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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.

Book review: The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock

While this is technically Nick Bantock’s seventh entry in the Griffin & Sabine series, the story told within the beautiful pages of “The Pharos Gate” is in fact a much-desired epilogue to “The Golden Mean“, the third book. Here we finally see the last, most difficult steps Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem took to reach each other at the Pharos Gate in Alexandria. Set upon by forces determined to prevent their union, these two nevertheless become one in the most metaphysical sense. While we knew this had come to pass from the events of the second trilogy, nothing compares to experiencing their fusion first or, more accurately, secondhand.

Once again, Bantock’s physical novel itself is a work of art, in the styles of Griffin and Sabine both — two distinct yet harmonizing modalities. The sheer tactile joy of removing printed sheets filled with Griffin’s words and seeing once more Sabine’s distinctive brown script is enough to pull the reader right back into their story. While I am not sure this volume would stand cleanly on its own, it makes a treasured addition to an already fascinating tale. If you are unfamiliar with Griffin & Sabine, I recommend starting and the beginning and staying the course throughout their journey.

I received an advanced readers’ copy of this book for the purpose of review from LibraryThing.

guilty pleasures

Ross: Rachel claims this is her favorite movie.
Chandler: Dangerous Liaisons.
Ross: Correct. Her actual favorite movie is?
Joey: Weekend at Bernie’s.
(Friends, The One With the Embryos)

On my college application, I said my favorite song was the Commendatore scene from Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni. I do like it — it’s a compelling piece of music — but if I was being honest, in 1989, my actual favorite song was probably Lisa Lisa & the Cult Jam’s “Head to Toe”.

Even sadder, “Head to Toe” came out in 1987. By 1989, my favorite song was probably something by Paula Abdul.

Sure, we all wish we had consistently high-brow tastes. And sometimes we do! I really do like Mozart, and my favorite book really is Anna Karenina. At the same time, when I want to wooby with a blanket and the cats, I’m usually reaching for something with a lower IQ requirement. So I share with you, with no small amount of shame, my guilty pleasures.

Movies

Selena (1997): The true story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, a Texas-born Tejano singer who rose from cult status to performing at the Astrodome, as well as having chart topping albums on the Latin music charts. This one stars Jennifer Lopez and Edward James Olmos (if Olmos is in it it can’t be all bad!) and I could watch it FOREVER. I’m nearly physically incapable of changing the channel if it’s on, despite, yes, owning a copy as well. BIDI BIDI BOM BOM.

The Twilight Series, but especially Eclipse. Look, these movies are crap. There’s no two ways about it. I own them all, though. There’s no good explanation. The plots are trite, the dialogue is mediocre at best. I’m frequently rooting for the bad vampires. Mostly the wolves. The soundtracks are surprisingly good (Iron & Wine, for crying out loud!) and there are some neat visuals. I find Kristen Stewart oddly mesmerizing. And Taylor Lautner’s abs are distracting. As Edward says:

Edward himself is singularly unappealing to me (what happened to that handsome young lad in Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire?). And they’re both young enough to be my kids, so there’s that. (Well, Pattinson only if I started REALLY young.)

The Devil’s Advocate (1997). This one is my husband’s fault. It’s his guilty pleasure movie, one he has a supernatural ability to find airing on TBS at any given time. Al Pacino gives the worst performance of his career (did he lose a bet?) and Keanu Reeves makes you wish he was playing a robot in a plot full of holes you can drive a semi through, while Charlize Theron changes her hairstyle and hopes you forget she was even in this piece of dreck.

Just about any dance movie, ever. Favorites include Center Stage, Strictly Ballroom, Dirty Dancing, Footloose, All the Step Up movies (all five!), Shall We Dance, White Nights, Mad Hot Ballroom, Coyote Ugly, Billy Elliot, Singin’ in the Rain, and Save the Last Dance. If there’s dancing anywhere in it, I’ll watch it. Repeatedly. Starting with when it premieres in the theater. Me and a lot of teenagers, usually. I’m there.

Books

You know, I don’t feel guilty about these. They’re great books. It’s just the sheer number of times I’ve read them that borders on embarrassing.

Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay: I once started this book at a favorite scene somewhere near the midway point, finished, went back to the beginning, and read the entire book through again, to the end.

Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. The ones she actually wrote, not the ones her son has written since she died. (No offense, Todd.) I think what lies beneath this obsession is a deeply-rooted desire to able to communicate telepathically with my cats, along with the knowledge that we would be bonded for life. On the other hand, sometimes I think their thoughts might not be particularly flattering, especially on the days they haven’t had any Fancy Feast.

The Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still have the same yellow paperback set I had as a child. By the Banks of Plum Creek! By the Shores of Silver Lake! Nellie Olsen. Almanzo. Nearly freezing and starving to death in The Long Winter. Pa and his fiddle. Good times!

Having said that, there are a few books that only keep from embarrassing me out of an admiration for the written word in all forms. Judith Krantz’ Princess Daisy. Flowers in the Attic. Jean Auel’s books, especially the latter ones like The Plains of Passion — I mean, Passage. Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches saga. Janet Dailey’s Calder books. And oh, The Da Vinci Code. I hang my head in literary shame.

Songs

The Spice Girls, Wannabe. They sold, like, a zillion copies of that CD, but no one ever, ever admits to having owned it.

Britney Spears, Womanizer. I’ve got an excuse for this one. It was my favorite routine on the Wii “Just Dance” exercise program. I mean, with lyrics like “Womanizer, woman-womanizer, You’re a womanizer, Oh, womanizer, oh, You’re a womanizer, baby”, what’s not to like, right? But it does make a good workout song.

Carly Rae Jepson, Call Me Maybe. Every now and then a song is so annoying you end up liking it, which doesn’t make sense but it’s still true. I still feel like this song got published on a dare, but if so, it paid off.

The Backstreet Boys, As Long As You Love Me. Okay, I’ve got no defense for BSB. It’s not like they can consider themselves pseudo-cool like NSYNC for bringing us Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, and Joey Fatone (hey, he was good in My Big Fat Greek Wedding!). I can’t name a single other song of theirs, but I like this one. It’s nice!

Lastly, and this I say with no shame whatsoever, Sonny & Cher’s I Got You, Babe. You know, this song had a bad rap for a long time, but I don’t know why. It was sung by two kids who were nuts about each other, and stayed good friends for the rest of their lives, even after their marriage ended. I had this song played at my wedding and it’s one of my favorite memories of the whole night. So I’ll leave you with a very early performance, from 1965:

back again, a cruise, and dizzy

Last year turning into this one has been interesting for me, to say the least. It was sometimes amazingly wonderful, to say the best, and sometimes pretty lousy, to say the worst. I had a re-occurrence of back issues, followed by an amazing Disney cruise, followed by a bizarre (but familiar to me) case of dizzyness I’m still shaking off the dregs of now. So that was ouch, yay, and ugh, for anyone keeping score.

I had back surgery in 2012. It was, well, mostly successful, but not completely so. An oft-repeated mantra I’ve had to accept is that “the purpose of back surgery is not to fix your back, but to make it better than it was”. You rarely fix backs. Sometimes you make them better. Sometimes you don’t even do that. I’ve had a couple of bad back pain incidents since the surgery, and each one scared the bejeezus out of me. This one made it impossible to sit comfortably — that’s not hard on anyone’s life, right? (Anyone else ever have sciatica? Cringe with me now.) Luckily, I found a great new doctor, a physiatrist who helped me get past the pain and back on my feet, with some drugs, some physical therapy, and some patience. I also got a brand-new MRI that at the very least assured me there’s nothing terribly wrong with my back, just the usual bulges and whatnot everyone has — in other words, this time when a doctor looked at my MRI he didn’t say, “Oh dear god this is terrible”, so that was a step in the right direction.

Back pain Public Service Announcement: we were somewhat startled to realize that each time my back has been bad, since the surgery, it’s been the end of November/beginning of December. Like clockwork. My doctor says this is actually quite common — fall, and the change of seasons, is his busiest time. Moral of this story: go south.

As luck would have it, we had plans to go south, to the Caribbean, to be specific, for a wonderful cruise on the Disney Fantasy — back after having a terrific time on our honeymoon. I can’t say enough good things about the Fantasy. The rooms are spacious, the service is impeccable, the fun is everywhere to be had. A short glimpse of our trip:

The warm weather got my back feeling a thousand percent better on just the first day alone. (The jacuzzi helped too.) We had a terrific time.

But… the moment the cruise was over and we got back on land, something I dreaded happened. After the last cruise I found myself stuck with my sea legs. As the days and weeks went by, I still felt like I was on the ship, swaying back and forth, sometimes almost violently. It wasn’t a pleasant rocking. It wasn’t something that went away after a few days. Several different medicines and several different specialist visits later, we learned I had something called Mal de Débarquement syndrome. It’s super rare. It stinks. There’s no treatment. You just have to wait for it to hopefully subside. Luckily, that time, it did, after a miserable month. (Some people have it a lot longer. Like, even for years.)

Why did I cruise again, if this had happened to me before? Eh, I don’t know. I thought I hadn’t taken the right seasickness meds, I thought it was a fluke, I thought it wouldn’t happen again. But I did everything I could, this time, and it didn’t matter. They don’t know what causes this, but it tends to happen to women in their 40s who get migraines (raises hand) more than anyone else, so apparently I’m the poster child for MdDS. And this time it was worse. We came back from the cruise on January 9. This time it took closer to two months for my symptoms to fade, and they were stronger. Two really miserable months, and I didn’t want to talk about it, or the cruise, or anything much else for most of that time.

Today, though, I’m pretty close to being completely better. I feel like I’m just getting off the ship, in more ways than one. My back is in better shape, the world isn’t tilting precariously, and the snow is melting. So, it’s good to be back, finally. Land ho!

A new (for real!) Harry Potter book is coming — Harry Potter play script of “the eighth story” tops book charts

curschild
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”.

Source: Harry Potter play script hits No 1 on book charts a day after announcement of ‘eighth story’ | Books | The Guardian

Amazon’s Kindle will make it easier to find a good book

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.”

An upcoming update to Kindle e-book readers promises a faster way to check your existing library and track down your next read.

(Source: Amazon Kindle wants to ease your hunt for a good book)

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.

2015 in books

book street cat named bobI read 43 books this year, which is a bit more than last year (but still a ways off my all-time 2012 high of 54).

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

 

Year in Review – 2015 edition

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…

20151. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

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?

FredCo, LLC

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?

Worrying.

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?

Modern Family

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?

True love

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?

The Shortlist
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.

Random grateful thoughts – Thanksgiving edition

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.

Kindle on sale — Black Friday sales all week at Amazon

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.