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Nonfiction November Reading Challenge

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Since nonfiction is one of my favorite reading genres, I have decided to participate in a reading challenge I discovered on YouTube for the month of November. The challenge has become very popular among the YouTube community as well as among Goodreads members. I have picked my four novels for the month based on the challenge categories of the creators, Gemma (whose YouTube channel is Non Fic Books) and Olive (who is known on YouTube as abookolive). They are using #NonfictionNovember2016 as the hashtag to find the tbr of everyone who is participating.

 

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The categories of the challenges, along with my selections for each, are as follows.

1.New: A book on a subject about which you know very little or one that is new to your collection or interest level. For this choice I picked The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War by Caroline Alexander. I teach part of Homer’s Iliad to my seniors every year, and it has always been one of my favorites, so when I found this recently I bought it immediately and without hesitation. It is brand new to my collection, though it was published in 2009, and finding out more about the actual history surrounding the Trojan War is an exciting prospect for me.

2.Fascinating: A book on a subject in which you are highly interested — one you can’t wait to read on a topic that you love. For this category, I have chosen, and already started reading, The Boston Strangler by Gerold Frank. I am a huge fan of true crime novels, and this is an in-depth look at the evidence and police action during the investigation of a serial killer who, until only recently, had completely mystified the Boston police department since the middle of the last century.

3.Controversial: A book on a topic about which people might have opposing views. For this category, I have chosen A First-Rate MadnessUncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi. I have been incredibly excited to read this book since I purchased it a few years ago, but somehow it just kept getting shoved to the back of my tbr time after time. I knew that adding it to this reading challenge would finally push me to get around to this controversial little number, which discusses how some of our most famous and infamous world leaders have all had similar qualities, personality traits, and characteristics verging, unfortunately, on the brink of insanity. Considering the premise, I think this novel would start a number of excellent debates among historians as well as mental health experts.

4.Important: A book you think an educated person should read, which helps people understand the world or others around them. For this choice I selected History’s Worst Crimes and the People Who Investigated Them by Bill Price. This is one in a collection of similar books by the same author, and, as previously noted, I am a true crime fan, so this one in particular is right up my alley. I thought that if I check this off the list, it might encourage me to read the others like it in our personal library. It also seems like it will be a very quick read. It fits the category because it shows that, unfortunately, terrible, baffling crimes occur during all times and all over the world; it is a reality we must face if we hope to prevent them in the future.

Join me in this challenge! I would love to hear your thoughts on the books you choose.

Peace and love.

October 16, 2016 Fall Frightfest

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October 16: A Good Marriage. Rating: 5/5. Comment: Based on a Stephen King short story, this movie left us both staring, unblinking, at the other and thinking, “I really hope I’m not married to a sociopath.” I enjoyed the book and I liked the movie, specifically because realistic horror is the scariest since IT COULD HAPPEN TO ME (theoretically). Funnily enough, when this flick ended, I actually did tell Josh for, probably, the thousandth time, “I wish we lived in New England. It’s so beautiful and I want a Maine accent.” Apparently, I’m willing to risk running into a serial killer, as long as he will bury me under a 75 foot Sugar Maple.

Peace and love.

October 4, 2016 Fall Frightfest

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October 4: The Den. Rating:2/5. Comment: Where do I begin in describing the many flaws that render this flick unrealistic and excruciating? I know: no one tracks, kidnaps, and murders the friends and family of a complete stranger they are stalking. No one. Does not happen. Ever. A reason for this behavior was never given, either. We were just expected to believe a group of anonymous murderers were tormenting the heroine by killing her loved ones to drive her mad before they finally put her out of her misery, I guess. Maybe I just missed the explanation for why this huge gang of masked sadists had such rage for this one innocent, average woman they happened upon in an online site. The whole plot line is insulting to our intelligence. Another aspect of this movie that is alarmingly off-key is the inexplicable nature of the minor characters’ reactions to changing events. All but the protagonist were basically parodies of horror movie stock characters. Does the screenwriter even know other real life people? My working theory is that the director of the movie is a hermit who had never actually met another living human being prior to beginning filming. I suppose it is just as likely that the producer is a thirteen-year-old. But, those are the only two plausible explanations. My final complaint is the confusion surrounding the general framework of the film: the entire movie is supposed to be filmed via a webcam on someone’s laptop that’s been hacked. Older people would find the technology-based structure confusing and hard to follow, with multiple windows constantly opening and closing on her screen. Younger people will think the prospect of an anonymous chat room so old-fashioned as to be rendered laughable and inane. I’d hate to think I, myself, the earliest of the Millennial generation, a stable career woman with a strong interest in social media, am the target audience. They must think I am a moron. And maybe I am, since I watched this cheap “found footage” flick all the way through. Maybe I am.

Peace and love.

Flashback: October 1, 2010 Fall Frightfest

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In keeping with Josh’s and my tradition of watching a scary/Halloween-themed video every night in October, I will try to remember to give my opinion (for what it’s worth) on our movies. (That way, you won’t have to waste your time on rubbish.)

October 1: Garfield’s Halloween. Rating: 5/5. Comment: It’s a classic. A must-see. Fun for the whole family. How could you go wrong?

Peace and love.

Fall Reading List: Stephen King

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Picture this: it’s a dark, chilly September evening, much like tonight. You are curled up on the couch in your comfy sweats and favorite long-sleeved tee, wrapped in a soft, cozy afghan. A cat is napping lazily beside you. An over-sized mug of tea sits steaming gently on the coffee table in front of you. The scent from a “twilight woods” candle wafts subtly about as the light from the flame flickers on the walls. The wind blows noisily outside, and a branch taps gently at your window.

What is missing from the perfect evening described above? The perfect book, which will make your heart race, your pupils dilate, the hair stand up at the back of your neck. Enter Stephen King.

I’ve been a fan of The Master of Horror since I was a little girl. And by “fan,” I mean hardcore, dedicated, the-only-thing-that-makes-my-life-complete-is-owning-every-King-novel-in-hardcover, nonviolent stalker. And by “little girl,” I mean from approximately seven, when I watched, for the first time, a movie based on a King book. It was certainly a mistake for my parents to allow a child to see an R-rated horror film, admittedly, yet one which began a lifelong obsession with “catching the fear” that few authors or even movie directors are able to provide.

Thus, from one professional fear-searcher to another, I bring you my choices for the top scariest Stephen King books. I’ve ordered these novels from “scary enough to make you jump” down to “sleeping in Mom’s bed tonight.”

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12. Pet Sematary: A magical place exists where you are able to bury your loved ones and they return to you. In what condition would you be willing to accept them when they come home? How high is the price you would pay for this ability? Would you sacrifice your reputation, your friends, your sanity? While there is a movie for this popular novel, I read the book in only a few days in college, because I couldn’t put it down. It was one of the first King novels I ever read, and  I remember being simultaneously sad and scared for the majority of the book.

11. Thinner: It seems like a dream come true when a morbidly obese man is told by an aging traveler that he will start to lose weight and it actually happens. (If only, am I right?) However, as is typical of curses placed on those who murder a gypsy’s wife and cover it up without punishment, life soon becomes quite unbearable and the rapidly shrinking man finds himself making difficult and dangerous choices in order to reverse his fate. I’ve read this book four times and have loved it each and every one.

10. Gerald’s Game: This novel could quite convincingly be placed under another author’s name in the bookstore, as it is drastically different from King’s typical style. It is fairly short and more verging on terrifying realism than supernatural terror. I read this in a weekend in college and am still deeply disturbed by it. An abusive husband dies after handcuffing his wife to a bed in a secluded cabin. Her subsequent time dealing with the aftermath of her situation is truly chilling. Furthermore, I loved catching the connections this novel has to others in the King universe.

9. The Tommyknockers: This is the King novel I read most recently, and also one which plays to my inner conspiracy-theorist. Imagine, if you will, your town is suddenly and irrevocably changed by an invasion we are all completely incapable of fighting off. “Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at my door.”

8. Delores Claiborne: This monologue is, in effect, a confession by the title character of a murder she committed. While this stylistic choice is commonly reserved for poetry and short stories, it is an underused — though, in this case, highly effective — format for a novel. I found this realistic book to be an exceptionally quick read. It provides an incredibly satisfying tying up of loose ends in Claiborne’s life, as well as a very obvious (and intentional) link to several events described in Gerald’s Game.

7. Night Shift: So many of the short stories in this collection are genuinely disturbing. A few of my favorites are “Sometimes They Come Back,” “Quitters, Inc.,” and “Children of the Corn.” If a full-length King novel seems too much to commit to, try this one out and just read those three first — I promise you’ll want to devour the other stories in the book as fast as possible.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot: I was too scared to sleep in my room in the basement while reading this one summer during college. I remember vividly the anxiety I felt lying alone in the dark, and deciding instead to run up the stairs to sleep on the couch each night. My mom never laughed at this, but instead explained it was a novel by which she, too, had been frightened. The moral of this book is that strangers are dangerous — a valid life lesson, it seems.

5. Needful Things: Few books have left a mark on me the way this one did. I read this in a couple of days, despite its intimidating length. I still grapple with the deep issues raised by the reading. What am I willing to trade to get what I want? Who would I be willing to betray to fulfill my own dreams? Am I strong enough to avoid the temptations to which others would fall prey? Can we truly stand against evil?

4.The Stand: A devastating plague known as “Captain Trips” wipes out most of the world. Those remaining alive must rebuild society but are forced to choose which side to aid: Randall Flagg (a recurring character in King’s novels with a flair for both leadership and destruction) or Mother Abagail, who brought survivors together to begin building “the Free Zone.” This novel is most horrifying in the contemplation of a preventable mistake leading to an unstoppable apocalypse.

3. Misery: A fanatical follower with an untreated mental illness and questionable past captures and cripples the writer of her favorite book series. This story line is literally the biggest hurdle I face when penning my own novel. I just know that some snowy day I’ll crash my car and find myself at the mercy of Kathy Bates.

2. The Shining: The ultimate psychological meets supernatural horror story, this novel has been at the top of my “I must reread this before I die” list since I finished it the first time. Despite its immense size, this book was so engrossing that I finished it over a weekend home from college and actually slept in my mom’s bed because I was so afraid. Allow me to reiterate. I was a grown adult woman in my early twenties who slept in my mom’s bed while Dad was forced to sleep on the living room couch. Apparently, even as a college student, I needed my parents’ protection from a fictional character. Let that sink in.

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1.It: Of course the novel about a supernatural evil entity who takes the form of a murderous clown tops my list. This is the movie I was, for some inexplicable reason, allowed to watch before I’d even turned double-digits. As though that wasn’t bad enough, I had several unfortunate run-ins with a real-life clown that were highly unpleasant. While I may seem a bit biased, this book is hyped for a reason. It really is as good as people make it out to be. This novel is one of King’s longest, yet best written. I owe my phobia of circus freaks as well as my loathing of balloon popping to this story; you owe it to yourself to take the time to read it. Soon. Just make sure your spouse is cool with sleeping with the lights on for a while.

Peace and love.

Our Family’s Fertility Struggles

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Twenty-one months ago, my husband and I decided to add to our family. Had we been successful, our child would be one year old.

We have now been trying to conceive for almost two years. Speaking not for my husband, but only for myself, I regret the process, and am embittered by it. I have gone through invasive and tear-jerking examinations; frequent, inconvenient, expensive ultrasounds; and several unsuccessful fertility treatments. I have missed work, driven thousands of miles, and spent countless hours sitting in the doctor’s lobby beside excited, heavily pregnant women. I have had blood drawn, taken pills, and given myself shots. I have suffered unpleasant side effects from months of hormone therapy, which included extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, and weight gain; ironically, the “next-step” doctor told me I have gained so much weight I am no longer eligible for his fertility treatments.

I have experienced physical discomfort, but, worse, emotional pain far more cutting than I ever anticipated. Baby showers and birth announcements regularly fill my mailbox and my email inbox and my social media feeds. My nephew’s wife had a child in June. My brother’s wife is due in January. Two weeks ago my local newspaper, which serves a community of approximately one thousand, featured a picture on its front page: lined up together on a couch were ten newborns that were born in seven weeks to families living in town.

On Friday, I told my husband and my doctor that I just had to take a month off. With school starting, I’m under so much stress right now that any treatments probably would be unsuccessful. Looming over my head is the constant reminder that our insurance only pays for six months’ worth of treatments and we’ve already used the first two, which were the most likely to be successful but failed.

The first time we had a procedure done, I was certain it would work. I never even entertained the possibility that it would be unsuccessful. I began planning what decorations I would buy for the nursery. Josh told me not to get my hopes up, but I had not consciously made the decision to do so — I’m an optimist, so I acted according to my nature. I was so let down by the result that my pain manifested as palpable symptoms: my chest felt heavy and tight, like I was suffocating, like my heart was breaking. My husband comforted me, held me, told me, “We’ll try again.”

When the test came up negative after the second procedure, I was inconsolable. That’s when I gave up. I gave up the hope of becoming pregnant. I gave up the image of squealing with joy at two pink lines. I gave up the idea of feeling a baby squirming around in my belly. I gave up the future of wondering if Baby would have my stubby fingers or Josh’s high intelligence.

And we turned down a new avenue. We, just today, began filling out the forms to start the adoption process. It is going to be expensive, and I don’t know exactly how we are going to pay for it, but I believe God will help us through it.

We are still embracing the excitement of finding out, someday, that we will be growing our family. We are still wondering if we will first be buying pink or blue mittens. We are still prepared to walk the floors at night with a sick child. We are still ready to cover the driveway in sidewalk chalk. We are still excited to leave cookies for Santa. We are still going to cheer the loudest at t-ball games. We are still looking forward to reading stories before bed. We are still going to cry (sob) at kindergarten graduations and high school graduations. We are still going to pull guilt trips by saying things like, “I wish you would call more” and, “I know you’re busy, so just come when you can.”

We are still praying to be parents. Our children don’t have to have my smile or Josh’s eyes. They don’t have to be ours, genetically, to be our kids. Love doesn’t have silly limits.

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Peace and love.

October 29, 2015 Fall Frightfest

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October 29: American Psycho. Rating: 3/5. Comment: A man who works for strict control over his life suddenly begins to find a release by murdering strangers, acquaintances, and friends. I would have liked this movie a lot more if it had been more clear cut as to whether or not events were literally occurring or if they were only in the guy’s head. I’m not a huge fan of ambiguity — just tell me what is going on. Josh loved this one, of course. He likes those “figure it out as you go” shows. P.S. It’s truly terrifying that there are maniacs running around who find pleasure in hurting others.

Peace and love.