Saturday, November 26, 2016


I had my gallbladder surgery just about ten days ago, on the seventeenth. The surgery itself went smoothly as far as I can tell (since I don't remember any of it). It was done at the outpatient center attached to the local hospital. I didn't have to show up until eleven, so I had some time in the morning to get the kids off to school and clean my house before leaving. A friend dropped me off, I checked in, and they got me all prepped for surgery (I'd love to have one of those systems that pipes hot air into my pajamas for my bed at home, it would be awesome). There was about an hour delay so I got to watch an episode of Law & Order while I waited--that's my go-to show for lounging around hotel rooms and hospitals. Then they wheeled me into the operating room and an hour later I woke up back in the bed. For the next few hours I drifted in and out of consciousness. I was surprised by how hard it was to wake up, since the only other time I've had general anesthesia was when I had my tonsils out as a kid and I don't remember a lot about that. Finally I was awake enough to eat some jello and go to the bathroom, so they called my friend to pick me up and sent me home. That night my sister-in-law came over to spend the night at the house in case I needed anything. She kindly brought some big fancy pillows that made sleeping much easier. If you are having any kind of surgery like this, I highly recommend getting at least a wedge pillow to help you sleep upright. It's made a big difference for me and I'm still using it since I still feel too uncomfortable sleeping flat on my back or on my side.

Thankfully I slept really well that first night, and most of the nights since then. However, that could just be the effects of the pain medication. I did stop taking it a few days ago since it ran out and I didn't really need it. Over the last week my pain has progressed from "I can't stand up without a pillow and I can tell when my drugs run out" to "I feel a little sore now and sneezing is still awful". Recovery has been much easier than it was for my c-sections, but still a bit slower than I expected. I think at this point I am also feeling impatient because I'm not totally back to normal. I'm mostly normal, but my stomach is still bloated and my incisions are tender. I'm also impatient to get back to doing stuff after more than a week of sitting around. I can say that I've been very good about taking it easy by avoiding anything strenuous. The kids have spent a lot of time with Mr. Fob and I've had friends dropping off food. I read a few books, watched quite a bit of TV, and spent too much time playing Tetris on my phone.

As my surgery pain has eased I've also been able to tell that my previous pain and indigestion is totally gone and it's really nice. My digestive system is still adjusting, both from the missing gallbladder and the side effects of surgery and pain medication. I'm hoping that will also clear up soon as well. Generally, this has been a positive experience and at this point I don't regret doing it. When the day of the surgery actually came I was a bit scared and really questioned whether it was the best choice, but now that I've had some time to recover I think it was. Hopefully in another week or two I'll keep thinking that.

Reading Roundup: October 2016

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

One difficulty in writing historical fiction is making the characters at least somewhat relatable to modern readers, while still realistic enough for their setting. One thing authors often do is to make the protagonist some kind of outcast or rebel, which creates conflict and makes them more interesting to current audience. However, this can create a character whose behavior doesn't really fit with the time period. If a book is well-written I can just go along with it and enjoy the story, but sometimes it bugs me. Now that I type all that out, I'm not sure that was really the problem with this book. The main character was pretty immature and didn't really change much before the end of the story. I did feel like the historical details of the setting were well-done, however.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Jahren is a compelling writer and I loved the scientific vignettes about trees scattered throughout the book. They were both informative and lyrical, and I learned a lot of new things about botany. On the other hand, I struggled with the rest of the book. Memoirs provide a lot of leeway for writing creatively about oneself, but this book was just too disjointed and evasive for me to enjoy. For example, the first chapter talks all about her childhood, and yet nothing is ever mentioned about her family again for the rest of the book. There are similar omissions, and things alluded to that feel like the reader is expected to make assumptions and fill in the blanks without a lot of context. I think Jahren is a skilled writer and a talented scientist, but this book felt like it needed a bit more editing to work well.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

This was a great escapist read for a lazy Saturday afternoon, but I could probably recommend several books with a similar premise that are better written. I figured out the central mystery fairly early on in the story and I thought that several of the characters were just too stereotypical for my taste. The descriptions of the setting were, however, a strong point of the book and made me want to plan a trip to Cornwall.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

After reading a few less substantial books, it was a treat to dive into one that was much more 'meaty'. Vyleta's strength in this book is definitely world-building, and the book feels much like a Victorian novel in its prose as well as its setting. I thought the second half of the book got a bit bogged down as the plot became rather complicated, and it veered more towards horror than I was expecting, but overall it was a good read. 

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

The thing that surprised me most about this book was the lack of detail in the setting; it mostly focused on the characters and their interactions, and although I know it was set during the 1840s, it could just as easily have taken place fifty years later than that (or even fifty years earlier). The plot was nicely convoluted and I enjoyed watching all the pieces come together in the end in surprising ways; it's easy to see how this could become a television series (and perhaps it will), and maybe it would work better on screen. 

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith

I'm terrible at art, but I love to read books about art, both fiction and nonfiction. I really enjoy books that describe the creative process and art in detail, which this one does really well. It jumps back and forth in time, with some of the same characters at different times in their lives, and I thought that all three timelines were well done. This was not the best book I've read all year, but it was quite good and I would recommend it.

Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline

This book was mostly forgettable--it's a mystery, but I figured out who the killer was fairly early on in the book. The protagonist was also annoying and didn't change much during the book, and many of the other characters were just cliches.

The Lost Girls by Heather Young

This is another mystery/thriller with parallel timelines that eventually intersect when someone in the present figures out new information that explains the past (I read a lot of these, don't I?). I often prefer the historical timeline for various reasons, but in this book I thought the contemporary story was much more compelling. The characters were more believable and sympathetic and I loved the setting; by the time we figured out what happened in the past, I kind of didn't care much, but I was really happy with the resolution for the present-day protagonist.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Master Master

I am now totally done with school--and it feels weird. This semester I had to complete the last requirement, which was creating an electronic portfolio. The portfolio had to include fourteen sections based on the program's learning outcomes; for each section I had to write a short essay describing my understanding of the topic and provide examples of my learning from assignments I'd completed. It was both harder and easier than I had anticipated. Once I did a few sections it really became easier to write the rest of them, but the writing and revising took a long time to do. I'm so happy to be done, and yet it's taking a while to sink in. I think that's because I don't really change my routine much--it's not like I was actually going to class or anything. However, over the last two weeks I've really felt a burden lifting off my shoulders. I no longer have to fit homework in during my free time or worry about completing assignments. It's amazing to realize how much brain space was being taken up by school now that I don't have to worry about it anymore.

Now I need to find some new hobbies and ways to fill my time. I've gotten in the habit of spending too much time on the computer, because with online school it's really important to log on every day. However, I also spent a lot of time online avoiding my homework and now I'm used to sitting down to the computer first thing every night after the kids are in bed. Since I spend most of the day on the computer at work, it's time for some new routines at home.

I think I'm going to wait to start any big changes until the new year because this coming Thursday I'm having surgery to get my gall bladder out. I've been feeling gross off and on for several months, and about two months ago I began having pain right under my ribs on the right side. It's never gotten excruciating, but it's been steady and annoying. I've slowly lost my appetite as well, since I tend to feel yucky after eating. Finally, about two weeks ago I made an appointment to talk with my doctor--she thought it sounded like my gallbladder, we confirmed it with an ultrasound the next day, and then I had an appointment with a surgeon earlier this week. It was a rather quick process, and to be honest I was a little surprised that there really was something wrong with me. The surgery is same-day and laparoscopic, and I've talked to a number of people who've had it and said their recovery was fairly easy. It can't be as bad as recovering from a c-section. So, later this week I'm having surgery and taking a week off work to lie around and watch TV. Then I'll take it easy through December and hopefully by January I can start exercising and doing some other things to get in better shape.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Reading Roundup: September 2016

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Although the beginning of this book was a bit slow, once the various parts of the story started coming together and the narrative picked up a bit, I really enjoyed it. It was a great conclusion to the trilogy and, as always, I was very impressed with Sanderson's skill in worldbuilding.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

This book was not what I expected it to be--I thought it would be a quick thriller that I wouldn't remember after a few weeks. Instead, it surprised me with how well-written it was, and with its focus on characters rather than on just getting through the plot. There was a central mystery, but by the time it was resolved, it didn't feel as important as getting to know all the various characters had been. 

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

This was the first book I've read by Tessa Hadley, and it will probably be the only one. There were many moments where here writing was beautiful, and there was strong characterization as well. However, the plot lacked forward movement and conflict, and ultimately I felt like the book was just too slow to hold my interest. 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I read this book back in high school and had forgotten most of it. It was our book club pick for the month, and I'm glad it was because I thoroughly enjoyed it. My only impression from reading it twenty years ago was that it was somewhat slow and boring, but instead I found it to be witty and engaging. I'm glad I revisited this book--maybe I should try a few other books from my past to see how they feel now.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This book pleasantly surprised me because it was much better than I expected. The premise didn't interest me that much and I didn't have plans to read it until I somehow ended up with recommendations from several different sources. It was both funnier and more touching than I expected it to be, and I'm still thinking about it more than a month later.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Reading Roundup: August 2016

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

I really liked Simonson's first book, although it had a contemporary setting rather than a historical one like this book. Like her last book, this one's great strengths are its characters and its setting. There are, however, a lot of characters in the book and some of them are more effectively realized than others. I also thought the book had a lot of hot-button issues crammed into it (war crimes, refugees, suffrage, homosexuality, class conflicts, etc) in a way that felt a little strained at times. However, despite those shortcomings, I had a great time reading it, and I still think about the characters and their little village more than a month after ending the book. I've seen at least one review recommending this book for fans of Downton Abbey, and I think that's a great comparison.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

I read most of this book while finishing the fourth book of Harry Potter with the kids, and I noticed a lot of interesting parallels--they're both kind of bloated and slow-paced, and they both involve a lot of discussion and debate about the best way to confront a particular enemy. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy either of them, but there were parts of both that were a bit of a slog and could have been tightened up considerably. And maybe the angst could have been toned down a bit too.

Windfallen by Jojo Moyes

This book started slow and didn't get much better with time. I think it's one of Moyes' first books and it shows--there are too many characters and the plot is too convoluted, so some things really don't get resolved. 

The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens

This was my book club read for the month, and while I can see how it would be really powerful for some people, it wasn't necessarily that significant for me. I think it's a great book for people who are struggling with Church culture and who would respond to something that leans more orthodox in its approach, but I already agreed with a lot of things said in it.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I have loved most of Moriarty's previous books and she's one of my favorite 'fluff' authors when I just want a fun book to escape into for a few hours. Some of her books have been better than others, and this one wasn't really one of my favorites. There were just too many characters and too much switching between points of view to really get invested in the story, and some of the characters were really difficult to sympathize with. I also found the amount of switching between past and present too much to really keep up with and felt like it disrupted the flow of the story.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

This was my second time reading this book, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it even more the second time around. It's interesting reading this book about the dynamics of marriage and of friend relationships, and particularly married-couple-friendships now that I'm no longer married. Now that I'm outside that particular life situation it felt easier to see both the benefits and the problems as Stegner outlines them. And, well, Stegner is just an amazing writer and such a pleasure to read (For what it's worth, I may also have enjoyed this so much since it came after reading several mediocre books in a row).

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Reading Roundup: July 2016

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I've heard about this book for several years, but the way it was described didn't really catch my attention. I had focused too much on the 'time travel' aspect and worried that it would feel contrived or gimmicky. Instead, the book pulled me in and I had a hard time letting go (I think I still have a book hangover a month later). The repetitious aspects of the story actually worked to deepen my connection with the characters--I was invested in their choices more and more, each time we reviewed them. One review that I read called this book something like a 'love letter' to early twentieth-century England, and it really is in many ways. It's not always a 'pleasant' book and doesn't shy away from grim details, but it is 'lovely' in the sense that it creates a world and characters that are deeply loved and love each other. It's one of my new favorite books and the one I'm going to be recommending to everyone I know.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

I probably would have liked this book more if I had not picked it up so soon after finishing Life After Life. It's a completely different sort of book, and once I got into it I really enjoyed it. The beginning was a bit slow and it took a while to wrap my brain around the different elements of the world and its conflicts. By the time I got to the last hundred pages, I couldn't put it down. 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I loved Olive Kitteridge so much that now I wonder if I will always be disappointed by anything else Strout writes. This book had great character development, but not much in way of conflict. Everything seemed very muted and I kept waiting for things to pick up some steam, or to be clarified. Nothing every really was and the book just ended. I didn't hate it, but I certainly didn't love it either.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

I mentioned that I had a bit of a 'hangover' after reading Life After Life and didn't enjoy either of the books I read afterwards. Thankfully Atkinson had written a follow-up (focusing on one of the characters from the other book and his life), so I could get back into the world of the Todd family. It was just as good as the first book, and good in different ways. Without giving anything away, there was a bit of a trick at the end (I think--it's ambiguous), but I'm willing to forgive that because I liked the book so much.

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

This was another book that could have felt gimmicky, but thankfully wasn't. The characters felt very real and so did the conflicts. I particularly liked the ending--without spoiling it, I felt like it was a great ending for the characters given their ages and their circumstances.

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

I've seen this book reviewed in two different ways--either as a thriller/horror book about a terrible serial killer, or as a literary true-crime book like In Cold Blood. Sadly, it didn't seem to fulfill either expectation very well. It does talk about a serial killer in Florence, but the storytelling gets bogged down in details and loses momentum. The story is long, and confusing, and involves a number of different people, and to tell it without embellishing is better journalism. However, it makes for a muddled book that is difficult to read because it lacks coherence and real tension. 

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

I've read most of Moriarty's books now and I know what to expect from them--family conflict and social commentary, mixed with some humor and absurdity as well. They're always a fun escape read that gets me laughing and thinking as well. This is Moriarty's first book, and it definitely feels unpolished compared to some of her later books that I've read. That being said, it was still a fun read and I laughed quite a lot while reading it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reading Roundup: June 2016

Sistering by Jennifer Quist

The humor in this book is fairly dark, but if you're ready for it, you'll have a great time reading it. The characters are all memorable, and each of the five sisters had a unique voice; the switching viewpoints felt natural instead of gimicky, like it does in too many other books I've read. The plot also kept me guessing (and cringing a little), and the ending was perfect. This is another unique and wonderful book by Quist and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

I loved Duhigg's book on habits and learned a lot of great things from it, so I was looking forward to this book. It had some useful information, but some parts of it felt a little too simplistic and redundant. A month after reading it, I don't remember much of it. 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

It's been a number of years since I re-read this book and I had forgotten how snarky it is. The romance in it is great, and I think Willoughby is one of the best villains in all of Austen, but Austen's barbed comments about society really make this book fun.

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

This book had an interesting premise and conflict, but the characters were not developed enough for me to really distinguish them from each other or to care about them. They all seemed to have the same voice, and the motivations of the character who drives the action weren't always clear. It was an interesting read, but I felt like it kind of petered out at the end.

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

The main character in this book was impulsive and made some dumb decisions, but she is a young teenager so it makes sense. Thankfully she does grow up, and as she did, I started to like her a lot more and I enjoyed the book. It had some twists I wasn't expecting and a satisfying ending.

What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

The description of this book made it sound like a thriller, but it really wasn't. In fact, there wasn't much emotion in the story at all and it felt somewhat flat to me. The author writes each chapter from the viewpoint of a different character, depending on which is the most convenient way to move the story forward. However, the different characters did not have distinctive voices, and their first-person narration sounded too much like responding to an interview ("this happened and this happened", etc) to make the book particularly interesting. The premise of this book was intriguing, but the execution was poor.

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

This was our book club pick for the month, otherwise I'm not sure if I would have read it. I've never read Moby Dick and have not felt much desire to read it--and this book didn't do a lot to convince me otherwise. It was a pretty compelling story and I learned a lot about the early history of whaling. It was, however, pretty gruesome in a lot of the details.

As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner

This book is character driven, not plot driven, and it took me a while to get into it. It's somewhat meandering and moves back and forth in time quite a bit, but that just made it feel like I was really spending time getting to know the whole family. It was an enjoyable read and I'm still thinking about it a month later.


The Young Victoria

 I was still recovering from my trip to London and wanting to watch and read all things British, and thought this movie would fit the bill. It has gorgeous scenery and costumes, and the lead actors had real chemistry. The plot was a little muddled and I had to look a few things up on Wikipedia to remind myself of who was who and what was going on, but in the end this was a pleasant way to spend an evening.
Love & Friendship

This movie was hilarious, and I need to watch it again now that I've figured out who everyone is and how they fit together.  I've often said I read Austen for the social commentary and not so much for the romance and this movie really shows off Austen's wit. Everyone in it is just plain ridiculous.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reading Roundup: May 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston

This book is not particularly groundbreaking in its plot, but I really liked the characters and the fact that it realistically portrayed how difficult the healing process can be. I also appreciate books that demonstrate the importance of strong support networks in the lives of teens--sometimes teen books make it seem like kids just exist in isolation, but good books like this recognize the complex relationships they have with family, friends, and their communities. This would be a great book for older teens.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

I kept waiting for the characters in this book to mature or grow in some way, and they really never did. I also think likeability is overrated, but some sort of sympathy for the characters needs to be created by the author, and I never quite felt that from this book. Even as I got to the end, I still didn't care much for the main character and did not feel very invested in the ending. 

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is one of the best books I've ever read about the struggles of learning a new language and the difficulties of translation. It made me want to start studying Italian again, or perhaps start learning a new language. She had so many wonderful descriptions of what it feels like to be limited in communication, as well as what it is like to find new forms of expression through new words. I don't know if other people will like this book as much as I did, since I'm a language geek and I already have studied Italian, but I thought it was excellent.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

Although some of the plot twists in this book were fairly conventional and I guessed them early on, it was still a great read and really drew me in. I thought the author did a particularly good job of describing the city and culture of Nagasaki during the early 20th century.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I've read nothing but rave reviews of this book and I agree completely with them. I always enjoy memoirs and have been drawn to books about medicine for years, so it was a good fit. At this point in my life when I have several friends and family members dealing with cancer, it's hard to read a book like this at a distance. It really made me think about what it means to be mortal and how our perceptions of our self and our priorities can change as our life circumstances are altered. It's not, however, sentimental or trite in any way; it's a thoughtful book that I know I will keep contemplating for some time.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

It was fun to read this book while in London visiting many of the places mentioned in the book. It's a dense book and the writing style took some getting used to, but after pushing myself a bit, I really enjoyed it. Some historical fiction feels too much like contemporary characters dropped into a particular setting, but this book retains some of the foreignness of the past. This is not a book to quickly devour in an afternoon--it takes some time to read and think about everything that is going on.

Descent by Tim Johnston

This book seemed to be a little confused about whether it was a straight thriller or a more contemplative look at the effects of tragedy on a family. The beginning and the end were fast-paced, but the middle was a meandering look at the people left behind when someone disappears. It was a nice little 'vacation read', but I don't know if I'll remember much about it in a few months. 

A Traveller's History of England by Christopher Daniell

This was a great book to read before my trip. It was a little dry, but it moved through time rather quickly so that made it easier to read. I still am a bit confused about who reigned when, and would like to read some more in-depth coverage of certain periods of history, but this was a great start. 


The Big Short

I watched this on the plane over to London and I think I was a bit too distracted to follow the story well. It was interesting, but I think I need to watch it again sometime. 

Man Up

Another airplane show--I really enjoyed this little comedy (even while cringing at certain parts), mostly because the story and the actors were very real and relateable. It was a lot of fun.
About a Boy

I know I've seen this movie before, but I could barely remember it so I decided to watch it again. It's another great movie about very real people--the acting is a particular highlight.