Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review: The Bird Saviors, by William J. Cobb

The Bird Saviors
by William J. Cobb
Unbridled Books
2012
309 pages 

If you're looking for a novel to read while the government is in the midst of this sequester craziness (since it looks like this is going to happen), you're in the right place.

Don't leave yet, though, because this book? Is fantastic and absolutely well worth the read, sequester or fiscal cliff or political shenanigans be damned.

Actually, there's a bit of damnation involved in The Bird Saviors, come to think of it.

The Bird Saviors is set in modern-day Colorado in a seemingly not-too-distant future (maybe closer than author William J. Cobb thought) marked by a confluence of high unemployment, food and fuel shortages, extreme climate change and dust storms, illegal immigration, mysterious avian-borne viruses similar in scale to HIV/AIDS, and religious zealots.

One of those is 17 year old Ruby Cole's father, whom she has appropriately nicknamed Lord God. He's a proud but grumpy veteran of a war in the Middle East, who is now
"out of work and has given up looking for more. He lives off disability [he has a prosthetic leg] but its hardly a living. He preaches now at the Lamb of the Forsaken Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. "His congregation is mostly lost souls and the lonely, living hand to mouth." pg. 11
At 17, Ruby is already a mother of a toddler. They live with Lord God, who watches baby Lila while Ruby goes to school and spends her leisure time counting birds (most of which are on the verge of extinction). She gives the birds made-up names - Smoke Larks, Grief Birds, Squeakies, Moon Birds.

Early on in The Bird Saviors, William J. Cobb introduces his reader to a memorable cast of characters that includes
"an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, Nuisance Animal [Control] destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist who is studying the decline of bird populations. All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle-rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder, threatening the entire community." (from the book jacket cover)
I honestly hadn't heard of The Bird Saviors before seeing it on my library's new books shelf and I believe it's one of the best books you've probably not heard too much about, either. I haven't seen it reviewed on many of the book blogs. (Then again, I'm rather behind on my blog reading.) Powerfully haunting, the writing and symbolism are fantastic throughout the course of the entire novel. You wonder how Cobb is possibly going to connect all these wayward characters- because you know their lives are too quirky not to intersect, as they do, briefly, in the beginning.

But it is in the vivid descriptions of this desert landscape, and the counting of the birds, and the saving of the ones that are rare and injured, where Cobb's skill as an author truly shines. The birds become a stand-in for our own fragility and how we all need some saving from the people we encounter in our lives - our loved ones and strangers alike - and sometimes, even ourselves.

Sometimes, as Ruby and some of the other well-developed characters discover in The Bird Saviors, we find someone else who is also similarly injured, just as broken, who can help save us as we make our way through a scary and uncertain world.
"Ward watches a murder of Crows flap and squawk past the yard, diving and swooping at the wide wings of a Red Tailed Hawk. The hawk glides and beats its wings, fades into the tan sky.
Ward takes these sighting as a good sign, as a sign of hope. Ruby has told him about her conversation with Lord God. Now the blades of hope and faith turn in Ward's head like a windmill. Too often faith is the word preachers use to ask for money. When he questioned the idea of a benevolent God who would let so many suffer and let his daughter die in pain, he was told the Lord works in mysterious ways. That he had to have faith. That he had to let go of his earthly hopes and dreams and put his soul in the hands of the Lord, who would reward him with everlasting life.
Ward can never lose the suspicion that the reward of blind faith is blindness.
Hope is a smaller, more reliable thing. You don't have to bank on the idea of a supreme being to hope for a better day, for Lila not to come down with the fever, for Ruby to keep a shelter over her head, for rain to come in the summer, as it has in the past. Faith is a shield, an excuse, an alibi.
Hope is something you can carry in your pocket. Something you can give to others. Something you can act on." (pg. 285-286)
Do yourself a favor. Sequester yourself for awhile with this one.

5 stars out of 5. (Bonus points for my PA friends and Penn State fans: author William J. Cobb lives in Pennsylvania and teaches in the writing program at Penn State.)





Author William J. Cobb's blog is here.

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Sunday Salon: On Breaking Up with an Author


This week's reading has me pondering a question that I wanted to toss out to you, my Dear Abbys of the book blogosphere:

At what point do you decide to break up with an author? And what do you do about his or her possessions (i.e., the remaining books on your TBR pile) that you still have?

I'm not talking about the real-life in-the-flesh kind of dating a writer, although I guess there could be some comparisons. I'm talking about the literal, pulp-fiction kind of entanglements.

Allow me to explain.

Awhile back, I read a book by a well-established, acclaimed writer. It wound up being just a meh book for me. No problem with that; it happens.

I'm all for giving people second chances - in most cases, that is. A book has to be absolutely gawdawful for me to swear off an author forever. (It has happened.) But that's not the situation here, though. I tried another book by this author, and decided to leave the date mid-way through. Yep, this one turned out to be a DNF.

I'm thinking that as wonderful as this author is for so many people, this relationship is not working for me. Again, it happens. So why am I second-guessing myself?  Did I give this author enough of a chance with 1.5 books? And if so, what do I do with the remaining three books by this author that I have? I could certainly use the room for others that will make my heart sing. I should set them free for someone else and not have the sting of regret staring me in the face as a reminder every time I look at my shelves.

You have this issue too, don't you? (Please tell me that you do and that I'm not completely crazy.) Why do we find it so difficult to break up with an author, to admit that sometimes we're just not a good match for a particular writer - especially when it is one that so many people seem to love? Is it particularly acute for those of us who consider ourselves writers because we know all too well the time and sweat and tears that go into producing a book?

I'll probably wind up donating the remaining books to the library - where, if I decide that this author and I need a third go-around, we can have ourselves a happy little rendezvous.

Tell me ...what is your threshold or criteria for deciding that a particular author isn't for you? Do you declare it quits after one book, or do you tend to read at least one more before deciding you're not a match in literary heaven? And what do you do with any remaining books? 




I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Open Heart, by Elie Wiesel


Open Heart, by Elie Wiesel 
translated by Marion Wiesel 
Alfred A. Knopf 
2012
79 pages 

With all that Elie Wiesel has lived through,and with all the horrors of life that he has experienced firsthand, one might assume (as I erroneously did) that he would be all right - at peace, even - with the possibility of dying.

You would be wrong.

"Long ago, over there, death lay in wait for us at every moment, but it is now, eternities later, that it shall have its way. I feel it." (pg. 17)

"Hadn't I lived with death, even in death? Why should I be afraid now? Yet, this is not how I imagined my end. And in no way did I feel ready. So many things still to be achieved. So many projects to be completed. So many challenges yet to face. So many prayers yet to compose, so many words yet to discover, so many courses yet to give, so many lessons yet to receive." (pg. 22-23)

At the time of the writing of this book, Elie Wiesel is 82 years old and facing heart bypass surgery. Open Heart, then, is Wiesel's perfectly-titled reflection on his life as he prepares for what could be the end of it.

And that's where, despite his extraordinary life, Elie Wiesel is no different than anyone else facing his or her own mortality in the form of a scary diagnosis or medical condition. In such instances, it's natural to reflect back on one's life and work, to recount the decisions made and the roads travelled.

He shares how he met his wife Marion, their life's work together, and his joyful memories on the birth of their son and grandchildren. He returns to the Holocaust, the pain of losing all of his immediate family in a concentration camp and his devotion to them. ("In truth, my father never leaves me. Nor do my mother and little sister. They have stayed with me, appearing in every one of my tales, in every one of my dreams. In everything I teach." pg. 53)

In Open Heart, there are questions. Big ones, without answers. (At least, not right now.)
"Have I performed my duty as a survivor? Have I transmitted all I was able to? Too much, perhaps? ....I feel the words [in Night] are not right and that I could have said it better...In my imagination, I turn the pages." (pg. 40-41)
If it seems as if I'm quoting more from this slim little book than offering my own thoughts, I am. I mean, hello! - it's Elie Wiesel. He just has a way with words, and while there aren't many in them in Open Heart (a book that I read in less than an hour), they are ones that most of us - when faced with a health scare of our own - could relate to.

(They are ones that have, for many reviewers of this book, been panned for being either too trite or not enough. My take is the opposite; this is meant to be a comfort, I think, for people who are going through their own trials.)

Open Heart ends optimistically. (Wiesel obviously survives his bypass surgery, even with the surgeon telling him upon his awakening, "You've come back from far away.") It is a reaffirmation of what kind of person one wants to be with whatever time is left remaining and a call to action to each of us to open our own hearts in making the necessary choices.
"A credo that defines my path:
I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.
Was it yesterday - or long ago - that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one therefore turn away from humanity?
The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves.  Or not.
I know - I speak from experience - that even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. That one instant before dying, man is still immortal.
There it is: I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console." (pg. 72-73)


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Helping Youth Express Themselves Through the Arts


Gabrielle S. Cerminaro was a talented artist, an incredibly creative and giving spirit. As the website for the foundation that bears her name states, "Art was her second passion. Making a difference was her first." 

She came by these traits naturally: getting her beauty and artistic talent and compassion from her parents. I was lucky enough to work with Wendy and Sam many years ago, right around the time when Gabrielle was born. Probably even before. They were (and still are) generous and fun, business leaders who were supportive of students still finding their way, mentors enthusiastic about our lives, and so damn creative. They danced with The Husband and me at our wedding. They are - despite decades and distances later - people we are proud to call friends to this day.

When Gabrielle passed away in August 2011, my heart broke. For my friends as friends and parents, of course, but especially for the loss of a vibrant young woman and for those who would not get to know Gabrielle and her art.

I also knew that her family and friends would find a way to honor Gabrielle's memory while combining her twin passions of art and giving back.


When funding gets cut for the arts (as it often does in our schools, or our nonprofits, or in our communities), it reduces the promise of young people who have tremendous talent. Gabrielle's Arts Foundation is changing that; their mission is to help give youth opportunities to express themselves through the arts.

Since the Foundation has been established, the grants have already started to make a difference. Here's what it has accomplished in just the past year:

Gabrielle’s Arts Foundation has supported St. Augustine Academy for Girls in Norristown, PA by sending a number of girls to the Wayne Art Center for summer art camp. These girls have little hope in their lives and the camp helps to make a difference.

The Gabrielle Cerminaro Memorial Award
Each year through the Wayne Art Center there is an award given honoring Gabrielle. This award is given to a student during the juried student show. This award enables a student to continue their pursuit of the arts.

Wayne Art Center 
Through the Wayne Art Center, Gabrielle's Arts Foundation gave two scholarships for freshman students at Conestoga High School (CHS). These students were selected by the faculty of the art department at CHS keeping in mind the mission of GAF. Both students were "thrilled to be recipients and [have been] propelled into a life of art."

Tyler School of Art  
Joining forces with Tyler School of Art (TSA) and CHS, GAF was proud to sponsor a senior to experience TSA’s summer boot camp. CHS faculty selected this student, supporting the mission of GAF. Students immersed themselves for two weeks spending time creating images for their portfolio that will distinguish them as an exceptional artist. They learn what admissions counselors look for in a portfolio and how to present themselves! This program helps to encourage and support an 11th grade art student to pursue their dream of art school.

Just as Gabrielle did, by pursuing her passion for the arts.

Just as Gabrielle would have undoubtedly continued to do.

Gabrielle's birthday was yesterday, February 19. She would have turned 22. Instead of mourning her loss, her family is celebrating her life and legacy this weekend with a fundraiser this weekend for Gabrielle's Arts Foundation.

We are celebrating Gabrielle's 22nd Birthday
February 24 from 4-7 pm, upstairs at the Berwyn Tavern.
625 East Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312

Free appetizers, drink specials, and amazing giveways from local businesses.Bring whomever you would like! We will have a donation bucket - every dollar counts to help youth express themselves through the arts. 

Donations may be sent to:
Sovereign Bank
Attention: LuAnne Lunger
123 West Lancaster Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087
610-688-7330
Your donations to the foundation are tax-deductible.


For more information: 


"To Thine Own Self B Tru"
mural by Gabrielle S. Cerminaro 



Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal, by William H. Chafe


Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal 
by William H. Chafe 
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
2012
370 pages 

"At Yale, [Bill] Clinton found an answer - another person, equally bright, just as driven to break barriers and change the world. She was almost as complicated as he was - perhaps even more so - with a family history that came close to his in its crazy dynamics. Hillary Rodham would change his life. He would change hers. And from the moment of their meeting, they created a partnership, both political and personal, that helped shape the course of the country." (pg. 64)


I'm fascinated with the Clintons. You already know this. ("Play It Again, Bill", 9/7/2012) So, it makes sense that this would be of interest to me - and it was.

I should say, however, that I haven't read Bill Clinton's memoir My Life. Nor have I read First in His Class by David Maraniss or The Clinton Tapes by Taylor Branch (a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary's). I did read - and enjoy - Hillary's memoir Living History, as well as All Too Human by George Stephanopolous.

Drawing from all of these (especially My Life) and accounts from Clinton associates (especially Betsey Wright), Chafe gives his reader the biographical details of both Clintons' lives - their childhoods; their time at Oxford and Wellesley, respectively; and their years together at Yale Law School. In some ways, the biographical information seems slightly redundant. Perhaps that's just because it is a narrative that most of us of a certain age know by now, having grown up not really knowing a time when the Clintons weren't headline news for one reason or another.

Chafe does seem to emphasize their early years (especially Bill's). That's important to the premise of the book: the belief that, like many of us, Hillary and Bill's personalities and character were each shaped by their upbringing and the family environment that they grew up in. Chafe takes pivotal moments in the Clintons' political life together and examines them within the context of their personalities, their strengths and flaws, and the dynamics of their personal relationship.

In doing so, Chafe doesn't skirt around the reason why most of us would probably be reading this book: to gain the ultimate inside scoop on Bill and Hillary's relationship, and why and how, after all the womanizing and after all the scandals, they stayed together.

We see this pattern early and often in their relationship, and it is one confirmed by close friends. There are new names revealed in this biography; for example, I'd never heard of Marilyn Jo Jenkins before Bill and Hillary, but apparently Bill was in love with Marilyn Jo so much that he asked Hillary for a divorce in 1990, before deciding to run for President. (Obviously, she told him no.) Personally and politically, things would have been very different indeed, had that occurred. You could probably say that our very country would have have been different.

Make no mistake: Bill and Hillary isn't a fawning love story to the Clintons nor no wistful look back at the way things were. Chafe reminds his reader of the six weeks of bombshells that the 1992 campaign withstood between January 23 and March 7 (Gennifer Flowers, Bill's Vietnam draft dodger issues, and questions about Hillary's work at the Rose Law Firm) followed by the dysfunction and chaos of the early days of the Clinton presidency - which was very, very much a co-presidency. The American people definitely got their "two for the price of one" deal that Bill Clinton infamously promised.
"For better or worse, the chemistry of this relationship suggested a degree of emotional attachment (and dependency) rarely on display in American public life. It was almost impossible to speak of one of the Clintons without having the other in mind as well." (pg. 138)
It still isn't.

All the rest of the scandals we've come to know are recounted too - Vince Foster, Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, and of course, Monica Lewinsky. (There's new information - to me, at least - on the latter, although it could be from her tell-all tome about their relationship; I haven't read that one either.)

While Bill and Hillary could be viewed as a hatchet job, I didn't read it as such. I thought Chafe presented the facts and historical events quite fairly - with a little inside baseball for those of us who remember those days. With each one of these scandals, Chafe successfully makes the case that the cause can be traced back to the dynamics of the Clintons' personal relationship. It's more than just having a crappy childhood and needing to win the approval of others. That's a big part of it, sure, but
"[a]s one person close to Bill observed after the Lewinsky affair broke, 'in deed and expression, you could see he was trying to do everything he could to make it up to Hillary...Whatever Hillary wants, Hillary gets.' She, in turn, had something to give. Her forbearance and love permitted him to survive, even to 'come back.' No one else could rescue him as she could. No one else could make right what was wrong. The exchange even worked romantically. When she was in charge of defending him, they were a team once more, affectionate with each other, sensitive to each other's feelings. 'It was hand-holding,' one of the White House lawyers said, 'arms around each other, lots of eye contact.' In some respects, their partnership achieved a new intimacy and camaraderie when she stood by him in the face of his misbehavior. Thus, in the strangest of ways, Clinton's reckless sexual behavior actually enhanced their personal ties. It made their relationship more functional and productive. Arguably - and in the strangest irony of all - it was at the heart of their partnership, the centerpiece that made it work." (pg. 299)
Depending on what side of the aisle you're on, it could be said that that partnership did or did not work for America. I think it's both, which is the position Chafe seems to take. It seems to be working for them, because they seem to be doing okay. But the fact remains that, whether we like the Clintons personally or not, their relationship and its dynamics not only had the power to influence a generation, but to change an entire country.





I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

a few words for beth, for work-in-progress day




When Beth Kephart throws Facebook confetti and declares that it is Work-in-Progress day, and when Beth then invites her many talented writer friends to share a few lines from their current Work-in-Progress, and when Beth then asks you (meaning ME) if you're in ....

Well.

Then you decide that this will be a two-blog post day (it is a holiday, after all) and the planned book review will wait.

Instead, you skim the pages of your own novel in progress to see what words, if any, are good enough to share. You want them to be your best - or, as best as they are right now.

Some of you have read these words before, either in this space or in a critique session at writing group. Some of you are new here and hence, have never seen them.

Regardless, here are the very first lines of Chapter 1 of my young adult novel titled Between Here and Gone.
“Anyone die today?”
 It was his standard greeting to me during those days, a joke that started taking on a double meaning. We had abandoned the pleasantries of how are you and how was the drive up from Philly. In those days, we were all about the dead and the dying as we tried making room for the living.
“I got the last one, can you believe that?” I said, nodding toward the boxed butter cake I held, an attempt to change the subject.
 My dad’s question-as-greeting referred to the obituaries, but we didn’t call them that. They were simply “The Deads.” Our religious daily reading of them in The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of the things we had in common, and one of the many revelations that came to light nearly a decade ago when Mom left to find herself out in Tahoe - and stayed. Whenever someone connected to our large, full of twice-removed peopled family died, it became almost a contest between us, our own celebration of The Days of The Dead, to see who would be the first to call, the first to ask, “Hey, did you see in the Inky that ….?”
He was expecting an answer. There was a time when I would have offered the tired joke about whether one of us were expecting to see our names listed but not now, not today. Not in these circumstances.
“Well, we’re still here,” I offered, just like I knew he wanted me to say, knowing that there would be a day when I wouldn’t be able to give that answer. 
When the question wouldn’t be asked.  

photo taken by me at my mom's house, July 2011

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photo and copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Book Binges of the Buying and Reading Kind


I've been on a reading frenzy during the last two weeks. So far I've finished 5 books during these 17 days of February alone. Granted, two of them were rather short (not even 100 pages each), but this is a rather unprecedented pace for me. If this keeps up, the shortest month of the year could wind up being the one in which I read the most books.

I'm blaming it on this winter, which, despite seeing some evidence this week to the contrary, seems like it is never-ending. Just when the snow disappears, we get some more. It's maddening and it makes me want to hibernate. (Although, truth be told, I'm kinda tired of hibernating. I just want some SUN already!)

I missed last week's Salon - but with good reason. Boo and I spent the afternoon at Red Barn Books in Greensburg, about an hour away. He's very into making his own movies, so when I saw that Red Barn was offering a video workshop called "Stop Motion Animation" for kids, I signed him up.

(I don't know who was more excited: him, at the idea of learning some new video techniques or me, at the prospect of spending two blissful hours in one of my favorite bookstores that I rarely get to visit.)

Of course, there is a slight problem with leaving me in a cute used bookstore for two hours.


I may have gotten a little carried away. But really, could you have resisted bringing these home? Most of these were between $2.99-$4.99 each. I'm considering it my Valentine's Day present. And I traded in a couple of books so I got a few bucks off my loot. (Winning!) That offsets the purchase of Selected Stories by Andre Dubus that I didn't realize I already had on my Kindle.

Clearly, I really need to sign up for the TBR Challenge again. The sooner the better. With these purchases from Red Barn, I'm pretty much at capacity on my bookshelves and my Kindle has reached 1,002 items.

The good news is, as I said, that my reading pace continues unabated. This week I read two novels and one poetry collection. (All from - where else? - the library. But of course.)

Here's what I've been reading:


Last Sunday, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and one of the first things I thought about was this book. Rather than go online, which I normally do when I wake up so early, I finished reading the last hundred or so pages of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

This will likely be among one of my favorite books this year. This is also an example of the sort of young adult book that I really, really wish was not categorized as young adult because everyone needs to read this. It's the story of 15 year old Lina Vilkas and her family, who were among the hundreds of thousands of people who were deported to Siberia during Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic regions in 1941. Sentenced to years of hard labor in camps, this is a story from World War II that many people don't know much about.

Lina is a fictional character, but she is based on Ruta Sepetys' family members, who experienced the horrors of Stalin's death camps firsthand. It's incredibly powerful and gripping and I'm still thinking about it a week later.


Elegy is a collection of themed poems by Mary Jo Bang about the year following the death of her son. I'm pretty sure I've read her work before or have at least heard of her name - but this was the first collection of hers that I've read. It's exactly what you would imagine it would be: raw and heartbreaking and grief-stricken on each page. It's a reminder that none of us grieves in the same way and that there's no way we can ever know another's pain. I think this would be a good book for those who have lost an adult child.


This family (the Hardings, of Houston, Texas) are dysfunctional. They need serious counseling. You get the feeling that it has been decades since these people last spoke to each other. They are adrift, lost, disconnected from each other -  yet when it comes to love with their respective partners, they are allowing their emotions to cloud their better judgment.

Elson, Cadence, Chloe and Richard all reminded me of the family in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom as well as people in any Jay McInerney story. In Between Days is one dark and sad novel. The pacing and the plot is excellent and despite the writing being a little less so, this kept me intrigued until the very last page. (I really didn't see the ending coming in the way that it did.)

I also read several submissions for my writing group. I missed the last three months of our group because of The Husband's cancer treatments, and it was really, really good to be back.

As for this week, I'm continuing to listen to Alice Munro's short story collection Runaway - which actually IS one of the many. many books on my bookshelves. I loved the first story ("Runaway") but the second ("Chance") didn't capture me as much. I listened to it, and then read it to make sure that it wasn't just something about the audio that wasn't connecting with me. (Nope.) I'm probably not going to be in the car too much this week, so I may wind up reading these instead.

Before that, though, I'll also be continuing to read a new friend's unpublished novel set in my hometown of Philadelphia. I probably can't say much else about it. (Am I allowed to say that it's really good, not to mention that it is putting me in a nostalgic mood for my city?) This new friend is someone I have only known through her bylines; we only just met in person a few weeks ago. The very fact that she is trusting ME to read her work is a gift, and I'm hoping I'll be able to do this justice. That's what I'll be finishing up tonight and maybe tomorrow.

Hope you're having a good weekend - and, if you're here in the U.S., that you're enjoying an extra-long weekend too!



I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you! copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Romance + Reading = Pittsburgh!



Just in time for Valentine's Day comes news that Pittsburgh has been named one of the Top 10 Most Romantic Cities in the United States, according to Amazon.com.

You read that right. Pittsburgh! 

And speaking of reading, turns out that Steelers Nation is also quite bookish. We are #4 on the Most Literate Cities list.

I knew of both of these esteemed rankings (books and romance being two of my interests, naturally) but didn't put them together until the fine folks at Shelf Awareness did so in this issue. Pittsburgh is the only city to make it into the Top 10 of both lists.

For us 'Burghers, I think that calls for a celebratory trip to your local independent bookstore or library with your favorite date. Fortunately we are so, so lucky and downright spoiled here because we have more than a few to choose from. On this list, I've only been to two of them (Copacetic Comics and Red Barn Books).

Awesome Books

The Big Idea Cooperative Bookstore and Cafe

Caliban Book Shop

The Copacetic Comics Company

East End Book Exchange

Eljay's Used Books

Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Penguin Bookshop

... and about an hour's drive east, there's Red Barn Books in Greensburg, which is definitely well worth the trip. I was there on Sunday with my boy (the 11 year old) and wound up buying way too many books while he was taking a video animation class in the next room.

Since my idea of the perfect date is a nice restaurant dinner followed by a visit to a bookstore (or, better yet, a nice meal at home followed by reading a good book), it looks like The Husband and I  are right in our element here in Pittsburgh.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!


photo taken by me of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, September 2012



I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photo and text copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

hope, delivered


it happens like this:

after you sign permission slips 8 minutes before you're due at the bus stop and

after the nonstop fighting and ihatehimiwishhewasneverbornimsorunningaway and

after the cancer and the kisses and

after the exhaust from the bus disappears round the corner

only then

you notice this


and this


and you remember albert camus from college

and his invincible summer in the midst of winter

and having the courage to sprout when it would be easier to remain frozen

and you notice

the undeniable proof that hope exists here

in february

on your front steps

just beyond your door



photos taken by me in our front yard, February 12, 2013

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you! 

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Forks Over Knives


"Someone needs to stand up and say that the answer isn't another pill. 
The answer is spinach." 
- Bill Maher

Let food be thy medicine.
Hippocrates, 480 B.C. (or something like that)

I confess: I've let my low-cholesterol diet slip a bit.

(Okaaaaaay ...a lot.)

I wouldn't say I am completely off the wagon. It's more like I'm hanging on by one arm while the horse is quickly gaining speed.

When I last went to the doctor in October, she brought up the issue of cholesterol medication. Again. And my high triglycerides. Again.

I don't go to the doctor. I'm not interested in medication. My doctor wasn't too interested in hearing about dietary changes, including the admittedly few that I had made. She seems to be the type who is a little too attached to her prescription pad.

Needless to say, I will be finding a new doctor.

He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the time of his doctor.
Ancient Chinese proverb

In the meantime, I've been talking via Facebook with one of my very best friends who has some similar issues and who, in that past two weeks with the support of her husband, decided to begin a "plant-strong" diet.

"You need to watch Forks Over Knives too," she told me. Which I then did, on Wednesday.

Have you seen this documentary? (You probably have. I am the last person in the world to see every movie.) It's eye-opening and, in my opinion, well-done. A lot of the information I'd already heard, but the way it is put together in the film - combined with real-life stories of people who have adopted a plant-based diet - is fascinating.

I know that there are some controversies surrounding this particular film and that there will always be people convinced that we need to continue consuming meat products and dairy. I'm not so sure. Forks Over Knives advocates a plant-based diet, meaning one that is primarily plant-based (no animal products), consists of minimally processed foods, and no oils.

I watched with my laptop, taking notes, but the statistics were coming too fast for me to type (even as I looked away during the visuals of the open heart operations; those were a little too graphic for my ... um, taste). I found it especially interesting to see the historical connections.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Americans started to believe that we needed more protein in our diets. This coincided with seeing visuals of starving children throughout the world and the introduction of convenience and fast foods. Coronary artery disease became more prevalent, and in 1971, President Nixon and Congress declared a "war on cancer."

Too many of us here in the United States are still fighting that war, especially when compared to other countries.

Awhile ago, my friend also told me how much she and her husband like the recipes in Lindsay Nixon's Happy Herbivore books. This week, I discovered that my library had Everyday Happy Herbivore so, in an effort to recommit to eating better and because of being inspired by Forks Over Knives, I decided to try a few of the recipes and make some immediate changes.

On Wednesday, I made the Tex-Mex Shepherd's Pie recipe from Everyday Happy Herbivore for dinner.


It's incredibly simple. Instead of oil, I sauteed onions in the juice of canned diced tomatoes. I also added a little bit of garlic. Then, it's a can of black beans and corn. (I had a bag of steamed corn in the freezer.) Top with mashed sweet potatoes, and that's it.

I happened to think this was absolutely delicious. The kids thought it was okay but were fans of the aesthetics. ("It's black and gold ... Steelers colors!" Boo said, while he helped me stir. (That's his hand in the photo above.) "This would be a great Super Bowl meal next time they win.")  The Husband ... well, he hated it. (He's not quite on board with the idea of a plant-based diet while eschewing cholesterol medications. He's somewhat of the mindset that, if the doctor says you need to be on a pill, you're to run to the pharmacy that instant. I'm a bit - okay, a lot - more skeptical.

For Thursday night's dinner, I made up my own vegan creation: a stir fry with a large portobello mushroom. He wasn't too happy with that, either.

As my mid-morning snack on Friday, I had a large bowl of fruit that I purchased at Costco: strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and a plum. That filled me up until early-mid afternoon.

For our traditional Friday night pizza night, I still ordered pizza for the family but I added a garden salad large enough to share with everyone. Nobody accepted. I had a decent portion, plus two smallish size slices of pizza. (As opposed to the three slices I typically have.) I just did the same for lunch today.

Part of the issue is that these are foods The Husband doesn't like. Vegetables, beans, tofu, fruits - not his thing. We've both been vegetarian for 14 years, but truthfully, most of the time that takes the form of being pasta-tarian. If there's a classification called Italian-arian with a diet of pizza, ravioli, baked ziti, lasagna, macaroni and cheese ... that's us. We also eat a lot of vegetarian substitutes - veggie burgers and crumbles, faux chicken, etc., which can get pricey. For me, it's just getting to be too much. I'm tired of having no energy; I'm tired of my migraines.

So, to each his and her own. I've decided that while I'm not going to force the issue - I'm not interested in being a nag or turning this into a battleground - that's not going to stop ME from making the changes I want to make. There are bigger issues at play here; we have two kids; he just got over having cancer; and if I live past August 4 of this year, then I'll officially be older than my dad when he died.

Food for thought, indeed.

Weekend Cooking is a feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone with a food-related post to share.

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you! 

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Love's New Math (in which one of my essays makes it into the newspaper)






This morning, one of my personal essays is the Page 2 Portfolio column in our local paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Regular readers may recognize this story (I've shared a slightly different version of this here).

I'm delighted that they accepted this piece, which is one of my favorites ... and which has taken on a whole new meaning in the past several months.

Love's New Math: Add Up the Bus Rides He or She is Worth 


photo taken by me at the Phipps Botanical Gardens and Conservancy, Pittsburgh, PA, September 20, 2012 


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

with justice for none



Our judicial system never ceases to amaze me.

And I don't mean that in a positive way.

There's a trial happening now in Pittsburgh that deserves the attention of advocates for rape victims. In January 2012, a serial rapist was on the loose in the Pittsburgh suburbs, targeting women in apartment complexes during broad daylight. For several days, local communities were on guard and women (including yours truly) were petrified.

All rapes are horrendous crimes, but the details revealed of this predator's modis operandi had people especially on edge. One survivor was raped in front of her 4 month old baby, with her fiance bound and gagged in the next room.

Thankfully, the authorities caught this bastard - whose name I am declining to publicize because he is already calling enough attention to himself with his grandstanding impersonation of a lawyer at his trial, currently underway in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

You read that right. The rapist is serving as his own lawyer in this case - which means he gets the opportunity to  cross-examine his own victims on the witness stand. 

Um ... OBJECTION!

I'm not a lawyer, but I understand enough to know that defendants are entitled to act as their own attorneys. Still, this isn't right. According to the testimony reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this so-called defense attorney is questioning HIS VICTIMS about whether they enjoyed being raped, about their sexuality, and God knows what else that isn't hitting the newsprint.

The testimony is downright chilling to read. I cannot imagine sitting there while this animal is grandstanding and prancing around the courtroom, clearly enjoying the power and control he once again has over his victims.

So, then. Let's call this trial what this really is, shall we?

This is abuse.

Because that's what's happening in that courtroom.These victims - every single one of them (because there are several) - are being emotionally raped once again on the witness stand in full view of the judge, the jury, and the (legitimate) attorneys.

What does this say to other victims of rape, of domestic violence, as they watch and see how their sisters are being treated in a court of law? It delivers a cold message that sets victims back decades that this is what could happen to you if you report a rape and then go to court to testify.

Again, I get that acting as one's own attorney is a right, a privilege. Whatever. That's fine. But in this case - when you barge into an infant's nursery at 6 a.m. and rape a child's mother beside her baby's crib -  I feel that you need to give up the right to stride around a courtroom while you have your victim on the witness stand, trapped at your mercy.

There's a special kind of place (hell, a special kind of chair) for the type of depraved, twisted individual who commits a crime like that.

And it damn well sure isn't the defense attorney's.

(photo above taken by me of the Allegheny County Jail, Pittsburgh, PA)





I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, by Glen Finland


Next Stop: A Memoir of Family 
by Glen Finland 
Amy Einhorn Books
G.P. Putnam's Son's
2012
288 pages 

The cover of Glen Finland's book announces this as Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, whereas the inside title page has something slightly different. There, the memoir's title is Next Stop: A Son With Autism Grows Up.

As it turns out, both subtitles are accurate. This memoir opens with Finland's recounting of the summer that she rode Washington D.C.'s Metro system with her 21 year old son David, in hopes that mastering the rails would lead David to his next stop in his life of getting a job and becoming independent. One expects from this opening that Finland's memoir will follow a path similar to my friend Rachel Simon's bestselling Riding the Bus with My Sister. In a way it does, but in a way it doesn't.

Like Simon's memoir, Next Stop focuses the reader's attention on a critical issue that often goes silent but which families of people with disabilities think about 24/7: what happens when people with disabilities, specifically autism, age-out of services at 21?  What happens when a population of individuals with special needs enters a world without jobs, accommodations, or the necessary supports to live independently? We can argue about the reasons for the increase in autism in recent years, the causes for this epidemic - but none of that does anyone any good until we have solutions (and funding for those solutions) in order to best support what is and will be a significant number of people needing services.
"While mawkish TV shows and movies focus on beautiful, hazy-eyed toddlers and quirky adolescents who fit in somewhere along the spectrum, our very real autistic sons and daughters have grown into flesh-and-blood adults with matter-of-fact needs to be met in the communities they live in. We families get that instead of seeing autistic adults as targets for therapy, we must commit to a society in which they have equal access to jobs and the skills to succeed with the support and legal rights they deserve. But we also get that expecting empathy for those who lack it is a tough sell."
Those of us with younger children on the autism spectrum (my Boo is 11) are already beginning to think long and hard about these issues. This is one of the things I love about the autism blogging community: just as we turned to those trailblazers (i.e., parents with children older than ours) for guidance, direction and inspiration in the early, dark days of getting diagnoses and therapies, now we're watching them to see the paths they're blazing for their children. And those who are coming behind us are watching us for the same answers we once so desperately sought - which is why, Glen Finland says, we must tell our stories and "tell them true." 

Glen Finland writes candidly and honestly in Next Stop about her and her husband's struggles to find that next stop for David, the impact that has had on their marriage, the relationship between David and his older brothers, and what they keep hidden from their extended family. 
""Where to begin with the things I wouldn't be telling my sister today? How to explain the raw sendoff from the teenagers at David's apartment? Or maybe the squelched promise of David's animal shelter job? How about ciphering the impact on David's psyche after two years at an independent living skills program with so little to show for it? No, I would not be explaining what it's like to watch time be so cavalier with a child. 
To do so, I would have to unwrap the dried-up scrapbook of Hope that has toyed with me for years. Early on, Hope had me clinging to reports of edgy therapies and magic pills that promised results for my child. And Hope made me overlook the childhood milestones that weren't reached while we waited, believing he'd get there. Then one day, chin up and a bit impatient, I saw that my beautiful little boy no longer fit onto my lap. The cuddliness of his childhood had vanished and a thinned out version of all that sweetness had begun to sprout knees and elbows. In its place was a gangly weed with the unsteady vocal chords of an adolescent boy. But this child was different. Although his body had kept pace with its biological clock, his mind remained veiled in a separate time zone. From now on, social gaffes would go unforgiven and the mother-launched prompts that had worked before - "Got a handshake for the doctor, David?" - would seem domineering and turn me into a nag haunting the background. That thing called Hope had settled into the attic, boxed away.
Nor would I be explaining to my sister that David will make his lifelong journey in this state of being. That my son's present is his future. A solitary life to be lived in the right-here, right-now zone. Because what's not easy today will not be easy tomorrow or thirty years from tomorrow - and, trust me, no one wants to talk about that." (pg. 163-164) 
Those of us who have lived this life might recognize ourselves (or our future selves) in Finland's words. She's careful to say right up front that her family's stories are exactly that - one family's stories, different than any of those lived by any other person with autism, or any other family who loves him or her. She also makes no apologies for the honesty presented in the pages of Next Stop, because without families telling their stories as they are, then society as a whole will never understand people with autism and their needs and change will never happen. 
"And this is why families must bear witness to their sons' and daughters' potential. Although there is still no known cause or cure for what huddles under the broad umbrella of autism, I believe other healing agents will come out of the telling of our stories. After all, we families live the reality that the researchers are digging ever deeper to comprehend. While we may not understand, we get it. 
So, let's tell our stories - and laugh, and cry, and bang our heads on the table if we must - but let's tell them true." (pg. ix) 
That Finland does while also laying bare the emotions that parents of special needs share - the fear of what happens after we're gone. 
"The howling dread for us and every parent of a special needs adult - the singular ache that dries the mouth and makes the heart race - is the growing isolation. Who will offer this human being a healthy touch, chaste and loving, when I am no longer there? Now, as he moves toward greater independence as an adult, who will know if he has not made it home by the end of the day? And if there is no one, will there be safe shelter for him somewhere in his aloneness? 
For years we have fought side by side, battling for the right school, therapy, job coach, and, lately, housing. As we champion his quest to become his own man, we have no idea what twists this life will take. He's finding his own way in to where he wants to go, but he will be alone when he gets there. On the other hand, how many times have I put down the newspaper with a shudder after reading the latest story about a grim act of parental wrath that befalls so many children and young adults with special needs? That's when I find myself studying the power in my son's legs or the fine curve of his jaw. I feel wonder and a bit of awe for what he can do for himself, and am quietly convinced that some kind of grace permeates the everyday world." (pg. 185) 
4 stars out of 5.

The Barnes and Noble interview with Glen Finland is well worth the read.



copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: Steampunk Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac


Steampunk Poe
by Edgar Allan Poe
illustrated by Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac 
Running Press Teens
2011
263 pages 

In honor of the Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl, how about a review of a book that pays homage to their namesake, Edgar Allan Poe?

This book caught my eye in the teen section of our library several months back and I was immediately intrigued. I kind of love me some Edgar Allan - and my introduction to Steampunk last Christmas wasn't too bad either.

If you're unfamiliar with the idea of Steampunk, it's a little different. Wikipedia defines Steampunk as 

"a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Therefore, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.

According to the jacket copy of Steampunk Poe, this is described as "a marriage between Edgar Allan Poe and Steampunk, the likes of which may surprise admirers of both writer and genre. Of course, there will be some who have always believed that gothic madmen and clockwork gears were destined to make brilliant companions. Inside, the classic works of Edgar Allan Poe are presented in their original form, with the dark tales of horror and mystery heightened by equally dark and mysterious Steampunk illustrations."

The short stories contained within include Poe's classics "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Balloon-Hoax," "The Spectacles," and "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether."

Of the poems, we have "The Raven," "To Helen," "The City in the Sea," "A Dream Within a Dream," "The Conqueror Worm," and "The Bells."

I was relieved to see that Poe's stories and poems were kept to their original form. Every so often you hear about some publisher wanting to modernize some classic or another, and I thought this was going to be something along those lines. Thankfully, it wasn't. This was especially good because, while I liked the steampunk elements in the illustrations, several of the Poe stories and poems were new to me (or ones that I needed a refresher in, since I probably hadn't read them since high school or before).

This is an entertaining book (although it is much heavier in weight than it looks!). The illustrations are quirky and and fun, and the stories give the reader just the right amount of Poe that is perfect for a cold winter's night (or, even better, around Halloween). I could see where this would be appealing for young adults and hopefully entice them to explore more of Poe's work.


copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Kicking Off The Big Game's On Read-a-thon!


Anyone hear mention of some sort of football game today?

Yeah, me neither.

Usually my interest in the Super Bowl is determined by whether one of my teams is in contention for the Lombardi Trophy. Or if I'm a fan of the halftime act.

Since one of my teams is the Philadelphia Eagles, that hasn't been an issue since 2005. (I'm also not a Beyoncé devotee either.)

However, football-speaking, I also happen to have much affection for the Pittsburgh Steelers these days. (It is a necessity, living around these parts.) Dare I say, they're becoming a strong contender to upset my Eagles as my favorite team.

Being a Steelers fan means that this year's Super Bowl is an occasion that many of us here in Steelers Nation would prefer to get over and done with as soon as possible. It's painful; it is a lose-lose proposition to root for either our rival (the Baltimore Ravens) or the 49ers (who, should they win, would tie us with having six Super Bowl rings ... something that is only a dream in the fantasy football world of Eagles football right now).

Therefore, I will (as is my custom) be ignoring the whole thing by hiding in a tub of guacamole with a book ... because I'll be participating in The Big Game's On Read-a-thon.

My reading will be somewhat sporadic. Some close friends from Philly are in town and we're planning to see them for lunch today. So, my reading will be in the morning and probably during the actual game itself.

(I wrote some of this post ahead of time. It's now 4:53 a.m. on Sunday and sadly, I'm awake. On the positive side, I've already read 5 pages. Whoot! Game on! Get this party started!)

As for what I'll be reading, I'm in the middle of Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal by William H. Chafe, so I'll likely just continue with that (even though I like to read books suitable for reading in one sitting during read-a-thons). I do have a few of those in my stacks, so its possible that I might change my mind midstream.

This one is pretty interesting, though it does have much of the Clinton narrative that we've all come to know over the years, but there are a few new details and insights that I hadn't heard before. And, it doesn't skirt around the elephant in the room: the issue of Bill's serial womanizing and the Monday morning quarterbacking analysis of why and how Bill and Hillary stayed together all these years despite his sexcapades.

For whatever reason, I seem to be on a nonfiction kick lately. Maybe it has to do with finishing two great fiction books in a row - The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and George Saunders' short story collection Tenth of December -and wanting a change of pace before diving back into more fiction.

A change of pace is certainly what I got with The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published by David Skinner, which I read this week. The "controversial dictionary" would be Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, published in 1961. Although there are some interesting parts to this - particularly around how the changes in America's lifestyle, culture, demographics, and historical events changed our vocabulary - this was kind of a dry read. Somewhat disappointing.

Reading-wise, January was a pretty good start to the year. I read 5 books and listened to 1 audio book (2 fiction, 1 memoir, 1 short story collection, and 2 nonfiction). My favorites were The Age of Miracles and Tenth of December, with both of these being possible contenders for my best of 2013 list. Always nice to start out the year like that.

Here's the January list:


(my rating: 4 out of 5 stars)


Eggshells and Elephants: My Cancer Journey Thus Far, by Jane Freund
(my rating: 2 out of 5 stars)


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark (audio)
 (my rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars)


The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
(my rating: 4 out of 5 stars) 


Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
(my rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars) 


The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published, by David Skinner.
(my rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars) 

How about you? Do you have a favorite team in the Super Bowl? Or will you, like me, be reading (and eating) instead?




I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. Please do not reproduce this content without written permission. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

black holes


taken by me, October 18, 2011

A groundhog came out of its hole today, didn't see his shadow ( there's no sun here in western/central Pennsylvania today; I didn't see my shadow when I went grocery shopping either) and somehow that translates into relief from this dreary winter.

A 5 year old boy with Asperger's Syndrome is still being held hostage in an underground bunker by a freaking lunatic, with no apparent end to this in sight.

The rodent in the hole on some hillside with 20,000 people cheering him on, or the very real child who has been held captive for 5 DAYS underground?

Which one did you hear more about today?


I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you!

photo and copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.