Tag Archive: 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?

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.

Aug 21 2013

#FromLeft2Write: The Whole Fromage

The Whole FromageThis post was inspired by The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese by Kathe Lison, who traveled to France in search of its artisanal cheeses. Join From Left to Write on August 22 as we discuss The Whole Fromage. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

“An odd fact about cheese is that it abounds in casein, a protein that breaks down in the digestive system to produce an opioid called casomorphin.” (p. 43, The Whole Fromage)

Finally–an explanation for my cheese addiction! When I need a fix, instead of seeking dark corners of busy city streets in the middle of the night, incognito and transacting in cash, I brazenly put my habit on display in the bright, white lights of daylight–and the local grocery store. I should be ashamed, but you’ll find no hoodies hiding my identity–no code words or quick movements concealing my purpose. I drop those ivory and golden bricks and cylinders onto the belt for the whole world to view. Yup, I’m going to get a dairy high later. Take that!

You can have your low-fat, low-carb, Paleo, whatever dairy-shaming dogma you subscribe to. I’ll be snorting mac & cheese later right in front of my kids, and I’ll do it shamelessly. Kerrygold, take me away!

Seriously, there is something about cheese that comforts. Brings joy. Cannot be resisted. Apparently, there’s scientific fact backing this attraction. And I have no intention of preventing it.

I grew up in a house where pre-wrapped slices were referred to as “cud.” Harsh from a father raised on government “cheese,” but he had a point. That crap isn’t cheese. Save it for the good stuff–rich and crumbly cheddar; smooth and creamy Monterrey. But never any Brie. I wasn’t raised on French cheese. I’m still getting used to it.

It started in French Club in high school. A slice of Brie. A fondue or two. A trip to Paris only fueled the fire. How was I to know then that there are hundreds (yes, multiple hundreds) of French cheeses to experience? And that’s one country alone! I have a lot of work ahead of me.

pizza with chèvre

Reading about cheese requires eating it–in this case, some chèvre on a delicious local pizza

I’ll admit to an occasional dalliance in Kraft Mac & Cheese (and I’m with Kathe Lison on this one–Three Cheese with Mini-Shell Pasta all the way!). But for the most part, I have been trying to develop a taste for the more refined stuff. I just need a few more hours in the day–and bucks in the bank book.

Through The Whole Fromage, a whole new world has opened up for me. I want to make a cheese pilgrimage. I want to see the source. I want to dip my hands in whey and feel the curds for myself. I want to raise goats. Okay, maybe my husband isn’t on board with that (or the local Land Use department…). But I do want to be there, see it all, and taste it, too. This is just the beginning.

First stop? A Beaufort. It sounds like just the euphoric experience I need.

Excuse me… I’m feeling a little down. Time to shoot up with some chèvre to get through the evening…

Jul 09 2013

#ad Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

Disclosure: I received an Advanced Reader Edition of The Curiosity: A Novel from Harper Collins Publishers for review purposes. All opinions remain my own.

The Curiosity - Stephen P. Kiernan

How do you explain a book that moved you so thoroughly you had to consider your thoughts on it for weeks after completion before you could even begin to form the words? This is a curiosity indeed.

In Stephen P. Kiernan’s latest novel, The Curiosity, we are forced to reckon with our personal definitions of where life begins and ends–and if it ends at all. Can we trust what we’ve been told? Or do we need to listen to our hearts? Has what makes us human been abandoned in the pursuit of fame, fortune, and glory? And just how far would a person go to achieve them–or throw them all away?

Those are a lot of questions. But it’s hard not to think deeply as you progress through this book. This is no beach read.

Dr. Kate Philo thinks she has made the discovery of a lifetime when she finds a man frozen in hard ice in the Arctic Ocean–a man her employer wants to re-animate. It’s been done before with microscopic ocean life, though the results have been less than stellar. What she hasn’t counted on is how different it will be to run an experiment on a human being.

Judge Jeremiah Rice didn’t ask to be brought back to life. One moment he was in the ocean, having fallen off a ship in 1906, and the next, he is awakened a hundred years later. He is granted a second chance at life, after one that was cut too short. But how much of a life can you live in a lab? People are protesting his reanimation as heresy, others can’t wait to get close to him, hoping a touch of fame will rub off on them, and through it all, there seems to be only one who doesn’t view him as a curiosity–Kate.

Initially, I was intimidated by the clinical tone of the book. On the expedition and shortly thereafter, the story was difficult to work through. But as Judge Rice evolved from the experiment–the bonus bit of genetic material that could be sustained far longer than any of the microscopic beings preceding him–to the man Kate falls for, it occurred to me that this may have been intentional. Are we meant to travel the same journey to awareness that Kate does, seeing that there is more to science than what is on the slab? That life is more what you fill the time you have with than a series of chemical reactions, code and equations? Perhaps.

Regardless, the last hundred pages held my full attention and when it was over, I was left stunned. The Curiosity remained with me for quite some time after, tossing about at the back of my mind, questioning me. What if? What if, in my lifetime, such a curiosity were to occur–such a wonder were to happen, against all odds and reasoning otherwise? Would it make me question everything–what lies in the afterlife, and if there is one at all–what it means to be “alive” or “dead” and if our definitions are simply too black and white to appreciate all the grays in between? Every time a man is resuscitated after a heart attack–every time a child is delivered early to save its life–we touch on this curiosity. It is not so far outside the miracles that happen in every day life: the things we take for granted without further examination. And yet, we go on like this is no big deal at all. That may be even more curious.

I think I need to read this a second time. I feel like there is so much more to be unearthed.

The Curiosity goes on sale today. I highly recommend picking up a copy!

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