Saturday, December 30, 2017

Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg


While I have a physical copy of the paperback edition, I chose to listen to this book so that I could get it to sooner than I would've otherwise, and so it'd count towards my 2016 read quota. I first became interested in girls education in the early 2000s, not too long after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. At the time, I read Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson before controversy surrounded him and his non-profit organization.

Over the next decade, my interests drifted to other subjects, including college textbooks. Then, in 2014, The Underground Girls of Kabul is published and I get my hands on a copy in 2016. I decide to read it, or rather listen to it, in this case. This was an educational read for me as a woman raised in a western country where I don't have to conceal my identity as a woman just to take advantage of the same benefits provided to men.

Jenny Nordberg, born in Sweden, is the journalist who broke the story of "bacha posh" which fueled the writing and publication of The Underground Girls of Kabul. From the Goodreads description, "A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world." This is a common practice in Afghanistan's patriarchal culture where the birth of a son is reason for celebration and a daughter is often mourned or seen as a misfortune.

Nordberg eloquently tells the stories of four women in The Underground Girls of Kabul. From the description of the novel on the website, "The book is anchored by vivid female characters who bring this ancient phenomenon to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian whose youngest daughter is chosen to pose as her only son; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and resists her parents’ attempts to turn her into a woman; Shukria, who was forced to marry and have three children after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an Afghan special forces soldier, still in disguise as an adult man."

Set during one of America's most violent and longest wars, readers will gain some insight into the world of Afghan women and girls who make daily sacrifices in a culture set against them. The women portrayed in this novel represent generations of women who were able to live as the desired sex for a time, only to be forced into marriage and childbirth once they've hit puberty. Or if they've been able to continue to hide into adulthood, they live in fear of being discovered.

This novel captured my attention from the beginning, making me hang onto every word and not want to turn it off. The desire to learn more is why it only took me 4 days to finish a 10 hour recording. Nordberg's extensive journalistic research through her travels and interviews were obvious and showed how real these stories are, and how drastically different their lives are than in many western cultures. I struggle to grasp the cultural difference, and am grateful for the freedoms I have as a woman in another country, and the opportunities to learn about other cultures.

My rating is 5 out of 5 stars, which means I fell in love with multiple aspects and highly recommend this book.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
Written by Jenny Nordberg
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
Published Sept. 16, 2014 by Random House Audio
Duration: 10 hours 56 minutes
Dates Listened: Dec. 2-6, 2016

**
To learn more this novel, including purchasing it, reading the introduction, and an interview with Jenny Nordberg, visit the website at http://theundergroundgirlsofkabul.com/ or to read more stories about bacha posh, visit http://bachaposh.com/

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Home Front by Kristin Hannah

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
Audiobook, 15 hours
Published: January 2012 by Macmillan Audio
Narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed
Dates Listened: May 18 - June 5, 2017

I was feeling exceptionally patriotic when I chose to read this book because it was nearing Memorial Day here in the U.S., and I was looking for an audio version of good book related to the military and patriotism. And when I stumbled upon Home Front via OverDrive, and noticed the author being one my favorites, I instantly downloaded it and started listening.

That said, Kristin Hannah does it again! Home Front is a tear-jerker story about a lifetime of love, family, and friendship, military service and the hardships that come with those relationships during a war when one or more characters are in the military. Be prepared to have some tissues handy throughout the entire novel.

On the surface, it seems as though Michael and Jo have it all together. But as one looks in, it's obvious life isn't so perfect. Jolene enlisted in the National Guard at 17 after her parents died in a car crash. She felt she had no other options, and it gave her a chance at having structure and an education. Now, she impressively juggles her job as a helicopter pilot and being the mother of 12 year-old mean-girl-in-training, Betsy, and 4 year-old Lulu. Despite Jo being a strong female character, she somehow allows Betsy to get away blatant disrespect and spoiled behavior. This is never really addressed, but I suspect that it may have to do with Jo's own upbringing by alcoholic parents.

In addition, she struggles with Michael's increasingly distant behavior and also blatant disrespect and not supporting her military service simply because he doesn't agree with the war in Iraq. He doesn't understand his wife's bond with her unit, let alone with her best friend and co-pilot, Tami. He is a defense attorney who works long hours in an attempt at living up to his father's memory after his death.

Then, Jo's unit gets deployed to Iraq. Michael is thrown into single-parenthood, and with the help of his mother, he quickly learns that parenting is much harder than Jo made it look. At the office, he is preparing to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran who has been charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout. In doing so, he begins to understand what Jo is going through in Iraq and begins to regret telling her just before she left that he didn't love her anymore.

Jo's helicopter gets shot down during insurgent fire, and while Jo pulls Tami from the wreck she discovers a young crewman has been killed. She returns to the States by way of Germany after her leg is amputated, leaving Tami in the hospital still in a coma. While her physical wounds heal, she must now deal with the nightmares and somehow process the guilt she feels for the death of the crewman and Tami's injuries. This is all without Tami's support of friendship and seemingly lack of support from her husband.

Jo has turned into someone her daughters and her husband don't recognize. Michael tries to reconcile with her, not knowing the crash happened before his last letter arrived - the letter where he attempts to make amends.

Her behavior is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his client. Betsy may be starting to understand that her spoiled behavior is no longer acceptable when Jo lashes out her, while Lulu is still too young to grasp the magnitude and significance of what is happening to her mommy.

Hannah has written an emotionally charged novel about military service and the families who support those who serve. Yet, there were a few inconsistencies in the story. For example, why is Michael so clueless when it comes to the ins and outs of the household? Knowing that his wife is a National Guardsman, didn't he have to step up more when Jo has had to take time away for drilling one weekend a month and a 2 weeks stretch? Also, how the heck did she tolerate his blatant disrespect for her service?

I also wanted to reach through the book many times to strangle Betsy and her mean girl attitude. And to strangle Jo and Michael for not doing anything about it either. Jo was anal retentive about sticking to her meal calendar and running an efficient household, but would let her daughter's attitude run rampant. NOT OKAY.

On Goodreads, I gave this a 3 out of 5 rating (liked it) because of the inconsistencies of the characters behaviors. Per my own rating, it's a 4 out of 5 because I enjoyed it, though didn't quite love it and would still recommend it to those who enjoy Kristin Hannah's books. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah

Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 2006 by Ballantine Books
Dates read: Dec. 25-29, 2015

This is the only book I can recall reading that takes place around Christmas time that I read during the same time of year. It's a quick read by one of my favorite authors so I decided to give a shot to try meeting my reading challenge goal for 2015, despite the negative reviews and ratings I saw.

Since it's been two years since I've read this book, I am a little fuzzy on the details. What I do remember is that I was shocked by the sudden turn of events halfway through the book. I won't spoil the events because it was spoiled for me when I read a review. When reading my brief review on Goodreads, I mention that I think it made sense considering what happened a few pages before the plot twist. Then, fast forward to the ending where I was thinking "really?" because it just didn't seem all that plausible or realistic given what details Kristin Hannah provided, or didn't provide, throughout the book. Perhaps the holiday spirit is what propelled this story into being a warm-feel-good type book rather than realistic.

This story centers around Joy Candellaro, a recent divorcee who used to love Christmas more than any other time of the year. She's having difficulty mustering the enthusiasm she used to have for the holiday, and impulsively decides to buy a plane ticket to the Pacific Northwest and leave without telling anyone. Amidst a sudden turn of events, she ends up deep in the Olympic rainforest and decides to not return to her old life.

Deep in the rainforest, she meets Daniel and Bobby O'Shea. At six-years-old, Bobby closes himself to the rest of the world as he is unable to process the loss of his mother, especially now as his first Christmas without her approaches. Daniel is grieving in his own way and is at a loss for how to help his son cope, and is especially struggling with Bobby only speaking to his invisible friend. The three of them have a deep chemistry connection and are able to help each other heal through their shared similar heartache.

Then suddenly, their lives are ripped apart and hearts are broken again. As the Goodreads description reads, "On a magical Christmas Eve, a night of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, Joy must find the courage to believe in a love -- and a family -- that can't possible exist, and go in search of what she wants . . . and the new life only she can find."

My rating is 4 out of 5, which means that I enjoyed the book, I didn't quite love it. I would still recommend it though, especially to those who enjoy a good love story (albeit unlikely or unrealistic) set during Christmas-time. While it's not Kristin Hannah's usual style, based on Firefly Lane and The Nightingale, I still enjoyed and recommend this Christmas themed heartbreak story with a happy ending. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Paperback, 850 pages
Published June 1991 by Dell Publishing
Dates Read: Jan. 31 - April 3, 2016

Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is reunited with her husband, Frank, in 1945 at the end of WWII after several years apart. They're on their second honeymoon in the British Isles, when she walks through an ancient stone hedge and is suddenly transported to Scotland, circa 1743.

She is thrust into navigating an unfamiliar time and place torn by war and rivaling border clans. She has no idea how this happened or why, or where Frank is, or if he even knows what's happened to her, but she's determined to figure out the answers and return to 1945. Soon enough though, she encounters fighting clansmen who capture her and think she's a spy working for the British. One of the men is injured - meet Jamie Fraser, a stubborn yet charismatic hunk of a Scottish man. While Claire nurses his injuries, they develop a friendship and eventual romance. This adds complicated layers to Claire's feelings, and her plans to return home.

Gabaldon knocked her debut "let's give book writing a try" novel out of the park. A book that started out as a practice piece turned into a well-written, well-researched, and extremely detailed historical fiction piece of work that is difficult for me to sum up in one sentence. It's the first of a nine-book (for now) series, eight of which are already published, and has since been turned into a t.v. series on the network Starz.

The only reason I am giving this a 4 out of 5 rating is because there are many details that could have easily been left out to make this a much shorter, several hundred pages shorter, still amazing novel. It has everything else a historical fiction lover could want from the time travel to a distant, far away, long ago picturesque setting to the dreamy, romantic true love many people live their whole lives without finding.

I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in historical fiction - just don't read it in February for a book club discussion. As grateful as I am that my book club decided to read this book, I am not grateful that it was for the shortest month of the year in 2016. February. I struggle to finish the shortest book on time, let alone the longest for the shortest month! Ugh. That said, it's one of my favorite books ever and definitely a favorite book club read - loved even more by the story continuing through (almost) 8 more books in the series!

To learn more about Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series, visit her website at http://www.dianagabaldon.com/.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Part 3 of 3: Year in Review of 2017 Reading Challenges

Read Women 2017 Challenge


Summary: I am a member of a group on Goodreads called Read Women. Groups can have their own challenges, which are tracked by creating a "shelf" that's tied to the group challenge, and as you finish a book for that challenge, you add it to that shelf. The goal of this group, and in turn the, challenge is to read books by women. 

Challenge progress: I've read 12 out of  my goal of 13 books. I set this goal to 13 based on the books by women on my assigned list I created early on in 2017.
  1. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  2. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
  3. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  4. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
  5. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  6. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  7. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
  8. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  9. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  10. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  12. Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Sexual Abuse by Andrea Clemens
Goal for remainder of 2017: however many of my currently reading pile I can complete.

2018 Goal: I think 15 is a fair goal considering that half of the books I usually read are by women. Exact number is to be determined. I like to set my goal at the very end of the year when I know exactly how many books I've completed.

Read Women Around the World


Summary: This is another challenge started by the Read Women group on Goodreads. It was adapted and borrowed from a few other challenges, particularly modeled after the "around the world in 80 books" challenge in the UK Book Group in Goodreads. The goal is to read as many books as I choose as the reader that are set in different countries around the world. There is no time or date limit to this challenge - I can take as long as I want to complete this challenge! The group challenge is set to end in 2037, but that's most likely because the site setting requires an end date.

Copied over from the challenge description, the only rules are:
1) All books have to be written by women.
2) The country must be the main setting (or joint main setting) for the book, not just somewhere a character makes a fleeting visit to.

A rule I've added for myself - exclude books set in the U.S. since it's my home country.

Alternately, I could read authors who are from different countries around the world, regardless of the setting of the book. I decided not to do it this way because I'd forget to try to reading female authors from different countries. It is much easier for me to go by setting of the book, than the author.

Challenge progress: 4 so far, out of the total of 30 I want to read.

Goal for remainder of 2017: Not applicable really since there's no time limit on this challenge. If I can finish either Dragonfly in Amber or Rokitansky, then great and that'll count. If I don't, then that's okay too!

2018 Goal: whatever I can read! I think 2-3 would be a safe goal, but that'll get firmed up a bit more in the next month (or year). I'll keep it low because I don't know what I'll be reading over the next year and want to keep it attainable.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Part 2 of 3: Year in Review of 2017 Reading Challenges

2017 Audiobook Challenge


Welcome to Part 2 of this 3-part series, where I am talking about my progress in the 2017 Audiobook Challenge. Back in May, I posted about my progress when I first learned about this challenge. 

Summary: 2017 is the fifth annual challenge, and it is hosted Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer. There is also a group on Goodreads called Audiobook Junkies and is managed by Jonetta and Jennifer at The Book Nympho, the original hosts of the challenge. 

The rules are simple:
  • Runs from Jan. to Dec. 31, 2017
  • Goal is to listen to more audiobooks this year than last year
  • Must be in audio format - i.e. mp3, CD, Audible
  • Any genre counts
  • No need to be a book blogger - progress can be tracked on Goodreads, Facebook, etc.
  • Bloggers are asked to use the button (the audiobook challenge image) in a blog post mentioning their participation in the challenge. Others can post about the challenge on social media. The purpose is to spread the word about the challenge.
  • Check-in, if possible, in June and in December for updates from Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer for giveaways. Enter the giveaways by visiting their blogs and signing up via the update post. 

Challenge progress: I've listened to a total of 11 audiobooks so far this year, putting puts me at the Stenographer level - up one level since May.


Levels:
Newbie (I’ll give it a try) 1-5
Weekend Warrior (I’m getting the hang of this) 5-10
Stenographer (can listen while multi-tasking) 10-15
Socially Awkward (Don’t talk to me) 15-20
Binge Listener (Why read when someone can do it for you) 20-30
My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30-50
Marathoner (Look Ma no hands) 50+

These are the books I listened so far this year, which are linked to my reviews as applicable:
  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and the first review
  4. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
    1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
    2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
    3. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
    4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    5. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
    6. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
    7. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
    Currently, I am listening to Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery for book club discussion in January, and also All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I will still be at Stenographer when I've finished these books, unless I listen to more!

    Goal for remainder of 2017: nothing set at the moment, though it's possible I could finish 2-3 audio books over the next 2 weeks.


    2018 Goal: I didn't have a goal set for 2017, and I don't think I'm going to set a goal for 2018 either. It's kind of a "whatever happens, happens" fun challenge for me to see how I end up doing. 


    Check back tomorrow for part 3! Interested in joining the challenge next year? Be on the lookout for the link-up post in January with our wonderful hosts, Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer. You can also create a challenge shelf on Goodreads through the group I mentioned above, Audiobook Junkies, or track it through a Goodreads shelf with no challenge, through your blog, or social media site. The hosts need some kind of online list to see where keep track of your progress.

    Thursday, December 14, 2017

    Part 1 of 3: Year in Review of 2017 Reading Challenges

    This is Part 1 of a 3-part series of posts reviewing the year-long reading challenges I participated in 2017. In this post, you will see a recap of my progress on the Goodreads Reading Challenge and also My Personal Reading Challenge.

    In Part 2, you will find a recap of the 2017 Audiobook Challenge, hosted by Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer. I posted about my progress back in May, at roughly the half-way point when I first learned about this challenge.

    In Part 3, you will see a recap of my progress on 2 challenges from the Goodreads group called Read Women. Those challenges are aptly called Read Women 2017 and Read Women Around the World. 

    In March, I participated in a challenge that was only for the month. That was the Take Control of Your TBR Pile, and won't be recapped in this series which is focused solely on my year-long challenges.

    Goodreads Reading Challenge

    Summary: If you remember my 2017 Reading Challenge post from January, I set myself a pretty lofty goal of reading 55 books this year on Goodreads. As much as I love to read, 55 is a high number for me.

    Challenge progress: I'm at 17 books out of 55, with 9 that I'm currently reading. See below for my read list, and currently reading list. Some readers will change their goal throughout the year. I'm not changing my goal this close to the end of the year because that's just not fair and I'd feel like I'm cheating. I had a year to complete this goal or adjust it as needed and since I failed to do either, I'll do the best I can to get as close as possible to it. I also just really want to see how close I can get to reaching this 55 goal with 2 weeks left.

    Goal for remainder of 2017: I'm shooting for 25 total for this year, or 8 books in the next 2 weeks!

    2018 Goal: I'll set the bar a little lower to a yet to be determined number that I think will be a bit more attainable, and I also won't limit myself to specific books. Reading is supposed to be fun!

    Check my Goodreads 2017 Year in Review to see my progress: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2017/

    My Personal Reading Challenge

    Summary: I challenged myself to read a set list of books that I currently own, plus the selections for book club. View the complete list here: 2017 Reading List Challenge. This set list ended up being a detrimental to my success because it made reading become a chore. Having "assigned" reading was like homework hanging over my head so I procrastinated on reading or didn't enjoy it.

    Challenge progress: 15 out of the 17 books I've read this year were on the list, or 15 out of 55! Only 2 were unplanned. I could say that 8 were unplanned, but that 8 counts the book club ones that I knew I'd read but didn't know the titles of yet since we pick about a month ahead.

    Goal for remainder of 2017: however many of my currently reading pile I can complete.

    2018 Goal: Lesson learned! I won't be doing "assigned reading" any more!

    Read as of 12/14/17 - This list is in order of dates read starting in January, and I've linked them to my own review (no link means no review). Visit Part 2 and Part 3 of this series to see which sub-challenges these books fall into. 

    1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    2. Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Sexual Abuse by Andrea Clemens
    3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and the first review
    5. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
    6. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
      1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
      2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
      3. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
      4. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
      5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
        1. Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh
        2. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
        3. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
        4. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
        5. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
        6. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

        Currently Reading - see Part 2 and Part 3 of this series to see which shelves/sub-challenges these books will end up in if I finish them this year.

        1. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
        2. Pursuing Gold: A Novel of the Civil War by Cynthia L. Simmons
        3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
        4. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 
        5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
        6. The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin
        7. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
        8. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
        9. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
        Check back for the next posts in the series!

        Tuesday, December 12, 2017

        Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

        Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
        Paperback, 487 pages
        Published April 2016 by Ballantine Books
        Dates Read: Nov. 22 - Dec. 11, 2017

        My book club, Vermont Books n Brews, selected Lilac Girls for our November discussion. Since it's historical fiction, based during the WWII era, the subject matter is right up my alley. The review from Library Journal on the cover reads, "extremely moving and memorable . . . should appeal strongly to [readers of] Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See." and this is quite accurate to me considering how much I enjoyed The Nightingale! I am now even more convinced I should read All the Light We Cannot See because of enjoying both of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale.

        Now back to the discussion. Of course, I lived up to my reputation and didn't finish the book in time for the discussion, but my book club LOVED Martha Hall Kelly's debut novel. Once I was able to sit down and read it for real, I read it in a week. That's a record for me. I just could not put it down.

        Have you ever gotten to the end of a book, closed it and sighed in relief? That happened for me with this book. I felt relief for Kasia that she finally got the closure she so desperately needed about what happened to her mother.

        Lilac Girls is based on the real-life story of three women whose lives are forever transformed and connected by horrendous acts during WWII. Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite, former Broadway actress, and liaison to the French consulate who works to provide aid for French citizens during the war, and eventually for victims of war crimes. Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager who becomes a courier for the underground resistance movement and ends up in the only women's only concentration camp of the war with her mother and sister. Herta Oberheuser is a young German doctor who answers an ad for a government medical position, thinking it'd be a great experience for her medical career, but is unknowingly getting herself into a position that will have drastic consequences.

        For decades, these women manage to endure the impossible pain and heartache of war, and yet still manage to experience the love, redemption, and friendship that comes with the healing powers of the truth.

        Martha Hall Kelly eloquently tells the story of these strong, brave women who went through hell and back to survive in a world that eventually forgot about them. A story that seems to get brushed aside amidst the stories of the soldiers who fought the wars.

        Kelly did an amazing job with her debut novel. Her 10 years of research and attention to detail are apparent.  Perhaps I enjoyed it even more because I am a sucker for historical fiction, especially that of the WWII era, and with chapters written from different characters perspectives. Regardless of the reason, I am looking forward to Kelly's next two novels, both prequels to Lilac Girls.

        Rating: 5 out of 5 - I fell in love with multiple aspects. Highly recommend.

        **
        Side note 1: Read the Author's Note and interview at the end of the book. Despite always being an avid reader, I rarely read the extras at the end of books such as the Author's Notes, acknowledgements, and interviews once the book ends. For some readers, that may come as a surprise. For others, you're probably thinking "Me too! Why bother?" I always thought it was a waste of time and it'd ruin the story for me. Well, let me tell you, I learned the hard way that I'm missing out! If you're like me and don't read those extras, please read them for Lilac Girls, you won't be sorry.

        Side note 2: There are discussion questions in the back of the book. For book club discussion activity ideas and more questions, visit marthahallkelly.com/lilac-girls/for-book-clubs/.

        Side note 3: There is a documentary being made about the Rabbits of Ravensbruck. To learn more and follow the story, follow their progress on Facebook and watch this video on YouTube.

        Monday, November 13, 2017

        Poem: I Go To Nature To Be Soothed

        the sounds of nature, the sights and smells blanketed, surrounded by the reminder of the outside world, civilization. two somehow become one and blend together to coexist amidst the chaos. i am constantly reminded of the other.

        i go to nature to be soothed, to recharge, to be mindful, to nourish, and to welcome my newfound calmness.

        nature helps me think, re-balance. reminds me that i am just one small cell, one small part of this larger thing called life. nature soothes me. silences me.

        nature makes me think. clears my mind. reminds me of what's important in this life. gets me to
        put pen to paper, mind to matter and to forget
        about life for awhile. i get to shut off.
        recharge. reset. and,
        remember who i am.

        "I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order." - John Burroughs

        Thursday, October 5, 2017

        Poem: Strength and Unity: MRKH Warrior Strong

        Grief has its own unique way of isolating us into a cruel, dark world we don't always know how to come back from. It is in these moments we struggle the most, yet draw the most inspiration. A good friend of mine, Meredith Brookes, recently passed away after a brief illness on Sept. 22. The last conversation we had was on Sept. 20th, 2 days before she passed. We had finally narrowed down a date about 10 days later to finally get together - the first time since she moved closer to me this summer. That conversation made the news of her unexpected passing that much harder to process. And then, I heard on Oct. 2nd, the day after we had planned to do something that she was gone...making me feel guilty I hadn't reached out to her sooner and more often.

        Yet, I know she was watching over me somehow, leading me to write this poem about our friendship, and her commitment to the MRKH community.

        Strength and Unity: MRKH Warrior Strong


        All through the years, I'd yearned for a connection like ours.
        I hoped that one day I wouldn't be alone in this battle.
        I waited, patiently, for you, my friend.
        And yet, here we are...

        You've come and gone.
        We had a bond, so strong.
        Stronger through the mutual struggles, forged into
        MRKH Warrior Strong.

        My heart, and your heart spoke so eloquently
        Our souls knew the same language.
        You will always be my soul sister.
        My MRKH Warrior Sister.

        I didn't have to explain myself to you.
        You somehow knew, without a doubt,
        just what to say to make me laugh.
        You knew, yet without knowing, that your sarcasm
        and morbid humor would make everything better in it's own way.
        You knew, in the way that only a fellow MRKH Warrior could know.

        And like the phoenix, our sisters and I will rise together
        from this grief, we'll build a stronger foundation.
        We will rise together to discover our newfound life without you.
        We will forge ahead into the unknown,
        amidst the ashes left behind.
        We will rise in the face of adversity
        in honor of your image, and with your strength.

        We will rise together as one, in unity...
        MRKH WARRIOR STRONG.

        Sunday, September 17, 2017

        Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

        Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
        Audiobook, 8 hours
        Published September 13, 2016 by HarperAudio
        Dates Read/Listened: Aug. 8 - Sept. 17, 2017

        This was the first book I've read or listened to by Ann Patchett. The story followed Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating, who married after they fell for each other at a christening. Patchett seemed to sensitively address the issues of two individuals who fell in love despite being married to other people and both having children from those marriages. Relationships are complicated as it is, let alone adding infidelity and children to the mix.

        While the story had many interesting points, I often found myself zoning out and not really paying attention to the story so when I did tune back in, I was lost and not sure exactly what "time" it was in the book. This is why it took me 6 weeks to get through it, which in turn also added to my inability to keep track of where I was because I'd forget details after so much time passed between listening sessions. Although, there did seem to be quite a few chronological "leaps" in the story and Patchett assumed the reader would follow along without clarifying exactly when events were taking place. She'd also reference certain events that happen in the past as a flashback or a memory, but then come back to present day, which left a reader (or listener) utterly confused as to what exactly happened when.

        One thing I did find interesting was the concept of the book being read by the characters. It was a story about the characters being read by the characters, which then had a movie made about them and what their reactions were to both the book and the movie.

        Overall, I'd rate this a 3 out of 5 - it's okay. Not for me, though I can see why others enjoy it.

        Wednesday, July 26, 2017

        Infertility: You Are Enough

        A little back story...

        Earlier this month I went to a writers workshop in Middlebury, Vermont as part of the Burlington Writers Workshop that I am a member of. I had submitted a poem to be critiqued, about softball, and I plan to submit it to some literary journals for publication.

        The feedback I got was amazing and I am ever grateful for the group of people in that group because they are raw and mindful of the importance of constructive feedback. Normally we have two people who have their pieces "workshopped" and critiqued but this particular evening it was just me so we spent the first hour or so going over my piece. I was "in the box," which means I could not say anything while the other group rest of the group was discussing my piece. I came out of the box when they were done, loving the feedback and have a lot to work with to tweak the poem.

        Next, we worked on a prompt - we were to write about something you wish somebody had told you. The member who gave the prompt has been leading writing workshops or writing groups for probably 20-25 years if not more. He said that my poem had inspired him to bring this prompt to this group that night because the theme of the poem was something that was obviously to him something that I had wish I had been told when I was playing softball when I was a kid, but were things that I have learned over the years on my own.

        The prompt inspired me to write about what I wish I had known about my infertility diagnosis.

        I wish I knew it was a possibility. I wish during sex-ed that infertility was mentioned as something that happens. I wish that sex-ed, specifically around puberty and periods, was not taught in such a way that it is assumed that people would all develop the same way, and that all women would start their period by a certain age or have the same flow as each other every 28 days. As we all know by adulthood, that is just not the case and I wish that was pointed out during sex-ed or told to me by my parents or somebody. As it turns out, I learned all of this the hard way when I hadn't started my period before I was 15. I went through all kinds of tests to figure out why and I ended up being diagnosed with MRKH, a form of primary infertility.

        And so I am here to tell you what I wish I knew when I was younger. I want to tell you that you are enough. You are everything that you are supposed to be in this life. Despite your so-called flaws, despite your inability to do what the female body is supposedly supposed to do, you are enough. You are one hundred percent who you are supposed to be. This struggle, this infertility struggle that you are going through is making you stronger, it is making you more compassionate, and it is a test you will pass.

        You are not alone. Your infertility journey, by society's standards, makes you feel like you're alone, like you're living in isolation and nobody else knows what you're experiencing. I am here to tell you that while not everybody's experiences are the same, there are people who empathize and understand what you're going through without you having to explain it to them. You are more than your infertility journey because it is only one piece of the pie, it is only one fraction of your life and who you are as a person.

        You are everything you are meant to be in this life.
        You are loved.
        You are not alone.
        You are enough.

        This video, titled Not Alone, sums it all up. It's produced by American Greetings as part of their "Give Meaning" to relationships campaign. It's what convinced me to share my answer to the writing prompt with you.


        Tuesday, July 4, 2017

        June Wrap-Up and July Forecast


        Well, I think I was a bit overambitious for June considering I was traveling for half the month. I was really hoping I could get some books read in the car if I wasn't driving and listening to some audiobooks. Turns out I didn't have as much down time as I had anticipated!

        Books Read in June

        1. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
        2. Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhan Naht

        Posts for Books Read in June

        None!

        Posts for Books Read Before June

        1. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
        2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
        3. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
        4. Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of A Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, M.D.

        Reading Challenges Updates

        No new challenges in June.

        Audiobook Challenge 2017

        This challenge goes all year along, so any audiobooks in 2017 count. Since I listened to 7 books so far this year, I am at the Weekend Warrior level.

        Read Women 2017

        This is a challenge on Goodreads that lasts all year long. I have completed 8 of the 13 books I plan to read this year.

        2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge

        12 books completed out of my 55 to read goal, which means I am 15 books behind schedule. Ahhhh!

        Top Five

        1. Favorite Book: Silence: The Power of Quiet in A World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Nahn because of it's content about cultivating mindfulness and the author's ability to break down the practice into manageable steps, and providing real life examples. This is my first time reading this book and I've had it book for a couple years, and I think that was subconsciously intentional because I wasn't ready until I was. I also just happen to participate in a 4-week Cultivating Mindfulness Workshop Series this spring, which helped give me some context for mindfulness practices.
        2. Least Favorite Book: The Alchemist by Paul Coelho - only because I had forgotten I had listened to it until I checked my Goodreads for the books I read in June. It didn't make a good enough impression on me for to even remember that I had listened to it.  
        3. Most Exciting Moment: being at my cousin's wedding and witnessing her perfect day marrying her best friend. They are made for each other. I am so happy I was able to be a part of it and witness their love for each other. 
        4. Least Exciting Moment: Realizing I had been in the car for a total of 48+ hours for a road trip just in travel between destinations, not including driving around said destinations. That's a lot of car riding without reading as much as I'd hoped!
        5. Favorite Part of June: I'm listing a few here:
          1. Attending my cousins wedding
          2. Launching my Pampered Chef Consultant business
          3. Making a weekend out of seeing 2 Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds concerts
          4. Seeing friends and family I rarely get to see

        July Forecast

        I plan to finish reading or listening to the 4 books on my Currently Reading List:
        1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
        2. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult 
        3. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
        4. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
        At least 1 post per week - content is TBD!

        Happy Reading, and most of all Happy 4th of July!

        Friday, June 30, 2017

        Review: Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger

        Review of Bag Balm and Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, M.D.
        Paperback, 272 pages
        Published September 1989 by Fawcett
        Dates Read: March 30, 2015 - November 8, 2016

        As you can see by how long it took me to read this book, this was a difficult book to get through. It was chosen for book club out of about 5 selections with a Vermont theme because it seemed to be the most appealing. Since the book club is based in Vermont, we wanted to read something based in the state.

        The book started out slow as he's describing the countryside and transition to living in Vermont, in a "slower" pace of life than he was accustomed to previously. It read like a journal that was adapted for publication for the serious reader and the casual reader. The serious reader notes were a bit hilarious and at times unnecessary because it could've easily been worked into the story instead of being added to it to be published.

        Many of the chapters (or should I call them journal entries?) seemed to be mostly him complaining about everything that is wrong with Western medicine. About halfway through the book is when it got better when he learned how to treat patients rather than the disease. It took him moving to a small town to learn that everything he learned in med school and practiced elsewhere isn't necessarily the right way of practicing medicine. He learned that he needed to treat the person and earn their trust rather than treat the disease.

        I don't remember the specific point in the book when it happened, but I do remember suddenly enjoying the story and appreciating his humor, grace, and appreciation for the hardy lifestyle of Vermonters who don't take shit from outsiders they call flatlanders.

        The book was obviously dated with there being references to specific treatments and medications that are no longer recommended, which will happen with many books on the topic of medicine.

        Because I felt like the book read as a journal and it was dated, I got bored easily and had trouble getting back into it at first. I did not finish it in time for book club, but did pick it back up when a friend and I started talking about it. I finished it so that we could discuss it more in depth and he felt similarly disappointed in the title being misleading.

        Rated: 3 out of 5 on Goodreads. My definition of 3 out of 5 is that it was an okay read. It's not for me, but I can see why others enjoy it.

        Monday, June 19, 2017

        Review: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

        Review of The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
        Paperback, 320 pages
        Published December 2014
        Dates Read: September 5-9, 2015

        Addie Baum tells her 22 year old granddaughter, Ava, her story growing up in the North End of Boston to Jewish-Russian immigrant parents who had a distrust for the changing American values. Reflecting on her 85 years when Ava asked her how she got to be the woman she is today, she starts her story in 1915 when she was just figuring out her own voice and view on life. Because of her parents distrust and their suspected affects on their three daughters, a lot of tension arose between them trying to maintain tradition and the ways of the old world and the girls trying to take advantage of the new opportunities for women during the time.

        Addie's intelligence and curiosity gets the best of her as she explores the new culture her parents don't understand - movies or "moving pictures," short skirts, the celebrity culture, and eventually the right for women to vote. At a time when women are expected to marry right out of high school, she's determined to go to college. She also wants a career of her own and like any 15 year old, she wants to find true love. Addie explains that's the year she found her voice and made new friends who would have a profound affect on the course of her life.

        Goodreads description explains, "from the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor."

        In true Anita Diamant fashion, The Boston Girl is a detailed historical fiction account of a young woman's struggle and resilience in an ever changing twentieth-century America. We get a glimpse through Addie's eyes of a generation of women figuring out what it means to be a woman in the new landscape of America, and the world.
        I enjoyed reading this book for book club, not only because it's historical fiction, but because it reminded me of the conversation I had with my own grandmother, at about the same age, when she told me about growing up in New York City in the 1920's and early 1930's as the daughter of Italian immigrants.

        Rating: 4 out of 5

        Saturday, June 10, 2017

        Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini


        Audiobook published 2007 by Simon and Schuster Audio
        Paperback, 372 pages, published by Riverhead Books
        Dates listened: December 10-30, 2016

        I enjoyed reading The Kite Runner so much that I read A Thousand Splendid Suns not too long afterwards - it was in fact a year later, but for me that's a quick turnaround to read another book by the same author that I love so much unless it's Jodi Picoult.

        If I had actually read the book rather than listening to it, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. I felt like I kept zoning out and couldn't focus so I kept missing important details. That may have had to do a lot with the actors voices being hard for me to listen to as well. As a result, I had to refer to the description on Goodreads and some other reviews to jog my memory.

        The description of A Thousand Splendid suns on Goodreads is, "Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation."

        Mariam grew up isolated and verbally abused by her mother. She was an illegitimate child and her mother never let her forget it, always calling her a harami. She longed for more attention from her father whom she only saw occasionally, and begged him to take her in - yearning for the attention and things that come with being a member of a real family. Then, at the age of 15 she is married off to Rasheed, a shoemaker old enough to be her grandfather and described so horrifically she might as well have been marrying an ogre. Soon Mariam is subject to Rasheed's violent and abusive behaviors - only this time it wasn't limited only to verbal abuse like her mother. Rasheed took advantage of the patriarchal culture, subconsciously or not, and physically, verbally, and sexually abused Mariam. When he wanted sex and she didn't, he'd guilt her into sex by telling her "There is no shame in this Mariam...it's what married people do. It's what the prophet himself and his wives did," and would then force himself onto her.

        When Mariam is around 30-40 years old, Rasheed marries 14-year old Laila. Laila's childhood was similar to Mariam's, having suffered abuse in the patriarchal society of Aghanistan only to be married off at a young age to a man just as abusive if not worse than what she endured as a young child. While Mariam feels sorry for Leila because she knows what it's like be in her shoes, she is also relieved that Rasheed has someone else to beat.

        The women bond over their shared experiences and try to navigate their unforeseen relationship that is a combination of mother-daughter and sisters. They do try to use their relationship to their advantage to not only take care of themselves, but also prioritize their children's lives. In an attempt to run away, Rasheed discovers their plans and beats both of them while also verbally berading them. One threatening and powerful thing he says to Leila is, "You try this again and I will find you. I swear on the prophet's name that I will find you. And, when I do, there isn't a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do. To Mariam first, then to her, and you last. I'll make you watch. You understand me? I'll make you watch." This signifies just how much he thinks of them as property and not as humans or partners.

        These are just a couple examples of the abuse Mariam and Laila suffer at the hands of their husband. This is a difficult book to get through, yet it's also captivating and keeps a reader wanting more. I kept asking myself why they didn't just leave, but that's the point of the book in many ways. It's hard enough to leave an abusive relationship in the U.S. where women have rights, let alone in a country like Afghanistan where the women have very few right if any.

        As Melissa Firman writes in her review, "A Thousand Splendid Suns is that rare book that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. It is an emotional journey through decades and with women who may be worlds away, but who are similar to so many of us in so many ways."

        Rating: 4 out of 5. Enjoyed it, not quite loved it. Recommend, even though I did prefer The Kite Runner and felt that A Thousand Splendid Suns didn't live up to the same expectations and quality. 

        Tuesday, June 6, 2017

        Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

        Hardcover, 233 pages
        Published 1990 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
        Dates read: March 10-May 7, 2017

        When I first started reading this book, I downloaded a copy on Amazon Kindle and read it on my phone, then because it was a small screen I couldn't handle it so listened to part of it as an audio book. That still didn't do it for me so I was able to get my hands on a hardcover book from the library! I prefer the physical copy for this book because it was so riveting and attention grabbing that I wanted more of it and the sooner the better (I tend to get through books faster reading the paperback/hardcover over Kindle or audio).

        Through this compilation of award winning short stories, O'Brien recounts the experiences the members of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, O'Brien. First published in 1990, The Things They Carried has become an American classic and testament to the trials and tribulations the men endured during the Vietnam war.

        Some stories made me sit in disbelief, while others made me cry, and most broke my heart that these young men experienced such horrors only to come home to a country full of hate and anger towards them. The first short story (chapter), aptly titled the same as the book, contained many quotes that made my heart ache, such as "They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." Then later in the same chapter, this quote summed up the entirety of the book for me before it was even finished, "They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak."

        Although there were many scenes full of intense gory violence, there are plenty more that are funny, humane, and relatable. Even decades after the war, O'Brien still carries things with him (hence the title), something that many people don't understand unless they went through it too. It's evidenced through the few times he shares that his daughter makes comments about why he lingers on the past. It's clear that he is bothered by her comments but doesn't know how to explain it to her or if he even wants to or can.

        As Writer's Relief wrote in their review on Goodreads, "There are moments in the book when you wonder if what he remembers actually happened or if he’s rewriting his memories as a coping mechanism. His vivid storytelling abilities will have you suffering alongside the soldiers; so much so that, when you finish the book, you also carry a bit of the burden of war."

        While reading these stories I couldn't help but wonder if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or whether or not he is getting help. It's something that he didn't touch on, nor would I have expected him to address in this book given the purpose of the stories being more about sharing his stories than about the follow-up care. After reading the descriptions of his other books on Goodreads, it doesn't seem like he addresses PTSD directly head on - it's definitely addressed at least indirectly through showing the aftermath of coming home from a war.

        Rating: 4 out of 5 - Enjoyed it, not quite loved it because while it gave some insight into his experience, I didn't like the disconnectedness of a compilation of short stories. At the same time, I think the format was necessary because his memories and the events were disconnected.

        Highly Recommend.

        Wednesday, May 31, 2017

        May Wrap-Up and June Forecast

        I lost momentum and motivation to blog after I participated in RESOLVE's Blogger Challenge as part of National Infertility Awareness Week last month. It was a combination of nicer weather so I'm outside more, and the fact that I needed a break from blogging because I started to suffer from burnout. Infertility is such a tough subject already, and then blogging about it took a lot of emotionally energy. Although sharing my story was a relief and big weight off my shoulders, it was still emotionally draining writing all of those posts and worrying about having my story out there in the public Internet world.

        That said, I wanted to share a recap of what has happened this month.

        Posts for Books Read in May

        1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (audiobook, memoir) - 5 out of 5 rating
        2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (audiobook, fiction) - 4 out of 5 rating
        3. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - review to come!

        Posts for Books Read Before May

        1. Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious and Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants by Ellen Brown (cookbook)  - no rating
        2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (historical fiction) - 5 out of 5 rating
        3. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (audiobook, fiction) - 5 out of 5 rating

        Reading Challenge

        I decided to commit to a new challenge for the year by joining the Audiobook Challenge 2017, which has different levels and lasts all year long. In May, I finished 2 audiobooks for a total of 5 so far in 2017, which means I completed the Newbie level. I am looking forward to listening to more audiobooks this year, in June especially with lots of road trips to get some listening in!

        Top Five

        1. Favorite Book: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult - not only is she one of my favorite authors, I really noticed and enjoyed how well developed the characters were on their own and in their relationships with each other.
        2. Least Favorite Book: None this month. I didn't read nearly as much as I had hoped so I have less of a pool to draw from. 
        3. Most Exciting Moment: getting a new phone so that I can do more with it, including downloading more audio-books to listen to and get closer to meeting the Audiobook Challenge.
        4. Least Exciting Moment: When I realized that I was losing my momentum and self-encouragement for blogging. I hit a slump and didn't know how to get out of it until earlier this week and noticed what other bloggers were posting at the end of the month and got the idea for this post. I've been able to learn something from this experience and still create something!
        5. Favorite Part of May: Seeing a few old friends I haven't seen much of in the last few years. Getting together and catching up with old friends is usually a good time for me and encouraging. 

        June Forecast

        I'm going to be driving or a passenger for about 42 hours this month so I hope to get a lot of reading and/or listening done! Since I'll be on vacation for a bit in June, I plan to get a lot of my posts written and posted or scheduled ahead of time. 
        1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - currently reading
        2. Rokitasnky by Alice Darwin - currently reading
        3. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon - currently reading
        4. Home Front by Kristin Hannah - currently reading
        5. Check-in about the Audiobook Challenge 2017
        6. Top 10 Favorite Jodi Picoult Books
        7. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - published June 6
        8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
        9. The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
        10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
        11. The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon
        12. The Diviners by Libba Bray
        13. Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, MD
        14. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
        Which June post should I do first?

        Tuesday, May 16, 2017

        Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

        Leaving Time
        by Jodi Picoult, author
        Audiobook, Published October 14th 2014 by Random House Audio
        Read by: Rebecca Lowman, Abigail Revasch, Käthe Mazur, Mark Deakins
        Dates listened: April 16 - May 12, 2017

        Jenna Metcalf is a 13-year-old girl searching for her mother who mysteriously disappeared after a tragic accident 10 years earlier. She can't imagine that her mother would intentionally leave her behind and feels the urge to find out why she left without saying goodbye or even taking her only daughter with her. She reads and re-reads her mother's journals to learn more about her and feel closer to the woman she barely remembers and longs to know and love in real-time.

        Saturday, May 13, 2017

        Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis By J.D. Vance

        Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
        By J.D. Vance (Author and Narrator)
        Audiobook published June 2016 by HarperAudio

        Narrated by J.D. Vance himself, I found this book refreshing to hear a personal account of growing up in Appalachia explaining his first hand experience that they have their own mentality.  There seems to be a general cultural consensus in this lower middle class that the rich people and corporations are to blame for their circumstances. Vance proceeds to explain throughout the rest of the book his own experiences growing up in the culture, from the parade of boyfriends his mother had masquerading as father figures to his older sister playing surrogate mother as a teenager to him when their mother wouldn't be able to function due to her addictions.

        Wednesday, May 10, 2017

        Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

        Paperback, 214 pages
        Published: 2011 by Ballantine Books
        Audiobook by Random House Audio

        The Paris Wife is beautifully written by Paula McLain from the perspective of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. I felt like I was right there in the story, which took place in a very different time period nearly 90 years ago. Coincidentally, I read A Farewell to Arms at the same time for book club and now want to read The Sun Also Rises even more.

        McLain writes in such a way that can make the reader feel like they're the main character, or perhaps is her best friend or reading her diary. She is a pro at character development as I felt like I knew Hadley and Ernest Hemingway intimately and felt for both of them as they toiled through life together and the later years.

        Monday, May 8, 2017

        Reading Challenge: Audiobook Challenge 2017

        Earlier this year, I participated in the March Take Control TBR Challenge with Caffeinated Book Reviewer, which was not very successful on my part. It was my first monthly reading challenge on my own as a blogger and not directly related to Goodreads and so I lost momentum. Then, today I came across the fifth annual Audiobook Challenge 2017 that Caffeinated Book Reviewer is co-hosting with Hot Listens. I've already listened to four audiobooks this year, and am on my fifth so I am already at the Newbie level and very close to Weekend Warrior status so I thought, hey why not join? The challenge started earlier this year and runs through December 31 to either find a new love for audios or outdo yourself by listening to more audiobooks this year than in 2016. There are two updates the hosts will be doing - one on June 30 and one on December 15, 2017, which is when I plan on doing a progress update of my own of which books I've listened to so far and which level I've reached for the challenge.

        The levels are:
        • Newbie (I'll give it a try) 1-5
        • Weekend Warrior (I'm getting the hang of this) 5-10
        • Stenographer (can listen while multi-tasking) 10-15
        • Socially Awkward (Don't talk to me) 15-20
        • Binge Listener (Why read when someone can do it for you) 20-30
        • My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30+
        • Marathoner (Look Ma No Hands) 50+

        I listen to the majority of my audiobooks on OverDrive through my library membership because it's free. Some books I listen to on Audible, but since I am also trying to save money I have temporarily put my account on hold until further notice, but not before downloading two books that I will check out at some point this year.

        Other paid subscription audio resources include Audiobooks.com, Downpour.com, Tantor.com, and Ambling BookPlayer, and one that Caffeinated Book Reviewer doesn't mention is Libro.fm.

        In addition to OverDrive, other free audio resources include LibriVox (public domain books), Audiobook Jukebox and Hoopla

        While I don't have a set number of audiobooks I plan to listen to, I am tracking them on my Goodreads shelf called 2017-audiobook-challenge. So far I have listened to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, and I am currently listening to Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult.

        Be on the lookout for more reviews and updates to come!

        Saturday, May 6, 2017

        Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

        The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
        Published 2003 by Riverhead Books
        Paperback, 391 pages
        Dates read: September 23 - December 25, 2015

        Set primarily in a changing Afghanistan over the course of 30 years, The Kite Runner tells the story of an unlikely friendship, love, and family.

        Amir, a Pashtun, is the son of a wealthy merchant, and never wants for anything other than the affection of his father, Baba. While Baba clearly and openly loves both boys, he often turns a critical eye on Amir, causing him to feel resentful, jealous, and live with a growing sense of uncertainty. His friendship with his family's servant, Hassan, is even more unusual as he is a Hazara. The boys grow up playing in the field across the street from the house, flying kites, and participating in a number of different boyhood games. But as Amir's desire to appease his father intensifies amid the country's tensions increasing across ethnic, religious, and political lines, their friendship is torn beyond repair when Amir's actions come between him and his friend in one of his greatest times of need. They barely speak, unless necessary, for some time until Hassan and his father move on to other opportunities, or perhaps it's away from Amir's heartbreaking choice, despite the lifelong friendship between Baba and Hassan's father.

        Hosseini's debut novel is a powerful account of love, life, family, and the turmoils of an improbable friendship amidst difficult circumstances. Highly recommend.

        Rating: 5 out of 5

        Wednesday, May 3, 2017

        Cookbook Review: Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious and Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants by Ellen Brown

        After a week of posts about infertility, some comfort food is in order. Some of my favorite comfort foods are soups and chili, no matter the time of year and most especially when I'm sick. Not only are there so many options to choose from, soup is also easily freezable to save for a rainy day or that craving that randomly kicks in for no apparent reason.

        Soup of the Day is a wonderful reference any time of the year when your soup craving kicks in, whether it's a hearty chicken soup when you're feeling under the weather or a light gazpacho to keep you cool in the summer.

        Saturday, April 29, 2017

        Seven Books About Living with Infertility and Beyond

        As a bibliophile, book reviewer, and now a self-outed MRKH Warrior, I am compelled to share with you a few books about infertility. I have not read all of these books, only started the first two about MRKH, both of which I have read multiple reviews and synopses. Those I have not read are about infertility in general and are accompanied by other reviewers accounts and/or descriptions.

        Look for these today at your local bookstore because April 29 is Independent Bookstore Day. What if they don't have it, you ask. Answer: ask the owner to order you a copy and carry the book to help spread awareness about infertility. But what if they refuse, you say. Answer: Ask again. No? Not comfortable asking? Okay fine, these are also available on Amazon unless otherwise noted.

        Friday, April 28, 2017

        I or My Partner Just Received An Infertility Diagnosis. Now What?

        Take a deep breath. Repeat after me: I Am Not Alone.

        Say it again. I Am Not Alone.

        But I feel so alone. So ashamed, so isolated, and so heartbroken. My/my partner's identity as a man or a woman is in crisis. I feel like nobody understands. Nobody is listening.

        I know. We've all been there and still feel this way sometimes. Did you say we? Yes.

        We're all over the place. Some of us are no longer in hiding, and we want to support those who still are, while still protecting your privacy.

        Some of these resources are MRKH and women specific because that what I know. If you don't find what you're looking for here, you can use these ideas to seek them out.

        Thursday, April 27, 2017

        How Infertility Has Taught Me to Listen

        Infertility is a blessing in disguise because it has taught me to listen. I know, it sounds crazy that infertility can be a blessing in disguise when it's an emotional struggle. It sounds even more crazy since the emotional affects are not visible to others, even to those in our inner circle, making it that much more of a struggle. Because it's not visible, it doesn't look like we have anything to be upset about and we occasionally get told that to our faces. This attitude towards our "invisible" struggle has taught me that it's not a good idea to judge a book by its cover so to speak, even though that is human nature. It's taught me that not everything is as it appears, and so I do my best to listen.

        Wednesday, April 26, 2017

        Celebrating National Poetry Month with Mud Season Review

        Writing poetry has been my private outlet of mine for many years. It's been overshadowed on this blog by my book reviews and infertility posts, and that is something that will change eventually. Even though poetry has been so important to me over the years in coping with my infertility diagnosis, and really life in general, I have failed to bring attention to the fact that April is National Poetry Month. It is also known as NaPoWriMo online, and is sponsored by Poets.org.

        Perhaps I have forgotten to share my love of poetry with you because my lust for this written form has been satisfied through being a Poetry Reader for the last eight months for the Mud Season Review. It is a literary journal that grew out of the Burlington Writers Workshop in Burlington, Vermont. Just last week we celebrated the publication of our 28th monthly online issue, and Volume 3 print issue. The Mud Season Review publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and artwork, and accepts submissions through Submittable.

        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*)