I write about a lot of things — whatever’s going on in my life at the time, whether that’s traveling, getting in shape, reading, etc, and sometimes thoughts about where I’m headed, or where I’ve been. As a former librarian I’m a little obsessed with books, and as a tech geek I love all things Apple, Kindle and in-between. I love food more than it good for me, and my viewing habits range from “Downton Abbey” to “Modern Family” to “Game of Thrones” and back around again. I have two cats, a wonderful husband, and the rest is subject to change without notice.
I haven’t been paying too much attention to the upcoming London production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — I think I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be considered canon, or if, like the upcoming movie version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it wouldn’t feature any familiar faces.
It will, however — Harry is back in a new story, that now will be released in script form (both hardcover and Kindle) at midnight after the play’s opening night, July 31, 2016. And now I’m all excited.
The upcoming book, which will reproduce the script from the forthcoming play by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, shifts the action of the Harry Potter stories to 19 years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry is now “an overworked employee of the ministry of magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children”, grappling “with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs”.
Sounds like a good update — I’m always trying to find the next book — or the next dozen books — I want to read. And the Kindle home screen could use some personalization options.
“Kindle owners will find browsing, buying and sharing books easier when a software update arrives this month, according to Amazon. An Amazon page details the features and refinements coming to Kindle e-book readers. The update will enable you to personalize the home screen, for example, so your most recent books appear at the upper left of the screen. All of your books can be retrieved by clicking on My Library. A new section dubbed “My Reading Lists” shows all the books on your wish list as well as any samples you’ve downloaded. The bottom of the home screen will change to show you recommendations, best-selling titles and books that your Goodreads friends are reading.”
The article goes on to talk about why sales of ebooks and Kindles have lagged lately, but they completely miss what I’m sure is the actual reason: the quick jump in ebook prices that happened last year, which may or may not have been a result of Amazon being forced to settle their dispute with major publishing houses.
I think consumers lost out on that one, because whereas I used to be able to purchase ebooks at a reasonable rate, now I’m being asked, often, to pay more for the electronic version than for the paperback copy. Grumble. Maybe with newer books I can understand it, but $8.99 for an old scifi novel published in 1987, that I already own in paperback, or could buy as such for $5.99? No thanks.
Veronica Roth’s Divergent is on sale at Amazon today for $1.99
On the whole, most were decent, some were bad, and not very many stood out as exceptional. The best book I read was James Bowen’s “A Street Cat Named Bob“; Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” was a close second.
So with no further ado, 2015’s list, with comments where warranted and links where recommended:
The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly : Matt McCarthy
At the Water’s Edge : Sara Gruen (Not very good. I gave it a bad review and the author’s Twitter account retweeted it. Odd.)
I Am Number Four : Pittacus Lore
The Girl On the Train : Paula Hawkins (I think everyone read this last year. I thought it was just okay)
Stolen Innocence : Elissa Wall
The Look of Love : Sarah Jio
Station Eleven : Emily St. John Mandel (It reminded me of The Stand meets The Walking Dead, but with no zombies. I loved the circular lack of resolution.)
A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope On the Streets : James Bowen (This story hits every part of my little Grinchy heart that treasures the way animals and humans can share a bond like no other. The true tale of how James saved Bob, but Bob saved James even more.)
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances : Neil Gaiman (This was a big disappointment for me. If it wasn’t for the Shadow story, it would have been a total loss.)
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride : Cary Elwes and Joe Layden (All sorts of fun stories from the set, including ones about the unforgettable Andre the Giant and the passing of gas.)
Wreckage : Emily Bleeker
The Art Forger : Barbara A. Shapiro
The Beautiful Bureaucrat : Helen Phillips
Hidden : Catherine McKenzie
The Memory Box : Eva Lesko Natiello
Reconstructing Amelia : Kimberly McCreight (Tom, I think you recommended this one to me. It was pretty interesting, and I didn’t figure out what had really happened until the end.)
Red Queen : Victoria Aveyard
The Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty… and Terrible Dresses : Eimear Lynch
The Winter Witch : Paula Brackston
The World According to Bob: The Further Adventures of One Man and His Street-Wise Cat : James Bowen (See above. I love reading about Bob. There’s a movie in the works!)
The Buried Giant : Kazuo Ishiguro
The Complete Walt Disney World Fun Finds & Hidden Mickeys : Julie & Mike Neal
Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter : Steve Dublanica
Armada : Ernest Cline (Not bad. Just not as good as Ready Player One. But then again, what is?)
Six Months Later : Natalie D. Richards
It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History : Jennifer Wright
The Good Girl : Mary Kubica
In the Unlikely Event : Judy Blume (This was a great bit of fiction. Pick it up to take with you on vacation, though maybe not via plane.)
We Were Liars : E. Lockhart
The Orchid House : Lucinda Riley
Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch In The Throat : Jen Mann (Disappointingly, she doesn’t *really* want to punch any of the people in this book in the throat, so it might as well have been titled “Spending the Holidays With My Family”.)
The Martian : Andy Weir (Read the book. Didn’t bother with the movie.)
The Lowland : Jhumpa Lahiri (Love this author and have read every single thing she’s written. This did not disappoint.)
Helen of Sparta : Amalia Carosella (Sort of the “Mists of Avalon” take on the Trojan War.)
Oh Myyy! – There Goes the Internet : George Takei
The Rest of Us Just Live Here : Patrick Ness (Fun for anyone who’s ever watched Buffy.)
A Discovery of Witches : Deborah Harkness (Okay, so these books are basically The Outlander meets Twilight. I’m not claiming they’re fine literature or anything. But page-tuners. The first one was 800 or 900 pages long and I read it in a week.)
Shadow of Night : Deborah Harkness
The Sandman Overture : Neil Gaiman
First Frost : Sarah Addison Allen
Eleanor : Jason Gurley (advanced reader copy — watch for this one when it comes out in 2016)
Shoeless Joe : W.P. Kinsella
The Good Neighbor : Carol Ann Morris
My fabulous friend Erica brought a blast from the past up when she re-found my “year in review” from 2010. I thought I’d take a look again, 5 years later. So with no fanfare and to the delight/boredom of you all — My Year in Review, 2015 version. Some things changed a lot, and others not at all…
Went to Disney World. And oh, it was wonderful.
2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I tried. I focused on being healthier, and stronger. I did my best, but towards the end here, my body’s let me down a little. I’ll do my best again in 2016, and every year after.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
There was that lady on the bus…
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Same bus ride, can you believe it?
5. What countries did you visit?
This one. No others. Not even my beloved Canada.
6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
I’m still waiting on a teleportation device.
7. What date(s) from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The older I get, the worse I am with dates. So the answer, to the question as written, is none. But there was this one day in the summer, when Dave and I went to Jones Beach. The water was warm and surprisingly clear, and we played in the waves and had an amazing time. I think I’ll remember what a great day that was for a long time.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finally figuring out where I am. GPS doesn’t help you learn the lay of the land, really, not when you just let it take you from point A to point B. That first year on Long Island, I just did what my phone told me to do. This year, I actually have a sense of direction.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Staying healthy, though I swear through no fault of my own. If there’s a weird eye infection or intestinal inflammation, I apparently felt the need to have it.
10. Did you suffer any illness or injury?
See above. In September I had a joyous bout of abdominal adenitis. I don’t recommend it.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
My favorite thing that I bought this year was a Kindle Fire for Dave. I was really excited about getting it for him. Also all of his Christmas presents, which I can’t describe here, obviously.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My niece Rebecca graduated from high school and started college in her chosen field, and I’m incredibly proud of her for her dedication and determination. I wish I’d been half as focused at her age.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Politicians. Reality show celebrities. People who care what reality celebrities think. Parents at Disney World who are too focused on cramming things in and don’t let their poor tired kids take naps. Myself, when I’m tired and in pain and irritable.
14. Where did most of your money go?
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Disney World, tied with The Force Awakens
16. What song will always remind you of 2015?
“Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? the same
ii. thinner or fatter? slightly thinner, but not as much as I should be
iii. richer or poorer? ask Dave. I have no idea.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Seen my friends.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Home with Dave and kitties and making sauce.
22. Did you fall in love in 2015?
I always do, every year.
23. What was your favorite TV program?
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I pretty much hate all the same people, though a few of them I doubt I can really muster up the energy to care about either way.
25. What was the best book you read?
“A Street Cat Named Bob” by James Bowen
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Well, having left my gig at Sony Music, I’m not in the music discovery business anymore. Seriously, anything I “discover” has probably been around for ages.
27. What did you want and get?
28. What did you want and not get?
A cure for AIDS, but I keep up the hope we’re getting closer.
29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 43 this year (right?). No recollection of what we did at all.
31. What political issue stirred you the most?
The continuing efforts of some politicians to reach into my uterus.
32. Who was the best new person you met?
My favorite person at Stony Brook Medicine is Bev, who is one of the most fascinating people to listen to, and talk to, that I’ve ever met. She has an amazing outlook, a realistic view of the people around us, a wicked sense of humor, and wisdom up the wazoo. When she retires that place is going to get a lot less interesting.
33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015:
There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line.
It occurs to me that I’ve never sat down made the traditional “what I’m grateful for” list on Thanksgiving itself. So with no rhyme, rank or reason:
— I am very grateful that my cat Fred is okay. We had a last-minute run to the vet’s office yesterday and as always, I fear the worst. Just an eye infection, which means he’ll like me a little less for the next week or so while I have to put drops in.
— Tangentially, I’m always grateful for my husband, who took Fred to the vet, and takes care of so many other things. You know, I almost said, “I don’t know what I’d do without him” but that’s not true, because I spent a lot of years without him, so I do know what it’s like. It sucked.
— Good health in general is always appreciated. This year I had not-actually-appendicitis adenitis, had an unnecessary cancer scare, and struggled with my back issues. But I think I’m very lucky to be relatively healthy, especially compared to some, and I’m grateful for that every day.
— I am grateful for Chipotle, for cupcakes, for glop, for the best burgers in the world (I’m looking at you, Amherst Ale House), for chicken parm, for spaghetti parm, for anything that stands still long enough to be parm-ed, for peanut butter, and for chocolate. (Wow, my whole mouth just filled up with saliva, there.) Today I’m grateful for turkey, for stuffing and cranberries and sweet potatoes and pie. I’m grateful for the commitment we have made to eating healthy, of course, but I’m also grateful for the days we enjoy our favorite things.
— I am grateful for my friends, and the family I have that are also my friends. I see all of them less than I would like, and contrarily I see people I like less more than I would like, and that doesn’t seem fair. But I’m grateful to have them, wherever they are, nearby or out in the ether.
— I am grateful for stories and books, old and new, for authors who write the things that I read and devour, sometimes over and over again. Thank you for putting the stuff in your head out there and sharing it with me. Similarly, I am grateful for Netflix and all the storie I can find there for keeping me entertained while I’m at the gym.
— Lastly, I am grateful for science, for logic, for the fact that facts are still facts, that math is the same in any language, no matter what politics, religion, or the ignorant may say. It drives me to distraction to witness people earnestly arguing that their opinion negates reality, but at the end of the day those facts are still there, unmoved by such shenanigans. As Sam Seaborn once said, “There are certain things you’re sure of — like longitude and latitude.” Cartography aside, I’m glad that’s still true.
Haven’t bought an e-reader yet? Well, this is the week to take the plunge — Amazon’s Black Friday Week has Kindles on sale at great prices.
I love reading, whether it’s a paper book or on my Kindle. I know some people think it’s an “either/or”, but imho, the more ways to read and enjoy my favorite books, the better. The Kindle stores hundreds and hundreds of books — more books than I own, alas — and is incredibly portable. I love having my library with me everywhere I go. Speaking of libraries, borrowing e-books from your local library and reading them on your Kindle is a snap.
One last note: I tell everyone I know to buy the Kindle versions with Special Offers. It lowers your price by $30, and it’s completely unobtrusive — advertisements appear on just the screensaver and the very bottom of your home screen. There are NO ads in your books. So why not save a little money?
Black Friday Deals Week: Kindle e-readers
$30 off Kindle — $49.99 (normally $79.99)
The entry-level Kindle is a great choice and this is the lowest price I’ve ever seen it. Don’t miss this deal!
$20 off Kindle Paperwhite — $99.99 (normally $119.99)
This is the Kindle I currently use. The higher-resolution display and built in adjustable light is terrific for reading anywhere (at night in bed, on planes, etc.)
Offers end November 30 at 11:59pm PT.
Today is my second anniversary, and although I’m spending it mostly at work, in the car and in my doctor’s waiting room, I’m also spending it thinking about the great guy I married and how lucky I am. In his honor (and mine), a quick top ten list for us both.
10 Fun Things About Being Married (at least, for us)
- Sleeping company. I know a lot of people disagree, but I like having someone else around to sleep with at night. Yeah, it means sharing the bed and the covers and so on. But it also means someone else for the cats to walk over, someone else to turn to and say, “Did you hear that?!” when there’s a weird noise at 3 AM, someone else to ignore the telemarketers that call too early, someone else to talk to when you can’t sleep. I like the company.
- Team Kamsler. I may be right and I may be crazy, but either way I’ve got someone who’s promised to be always on my side, right or wrong, no matter what. And I like being part of his team, too.
- Feline management assistance. I’ve been outnumbered by Fred and George for years and finally I’ve got someone else to perform minion duty with me. Fred is pleased that our deplorable lack of adequate staff has finally been addressed.
- In sickness and in health. It stinks that I get more out of this than Dave does, but then again, I’m glad he’s healthier for his sake, not just mine. We’ve all been there — sick as a dog and miserable, wondering if you can make it to Walgreens for Dayquil or if you might pass out on the way. Now there’s someone to make sure I don’t drown in my own sodden tissues.
- Instant Comedy Duo. Dave and I always appreciated each other’s sense of humor, but we’ve got our just-us act down now. It’s like Laurel & Hardy times a million. Secret one-word in-jokes, Friends quotes, and a shared eye roll make the world a funnier place, for just the two of us.
- Heavy lifting. I can’t pick up anything that weighs more than a flea anymore, but even without back limitations, there’s some stuff I wouldn’t have been able to budge. Enter SuperHusband, who can lift many groceries with a single arm. Most impressive.
- Way Up High. Similarly, speaking on behalf of said husband, he gets the benefit of my being tall. There isn’t a shelf I can’t reach.
- Partner in Crime. Dieting, exercising, shopping, it’s all easy together. Unfortunately so is cheating on the diet and being slothful.
- Division of Labor. I’m really good at doing laundry, and (weirdly, I know) I actually like doing it. Dave volunteered to be the one who cleans the bathroom and has an (unnatural, in my opinion) obsession with his new vacuum cleaner.
- Warm Units. I was even promised them in the vows. My feet are ALWAYS cold at night, and Dave is apparently a human furnace. Who needs socks?
So happy anniversary to my very best friend and favorite person in the world. You are awesome, and we’re awesomer together.
Just in time for Halloween, visit the chilling New York Times bestseller that inspired a legendary film — The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.
On sale today only for Kindle at $1.99.
Last week Dave took me to Disney World for my very first visit. It really is the happiest place on earth, though in full disclosure, it’s also one of the busiest, most hectic and somewhat expensive places out there too. We had a magical time, but Disney World is a marathon of a vacation, and not for the faint of heart.
We took a Disney cruise for our honeymoon and loved it, but the ships are relaxing — there’s a limit of how much running around you can do, that limit being the ship itself. Disney World, on the other hand, is enormous. It’s the size of San Francisco (not quite as fabulous, but it tries). Twice the size of Manhattan. It’s 25,000 acres and 40 square miles. I think we walked all of them in the four days we were there.
As an aside, we rented a car instead of relying on Disney transportation. This was a last-minute decision based on me coming down with a thankfully-not-appendicitis abdominal infection two weeks before the trip. The Disney transportation system of buses, monorails and ferry boats is impressive, and I think mostly works well. But we weren’t sure I’d be up to waiting even a short amount of time, when I needed to get out of Dodge. I did okay — just one or two rough patches — but better safe than sorry. We still used transport to get to the Magic Kingdom from the parking area, since you have to. Mostly we used the ferry, which is a nice way to float up to the park, Cinderella’s castle looming into view.
Because I’m a geek, I had as good a time planning our vacation as I did going on it. We made our food plans — ADRs, Advanced Dining Reservations — right away, 180 days out. We didn’t get every restaurant we wanted right away, so I spent the next few months stalking out that elusive Be Our Guest dinner and the pre-park opening breakfast at Crystal Palace until we had everything just right. Then at 60 days out you get your FastPass+ selections — we were able to get one for everything we wanted since we’re not big thrill-riders. And then I found a fantastic group on Facebook for people visiting Disney in September. With slightly over 1600 members, the group was an amazing resource for shopping tips (disposable ponchos are at Dollar Tree! The new Disney Vans are out!), advice about getting around the parks, and trading hard-to-get reservations. I bought a pair of Cleo Crocs on a recommendation from the group, and wore them every day of the trip. Walked about 35 miles in those shoes in 4 days, and no blisters, no pain, no problems.
I was proud of how well I did walking. A couple of years ago, after my back surgery, I couldn’t walk around the block without terrible pain for days. But I’ve been swimming and exercising and getting stronger, and I did okay. For me the hard part is standing, not walking. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of standing (in line) at Disney World. I had some bad moments. But I made it!
The trip was great. We stayed at the Port Orleans – French Quarter resort, which is small, quiet, and quaint. We liked the pool and we liked our room, but we felt a little too “away from it all”. Next time we’ll probably stay at one of the popular Value resorts. You don’t spend that much time in your room regardless, and the resorts all have great pools when you want to take a break and cool off. (I don’t know how people afford the Deluxe resorts, which look awesome — but some of those places are $500 a night. We’re not poor, but sheesh!)
We went to Rope Drop at the Magic Kingdom on our first day. Just before the park opens, the train arrives carrying Mickey and his friends. Along with Disney Cast Members (CMs) they give a welcome show and the park opens. You have to get up really early to get there (it’s crowded) but I’d heard a lot about it and I wanted to see it at least once. I didn’t know that they sing the “Good Morning” song from “Singing in the Rain”. Well, I lost it. My mother used to sing that to wake me up on special days — birthdays, picnics, field trips at school. I was all blubbery. I so wished I could call her at that moment, but it was a happy moment because of it.
We were in the Magic Kingdom every day, but we also visited Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. I loved the Magic Kingdom, of course, but also really enjoyed Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Midway Mania is a blast, and Star Tours more fun than I could have imagined. The safari ride in Animal Kingdom was a lot of fun, as well as the Kali River Rapids ride — we got soaked! I wasn’t a huge fan of Epcot, though Soarin’ alone was worth visiting and I can’t say enough good things about Nine Dragons, a terrific Chinese restaurant in the World Showcase. All in all, I think we used our time really well — all that pre-planning helped. Dave will agree that for a girl on her first visit to Disney, by the time our trip took place I had our four days planned to pretty-near perfection, and we made the most of a short visit.
We purchased the Memory Maker package and got a lot of great pictures. They have PhotoPass photographers throughout the parks and you walk up and have your picture taken. Sometimes there’s a little extra magic in the finished shot. You can buy the photos online individually for $15 each, or you can buy the package for $199 ($169 in advance) and get all of them. We ended up with a couple hundred photographs, about 75 of which we definitely would have wanted — so it was worth it.
We met a lot of characters — having my picture taken with Sulley from Monsters, Inc. was a Disney bucket-list item for me. I have a thing where I don’t really like meeting “face” characters. I mean, the princesses and all. I can’t get over the fact that I’m a grown woman and this is another grown woman pretending to be Sleeping Beauty. But Sulley, Pooh or Donald Duck? That’s totally different.
The characters were great on the whole. Minnie and Daisy Duck make kissy noises when they hug you. Buzz challenged Dave and then danced an impromptu rumba with me. Goofy took one look at Dave’s Goofy shirt and then tried to quit work for the day, figuring this guy had his costume on and could take over. A lot of people think Disney’s just for kids, but it’s not true. We’re grown-ups, but we still love Disney, and we still wanted to have fun and goof around. The characters all understood that.
We shopped a lot. A LOT. The beauty of going to Disney with no kids and not being broke is that when you want things you get them, without worrying about whether you should or not. I got a new Pandora bracelet and charms, we cleaned up at Bonjour Village Gifts (for Beauty & the Beast fans) and Dave got very into pin collecting.
All good things come to an end, though. Eventually it was time to leave. In the moment we were so wiped out, we didn’t think we’d mind. But it didn’t take long for Disney Depression to set in. No one takes our Magic Bands as payment. No one’s told me to “Have a Magical Day” all week. And there are no FastPasses for skipping long lines anywhere. It’s sad.
Good thing our next cruise is in 94 days.