Final post for 2011…. Happy New Year!

Since I have to work tomorrow (New Year’s Eve) I decided it was time to do my final post of the year tonight.  Yes, I should (Lord willing) get home shortly after 9pm, but it’s probable that I won’t want to write in the blog after a long day at work, so, tonight’s the night!

Last year I had every intention to “go through every cupboard, closet, and dusty box in the garage” in an effort to DE-clutter my home.  I planned to give away everything I didn’t truly love or need.  Well, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t get through every single drawer, closet, and dusty box.  I did get through a fair amount of my stuff and we did actually give away quite a few bags and boxes of stuff.  It truly DOES feel great to de-clutter, and I will once again make it a priority in 2012 to finish the job, yet undone.

I mentioned briefly last year that I hoped to lose some weight – for lots of reasons.  Highest on my list was to help my “broken” hip.  Well, I did lose some weight and am happy to report that this New Year’s Eve I weigh 13 pounds less than I did last year at this time.  Okay, it’s not great and I did gain back some of the weight I managed to lose, but it’s all okay.  I will start again at the turn of the year, and maybe next year I can report similar progress.

Next year we have a major event in store!  The birth of our long awaited, dreamed for, hoped for, prayed for, grandbabies!  They are due in early May, but realistically we know they will arrive sooner.  I am praying that they will make it into April… the neonatal nurse in me knows WAAYYY too much about “what could happen” and I try very hard NOT to dwell on any of that.  Yesterday I went out into the garage, into my craft cupboard and found a cross stitch sampler I started when my youngest (now 33) was a baby.  I don’t quite remember just why I didn’t finish it, but now I have MAJOR motivation.  Here’s a snapshot of it, taken yesterday. Oh yeah, there’s another goal for next year!  Get this adorable sampler done and ready to hang!

I’m also going to go back to putting my book reviews under the “Books 2012” tab at the top of the page.  I have a feeling that with the grandbabies (yup, a boy and a girl!) coming next year, that I will have lots and lots to put in the main section of the blog.

I’ve decided to get involved in a “reading challenge” also this coming year!  It’s called the “Historical Fiction Challenge 2012”.  I’ll be trying to read under Level Two – “Undoubtedly Obsessed” where I’ll be striving to read 15 historical books this year.  I think I’ll manage it, although believe it or not, I DO read more than just historical stuff, although it’s definitely my “go-to” genre.

I also have one final book review for this year.  Recently I finished reading a book on my phone.  Yep. I took advantage of the free Kindle app and it took me a year, but I finished it!  It was called “I Still Dream About You” by Fannie Flagg.  Her books are easy to follow… even though it would sometimes be days or weeks before I’d pick it up again.  I really enjoyed the book and will most definitely read more by her in the future! Well, that’s about it for my end of the year post.  As always, I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and wonderful new year 2012.  Stay tuned for frequent Twin updates… as well as much, much more!!

Books and babies

Here we are, nearly done with 2011.  Amazing.  I could write a novel about this past year, but I’ll spare my readers the ramblings – and cut to the chase!  By now you all know that Son #2 and Dear DIL are expecting twins, through the miracle and generosity of embryo adoption. Here are the two most recent baby bump photos:

Yesterday we found out the gender of the babies.  I was overjoyed to learn that we are having……. ONE OF EACH!  A boy AND a girl!!  Awesome!  Brilliant!  Can you tell I’m ecstatic?  Shoot, I would have been happy with two girls or two boys… but there is just something particularly lovely about having one of each.  We are all smiles here, that’s for sure.  And grateful.  And thankful.

Now for my end of year book reviews.  They will be short, they will be sweet.  Maybe not so sweet.  Here are the three books I finished recently:

This was the fourth or possibly the fifth in the “Irish Country Doctor” series by Patrick Taylor.  I have thoroughly enjoyed EVERY SINGLE ONE of these books.  I have listened to EVERY SINGLE ONE on CD and absolutely adore the reader/narrator.  This volume actually got specific in describing a few medical situations and of course I ate that stuff up.  Non-medical people might not be as thrilled as I was to read all those details.  I splurged and pre-ordered this one from  Sure hope that the author, Dr Patrick Taylor (who now lives in Canada) will be coming out with another one VERY soon!

The Winthrop Woman, by Anya Seton… my first book by this beloved historical author.  This novel was written in the mid 1950’s and is set in both England and the New England (American) Colonies in the early 1600’s.  I enjoyed it very much, although it took me nearly forever to finish it.  I don’t often read books of this era, so a lot of the events and circumstances were fairly new to me.  Ahhhh, another reason I DO love reading historical books — I learn so much from them!  Okay, I said I’d keep this section “short and sweet”, so let’s move on to my final novel of the year….

Say When, by Elizabeth Berg.  Oh good heavens…. when will I learn?  I have read at least 3 Berg novels this year and none impressed me.  I guess I keep remembering some of her previous books that really WERE excellent.  Well, this one wasn’t.  I still do not understand the fantastic ratings most of her books receive on Amazon.  Maybe the women who read them and truly love them are lacking a few brain cells?  Well this was another novel that really lacked substance.  I most certainly DO NOT recommend this one…. it’s all about a couple who have been married 12 years (or thereabouts) and have a 6 yr old daughter…. the wife falls out of love with hubby, falls IN love with her local auto mechanic (lame!) and essentially how they break up and then make up.  End of story.  Blah.

I do plan to try and do one more post this year…. one that will briefly address my plans/goals (I refuse to use the word “resolution”) for next year… as well as a brief report on how I did with last year’s “plans and goals”!

The Union Quilters: An Elm Creek Quilt Novel

I’ve been reading Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilt novels for years, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed them all….until I read “The Union Quilters”. This book is set during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the author tries to incorporate some of the familiar characters from previous books into this one. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. This book should never have been written as an Elm Creek Quilts novel. Since the author is obviously intensely interested in Civil War history, she should have, in my humble opinion, just written this book as a remembrance of the Civil War in Pennsylvania. The amount of detail in regards to the movement of various armies and all their leading officers is not only overwhelming, its just plain boring. I sure hope Ms Chiaverini is done writing about the Civil War. I think everybody is ready for her to get back to the winning combination of modern day, the escapades of the Elm Creek quilters, and the Elm Creek quilt camp. Unless you are a SERIOUS CIVIL WAR buff and interested in Pennsylvania history, I’d definitely skip this book.

On another note, I can only say great things about the reader/narrator of ALL the audio Elm Creek Quilt novels, Christina Moore. She makes listening a pleasure! However, even her fantastic narration couldn’t keep me interested in “The Union Quilters”.

Two brief book reviews

I recently finished two books.  One, the kind you actually read, and the other I listened to.  The book I read was Till We Meet Again, by Lesley Pearse.  This is one of my favorite English authors who can really weave a story.  I’ve read lots of books by Ms Pearse (one of my favorites was entitled “Written on Glass”) and I had very high hopes for this one.  It was set from the 1960’s to the early 2000’s and was about two childhood friends who lost track of each other and then were reunited in rather odd circumstances.  One main character was on trial for murder, and the other was her lawyer.  Most of the time I don’t really enjoy mysteries.  I certainly don’t seek them out to read… and honestly, I didn’t know this novel was going to be a mystery.  I liked this book, but I didn’t love it.  No worries, I still have several Lesley Pearse books in my to-read pile and even though I didn’t love the book, I still have great admiration for the author.

The book I listened to was “22 Britannia Road” by Amanda Hodgkinson.  This book was set during and after WWII in England and Poland.  The author did an excellent job of jumping back and forth between the two main characters (a husband and wife) and the years/settings.  This couple were separated by war at the very beginning in 1939 and miraculously were reunited in 1946.  The fact that they were able to find each other again played less into the story than just how their new life together was less than “happily ever after”.  This was a well written, well researched debut novel for Hodgkinson.  That said,  while I was listening I often thought “what a sad story”; “what a dark book”; “this is sort of depressing”.  For that reason I couldn’t give it 5 stars, but I’ll surely give it 4.  The narrator/reader was 5+ stars!  EXCELLENT narration!!  If you have never tried audio books, I highly recommend them!  Obviously there are some narrators/readers out there that are not great – but the vast majority are quite good and really add a little extra “something” to even the finest book.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

A while back I read this author’s first book entitled “Still Alice” and absolutely loved it.  That book was about a woman who developed early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Alice was a loveable main character.   This book was about a 37 year old woman who was in a car accident and incurred brain damage which left her pretty much unaware of her left side.  Unlike Alice, this main character, “Sarah”, was not particularly loveable.  In fact, I didn’t like this woman AT ALL through the first two-thirds of the book.  I didn’t even feel sorry for her when she got into “the big accident”.  Why?  Well, she was SO into herself and her high-powered job that she really had little time for her three kids or her husband.  Maybe it’s just me.  I think that having a job is great (obviously, as I’ve had one for all of my adult life) but I also place more importance on family than this woman did.  That aside, it WAS interesting to learn about the real neurological condition of “left neglect”.  People really DO suffer from right-sided brain damage that leaves them unaware of anything on their left side.  Medically, this was a very interesting book!  Towards the end, I began to like Sarah more.  She struggled with her disability, learned to love her family more, and faced hard decisions with more than the “how would that affect my job” mentality.

I listened to this book on CD and thought the reader was excellent.  I will most certainly read more by Lisa Genova in the future!  She certainly writes an intelligent novel, well based on fact.

The Soldier’s Wife, by Margaret Leroy

I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but I’m certainly glad I discovered it!  Unfortunately I had to check it out twice from our local library before I finished it.  So I read it in a bit of a “broken up” way, but it was still an excellent read!   Set before and during WWII on the German occupied English island of Guernsey, it’s about a woman who lives with her two daughters and elderly mother in law.  First off I wasn’t thrilled with the title of this book.  The “soldier” in the title is obviously the woman’s husband who plays literally no role whatsoever in this novel.  Vivienne is so much more than that “soldier’s wife”.  I’m thinking a different title would have  been so much more apropos.  That aside, this was truly an engrossing book and beautifully written.  Vivienne doesn’t miss her soldier husband who is off fighting for the Brits somewhere.  Theirs was a loveless marriage.  Then the Germans take over a large home next to hers and Vivienne begins a stealth relationship/love affair with one of the German Captains.   It’s much, much more than a love story – you know by now that if that’s all it was, there is no way I would be able to give it a great review.  The author does not sugarcoat life under the German occupation.  You get a fairly good taste of what everyday life may have been like in those times.

If you enjoy books set during WWII, you will certainly enjoy this one as well!  I have had friends at work tell me that I’d love the “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” – which is also set in the same place as The Soldier’s Wife, and during the same time.  Honestly I really did TRY to like that book.  I guess I couldn’t get past the way in which it was written – in the form of letters – and gave up on it after 30 pages or so.  After reading this one and enjoying it so much, I thought maybe I’d give the other one more try.  Then I changed my mind.  Too many good books, too little time!

Two more books!

It may seem like I’ve been in a reading frenzy lately, but I don’t think it is any more than usual – but I’ve finished a couple nearly at the same time, so I’ll briefly review them both.  The first is entitled “War Brides”, written by Helen Bryan.  It’s set in a genre that I love, WWII England.  I’ll admit that the name of the book is rather cheesy, and when I started reading it I wondered if it was going to be another of those silly, fluffy romance novels that I hate.  But I kept on reading because I held out hope that it would be a good book.  After all, it was recommended by the handful of us WWII nuts on (of which I am one) who share these English novels between us.  I’m glad I hung in there.  This book was not a bunch of silly gibbering about wartime romance, apart from what the title would imply.  It was about a group of five women from all different walks of life who end up living the war years mostly together in a large home in the English countryside.  I think the biggest problem I had with the book was as I mentioned, the beginning.  The author did not do a great job (IMHO) of introducing each character.  I found it quite confusing for a while, but was so glad I hung in there.   A great story about strong women who lived through some incredibly tough times.

I’ve often asked myself why does the WWII era interest you so??  I guess it’s for several reasons.  It was a time when everyone had to pull together, to actually fight (in many ways) for the freedom that I think we take waaaay too much for granted.  It was an era where my own parents met and fell in love, and I often imagine them listening to some of those great old Glenn Miller songs together.  And why England?  Well, I like WWII novels set in the USA as well, but it was in England where people really had to struggle with daily life and the fear of what could be flying overhead or landing on the beach, everyday.  Maybe I have a bit of a soft spot for England because my dear husband’s parents lived that struggle themselves.  He in the Royal Worcestershire Regiment and she, at home, in a mine detonator factory.   I think I would have loved to have lived then…. but maybe I’m wrong.

The next book is called “Room” by Emma Donoghue.  I’d heard – or read a lot of great things about this unusual novel and was excited to get the audio version from our local library.  People, I have listened to a LOT of audio books and never has one grabbed me the way this one did.  Frankly, I’m surprised I was able to drive and listen at the same time!  My mind was completely caught up in the world of “Room”.  Room was an 11 X 11 foot converted garden shed where Jack (the 5 year old main character) and his Ma lived his entire life.  They were held captive by “Old Nick” – the bad guy who kidnapped Ma when she was 19 and kept her “all to himself”.  Obviously, Room was locked so Ma and Jack had to depend on Old Nick for virtually everything.   I won’t do a synopsis of the book, but suffice it to say, this was incredible.  The person reading Jack’s part in the audio version was the most convincing reader I have EVER heard.  The whole book was strange, and scary, and crazy, and amazing, and yet full of love.  If I were giving star ratings, I’d give this one 4 out of 5, only because the middle of the book fizzled a tiny bit.  But only a tiny bit.  This was a great read!

Hannah’s List by Debbie Macomber

Someday I’ll learn.  Light, fluffy, untrue to real life, romance novels are just NOT for me.  I grabbed this from the library shortly before leaving on a vacation and hoped that it would be at least tolerable.  A few of the characters in this book are part of this author’s “Blossom Street” series, and I actually have enjoyed some of those books.  This one however was almost what one might call “a total waste of time”.  So silly, so ridiculous, so contrived.  In a nutshell: Michael marries Hannah.  They live happily ever after for 12 years.  Then she dies of ovarian cancer.  One year later Michael is given a letter from Hannah – well, via her brother.  Hannah suggests three women that Michael should consider for his next wife.   Oh come on!  Who would do this?  Of course Michael checks out all three.  You know immediately which one he will end up with but it has to follow that ridiculous romance novel scenario  where they meet, like each other, fall for each other, then have a big falling out of some sort, then find a way to get back together and live happily ever after.  The funny thing — this was an audio book and during some of our driving time on the recent vacation, I popped in the CD and my dear, dear, long-suffering husband actually listened along with me.  When I’d say “lets find out whats happening with Michael and his three ladies” my dear hubby would feign excitement and say “oh yes, I’m dying to know which lady he ends up with…..!”  Lets be honest here.  I was bored to tears, and hubby, well, he loathed this waste of paper and/or CD’s.  Oh well.  We got quite a few good laughs, tittering over this silly nothing of a novel.

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I normally don’t read controversial books.  Hey, everybody knows by now that I like historical novels… great stories based on fact – from times in our past, particularly eras in which I was not alive.  So, it’s a little surprising that I chose to read another of Jodi Picoult’s books- her most recent entitled “Sing You Home”.  It tackled some pretty hot topics…. Gay rights.  Embryo adoption.  Maybe this book grabbed me because I have close family members who are currently very involved in embryo adoption.  Maybe I was just ready to try another of Ms Picoult’s novels.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve never really read one of her books.  I have listened to them on CD and have to say that they are some of the best narrations I’ve heard.  This book was no exception – in the narration department.  The voices that portrayed the main characters of Zoe, Max, & Vanessa were impeccable.  Zoe was a “music therapist” (I’ve never heard of one before) and this recording – all 14 CD’s – had music interspersed.  I’ll be upfront here.  I don’t listen to books to hear music.   When I want to listen to music, I listen to music.    What I’m saying I guess is that the funky, cheesy “songs” that accompanied the reading of the book added nothing to the story and other than about 15 seconds of each one, I skipped over them.

I have a pretty open mind.  I’ve seen a LOT since I started working in a big-city hospital several years ago.  I’ve seen many different definitions of the word, “family”.  I’ve seen 50+ year old women giving birth to twins via invitro fertilization – and egg donation – and sperm donation (why, WHY, WHY would one go to such lengths at that age to have more children?? Yes, these were not her first).  I’ve seen single homeless women who’ve given birth to natural triplets.  I’ve seen twenty-somethings who are super proud of the new baby they’ve given birth to while hubby is away in the service of our country…. So proud that they bring to the hospital their present “boyfriend” as well as “the father of the baby” (two different guys)… neither of which happened to be the husband who was like I said – away serving our country in the armed forces.  We’ve had plenty of babies with two moms, babies born to drug addicts, and babies born to “regular” families.  I think my perspective has broadened and the main thing is that I want the kids to be brought up in loving homes.  However, call me super old fashioned if you’d like, but ideally I still believe that the best environment for a child (key word: best) is to be with a mom and a dad who love each other.  Frankly, there are fewer and fewer homes like this these days.  Soooooooooooooooo….. back to the book……………

The main character, Zoe, had infertility issues.  She and Max were married and tried IVF to conceive a baby.  She miscarried (several times).  She and Max get ultra-stressed out over the whole thing and end up getting a divorce after 9 years of marriage.  Zoe is devastated by the divorce, the miscarriage, her subsequent hysterectomy, and ends up falling in love with a woman, Vanessa.  They get married.  Max is an alcoholic who spirals out of control and ends up living with his older brother and his wife.  They are members of a church which is portrayed in the book as a bunch of crazy Christian nut jobs.  This is my biggest criticism of this book.  I know there are some nutty churches out there (like the Westboro Baptist “Church” who are a tiny congregation of crazy activists and DO NOT represent the Christian faith IN THE LEAST).  What ticked me off is that the author doesn’t define this church as radical in any way, and allows the reader to assume this is simply how “Christians” behave.  As a Christian myself, I know this is not true.

Zoe and Max have three frozen embryos and, funny thing – they were not addressed in the divorce papers. After three months of marriage to Vanessa, Zoe decides she wants the embryos for Vanessa to gestate. She approaches Max for his consent and he decides that he wants the babies to have a chance at life with his “good Christian” brother and wife who are themselves infertile.  Hence the lawsuit begins.

This book was actually quite well written, and addressed so many subjects that are sensitive.  I won’t give away the ending here, you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.  Several times I was so angry at the way Christianity was portrayed, that I nearly stopped reading it.  Yet I hung in there and all I’ll say is that I wasn’t totally offended and up in arms about the ending.  It sure kept my attention over the 14 sound discs – and that’s saying something.  I’m pretty sure that this won’t be my last Jodi Picoult novel…. But I think I’m done with seriously controversial material for a while anyway.  My blood pressure can’t take it!!

Heartwood by Belva Plain

I discovered Belva Plain as an author back in the early 80’s I believe, and read everything she ever wrote.  She is on my personal “Favorite Author List” which includes fantastic writers such as Rosamunde Pilcher and Maeve Binchy.   This, her final novel, was bittersweet. She must have known she was nearing the end of her life as she wrote this book as a wrap up to her first (and finest, in my humble opinion) novel, “Evergreen”. The book was set in the 1970’s and early 80’s and was a very easy and quick read involving Iris (daughter of Anna in “Evergreen”) and her daughter, Laura. It was about love, and life, and family – all things that Belva Plain was known for in her novels. It wasn’t exactly riveting, but still, it’s a MUST READ for all of Belva Plain’s fans, like myself.  She died last year, and will certainly be missed my many.