Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It was published in 2009, but despite its popularity and best-selling status, I didn’t actually read it until this year. My younger sister said it was amazing and a huge impetus behind her traveling to Ethiopia a few years back. My mother loved it, even my grandmother read it and enjoyed it. What the heck took me so long?!

Cutting for Stone is told from Marion Stone’s point of view. He and his twin brother were born to a beautiful nun from India and a British surgeon who worked together in Missing hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The twin boys are orphaned by their mother’s death and their dad’s disappearance, but raised by the staff at Missing Hospital. This group, this family, brought together by medicine and caring, is a group of characters, who you will grow to care for and root for, despite all the odds. You follow the boys through their childhood and on into adulthood, where their decisions carry them through a touching and heartfelt story.

There is so much I liked about this book. The prose was beautiful, the characters fully-fleshed out and the amount of medical knowledge woven into the story was impressive and fascinating. The complicated and uncomplicated relationships, the Ethiopian politics and revolution, the struggles of people without good healthcare, etc. I felt like I paid a visit and grew to know the place.

After reading this book, which I really, really enjoyed, I now want to go eat a delicious plate of doro tibs and injera at  my local Ethiopian restaurant, and I’d love to actually visit this part of Africa. Abraham Verghese wrote an intelligent and feeling book with Cutting for Stone, and I recommend that everyone reads it. As a writer, I hope one day I could produce something of this caliber.

Have you read Cutting for Stone? What did you think of it?

 

cover photo from Abraham Verghese’s Facebook Page. 

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books on a nightstand

On My Nightstand

In the last week, I’ve been super busy with work and life, and although I managed to read three books, I still have a huge stack of books on my virtual nightstand at the moment. ( I say virtual because while I do have physical books on my nightstand, I also read a lot of books on my Kindle.

What I’ve Read

This week I read The Third Gate by Lincoln Child, Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick and Deep Storm by Lincoln Child. The two Lincoln Child books were fast-paced thrillers, and Amanda Quick’s novel was a historical mystery/romance.

After I read The Forgotten Room over a week ago, I wanted to read more by Lincoln Child. I love the settings for his novels … a Rhode Island mansion in one, an Egyptian burial site in another and the best, an underwater military facility. You learn from his novels, while simultaneously trying to figure out who did it, what’s really going on and uncovering plot twists. I don’t know how factually accurate they are, but it seems to me like the author has done a lot of research to pull off the level of detail in these novels.

The Third Gate is a search for the long-lost pharaoh who united Egypt, Narmer’s burial chamber and possible crowns.

 

 

Deep Storm is focused on a mysterious illness that’s threatening people in a secret underwater facility in the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

Garden of Lies is about set in Victorian England where there’s murder and romance.

 

Currently on My Nightstand

And these are all the books I’ve started and need to finish, or need to start ASAP for various reasons:

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman – I’m reading this for my work book club. It’s a challenge to get through because the entire book is written in a bizarre vernacular.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – I’ve had this one from the library for so long that they sent me an invoice. It’s good, I’m more than halfway through, but I keep forgetting to finish it!

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker – Another one from the library that I keep meaning to read. It looks really good. I haven’t started reading it yet but I read a sample on my Kindle months ago and the reviews were great.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – I think I downloaded this one for free from Amazon. It keeps making the best-books-of-the-month lists, but I’m well into it and having a hard time continuing. It’s just not holding my interest. But I’m determined to finish.

Crow Fair: Stories by Thomas McGuane – I’ve never read this author before, but I decided to try his new short-story collection for my family book club. This is our first book to read as a family (and by family, I mean my mom and my other adult siblings). I haven’t started reading it yet.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley – This book has two separate story lines that must intersect at some point, but right now I’m mired down in the less interesting one … MUST finish.

What’s on YOUR nightstand?

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The Forgotten Room

The Forgotten Room

A massive mansion housing a private think-tank, a violent death and a hidden room with no door and a mysterious purpose … all the necessary ingredients for a fast-pace, intriguing thriller. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child was a quick, compelling read. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I’m probably going to read another book by this author.

The main character in The Forgotten Room, Jeremy Logan, is “an investigator who specializes in analyzing phenomena that have no obvious explanation.” He is hired by a prestigious think-tank located in a magnificent old mansion on the coast in Newport, Rhode Island to investigate the shocking and suspicious death of one of their fellows. Logan’s investigation leads him to a closed-off wing of the mansion, where a room with no doors is discovered, with mysterious equipment and unexplained purpose. Strange behavior in other residents continues and danger looms …

 

I can’t resist a mystery involving secret rooms in mansions, and The Forgotten Room didn’t disappoint. What novels are you drawn to? Are you irresistibly drawn to certain story lines?

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Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew and The Secret of the Old Clock

I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I was younger.

She had it all; good looks, excellent sleuthing capabilities, two fun best friends and a cute boyfriend, and she SOLVED MYSTERIES and had ADVENTURES! I desperately wanted her strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes and was envious of her independence.  I gobbled up the entire 50-something book series over a short time period and have had a fond place in my heart for her ever since.

Recently, I decided to pick up one of the Nancy Drew books from my local Half-Price Bookstore, to see what they were like now, reading them as an adult. I started with the first one, The Secret of the Old Clock.

 

 

I read it in a few hours. It was a quick, easy read … and fun! I can tell that it was written way before I was born. Nancy wears a lot of matching sweater sets and doesn’t have a cell phone. But, she’s curious, has a great relationship with her dad, attorney Carson Drew, has a good heart that has her helping others,  and she can change a flat tire on her blue convertible and fix a broken boat motor. What more could you ask for in a teenage girl detective?

What I didn’t know as a child is that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for a number of ghost writers, who received a one-time payment of $125 in the early years. The series began in 1930, then experience a major re-write in the late 1950s (her age changed from 16 to 18, she became a little more feminine, etc). There were newer, more hip versions of the Nancy Drew character in the ’80s and ’90s also. But the concept has remained the same. She’s solvin’ crimes, yo.

Do young girls still read Nancy Drew books? I don’t know, but I may read a few more … for old time’s sake.

 

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Jerry Todd Books

Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy

In honor of my dad, who would have been 85 today if he had not passed away a few months ago, I want to share a special book series with you, the Jerry Todd book series written by Leo Edwards. It’s a series my dad grew up reading in the 1930s and 1940s, and I can remember him reading them to me when I was young. I don’t remember much, but I do remember feeling enchanted by this small-town, old America feeling story where a young boy and his friends have adventures.

Leo Edwards was actually a pen name for Edward Edson Lee, who grew up in Illinois. He started writing serials in American Boy Magazine and eventually published five different series of books. Fun fact: Ronald Reagan wrote in his own biography that he himself had a similar boyhood as Jerry Todd.

My mom actually found and purchased the whole series for my dad as an adult. (Hence, my dad reading them to me.) I remember the red cloth covers. I’d love to find some of these and collect them now.

 

You can’t beat these creative and intriguing titles. There were sixteen books in this series, published between 1924 and 1940. In each book there was a section called “Our Chatter Box,” where poems and letters from the author’s fan club were published as well as the author’s friendly responses. And, if your letter or poem was printed in that section, you would receive a free copy of the book.

  1. Jerry Todd and the Whispering Mummy – 1923
  2. Jerry Todd and the Rose-Colored Cat – 1924
  3. Jerry Todd and the Oak Island Treasure – 1925
  4. Jerry Todd and the Waltzing Hen – 1924
  5. Jerry Todd and the Talking Frog – 1925
  6. Jerry Todd and the Purring Egg – 1925
  7. Jerry Todd in the Whispering Cave – 1927
  8. Jerry Todd, Pirate – 1928
  9. Jerry Todd and the Bob-Tailed Elephant – 1929
  10. Jerry Todd, Editor-In-Grief – 1930
  11. Jerry Todd, Caveman – 1932
  12. Jerry Todd and the Flying Flapdoodle – 1934
  13. Jerry Todd and the Buffalo Bill Bathtub – 1936
  14. Jerry Todd’s Up-The-Ladder Club – 1937
  15. Jerry Todd’s Poodle Parlor – 1938
  16. Jerry Todd’s Cuckoo Camp – 1940

Now tell me, have you ever heard of this book series? Do you know what your dad read as a child?

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Saint Anything

Saint Anything

One of my favorite young adult authors, Sarah Dessen, came out with a new book last week called Saint Anything, and it was just as fabulous, if not more so, than her previous books. Dessen’s strengths come from her ability to capture the feelings that teenagers, well, actually all of us, feel at one time of another. Her characters face the usual coming-of-age woes but also deal with other serious issues.

Her stories have such a wonderful, solid feel to them, with universal themes and lovely, subtle symbolism. You don’t need to be a teenage girl to enjoy her novels. She doesn’t “talk down” to her audience whatsoever. She treats her audience for who they are, adults-in-the-making, people with adult feelings and issues.

 

Saint Anything is about a teenage girl named Sydney whose brother is in jail for a hit-and-run that injured a boy and her family is a mess. She transfers to a new school and meets the Chatham family; bubbly Layla, abrasive Rosie, wise Mrs. Chatham, the quiet and observant, good-looking, Mac. She discovers friendship, love and most importantly, herself, in the process.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read any of Sarah Dessen’s books, but all it took was reading one chapter to remind me how much I’ve missed her writing. Saint Anything didn’t disappoint, it lived up to my memory of how wonderful her other books were, and I devoured it within 24 hours. 

Do you read young adult novels? Have you read any of Sarah Dessen’s novels?

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Cultural Landscape Foundation
Omstead Parks

The Opposite of Loneliness

Last night I finished reading a book titled The Opposite of Loneliness. It is a collection of short stories written by a Yale graduate named Marina Keegan, who died in a car accident five days after her magna cum laude graduation.

Marina could really write. She had a play being produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job lined up with The New Yorker. It’s such a devastating tragedy for someone, anyone, to die so young, with so much life ahead of her. To celebrate her and her writing, friends and family put together a book of her stories.

The first few stories felt very young to me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. But, I did, and the rest of the stories blew me away. This young woman was wise beyond her age, with powerful words and impressive insight.

My takeaway? Spend time doing things you’re passionate about. Don’t put off that thing you’ve been wanting to do but have never made time for. Marina put time into her writing, and her words live on.

 

 

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Book_Club

Interview with a Book Clubber

Books clubs are awesome. I don’t care how many I already belong to, if someone asks me to join another, I can’t say no. The benefits of a book club are numerous. It can provide a community, intellectual stimulation, friendship, a place to take a break from life, a place for self-expression, etc. But, best of all, it another excuse to read more books, often novels I might not have chosen to read on my own. I’ve just recently joined a newly-formed, book club at work, made up of co-workers, which will be interesting.

My friend and co-worker, Kristine, has been in one book club for years, so I decided to ask her a few questions and get the down-low on her experience.

 

How did your book club get started and how many months/years has it been in existence?

I, along with my friend Stephanie, met our friend Mindi several years ago at a scrapbooking event. We instantly hit it off and eventually learned that the three of us had something in common besides scrapbooking: reading! Oh, and food! So, we started a book club, informally named Food For Thought, and it’s been around since 2008. Our goal is to read a book chosen by an active member once a month and meet for dinner at a restaurant to discuss the book. Usually we try to choose the restaurant based on the theme of the book (and sometimes we choose the book based on the restaurant), and sometimes we just go to the restaurant and not read at all.

 

Have you ever had to kick anyone out or wanted to?

We’ve actually never had to kick anyone out! We’re a very casual book club. We don’t take attendance or dues. We don’t even require that you read the book. We have a lot of members who come and go, but there is a pretty solid core of us who attend almost every gathering.

What are y’all currently reading?

Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins

 

What has been your favorite book?

It’s hard to choose just one. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin was probably my favorite.

 

 

Least favorite book?

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

 

 

I know you sometimes pick themed restaurants to go with your book theme. What are some of the best pairings you’ve had?

I think one of the most memorable ones was when we read Life of Pi and had dinner at an Indian restaurant. It may have been our first or second meeting. O,h yes, and that one time when we had Korean BBQ after reading what ended up unanimously being our least favorite book, The Orphan Master’s Son. At least we had a good time and enjoyed the food!

 

What is your favorite part of being in a book club?

Since starting the book club, I’ve made some great friends who have become an important part of my life. Also I’ve discovered books and authors I probably would’ve never found otherwise. In general, I think being in a social club like a book club offers pleasant surprises.

 

My grandmother is in a book club. Maybe I should interview her next week! Do you have a book club experience to share?

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1930s World Map

Euphoria & State of Wonder

If you enjoy books with strong female protagonists who are brave enough to venture to uncivilized parts of the world with the intent to study and understand different cultures, then you’ll love these two books. Strong female authors, strong female characters and incredible adventure.

Euphoria

Set in Papua, New Guinea in the 1930s, Lily King’s Euphoria is the unique story of three anthropologists who lived with and studied tribes along the banks of the Sepik River.

American Nell Stone is a published and well-known anthropologist who is traveling with her jealous Australian anthropologist husband, Fen. They run into an English anthropologist named Andrew Bankson, who has been lonely and suicidal and living with the Kona tribe. He is drawn in by the married couple and helps them find a new tribe, the female-dominated Tams, to study along the river, and thus begins a convoluted love triangle between the three. The intricacies of their relationship, along with the nuances of living in a foreign place and learning a new culture, makes this story a fascinating read.

Cool Fact

What I didn’t realize until after I read the book, was that this story was based on the true life of Margaret Mead, a respected and controversial American anthropologist, which is pretty cool. It encouraged me to find out more about Margaret Mead, once I found that out, and I’m inspired by her life and accomplishments. Her pediatrician was Dr. Spock, and her research influenced his book on parenting, which was hugely popular when it came out in 1946 and revolutionized child care and rearing.

 

 

State of Wonder

Euphoria reminded me of another awesome book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, which I read three years ago and LOVED. It also had to do with westerners living with tribes. Dr. Marina Singh has to travel deep into the Amazon rain forest to search for her mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher on the verge of a major fertility drug discovery, who has gone missing. Marina finds her living with the Lakashi tribe, where women continue to get pregnant and birth healthy children long past the usual child-bearing ages.

This story is about a journey and science, and it’s an amazing adventure. It was riveting and fascinating, and I love Ann Patchett’s writing. She traveled into the Amazon for research on this novel, and you can tell that from her vivid descriptions. I felt like I took a trip into the Amazon rain forest along with the characters. And that’s one of the things I love most about reading, that ability to travel without leaving my home and to feel so transported beyond my everyday life.

Cool Fact

Ann Patchett is friends with Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things. Turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert started a novel about the Amazon and decided not to finish it, ended up comparing notes with Ann Patchett when she was halfway through State of Wonder and they realized, when they compared notes later on, that they had eerily similar story lines! And Elizabeth Gilbert told Ann Patchett that ideas fly around looking for homes, and when the idea hadn’t worked out with her, then it had gone to Ann. I love that idea of plots and story ideas fluttering around our heads like the golden snitch, looking for the best home.

 

Have you read either of these novels? If not, does one or the other appeal to you more?

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