Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Things Your Infertile Friend Wishes You Knew

So your friend just told you she has some form of infertility. This is a moment in your friendship where it's time to listen to her and support her. She may or may not have told you specifics of her situation. It doesn't matter. What matters is that she told you because she trusts you. She may have also been so overwhelmed about telling you, for fear of your reaction, that she didn't think to tell you some of the things she wishes you knew all along, and hopes you will remember. Perhaps you were overwhelmed by the news to ask what you could do to be there for her as a friend.

This is where the list below may come in handy. While it's not comprehensive, it's a list of some things I wish my friends and family knew, and what my MRKH Sisters wish their networks knew. MRKH is a form of primary infertility I talked about in an earlier post that affects only women and mainly affects the reproductive system. In sum, according to Genetics Home Reference, "this condition causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent. Affected women usually do not have menstrual periods due to the absent uterus," though I'd like to point out that many still ovulate due to the presence of ovaries (we get the PMS without the period, yay! *sarcasm*)

This post isn't meant to sound preachy and it does not apply to everyone dealing with infertility. These are some things that are big no-no's, but if you learn that your friend(s) are not bothered by some of things then you know that line can be crossed. Keep in mind that it really depends on the person, and pregnancy in general is bothersome to those with infertility.

I realize that the following list is a lot to remember, so if you're unsure about whether or not something may bother your friend, ask her. Just the simple act of asking shows your thoughtfulness and caring, and that you listen to her. Your comments and questions are also welcome at the end of this post.

I am grieving the loss of my fertility - something I always thought I had

Grief is a lifelong journey. It's not something to simply get over or deal with immediately. Grieving the loss of being able to choose whether or not to get pregnant is real and painful. It's much like grieving a loved one because I'm grieving the children I dreamed of having as a little girl and may never have.

Sometimes a pregnancy announcement won't bother me a lot - I'll get small pang of pain, but it's not a big deal. Sometimes it will bother me more than usual if I'm already having a bad day and/or if it's the 5th one I've received in a short period of time.

I wish you'd remember me on Mother's Day, and my partner on Father's Day 
These are difficult days. Though I do celebrate my own parents and parent-like people in my life, it's difficult for me to not be reminded of my own struggle or inability to become a mother through pregnancy.

Other women may have miscarried and are grieving those children around these holidays. I grieve the inability to carry children.

Men are also experiencing this hardship. They are just as heartbroken, frustrated and disappointed to have yet another Father's Day come and go without a child of their own.

I found these tips from RESOLVE helpful on how to celebrate these holidays.

I need days (or weeks) alone to grieve
Please give me the space to grieve in my own way when I need to, and don't take it personally if it suddenly feels like I'm pulling away. It's not personal, I just tend to withdraw into myself and need time alone and/or with my partner to grieve.

Sometimes my grief comes on suddenly and unexpectedly when even the littlest things remind me of this painful struggle. Please respect my boundaries and allow me the space to grieve on my own terms.

I appreciate it when you listen to me
Even if you don't understand what I'm going through, be the friend you've always been and listen to me. Just knowing that you're willing to listen to what I have to say means the world to me.

I appreciate hugs and support, not advice
When we're discussing infertility or getting pregnant, telling me to just relax or just get over it or that I should(n't) feel a certain way are some of the worst possible advice to give. Why? Because they're unwarranted, and often incorrect. Instead, recognize that my feelings are real and valid regardless of whether or not you understand them. Recognize that I'm going through a difficult time, could use a friend, and give me a hug.

I put my feelings aside for others because I feel guilty
I feel guilty and ashamed that I am unable to achieve a pregnancy - something that is so defining of what it means to be a woman. It's taken me a long time to have accepted this inability as a part of my life and that I'm still very much a woman despite my body failing me. It's hard, though not impossible, for me to not feel guilty or ashamed. I don't want sympathy and I don't like feeling guilty, so I put my feelings aside for others.

I am sad for me, but oh so happy for you

While I am saddened by the reminder of what I don't or can't have, it doesn't mean that I am any less happy for you. I am so excited and happy that you're experiencing the miracle of life. I will do everything I can to be a part of your journey if you'll let me.

I still want to be included in stuff

Please still include me in things. I appreciate the gesture and knowing you still want me around. It also gives me the chance to decide for myself whether or not I'm up for it.

I feel like an outsider sometimes
MRKH women feel like outsiders when it comes to period talk. We don't experience periods the way that most women do. Although we do not have a uterus or normally functioning one, we still have functioning ovaries. Don't tell us we're lucky to never have a period because we still "experience the awesomeness of hormone surges, without the bleeding part," as one woman put it.

Also as an MRKH woman, I'll never experience childbirth and I don't want to be a part of these conversations because I feel uncomfortable and it's heartbreaking to hear about it.

Others with different forms of infertility who struggle to get pregnant and stay pregnant feel left out of pregnancy conversations too.

I wish you didn't complain about your pregnancy to me
I know it must be miserable being pregnant because it's why you're complaining. PLEASE STOP. If you know that I'm struggling with infertility, why are you complaining to me? It's insulting and disrespectful that you aren't considering my feelings, and heartbreaking because it's a reminder of what I can't experience. I realize that you must be going through a rough time, but so am I. Please don't be so selfish as to complain to your friend with infertility.

I wish you didn't brag about your easy and wonderful pregnancy to me
Personally, it doesn't matter why someone is talking about pregnancy - the word alone annoys me. This particular point doesn't bother me as much as the complaining, yet others feel the opposite. For me, I can be happy they're happy and still feel sad for myself. It's not so easy for other infertile women to feel this way.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to be more upset that someone is gushing about their positive experience. I want that used to ring through my head, along with why not me? As I hit my mid-twenties I started to accept that it'll never happen and I'm not as bothered by the positive experiences anymore. I'm also naturally attracted to positivety. 

I appreciate you telling me you're pregnant face to face

A close friend of mine from childhood waited to tell me in person that she was pregnant. She knew the importance of telling me this news face to face. It meant the world to me, and it wasn't nearly as painful as being told via a Facebook post or message, or text or even a phone call. She made it personal because she knows my infertility is personal. She recognized that her good news would be a heartbreaking blow for me, and it wasn't nearly as heartbreaking as it could've been knowing she remembered how painful it could be. Her respecting my feelings is a mark of a true friend.

Infertility still hurts even after adoption, IVF, or surrogacy

Thanks to another MRKH woman for mentioning this one. There is no cure for the emotional pain. Having a child is not the end all, be all solution to the emotional healing of infertility. While those with infertility are eternally grateful and happy for their children, it doesn't stop the underlying pain of the lifelong journey.

I know there are different ways to start a family
Another MRKH woman said it well, "I am clearly upset by my diagnosis, so I don't need you to tell me (like everyone else) that I can adopt, use IVF, or surrogacy. Unless I ask you for advice, chances are I know my options."

And yet another woman pointed out that, "it may not be feasible for me and my partner to pursue those options for a variety of personal reasons."

Comments like "there are other ways to have kids! Adoption or surrogacy!" are ignorant and hurtful. Even though that is true, both those options are insanely expensive, and adoption has very strict guidelines on who gets a kid or not. I/we may not qualify.

"You can be a foster parent! It could lead to adoption!" I know it's an option. I've thought about it and have either decided to do it, or I chose not to for a variety of reasons.

Dating is difficult, and an early infertility diagnosis makes it harder
When dating, it is difficult news to break to a potential partner. It poses so many questions such as how much do I tell them and when? Should I tell them all at once or in stages? How do I tell them my preferences of adoption or surrogacy, or neither? Another MRKH woman reminded me that as heterosexual women, we encounter a lot of men who are not okay with adoption because they want children of their own. I am sure that gays and lesbians encounter the same issue in dating, but I can't speak to that from experience or through others experiences. (Please comment your experiences if you would like to share).

I've had guys who are not okay with even pursuing gestational surrogacy to have a biological child, and it is okay they're not okay with it. In traditional surrogacy, the baby would be biologically his, and biologically the surrogates. The reasons why vary, and are even sometimes unclear. I think it's partially a matter of education and debunking the myths associated with surrogacy.

Please understand that this might be a big reason as to why I'm still single. I've often said it weeds out the assholes. The heartbreak of a break up doesn't get easier even if it's a good thing to decide sooner rather than later that infertility is a deal-breaker.

Also, making comments like "you'll find him/her someday" doesn't help when the real issue is the fear of being rejected because of infertility. I've had years to come to terms with this diagnosis, they have had much less time to process it. Some are definitely not okay with not having kids or the difficulty of having them, and some think I may change my mind about my preference for adoption over surrogacy.

Not all of us want to be mothers, but that doesn't mean not being able to choose is less painful.
It's because infertility is also an emotional struggle and grieving process. This doesn't need further explanation. See the grieving points above.

I wish you knew that because I don't have my own kids it doesn't mean I am free (or even want) to mind yours
This wish came from another MRKH woman, and while it wasn't necessarily something I would've thought to include, it's worth nothing that sometimes people assume that because someone is child-free, they're automatically available to babysit. In addition to the statement above, she said, "I want you to know that I fully embrace the child-free life and all it's benefits and in no way should people think it is okay to encroach on that."

I want you to know that other child-free women by matter of infertility and/or choice may get enjoyment out of doting on your children and that's their way of being part of children's lives.

I wish you wouldn't try to pawn your children off on me
Comments like "Well, you could have mine" aren't funny to everyone. I don't want your children, I want my own children, or those up for adoption, or I might be perfectly happy with my child-free life.

I wish you knew or acknowledged that my child-free life has just as much value as those who do have children

Although this can be applied to women who do not have infertility, I am still including it since infertility is often a reason why women and their partners decide to remain child-free. They may decide after years of struggling to become pregnant, or adopt or have a successful surrogate pregnancy that being child-free is the way to go.

Regardless of the reason(s) why, whether it's to focus on careers and/or not wanting to suffer through more attempts, or a multitude of other reasons, our child-free lives have just as much value as yours does with children.

I wish you understood the other ailments I have that are related to my MRKH
The reproductive system develops at about the same time as the skeletal and renal systems. Please understand that while infertility/MRKH is a huge part of the diagnosis, I may also suffer from other conditions. For me personally, I have congenital scoliosis that causes me a lot of back pain.

Many other MRKH women have kidney/renal issues including kidney disease or one kidney.

Someone may also have memory issues and/or fibromyalgia which both come with their own obstacles.

There are multitude of other issues related to MRKH, which makes it that much harder to deal with. We're all different. While we share the core characteristics of MRKH, our stories all vary - we may never meet another woman with the same exact characteristics and experiences as ourselves, making the feeling of isolation and loneliness that much harder.

I may have a different experience from your other infertile friends

What worked for them, may not work for me. Please don't assume that our journeys are the same. My MRKH journey is different from other women with MRKH, just as our MRKH experiences are different than those with PCOS, endometriosis, primary ovarian insufficiency (early menopause), and a variety of other infertility causes.

Are there any other things you wish people knew about your infertility journey? Comment below!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Listen to Understand (Infertility), Not to Reply

For several months I've been planning this idea in my head that I would write this well researched blog post about infertility to kick off my participation in RESOLVE's National Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility is an emotionally raw diagnosis. I realized that the research wasn't getting done because I just wasn't ready to dive deep into a topic that is so sensitive already without the added stress of research. I subconsciously realized that dealing with infertility and combing through tons of information and writing a well-researched blog post was too much for me to handle.

What I can handle is telling you my own infertility story and reasons behind participating in this year's National Infertility Awareness Week. And writing from the heart is less likely to make me cry. I hope. So grab your favorite beverage, maybe some tissues, snuggle up on the couch, and listen up because what I've written here to share with you is emotionally raw and important.

First off, what is infertility?
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. Let that number sink in: 1 in 8. More common than you thought, right? What I don't know is if that stat includes women (or men) who are not in a relationship and already know they're unable to have children before they even try. That applies to me. I don't know if I'm included in that number because I don't know how those stats are calculated.

A more concrete definition than I can give comes from RESOLVE's Fast Facts About Infertility: "Infertility is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system. The World Health Organization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recognize infertility as a disease. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over age 35) or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth."

As you can imagine, there are many different reasons why a woman is unable to conceive or is unable to carry a pregnancy full-term to a live birth. If you can't imagine, then all the more reason for you to listen up and for us to create awareness around infertility.

The Nitty Gritty of My Infertility Diagnosis
At the age of 15 when I had yet to start my period, I went through a myriad of doctors appointments and tests and was eventually diagnosed with MRKH. It stands for Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, which is a condition that mainly affects the reproductive system of women. The condition causes the uterus, cervix, and vagina to be underdeveloped or absent, which prevents pregnancy. There are many variations of these defining characteristics all of which mean the same thing - pregnancy is not possible. In my case, I do not have a uterus or vagina, so therefore I do not have a period. I was able to lengthen my vagina through a method called dilation to have a normal sex life, and some women do that through a surgical procedure. Like many MRKH women, I still have healthy functioning ovaries so I am 100% biologically female and still ovulate. This means if my eggs are viable, I can go through treatments and egg retrieval to use a gestational surrogate if I so choose. Yes, I have PMS symptoms without cramps and bleeding. And no, I'm not lucky to not have a period.

I also have Type 2 MRKH, also known as MURCS, which stands for (MU)llerian, (R)enal, (C)ervicothoracic (S)omite and applies to bone abnormalities and/or renal abnormalities. I have congenital scoliosis and fortunately do not have renal issues like many others do.

Coping with MRKH
Although I have had it fairly easy compared to others when it comes to my diagnosis and associated conditions, I've still felt ashamed of having it for reasons that I have trouble explaining. I hope you'll bear with me as I try.

This diagnosis is life changing. I felt isolated when I was first diagnosed and for several more years after that until I started meeting other women with MRKH. It was like no one understood me because I was literally the only one I knew with this condition. It's not something that's openly talked about often, especially by teenagers because we already have enough to feel ashamed about at that age.

Now, at the age of 30, when it seems like all of my friends and cousins are getting married and/or pregnant, I still sometimes feel like I'm the one in the corner that nobody sees or hears. I still sometimes feel like I don't have a voice. Not when the cultural expectation is that women should get married and pregnant by a certain age or else something is wrong with them. It seems like society as a whole doesn't care that some women don't want to have kids and/or are unable to do so. This makes infertility awareness that much more important.

While I want to get married, I used to want to get pregnant. Over the years I have accepted pregnancy will never happen and I struggle more with the fact that the choice was "taken" from me. I'm more upset that I didn't know this was possible than I am that I can't get pregnant. Don't get me wrong, not being able to get pregnant does still bother me to an extent. Keep in mind that the choice of whether or not to get pregnant was taken from me and that hurts. It's a pain that will always be with me.

Why I Am Sharing My Story Now
The more I talk about it, the easier it is for me to manage. I've slowly started to come out of my feeling of isolation the more I talk about my experience. The more I can talk about it, the better I feel about myself and I am finally starting to feel whole again. I want that for other women. I want other women to feel like they are not alone. I want others to listen to what I have to say and my hope is that it'll help at least one woman. The more awareness that is spread, the more likely someone will be helped and she won't have to go through her journey alone.

This is why I decided to participate in RESOLVE's National Infertility Awareness Week. I want people to listen, not just to hear what I have to say, but to really listen to understand and ask questions. So if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, or email me if you don't want to ask in a public forum.

Last, but not least, to 15-year-old me: I want you to know you are not alone.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

At just under 20 hours, I think Gone Girl is the longest audio-book I've listened to, and the actors did an excellent job. One of the reasons I was drawn to reading (or listening to) Gone Girl is because I've always enjoyed when an author writes a story with each character's perspective. It gives readers insight into what each of them might be feeling and thinking. I also heard The Girl on the Train, which I read last year, dubbed as the "next Gone Girl" and since I thoroughly enjoyed listening to that book, I figured why not give Gone Girl a try?

The story of Gone Girl begins the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary, when Nick comes home to find the house a mess and Amy is missing. Chaos ensues and so does an investigation into her disappearance, and everyone suspects Nick. Most of the story is written from his perspective in the present tense and I started to feel sympathy for him despite him being a self-absorbed writer hung up on the golden days of magazine editing before the advent of the Internet. Then, about halfway through the story we get Amy's take on things told in the past tense which is when things get real interesting. She's also an out of work washed-up writer, and as a born and raised New York City woman, she is struggling to find her place in sleepy town of North Carthage, Missouri. She tells us her life through journal entries that gives us some real, raw insight into who she is - something that Nick and other characters never got to see.

We of course think that Nick did it, and then start to wonder if he had help. Was he set up, and by whom? What really happened to Amy? Who is she, really? Or maybe Amy's ex-boyfriend from high school who lives an hour away killed her. Or was it her former best friend and stalker? Maybe she's not really missing? Oh wait, she is missing and presumed dead because we found evidence that proves it, for now. At every twist and turn, Flynn leaves the reader thinking one thing and then suddenly questioning that thought and wondering what will happen next.

I wanted to strangle both Nick and Amy for being idiotic characters who should've seen what was right in front of them in the entire time, especially at the end. If I had read the physical copy, I would've slammed it shut and thrown it on the floor in frustration.

After listening to this, I can understand why The Girl on the Train was dubbed as the next Gone Girl because of similar main characters. Yet, I think they are very different novels and Gone Girl is a much cleaner, better written story.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Monday, April 17, 2017

April is National Poetry Month

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? It was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, and according to poets.org, "Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s
vital place in our culture."

Although we are halfway through the month, there are still some things you can do to celebrate poetry!

  1. Poem in Your Pocket Day: On April 27, pick a poem and carry it with you everywhere you go, and share it with others throughout the day. It doesn't matter if it's local schools, workplaces, or at your local library, or even at your favorite watering hole (though you might get some looks if you're sharing a poem at a bar). Share it on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem.
  2. Receive a poem a day. Sign up to receive a poem a day via email by previously unpublished poets. Or find the poems on the poets.org website and social media.
  3. Memorize a poem
  4. Write a poem a day and share it on a blog and/or social media
  5. Participate in the NaPoWriMo blog a poem a day challenge at http://www.napowrimo.net/.
  6. Attend a poetry reading at your local bookstore, library, cafe or local university
  7. Chalk a poem on a sidewalk
  8. Subscribe to a literary journal dedicated to poetry, or that has a poetry section such as Mud Season Review or Poetry Magazine.
  9. Sign up for a poetry workshop or class. The Burlington Writers Workshop in Vermont has poetry workshops on Monday evenings in Burlington.
  10. Buy a book of poetry from your local bookstore.
For more ways to get involved in celebrating poetry this month, check out 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand
Published by Blackstone Audio Inc.
OverDrive Listen audiobook narrated by Kathleen McInerney, Erin Bennett, and Rick Zieff
Duration: 10 hour 48 minutes
Released: June 16, 2015
Dates listened: Oct. 4-16, 2016

As the weather is starting to turn warmer, I am starting to think about my summer reading list and my thoughts turned to this one I listened to last fall when I was in denial that the weather was getting colder. This being my first novel by Elin Hilderbrand I got the sense that this is a cookie cutter plot line and an easy quick beach read. There wasn't much character development and the plot was a bit too predictable. That said, I could tell she has some kind of writing talent and I hope that her other novels are better.

Set in present day Nantucket, The Rumor follows scandalous news between best friends Madeline King and Grace Pancik whom seem to have picture perfect marriages with standing double dates on Sunday evenings. Their children and homes appear to be picturesque Nantucket beach town, described in such a way that made me want to jet down to the beach as soon as possible.

Then one early summer day, all they know changes almost overnight when actions are misinterpreted and rumors spread like wildfire through the small New England town.

Madeline makes a desperate bad decision when she's feeling the pressure of looming bills and keeping up appearances. As a novelist battling writer's block, she has a deadline looming and nothing to show for it - until The Rumor sparks her creative streak.

Grace is determined to turn her backyard garden into a paradise and be featured in an upcoming publication and event. In collaborating more closely with her ruggedly handsome landscape architect, things start to heat up a little too much causing rumors to spread.

Grace is accustomed to the comfortable income her husband, "Fast Eddie" Pancik, brings in as a successful real estate developer on the island. What she isn't accustomed to is the lifestyle they're on the brink of possibly living because of a side project he's managed to get himself into to maintain their current one to keep up with appearances.

Then the storybook romance between Madeline's son, Brick, and Grace's daughter Allegra is on the rocks, heading for disaster.

The singularity of the title implies there is simply one Rumor flying around, but there is at least one per character and situation in this small town summer beach read. I highly recommend this easy read for anyone interested in this genre.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
2nd installment of the All Souls Trilogy
Paperback, 583 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Penguin Books (first published July 10th 2012)
Dates read: January 10, 2015 - April 6, 2017

Shadow of Night took me over 2 years to read because I felt it was very slow moving to start despite picking up immediately after the cliffhanger ending of the first book, Discovery of Witches. Part of Libri Persona: The People of the Book, which names the characters in each part and who they are.
me wishes I stuck with it so I could remember more details, but part of me is okay with that because most of those details aren't necessary to still enjoy the book. I didn't find it as difficult to keep up with the details as I did in Discovery of Witches, perhaps due to the structure of the book being broken up into 6 parts, and also providing a section in the back called

Luckily, I took copious notes at the beginning so I could remember it enough to write a review eventually, and did read the majority recently enough to remember it well enough.

One of my favorite aspects is that it is a historical fiction novel that goes into exquisite detail of 16th-century London from the plot and characters to all the sights and sounds, food, habits, and relationships. Matthew and Diana seemed to naturally take the opportunity of the slower time period to get to know each other and allow their relationship to develop more slowly and naturally rather than being so rushed like the first novel.

Although Diana is a historian and ecstatic to be in one of her favorite time-periods, she is desperately out of place with her wardrobe, foreign accent and mannerisms. Matthew and his friends of the time (some of whom Diana is meeting again), assist her with fitting in. Fairly soon after arriving, they work quickly to find Diana a witch to train her, though they must do so discretely to avoid detection because her witchcraft could get her burned at the stake. She eventually does become more confident in herself, and most notably in her abilities as a witch and her relationship with Matthew. She's also witness to how women have no rights in Elizabethan London despite a female queen, and in a way uses this to her advantage to prove her equality/partnership to Matthew which helps them become closer.

We also learn so much about Matthew through Diana slowly peeling away his many layers, and through their love, loss, jealousy, running a household together, and having a "family" via many of his compatriots and family members we had only heard about in Discovery of Witches. Harkness did a wonderful job at weaving them in and out of the story and giving them their own unique voices, including Gallowglass, the Queen, and many other prominent noble characters of the time.

Shadow of Night built upon the many questions in Discovery of Witches we asked about Ashmole 782, and answered some. It gave us insight into the troubles facing creatures several centuries before Diana's time, and actions that may or not be the beginning of the end for witches, vampires, and daemons.

Highly recommend for anyone who loved Discovery of Witches, who loves historical fiction, and fantasy. If it weren't for reading Discovery of Witches for book club, I would never have picked this off the shelf to read on my own because I typically do not enjoy fantasy, but I have actually enjoyed this trilogy so far and look forward to reading The Book of Life.

Rating: 4 out of 5. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Results: Take Control TBR Challenge 2017

Well, the challenge didn't go nearly as well as I'd hoped. I only managed to finish 2 books in March, when my goal was to finish my currently reading pile of 7 books at the beginning of the month. My original post of the challenge was published on March 1st.

The books I planned to read or finish reading were:

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (completed March 4)
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (completed March 4)
  3. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (since completed, but too late for the challenge)
  4. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (book club book that of course I didn't finish in time for the discussion)
  5. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
  6. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  7. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

The Take Control TBR Challenge is hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer every March. The rules were a little confusing for me at first because she had 2 different posts that looked a little too similar. One was a link up post in January (this is how I learned link up means sign up) and the other was on March 1st explaining the rules. Since I'd only learned about it on March 1st from reading the rules post, I had a hard time figuring things out. Looking back now though it makes sense so I'm not sure why I was so confused. I think part of it was because I was nervous that I was already behind and was rushing and partly because it was an impulsive decision to join. If I had learned about it sooner, I think I would've been prepared and read more.

The rules: read books on your to be read shelf (TBR) that were published before March 1st. They can be audiobooks, e-books, or paperback/hardcopy. Post links to your reviews via Rafflecopter in the rules post to help Kimberly track of your progress. Rafflecopter is an online giveaway platform for websites and bloggers who are running giveaways, which if you're unfamiliar with it, it looks like an advertisement within a post so I was scrolling right past it. You can share links to your reviews from your blog, Goodreads, or elsewhere online. Participation in the Twitter party and/or the 24 hour readathon halfway through the month are helpful in meeting the challenge and getting you points, but are optional. More rules are in the rules post so check it out!

Overall I did like the idea of this challenge, despite not understanding it initially and not completing it. If anything, I learned A LOT as a book blogger, and thank Kimberly for the lessons in lingo. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Published April 2, 2013 by Audible Audio
Narrated by Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren
Dates listened: March 26 - April 5, 2017

Kline’s Orphan Train is a “captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to
ask,” as Goodreads describes.

Molly Ayer, a Penobscot Indian, feels like an outsider being raised by complete strangers as she has been in and out of foster care homes – her father died in a car crash and her mother is a drug addict in jail. She is just a few months of aging out of the foster care system and quite close to being kicked out of her current foster home. Just when she’s about to go to juvie for a seemingly minor offense, she opts to do a community service position helping an elderly woman - her only alternative to avoiding jail. Like any 17 year old, she thinks she couldn’t possibly have anything in common with a 91-year old. Little does she know that the service hours are only the beginning of the stories and lessons she’ll learn from Vivian and the keepsakes hidden away in trunks in the attic. 

Vivian, an Irish immigrant arrived in New York City through Ellis Island and is orphaned at a young age just months before the Great Depression. Soon after her parents and siblings die in a fire, she is put on an “orphan train” to the Midwest with hundreds of other children. All because she had the misfortune of being orphaned, she seems to be seen as less than a person and more as free labor or free childcare rather than as a 9-year old child in need of a loving family and education. 

Kline does a wonderful job of weaving together the women’s similar stories and struggles, seamlessly switching back and forth between Molly’s story and their budding friendship in 2011 and Vivian’s journey as an orphan during one of the most difficult times in our country's history.

As they spend more time together, the more Molly realizes their similarities and more importantly that they both have unanswered questions about their pasts. She soon discovers she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, stories of friendship, and especially those willing to open their eyes to the struggles of children who have found themselves at the mercy of adults taking advantage of their situation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

King Henry VIII
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Published 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
Hardcover, 532 pages
Dates read: September 20 - October 31, 2016

Published in 2009, Wolf Hall is the first installment of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy by Hilary Mantel. It starts out in 1500 England with a brief history of Thomas Cromwell. Fast forward 20 years to a time when the country is on the brink of disaster if the king dies without a male heir. Henry VIII wants to annul his 20-year marriage and marry Anne Boleyn. Goodreads does a much better job at finishing the description, "the pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?"

Hilary Mantel wrote this in a style can be difficult to follow, even for those who have any kind of knowledge of the Tudor time period. Because I have a limited knowledge, I felt it was that much more difficult for me to keep track of everything. I'm not sure if it's the writing style, the many characters with the same name, or both that make it difficult to keep track of all the details. I felt like I had to keep referring to the front of the book that lists the family tree and characters in each section. It was almost as if I had repeatedly had to start again at the beginning. Mantel relied heavily on using the pronoun "he" and since there are frequently two or men in a scene, it is often unclear which "he" is which or speaking.

During my book club's discussion, another member asked the one who recommended the book if she enjoyed reading Shakespeare to which she answered, "I do." And that sums it up. If you enjoy reading Shakespeare, you'll enjoy reading Wolf Hall.

It's obvious that Mantel did her research and this is a popular book considering she won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2010. She also received the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award for Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy. The trilogy has also been made into a popular mini-series of the same name on BBC Two, having first aired in January 2015 - less than five years after the book was published.

Despite being able to finish the book, I will not be reading the rest of the trilogy. This is only the 2nd time I can recall that I will not be moving onto the next novel in a series - the first being The Diviners by Libba Bray. As much as I love historical fiction, I prefer being able to enjoy the book without getting a headache from trying to understand the plot and characters.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Another Review of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah
Published 2015 by St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, 440 pages
Dates read: January 1 - March 4, 2017

Because I enjoyed The Nightingale so much when I listened to it last summer, I recommended that my book club read it. We had a discussion about it in January, and I didn't feel the need to finish re-reading it by then because so much of the book had stuck with me and I wanted to take my time with it. The second time around, and this time actually reading it vs. listening to it, is just as amazing if not better. Perhaps I should say that the audio version does the written version justice.

Kristin Hannah does an amazing job telling the story of two young women, sisters, and what they've endured through WWII. So often we hear or read of the men who have gone away to war, but what of the women and children who were left behind? Hannah begins one of these tales by starting the story in 1995, when an elderly woman is packing up her things to move into a retirement home. We don't yet know who she is as she is going through the contents of an old trunk. As she comes across an old ID badge, she flashes back to 1939 Paris, France, just before her world is turned upside down by war.

The flashbacks focus on the older sister, Vianne - the rule follower, and the younger sister by about 10 years, Isabelle - the rebel. They share in the loss of their mother, yet that experience is also different - Vianne is about 14 and Isabelle is then 4 so she grows up resenting not remembering much about her. They're left by their father at a relative's home where they both feel abandoned.

Isabelle spends most of her life in boarding or finishing schools, being expelled from several because she doesn't adhere to authority and rules. When the war starts, Isabelle is unwilling to accept that France has surrendered and despite her sister's pleading for her to think rationally, and stay with her in the countryside after her most recent expulsion to stay safe, she makes her way through the wilderness to Paris where she hopes to find her father. She meets, and falls in love with, a man named Gaetan and his belief that the French can fight the Nazis from within France. She takes matters into her own hands regardless of what anyone tells her she can't do, as is her way. She joins The Resistance, an underground group that risks their lives to make a difference and help save as many others as they can.

While Isabelle is off working with the Resistance, Vianne and her young daughter, Sophie, are fighting their own battles at home with Antione off at the front lines. Months after he is called to duty at the start of the war, a German officer moves in to their home which is complicated in it's own way. Vianne and her neighbor and best friend since childhood, Rachel, are teachers at the local school. Rachel and her children are Jewish, and she loses her job along with many of the other Jewish residents in the area. Vianne witnesses the German officer rounding up many of those same Jewish residents onto trail cars, including Rachel and her children, except for her baby whom she leaves behind with Vianne. She doesn't know why or where her friend is being taken and we are left wondering with her if she will ever see her again. The war wages on with intermittent communication from Antoine, her father and Isabelle and another less kind German officer moves in with Vianne and Sophie.

Hannah makes you feel what the characters feel as if you are them and experiencing what they're experiencing. This is a story that takes place during one of the worst times in world history, and Hannah captures the wide variety of events and emotions that went along with it. For all of the hardships on the front-line battles and firefights, prison camps, starvation, sacrifice, grief, and heartache Hannah shows that there is also hope, resilience of the human spirit, love and survival. She leaves you wondering who survives and if Vianne and Sophie will get to see Antoine again, and if they will be reunited with Isabelle, and Rachel too.

As I mention in my first review, the ending brings so much closure for the reader. It is bittersweet and while there are many parts of the novel that are sad and heartbreaking, the ending is where you'll need the tissues the most as it comes back to 1995. We are shown the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, and most of all - love.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Friday, March 3, 2017

Three Small Steps that Could Change the World

This post is related to: One Thing the World Needs More Of: Compassion. Both subjects started out as journal prompts, and I had an easy answer for both. Three words immediately popped into my head: education, compassion and tolerance. These three things are needed more than ever in the world today. These three "small" steps are more important than ever, and could easily change the world considering the amount of hate and crime in the world in recent years, and more recently with the backlash to President Trump's election in the U.S. and his subsequent inauguration and executive orders.

In recent history (the last ~30 years), the more highly educated someone is, the more likely they'll be liberal. Neil Gross, a sociology professor at Colby College is quoted as saying in an NPR article that "There's some pretty good evidence that going to college leads people to have more liberal attitudes on social issues, in particular on issues of tolerance, of difference and issues of gender equity," which in turn means that they have a tendency to be more compassionate towards those who are less fortunate than themselves.

If all three of these are practiced on an individual scale, then they are small steps. If they are practiced hand in hand, then they become much bigger and have a greater impact on the world. We can all work together to educate ourselves and each other, be tolerant, compassionate and recognize that education works much better than belittling others. Education leads to better understanding, which leads to tolerance and compassion, especially if we educate girls. It's been proven on numerous occasions that educating girls is beneficial to society. In Lauren Stepp's article on The Borgen Project's site called Top 10 Reasons Why Female Education is Important, she sites that according to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), educated mothers are twice as likely to have children survive past the age of five. This in turn increases the likelihood of them getting an education themselves, become literate, and having a positive effect on society.

Are you passionate about educating others and spreading compassion and tolerance? Find out how you can help in educating young girls and women by visiting the organizations below, which are only a sampling of the many organizations available.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness
Published 2011 by Penguin Books
Paperback, 579 Pages
Dates read: June 15, 2014 - January 9, 2015

A Discovery of Witches is an annoying yet fun read that immediately got my attention when I learned that the protagonist, Diana Bishop is a professor of alchemical history at Yale. Even more intriguing is when she finds a bewitched manuscript in Oxford while doing research there for a year. Many different kinds of creatures show up throughout the story, proposing many different real and possible supernatural conflicts.

Her witch powers have been sparked when coming across the manuscript, having been left untamed and un-mastered for far too long. She must embrace her destiny albeit reluctantly with the help of vampire, Matthew Roydon or is it Matthew de Clermont? Once sucked in, a reader cannot help but wonder about the many layers of this mysterious, handsome, yoga practicing, wine loving vampire. Does his ulterior motive of finding the manuscript get the better of him? Why does he want it? What's the Congregation? Does he stick around Diana because he cares for her, because he realizes she's the key to finding the manuscript, or both? What's so important about this manuscript?

The story moves a bit slowly after the first 100 pages as the focus shifts away from the manuscript and towards the development of Matthew and Diana's relationship. There is also a recurring argument/conversation Diana has with Matthew and her aunts about her (annoying) unwillingness to learn to master her powers, yet the obvious need for her to do so. The rehashed conversation got some eye roles and could've easily been changed to show character development rather than a character remaining stagnant.

For all of the annoying details, there are some surprisingly charming ones as Neda Ulaby explains humorously in her A Discovery of Witches review for NPR Books. As much as I struggled to get through the fantasy and mystical creatures, I was so intrigued by the ending that I rushed out to get the sequels at the local book shop.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Take Control TBR Challenge 2017

As I mentioned in my 2017 Reading List post earlier this year, my goal this year is to read 55 books. I'm already 6 books behind schedule because 55 books translates to about 1 book a week! So, I have decided to participate in Caffeinated Book Reviewer's Fifth Annual March Take Control of your TBR Pile Challenge for some accountability. I'm competitive by nature so by having something an incentive, challenging and competitive will keep motivated.

  • Link-up! This is open to everyone. If you do not have a blog then link your Goodreads account. It is a good idea to friend Kimberly if your shelves are private.
  • Create a Goals/Updates/Results post (can be combined) It can also be a shelf on Goodreads. Be sure to friend Kimberly so she can see it.
  • Begins midnight March 1st, 2017 and ends March 31, 2017 at 11:59 pm.
  • Read/listen to books from your TBR pile.
    • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (completed March 4)
    • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (completed March 4)
    • Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (since completed, but too late for the challenge)
    • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (book club book I didn't finish in time)
    • Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
    • Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
    • Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
    •  If I get to anything else, then I've surpassed my goal!
  • ALL books/audios must have been published before March 1,  2017. I don’t care where you got them, so old ARCS count too.
  • Post a review to Goodreads, or your blog then link it to the Rafflecopter for an entry. (these can be mini review)
  • You can combine events, challenges etc.
    • This is combined with my (Books, Interrupted) own 2017 goal of 55 books, and with my 13 goal for the read-women-2017 challenge on Goodreads. 
  • No novellas for this one peeps. Page count must be over 100 pages to qualify.
  • The rafflecopter will only allow you to enter up to two books daily, so update as soon as you finish a book.
  • Use hashtag #TakeControlTBR
  • Twitter Party March 15th @ 7 pm (CST) The Ides of March. Come chat about books you have read and win prizes.
  • 24-hour TBR read-a-thon Saturday, March 18th (sign-up will post in February) Grab your snacks, snuggle up and read until you drop! Instagram challenges and more.
  • Earn extra entries for participating in the Twitter Party and 24-hour TBR read-a-thon
  • Rafflecopter will close on April 2, 2017 at midnight and a winner will be chosen within 72 hours. Open internationally as long as Book Depositor ships to you. Prize: New 2016 release valued at up to 20 US dollars. I will do pre-orders as well. (may request eBook copy from Amazon or B&N)
Update: I read 2 books out of the 7 I was planning to read. At least it was something! I also wrote a results post about the challenge. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

One Thing The World Needs More Of: Compassion

One word: Compassion. In the dictionary, it's a noun defined as "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others."

Forget hate, anger, fear, and anti-whatever. Remember to have some compassion for your fellow humans, your neighbors, strangers, and your loved ones.

In this current day and age, we need more compassion for ourselves, for each other and especially for those who are less fortunate than us.

With compassion, comes so many other things too, like empathy and understanding. Many times the urge to help others is strong with the people who are compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. They are often synonymous, turning compassion into a verb because it drives people to act. 

When I Google'd compassion for the definition, I also found that there is an organization called Compassion International, which is a Christian humanitarian aid organization dedicated to the long term development of children living in poverty around the world through sponsoring opportunities. I'd have to do some research on it before forming an opinion, but it's a great example shown just in their name, short mission statement, and actions that they have compassion for children living in poverty. They have created opportunities for the children by creating the opportunity for other compassionate people to help them who may not otherwise know how to help. 

Compassion drives out fear and misunderstandings because it shows that the people who are compassionate are also educated, selfless, and will do what they can to help others. We need more people with compassion in this world to drive out the fear, to educate others to drive out the hate, and to be pioneers and lead by example. And then, hopefully one day, sooner rather than later, we'll finally see more peace, love, and harmony in our world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Survivor Love Letter

Dear Survivor of Sexual Abuse,

This Valentine's Day and every day, celebrate that you or a loved one, are a survivor of sexual abuse. Remind yourself that what happened is not your fault. You are better than what happened. You are loved. You are beautiful. You are enough. You are a survivor. You are a warrior. You are still here, still alive, still fighting for yourself and that makes you strong and worthy of everything good in this world. I hope you realize that it is okay to not be okay, and just as important to not stay there in those shitty moments. Keep making the choice to get back up and battle against your inner demons.

Make today the day you take a step towards healing. Try to answer the question, what does self-care mean to you? An article on Bustle speaks about Tani Ikeda's version of self-care that included writing her own Survivor Love Letter in 2015. She later created the #SurvivorLoveLetter hashtag on social media on Valentine's Day 2016, "to empower survivors of sexual violence." Simply search #SurvivorLoveLetter on any given social media site, and you'll see that it has taken the sites by love storm again today on the third anniversary. The world loves you, and knows that you are enough. Together we will prove that victim blaming is wrong. I hope that reading those messages on social media shows you that don't have to get through this alone.

If you feel up to it, I recommend reading a personal account of sexual abuse called Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Abuse by Andrea Clemens. She is a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a then-admired teacher and wrote this book to tell her story as part of her healing process and in the hopes of helping others with similar experiences.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What I've Learned So Far About My 2017 Goals

January 2017 has come and gone so quickly that in reflection, I notice that I kept up only a little bit with posting and even less with reading. Since reading books is a large contributor to content for this blog, I better get right on it now shouldn't I?

In reflection, I did spend quite a bit of time networking with other bloggers, researching how to market my blog, on social media management, creating a Facebook page, researching domain hosts and content management systems, and ways to track my ideas and scheduling content.

Photo Credit: Shawn Campbell
I also realized that in creating a goal of reading 55 books this year, I hadn't really thought it through enough to realize that would mean reading 4.5 books a month, or a book a week. Which means every time I log-in to Goodreads, the 2017 Reading Challenge app glares at me with how many books I'm behind schedule. At the moment, it's a measly 3 so it's manageable. But still so overwhelming considering I just barely surpassed my goal of 30 last year.

What have I learned so far? Nothing is set in stone. It's okay to not have accomplished something in the set time frame. I realize now that 2017 is already full of lessons and has more to teach me in the world of blogging. I haven't even set a schedule yet and I already know that something I might want to post one day may not work because of external factors, planned or unanticipated.

That said, I think my best bet is to schedule something with pencil and paper so it's easily changeable. Or in an editable document if I ever get comfortable to be that technologically advanced with my scheduling.

One thing is for sure, be on the lookout in the near future for a post about The Nightingale by Krisin Hannah from my book club's January discussion, and one about Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Abuse by Andrea Clemens for our discussion later this month.

Do you have any suggestions on what I should read next? Check out my 2017 Books to Read post to pick and let me know your suggestion in the comments below.
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Monday, January 30, 2017

Poem: A Bucket List Consists of Peace & Happiness

create your own happiness
love yourself first
go to bed early
get up early
wake up with a smile

drink water
treat your body like a temple
you are its god
worship yourself

be modest
treat others the way you want to be treated
give respect to get respect
give love to receive love
read. write. educate yourself.

be kind.
create a bucket list.
complete your bucket list -
before you kick the bucket

be happy alone
learn to live alone happily
be honest, yet tactful
be the person you needed when you were younger
understand that it's okay to not be okay

you are stronger than you realize
breathe deep
indulge yourself
find a healthy stress reliever
don't rely too heavily on any one person or thing

find balance
you're going to be okay -
because you already are

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Audible Audio version
Dates read: January 1 - 8, 2017

Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job narrating this book, one that I personally would've had difficultly following and enjoying if I had chosen to read rather than listen to on Audible. Having just read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, I felt inspired to stick to the time period and read/listen to another classic written by one of his contemporaries.

I wonder if I didn't really get into the story because it was written from the perspective of a character, Nick Carraway, who didn't really understand the situation himself? Maybe that's the point? I mean, he's a young guy from the Midwest who moves to West Egg, NY, fresh out of college and looking to make a name for himself in the bond business. I mean, talk about culture shock, right?

Carraway becomes Gatsby's neighbor, trusted friend, and attends many of his lavish parties during the roaring 20's. He's witness to the love triangle between Gatsy, Daisy - his distant cousin, and her husband Tom who also has a girl in New York. A story that captured the 1922 Prohibition era lifestyle, The Great Gatsby became one of the greatest classics of twentieth-century American literature.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Review: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Photo Credit: Walter Lim
Eat, Pray, Love
By Elizabeth Gilbert
Published January 30th 2007 by Riverhead Books
Paperback, 400 pages

This has to be the first book that I read after the movie that I still enjoyed after seeing the movie. I mean that I am NOT disappointed that I saw the movie first. I saw the movie in theaters in 2010 with about 10 female relatives, some of whom had read the book beforehand and some hadn't. We all came away feeling inspired in one way or another. I vividly remember wanting to rush out and get a copy of the book - a feeling I had never felt before after seeing a movie. Normally the film adaptation doesn't inspire me like that.

I finished listening to this book while on a road trip and I wanted to continue the road trip for another year. My destination doesn't necessarily matter, although I would love to go to Italy and South America. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for someone who can pick up and leave for a year and travel with no or little support from friends and family.

I think I related to this story so much because of the phrase in the description, "In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion." I am single, living in the country, and by my own standards have a moderately successful career and am filled with panic and confusion over not having what I am "supposed to have." I tell myself I'm happy, but am I really happy because I don't have what society tells me I'm supposed to have at this point in my life? Reading/listening to Gilbert's account of her journey to rediscover and explore herself for a year gave me the motivation I needed to do the same for me in my own way. I love her style of writing because she's telling a story as if to a friend yet she's writing for herself and readers, especially women, can relate to what she has to say.

This has to be the first book that I read after the movie that I still enjoyed after seeing the movie. I mean that I am NOT disappointed that I saw the movie first. I saw the movie in theaters in 2010 with about 10 female relatives, some of whom had read the book beforehand and some hadn't. We all came away feeling inspired in one way or another. I vividly remember wanting to rush out and get a copy of the book - a feeling I had never felt before after seeing a movie. Normally the film adaptation doesn't inspire me like that.

I finished listening to this book while on a road trip and I wanted to continue the road trip for another year. My destination doesn't necessarily matter, although I would love to go to Italy and South America. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for someone who can pick up and leave for a year and travel with no or little support from friends and family.

I think I related to this story so much because of the phrase in the description, "In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion." I am single, living in the country, and by my own standards have a moderately successful career and am filled with panic and confusion over not having what I am "supposed to have." I tell myself I'm happy, but am I really happy because I don't have what society tells me I'm supposed to have at this point in my life? Reading/listening to Gilbert's account of her journey to rediscover and explore herself for a year gave me the motivation I needed to do the same for me in my own way. I love her style of writing because she's telling a story as if to a friend yet she's writing for herself and readers, especially women, can relate to what she has to say.

I recommend this to anyone who is ready to do some self-discovery, travel the world, and is not happy about having what they're supposed to have and is panicked and confused by that unhappiness. Recommendations will also go to my book club.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Poem About Excuses

A poem I wrote using the single word "excuses" prompt  for a holiday dinner with the Burlington Writer's Workshop Middlebury Chapter.

What? I don't get it.
I'm too tired.

Nah. I've got other things to do.
I'll do it later.

It's later. Shit. I wanna read.
Now I'm tired. I'm going to bed.

I'll work on it in the morning...
Or maybe on my lunch break.

I thought of some good lines in the shower. Now I don't remember what they were.

Damn it. More good lines in the car driving to work.

I ate too much. I can't move.

Now I know there was something I was supposed to do. If only I could remember what it was...

I'll just wing it.

I don't want to. Not anymore. I have no inspiration to write about excuses...

I don't understand the point.  What is it again?

I don't have easy access to anything to write with.

I was born 2 weeks past my due date so because I came into the world late, I am inherently late to everything.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Review: A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Farewell To Arms Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Published 2004 by Arrow Books (first published 1929)
Read: Nov. 4 - Dec. 18, 2016

As much as I enjoy books set in wartime, I had a difficult time getting into A Farewell to Arms. I attribute that to Hemingway's style, which is a lot more simple and conversational than I am accustomed to reading. When I started listening to an audio version, I couldn't get enough of it though I think that is because of his simplistic/conversational style. In written form, it is difficult to follow along, keep track of who is speaking during conversations, and remember the point of many of his run-on sentences.

And besides style, the story itself didn't reel me in; reference not intended towards Hemingway's love of fly fishing. I didn't care enough about the self-absorbed, unfeeling protagonist of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, let alone his girlfriend (Catherine Barkley) who didn't seem to have the ability to form an opinion on her own. When a male author has any sort of dislike for women, or obvious hate for them in this instance, it's obvious in their writing because of how they portray their female characters. The points I felt like I was physically there in the story were when Lt. Henry was with his unit, not when he was with Catherine. The other men in his unit actually had some substance to them, unlike Catherine. My opinion of both Henry and Barkley were most likely biased by my reading of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain just before reading A Farewell to Arms. The Paris Wife is a fictionalized story of Hemingway's marriage to his first wife, Hadley Richardson, from her perspective - review to come in a different post.

Readers will be left wondering how much of the story was based on truth and what Hemingway experienced during and after WWI.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Reading List

This year I plan to do a lot of reading to keep up with my love of reading, blogging, and getting out of debt. The logic behind picking these books is to read some things that will help me in different ways, such as getting out of debt and career advice, and also to clear off my bookshelf. There are a handful of books on this list that I got in swaps with my book club and have been collecting dust. If I don't like them, then I'll gift them to a new and better home.

To start, I have hyperlinked the book titles to the Goodreads description and will update the links to my reviews when they are moved to the Read list. The section for Book Club Books will remain as such, and you can assume that if the month has passed the link will be updated to the blog post.


  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  3. Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Education Abuse by Andrea Clemens (February book, post pending)
  4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (January book)
  5. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (post pending)
  6. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein (April book)

Currently Reading

  1. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
  2. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  3. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  4. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  5. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham - selected for an April "buddy read" in a Goodreads group I'm in called Read Women.
  6. Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (May's read for book club)


Alphabetical order by author last name
  1. Quitter by Jon Alculf
  2. Rhinoceros Success by Scott Alexander
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  4. Dodgers by Bill Beverly
  5. The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs
  6. The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
  7. The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin
  8. Alec: How to be an Artist by Eddie Campbell
  9. Deadly Heat by Richard Castle
  10. Raging Heat by Richard Castle
  11. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  12. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
  13. Sweetness #9 by Stephan Erik Clark
  14. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  15. Love Your Life Not Theirs by Rachel Cruze
  16. The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber
  17. A Time to Kill by John Grisham
  18. Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh
  19. The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  20. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  21. The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
  22. Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand
  23. Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand
  24. A Summer Affair by Elin Hilderbrand
  25. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  26. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  27. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
  28. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
  29. Travel Writing: Expert Advice from the World's Leading Travel Publisher by Lonely Planet
  30. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  31. Son of A Witch by Gregory Maguire
  32. Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  33. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
  34. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  35. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
  36. Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays by Luigi Pirandello
  37. Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money: The Handbook of Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey
  38. The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness (Classic Edition) by Dave Ramsey
  39. EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey
  40. Learning Curves by Gemma Townley
  41. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram

Vermont Books 'n' Brews Book Club Books

I will add to this list as we decide each month's books, and the links are to Goodreads descriptions unless otherwise noted.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - audio-book review, August 2016.
Another Review of The Nightingale - March 2017 review

Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Education Abuse by Andrea Clemens (post pending)

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (currently reading)


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein

Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (currently reading)

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
*I can't wait to read The Good Earth again! This is one of my favorites from my teenage years.

July -
August -
September -
October -
November -
December - we don't read for book club in December because it's so hectic with holiday festivities.

If I get to them

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
1. Outlander (completed April 3, 2016 - post pending)
2. Dragonfly in Amber (currently reading)
3. Voyager
4. Drums of Autumn
5. The Fiery Cross
6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes
7. An Echo in The Bone
8. Written in My Own Heart's Blood
9. Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone (not yet published)

In Conclusion

In all, my goal is to finish reading 55 books by the end of 2017. This list shows more than that, and that's okay! It gives me some flexibility. With your encouragement and involvement in my blog posts, I'm sure I can complete it! Thanks for reading.