Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crazy Enough

To be honest, I hadn't heard of Storm Large before I was contacted about reviewing this book,  Crazy Enough: A Memoir,  but I looked her up online right away to find out more.  The first thing I noticed, of course, is her striking beauty.  She's tall and very attractive (although in the book as she is growing up she does not see herself as attractive).  I then played a few clips to get a sense of her voice and personality,  and decided that this was a memoir I had to read.

"People think I'm nuts. They think that I am a killer, a badass, and a dangerous woman."
~Crazy Enough, Storm Large

Published in January 2012,  Crazy Enough is the story of her life so far.  As I began the first chapter (you wouldn't believe the opening line), I was flung out of my "comfort zone",  hard and headfirst.  Storm is very troubled by her mother, Suzi's, frequent bouts of mental illness and hospitalizations, and understandably worries about her own future when a doctor tells her that she, too, will be "crazy" like her mother when she's older (in her twenties).  I was discomfited the entire time I was reading this book, and often on the verge of tears; I felt that Storm desperately needed a mother to guide her through childhood, but her mother was absent, often in the hospital or institutionalized for months at a time, being treated for various, nebulous mental illnesses.   As a consequence, as a child in the town of Southborough, MA, Storm was left to her own devices, and unfortunately drawn to dangerous things, such as sex and drugs.   Her father, Henry,  tried to be a good parent to Storm and her brothers, John and (also) Henry, but he had to work long hours in order to support his family and his wife's expensive, never-ending health care. 

While I found some of the language hard to take, this book is so real and honest and funny that it won me over almost immediately.  Storm doesn't sugar-coat anything in her memoir, and is truthful about her experiences and feelings.  Her early bouts with sex and her hypersexuality, as well as her experiences with alcohol and drugs (including heroin!) were strange and fascinating to read about.  I could not put this book down, and finished it over the course of a few days.

"You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll."
~Rock 'n' Roll,  Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground

After a tumultuous childhood, Storm attended acting school in NY, turned to music, and gradually achieved success as a singer (her powerful rendition of Where is My Mind is breathtaking),  fronting bands and releasing albums, and landed a part on the TV reality show Rock Star: Supernova (which I'd love to see),  and a role in the musical, Cabaret.  Eventually, she created her hit one-woman show, Crazy Enough (which I'd also love to see).  This bold book tells her story candidly, and while it was disturbing to read at times, Storm's story is one of determination, survival, and triumph, and one that I will not be able to forget.

Special thanks to Kristin from Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of Crazy Enough.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Words with Friends

Recently, while playing Words with Friends on my iPhone, I was asked what the word I had just played, awa, meant. I admitted that I did not know. All I knew at that point was that the word was accepted, and that I had scored many points for it. (The best thing about this game is that you can score a lot of points by making words; words may be worth over 100 points--it's a bit thrilling at times!) In this game, you can make all kinds of crazy, short words that you'd mostly likely never use in oral or written communication. I decided to feature some here for BermudaOnion's magnificent meme for logophiles, Wondrous Words Wednesday, although only a few, as I don't want to give away too many secrets (I do want to win the game once in a while). These words would also be good to use in Scrabble, a game I loved as a child (and still do), which may be played on a traditional board or online.

1. awa: away; departed; onward

It's as if the 'y' in away went awa. This word sounds like it belongs in poetry. Awa is an adverb that I will now be able to play with confidence.



2. qat:
a tropical evergreen plant whose leaves are used as a stimulant

Qat is a great word to keep in mind and play, when you have a 'q' without a 'u'. The plural form of this word, qats, is also acceptable. In House Rules by Jodi Picoult, Jacob, a young man with Asperger's syndrome, lists some short words such as qat for use in the game Scrabble. (Words with Friends is very similar to Scrabble, and when I first started playing Words online a couple of months ago, I mistakenly called it Scrabble.)


3. ki, chi, qi: three excellent little words to play, which mean the vital energy or force in the body

When my ki is off, I don't feel up to par and fail to make high scoring words in Words with Friends. The plural forms of these words, kis, chis, and qis, are also acceptable.





What wondrous new words have you encountered in your reading recently--or while playing word games?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mailbox Monday


Like many book bloggers, I receive an extraordinary amount of books in the mail; I'll highlight just the most recent books for Mailbox Monday, a meme created by Marcia from A girl and her books, hosted this month by Alyce from At Home With Books.

From TLC Book Tours, I received All There Is, stories compiled by Dave Isay, for an upcoming blog tour.  I've read StoryCorps before, and look forward to reading these love stories next month.

Simon & Schuster sent me Crazy Enough by Storm Large.  I'm in the middle of reading this memoir now, and plan on reviewing it soon.

Yay!   I found out today that I won a fabulous $25 gift card from Amazon on BookQuoter's blog, a thousand Books with Quotes.  Thank you very much, BQ! I'll spend some of it to get Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult, my third selection for The Jodi Picoult Project.  After I reach my goal--to read and review three books by this author--I'll be hosting a giveaway, so be sure to stop by then for a chance to win.

What new books arrived in your mailbox, or otherwise, recently?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

House Rules: Agony and Wonder

We have rules in our house:

1. Clean up your own messes.

2. Tell the truth.

3. Brush your teeth twice a day.

4. Don't be late for school.

5. Take care of your brother; he's the only one you've got.

~House Rules, Jodi Picoult




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As I sat down at the computer to compose this book review, I got a bit nervous. What, really, could I say about the book I just finished reading, House Rules, published in 2010? I'm not a book reviewer for The NY Times (I wonder how the literati at The Times view book bloggers?). How will I convey my experience with the book, as well as its basic premise, with as few spoilers as possible? It's a lot to contend with, and sometimes I feel lazy, or not quite up to the task. What makes it even more difficult, in the case of a novel by Jodi Picoult, is that her well-researched works are quite long; this adds to the pressure. How forceful or thoughtful can I be in just a few paragraphs? Will I be able to do the book any amount of justice?

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Slowly, over the course of several weeks, chapter by chapter, I read House Rules, which is written from the perspectives of five main characters in the book: Emma, Jacob, and Theo Hunt, and Oliver Bond and Rich Matson. The format of the book worked well for me; due to time constraints, I'd read a few chapters at a sitting, and looked forward to the next session with the book. Short chapters, written from multiple perspectives (in varying fonts), made them easy to read, a bit at a time, day by day.

House Rules is a novel about the great toll Asperger's syndrome, and others' lack of understanding about it, take on the Hunt family, and subsequently their small community in Vermont. For years, Emma Hunt, Jacob and Theo's mother, has been struggling emotionally, working as an advice writer for the newspaper. Her husband, Henry, left the family many years ago, and started a new family. Emma is very dedicated to helping her son, Jacob, an 18-year-old with Asperger's syndrome. She tries to help Jacob by providing special foods and supplements, and hires a tutor to help him, Jess Oligvy. Life in the Hunt family revolves around Jacob, which takes a toll on his younger brother, Theo, who develops a bad habit of breaking into the homes of others and stealing small items. Although in some ways Jacob is absolutely brilliant, he takes things too literally and lacks the ability to connect and communicate with people, and his autism gets him into serious trouble. Because of his great interest in forensic analysis, along with his inability to communicate with others, Jacob is accused of murdering his attractive tutor, Jess.

Jodi Picoult is a very skillful writer, and her words brought her characters and the story to life. As I read this gripping book, I became anxious about a few things. First and foremost, I hated having to wait to find out the truth about what happened. I wanted to know, I needed to know, sooner rather than later (this was also the case when I read her novel, The Pact). I did not skip to the ending of the book, though, because one of my few "reading rules" is that I wait and delay my gratification. So, I continued to read--and hope. I wanted the truth to come out more quickly than it did, but I understand why it did not, could not (even though I was in agony).

Secondly, I started to think about Asperger's syndrome. My knowledge about Asperger's was quite limited before I read this book; I only knew that those afflicted were supposed to be highly intelligent. In the book, Jacob has Asperger's syndrome, which means that he is extremely smart, but also affected and afflicted neurologically in various ways, and his ability to communicate with others is severely restricted and limited. I think we live in an age of over diagnoses (including self-diagnoses) of conditions and syndromes, but I couldn't help wondering if I could be somewhat autistic myself; then I started to think about certain family members, and others who might also be (which soon led me to wonder if autism could develop later in life, well beyond the childhood years?). With regard to myself, though, I believe I'm too empathetic, social, and flexible to be autistic. But the book makes you think. If someone has an encyclopedic knowledge about a subject does that make them an "Aspie", or just someone with a profound interest in something? (Questions lead to more questions, and as I type this on the computer I even wonder if computer use could contribute or even create forms of autism?) I think, though, that the difference is a matter of degree and extremeness, and the book makes a good attempt to distinguish between what's "normal" and what isn't, although I still wondered about the line between the two at times. House Rules, like other books by this author, impels you to wonder and to question things.




I'm looking forward to starting a new novel by Jodi Picoult for this reading challenge soon, Sing You Home. If you'd like to join this challenge, feel free to grab the button. Please visit The Jodi Picoult Project Page I created for more details or to add your review link (if you don't have a blog, but wish to participate, please email me). As always, I welcome your comments, and thank you for reading.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guitar Zero

"Without music, life would be a mistake."
~Friedrich Nietzsche

For as long as I can remember, I've loved music. As a child I discovered that music had the power to brighten my outlook (O-o-h Child, Joy to the World) or move me to tears (ballads by The Jackson 5, The Rolling Stones, or Jimi Hendrix). As I matured, music became more important to me, and I learned that music could affect my mood or state of mind in a variety of ways, often indescribably so. Although I couldn't work up my nerve to try out for the glee club in elementary school, and didn't learn to play an instrument (except for the accordion, very briefly), I have a deep appreciation for music, and enjoy listening to all kinds of music. I was interested in reading Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning because of my profound appreciation for music, which continues to enhance my life.

Written by NYU psychology professor and author Gary Marcus, Guitar Zero will be released to the public on January 19, 2012. I felt quite fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of the first to read his new book. Guitar Zero is about the author's attempts to learn how to play guitar as he approaches his fortieth birthday. He initially wonders if it's possible to learn to play an instrument at his age. Does the brain possess enough plasticity to take on such a daunting task? Many people believe that learning an instrument, like learning a language, must be done at an early age. Guitar Zero (which gets its name from the popular video game, Guitar Hero) explores the world of music from the perspective of an older student, armed with a strong appreciation and admiration for great guitarists and musicians, and an eagerness to learn how to play the guitar.

Although I am not a music student per se, I enjoyed the insights in this book (it's packed full of them!) which are about music and life in a more general sense. Much of the book resonated with me, and I will give but a few examples here. The author talks about the need for good music teachers, and from my own experience his words ring true. Thanks to the unbridled generosity of my mother-in-law, each of my children has taken years of private music lessons on various instruments--piano, flute, violin, oboe, guitar--with a variety of teachers, so I know firsthand that good teachers are invaluable; I agree with the author that teachers with certain characteristics (such as the ability to encourage) are especially wonderful. A key point in the book is that practice may not make perfect when it comes to music, but practice (for most of us, anyway), is an extremely vital part of learning to play an instrument, perhaps the only way to train the fingers and the brain to play music (the author provides tips about what kind of practice works best). My youngest daughter, Angela, has taken Suzuki violin lessons for eight years, and although she didn't always feel like practicing, practicing or playing her instrument was precisely how she learned to play.

I enjoyed the references in the book to the band Rage Against the Machine, and specifically the incredible guitarist, Tom Morello, the twenty-sixth-greatest guitarist of all time (according to Rolling Stone magazine). My son, Oliver, introduced me to this band, and I find much of their socially aware music quite powerful, and the intense, layered sound of their music, especially Renegades of Funk and Bulls On Parade, gets my adrenaline going.

"Of course, making music is not just about control, or even about achieving flow; there's something deeper. Something that for me has made the whole quest--a massive investment of my scarcest commodity, time--worthwhile. Becoming musical has brought balance to my life."
~Guitar Zero, Gary Marcus

Guitar Hero is scientific and well-researched, yet written in a friendly and down-to-earth manner. At times I struggled with some of the music terminology specific to guitars (there is a glossary of music terms in the back of the book, though), but for the most part, it was understandable and interesting, and I felt inspired by the notion that we can learn something as complex as a musical instrument later in life.



Special thanks to Trish from TLC for sending me this fascinating book. This is the first review for the book blog tour for Guitar Zero. For more reviews, please visit the subsequent stops on TLC's Guitar Zero book blog tour.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Words for the Year Ahead

Usually, I let Bermudaonion--Kathy--do all the work.  On Wednesdays I visit her blog and read the vocabulary words she has garnered from her reading in a meme of her creation, Wondrous Words Wednesday.  She presents her words in a clear and concise manner, and more often than not, I add these words to my growing list of new-to-me words.  I also visit other participating blogs to read the words they've posted, and present a few words myself from time to time.

Today I bought a desk calendar, 365 New Words-a-Year.  Each day defines a different word, and I expect to learn quite a few new words this year. I decided to feature a few words from the first days of January 2012 for Wondrous Words Wednesday.

1. ab ovo: from the beginning

All the words here are from this word-a-day calendar, ab ovo. (This one happens to be the very first.)


2. popinjay
: a strutting, supercilious person

Nobody could stand the popinjay; he was pretentious and often wore a gaudy suit.


3. causerie
: an informal conversation or chat; can also be a short, informal essay

She looked forward to their Friday causerie all week long.




2012 is here, and I have a calendar full of words. What wondrous new words have you discovered recently?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Really Random Tuesday #43: Cake

Thank goodness for the gym!

Before the holidays, during the holidays, and after the holidays, there's no shortage of cake at our house. With many birthdays surrounding and infiltrating the holidays, eating cake becomes almost a daily event in our household. Along with festive holiday cakes, decked out with sparkles and frosting, we had several birthday cakes, including NY cheesecake, and chocolate cake with butter cream frosting.

I didn't bake any of these cakes, although I do have a recipe for an amazing carrot cake (originally from San Francisco, I believe) that I made for a birthday in October. If you bake this cake, your home will smell like heaven. I may make this cake again soon, for my daughter's upcoming birthday (more cake!).


CARROT CAKE with CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
(about 12 servings)


2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
4 eggs
1 cup corn oil
4 cups finely grated raw carrots (8 or 9)


FROSTING

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans for garnish, if desired
Extra-large pecan halves for top of cake, if desired

Preheat oven to 350º. Butter and flour or spray a bundt cake pan. (Although it can be tricky to remove cake from a bundt pan--grease generously--I like to use this type of pan because the cake is already in sections for neat cutting.) Thoroughly stir together dry ingredients--flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon--and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until frothy, then slowly beat in oil. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until smooth. Add grated carrots and blend. Pour batter into cake pan. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into cake's center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then gently remove from pan, invert, and cool additionally on rack. While the cake's cooling, blend together the first five ingredients to make the frosting. Frost cake when cooled. Garnish with pecans if desired.


For another take on cake, please visit Lost in Fiction for Lucy Hannua's enchanting interview with Gaile Parkin, author of Baking Cakes in Kigali.

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post. Thanks for reading!

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