Books I Read in 2015

Open Head

The most books I’ve read in a year since electroshock!  It gets easier and easier.  Thank you, Suanne Wilmen, MHS Reading Teacher, for helping me get my brain back!

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•Ahlborn, Ania. Within These Walls.  The one good thing about this book is the ending—a twist worthy of a horror novel.  But getting to that ending is torture and not worth the effort.  I can’t count the times I threw this across the room because the characters were so incredibly dumb.  If there’s one thing I cannot stand, especially in a horror novel, is the stereotypical, obtuse dolt.  Gee, did someone break into my house and rearrange my furniture?  Why is a bloody specter grinning from my bathroom mirror?  Pfft!  Pull on a red shirt already and join the Enterprise, because, buddy, you’re toast.  Oops.  Did I spoil that ending?

•Binchy, Maeve.  Tara Road.  I found this on the “Free Books” table at the library, knew Binchy was Irish, and thought “what the heck.”  Once I got into it, I kept thinking of Ellen over at Notes from the U.K. and our discussions on how we, as American writers, anguish over making our U.K. characters sound authentic.  Binchy’s characters will never sound anything other than Irish—no matter what nationality she says they are—which I found delightful.  This soap opera with an Irish brogue was lots of fun.

Written In Red.indd•Bishop, Anne.  Written in Red.  In this alternate universe, The Others are the predominant intelligent species on Earth.  Basically, shape-shifters, they tolerate humanity—barely.  When a young woman seeks refuge with an Other community, the repercussions ripple across the globe.  The story is well written with a cool premise and interesting characters.  I got bit hard and needed more.

•Bishop, Anne.  Murder of Crows.  The sequel to Written in Red.  Meg and her friends, both Other and human, discover that blood prophets—young girls who see the future when their skin is cut—are the source of two terrifying drugs.  This time out, we get to see how the different regions interact, meet new Others, and watch the “friendship” between Meg and Simon Wolfgard grow.  Arroooo!

•Bishop, Anne.  Vision in Silver.  The third book in Bishop’s “The Others” series.  I’m completely hooked. Love the characters, love the world, love the intrigue.  You’d think if you lived by the leave of a race that could wipe you off the face of the earth, you’d play nice.  But we’re talking about humans, who are the worst at learning from history. Bishop makes me believe we could be that dumb.

•Bishop, Anne.  The Pillars of the World.  Since I loved Bishop’s The Others series, I thought I’d see what else she’d written.  This high-fantasy story involves witches, The Fae, and witch-hunts.  The Fae are a mash-up of pagan and Greco-Roman gods with the requisite arrogance, vanity and very short memories.  Their land is disappearing, and they stand around wringing their hands and pouting.  They are too similar to human beings in this respect to be very interesting.

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•Cashore, Kristin. Fire.  On this side of Cashore’s world (introduced in Graceling—see last year’s list), there be monsters—animals that look like regular critters except for their rainbow colors and appetite for human flesh.  Monsters cast a kind of glamour over non-monsters.  People have learned to guard their minds, but some are better at it than others (who mostly get eaten).  Fire is a human monster, beloved or hated wherever she goes, so she tries to live inconspicuously.  But the country is about to be torn apart by war, and her special talents are needed.  I love Cashore’s storytelling and characters that live burdened lives.  A thousand stars.

•Cashore, Bitterblue.  In this sequel to Graceling, the teen-aged queen of Monsea is overwhelmed by how to help her people, who were ravaged by her psychotic and sadistic father-king.  Again, Cashore weaves a thoroughly believable world of real people with spectacular ability and complexity.  Her characters are smart.  The intrigue air-tight.  Alas, this is the last of Cashore’s books so far.  She’s better be busy scribbling another.

light•Doerr, Anthony. About Grace.  David Winkler’s precognizant dreams start when he is a child living in Anchorage.  He’s an odd man anyway, fascinated by water and the crystalline beauty of snow, but this terrifying ability pushes him to desperate acts.  Doerr’s writing is lush and breath-taking, his characters almost too painful to watch.  I never knew where this story would go, which was a delight, but sometimes cryptic does not equal artistic.  I felt cheated in the end.

•Doerr, Anthony.  All the Light We Cannot See.  I have no words for this book, just that there’s a reason I had to wait a couple of months for it at the library.  Read it.  You won’t be sorry.

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter•Duncan, Rod. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.  In this fascinating, steam-punk, alternate England Luddites and the supreme power of The International Patent Office keep global peace by banning technology.  Elizabeth Barnabas ekes out a living as a private detective disguised as her “twin brother.”  In exile, drawing on her skills as a circus brat and illusionist, she races to find a missing aristocrat and his arcane machine.  Each leg of her journey is more dangerous and convoluted than the last.  A very tasty read.

•Duncan, Rod.  Unseemly Science.  This is the second volume of Duncan’s Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire where technology is strictly regulated.  England is divided (north and south), and a new law is about extradite Elizabeth Barnabas over the border and back to a life of indentured servitude under (literally) a lascivious lord.  As she flees from capture, she finds marginal safety in taking a case as an intelligence finder for an odd and influential charity worker.  Once again, Duncan leads the reader on a wild ride.  This alternate history is delightful and weird.  I’m looking forward to volume three.

•French, Tana. The Likeness.  I love this author.  She writes tight, detective/murder mysteries set in Ireland.  This time out, her detective, Cassie Maddox, goes undercover to find the killer of a woman who could have been her twin.  French gets us into the head of someone slipping into another’s life and liking it, plus the double tension of all the ways she could get her doppelgänger wrong.  Brilliant.

Faithful Place•French, Tana.  Faithful Place.  Leafing through this book, I worried a little that my favorite detective, Cassie Maddox, had been replaced by the hot-shot Undercover detective introduced in The Likeness.  Frank Mackey is a smart-ass, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to tag along with him through a whole book.  Boy-howdy, was I wrong!  Mackey spent twenty-two years building a life away from his dysfunctional family of origin (we get to see why he’s such a  smart-ass), but a discovery on his old street sucks him back in to relive a pivotal and painful event in his past.  French’s characters are so real, they fly off the page.  Another winner.

•Guterson, David.  Snow Falling on Cedars.  The story begins with a murder trial of a Japanese-American in a small island community off the coast of Washington state in the early 1950s.  Other stories join and interlace this one—the internment of all the Japanese on the island in Manzanar after Pearl Harbor, the young love of the town’s white newspaper man’s son and a Japanese strawberry farmer’s daughter, the destruction of war on a soul and a community.  The book bogs down in detail sometimes, but the beauty and humanity are worth it.

while_they_slept-215x327•Harris, Charlaine.  Dead Until Dark.  After gorging on all seven seasons of HBO’s True Blood, I thought the books might offer more tasty tidbits.  Nope.  Plodding, vapid, with plot holes bigger than a stake through the chest, this first book in the series begged for the True Death.  I won’t be digging up any more of them.

•Harrison, Kathryn. While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family.  This book is mesmerizing.  It tells the true story of eighteen-year-old Billy Gilley, who murdered his parents and little sister in 1984, but not his sixteen-year-old sister Jody.  Harrison, herself an incest survivor, traces the patterns of family violence and abuse in the Gilley family through interviews with both Billy and Jody as well as an enormous amount of research.  Harrison is fearless in opening to the resonance between her own story and the Gilleys’.  For all three of them, violent trauma divided their lives into Before and After.  How does a person reassemble oneself after that?

hounded•Herne, Kevin.  Hounded (Book One in The Iron Druid Chronicles).  I have good friends who read good fantasy and share that tasty knowledge with me.  Thank the gods.  Now I have a whole series to enjoy about a 2100-year old Druid living in southeastern Arizona who runs a New-Age bookstore, mind-links with his Irish wolfhound, and gets legal advice from his werewolf and vampire attorneys.  Here, all the religions, all the myths, all the legends are real.  Most of them either shop his store or try to kill him.  So very tasty.

•Herne, Kevin.  Hexed.  More misadventures of Atticus O’Sullivan, the hunky Druid with the magical sword.  This time out, he deals with Bacchants (minions of the party god, Bacchus), witches—both good and evil, and a variety of demons and fallen angels.  Because he’s now a god-slayer, he’s attracting unwelcome attention from all the pantheons.  Favorite line: Demons smell like ass.

Invention•Herne, Kevin.  Hammered.  Atticus the Druid promised his attorneys (an Icelandic vampire and the alpha of a werewolf pack) that he would get them to Asgard so they could kill Thor (who is an absolute “fuckpuddle” and takes bullying to divine heights).  Along the way, the Fellowship acquires a Slavic Thunder God, a Finnish shaman, and one of China’s Eight Immortals who all want the Asgardian blowhard dead.  Mayhem ensues.  Favorite line: In many ways, I’m disappointed that “Star Trek” never became a religion.

•Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings.  I always get a little nervous when someone from one ethnic group creates a protagonist from another ethnic group, then places the story during a dynamic point in history.  But, Sue Monk Kidd is not an author I worry about.  She tells this story of pre-Civil War Charleston from two girls’ point of view—one is a slave, the other her master’s awkward daughter.  The story is full of pain and horror, and beauty and grace.  It’s a treasure and a wonder.

220px-Mrmercedes•King, Stephen.  Mr. Mercedes.  Reading anything by Steve is like coming home for me, but this one offered nothing new.  I was engaged throughout—loved the protagonist, a retired homicide detective who wasn’t handling retirement well, and the set-up of him being contacted by “the one that got away.”  But the bad guy felt phoned in.  If you want good Steve, go read 11/22/63 instead.

•King, Stephen.  Revival.  Ditto.  Okay, buddy, you’re overdue to hit one out of the park.

•King, Stephen.  Finders Keepers.  I think I’ve caught up with my favorite author now.  I love that he brings back the team from Mr. Mercedes—the retired cop, his young neighbor kid, and the young woman with severe anxiety issues they helped rescue.  This time the trio tries to help a teen who finds a buried trunk from a home robbery thirty years in the past.  Steve knows how to build character along with the suspense.  And the bad guy in Mr. Mercedes who felt phoned in is getting ready to make me eat those words.

wally•Lamb, Wally. The Hour I First Believed.  Lots of books are labeled “tapestries,” but that’s exactly what this non-fictional fiction presents.  The fictional main characters are staff at Columbine high school at the time of the student killing spree; the protagonist’s grandmother campaigns for reform in women’s correctional facilities; PTSD, incest, abandonment, mental illness, drug addiction, mythology—the colors and texture of this tapestry weave in a disturbing, enthralling matrix.  Wally Lamb is a wonder.

•Lamb, Wally.  Wishin’ and Hopin’—A Christmas Story.  Not Lamb’s usual psychological taste treat.  More a nostalgic bon-bon.  And Wally thinks he’s funnier that he really is, but the writing is still fine.  He should stick to trauma and dysfunction, though.  That’s hilarious!

9418326•McNeal, Tom. To Be Sung Underwater.  Judith, a middle-aged film editor in California, finds her perfect life unraveling as memories of her first love in Nebraska push her to hire a private detective. Fully-formed characters, a deep sense of place, and well crafted.  If you’ve ever had to leave a love behind, this story will touch a deep chord.

•Pilcher, Rosamunde. The Shell Seekers.  A sprawling novel written in the ’80s about an elderly English woman and her grown children.  The story jumps from present day, to life during WW2, to other events in the family’s history.  I loved the Englishness of it, but found most of the characters tiresome.  The adult children are petty, even the daughter that Penelope (the protagonist) loves is caught up in the career madness of the ’80s.  But, Penelope is lovely, and her father, a famous artist, is fun, and all the English garden/cottage/sea-shore ambience is delicious.  I almost gave it back to the library, but didn’t.  That’s a pretty high recommendation coming from me.

200px-Olive-kitteridge_l•Strout, Elizabeth.  Olive Kitteridge.  Thirteen vignettes that weave together and around the title character in a small New England coastal town.  The characters are complicated, their lives messy and real.  I saw the HBO mini-series first with Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (both Oscar winners and stunning in this show).  I thought there might be more deliciousness in the book, and I was right.  Strout won a Pulitzer for it.

•Tyler, Anne. The Amateur Marriage.  I’ve always enjoyed Tyler’s weird characters, but this couple made my ass ache.  Michael and Pauline are the epitome of Socrates’  Unexamined Life—married during the rush of post-WW2, they never learn compassion or tolerance of each other, never question their own egotistical take on the world, never grow up.  They suffer, their kids suffer—it’s way too much like real life.  I have plenty of that already.

The Books I Couldn’t Finish

•Karr, Mary.  The Art of Memoir.  After reading excerpts on a friend’s blog, I got all excited.  I’m writing a memoir, and Karr teaches memoir writing—I was bound to find useful treasure.  Not so much.  And what is there, Karr buries in weird asides, like a whole gushing chapter about Nabokov who broke every “rule” in memoir writing, or endless details about her own process.  Ugh.

•Hoffman, Alice. The Dovekeepers.  This is one of those books heralded as “a major contribution to twenty-first-century literature.” The flap says it took Hoffman five years to research and write. According to ancient history, in 70 C.E., 900 Jews held out for months against Roman armies on a mountain in the Judea desert.  Two women and five children survived. Sixty pages in, I didn’t care. So, shoot me.

Behind the Curve

True Blood

♦ ♦

HerveauxIn desperate need of distraction from my flippity-floppity brain, I rented Season 5 of True Blood to see Robert Patrick as a werewolf.  And… well… kept going.

I’m really late to this party.  The show ended after seven seasons last year.  But there’s so much fun to be had.

Alcid, for one.

And the way Vampire Bill injects so much sexy smoke into Sookie!

So, if you’re not easily offended (everyone, even the tele-evangalists, say f*ck every other word.  It’s HBO.  They do it because they can), and you’re not squeamish (tanker trucks full of blood for every f*ckin’ episode.  Oops.  Sorry.  It rubs off), then you might enjoy this campy show.  Or maybe you were one of the five million die hard fans who found it ahead of me.  Or you got bored with it (how many ways can you have sex with a vampire? Yawn).

It’s Disneyworld compared to what’s playing in my head.

Ooo, new theme park idea…

Books I Read in 2014

  1. gracelingCashore, Kristin.  Graceling.  After doing well with The Hunger Games series (see below), I asked my friend, Joa, the kids’ librarian at our public library, for more of the same.  She recommended this fun story—a yummy mix of tyrannical lords, secret societies, and gracelings—odd-balls born with special gifts.  Gracelings might be clairvoyant, or master chefs, or good at math, but the heroine, Katsa, is a killing machine and started her life as an assassin at age 8.  Written well with interesting characters and a rolling plot, this was a good choice.  Thanks, Joa.
  2. Collins, Suzanne.  The Hunger Games.  After watching the third movie, Mockingjay, Part One, I came out of the theater bewildered.  Obviously, I’d missed something.  Maybe the books told more of the story.  So, I started in on the series.  I understand why teens love these books.  jennifer-lawrenceDystopias are great for sticking it to the authority figures (grown ups), and Katniss is a great surly teen.  I liked her and Peeta.  I thought her obsession with food was understandable, since most of the time she and her family are starving, but the same attention to fashion seemed dopey.  Fun for teens?  Anyway, it was an easy read, which was reason enough for me to finish the books.
  3. Collins, Suzanne.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Ditto.  I really liked the way Collins develops Katniss’ ambivalence about Peeta and Gale.  She loves them both.  How will that play out?  Now I want to know.  Whether or not the Capitol gets overthrown is secondary to me.  Of course it will, and people will die, but who will Katniss finally pick?  That’s the question on all teen-girls’ minds, I’m sure.
  4. Collins, Suzanne.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.  Now I’m ready for the final movie without so much head-scratching.  I love Jennifer Lawrence, so I’d go no matter what.
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  5. Irving, John.  The Cider House Rules.  It’s weird that I’ve never read John Irving.  As a bookstore manager all through the ’80s, I midwifed three of his bestsellers during Christmas rushes and bagged his backlist regularly.  I always meant to read him.  So, when I watched the movie version of Cider House for the umpteenth time, crying over Michael Caine’s performance and loving Toby Maguire as Homer Wells, I became resolved to try.  I’m still daunted by “good” books because of my ECT-induced reading disability.  But, I think my brain is healing.  Cider House is the best story I’ve read in years, fried brain or no fried brain.  I ached for every character—they were all so clear and real—and fell completely under Wilber Larch’s spell.  I will be checking out more John Irving from the library this year.
  6. Kaàberbol, Lene.  The Shamer’s Daughter.  Dina’s mother is a Shamer—someone who can look a person in the eye and see all their shame.  It’s a cool trait for solving disputes and bringing the guilty to justice, but makes for a lonely life.  When the Shamer is called to convict a murderer, and she knows he’s innocent, things go bad for her and her daughter.  It’s a good, solid story with a spunky heroine.  I would have loved this Young Adult book when I was ten, and I liked it just fine as someone a bit older than that.
  7. King, Stephen.  Doctor Sleep.  The story catches us up with Danny Torrence, the little boy from The Shining.  A definite PTSD survivor and son of an alcoholic, the kid’s got a lot stacked against him.  Steve would know, being a recovered drug addict and alcoholic himself.  He’s told how he wrote most of The Shining stoned, and now writes of Dan’s struggles and many demons with authenticity.  In truth, Dan’s internal demons are much more interesting that the actual bad guys of the novel, but, as always, Steve provides a great yarn.Stephen-King-Dr-Sleep
  8. King, Stephen,  Joyland.  I found this paperback by accident.  I thought I needed a book to take on the plane to England with me, looked in the grocery store, and found my best friend waiting for me.  Clean liven’, baby!  Joyland is part of Titan Publishing’s Hard Case Crime series, which immediately tickled my fancy.  I thought this one might harken back to Steve’s Richard Bachman stories.  That and more.  Think Green Mile, think Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.  Poignant, nostalgic, scary in a real way.  A Thousand Stars.
  9. flight behaviorKingsolver, Barbara.  Flight Behavior.  Once upon a time, Kingsolver was one of my favorite authors.  But after electroshock, it was her book Lacuna that made me realize something was very wrong.  So I wondered whether the hex was still on her works for me, if it was the syntax, or subject matter, or even the font size that made my brain foam at the mouth.  But, the brain is more resilient that medical science first believed.  I fell in love all over again with Kingsolver’s turn of phrase, her humor, her complicated and contradictory characters.  And there’s fascinating ecological information, too, about why the monarch butterflies that winter in Mexico chose to roost in Delarobia Turnbow’s Appalachian pine forest.  Score on so many levels.
  10. Lamb, Wally.  She’s Come Undone.  My friend Michelle at The Green Study and TGS Zen Garden recommended this one.  It’s a wonderful/horrible story about a girl’s life growing up traumatized and obese with a wicked tongue and killer sense of humor.  I loved the characters, cheered the protagonist, and had no idea where the story would take me.  I love being surprised by a new (to me) author.  I’ll go back for more of Wally Lamb.
  11. wallyLamb, Wally.  We Are Water.  My second dip into Wally-World, and the water’s fine.  He’s still exploring trauma and the way it warps and lingers in family dynamics, in communities, in history.  This story is told through the voices of the characters, principly Annie Oh, the angry assemblage artist; Orion, her psychologist husband;  and their grown children.  But there are others on the fringe that connect the Ohs to an outsider artist who died on their property.  Other voices fill in the gaps that the main characters can’t or won’t.  This is a real gift of a story.
  12. Lamb, Wally.  I Know This Much Is True.  The third book I’ve read from this author.  They just keep getting better and better.  This story takes identical twin brothers—one schizophrenic and one coping with the real world—and twines in generations of anger, abuse, lies, secrets and redemption.  An amazing blend of culture, history, psychology and pain.  Cripes, I love this guy.
  13. Pratchett, Terry.  Snuff.  I love Pratchett’s Disk World series—British humor with lots of poking fun at British stereotypes and tropes.  This is one of the Night Watch stories with Commander Sam Vimes, a crusty soldier married to a Lady and at a loss in refined society.  All he needs is a good murder or some thievery to make him feel at home.  Completely satisfying.
  14. florida quoteScott-Maxwell, Florida.  The Measure of My Days.  A gift from blog-buddy David Kanigan, this lovely, little book explores the author’s thoughts on life and death from an 80-something perspective.  It’s a call to mindfulness for anyone with any perceived loss of function or status in life.  It’s one of those books you have to look up from once in a while to ponder what you just read.  Beautiful.

Books I Read in 2013

  1. Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh GrantAusten, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  Shameful.  I started out an English major in college and never read any Jane Austen.  But I got on a kick, watching Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility, then Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane.  I thought it was time I went to the source.  And had a marvelous time.  It’s amazing how so much story can be written about so little.
  2. Austen, Jane.  Persuasion.  I was still on my “redeeming my old English major” kick.  I love the contortions these folks put themselves through to be polite and proper.  The torment!  I liked this one almost as much as Pride and Prejudice.
  3. Brach, Tara.  Radical Acceptance—Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha.  Wonderful guide to using meditation and lovingkindness in dealing with our feelings of unworthiness.  I recommend it to anyone struggling with fear, cravings and desire, or depression.  So, basically, everyone.
  4. Forney, Ellen.  Marbles—Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.  A funny, clever, and true bipolar memoir in graphic novel form.  Very entertaining.
  5. Tana FrenchFrench, Tana.  In the Woods.  A little girl is found murdered in a small Irish town.  The lead detective grew up in that town.  In fact, he and his two best friends went missing in the woods when they were twelve.  Only he was found, with someone else’s blood in his shoes and no memory of anything that happened.  This is a wonderful thriller, as we never know if protagonist Rob Ryan is at all trustworthy as a narrator.
  6. Gabaldon, Diana.  Outlander.  There are so many things wrong with this book, I hardly know where to start.  Inconsistent characters, gratuitous sadism and torture, unbelievable action, disregard of basic human nature, floundering plot, and a heroine with the moral fortitude of a postage stamp.  Mind you, this series (Ugh.  Yes.  This is the first in a series) has an enormous fan following.  I’ve read gushing reviews, seen whole boards devoted to each character on Pinterest, and know my local library can’t keep the books in stock.  I suspect it’s because Gabaldon uses the Hurt/Comfort trope—creating a romantic situation by making one of the couple sick or injured while the other offers aid and nurturing.  But, I can’t abide writers who trot out a trope to make up for bad storytelling.  The only good thing I can say about Outlander is that I got all the way through it.  Score one for the Fried Brain!
  7. Richard Armitage, North and SouthGaskill, Elizabeth.  North and South.  At the time and place this novel was published (1830’s Britain), it was considered radical, controversial and was banned in some parts of England.  At that time, labor unions were in place, but no interaction happened between labor and “the masters.”  By the end of the story, the heroine’s influence opens new lines of communication and respect between these two classes.  I loved the language of the time and the Jane Austin-like twisty relationship between Margaret, who came from the South, and the Northern mill owner, John Thornton.  And I must admit, I came to this book through my love of the movie The Hobbit.  Actor Richard Armitage played both Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit and John Thornton in the BBC production of North & South.  What started out as fan-stalking brought me to this gem of a book.
  8. King, Stephen.  The Wind Through the Keyhole.  A late addition to The Gunslinger series.  And even though I’d throw myself in front of a car for Steve, this one didn’t do much for me.  It’s been years since I read any of the Dark Tower books, so it took a minute to reacquaint myself with the characters.  And just when I felt comfortable with them all again, the book turns out to be a story within a story within a story.  And unfortunately, none of them were very engaging.
  9. Mankell, Henning.  Faceless Killers.  After watching the BBC series Wallander, I had to see what the books had to offer.  Mankell is a Swedish national treasure, his mysteries translated into every known language on the globe, and I can see the appeal.  Wallander is a poor schlub tackling all the normal drudgery of daily life while trying to do his job, which happens to be homicide investigation.  But the detail sometimes gets to be too much, like when Kurt’s on the toilet and notices he needs to change his underwear.  TMI.  Maybe the text looses a little by being translated from the Swedish (there’s a similar stiltedness as with the Stieg Larsson books), but the story held my interest all the way to the end.  That, in itself, labels it a winner.
  10. Siegel, Daniel J.  Mindsight—The New Science of Personal Transformation.  Very interesting presentation of leading-edge neuroscience showing how mindfulness, empathy and personal relationships can heal the brain.  Lots of interesting case studies with therapeutic techniques used.  The way the author wrote like he invented mindfulness made me laugh.  He did find new ways to use it, though.
  11. Morning Glory, Christopher ReeveSpencer, LaVyrle.  Morning Glory.  This is one of my favorite movies in the public library’s DVD section.  It’s a sweet romance, but the best part is Christopher Reeve’s subtle, underplayed performance.  After watching it again this summer, I borrowed the book from my friend to see if the movie missed anything good.  Not really.  The book is still a sweet romance, though.
  12. Stewart, Mary.  A Walk in Wolf Wood.  This is a sweet Young Adult novel by an author I’ve loved since grade school.  Two kids on a picnic see a man weeping and follow him into the forest.  They’re suddenly transported back in time to become embroiled in the man’s sorrow, which includes magic, shape-shifting, villainy, and acts of courage.  A simple, lovely story.
  13. Ueland, Brenda.  If You Want to Write—A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.  I first read this book decades ago, and the author’s incredible wisdom was lost on me then.  She tells writers and artists to stop trying to sell their work and simply create from their truth and joy.  A how-to guide for the soul, written in 1938.

The Books I Couldn’t Finish

  1. Myss, Caroline.  Archetypes.  I love mythology and the use of archetypal images and have studied archetypes from a spiritual perspective.  I dig Tarot.  I also liked Myss’ books on medical intuition.  So, I looked forward to her look at “new” archetypes in the modern world.    What a disappointment!  The book is mostly a self-help guide with little depth and less research.  Don’t waste your time.
  2. Austen, Jane.  Mansfield Park.  Okay, maybe I ODed on Austen.  This was my third book in a row.  But I just got tired of everyone treating the heroine, Fanny, like a piece of crap.   Good God, the girl is brow-beaten at every turn.  And, like the proper English maiden of the time, she takes it—even thinks she deserves it because she is “low-born.”  Pffttt.  Maybe after a break reading other stuff, I can come back to appreciate this one better.

I am Sherlocked

Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
as Holmes and Watson

I have fallen, and I can’t get up.  On top of that, my deeply geeky slip is showing.  What’s got me showing my fan-panties is the BBC’s current incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock.

Sherlock

Rupert Graves as DI Lestrad

I’ve always been a Holmesian—loved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, faithfully watched every Mystery! presentation in the ’80s and 90’s with Jeremy Brett, enjoyed the new movies with Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law.  But, my Pinterest boards kept exploding with news and images of this new Sherlock.  The amount of drool over Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman rivaled the rabid foam of the Baskerville hound.  Also, both actors cross over into my other fannish delights—Cumberbatch playing the evil Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness, and Freeman bringing Bilbo Baggins alive in The Hobbit.  I could not get away from these guys, so decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Sherlock, Lara Pulver, Benedict Cumberbatch

The Seductress Irene Adler

Conceived by Holmesian geeks themselves, the old stories get a complete reboot into present day.  Mark Gatiss (who plays Mycroft in the series) and Steven Moffat give us a Holmes who knows everything about cell phones, terrorist cells, and cellular biology.  Their Watson is a thoughtful veteran of the Afghanistan war who blogs about his adventures with Holmes.  Instead of being smelly and incompetent, Scotland Yard’s Detective Lestrade is earnest, smart, and considers Holmes an asset.  There’s a sweet little coroner with a hopeless crush on Holmes.  Irene Adler is a professional dominatrix, Mrs. Hudson a dear, and Moriarty just bug-shit scary.  Mycroft is still a pompous twit, but in a good way.

Sherlock, Moriarty, Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott as Moriarty

My fannish heart committed itself fifteen minutes into the first episode as Watson struggles to re-enter civilian life and Holmes shows off as all genius, high-functioning sociopaths are wont to do.  Dorky, gangly, and socially offensive, Cumberbatch’s young Holmes can’t make ends meet as a consulting detective.  He meets Freeman’s Watson, whose delight and amazement in Holmes’ abilities comes as a shock as most react with repulsion, disbelief or defensiveness.  Of course, Holmes usually displays his ability dripping with smarty-pants insults, which win him no friends.  Watson becomes a buffer, which makes Sherlock easier to swallow, and provides grounding in the real world.  Together, the business and their friendship flourishes.

Martin Freeman’s performance as Watson won him a BAFTA award (the British equivalent of an Emmy) in the series first season.  Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Moriarty garnered another BAFTA in season two.  And then there are the dulcet tones of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice (described by one fan as a jaguar inside a cello) as he speed-deduces like a velvet gatling gun.  The stories are crisp, surprising and witty.  The fact that Steven Moffat is prone to killing off his characters adds another layer of delicious tension.

Molly Hooper, Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Molly the Coroner, Fan-girling

Cast and crew are currently at work, with delays to accommodate Freeman’s Hobbit shoots in New Zealand.  But eventually, season three will come to PBS.  Until then, there are always the DVDs of seasons one and two.  (A word of warning:  A “season” consists of three, 90 minute episodes.  I know.)

Read between the lines of my fan-girling gush, and you’ll find a show worthy of Sir Arthur’s approval.  The game, as this Sherlock says, is on.

Books I Read in 2012

I worked hard at reading this year, though flagged the last few months.  Still, I’m proud of my comparatively long list and hope to keep exercising my ECT-damaged brain in 2013.  Maybe, someday, reading will become a pleasure again instead of a chore.  One can always dream!

  1. Antonetta, Suzanne.  A Mind Apart—Travels in a Neurodiverse World.  The first bipolar memoir I read this year, and it was stunning.  Written in stream of consciousness leaps that feel like my own brain talking.  Aside from her own bipolar experience, Antonetta also explores the concept of neurodiversity, that those of us outside the “normal” spectrum of brain function actually serve the human race with our unique perspectives.
  2. Behrman, Andy.  Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania.  This book ought to be subtitled Lack of Insight.  I know this is part of the illness.  I know self-destructive behavior is a symptom.  Maybe I’m just angry because I never had the money or connections to build a diving board this big to jump off the deep end.
  3. Brown, Sandra.  Rainwater.  Brown is one of those successful, heavy-hitter romance writers, but I found this story uninspiring. During the Depression a single mother takes in a terminally ill border.  Lots of angst and ugly prejudice, but not much else.
  4. Donovan, Susan.  Not That Kind of Girl.  My mom thought I’d like this modern romance—something to read while I did my laundry.  And since I fashion myself as a purveyor of women’s porn (fan fiction), I thought I’d see how the professionals do it.  A predictable story with a spunky heroine, persistent hero and a long, slow build-up to the steamy sex scene.  Not bad for girl-porn.
  5. Fry, Stephen.  Moab is My Washtub.  Audio CD.  Okay, this was a cheat.  I listened to this brilliant autobiography instead of reading it.  But I love Stephen Fry, and I just knew his writing would be erudite, and filled with literary nuance, and—oh, yes—lots of potty humor and wicked British swears.  I was right.  And even though I didn’t have my reading disorder in my way, I still missed half of his references.  Which was fine.  His voice is golden honey (he voiced all the Harry Potter novels), and his story of growing into his homosexuality and bipolar disorder is poignant and insightful.  I don’t care that I cheated—I wouldn’t have missed this treasure for anything.
  6. Gaddam, Sai and Ogi Ogas. A Billion Wicked Thoughts—What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire.  Fascinating study done using the internet as a research tool to probe the world’s real expression of desire.
  7. Hornbacher, Marya.  Madness: A Bipolar Life.  What a shock to read that Hornbacher received electroconvulsive therapy from the same doctor who fried me.  But, she remembers it better than I do.  She tried a few more ways to kill the pain—anorexia, alcoholism, drug abuse—but her life is my life with all the roller coaster rides and dysfunction.  It’s not easy being a member of this club.
  8. Jamison, Kay Redfield.  An Unquiet Mind.  The leading researcher in bipolar disorder tells her own story.  Very interesting to get the view of one firmly entrenched in the Western medical model.  It slays me how so many of these BP memoirs are of wealthy, successful people.  Jamison was crazy as a bedbug, but still managed a mental health clinic, taught students, and vacationed in England.  Sooooo not my life.
  9. King, Stephen. 11/22/63.  Nary a monster in sight.  Not even Lee Harvey Oswald.  The villain, if anything here, is Time itself.  Well-written and engaging—as always.
  10. Lachenmeyer, Nathaniel.  The Outsider—A Journey into My Father’s Struggle with Madness.  A fascinating account of a young man’s search to understand his father, who suffered from schizophrenia and died homeless and alone.  As the author tracks his father’s life from college professor to transient, he adds glimpses of the loving dad he knew as a child.  Deft reporting with heart-wrenching personal sorrow.
  11. McGraw, Dr. Phil.  The Ultimate Weight Solution—The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom.  The right book at the right time for me.  Absolutely changed my life.  Perhaps it’s because Dr. Phil believes “self-monitoring” is the key to lasting change.  Hmmm.  Where have I heard that before?
  12. Pratchett, Terry.  The Wee Free Men.  Part of Pratchett’s hugely successful Disc World series, about a world where magic and humor rule.  I love this series, especially the books about the witches.  This time, a pre-teen witchling does battle with the Queen of the Fairies with the help of tiny, ribald, blue-skinned pictsies.  Pandemonium ensues.
  13. Smith, Hilary.  Welcome to the Jungle.  Less of a bipolar memoir than a survival manual for teens or college-aged folks just diagnosed with the illness.  Smith tackles practical matters, like how to secure a safety line when one stops taking meds against doctor’s orders (because, let’s face it, since the majority of bipolar sufferers go off their meds at some time in their lives, teens and twenty-somethings will absolutely do it).  Very reader-friendly.
  14. Sting.  Broken Music.  I love Sting’s music, so was delighted to find his memoir just as lyrical and engaging.  He creates a lovely, layered narrative that weaves together his struggle to deal with his parents’ deaths, his uncomfortable childhood, and his early success.  A beautiful book.
  15. Wiggs, Susan.  The Firebrand.  This historical romance takes place around the time of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  The heroine is an early suffragette, the hero a conservative banker.  What I liked best was the author’s ability to weave a romance between these two without compromising the heroine’s principles or zeal.  Well done and historically interesting.
  16. Wiggs, Susan.  Lakeside Cottage.  Another modern romance from my mom’s library.  This author tells a good story.  The hero saved the President from a bomb threat and has to deal with the media blitz.  He hides out at the lake, where the heroine is vacationing with her special needs son and recovering from losing her job.  Too much talking during the sex scenes, though—there is a point where conversation must cease!

Books I Couldn’t Finish

Most of the books I start, I can’t finish.  It’s the nature of my particular reading disability (thank you, ECT).  My eyes go jiggy, or something in the text jump-starts my anxiety, or the print is too small and feral.  But, sometimes I don’t finish a book just because I don’t like it.  Those are the ones I want to list.  And since I didn’t think about doing this until October, the list will be short (I hope).

  1. Fisher, Carrie.  The Best Awful.  I so wanted to enjoy this book.  I love Carrie Fisher’s humor.  And I have dreams of writing a novel with a bipolar heroine, so I thought this would be a great example of how that might be done.  Maybe I’ve read too many bipolar memoirs.  Maybe I’ve gotten intolerant and self-righteous about how hard one must work to manage a mental illness.  Whatever the reason, I could not stand the protagonist.  She’s just another self-indulgent, rich and pampered crazy person without a smidge of insight.  Boring.
  2. Martin, Michael A. and Andy Mangeles.  Star Trek Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru.  This is the writing team sanctioned to author most, if not all, the Star Trek: Enterprise novels for Pocket Books.  And it burns my ass.  While they’re great at getting the historical facts of the show correct, they stink at capturing the characters.  And their run-on sentences make me throw their novels across the room in frustration.  Repeatedly.  I gave up on this one when T’Pol and Malcolm strayed so far off-character I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any further.  Clearly, I could do a better job.  Hrumph!
  3. Walker, Alice. Anything We Love Can Be Saved.  I know Alice Walker is a national treasure.  Her work is true literature.  This book of essays is focused on her activism.  Like politics, activism makes me uncomfortable.  While I believe strongly in working for a better world, a fairer world, a healthier world, most activists I’ve met or read scare me.  The gleam is a little too bright in their eyes; the words a bit too angry.  This is one of those books.
  4. Cameron, Julia.  God is Not a Laughing Matter.  The author of The Artists’ Way talks about her spiritual path and offers exercises and journaling questions to help others do the same.  Unfortunately, she bashes meditation and vegetarianism (guess she had some experiences with “extremists”), which completely turned me off.  I love her books on creativity, but this one is defensive and fearful.  A huge disappointment.

Breathless

Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale

Grumblings in the press.  Critics unhappy.  They must have seen a different movie.

If you liked Batman Begins and if you thought The Dark Knight was a decent movie, then The Dark Knight Rises will suck the air out of your lungs for three hours.  I couldn’t have eaten popcorn even if I’d wanted to.  I was too busy shouting and throwing my hands in the air, or grabbing my friend, Penny, who graciously agreed to sit with me in the dark and hold me down in my seat.  Why wasn’t anyone else in the theater clapping and hooting?  Well, to be fair, a few others were, but who would know with me cheerleading in the front?

This is a perfect third act to Christopher Nolan’s saga—I don’t care what anyone else says.  It makes my storyteller’s heart very happy.

Neurodiversity

As research for my next book (tentatively titled Bipolar Bad-Assery), I’m reading memoirs by or about folks with mental illness.  I’m in the middle of one that is absolutely fascinating.

A Mind Apart by Susanne Antonetta comes across as a big Question.  Are people with Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, bipolar disorder, and other “functional” mental illnesses (who she coins as neuroatypical) actually part of Nature’s plan for biodiversity?  And if science can fine-tune gene splicing to the point of eliminating these disorders, would it diminish the human race?

Antonetta interweaves theory and philosophy with her own experiences as someone with bipolar disorder.  As a neuroatypical, her thought process is different, the way she tells a story is different, and it felt so familiar.  She jumps from pondering whale language when she and her small son come across a beached whale to obsessively attending the trial of a local boy who committed murder.  She considers the language used to define neuroatypicals and chafes against it.  She holds herself in comparison with everything—do whales and killers and lunacy have anything to say about me?

Sometimes Antonetta’s stream-of-consciousness becomes wearing, but mostly A Mind Apart is poetry written in a language I thought was mine alone.

“Prometheus” Fizzles

Prometheus doesn’t steal any fire from Ridley Scott’s original Alien concept.  It’s just a pale retread of the 1979 original, complete with an untrustworthy android, evil corporation agendas, and H.R. Geiger’s creepy/organic set design.  There’s even the idiot who gets his face too close to the “fascinating” creatures.  Puh-lease!  Add to that the completely faulty logic of why this ship is out there in the first place, and all the special effects in the world can’t suspend enough disbelief.

I hadn’t intended on seeing this movie—my horror movie-going days are long gone.  But I needed distraction this weekend, and I’d seen everything else.  Don’t make my mistake.  In the cineplex, no one can hear you scream.

The Avengers

Avengers Movie ArtI learned my stealth—a super-power, really—by sneaking into my big brother’s room, carefully filching his Marvel comics from their shrines, reading them without leaving fingerprints, and returning them in perfect numerical order.  Scott tried locking his door, but I only scoffed at his puny attempts to keep my mitts off his property.  Laws were made for mere mortals.

I learned how to draw by copying Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four.  I learned storytelling by writing Thor sequels.  Marvel fed my little soul.  So, of course, I’ve seen every movie based on my spandex-wearing friends.  They’ve all been a fun ride, some more than others.  But none has ever captured the essence of my heroes like The Avengers.

Writer/Director Joss Whedon created my favorite non-Star Trek TV—Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doll House—so to have him at the creative helm of the movie was like a Christmas present for me.  I could count on great character development, snappy dialogue, a meaningful story and off-the-charts action.  He brought it all.

Then, there’s the eye candy factor.

Woof.

There’s just something about all those bulging biceps and pectorals when they’re real instead of ink on a page.  Did I say Woof?

And for those who prefer the fairer gender, there’s plenty of slink and curvaceousness in equally skin-tight suits.

Casting Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk seems genius to me.

He’s got the Bill Bixby edge mixed with an inherent nerdy sweetness that still transfers when he’s mean and green and splattering bad guys across the pavement.  How did he do that?

This is the first movie that really felt like the comics.  The action is that fast, that galactic, that desperate.  I’ll bet Stan Lee is proud of this one.

If you’ve already seen it, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t seen it—Go.  Now.  Today.  Whether you grew up playing with this gang or not, you won’t be sorry.

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