reading recap: november 2017

I had a wonderful “vacation”… from my semi-permanent “vacation”… in Wisconsin the whole month of November! I spent a lot of time with family and friends, drove all over the Midwest and Wisconsin, saw some great shows (and not-so-great Packer games), and was just reminded yet again how much I love it there and it’s where I truly belong. Sigh. Anyway, as usual on my trips, I didn’t read much, so here’s a monthly recap and mini-reviews post all in one!

It has been too long since I had any nice, day-long drives all to myself, and I downloaded two for my drives in November back home. First up was Michael Finkel’s True Story, a non-fiction about his disgraceful fabrication in his The New York Times story about child slavery in Africa’s cocoa colonies, which resulted in his embarrassing firing. But then, he discovers an American man in Mexico, Christian Longo, has stolen his (Finkel’s) identity in order to escape suspicion of the murder of his entire family. It was an interesting listen, especially the dialogues and cat-and-mouse interplay between these two narcissists and how they are sort of similar (the different levels of gravity to their separate errors notwithstanding). Fans of true crime will like it. I think Finkel may have redeemed himself… if not with True Story, then perhaps with his recent The Stranger in the Woods (review coming soon!). I fell asleep when I tried to watch the movie, so I’m going to give it another try soon. [Listened to audiobook in November 2017.]

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich chronicles the medical and personal histories of Henry Gustave Molaison, the eponymous patient referred to by his initials in medical research to protect his identity, and whose status as H.M. revolutionized our understanding of the brain. After a serious bike accident when he was a child, Henry later developed seizures as a teen. After drugs and other standard treatments didn’t work, Dr. William Beecher gave Henry, then 27 in 1953, a lobotomy, after which his behavior and memory drastically changed, transforming him into the prime human test subject for brain study. This book also covers Beecher’s life and career and the history and controversy of lobotomy procedures. I learned a lot about the brain, memory, and lobotomies from Patient H.M.—it’s easy to understand with minimal technical medical jargon—and the lives of Henry and Beecher were equally sad, shocking, and fascinating. Like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, treatment and understanding of patients in mental health facilities of the 1950s was horrific, and the human rights issues surrounding Henry’s situation are staggering. It’s an eye-opening look for non-medical and non-sciencey people like me at the sometimes uncomfortable and ugly side of medical progress. Sometimes Dittrich goes off on familial tangents (Dr. Beecher was his grandfather), but overall this is an awesome book in the vein of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. [Listened to audiobook in November 2017.]

This might seem strange to include with a couple of non-fictions, or to review at all, but I did read it cover-to-cover last month! I bought Girl Power: 5-Minute Stories as a gift for my 3-year-old niece, for her baptism in Madison last month. It is a collection of ten short, newer children’s stories focusing on smart, fearless, determined, interesting, fun girls. It caught my eye because I wanted to get my niece the first story as its stand-alone book version, I Like Myself, but this collection was an even better choice. I also enjoyed Flora’s Very Windy DayPrincess in TrainingElla Sarah Gets Dressed, and Wow, It Sure is Good to Be You! I identified with some of these stories, of course, and wished I had these growing up! I loved how diverse the collection is, too, with girls of different ethnicities, ages, families, adventures, and more. [Read in November 2017.]

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lost my name

I recently discovered this adorable book from, The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name, and knew I had to get one for my darling little niece, turning one in August:
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It’s a sweet story about a child who wakes up one day to find her name, pasted on her bedroom door, has vanished. She goes on a quest over land and sea, encountering animals and magical creatures along the way. Each helps her in a unique way to recover the missing letters of her name.

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You can customize the book for a boy or girl, and there are a few different available languages, too. I thought it was so wonderful and fun, and I enjoyed personalized books when I was little. I wanted to give my niece something like that to let her know she’s our special girl!

Have a daughter, son, niece, nephew, or special little buddy in mind who would love a book like this? I have a 15% off discount code to share with three bookish friends! Let me know in the comments if you decided to use it. 🙂

top ten tuesday: childhood favorites to revisit

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.

March 24: Childhood favorites to revisit 

This was a wonderful topic to ruminate on: which books from my childhood I’d like to revisit. I LOVED these ten books when I read them as a kid, mostly I remember the feeling of loving them more than their entire synopses. In alphabetical order by title:

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Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Redhead girls, yay! I also think I read Pippi Longstocking, but don’t remember for sure…

The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.: One of the few fantasy books that hooked me. Gateway book to Orwell’s Animal Farm?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: A beautiful classic, who doesn’t want to revisit this one?

Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl: Was I the only kid who liked Danny?

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier: I remember a sense of urgency and mystery, but nothing else!

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Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: Adventure AND a female protagonist!

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: Orphan runs everywhere and liked spaghetti a lot? Maybe?

Matilda by Roald Dahl: The best.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: Another adventure classic! I have no idea what happened!

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: So imaginative and funny, and I loved the black-and-white illustrations.

What books from your childhood would you like to revisit?

something wicked this way comes

My friend Anthony and I were at a library book sale last summer, saw two copies of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes for a dollar, and decided to have ourselves a little readalong. One year later, Anthony is preparing to move to Canada and we finally decided to get on it! From Goodreads:

A masterpiece of modern Gothic literature, Something Wicked This Way Comes is the memorable story of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the evil that grips their small Midwestern town with the arrival of a “dark carnival” one Autumn midnight. How these two innocents, both age 13, save the souls of the town (as well as their own), makes for compelling reading on timeless themes. What would youdo if your secret wishes could be granted by the mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark? Bradbury excels in revealing the dark side that exists in us all, teaching us ultimately to celebrate the shadows rather than fear them. In many ways, this is a companion piece to his joyful, nostalgia-drenchedDandelion Wine, in which Bradbury presented us with one perfect summer as seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, he deftly explores the fearsome delights of one perfectly terrifying, unforgettable autumn.

lt’s , featuring the most ridiculous hashtag ever! We had a lot of fun on Twitter and then a great discussion last week after we were both finished. I’ll let the tweets speak for themselves:

Final consensus: It was a fun, action-packed story, but I thought I might have been more into it back when I was around 13 years old (of course, I was reading Orwell’s 1984 then… so maybe not so much) and Anthony would recommend The Martian Chronicles to someone new to Bradbury instead. I had only read his Fahrenheit 451 before this, so I couldn’t really say, but I liked 451 better. According to my copy, there is a 1983 film version of Something Wicked; I watched the preview on IMDB and GOOD LORD that music is terrible. But I bet the story translates to film very well. Fun times! Thanks, Anthony!

Read from June 30 to July 5, 2014.

the wiz + arts in prison

KCMetropolis.orgIn this week’s issue of I have a review and an interview:

First, I interviewed Leigh Lynch, executive director of Arts in Prison last week in anticipation of its East Hill Singers’ upcoming concerts and documentary. The East Hill Singers is Lansing Correctional Facility’s inmate choir, which is allowed to perform outside prison walls. Music is so powerful, and I was moved learning about this program’s positive effects on the inmates and their sense of teamwork, personal accomplishment, and community. Reading about their kids coming to hear them sing had me tearing up. I actually played with the East Hill Singers once—I was hired to accompany the choir with several other instrumentalists in a performance at Yardley Hall a few years ago, and it was a great experience. I look forward to watching the documentary when it airs around here.

On Sunday I saw The Wiz at the Coterie Theatre. Coterie is a children’s theatre, but The Wiz was still fun for anyone who loves the classic Wizard of Oz story, of course. When I was a little girl I was OBSESSED. I carried around a basket with a tiny stuffed “Toto” dog in it. I wore those horrid plastic jellies (you know what I’m talking about) and called them my ruby slippers. I asked my parents if we were in Kansas yet. (So of course when I ended up deciding on Kansas City for college I was teased… even though I live on the Missouri side!) But anyway, seeing this version of The Wiz brought back a lot of fun, happy memories.

Read my full reviews at