Sunday, May 6, 2018

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss


Title: On Immunity: An Inoculation
Author: Eula Biss
Pages: 216
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: eBook
Source: Kindle

Summary:

I'm having difficulty capturing this summary in my own words while doing it justice. So I've copied this from the Amazon description:

In this bold, fascinating book, Eula Biss addresses our fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what may or may not be in our children's air, food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines. Reflecting on her own experience as a new mother, she suggests that we cannot immunize our children, or ourselves, against the world. As she explores the metaphors surrounding immunity, Biss extends her conversations with other mothers to meditations on the myth of Achilles, Voltaire's Candide, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Susan Sontag's AIDS and its metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected - our bodies and our fates.

Review:

I grabbed this on my Kindle when it first came out and just finally got around to it. I think one of my fears was that it was going to be a heavy and dry read. It was absolutely not heavy or dry. Her writing was engaging and conversational and once I got reading it just flew by.

I love how Biss talks about her own experiences and fears as a new mother. It was very relatable to me. Not just the information about inoculation, but about all the other things we fear as new parents. At some point I remember making a conscious decision to stop clicking on every article about the newest thing that threatens to kill my child. It was too much and it was turning me into a nervous parent. And I think this was a really good decision for me.

I really loved how Biss talks about the history of inoculation - of what people were doing in the 1500's and 1600's. They didn't have a word for it, but it was happening that far back. As someone who likes history and medicine I founbd thisShe also cleverly wove facts about inoculation and the history of inoculation with other literary works. It was interesting and informative.

I don't have any real insights on this book other than I liked it. I do believe in herd immunity. I don't believe vaccinations are dangerous in any way. My favorite parts of this book were the history and the confirmation that all mothers worry after their first-born children.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Title: The Night Strangers
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Pages: 416
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Format: Audiobook (14 hours, 7 minutes)
Source: Library

Summary:

After both engines fail, Chip Linton, the pilot of flight 1611, has to ditch his aircraft into Lake Champlain. Chip survives, but almost everyone on board - 39 people in total - are killed. In the aftermath, Chip and his wife, Emily, decide to relocate to the small town of Bethel, New Hampshire, with their ten-year-old twin daughters, Hailey and Garnet.

Once in Bethel, Chip makes a discovery in the basement of his old Victorian house. In the corner there is a very old door, and it is sealed with 39 carriage bolts - the same number of people lost on flight 1611.

Meanwhile, the town seems to be home to an eccentric group of women who call themselves the herbalists. At first, they appear to be helpful and neighborly, but they begin to take an increasingly disturbing interest in the twins, Hailey and Garnet.

Are these women motivated by something darker than meets the eye? Is Chip losing his grip on reality? Is this family safe in Bethel?

Review:

I've been listening to this book off and on since the fall. I've been in an incredible reading slump, but I feel the pendulum beginning to swing in the opposite direction.

Even though it took me forever to get through, I really thought this book was fantastic.

There are really two main storylines happening here.

We have Chip battling his personal demons. The discovery of that bolted basement door really sends him down a dark path, both in his thoughts and his actions. Bohjalian does a nice job keeping the reader questioning if there is something supernatural happening or if Chip is losing his mind. This house the Linton family buys in NH hits all the checkmarks of a haunted house - they find all manner of strange things inside when they move in, there is tragedy and rumor about the previous family who lived there, there are weird corridors and stairways, odd wallpaper, electricity that tends to flicker out, and of course the creepy-ass door in the basement. The setting leans towards something supernatural being at play, but the reader gets to be inside Chip's head and it makes you question his stability.

The second storyline centers around Emily, Hailey, Garnet, and the herbalists. There's something "off" about these women right from the start. Their horticultural interests aren't about growing rosemary, thyme, and things you'd use to season a pot of soup, but rather in elixirs, tinctures, and exotic plants. They are a closed group and become very interested in Hailey and Garnet once they learn that they are twins. There was never any doubt, right from their introduction, that things would begin to take a dark turn.

Chris Bohjalian does a great job of immersing the reader both in the physical spaces in and around Bethel, and in the mental spaces of the characters. He uses small details that stick with the reader - I can close my eyes and picture the sunflower wallpaper in the Linton house as being both bizarre and somewhat menacing. I can see the greenhouses of the herbalists. And I can see that bolted basement door. The story is told from multiple perspectives, so we get to spend time within the heads of many different characters, even those outside of the Linton family.

My only complaint wasn't about the book itself, but about the narrator of my audiobook. There was a man reading Chip's narration, and a woman doing the remaining characters. She used a "little girl" voice when reading from Hailey or Garnet's point of view - I found this rather annoying, but I understand what she was trying to do. A small complaint, and one specific to the audiobook version.

This book was a delight to have in my ears while driving and doing things around the house. It was scary enough to keep me guessing and thinking about the story when I was away from it, but not scary enough to keep me awake at night. The descriptions were wonderful, and I know I'll be thinking about the herbalists, their greenhouses, and the Linton house for quite some time.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Title: The Couple Next Door
Author: Shari Lapena
Pages: 308
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Thriller
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book of the Month Club

Summary:

Anne and Marco Conti are new parents to baby Cora, and they appear to have it all - their new baby, a loving marriage, a beautiful home. However, while attending a dinner party next door, a horrible crime is committed that shatters this image, revealing the truth underneath. Nobody is perfect, everything is complicated, and there are secrets everywhere.

Detective Rasbach is immediately suspicious of the seemingly panicked parents - he is determined to get to the bottom of what happened and he can't shake the feeling that Anne and Marco are hiding something. As the story unfolds, Anne and Marco each learn the other has been keeping secrets, and that the people in their lives may not be what they seem.

This is a chilling tale of deception, desperation, and an unraveling family. How well do you really know the couple next door? How well do you know your spouse? How well do you know yourself?

Review:

This book was great. I read it in only a few days, which for me (working full time and juggling a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old) is really fast. I was looking for something fast-paced that had an element to suspense that could get me in the Halloween mood. I found the right book! I don't often read books in the thriller or suspense genre, so this was a real treat for me.

I really enjoyed the writing in this book. Lapena does a great job revealing the true story to the reader. One thing that can drive me nuts about this genre is when the author reveals a plot twist completely out of left field (...but he couldn't have been at the scene of the crime because it was a full moon that night and he is a werewolf! What????). Lapena doesn't do this - there are certainly plot twists, but they're on slow release. For each twist, although the actual details surprised me, I kind of had the feeling that there was something going on - maybe that character's story doesn't quite add up, or I don't like the vibe when certain characters are in the room together.

The characters were all multidimensional. I didn't necessarily like them all, but that's not a requirement for me to enjoy a book. They all have flaws, they're all human, they all have secrets. Some of them have big, horrible secrets. Some secrets are fairly small. With the exception of one character (who truly is just a horrible person), the reader is able to understand the character's point of view (even if you think they're wrong or selfish). All the characters have depth, and it makes for a really engaging story.

This book is certainly worth your time! If you want to pick up your own copy, consider using this affiliate link to help support Kate's Library! 

Oh, and just another quick pitch for you. I got this book a few months ago in my Book of the Month box. If you're not familiar with Book of the Month, it's a great subscription service! Each month there are five books to choose from, each chosen by a different judge. Thus far, the books have been fairly new releases, they are hardcover, and they always look interesting! Want more than one book? No problem - you can add up to 2 additional books to your box for only $9.99 each (great deal for a newish hardcover)! They also have an entire stash of older books you can also throw in for $9.99. Oh, and one of the best parts? If you don't see anything that your'e interested in you can skip that particular month. And it's not wasted... your subscription renew just gets pushed out an additional month. You don't lose any money. Sound interesting? Click here to use my referral link! (Thank you!)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Hands

I could write so much about your little hands.

I remember being in the hospital, moments after we met, and marveling at how small your little finger joints and fingernails were. It didn't even seem possible to see such familiar things presented so small. I'd put my finger in your little palm and you'd grasp instinctively with a surprising amount of force.

We spent a lot of time together in the rocking chair, you and I.  I'd be feeding you - sometimes gazing at your little face, sometimes gazing at my phone, sometimes gazing at a book, and sometimes dozing just praying you'd fall asleep because my alarm was due to go off sooner than I'd like. In these moments, you were sometimes restless - kicking your legs about or moving your arms haphazardly. In these moments I'd extend my index finger and you'd clamp your little hand around it and somehow find stillness as you nursed yourself back to sleep.



When you were very small we'd walk around our yard or our street. I'd extend my index finger to you and you'd hold it as we sought out new adventures (to you).



You're starting to fuss in the car. I reach back to give you a sippy cup, a cheerio, or a toy. I'll never forget the feeling of your chubby little fingers surrounding mine as I pass treasure into your hands.

After dinner, after bath, we spend a little time cuddling on the couch. Downtime before bedtime begins. It usually starts with a little TV and always ends with books. You nestle into the crook of my arm as we read together (progressing from board books to picture books, to easy chapter books, and tonight you read a couple of books to me). But as we watch TV (or more specifically, as you watch TV and I browse on my phone or read a book) you reach to hold my hand because you're really enjoying The Grinch (even though it's still technically summer...).



"Care to hold hands?" you say from the backseat. I say "Yes!" of course, and reach back. The joke is that you give me silly things the first two times - a stuffed animal ("ooh, your hand is so soft!!") or a water bottle ("oh man, your hand is so cold!") - and the third time you give me the real deal. Occasionally, your ask me if we can hold hands forever.  Yes, please.  Let's.



Your hands as they grasp my face to give me a kiss. Or to use my legs as a means to pull yourself up to a standing position. Reaching for me in the parking lot ("there are lots of cars, let's be safe!"), or as you get onto your bike. Asking me to pick you up (I don't want to admit that a time will come where this will be impossible for me to physically do), or to spin you around, or to help you reach something. As I clip your little fingernails - first a process of pinning you down, then of bribing you with TV/iPad, and now just saying "let's cut these bad boys!".

I can't even imagine your hands being bigger than mine, but I know they will be someday. I can't imagine them calloused or rough. I can't fathom what it will be like to feel the cool metal of a wedding band on your finger.

I'll forever remember your chubby little fingers grasping mine as you drift off to sleep or try to navigate your way across the living room floor. Or your warm hand as we walk from the car to the beach, talking about how much fun our day will be.

Your sweet voice asking "care to hold hands?".

Always.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart

Title:  The Mask of Motherhood: How becoming a mother changes our lives and why we never talk about it
Author:  Susan Maushart
Pages:  247
Publisher:  Penguin Books
Genre:  Nonfiction
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Personal copy (Book Outlet)

Summary:

Susan Maushart explores the vast range of emotions that come along with motherhood, and why many women are afraid to speak honestly about the low moments for fear of being viewed as bad mothers.  Maushart is a sociologist and mother of three.  She writes about how motherhood affects marriage, friendship, self-esteem, and sex.  She writes about lactation, being a mom who works outside the home, being a stay-at-home mom, juggling the many jobs associated with motherhood, and about how becoming a mother changes your life.  Most importantly, by writing about these things, Maushart is letting women know that they are not alone.

Motherhood is certainly rewarding, but it's not always an easy walk in the park, a point that not many women talk about openly.  Maushart is examining this mask that many women wear to conceal the realities of motherhood, looking at what lies beneath and asking why it's being worn in the first place.

Review:

I found this book quite interesting.  Personally, I find the women in my life to be fairly open about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.  I'm lucky to have friends with whom there is nothing held back, even when it's unpleasant or difficult (I'm looking at you, Andrea!).  The Mask of Motherhood was published in 1999, and I think that in some ways the mask has been removed with access and outlets to real talk about childbirth and child rearing.  In other ways, the mask is more in place than it ever was.

The Internet has certainly provided an outlet for women to share the nitty gritty about pregnancy, giving birth, and caring for a baby.  Women are able to access information like never before, and especially with sites like Scary Mommy (for example), read some candid pieces about what it means to be a mother.  There may be a humorous spin, but the sentiment is there - caring for a small human is not as straightforward as one may think.

I do, however, see certain aspects of the mask present itself even more forcefully in 2016.  Fueled by social media, it can be hard to not be under the impression that all the other mothers have it all together.  I can scroll through their instagram and see pictures of smiling children, nutritious lunches with veggies cut into fun little shapes, everything captioned with #soblessed.  It's not real life.  But I think there's pressure to present yourself as a mother who has her shit together.  If we're having an "off" day and we end up inside on a beautiful fall afternoon, I can scroll through facebook seeing my friends post pictures of their kids playing in apple orchards and start to feel bad - even though the baby was fussy and the 4-year-old was overtired and a trip to an orchard would have resulted in a slew of meltdowns.  I'd be interested to see an updated version of this book with chapters about the Pinterest moms and mommy bloggers, the desire some women have to make every moment magical and caught on camera, and pressure to feed your kids only gluten free, chemical free, organic snacks.
I found some of the statistics presented in the book to be the most interesting parts.  Of course they're slightly dated, so numbers are no longer exact.  In particular I found it interesting to read about women making the transition into motherhood.  According to Maushart, that transition is harder for women over 30 who have established themselves both as individuals in their personal lives and in their careers.  I found myself nodding my head so hard during this particular chapter.  I remember the stress and the anxiety associated with my first born.  Some of it had nothing to do with my age or making the transition into motherhood.  But in hindsight, some of it did.  I agreed with so much of what Maushart had to say about making this transition - I wish I had read this when I was about 3 weeks postpartum with Dominic.  

Maushart has a great voice, mixing cited factual information with personal stories.  It's a perfect balance.  She provides tremendous insight on many of the unspoken parts of the journey to and through motherhood.  She writes about identity, working, and the roles women play in their families.  Statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, as figures and trends have shifted in the last seventeen years.  

Overall I really enjoyed this book.  If you're pregnant with your first child, if you just gave birth for the first time, or if you're a seasoned parent - there's lots of food for thought here.  I think Maushart presents a lot of ideas about what so many women are thinking or have thought about childbirth and child rearing.  I am guilty of wearing the mask - not necessarily about sharing real information, but in trying to give the impression that I have everything running smoothly.

Highly recommend!  Click here to purchase a copy (and to support Kate's Library)!