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Friday Fun! (December: Michigan for the Holidays and NYE in Boston)

January 2, 2014 2 comments
A disassembled Model T at the Henry Ford Museum.

A disassembled Model T at the Henry Ford Museum.

Hello my lovely readers, and a happy 2014 to all!

Everyone’s always busy around the holidays, and I certainly was no exception.  I cross-stitched six presents and made homemade fudge for a bunch of folks as well, in addition to everything else that comes with this time of year.  My partner got us a lovely tree that we got to decorate with both of our ornaments for the first time.  We had an early Christmas together, because the week of Christmas, we went out to Michigan to see his family.  The drive from Boston to Michigan took us 13 hours, and the drive back took about 12.  We had a lovely vacation with his family, and I was made to feel 100% welcome and part of the family.  It was truly a lovely Christmas.

I’d never been to the midwest, so while we were out there, my bf made sure I got to do a bit of sightseeing.  My favorite excursion was to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.  Henry Ford invented the assembly line, in addition to starting to the famous Ford car company.  The museum featured displays of cars through time, the history of racing, the history of airplanes, the history of trains, and the history of manufacturing in America.  It also had a display on the history of Civil Rights in the US, as well as a display showing key items from the different decades of the 20th century.  The museum also has the Dymaxion House. A model house made in the 1960s as a fully automated house of the future. Only two were ever made.  In addition to all of these, there was also a special display of Presidential limousines, including the one JFK was shot in.  There was so much amazing US history.  We spent five hours in the museum and still didn’t see it all.

We got back to Boston and spent some time just relaxing at home, and then we got ready for New Year’s.  We decided to go out to see the First Night activities and the early fireworks.  Boston has one set of fireworks at 7 and the other at midnight to allow for folks who want to be inside earlier to still see a display.  First Night featured a lot of interactive art this year in the Common, as well as a parade, ice skating performances, and the typical ice sculptures.  The fireworks display was actually better than the 4th of July ones I’ve seen the last couple of years.  Then we went home and had a quiet dinner in just the two of us.  I’d spent the day making gnocchi from scratch, plus homemade sauce and cheesey garlic bread.  I loved the combination of seeing the festivities and getting to celebrate inside in the warmth just the two of us.

Coming up on the blog this month, I’ve got three books from 2013 that I still need to write reviews for.  I’ll also be announcing what 12 review copy submissions I decided to accept for 2014, and I’ll be doing my reading stats 2013 post, as well as a round-up of the best reads of 2013.  I also have five more cross-stitches to show off to you guys.  It should be a busy month here.

Happy reading!

Book Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Four sets of feet in a circle with the sky in the background.Summary:
On New Year’s Eve, four incredibly different strangers accidentally meet on Topper’s House a popular local spot for suicides.  Somehow running into each other leads to them taking the long way down that night instead of the quick one.  What happens after is a continuance of their life stories that no one could have predicted.

Review:
I distinctly remember that this book made it into my tbr pile because of the suicide theme.  What makes these four different people want to kill themselves, and what makes them not do it.  Clearly this is a book about depression and suicidality.  But it is not a depressing book. Not by far.

Without revealing too much, since the revelations are part of the fun of the read, I will just say that the four suicidal people span different generations, reasons, and nations of origin.  Different levels of conservatism and liberalism.  But what makes them come to understand each other is their universal depression and suicidal thoughts.  This fact that someone out there gets them….well oftentimes that can help get a profoundly depressed or mentally unwell person over the hump.  Feeling less alone.

Her past was in the past, but our past, I don’t know…Our past was still all over the place. We could see it every day when we woke up.  (page 253)

In spite of this being a book about depressed people bonding over their depression, it doesn’t read as such.  I was reading it on an airplane and found myself literally laughing out loud at sections.  Because these people are brilliant.  They have a great understanding of the world. Of art. Of relationships.  Even of themselves.

I had that terrible feeling you get when you realize that you’re stuck with who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (page 208)

That is, after all, frequently what depression can be all about. A profoundly clear understanding of how royally fucked up you are or your life is.  What’s hard is seeing past that moment.  The book is kind of a snapshot of the process of them learning to do that.  And that’s what makes it so eloquent and poignant.  Nothing is done melodramatically. Things are just presented as they are.  Even down to the four being able to laugh together periodically (and make you laugh in the process).  Depression isn’t just oh everything sucks nonstop.  There are moments of laughter.  It’s just that those moments are outweighed by the weight of the depression.  Getting rid of that weight is a cleansing, uplifting process, and that’s how it feels to read this book.  You bond and you laugh and you maybe even cry (if you have more susceptible tear ducts than this reader).  And in the end you come to an understanding of that suicidal dark place without being abandoned in it.

Overall this book manages to eloquently present depression without being a depressing book.  It is compelling to any reader who has ever struggled with a depressed period of life.  Highly recommended to the depressed and the sympathetic.  Both will be left feeling lighter and less alone.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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2011’s 5 Star Reads!

December 31, 2011 15 comments

My one regret last year when summing up my year in reading was that the 5 star reads didn’t get enough attention. So! They are getting their own post this time.  Please note that if the 5 star went to a book in a graphic novel series, I am just listing the whole series.  If it’s a non-graphic series, then the individual book is listed with a note about what series it is in.  With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2011!

Black woman wrapped in a white piece of cloth.The Book of Night Women
By: Marlon James
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Riverhead
Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: slavery, Jamaica, resistance, evil of capitalism
Summary:
This is the story of Lilith. A mulatto with green eyes born on a plantation in Jamaica to a mama who was raped at 14 by the overseer as punishment to her brother.  Raised by a whore and a crazy man, all Lilith has ever wanted was to improve her status on the plantation. And maybe to understand why her green eyes seem to freak out slave and master alike.  Assigned to be a house slave, Lilith finds herself in direct contact with the most powerful slave on the plantation–Homer, who is in charge of the household.  Homer brings her into a secret meeting of the night women in a cave on the grounds and attempts to bring Lilith into a rebellion plot, insisting upon the darkness innate in Lilith’s soul.  But Lilith isn’t really sure what exactly will get her what she truly wants–to feel safe and be with the man she cares for.
Current Thoughts:
If someone asked me for a book that truly makes the reader feel the desperation of being trapped in an evil system with no escape, this is the book I would hand them.

Wolf howling at moon.The Call of the Wild
By: Jack London
Publication Date: 1903
Publisher: CreateSpace
Genre: Historical Fiction, Animal Perspective
Themes: animal rights, human/animal relationships, the nature of nature, Alaska, Canada, evil of capitalism
Summary:
Buck is a spoiled southern dog enjoying a posh life when one of the family’s servants steals him and sells him away to be a sled dog for the Alaska gold rush.  Buck soon goes from an easy life to one of trials and tribulations as the result of humans fawning over a golden metal, but it might not be all bad for him in the wild Alaskan north.
Current Thoughts:
I listened to this on audiobook.  I generally do this while cooking or cleaning my apartment. I distinctly remember being in the middle of washing my dishes, stopping, and going to lay down on my bed and cry.  No one could read this book and doubt that animals have their own inner lives and emotions.  It so powerfully depicts both that and the possible bond between animals and people.  Everything I have always felt between myself and the animals I love is so perfectly depicted here.

Black and white photo of a group of womenThe Group
By: Mary McCarthy
Publication Date: 1954
Publisher: Harvest Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Themes: women’s rights, GLBTQ, women’s colleges, relationships, NYC
Summary:
A collection of women graduate from Vassar in the 1930s.  Their friendship is known collectively as “The Group,” and their distinctive Vassar education has given them a distinctly liberal view on the world.  How this changes with time as they repeatedly encounter societal expectations and relationship problems are told through a series of vignettes that focus in on moments in their lives over the seven years after graduation.
Current Thoughts:
This book addresses women’s issues in the 1930s and 1940s that are, honestly, too frequently too often issues today as well, through a series of vignettes that pop into the various women’s lives at different points in time.  This unique way of telling their stories is what makes this book such a powerful read.

Germany and Italy (manga versions)Hetalia: Axis Powers
By: Hidekaz Himaruya
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: TokyoPop
Genre: Graphic Novel–Historical Fiction
Themes: international relations, world history
Summary:
The nations involved in WWII and the events leading up to it are personified as over-the-top manga characters and through manga-style scenarios the historic events leading up to WWII are explored.  The future of the nations after WWII is also explored.  For example: Russia’s dilemmas with his sisters the Ukraine and Belarus, Canada’s persistent ability to somehow be invisible to most of the rest of the G8 nations (and also to be mistaken for America), and Japan-kun and America-kun visiting each other’s homes and attempting to reach a cultural understanding.
Current Thoughts:
I actually squee when I see the manga version of America online.  I heart him so much. I heart the whole series so much. This series is the reason I got distraught when TokyoPop went out of business.  Read it.  Even if you aren’t a history person. It is hilarious!

Scales.Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse, #1)
By: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Genre: YA–Fantasy
Themes: anorexia, bulimia, mental illness, winning inner battles, suicide
Summary:
Lisabeth Lewis thought it was just a nightmare.  Death coming to her when she tried to commit suicide with her mom’s antidepressants and offering to make her Famine–one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse–instead of letting her die.  It’s just all way too ironic, her as Famine.  After all, she’s fat.  She has to watch what she eats very carefully.  The Thin voice tells her all the time exactly how many calories each bit of food is and how much exercise it’ll take to burn it off.  Yes.  Lisabeth Lewis is fat.  So why would Death assign Famine to her anyway?
Current Thoughts:
I still love how Kessler depicts the inner battles that go on in mental illness via the fantastical appearance of Death and the Riders of the Apocalypse.  It makes it more relatable and understandable for teens struggling with those issues.

Woman in a kerchief in a fieldI Am Hutterite
By: Mary-Ann Kirkby
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Polka Dot Press
Genre: Nonfiction–Memoir
Themes: role of religion in family life, understanding your past, communal living, Canada
Summary:
Mary Ann Kirkby recounts her unique childhood in her memoir.  She was born into a Hutterite family.  The Hutterites are a religious sect similar to the Amish only they believe that living communally is a mandate for Christians.  Mary Ann recounts her childhood both in the religious sect (her particular group was located in western Canada), as well as the journey and culture shock she went through when her parents left the Hutterites when she was nine years old.
Current Thoughts:
This is the most unique memoir I read all year, and I read a lot of them.  Not only is the Hutterite lifestyle and community fascinating, but Kirkby also pulled off the rare feat of speaking about her childhood and difficult times in her life without ever once coming across as bitter.

Super creepy clownIt
By: Stephen King
Publication Date: 1986
Publisher: Signet
Genre: Horror
Themes: growing up, growing old, phases of life, Maine
Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.
Current Thoughts:
If someone asked me why I love pulp, what makes a horror writer like King so popular, I’d talk about this book.  King eloquently addresses something everyone goes through–being a kid, growing up, growing old–without the reader even really realizing it until the book is done and wraps it up in spine-chilling horror.  You relate and learn and your true fears are acquiesced all while being entertained.

Smoke coming out of a smoke stackThe Jungle
By: Upton Sinclair
Publication Date: 1906
Publisher: Simon & Brown
Genre: American Classic
Themes: socialism, worker’s rights, animal rights, evil of capitalism, Chicago, social justice, vegetarianism, debt slavery
Summary:
In the early 1900s Jurgis and his soon-to-be family by marriage decide to immigrate to the US from Lithuania.  Having heard from an old friend that Chicago’s Packingtown is where a working man can easily make his way in the world, this is where they head.  Soon the family find themselves deep in the horror that is the regulated in name only meat packing plants.  Dominated by a society that circulates entirely around greed and wealth for the few at the expense of the many, the family and individuals within it slowly fall apart.  But is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Current Thoughts:
It still baffles me that when this book came out all anyone could talk about was food safety.  I believe Sinclair did a great job demonstrating the plight of the blue collar worker, as well as the horrors of animal slaughter.  This is a classic that deserves that label.

Bird on a cross against the moon.The Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1)
By: Rick Yancey
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Horror
Themes: New England, the nature of evil, relationships
Summary:
A New England town’s oldest resident dies leaving no known surviving family.  His journals end up at the university where a professor loans them to a writer friend.  In the first three folios, we learn of young Will Henry whose father and mother died in a terrible house fire leaving him to the care of his father’s employer–Warthrop.  Warthrop is a monstrumologist.  He studies monsters, and people arrive in the middle of the night for his help.  One night a grave robber arrives with the body of a young girl wrapped in the horrifying embrace of an anthropophagus–a creature with no head and a mouth full of shark-like teeth in the middle of his chest.  Will Henry, as the assistant apprentice monstrumologist, soon finds himself sucked into the secret horror found in his hometown.
Current Thoughts:
I still can’t get the damn image of the anthropophagus out of my head.  Also the characters of Will and Warthrop will forever live on in my head.  New England horror done exquisitely.

Red sword.Rage (Riders of the Apocalypse, #2)
By: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Genre: YA–Fantasy
Themes: mental illness, self-injury, bullying
Summary:
Melissa Miller is your typical 16 year old–mom, dad, annoying sister, a jerk of an ex-boyfriend–with one small difference.  She deals with her emotions by cutting herself.  She keeps a razor in a locked box in her closet and pulls it out when she gets overwhelmed.  One night she accidentally cuts too deep, and Death shows up with an option.  Either die now or become one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse–War.  Missy chooses the latter option, and as she gets to know the other Horsemen and her job as War, she starts to realize she needs to face the rage inside her.
Current Thoughts:
I periodically find myself thinking back on the climactic scene of this book, which in a fantastical manner depicts a self-injurer facing the anger inside herself.  If someone needs to understanding self-injury and doesn’t want to read the academic work on the topic, this is the book I would hand them.

Woman kissing man while surrounded by fire.Touched by an Alien (Katherine “Kitty” Katt, #1)
By: Gini Koch
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Daw Books
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Themes: aliens, FBI, intrigue, Arizona, action, sex
Summary:
Katherine “Kitty” Katt manages to get released early from a dull day of jury duty only to find herself confronted with an angry man who sprouts wings and starts flinging knives from their tips toward everyone in the vicinity.  Kitty attacks and stops him and quickly finds herself sucked into a world she was unaware existed.  A world of alien refugees defending Earth and themselves from a bunch of fugly alien parasites.  She soon discovers her ordinary parents are more involved in this secret world than she would ever have dreamed.  On top of that, she’s increasingly finding herself falling for one of the alien hunks who announced his intentions to marry her almost immediately upon meeting her.
Current Thoughts:
Aliens in suits? Check. Some lines and scenes pop into my head at odd times and make me laugh? Check. Favorite paranormal romance series to date? Triple-check.

Silhouette of a person standing in a white hall.The Unit
By: Ninni Holmqvist
Publication Date: 2006
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Scifi–Dystopian
Themes: old age, socialism, Sweden, medical research
Summary:
In the Sweden of the near future women who reach the age of 50 and men who reach the age of 60 without having successfully acquired a partner or had children are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live in “a unit.”  These units appear at first glance to be like a high-class retirement home, and indeed they have all the amenities.  The residents, however, are required both to participate in medical experiments and to donate various organs and body parts up until their “final donation” of their heart anywhere from a year or a few years after their arrival in the unit.  Dorrit arrives at the unit depressed, but accepting of her fate as the result of her independent nature, but when she falls in love, she starts to question everything.
Current Thoughts:
This is a book that I literally cannot stop thinking about.  It left me with no clear answers, but tons of questions.  I also think of Dorrit and her friends every time I have a steam after working out, just like them.

Red cover with white and cold lettering.The Vampire Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles, #2)
By: Anne Rice
Publication Date: 1985
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Fantasy–Vampires
Themes: resiliency, searching for love, European history, Egypt, rock stars, New Orleans
Summary:
Lestat, the maker of Louis and Claudia, takes center stage here to tell his own origin story, as well as explain why he has chosen to come out as a vampire rock star in the 1980s.  Starting with his beginnings as a rural member of the ruling class prior to the French Revolution, we discover the origins of the Vampire Theater, as well as the origins of vampires themselves.
Current Thoughts:
I just really love Lestat. You can vamp me and carry me around forever with you, dude.

Person in red surrounded by zombies.The Walking Dead
By: Robert Kirkman
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novel–Horror
Themes: creation of a new society, living in fear, unjust wars, truthiness, self-protection, zombies, Georgia, survival
Summary:
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere.  He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
Current Thoughts:
I’m still working my way through this series, but it just progressively gets better and better.  Although the beginning is cliche, it does not take Kirkman long to become unique, surprising, and thought-provoking.

Angry cow.Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health
By: Joseph Keon
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Genre: Nonfiction–Science and Health
Themes: health, Standard American Diet, animal rights, veganism, cancer, heart disease
Summary:
Joseph Keon seeks to combat the cultural myth of dairy being a necessary part of a healthy diet perpetuated by the milk moustache ads with his book citing multiple scientific studies that have been swept under the rug by those being paid by the dairy lobbyists.  Although Keon cares about animal welfare as well (and there is a chapter on the suffering of dairy cows), the book predominantly focuses on debunking multiple myths surrounding human consumption of dairy:  the overly-hyped “need” for calcium, that dairy is good for children, and the idea that dairy prevents disease.  Keon additionally alarmingly shows the various chemical, virus, and bacteria contaminants commonly found in dairy.  Citing multiple scientific studies, he unequivocally demonstrates that contrary to what the dairy industry and government want you to think, dairy is actually bad for your health.
Current Thoughts:
Oh god, how am I still eating dairy after reading all of these facts?  I am going to get cancer…..gah! Damn you, cheese. Damn you.

Portraits of three Chinese women on gold and blue background.Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
By: Jung Chang
Publication Date: 1991
Publisher: Touchstone
Genre: Nonfiction–Memoir
Themes: Chinese history, women’s rights, China, communism, revolutions, concubines, foot-binding
Summary:
In this memoir, Jung Chang recounts the lives of herself, her mother, and her grandmother growing up in pre-communist, revolutionary, and communist China.  Mixing extensive historical facts with intensely personal remembrances, Jung Chang presents a vivid portrait of real life in China.
Current Thoughts:
This is the book that jump-started my interest in China and learning Chinese history.  It is a stunning memoir that covers three generations during the time period that made modern China.

Man with a monkey on his back.Y: The Last Man
By: Brian K. Vaughan
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre: Graphic Novel–Scifi–Post-apocalyptic
Themes: gender, gender norms, organization of society, Boston, United States, Israel, coming of age
Summary:
The world is changed overnight when all the men and boys in the world mysteriously drop dead.  Factions quickly develop among the women between those who want the world to remain all female and those who would like to restore the former gender balance.  One man is mysteriously left alive though–Yorick.  A 20-something, underachieving magician with a girlfriend in Australia.  He desperately wants to find her, but the US government and the man-hating Amazons have other ideas.
Current Thoughts:

Another series that I am currently in the middle of.  It is also steadily improving from the first volume.  It is colorfully illustrated, consistently funny, and thought-provoking.




Friday Fun! (Happy 2010!)

January 8, 2010 4 comments

Sorry for the hiatus last week, guys.  I was recovering from my New Year’s Eve fun.  For New Year’s Eve I acquired First Night buttons so I could go see the Kaiju Big Battel (sic) taking place in Boston.  (Side-note: I cannot for the life of me understand why it’s called First Night and not Last Night.  It’s the last night of 2009, not the first night of 2010! Ideas?!)  I happened to catch some crazy Middle Eastern dancing that was occurring on a stage nearby while I was waiting.  I have no idea what kind of dancing it was.  It wasn’t bellydancing, and they hopped around waving their arms and fake swords a lot.  Anyway, so Kaiju Big Battel is essentially WWE only the wrestlers are wearing monster costumes ala Godzilla and the stage has miniature buildings set up that they also smash.  Two of my favorite characters of the night were Plantain and Dusto Bunny.  Dusto Bunny was actually dusty! (Sorry I have no pictures of Kaiju to show you.  I have yet to upload them from my camera).  Anyway, then I met up with friends in the Common to see the ice sculptures and rang in the new decade on the Esplanade.  It was definitely a fun night!

This week has been busy busy busy at work.  They’re renovating my library (again).  Currently all of us are crammed in one room while they work on the rest of it, but the exciting part, you guys, is I’m going to go from having a cubicle to an almost office!  It’s pretty much an office minus a door, but I’ll have a divider up in lieu of a door.  Plus they’re building me bookshelves, and I’m getting a brand new wood desk!  I’m excited to move into my new office.  It’s going to make me feel much more part of the team, since currently I’m the only one without an office.

In cooking this week, I tried out making gnocchi from scratch for the first time using sweet potatoes.  It’s pretty simple, actually.  You just cook the potatoes, pass them through a sieve, then combine it with spices, egg, and flour.  The tricky part, I discovered, is adding just the right amount of flour.  The consensus upon eating it was that it was neither good nor bad.  A bit too floury.  However, on reheating the leftovers, it went to good.  I’m thinking maybe I just didn’t cook them long enough?  I’ll definitely try it again.  I think it’s one of those recipes you improve with over time.  Kind of like pizza dough.

Oh, also, I’m all caught up in Lost now, so I’m totally ready for the new season. Bring. It. On!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Why New Year’s Is My Favorite Holiday

December 28, 2009 3 comments

Christmas is finally over, which means it’s time for my favorite holiday: New Year’s!  All week on the blog I’ll be doing a few special New Year’s related posts, starting out with why it’s my favorite holiday.

People often ask me why, out of all the holidays, my favorite is one where you don’t even get presents.  Well, there are a lot of reasons.

It’s secular. Everyone can celebrate without any of that religion or country worry and mumbo jumbo.  Even people and cultures who follow the lunar cycle can still also acknowledge the change of the Gregorian calendar.

You’re supposed to drink. Any holiday that largely revolves around drinking cocktails and champagne gets my vote.

There’s no societal expected norm as to who you should spend it with. It’s perfectly acceptable spend it with friends as opposed to family, but you can still spend it with family if you want to.  Nobody is going around asking me why I’m not off in some other state visiting family, and also my friends don’t all simultaneously disappear for the weekend.

Reflection. It’s a regularly occurring time to reflect on yourself, your actions, your life and have a palaver with yourself and make sure your life and your behavior are what you want them to be, which leads to

Resolutions. I am all about being a self-made person.  I’m about deciding who I want to be and working to be that person instead of just laying back and playing with the hand I was dealt in life, aka nature and nurture.  I take initiative and choice and use it to kick nature and nurture’s butt.

Clean slate. The new year isn’t exactly a clean slate, but you can make it one if you want to or need to.  You can also just make a clean slate in certain areas of your life.  Maybe there’s a friend you need to come to terms with or a habit that’s bad for you that it’s time to get rid of.

New Year’s is great in that it asks you to celebrate and enjoy life, but it also asks you to take a good look at your life and make sure it’s what you want it to be.  New Year’s is the best of both worlds–celebration and accountability.