Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

A Mini-Review

On Immunity: An Inoculation
by Eula Biss
narrated by Tamara Marston
HighBridge Audio, 2014
6 hours and 23 minutes
source: purchased

"Immunity is a shared space - a garden we tend together."

Publisher's Summary:
In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire's Candide, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Susan Sontag's AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected - our bodies and our fates.

My thoughts:
Biss offers a concise overview on the topic of immunization. I particularly appreciated her inclusion of the history/evolution of public health. However, this book is probably not meant for a reader with my background. As a pharmacist and mother of three, I found it interesting, but was hoping for more hard information and science. Still, I enjoyed the author's voice and approach.

Most people already have strong views on the subject and I doubt this book will change any minds. Yet, we truly are each others environment.

My rating:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#6Barsets Project: Barchester Towers

Time is running out. We officially begin the third book of our #6Barsets projects, Doctor Thorne, on Friday and I have yet to write anything about Barchester Towers.

But where to begin?

First, you might remember that I experienced a major reading slump earlier this year. Novel after novel was abandoned when I just couldn't get interested in their stories or characters. Some lighter nonfiction finally dragged me from the depths of my reading malaise.

Then on March 1, I began reading Barchester Towers and found myself loving fiction again. Thank you, Anthony Trollope! I have now joined the ranks of Trollope devotees and am definitely hooked on the Barsetshire Chronicles.

Barchester Towers  was my first (and still only) five star read of 2015. Again, it was a print/audio combination and I selected the Simon Vance narration. As far as I'm concerned, he is the  voice of classic British Literature.

 I don't know what else to say other than that I loved everything about Barchester Towers... first and foremost the characters, but also the setting, author's voice, and glimpses into life, love, power, and social structure of the cathedral town.

I was delighted to discover our old friends Mr. Harding, his daughter Eleanor, and the Grantlys had returned in this installment. However,  it was the new characters - Mr. Slope and Mrs. Proudie, in particular - who provided much of the color and drama in Barchester Towers.  I'm already curious to see who turns up in Doctor Thorne.

Barchester Towers was a book I didn't want to end. I was, in fact, slightly bereft upon turning the last page. Audrey's reminder about the BBC adaptation meant my time in Barchester might be prolonged. Happily, the Florida library had a copy available. It was over-acted and slightly melodramatic, but so much fun!

Note to self... I really need to improve my understanding of mythology. Too many references were lost on me. Perhaps a future project?

 And now Doctor Thorne  is ready on my kindle and the audio version (read by Simon Vance) has been downloaded to my phone. Can I wait two more days until May 1 before beginning? I doubt it.

Bottom line: Barchester Towers  has earned a spot on my list of all-time favorites and turned me into a Trollope devotee. I may never read Dickens again.

You're welcome to join us as our #6Barsets project continues with Doctor Thorne.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekly Update 4/26/15: We're Home

What a difference a week makes! Last Sunday morning, I went for my last beach walk, shopped at the farmers' market, and dined al fresco. Today, with temps in the low 30's, I'll walk around the mall, pick up some food at Wegmans, and turn on the fireplace. Yes, we're home.

The road trip was amazing. We spent the first night in Savannah...

and explored plantation ruins at Wormsloe Historic Site the next morning.

From there we drove to Asheville, NC...

and had an amazing dinner at Tupelo Honey Cafe on Kathy's recommendation. Of course, I had to buy their cookbook.

The next day was all Biltmore (Dressing Downton is there until May 25). The place is spectacular! We toured the house and gardens... photos cannot begin to capture its magnificence.

The next day, a travel day, took us to Manassas, VA. We toured the Civil War Battlefields on Friday and made it home that evening...

The ice is off the lake, but snowbanks still linger in front of the high school... and our house had NO HEAT. Thankfully, we were able to get it fixed at 10PM, since I just happened to have a spare igniter on hand.

Yesterday, while the majority of the book blogging community participated in Dewey's 24 -hour Readathon, I unpacked, did laundry, shopped for a few groceries, and caught up on mail, bills, etc. I imagine many of my friends are just closing their books, turning off the computers, and going to sleep now. Hopefully, I'll be able to join in next time.

So, what did I read?

Nothing... not one page. I didn't even download an audiobook for the trip - we just talked the entire time.

I'm still reading In the Time of the Butterflies  by Julia Alvarez, but have only made it to the 15% mark. Plenty of time to finish before book club though.

How was your week? Are you reading anything good?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekly Update 4/19/15: Heading Home

Happy Sunday, friends!  I hope you're enjoying this beautiful spring weekend, although it feels like summer here in SW Florida. Intelligence from the Great White North tells me it's finally safe to return home. Despite a frozen lake, temperatures soared to 70 last week, but will back off to the 40s by the time we get there.

Apologies for my absence this week. We've crossed the last few items off our winter to-do list... boat trip to Cabbage Key, paint the bookcase turquoise (a color which just doesn't work at home!), sell a car, donate some books to the library, enjoy one final Captiva sunset.

Today, for our last day, we'll shop the farmers' market one more time, have my FIL over for dinner, spend some time on the beach, and load up the car. We hit the road in the morning.

Current reading//

our May book club selection

Listening to//
Nothing now, but I'm about to choose a book for the ride home... something nonfiction my husband will appreciate, too.  Dead Wake by Erik Larson is under consideration, but I'm open to suggestions.

Finished this week//

This was an enjoyable recovery book after Being Mortal  by Atul Gawande. The blurb on the back cover refers to is as an Eat, Pray, Love for a slightly younger set... an apt description. No formal review for this one, but would rate it 3 or 3.5 stars.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (audio)
A nice overview. Recommended for non-scientific types... I expected something more technical.

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: In the Time of Butterflies

The week ahead//
We'll be on the road, so I probably won't be around much... again. If you follow me on Instagram, look for photos from Savannah, Asheville (and the "Dressing Downton" at The Biltmore), and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Intro: In the Time of Butterflies

Chapter One:  Dedé, 1994 and circa 1943 
She is plucking her bird of paradise of its dead branches, leaning around the plant every time she hears a car. The woman will never find the old house behind the hedge of towering hibiscus at the end of the dirt road. Not a gringa dominicana  in a rented car with a road map asking for street names! Dedé had taken the call over at the little museum this morning.  
Could the woman please come over and talk to Dedé about the Mirabal sisters? She is originally from here but has lived many years in the States, for which she is sorry since her Spanish is not so good. The Mirabal sisters are not known there, for which she is also sorry for it is a crime that they should be forgotten, these unsung heroines of the underground, et cetera.
In the Time of Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez

A few days ago, I received the email about our May book club selection (we don't select titles in advance) and immediately downloaded In the Time of Butterflies  to my kindle. This is my first experience reading Julia Alvarez and I'm pretty impressed with the first couple of chapters.

Here is a portion of the goodreads summary:
From the author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents  comes this tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. A skillful blend of fact and fiction, In the Time of the Butterflies  is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government. Alvarez breathes life into these historical figures--known as "las mariposas," or "the butterflies," in the underground--as she imagines their teenage years, their gradual involvement with the revolution, and their terror as their dissentience is uncovered.
What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Sunday Salon: One More Week

Sunday already? That was quick. It has been another glorious week here in Florida and we have one more to go before the journey north. This week we'll attack our punch list - a few home projects, plus a couple more local attractions we'd like to visit.

We also need to decide on the route home. I'm thinking the Dressing Downton exhibit at the Biltmore is a must see, while my husband is focusing on Civil War battlefields. Let the negations begin!

Finished this week//

Bittersweet: A Novel  by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
(mini-review here)

A difficult but important read, highly recommended. Review coming soon.

Current Reading//

A light follow-up to Being Mortal

For book club... I've missed it all winter.

Listening to//

again this week... not much listening time

New books//
The House at Riverton  by Kate Morton (another $1.99 daily deal)
In the Time of Butterflies  by Julia Alvarez (for book club)

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Because Sometimes You Just Want to be Entertained (mini-reviews: The Girl on the Train  by Paula Hawkins and Bittersweet  by by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore)

I'm off to the Farmers Market in a few minutes, then maybe some time on the beach before my FIL comes over for dinner this evening.

What are you up to today? Are you reading a good book?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Because Sometimes You Just Want to be Entertained

You know how much I love literary fiction and classics. And it seems like I'm reading a lot of nonfiction lately, too. But there are times when I just want to get lost in a good story.... maybe a psychological thriller or family story full of deep, dark secrets. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough with these two recent reads.

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
source: borrowed from the library

The Girl on the Train is attracting a lot of readers right now. It's touted as the next Gone Girl, but since I never read that one, I have no idea if it's an apt comparison. An intriguing plot summary and unreliable narrator drew me to the novel. I thought it was well-executed, plus it kept me guessing until close to the end. But then again, I rarely figure these things out!

Bottom line: An entertaining psychological thriller.... nothing mind-blowing or earth-shattering, but good for a couple of afternoons at the pool, a bus or train commute, or a long plane flight.

My rating:

Bittersweet: A Novel
by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
source: purchased

"Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an idyllic world of privilege and an outsider’s hunger to belong."

This is my kind of beach read and it would make a great summer movie, too. As far as I'm concerned, Bittersweet  has it all - a wealthy family with secrets, love, friendship, manipulation, a murder (maybe two) and a summer compound on a lake in northern Vermont. This novel didn't get much buzz when it was released last spring, but maybe the upcoming paperback release will lead to renewed interest.

My rating:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tuesday Intro: Being Mortal

I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn't one of them. Although I was given a dry, leathery corpse to dissect in my first term, that was solely a way to learn about human anatomy. Our textbooks had almost nothing on aging or frailty or dying. How the process unfolds, how people experience the end of their lives, and how it affects those around them seemed beside the point. The way we saw it, and the way our professors saw it, the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande

I hadn't planned on reading this book so soon, but glowing reviews from Les and Kay, combined with an available copy on the new nonfiction shelf made now seem like the perfect time. Last night I sat down for a "reading sample" and finally look up 50 pages later. I'm committed.

Here's the goodreads summary:
In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. 
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. 
Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. 
Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.
What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Weekly Update 4/5/15: A Double Celebration

Today we are celebrating two big events, Easter and our twins' birthday. Unfortunately, we will not see Twin A today, but Twin B is with us in Florida... and it's been another beautiful week. After seeing photos of yesterday's Easter Egg hunt at home, I am in no hurry to head north. Children bundled in parkas and carrying brightly-colored baskets ignored the weather as they scrambled over snowbanks in search of treasure. The eggs were especially easy to spot in a field of snow!

Our highlights of the past week include a trip to The Everglades, a Garden Tour at Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers, and an extra-long beach walk to explore a part of the island I hadn't seen before. There wasn't an awful lot of reading though and I didn't finish any books.

Current reading//

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Current listening//

by Eula Biss

New books//
The Gathering by Anne Enright ($1.99 ebook deal)
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (from the library)

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: On Immunity  by Eula Biss
Review: An Unnecessary Woman  by Rabih Alameddine

The local library had The Barchester Chronicles (1982) available on DVD and I've watched the first two episodes, which correspond to The Warden.  It is comically over-acted, but I'm enjoying it very much.

Wolf Hall, based on the novel by Hilary Mantel, premiers tonight on PBS. It runs for six weeks, but I just noticed that it doesn't start until 10 PM. A little late for me... I may have to watch in online during the week instead!

Bookish news//

Have you heard about The Classics Salon? It's a new weekly feature at Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms. The salon is a place to "discuss or blog about the current classic we are reading. If you aren’t reading a classic at the moment but would still like to participate, please do share your thoughts on the last classic you read. There are about eight to twelve questions that will be rotated through the weeks to answer."

The Question for Week 1:
What are your first impressions of the current classic you are reading?

Questions are posted on Fridays. I'm not sure how I will participate yet. If questions are listed somewhere in advance, then Fridays will work. Otherwise, I may answer the discussion prompt sometime the following week.

Happy Easter! Are you reading anything good today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What are You Reading?  hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Friday, April 3, 2015

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

An Unnecessary Woman
by Rabih Alameddine
narrated by Suzanne Toren
Audible Studios, 2014
10 hours and 28 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family's "unnecessary appendage." Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The 37 books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read by anyone.

In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman's late-life crisis, listeners follow Aaliya's digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya's own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.

A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.

My thoughts:
An Unnecessary Woman took me to a place I've never been. Not even through literature have I visited Beirut (or the country of Lebanon, for that matter) and it was an eye-opening journey. Through Aaliya's slowly unfolding story, I learned of her reclusive life as an "unnecessary" woman, her inner struggles and intellectual musings, and the changes she observed in her beloved city from its Civil War to the present.

Aaliya's voice is authentic and believable, and I was well into the book before I realized Rabih Alameddine is a man. Very impressive.

Finally, I would have missed this book had it not been for a tweet directing my attention to an article highlighting indie book seller recommendations of overlooked gems. So maybe twitter isn't a total waste of time...

A note on the audio production:
Suzanne Torren was named an Audie Award finalist in the Literary Fiction category for her narration of An Unnecessary Woman. Her list of audiobook credits is long and impressive. This may be one of her best efforts.

Read or listen?
A tough call... An Unnecessary Woman  is a smart, literary novel and the audio production is outstanding. As I made my way through the book, I often had the urge to stop, reread a passage, and think for a moment. Listening made that difficult, so print may be the way to go with this book.

My rating:


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