yo-yo ma + kathryn stott

KCMetropolis.orgNew issue of KCMetropolis.org today, and I have one review: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Kathryn Stott, piano on the Harriman-Jewell Series. The recital was on my wedding anniversary, October 16, but my husband was out of town! So this was a nice treat that evening, even though Nick wasn’t with me—we’ll find another time to celebrate. Anyway, the recital was brilliant, masterful, so amazing. Yo-Yo Ma exceeded all my expectations—he is really a wonderful musician to witness live, he plays with such joy and passion. He even shouted “Go Royals!” on his way off stage after the performance! (For those who don’t know, our Kansas City Royals are in the World Series this week… the last time they were in the World Series was 1985, 29 years ago! So we’re all pretty excited here in the City of Fountains.)

Read my full review at KCMetropolis.org: Captivating and masterful duo recital

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

A little late to the party today! It was a very busy weekend. Saturday night I played an orchestra concert, and last night I went to an author event sponsored by Rainy Day Books: Cary Elwes speaking about his new book, As You Wish, a memoir of behind-the-scenes stories from the making of the now-classic film The Princess Bride. It was a wonderful event! There was a short documentary screening, period-appropriate music, a sword fighting demonstration, and of course a discussion with Elwes about the book and his experiences making the movie. With admission I got a hardcover copy and a place in line for an autograph. When I got to the table, Elwes noticed my Packers shirt right away and gave me a high five, saying “Go Packers!” and that Aaron Rodgers was a fan of the movie, too. So cool! Can’t wait to sink into that book next :)

After failing at two classics, this week I am starting two new (and I mean NEW!) books:

First, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey became available off the wait list from my library’s overdrive, so I downloaded it and will go with that one for my rehearsal commutes the next couple weeks. I like it so far—pretty creepy and it has me curious about what the hell happened in this world to these kids. Fits in with the Halloween spirit, but not so much with my all-women authors accidental theme I had going for October… oh well, who knows, this will likely count for November anyway!

Second, I started Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. It’s been getting high praise from bloggers whose opinions I trust, so I ordered it a few weeks ago. I’ve had very little time to read much lately so I’m only one essay in but it’s already blown me away. Looking forward to having a good chunk of time hopefully soon to really dig in—I feel like I could devour it in one sitting if I had the time for it.

What are you reading this week?

the haunting of hill house + wuthering heights

Two mini-reviews of recently read books today:

First up is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I listened to this one on audio during my commutes the last couple of weeks, something to get me in the Halloween spirit. While I did make it all the way through, I have to admit I often found myself with my mind wandering and not really grasping what was happening in the story. Like, they were all just going crazy being the house, I guess? I honestly couldn’t give you a synopsis or plot points, even after listening to the whole thing. The bits that did stick for me I could tell have made this book a precursor to a lot of horror literature that has come since. The characters were all pretty snotty to each other and defensive. I don’t know if this one was really for me in the long run. Which brings me to…

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Sigh. I really, really wanted to like this one and read it entirely, but unfortunately after a week of struggling to get through just 50 pages, I think it’s clear gothic classics just aren’t for me. I couldn’t really tell you what happened in those 50 pages, besides some persnickety dude had a nightmare. Otherwise…? Blank. It was just so verbose, my mind glazed while my eyes just went over the words, not absorbing anything. Worst granddaughter ever… although I am sure my gramma would have forgiven me and understood! I will still cherish this copy though, because it was hers.

Wuthering Heights
 was slated to be my pick for the “gothic” category in my Eclectic Reader Challenge this year, but let’s be real—it’s highly unlikely I’m going to finish the challenge at this point (and that’s okay!).

stone mattress

NEW ATWOOD! A few weeks ago I received Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood in the mail, and promptly put it at the top of my to-read-next list. From Goodreads:

Margaret Atwood turns to short fiction for the first time since her 2006 collection, Moral Disorder, with nine tales of acute psychological insight and turbulent relationships bringing to mind her award-winning 1996 novel, Alias Grace. A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

Much improved Atwood experience from my last read of hers earlier this year (The Blind Assassin—not my fave). I’m not generally attracted to short stories or fantasy elements, but Atwood managed to pull me in for the majority of these surprisingly gothic nine tales. I love it when you’re so into a book that all day you just think about when you’ll be able to read it some more.

A couple of the stories were perhaps on the long side, and some I wished went on longer, but overall they were all original and interesting, with Atwood’s signature dark humor and eccentricity. I rarely read literature in which middle-aged and elderly people are protagonists to begin with, let alone so well fleshed out. For me, the strongest of the stories were the ones more rooted in reality rather than fantasy… however my favorite was probably “Lucus Naturae,” in which a woman disfigured by a strange disease is mistook for a vampire/werewolf creature by her family. Others that stood out to me were “The Dead Hand Loves You,” “Stone Mattress,” and “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” although they are all so good!

My only (tiny) disappointment was that I encountered three typos in my copy! (Aphinland twice in “Alphinland”—missing the L—and Irene instead of Irena once in “The Dead Hand Loves You.”) Boo typos. Don’t let that stop you from reading this wonderful, entertaining collection, of course! ;)

Read from October 5 to 11, 2014.

top ten tuesday: places to go thanks to books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

October 14: Top ten places I want to visit thanks to books

The cheapest way to travel is through books! My choices just happen to be all actual places on our planet, but I’m looking forward to reading other lists that may include fictional places, too! Disclaimer: several of the books listed are pretty dark… but hear me out on them. In no particular order:

1. The Pacific Crest Trail
Book: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I think it would be an amazing, breathtaking, challenging experience to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

2. Hawaii
Book: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. And lucky me, did visit Hawaii in August! I didn’t make it to any islands other than Oahu, but I had an awesome time and I’m glad I read a book with some history of the state before my trip. (Bonus: I’m going back for Thanksgiving!)

3. Italy
Book: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. My husband has been to Italy twice… I’m super jealous! It is high on my list of vacation destinations.

4. India
Book: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. A very bleak story. While I’m not in a hurry to travel to India at this moment, reading A Fine Balance did inspire me to learn more about the country and its history.

5. Boston, Massachusetts
Book: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro. Another place my husband has been several times; it’s one of his favorite cities. I may have a chance to go this coming spring when he has a concert there in April!

6. Ireland
Book: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Another bleak book, but it speaks to my ancestral history, being part Irish. Ireland is another dream vacation of mine!

7. Barcelona, Spain
Book: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Who wouldn’t want to visit Barcelona after reading this book? There’s even a walking tour based on the book you can do!

8. Mount Everest, Nepal
Book: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. While I don’t really have any desire to actually climb to the top Mount Everest (reading about it was plenty, thanks) it would be incredible to see it (from a close distance at the base) in person.

9. Chicago, Illinois
Book: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Cheating, I’ve been to Chicago many times! But after reading this book I’m inspired to visit and see again the last few remaining structural artifacts (Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, Jackson Park) with a new historical perspective.

10. Wisconsin
Books: Uprising by John Nichols, Unintimidated by various, When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss. Cheating again—I’m from Wisconsin! But reading Uprising and Unintimidated just make me want to race back home to Madison and join the fight (Madison is a wonderful place to visit anyway, no matter what), and When Pride Still Mattered made me misty for Green Bay (fun fact: Coach Lombardi lived just a mile from my grandparents!) Wouldn’t you know it, you can do a walking tour of Green Bay’s Packers history, too ;)

Where to you want to travel, inspired by books you’ve read?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Over the weekend I finished Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood! A greatly improved Atwood experience after not enjoying The Blind Assassin very much earlier this year. And I’m not usually one for fantasy elements or short stories! review post coming soon this week. I also started a new audiobook for my rehearsal commutes: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (gotta read something creepy this month for Halloween!)

Today, October 13, marks a year since my maternal grandmother died. Several years ago, she gave me her copy of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, saying it was her favorite book ever… and I never got around to it. I felt horribly guilty for a long time that I never read it or talked with her about it. This last week I’ve been thinking about her a lot, so I figured it was finally time to read her favorite book.

Also, I noticed the books I’ve read so far this month and planned to read just happen to be all by women authors. Pretty cool happenstance!

What are you reading this week?

a fighting chance

Since my orchestra rehearsals started up several weeks ago (two per week, about a hour round-trip in the car each) I needed a new audiobook for the road. I’m so glad I picked A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren! From Goodreads:

As a child in small-town Oklahoma, Elizabeth Warren yearned to go to college and then become an elementary school teacher—an ambitious goal, given her family’s modest means. Early marriage and motherhood seemed to put even that dream out of reach, but fifteen years later she was a distinguished law professor with a deep understanding of why people go bankrupt. Then came the phone call that changed her life: could she come to Washington DC to help advise Congress on rewriting the bankruptcy laws?

Thus began an impolite education into the bare-knuckled, often dysfunctional ways of Washington. She fought for better bankruptcy laws for ten years and lost. She tried to hold the federal government accountable during the financial crisis but became a target of the big banks. She came up with the idea for a new agency designed to protect consumers from predatory bankers and was denied the opportunity to run it. Finally, at age 62, she decided to run for elective office and won the most competitive—and watched—Senate race in the country.

In this passionate, funny, rabble-rousing book, Warren shows why she has chosen to fight tooth and nail for the middle class—and why she has become a hero to all those who believe that America’s government can and must do better for working families.

LOVE HER. Elizabeth Warren is my new hero. I already loved her before this book, but even more now. She’s exactly the kind of politician we need more of in America: an assiduous advocate for the rights of the country’s citizens, not a bought-and-sold puppet to financial and corporate institutions who have shamefully turned our country into an oligarchy ruled by plutocrats. I would vote for her for any office in a heartbeat.

Warren’s memoir weaves her personal and professional lives together in a straightforward, approachable way. I feel like I have a much better understanding of Dodd-Frank, the Consumer Protection Agency, and more. No matter the subject, politics or family, Warren conducts herself with integrity and honesty, acknowledging any failings and blunders as she navigated the election process and being in the public eye. Her passion, dedication, and tenacity through her political journey is inspiring. She doesn’t mince words on what has gone down in the States:

I will be grateful to my mother and daddy until the day I die. They worked hard—really hard—to help my brothers and me along. But we also succeeded, at least in part, because we were lucky enough to grow up in an America that invested in kids like us and helped build a future where we could flourish. Here’s the hard truth: America isn’t building that kind of future any longer. Today the game is rigged—rigged to work for those who have money and power.

Preach it, sister. On audio, listening to Warren narrate her own story made experiencing this book even better—she’s a down-to-earth, genuine person just like the real, everyday people for whom she fights. Oftentimes I felt she was talking right to me, like she’s on my side, and I was actually kind of sad when I finished the book. What an awesome companion on my commute these past few weeks! Easily one of the best books of 2014 for me.

Read from September 18 to October 5, 2014.

the book of unknown americans

Just for funsies, I borrowed The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez a few weeks ago. From Goodreads:

After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinder block complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel’s recovery—the piece of the American Dream on which they’ve pinned all their hopes—will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles. At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she’s sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.

What a quiet, sensitive read. The Book of Unknown Americans brings stories of immigration to the United States to life, giving voices and personalities that ring true to these characters. The alternating point of view, mostly between Maribel’s mother Alma and Mayor, give the story and characters a sense of familiarity for the reader—you are pulled into their world and experiences. I was glad for the variety of viewpoints, including those of the two families’ neighbors, making this so much more than just a teenager romance. It drove home the fact that there are all kinds of immigrants in the United States, some legally, some illegally, and they came for myriad reasons, with myriad histories. There are many excellent, thought-provoking points throughout, making this a great book club pick.

The devastating climax is pretty heart wrenching, but worth it and affecting. I liked this book but didn’t quite love it—I wanted just a little more tension and depth, but still it was a good book that I definitely can recommend.

Read from September 23 to October 4, 2014.

kansas city jazz orchestra

KCMetropolis.orgI haven’t posted about my concert coverage here for a while because an awful aggregate website called Tinseltown News (not linking to it) was picking up my posts, so I’m trying again with caution…

Last weekend I went to the Kauffman Center to see the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra‘s season opener, featuring all-around jazz guru Hal Melia. About a decade ago I took jazz voice (!) lessons with Hal here in Kansas City, before he moved. He is probably the most enthusiastic, fun-loving, joyful performer I know! Just an awesome player and and awesome person. It was a pleasure to see him again back in KC for a concert. And the KC Jazz Orchestra was better than ever—I thought the programming for this first concert was smart and varied. Bonus fun fact: this is my 150th article for KCMetropolis.org!

Read my full review at KCMetropolis.org: KCJO’s swingin’ history lesson

Recent reviews:

five days at memorial

I recently finally read one of the books from my 2013 retail therapy bender, Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. From Goodreads:

In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

It took me forever to get through this one, and it took me forever to write this review! I’m not sure what the deal was with Five Days at Memorial for me. This kind of subject matter is usually right up my alley—survival, tests of humanity and society, etc. I just had trouble becoming completely immersed. I may have been in a bit of a slump in September, though—my schedule and workload really amps up when summer ends, and I admit to being overwhelmed with the shift this time. Anyway, it was interesting and well written enough for me to finish.

I found the first and last thirds to be especially fascinating, first the harrowing situation the people found themselves in, and finally the tense legal battles. The middle section dragged for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why (my “real life” stuff could easily be the culprit). I remember noticing quite a bit of repetition, but it did make sense to repeat some things in context (differing accounts of the same act, etc.).

Fink’s research is exhaustive and apparent, and for the most part fair and balanced. The book delves deeper into the history of the hospital, the lives of the individuals involved, and the aftermath of the disaster than I would have ever expected. However, I’m not sure it was entirely without bias… it could just be how I read it, but I felt like Dr. Pou was portrayed at times as heroic and other times was demonized for her alleged actions.

I learned so much about disaster preparedness for places like hospitals, and I did get a sense that the doctors and nurses truly were doing everything they could to help their patients in the face of little resources. I did appreciate that Fink doesn’t drive home any specific conclusion or “lesson” here, especially on the topic of human euthanasia. The main point, I think, is that life is not all black and white, strictly right or wrong—it is all grays and subjective and feelings, and that’s what these people faced during Katrina in Memorial. It’s a great read—powerful, gut wrenching, informative, and thought provoking. I definitely recommend it, but only when you have the time to really dig in (unlike me, ugh)!

Read from September 7 to 28, 2014.