Book Review: Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

Title: Brain on Fire 
Author: Susannah Cahalan 
Genre: Non-Fiction 
Format: Kindle 
Year Published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book

Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan’s memoir of her difficult struggle with a mystery illness, is a fascinating exploration of medicine and survival.

Cahalan was a 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post. She had it all: youth, talent, love, and the beginning of a terrific journalism career. Then she suddenly started to act strangely. She was convinced her apartment was filled with bedbugs, the colors surrounding her became garishly bright, and she became paranoid. This started affecting her work and her personal life.

Diagnosed by one doctor as suffering the effects of too much partying, and by other doctors as suffering from a sudden and severe mental illness, it wasn’t until she started suffering violent seizures that she was hospitalized.

During the month that followed, as the doctors tried desperately to figure out exactly what was wrong with her, Cahalan became increasingly more ill.

She spent the month in the hospital, where she was occasionally caught on camera.

After more than $1,000,000 in medical tests, a very simple exam finally came up with a solution. She was suffering from a very rare malady.

After she made her slow process towards recovery, Cahalan decided to explore her lost month. There were some videos that the hospital camera captured, and they were hard for her to watch. She looks totally frightened and lost in those videos. Watching herself on video was like watching a stranger. She also interviewed her doctors and friends and family, because she has few memories of that time in the hospital.

She also may have saved some lives:

It is an excellent combination of medical mystery and reportage. I found this book fascinating and well written, and have already read it at least twice!

Book Review: Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper

Title: Love Saves the Day
Author: Gwen Cooper
Genre: Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year Published: 2013
Source: I purchased this book

Gwen Cooper wrote the charming memoir about her amazing blind cat Homer. I reviewed it here.

She has since written a novel about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and about the cat that brings them together, but only after the death of the mother.Love Saves the Day tells the story of a mother, Sarah, who raised her daughter in New York’s then-shabby Alphabet City in the 1980s.

Sarah runs a record shop with only the coolest records, and the daughter, Laura, grew up in an area where the odd was normal. She was surrounded by rockers, druggies, and prostitutes.

A series of traumatic events happen in Laura’s childhood that changes her perception of her mother forever. Laura is bitter over things she believed her mother did or didn’t do. When Sarah dies, she leaves behind Prudence, her loyal and smart cat. Laura, now a successful lawyer, is going through her mother’s things and must take Prudence home to share her apartment with her husband, Josh.

The novel in alternating chapters is sometimes in Prudence’s voice (yes!), sometimes in Laura’s, and sometimes in Sarah’s. In Prudence’s chapters, you get a cat’s-eye view of the situation. She doesn’t understand that Sarah is dead. She keeps waiting for her to come home. It is touching because Prudence cannot figure out where Sarah is! It takes her quite awhile to realize that Sarah is never coming back.

To Prudence, Laura is just another cat, and not a particularly affectionate one. Prudence is very upset being in Laura’s apartment because she instinctively feels that Laura does not want her there. Laura does associate Prudence with all her bad feelings about her mother.

At first it was odd to read some of the chapters in the cat’s voice, but I actually found it touching and poignant.  Laura may not come across as particularly likable at first, but her childhood was so fractured that you come to understand why she is the way she is. She has a fine career and is a fully functioning member of society.

Prudence just doesn’t understand why Sarah never comes home!  Cooper has a deep understanding of cats. Like her, I firmly believe that cats can be very wise.

Why is she now living in Laura’s apartment? Where is Sarah? Because of Prudence, Laura finally learns to come to grips with her complicated relationship with her mother. Prudence’s innocent love does, indeed, save the day.

You will both laugh and cry reading this book, and Prudence will steal your heart!

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Genre: Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year Published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book

This novel is a tragic story studying the choices we make and how they can have long-lasting repercussions.

In the early 1900s, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the Australian coast. The island is very isolated, and there are few visitors. The supply boat comes once a season.

Tom marries Isabel, a young and devoted wife. Their extreme physical isolation from the rest of the world means that they depend on each other for everything.

After Isabel suffers two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat washes up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Isobel makes a critical decision: she wants to keep this baby! After all, who would know?

Tom does not approve, but Isabel has been so wracked with depression over losing her other children that he finally acquiesces. Tom never stops regretting the decision, however.

This decision leads to a heartbreaking series of events that will change their lives forever. His guilt increases over the years until he has to decide whether to tell the authorities. The story was depressing, but so well written that I really wanted to find out what happened.

What prices would Tom and Isabel pay for the decision to keep someone else’s baby? They are not bad people at all; they just make serious lapses in judgment.

I found the final chapters convincing in tying up the storyline. The story is poetically written but it is overwhelmingly sad.

Speaking Up is Hard to Do

Mama’s Losin’ It

Writing Prompt: A time you wish you had spoken up. 

At one point in my life I worked in a famous department store. One day I was standing near the cash register with another saleswoman I’ll call Patty.

On this day a woman and several children approached the register to ask us questions. A little boy said something that apparently his mother took exception to.


Suddenly the boy was on the floor.

It happened so fast and he was down before Patty and I realized what had happened. We were still trying to process this when the boy staggered to his feet and then again said something that his mother didn’t like.

Mother struck again.

He was on the floor again.

Patty and I stood there, jaws dropped. We glanced at each other. Should we call security? We had the funny feeling that security was only concerned about shoplifters. I knew that I would probably lose my job if I “caused trouble” – I live in an “at-will employment” state and they can use anything to fire you. Actually, they don’t have to give any reason at all.

I also was aware that that it would be my word against hers — and I’d also drag Patty into something that should might not want to get involved in. However, we both felt really bad and guilty for not doing anything about it.

This is why child abuse doesn’t get reported as it should. People are afraid to get involved, because YOU can get into trouble for doing the right thing.

In retrospect, I wish that I had called the police. Even though you could not get an outside line on the department phone, I did have my cell phone in my purse in the drawer.

We were also stunned that someone would knock down her child – twice – in front of total strangers. She seemed completely unconcerned about what happened and the whole group just wandered away.
We also wondered: if she did this in public to her children, what did she do in private?

This was written for Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop

Difficult Times

I am sorry that I have not been posting on this blog but I have been going through some very difficult times lately.

My mother died. We were very close. In the last few years she did suffer from dementia, so I did have some time to prepare for her death, but it is still very hard.

I have found it difficult to find motivation for blogging. Lately I have found myself mostly reading lighthearted romance novels, but they are not the kind of books that I want to review. I just needed an escape.

Of course, then I feel guilty because I am not reviewing books!

I have also struggled with SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder. This winter has been just miserable, and it affected me very negatively. If it wasn’t for my husband, I don’t know what I would have done.

Now that the spring is here, I have begun writing again, and I have also begun reading more difficult literature lately.

I also have struggled to find a direction for this blog. I really do hope to write some book reviews soon, and I will also write about freelance writing. I am a writer in addition to being a great reader, and I want to write about both – writing and books.

See you soon!

A Star is Born!

I’m excited that the Sochi Olympics are coming to soon to enliven this dreadfully cold and snowy winter! One of the figure skaters the U.S. is sending to Sochi Olympics is Jason Brown.

The U.S. only qualified to send two male singles skaters to the Olympics. Jason was a distant 3rd in the short program, but when he took the ice for his long program, he had no idea that the next few minutes were going to change his life forever! He skated the long program of his life and has won the hearts of skating fans from around the world.

He ended up finishing 2nd at the U.S. Championships and was named to the Olympic team.

He looked like he was having a lot of fun and so was the audience. Watch his reaction when he finds out his scores! His coach doesn’t look surprised at all, but Jason looks stunned!

He doesn’t really have a chance to medal at the Olympics because he doesn’t do any quadruple jumps. I just hope that Jason goes to the Olympics and skates his best and has a great time.

He has been sending out a flurry of thrilled tweets ever since he was named to the team, especially since the media has discovered him and he has been getting praise from those he admires.

Here is his Twitter:

Even his ponytail has a Twitter account now:


Happy New Year and Auld Lang Syne

This may be the most beautiful, intensely romantic scene I have seen in any movie, from the tragic film Waterloo Bridge.

Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor were so, so beautiful. I love the music, the dancing, and the musicians snuffing out the candles. No words are needed.


Happy New Year everyone!

A Classical Christmas

A beautiful medley of lovely Christmas music. Some of my very favorite classical and Christmas pieces:

0:00 Pathetique Sonata – 2nd Movement (Beethoven)
0:26 Silent Night
1:06 Interlude 1:19 Piano Concerto No. 21 – 2nd Movement (Mozart)
1:55 O Come All Ye Faithful (traditional Christmas hymn)
2:11 Piano Sonata in C Major – 1st Movement (Mozart)
2:25 Clarinet Concerto – (Mozart)
2:40 Angels From the Realms of Glory
3:01 Interlude

3:14 O Come, O Come Emmanuel
3:23 Interlude
3:33 Meditation from Thais (Massenet)
3:58 Ave Maria (Schubert)
4:29 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
4:41 Interlude
4:48 Moonlight Sonata – 1st Movement (Beethoven)
5:05 Interlude
5:14 The First Noel
5:27 Interlude
5:36 Arioso (Bach)
6:08 Joy to the World
6:25 Ode to Joy/Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (Beethoven/Van Dyke)
6:42 Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (Bach)
6:50 Interlude
6:56 Deck the Halls
7:06 Unfinished Symphony (Schubert)
7:20 O Little Town of Bethlehem
7:34 Angels We Have Heard on High
7:56 What Child is This?
8:11 Interlude
8:23 Silent Night
8:29 Pathetique Sonata – 2nd Movement (Beethoven)
9:00 O Holy Night

Merry Christmas everyone!

The 100th Anniversary of the Crossword Puzzle

 photo First_crossword_zps0776ed7b.jpg

On December 21, 1913 the first modern crossword puzzle, created by Arthur Wynne, was published in The New York World, one of many newspapers in New York City in that time. Wynne called it a “word-cross”, but the name was eventually changed because of a typesetting error.

The puzzle was based on earlier forms of puzzles, and was diamond-shaped. Crossword puzzles were successful almost from the beginning, and eventually became the famous square crossword puzzles we love today.

This weekend the Google Doodle is devoted to the crossword puzzle. There is a delightful article about it from the Washington Post here.
You can read about the history of crossword puzzles here, and an article about creating crossword puzzles in this excellent article from The Atlantic: Party Down: 100 Years of the Crossword Puzzle.

Ironically, The New York Times disapproved of crossword puzzles at first, but now The New York Times crosswords are celebrated as some of the most difficult.

There is a terrific blog devoted to The New York Times puzzles: Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle. I heartily suggest a visit.