kids could run around, burning off their abundance of energy, all while remaining dry. And I could escape the home, which could feel a bit like a cell if we were trapped there too long. The fish factory? That’s my kids’ favorite feature of this children’s hands-on museum. They would spend all day there, if I let them. The diner with the plastic food? I have “eaten” many meals there. The book nook? I can’t say I’ve never considered the room for the same purposes they used it. Or, at least had a passing thought that it would be a nice little place to get away for a smooch. With the door closed, of course.

Little things like this made me feel more a part of Rosie’s life, even if we have nothing in common. And that was kind of cool.

Have you read a book set in your home state? Did it change your experience with the book?

Mar 17 2014

#FromLeft2Write: The Divorce Papers and Pondering What’s Left Behind

The Divorce PapersThis post was inspired by the novel The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. Young lawyer Sophie unwillingly takes her first divorce case with an entertaining and volatile client in this novel told mostly through letters and legal missives. Join From Left to Write on March 18 we discuss The Divorce Papers. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

What do we leave behind when we’re gone?

It’s kind of a morbid question, I know. But hear me out. What would someone find out about us someday if they ever went looking? It used to be the legal papers were all that remained. The things you’d find in your Town Clerk’s office: birth certificate, marriage certificate, deeds and mortgages, (god-forbid, foreclosures and lis pendens), name change certificates if you divorced and reverted to your maiden name… Who were your parents? Where were you born? Which houses did you own? How much were they assessed for? How much did you pay in taxes? Did you ever get any Zoning variances or special exceptions? Was that deck constructed with a Building permit? These are the remains of a life. These are the building blocks, residing eternally on record, that the people who come after us will have available to them to reconstruct our lives. Or, it used to be that way. Because anyone who uses the internet knows that the internet is forever. And there’s a whole lot more of our lives preserved now, whether we like it or not.

There’s a meme going around on the internet that goes something like I’m so happy I was young and stupid before the internet. One moment of insanity can now be captured for all to see and even if you delete it from one of your multiple social media accounts, that doesn’t mean it goes away. There are many heads to cut off this beast. And you never really know who has shared your content, who has right-clicked and saved something to their own computer for future use. You just don’t know who is reconstructing your life, even as you live it. And it’s a little frightening, when you think about it.

Someday, when my daughter is a teenager and starts wondering who her parents are, she’ll have more than a yearbook photo and silly farewells trapped in a book that hasn’t been cracked in decades at her disposal. She’ll be able to see every selfie I’ve taken in bars with friends. She’ll have access to the dream vacations and desired home renovations I’ve collected on Pinterest. And all those Twitter chats I’ve participated in will show her how boring her mom can really be. There will be so much information at her fingertips that she’ll likely get bored and move onto something more interesting, like writing her name in hearts with the latest boy band object-of-desire’s last name tacked on to hers. Life is no longer summed up; it’s transcribed. The full record is there for review, should anyone want it. Though I’m not sure who would want to rummage through it all.

More is not better. Sometimes, more is just more.

And now, a life that once had only its high points or highlights on file for future generations’ perusal will bog down the system with every inane thought and action that ever happened. Carrie has a case of the Mondays. Carrie is at Starbucks. Carrie went to the bar with her friend Crista. Carrie liked Brian’s picture of his lunch. It’s all there. And in some ways, it makes a life a little less special.

Guilty as charged.

What are your thoughts on a life viewed through the papers and information left behind?

Nov 18 2013

#FromLeft2Write: Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man

Virtual Book Club From Left to Write discusses Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man - poet in the pantryThis post was inspired by Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Man, a memoir by Brian McGrogry. When Brian leaves behind his bachelor life to move to suburbia, joining his girlfriend and her two young daughters, he has no idea he needs to win over their pet rooster, too. Join From Left to Write on November 21 as we discuss Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Man.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Pets are a special part of our lives. More family than possession, confidante than accessory, I’ve always had some sort of spirit animal by my side throughout my life. The first I remember–Buddy, a runt of a Shetland Sheepdog, rather than a rooster–joined my family when I was little and stayed with us until my youngest brother was born–a demon child who proved to be more than Buddy could handle. Fate found him in my aunt’s and uncle’s family eventually, where he lived out the remainder of his days. He lived a long life.

My first dog that I could call my own didn’t come until 2002. It was a year after I married and we were settling in quite well to our new lives as a married couple. But I felt like something was missing–and I wasn’t ready for children yet. That’s when Becky came along.

Little Becky Boo, to be more accurate. A sable cocker spaniel who has proven my husband’s prediction that dogs are like having a perpetual 2-year-old in the house. I have broken every rule I intended to keep with her. First she was to sleep in the pantry room off of the kitchen, for her own protection. But much like Lady in Lady and the Tramp, she quickly howled her way out of that arrangement…and into our bed. It wasn’t until last year when we purchased a new, taller mattress (and she could no longer make the leap onto the bed) that she finally settled into her own bed. Not far from our own, of course, because she’s always wanted to be close to her people.

Becky - Christmastime 2011

Becky – Christmastime 2011

Becky has always been my dog. And she’s always done a great job of it. No, we never could get her to walk perfectly on the leash, despite taking her to training classes. But she was always happy to be included. And included she was. We took her on vacations with us, staying at dog-friendly places so she wouldn’t have to be left behind at home. Camping. A ski trip for my husband. There have only been a few times in her life when she couldn’t accompany us. My husband considers this a liability. I consider her part of the family. She should be with us.

Once the kids came along, it was more difficult to include Becky. She didn’t understand her place in the pack for a while, and we did consider sending her to live with a childless family so she could get the attention she deserved. Luckily, we weathered that storm and now she’s quite happy keeping her puppies–my kids–in line. And they love having her do so.

Not long after the facial nerve paralysis - she had no control of the right half of her face - 11-25-2012

Not long after the facial nerve paralysis – she had no control of the right half of her face – 11-25-2012

Things were going along swimmingly until last year. At 11 years of age, we had to leave her overnight to attend a wedding a couple states away. My brother looked in on her, caring for her in our absence. But when we returned, she wasn’t quite right. Half of her face drooped and she wasn’t acting like herself. She stopped eating. She couldn’t drink–it just poured back out of her mouth. And her face took on a zombie appearance. It turned out she suffered from facial nerve paralysis. According to her vet, cocker spaniels are susceptible to it, and it tends to come on with no warning.

The weeks that followed were heartbreaking. She became lethargic with little will to do anything. The only way we could get water into her was to squirt it into her mouth–a method she very much disliked. And her eyes drooped more than ever, one almost always open, for she could no longer blink it or shut it all the way.

Getting worse - we were afraid we had to make some hard decisions - 12-13-2012

Getting worse – we were afraid we had to make some hard decisions – 12-13-2012

Blood tests were inconclusive. Medication came next. A last resort. We were already considering how long we would let her continue on like this, as we didn’t want her to suffer. The little glimmer of hope that she could recover–that her body would bounce back–led us on. We took it all one day at a time.

After roughly 3 weeks, her sagging lip and eye contracted–not healed, but no longer in the way or threatening her health as much. Thyroid medication and a series of glaucoma drops in her food ensured her eye wouldn’t dry out and that the secretions from her nose balanced–somewhat. She could drink water again and she started to eat, cautiously at first. Chomping down isn’t so easy when your face doesn’t work quite right.

Medication saved her life. Today, she still has facial nerve paralysis. She will never be the same again. And she will always have to take these drugs–we’ve tried weaning her off with no success. When we first started this regimen, the glaucoma drops were $8 for 3 months’ supply. Now? It was $95 last time I filled the script. I’m hoping the shortage will have passed the next time we fill it. But we really have no choice. She needs it, so we will continue buying it.

Becky 10-12-2013

Looking much better – 10-12-2013

Becky is still my constant companion. Always at my feet when I’m baking, washing dishes, or relaxing on the couch. Always looking on with understanding eyes and a joyful spirit. Always my first child, albeit a furry one. I know my time with her is precious–that it could end at any time–and I am thankful that she recovered last year; that we were able to get more time with her. It hasn’t been easy–and boy, has it been messy–but saying goodbye wouldn’t have been any easier. I can’t imagine my life without her, even though I know deep down that day will come. Just not today, please.

Oct 27 2013

#FromLeft2Write: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The-Dinner-By-Herman-Koch-194x300This post was inspired by The Dinner, a novel by Herman Koch. Two brothers and their wives sit down for a tension-filled dinner to discuss a tragedy that can change both families’ lives forever. Join From Left to Write on October 29 as we discuss The Dinner.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

As a parent, I often worry about whether I’m doing the right things to ensure my children’s bright futures. Am I balancing my demands with what they need? Do we have them in enough activities? And just how much privacy do kids deserve?

When I was in high school, there was much about my life my parents didn’t know. While I sporadically kept journals, I’m nearly 100% certain they were never read by my parents. If they had been, there would have been a lot more talks about what was going on in my life and about the depression I often suffered from. The internet came to be a household thing when I was in my last year of high school–or, at least a scaled down version of it, with BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) that you dialed into and participated on message boards. It required a little more know-how than the average–certainly more challenging than AOL, which was also starting to come into fashion then–but opened up the doors to a world I had not known before. That could have been filled with much more malicious souls than I encountered. I thought I knew what I was doing–never meet someone on your own, make sure you get to know them online first, and don’t believe everything you read. I met my husband on a BBS. I also met a few boyfriends before him that way. But I also consider myself very lucky. Things could have turned out differently.

The family computer resided in my parents’ bedroom, but that was the extent of their supervision. Many nights, long after they had fallen asleep, there I sat in the monitor’s glow, typing away. To whom? I had a general idea. But I was also very naive. My parents probably should have been more concerned.

My kids are growing up in a different world. Technology has surrounded them since birth. My son figured out how to use the Wii system when he was 3 years old. Not long after, he mastered my Nook, too. Last year, we gave them Meep! tablets for Christmas, so they’d have a place of their own to play their games, learn something new, and have a limited access to the internet. Meep!s come with built-in parental controls where you can determine how much time can be spent on apps, games, and the internet, and whether they can access the full worldwide web or only small portions of it you deem to be acceptable. It’s a first step.

My daughter received a cell phone for her last birthday present. Not because we wanted to spoil her–I’m still not entirely sure I like that she has it. But we do not have a landline and she wanted to be able to keep in touch with her friends over the summer. She has a very basic phone with a very basic plan and she’s been encouraged to text whenever possible, as we all share the minutes. Mostly she’s mystified by the phone and can’t figure out how to use it. She’s called her grandparents a few times and texted a friend who lives an hour away, but not often. And I check her phone often to see what she’s been up to. Because that’s my job. To protect her. To know what she’s doing. To be there to guide her through the minefields of life.

As they get older, there will only be more concerns. A former co-worker used to say Small children, small problems; Big children, big problems. With age comes wisdom, but not for some time. And while they are entitled to an amount of privacy, as all human beings are, I do not intend to hand the world over to them for quite some time. I expect to have them check in with me often. I will monitor their online activities. And their phones will be open books. I do not want to foster an environment where predators can easily access my most precious jewels. They probably won’t like it, but it’s for their own good.

Do you monitor your children’s activities? Or do you think that’s a violation of their privacy?

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