Thursday, October 27, 2016

What I've Heard- The Girl on the Train

About a year-and-a-half ago, I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and really enjoyed it. Today I finished listening to the audio version and it was wonderful. Narrated by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher, this audiobook is just lovely. The actor reading the part of Megan Hipwell, Louise Brealy, was making me crazy the whole time I listened because I knew it was so familiar, but I just couldn't place it. Finally I had to know and after a quick search I discovered she is the actor who plays Molly Hooper on Sherlock. She has a great voice.

Winner of Audiobook of the Year, 2016, The Girl on the Train is an exciting audiobook and a perfect way to revisit the story before seeing the film that was released earlier this month. I really liked it.

The Doctors Are In by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?

Over the past couple of years I have become a huge Doctor Who fan. Well, by my standards I am a huge fan. By the standards of someone like Graeme Burk or Robert Smith? (yes, the question mark is part of his name- according to this article he added it as a teenager to distinguish from the many other Robert Smiths in the world), I am just a newbie. I was thrilled, however, when I was offered the e-galley of The Doctors Are In to review. I will admit that I skipped over the original incarnations of the Doctor and right to the 2005 reboot Doctors. I remember being so upset that the Ninth Doctor changed at the end of the first series (that I watched, anyway), but I came to really love the Tenth Doctor. However, the Eleventh Doctor's storylines are my favorite because they have Amy, Rory and possibly my most favoritest (yes, that's exactly what I meant to say) fictional character of all time, River Song. I haven't yet warmed to the Twelfth Doctor yet, but I've only watched his first series and only once. I've learned to reserve judgement.

This is a fun book that is pure fan love. It explores the actor who plays each Doctor, the best (and sometimes worst) episodes of that Doctor and some of the little knows facts about the show. If you're a fan (or even if you're a newbie like me) this is a book you would really enjoy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Scary Mommy's Guide to Surviving the Holidays by Jill Smokler

As of this writing, there are only 73 days until Christmas. 73 days! I can hardly believe that, but it seems to arrive more quickly every year so I suppose I had better get ready. I've had Scary Mommy's Guide to Surviving the Holidays by Jill Smokler for over a year now, but I didn't have time to read it before the holidays last year and I wanted to save it until it felt a little more relevant...and until it felt a little cooler outside. This book is a collection of essays compiled by Jill Smokler, creator of Scary Mommy, a parenting blog followed by millions of parents that expresses in no uncertain terms that parenting doesn't have to be perfect. Scary Mommy's Guide to Surviving the Holidays takes us along with Jill and a few of her friends as we commiserate about all those little things that threaten to suck the fun out of the holiday season.

When I first started the book, I thought that it seemed like it might be a little too cynical for me. Sometimes our kids annoy us. That is just a fact of parenting, but some people can, at times, take that a bit far. This was the sentence that made me worry:

Getting through the holidays is no longer a matter of joy and celebration; it's a survival of the fittest.

I'm all for laughing at the way our kids make us crazy just to keep from crying, but I feared this was not going to be the book for me. But then I kept reading...

The first essay in the book is entitled Thanksgiving Etiquette Manifesto, by Leslie Marinelli. It begins with a recital of all the way she spends weeks "planning and preparing for the most highly anticipated meal of the year, only to have my Rockwellian dreams shattered in a matter of seconds by the arrival of my extended family." The essay goes on to provide a list of requirements for attending Thanksgiving Dinner. She knows that it will either make the day better, or people will get offended and not come. She is perfectly okay with either outcome.

This book is filled with hilarious essays to which we can all relate. From forgetting to thaw the Thanksgiving Turkey to a funny Dysfunctional Family Drinking Game; from hoping the kids will figure out that Santa is not real (I'm so on board with this!) to the torture that is the holiday card photo session. This book is also filled with great recipes that somehow still manage to be funny. And finally, there is also a great gift list for those parents you hate (glitter art kits and musical instruments).

One thing that I thought was absolutely wonderful about this book was something I found in the introduction. After years of hosting a very popular blog, Jill Smokler yearned for a way to help some of her readers, and others, who were in need. After a very short four day fundraising effort, she had raised $18,000 that would be used to purchase nearly four hundred Thanksgiving dinners for families in need. Suddenly, The Thanksgiving Project was born. It is now an official 501(c)(3) charity that has helped over four thousand families celebrate a holiday they otherwise couldn't have. This is an inspiring use of one's popularity.

This book was very funny and a very entertaining read. You really should read it and now is a perfect time. Not only is the holiday season upon us, but right now you can purchase the Kindle version for only 99 cents! You canNOT beat that!

I'll just leave you with these parting words:

Whether you are at the adults' table or the infamous kids' table, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. May you find the joy in the holiday no matter where you sit.

What I've Heard- The Thirteenth Tale

This is the first in my What I've Heard series of posts. Today I finished listening to the audio version of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This is a book that I read years ago, pre-SmartGirls, and I loved it. It is the perfect book for this time of year- it's part mystery, part ghost story- and it is absolutely wonderful. This was the second time I've listened to this audiobook and it is so well done. It is read by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner and it is 15 hours and 38 minutes in length.

This is one of my favorite audiobooks, but it is a bit quiet, a bit subdued so I wouldn't recommend it for a long car ride. This book is beautifully written and wonderfully read. I really cannot recommend it enough. As you can see, I've added it to my Required Reading list because I feel just that strongly about it. If audiobooks aren't your thing, please pick up a print copy to read. You won't be sorry.

What I've Heard- An Introduction

I have been thinking of adding an audiobook facet to my blog for a while and now I'm finally doing it! My love of audiobooks began years and years ago, but in the last four of five years it has really grown. My most recent obsession with them began with listening to audiobooks just while I would ride my bike (with only one earbud in, for safety) or walk for exercise. An audiobook seemed like a good distraction as well as good motivation to get back out and exercise. Gradually, however, my listening became more frequent. Did you know that audiobooks are the perfect accompaniment for housework? It's true! I listen while I vacuum, clean the kitchen, everything. Immersing myself in the narrative of a good book easily distracts from any unpleasant task. 

The popularity of audiobooks has risen sharply in the last couple of years. According to this link on, 43,000 new audiobooks were released this year, up from 20,000 just three years ago. That is a lot of audiobooks and a lot of audiobook listeners. The industry has been spurred on by Audible and I love that books are becoming so much more accessible.

I do have one rule that I try to follow. I only listen to audio versions of books that I have already read. That may seem silly to some, but my player makes it difficult to skip back a "page" if I get distracted and miss something or if I'm just confused about a plot point. With books I've already read, I understand where the storyline is going and who the characters are and I can usually keep up pretty well. In addition to that, audiobooks give me the opportunity to revisit a story I have loved in the past, but my not have the time to devote to a full re-read.

My favorite thing about audiobooks is the way listening to a book being read can really bring a story to life. A book well read can evoke the most vibrant images. Often, when a book also has a movie version, I forget if an image I have in my head is from the movie or from listening to the audiobook. Of course, not all audiobook narrators are created equal. Jim Dale (reader of the Harry Potter series and The Night Circus) is a master. When people say, "I could listen to him read the phone book," they are not exaggerating. He is fabulous. On the other hand, I have listened to a few audiobooks that I had to just turn off because the narrator was so bad. This seems to happen most often when I am listening to a YA book; perhaps they think the reader needs to sound like a twelve-year-old girl for the sake of the expected audience, but if done badly it can be too big an obstacle for me.

My intention here is to direct you to the good ones. These posts will likely be shorter than my regular book reviews, but my main purpose will be to review the listening experience.
I love audiobooks and I hope we can help each other discover our next favorite.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Oh, my. I've had When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi for some time now, but I was waiting to be in just the right mood to read it. Paul Kalanithi is a neurosurgery resident just at the edge of finishing his training when he discovers that he has lung cancer and that the cancer has already spread. In this book, Paul describes the ways in which cancer changes his life. This autobiography takes the reader back to Paul's childhood and along the path that led him to medicine. Initially, Paul was drawn to literature. He has a B.A and M.A in English Literature from Stanford. Then, as he became interested in medicine, he also earned a B.A in Human Biology from Stanford. He then earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge after which he attended medical school at Yale. After returning to Stanford for his residency, he was involved in several award-winning research projects while also completing rigorous training in neuroscience and neurosurgery. Paul had an incredible career ahead of him and had plans to share his extensive knowledge through teaching. Through it all, this was Paul's purpose:

I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest:
What makes human life meaningful?

I was fascinated with the descriptions of Paul's work as a physician. I find medicine very intriguing and the descriptions of his day-to-day work were so interesting to me. Harder to read, however, were his struggles transitioning from doctor to patient. After his diagnosis, Paul was forced to take some time away from work.

...without that duty to care for the ill pushing me forward, I became an invalid.

After two months [of physical therapy], I could sit for thirty minutes without tiring. I could start having dinner with friends again.

Oh, I can't imagine how difficult that must have been. Terminal illness takes so much away from the patient. After much difficulty, Paul and his wife Lucy decide to have a child. This was not an easy decision. Paul didn't want to burden his wife, nor did he want to miss the experience of being a parent.

Lucy:"Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful"
Paul:"Wouldn't it be great if it did?"
Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering.

Of course having a child would add one more person to whom he would have to say goodbye, but it would be one more person to love until that day arrived. He displayed so much strength of character, so much integrity of heart:

...knowing that even if I'm dying, until I actually die, I am still living.

Can we all claim to have such perspective? Paul maintained his sense of humor. At the end of his fifteenth medical school class reunion, he had this experience:

...when old friends called out parting promises-- "We'll see you at the twenty-fifth!" -- it seemed rude to respond with "Probably not!"

In the epilogue, Paul's wife Lucy shares Paul's final days and her experience with his death. It is a touching account of love and loss. She says:

Paul confronted death-- examined it, wrestled with it, accepted it-- as a physician and a patient. He wanted to help people understand death and face their mortality.

Finally, one last quote that is sure to pull at the reader's heart:

At home in bed a few weeks before he died, I asked him, "Can you breathe okay with my head on your chest like this?" His answer was "It's the only way I know how to breathe."

Oh, this book fascinated me and eviscerated me. No one can know the good that Paul might have been able to do as a physician if he had lived a long, healthy life, but the good I expect he has done with this book is immeasurable. He has left a legacy for his daughter and a guide to anyone experiencing a terminal illness as well as family members and friends of those patients. This book is beautiful and heart-rending. Please read it.

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

The Sound of Glass by Karen White really snuck up on me. A book about a woman who suddenly inherits the family home of her not-too-recently departed husband, the family home of a family she never knew he had, sounded a bit silly to me. A woman born and raised in Maine picks up and moves to a small town in South Carolina to live in a three hundred-year-old house sounded like a "Yankee-invades-the-South" kind of book and those are never as entertaining as people think they will be. And yet... 

Merritt has a dark past and is looking to start her life anew. The opportunity to transplant herself to an old family home in South Carolina seems as good an idea as any other and so, without too much thought and even less preparation, she leaps. When she arrives, she discovers that not only was she completely unaware of her late husband's family, his family and the whole town where he grew up were completely unaware of her. She is shaken to discover that her husband, Cal, has a brother and that Cal and this brother, Gibbes have the very same eyes. Complicating matters further is the quite abrupt arrival of Loralee, Merritt's step-mother to whom she hasn't spoken in over a decade and her ten-year-old half brother. When this book is described as a "family drama", there is a good reason. Adding to all of this is the discovery of a nearly sixty-year-old plane crash mystery that spans three generations.

Oh, my goodness. This book! I was sucked right in to the story, especially as bits of the mystery came trickling in to the tale. Each of the characters is so rich, though Loralee is my favorite. She has a pink journal into which she writes her "truths" about life. They range from the practical to the more existential. Here are just a few:

  • The weight of fear goes away as soon as we face our monsters and realize they weren't as scary as we thought.
  • Even in the blackest darkness, there is always light shining somewhere. 
  • Forget what hurt you in the past. But never forget what it taught you.
  • You can't move forward if you always have one foot on the brake.
  • There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.
  • Life doesn't get easier. We just get stronger.
And my favorite:
  • Everybody dies. But not everybody lives.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was one of those that captured my attention right away and I couldn't wait to find out what would happen. This would be a great vacation book- light and fun, but still with enough meat to hold your interest. Let me know if you like it!