31 December 2011

Saturday Snapshot... Mt. Trashmore & the Boat

This rowboat was positioned on the grass by the peaceful lake at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach when I was there a couple of weeks ago (visit this week's A Walk About Town post to find out why this beautiful place has this name). I loved the way the light reflected off the water and I punched up the filter a bit to give it this hazy look to it.

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshots, visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


Had to post my favorite gift...the keyboard for the iPad...
My heart is full.

Another year has come and gone and with that, some exceptional (and some a little ho-hum) reading. Blogging continues to be a blast these past two years and being a part of this wonderful community is amazing. And I love the new design Tawni at Forever Design Studio created, and I finally feel I have something that represents me and my blog. (I have something fun planned to feature the work she did, so stay tuned).

I also can't wait for another year with the bloggers I already know, and I'm excited to meet those who will be starting up in 2012. Everything about this world has been so. much. fun. So here's to you!

The biggest achievement for me this year is that I've now incorporated audiobooks into my reading experience and I am better for it. How have I let audiobooks slip me by all this time?

For this list, I've included audio and printed books into this combined overview, simply because I didn't listen to enough audiobooks to warrant its own separate list. The list also includes anything I've read in 2011, but doesn't necessarily mean it was published in 2011.

In no particular order, my favorites I read or listened to this year were 
So those were my favorites. And if I had to pick only one book to be at the very top of my list, it would have to be 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I loved everything about that book.

Here's to another year blogging with all of you, reading, and sharing some fantastic reads and commiserating over the not-so-fun ones! Thanks for reading and welcoming me into this wonderful community!


30 December 2011

This is one of the best non-fiction books around. Hands down. And for those of you who profess to not enjoy non-fiction? Pshaw, try this one and change your mind you shall. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, and listened to this with rapt attention to the 12 hours and 30 minutes within a day and a half. This story will not let you down.

More than sixty years ago, Henrietta Lacks was a young married mother, and was suffering from cervical cancer. She and her husband made the regular journey to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment, and it soon became evident that it was an aggressive form of cancer and she soon died painfully. During one of her treatments prior to her death, her cells were taken to be included in trials to see if they would regrow on their own. Up until that point, the team attempting this was unsuccessful. They didn't have much hope with yet another grouping of cells.

But Henrietta's cells did regrow. What became of those cells, known as "HeLa," have done so much for science that the list of benefits Henrietta's cells provided is innumerable. The only thing was that her cells were taken without her knowledge, or her family's knowledge. Those who did have her cells, these immortal cells that magically continued to regrow, became wealthy while Henrietta's family was never given a dime.

This is a riveting and suspense-filled story of Rebecca Skloot's journey to bring the story of "HeLa" to the center stage, which ultimately showcases Henrietta and her family in the forefront as well. Documenting the progress of science because of the HeLa cells and weaving in this deeply personal family story, this non-fiction book will make you angry as you learn about the injustices brought upon one woman and her body, and more than likely will also leave you in awe of all the things that HeLa helped. The ultimate discussion regarding ethics is also addressed, and if a patient should be informed that their cells or other tissue are taken which may be given over for research and potential financial gain. The ethical questions and debates on whether or not you own your own body's waste and cells is fascinating and frightening at the same time. Arguments against informing a patient have brought up that it would bring science's progress to a standstill because patients will be bartering for the highest dollar for their tissues, and withholding it in order to achieve that. Of course, the debate the other way is that this is your body, your tissues. Shouldn't you have a right to negotiate where pieces of you go and how they are used?

When you sign all of the medical release forms, do you read everything? Probably not. But if your cells or other items were taken from you and science benefited from it, wouldn't you want to also personally benefit from it? I think so. But in the Lacks' family, they never benefited, and in fact, didn't even have health insurance. Can you imagine the travesty of this? The family of the woman who suffered painfully and died from a horrible disease, unknowingly gave her body over to science which benefited greatly (and still benefits as the cells continue to regrow), but her own family rarely visits a doctor because they have no insurance to help them with the payments.

Probably some of the more fascinating and scarier sections of the book actually comes at the end, when recent cases are reviewed in which tissue disposal is debated. I was stunned at what could happen even today, and began to wonder if, while HeLa has helped so much, if we've really advanced at all in the question of ethics. Of course, one side of me thinks that yes, of course we have, but then there are these cases that make the whole foundation of common sense and fairness buckle and tremble.

This is an absolutely amazing story, written with passion and knowledge, and bringing this education to the average person who doesn't know a lick about science. It's easily readable and understandable, and it will generate much debate and discussion. Without question, I highly recommend this book for book clubs, and really for anyone who wants to give non-fiction a try. This will leave you speechless and convert you over to reading even more non-fiction.

And why will you love this via audio? Cassandra Campbell is fast becoming one of my favorite narrators. She has the perfect voice to bring this story to life and, quite frankly, you just can't go wrong when she's leading the charge and voicing a story.

About the Author (from her website)
Rebecca Skloot has a B.S. in biological sciences and an MFA in creative nonfiction. She is an award winning science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and many other publications. She specializes in narrative science writing, and has explored a wide range of topics, including goldfish surgery, tissue ownership rights, race and medicine, food politics, and packs of wild dogs in Manhattan. She has worked as a correspondent for WNYC's Radiolab and PBS' Nova ScienceNOW. She and her father, Floyd Skloot are co-editors of The Best American Science Writing 2011.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is Rebecca Skloot's debut book, and took more than a decade to research and write. It is being translated into 25 languages and will also be produced into an HBO movie.

Rebecca Skloot currently lives in Chicago, but also heads to the hills of West Virginia to write, save stray animals, and knit. An avid knitter, she continues the family tradition of her mother, Betsy McCarthy, who is a professional knitter.

Follow the author:

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29 December 2011

A Walk About Town, Mount Trashmore, Virginia Beach

A Walk About Town is a weekly feature hosted here at Coffee and a Book Chick. Anyone can participate! Write about a spot in your town, or a spot you've visited, include the button for A Walk About Town, and add your link in the Linky below so that we can all visit your post. You don't need to include a picture to participate and although I will post on Thursdays, you can post yours any day of that week. Just make sure to add your link to the most recent week's post here at Coffee and a Book Chick, and if you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #AWalkAboutTown.

What's that, you say? A beautiful spot called Mount Trashmore?! Why, yes. I do say.

Who would ever think that a spot in Virginia Beach, which was once a landfill, would become one of the most unique, beautiful and fun spots in town? Whether it's going for a run around the beautiful lake, flying your kite on a windy day at the top of the "mountain", or watching the fireworks with family on the 4th of July, the spot called Mount Trashmore would be one of the best places to be.

Take a look at this glorious stairway up to the main lookout point. I visited on a beautiful and cold, crisp day, the type of day I just never got when I lived in Florida. I'll be revisiting again in spring when the grass is a lush green. (The last photo is my favorite since the two people at the top were doing some form of interesting dancing. It certainly shows the scale and size of the place). In one section of the park, there's even a cool skateboarding facility, and from what I understand, professional skateboarders including Tony Hawk, have visited here.

First opened in 1974, it's a remarkable example of being able to reuse what was once a trash-filled area of almost 200 acres, and turn it into a lively and healthy land with walking trails, picnic spots, volleyball courts, and a kid's playground. It's no surprise that the park clocks in over a million visitors a year. Well done, Virginia Beach!

What about you? Have you had a chance to walk about town and want to share a fun, education, and hip spot on your blog? Add your link below and make sure you visit other participants!


27 December 2011

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

In this Young Adult post-apocalyptic story of the future of North America, the only surviving continent, a scientific attempt to eradicate all diseases results in new generations having a limited life span. Boys can only grow up to reach the age of twenty-five before a fatal virus attacks their system and kills them. Girls only live to the age of twenty. Because of this known death sentence, maturity is escalated and marriages begin young for reproduction. Rhine, a sixteen-year-old living in Manhattan which is completely different from what we know it to be, is kidnapped by the Gatherers to be sold as a bride into a wealthy home in order to continue their bloodline. Separated from her only family, her twin brother Rowan, she is hurried into a car with other young girls, while gunshots ring outside of the car for those not deemed worthy of the sale.

Arriving at her new "home," Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily, become the young brides for the son of the house, Linden. Cecily, the youngest bride at thirteen, is away from the orphanages that are so common in this new future and is excited about her new life. Rhine and Jenna, unhappy at being separated from their families, initially direct their hatred to their husband, Linden, but it's his father who is the lurking and malevolent presence. As a member of the "first generation" that engineered the accidental virus, he is now relentlessly pursuing the antidote at all costs and his presence hints at much more he is capable of doing. It's up to Rhine to figure out a way to ultimately escape a mansion with no visible entrance, to return to her twin brother, and to also deal with the conflicting emotions of loyalty for her sister-wives, and the passion she has for a servant in the house, Gabriel. Slowly, Rhine also begins to realize that Linden isn't the warden of this extravagant "prison," but rather his father is the one to fear.

Note: Keep in mind that this is my opinion only and I'm sharing with you my reading experience of this popular book, so please check out the other reviews I've linked to at the bottom that can give you a different perspective. There are a few mini-spoilers throughout this review, but nothing I think could affect what you might expect or already know about this book, but to play it on the safe side, only those who have read the book should continue to read on...

What I enjoy about science-fiction is that both the plot and the actions are, while a bit far-fetched at times, usually plausible. I'm no expert on science or evolution, but with Wither, I was nagged by my logical side and I often debated the inconsistencies. I tried to tell myself to let it go, but I was reminded that this is not what you do with science fiction; normally, you can feel the foundation of the story and imagine this new world. Sometimes, you can even close a book and reflect on the possibilities outlined in the story and believe it could happen. With Wither, unfortunately I was left confused and disappointed. I thought the story was interesting and the pacing was good, but I was uncomfortable with several aspects in where the story went and, most especially, in the character development.

In Rhine's old life, North America is desolate and her options are nil. Her parents were killed and she and her twin are left to fend for themselves in a house that is fiercely cold and filled with rats. With little food to keep them alive, they are forced to sleep in shifts so they can keep watch for any potential intruders. The Manhattan they live in is an industrial and bleak wasteland of factories and there is no hope...

But now, Rhine lives in a sprawling mansion, with food so incredible and in unlimited quantities. There are golf courses, pools with incredible underworld holograms which give one the illusion they are swimming in underwater shipwrecks, or swimming with schools of fish and dolphins. There is a full library of books to read, custom clothing to wear and magical baths to take.

Let me get this out of the way: Abduction and rape are nightmares, and completely illegal in the world we know today. In the world Wither portrayed, though, I don't think there would be a need for abductions to supply girls for marriage. Here's why: This new post-apocalyptic world is about a few generations into this automatic virus which kicks in at certain ages depending on gender. I would imagine "survival of the fittest" would come into play and each person would now be vying for the opportunity to escape their squalid life in a wasteland, to move into a mansion and have unlimited food and warmth for the short amount of time they had on earth, right? In the world of Wither, it would seem that the overall mindset would now change as each generation is born, and the goal would be to end up in one of these marriages. After all, it's not as though not being in a marriage gives you the chance to live longer: Everyone dies at 25 and 20, bottom line, whether married or not. If it's "freedom" Rhine's looking for, wouldn't she rather sacrifice this version of it in order to live in comfort rather than almost dying every day, miserable conditions swallowing her up? I think people would be fighting to get into the mansions, and abductions wouldn't be common at all.

My other frustration was with Linden and Gabriel, the two that create a love "triangle" for Rhine, which is a loose description for something that doesn't feel fleshed out and might be coming in the next installment. But I felt nothing for either of them, which may be because I didn't know much about them. Linden is described as fragile and weak but has a brilliant mind for architecture, and he pines for his true love, Rose, the wife before Rhine, Jenna, and Cecily show up. That's it. There aren't long conversations with him, he doesn't seem interested to ask anything at all about Rhine's life before coming to his house, he doesn't understand the eventual bond that the wives have with each other, and overall, he seems pretty weak-willed about everything. I don't understand why Rhine, a seemingly tough young lady, would feel even the slightest bit of interest for him.

The servant, Gabriel, is only familiar with the orphanage he lived in before being purchased to work as a servant in this mansion. Other than that, he is so vaguely described and there isn't even a physical description of him. I even went back to the point of when he first enters the story and still couldn't find out what this kid looked like. At some point, Rhine describes him as being bigger than Linden, but it seems like anyone could be since Linden is so frail. It wasn't until the end of the story that I finally found out he had blue eyes. I still don't know what color hair he has, though.

But the primary angle I couldn't understand with Gabriel was his motivation to leave this life. He's only lived in an orphanage before working in this extravagant mansion, and I couldn't grasp his willingness to risk it all for one of the wives. I could write it off and say he just loves Rhine, but I think there's only so much of the "willing suspension of disbelief" that I can give. Did he fully understand the risk he was taking? I don't know.

With a statement like the one below, I expected to really know Gabriel and why they had such a connection with each other. 
Gabriel's voice can reach me anywhere. Even in a hurricane. (p.185)
This is my opinion only, so please do take a look at the below links. I will seek out the second book to see how it plays out. My disappointment for Wither is centered around the fact that this is such an interesting idea for a story, and the author does have a wonderful ability at times to convey actions and events, that these inconsistencies stick out and brought such a disappointment. Here's what I think would have been interesting for our hero, Rhine: I would have much preferred Rhine to plot for a way to take over the house, locate her brother and bring him to the compound so that they could all be safe together. Why leave all this food, warmth, and shelter behind?

Did I miss it? What did you think of this book?

This book will be included on an upcoming giveaway, so stay tuned!
About the Author
Lauren DeStefano is the celebrated author of the popular Young Adult dystopian fiction The Chemical Garden Trilogy. The second book to the series, Fever, will be released by Simon & Schuster in February 2012.

Click here to visit the author on her website.
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25 December 2011

The Sunday Salon...Merry Christmas To You and Yours...

Many of you have seen this picture before but I just love it.
Photo of my amazing Roma the Dog by Digital Graces.


24 December 2011

Saturday Snapshot...Don't Forget About the Animals...

You know that bumper sticker that promotes rescuing animals and it reads, "Who rescued who?" That's how I feel about my two former strays: Roma the Dog and Puppy the Cat. My husband found Roma on a busy road and had she stepped a few feet to one side, she would have been smack dab in the middle of 45-mile per hour traffic. We took Puppy the Cat in after he was kicked out by a neighbor in Florida because his ex-girlfriend dumped him and he just wanted to get rid of the cat. In the four years we've been blessed to have them in our lives, these two have done more for me and my husband than we ever would have imagined. We are so very lucky.

Clearly you can see that I prefer a lot of blankets on my side of the bed, which apparently is their preference as well...

I encourage you to remember the animals who are alone this holiday season. Don't bypass a dog on the street; instead, call the local SPCA to help pick them up. And one way you can always help is to donate dog food, cat food, toys or beds for the animals in your local SPCA. Or better yet, bring a pet home with you.

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshot, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


23 December 2011

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta

It's probably because of my recent completion of Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, that anything that came after would feel like a breeze of a read. I was feeling pretty invincible anyway, and The Leftovers came through as a thoughtful read that begs to be taken in at once, all during one sitting. While introspective enough to give me pause, it wasn't overbearing.

After a sudden and unexplained disappearance of an unidentified number of people around the world, the residents of one small town called Mapleton, try to piece life back together again. Into this aftermath of a new post-apocalyptic world three years later, some join a cult called the Guilty Remnant, requiring members to take a vow of silence and decide to live in a community with others who also believe that the old world is gone and the new one is upon them (which is also a world they believe won't last very long for anything from the past to matter). Others fall into a wild party life, or some choose to follow the last-minute prophet who springs up in the midst of confusion. The rest just try to move on. In a world that is now trying to simultaneously figure out what caused this mass disappearance, those who haven't disappeared have to pick up the pieces and deal with the feelings of loss, denial, and guilt.

At the heart of this story is the Garvey family, a family of four who didn't lose anyone in their immediate family, but have been jarred in an emotional way. Jill, the young teenage daughter of Kevin and Laurie was an "eyewitness" to her best friend disappearing, and their older son Tom, can't quite seem to feel tethered to the way society once was. Kevin and Laurie try to do their best, but ultimately, each of them make choices that take them all in completely different directions. And when Laurie makes a drastic decision to join the cult of silence, the Guilty Remnant, it leaves Kevin and Jill to make order out of their own lives without her. Moving out of the family home, Laurie takes on this new world with others who are dressed in white, smoke cigarettes to declare their presence, and patiently stalk Mapleton residents to be the town's silent reminder that the end is near.

Around town are a variety of characters who are each affected by the disappearance in a variety of ways, skillfully created by Tom Perrotta, and all of them heartbreaking. This is my first time reading his work and I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the balance between good and bad, order and chaos, and the overall flow of the story. It kept my interest and I didn't want to put it down. For you fast readers out there, it's going to be a snap to finish this one in a day.

But (and I hate to admit this) I was also just a teensy bit disappointed because I was eagerly turning the pages when I first started this, so it's probably too harsh of a word to use. I'm new to Perrotta's work, so while I initially thought this would be a story which would allow the reader to understand what happened and why, I was surprised that instead it became more about the exploration of small-town suburbia, and the sometimes mistaken impression that a big house and car doesn't always mean that everything makes sense or that one's life is fulfilled. I know now that Perrotta is known for this unhinging dive into the psyche of "things that are supposed to be just fine but really aren't," and in retrospect, I can appreciate the artistry of what was accomplished in this work. It's not to say that this story isn't poignant, or that the characters aren't real; quite the opposite. In fact, my mouth hung open with the genuineness of each character's confusion and how they handled it; it was an honest approach to the possible scenario of, to put it bluntly, "What the hell happened?"

My sense of detachment to the book, though, is minimal and was more in the sense that I felt I was waiting for something to happen, to be explained. To have an answer. I know that's how it was supposed to be designed, to leave you contemplating bigger questions than just the answer to, "No, really, but why?" I realize because of this reaction that both the Guilty Remnant cult from the book and another group called the Barefoot People, would guffaw and scoff at me. But I was anticipating something that would be the explanation of a lot of the mysteries of the story, and perhaps that was my problem. As I mull it over now, I'm not at all unhappy with the book at all, I'm just a little dazed. I loved the book for its characters, the dialogue, the interesting moments and snippets of each of their lives as they try to create some sort of understanding in the midst of the ambiguity. But as the reader, I wanted to understand more, get more of a foundation, other than just closing the book and feeling like one of the many confused residents of the town of Mapleton.

But, please, don't get me wrong; I don't want you to think this story isn't good because it really is. I'm conflicted simply because I feel the story is so powerful, mesmerizing in some instances, and heartbreaking in others. I probably came into it with a different expectation for the end result, so I advise you with this if you've not experienced Tom Perrotta's work before, or if you think this book might be a suspenseful thriller: This is a quiet story, fused at its center with the humble defiance and strength of the average and everyday person. And that's a beautiful thing. To be able to capture a glimpse into what makes each of us important, unique, and ultimately strong, is no easy thing, and Perrotta handled it with a deftness that made it completely obvious to this novice-Perrotta reader why he has quite the fan following. Just don't go into it with the expectation that it will be a fast-moving novel with a lot of twists and turns or even, a lot of practical insight or answers, as more of it is a philosophical process, or just more a book to experience the characters alone. So in that, it is absolutely worth it.

I'd highly recommend this for a book club; this story is perfect for discussions and debates.

FTC Disclosure:
I received this advanced reader's edition from St. Martin's Press, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Others wrote:
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Book Addiction
Fizzy Thoughts
Literate Housewife (audio review)
Nomad Reader

Watch this blog, this book is going to be included in a future Giveaway...!

About the Author
Tom Perrotta is the incomparable author of The Abstinence Teacher, Little Children, Joe College, Election, The Wishbones, and Bad Haircut. His most recent novel, The Leftovers, has already received numerous accolades and was named one of the "Best Books of 2011" by O the Oprah Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Amazon.com, GQ, NPR (Fresh Air), The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, and The Book Page. He is married to Mary Granfield, and they live with their three children in Boston, Massachusetts.

Click here to visit the author on his website.
Click here to be added to the author's mailing list.


22 December 2011

A Walk About Town is a weekly feature hosted here at Coffee and a Book Chick. Anyone can participate! Write about a spot in your town, include the button for A Walk About Town, and add your link in the Linky below so that we can all visit your post. You don't need to include a picture to participate and although I will post on Thursdays, you can post yours any day of that week. Just make sure to add your link to the most recent week's post here at Coffee and a Book Chick, and if you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #AWalkAboutTown.

This is my dream. For either Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives or Adam Richman from Man vs. Food to come visit Route 58 in Virginia Beach, Virginia and give this deli/cafĂ©/restaurant the proper attention they deserve.

*Warning ~ there will be a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS in this post.*
People, LISTEN. If you are in Virginia Beach, you must head to The Route 58 Delicatessen to EAT.

And, oh, I do mean eat. A LOT.

When we first walked in, the hustle and bustle of this cozy joint was perfect. With a retro feel and wicked awesome 1950s-style signs, I knew this was going to be *the* spot that would quickly become a regular hang out for us.

Talk about character!
Not only are the menus (pictured below) made to look like magazine advertisements, but even the owner Jeff Goldberg's REPORT CARD when he was a kid, is laminated and tacked to the wall. It was hilarious, setting just the right kick-back-and-relax atmosphere.

And. The. FOOD. Fellow lovers of food, I am not kidding. If you are in Virginia Beach ever, and I MEAN EVER, stopping at the Route 58 Deli is now my requirement for you. Let's just say that when one of the slogans on a server's t-shirt reads, "If you finish, we made a mistake," then you know you're in for the type of food that makes your eyes bug out when the server brings it to your table. And when other diners then peek over your shoulder to ask what you got, that's another good sign.

I'll start out with the coffee. I drink mine black with one sugar in it, and my husband has his with cream and sugar. We both ended up asking for to go cups when we neared the end of the meal, it was THAT GOOD.

And for the food? Ahhhh. I had a Potato Knish, which was some magical creation of hot, flaky, soft bread wrapped around mashed potato and more magic. I'm still dreaming about it. My husband ordered something called "The Almost Famous" omelet with PASTRAMI and CORNED BEEF HASH and a gazillion other tasty things in it, but it also had MORE corned beef hash on top of that, and then it was finished off with two potato latkes balanced on top, almost like an exclamation point at the end of it all. It was in your face eating pleasure. (Guy? Adam? Did you wanna visit yet?). To do this plate true justice, I would suggest you just visit Route 58 now and order it. Suffice it to say that my husband eats everything on his plate every time, but this time? He could only eat half of "The Almost Famous."

The place is inviting, the decor is retro-amazing, the food is to drool over and pack your bellies with, and the service is TOP NOTCH. The owner, Jeff Goldberg (still just a kid from Jersey, per his site), and his super-fantastic staff (thanks, to our server Rachael, who happens to be a blog writer herself at The Witty Hippie), have a rock solid deli that would make New York, Chicago, and Boston drool and dream.

"Go, you must," said the ever-wise Yoda to the awesome blog reader. "Tonight. And then, with a belly content, you sleep."

The owner's report card! Ha! Below grade level, my a#$

LOOK AT THIS!! Eat this Potato Knish in one sitting. Dare ya.
Join me this week! Have you walked about your town and want to share something fun, educational, or intriguing that represents where you live? Write up a post, add the button to your blog, and enter your blog link to the Linky below.


18 December 2011

Science Fiction Experience 2012

I wasn't planning on joining anything in 2012, and if I did, it wouldn't be many. Considering 2011 was a bust of everything I had such high hopes for, the idea of participating in 2012 was unnerving.

But... I'm feeling pretty invincible after finishing Wolf Hall last night.

When I read that Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings was hosting a Science Fiction Experience from January 1, 2012 to February 29, 2012, and NOT a challenge, I was nervous, yet intrigued. Carl also hosts the RIP Challenge, which 2011 was my first time joining. This helped me realize I do better with shorter events than year-long ones. I've only put a toe in the water for Science Fiction in the past, so I figured, why not? It couldn't hurt. Besides, I have these books from George R.R. Martin that I'm eager to try. So I'm ready to jump into the fray.

As Carl writes in his intro, there are no rules. Just have fun. It's not a challenge, and it also encompasses both reading and television participation. I think I might be ready. What about you?


Note: This is the final post for the Wolf Hall Readalong which took place over the past three weeks. Be prepared for spoilers in this post, of course. Readalong participants should add their post's link into the Linky below so we can read your thoughts. Don't forget to visit other readalong participants.

*throws confetti*

I cannot even believe it. I can finally watch the four-part HBO miniseries when it comes out (sometime in 2013?). I finished Wolf Hall late last night and surprisingly, after my first struggles with the book, I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. And while this book was intriguing, intelligent, and fascinating, it also felt like such a journey over the past three weeks that I am now exhausted! But happy. This was a true chunkster of a book and I'm so thankful I had the paperback cover; I think my hands would have given out holding the hardcover book to read each day.

Final Thoughts
I closed the book with sadness. I know Hilary Mantel has partitioned the story into a trilogy and that 2012 brings a new book, but many of you may know that I much prefer stories to be told all at once, versus in this new trend of series/trilogies. I also understand that there is so very much to this story that putting this all into one book would have been nearly impossible; surely there would have been too many edits that would have parsed down both the story and the writing that ultimately it would have been much to difficult to enjoy if it was one book. I get it, I'm just simply stamping my foot on my frustrations with trilogies and the fact that it takes a year or more before the next in the series comes out. I hate waiting.

In this version of the tale of Henry VIII and the dueling battle for who the rightful queen should be, Cromwell comes out on top as a caring, loyal, generous and brilliant man. I have written this (or similar to it) every week and I say it again: Cromwell is THE MAN. He's just not one to be pushed around. Fools are those who feel they can beat him. But one thing that interested me even more so was that Cromwell could never understand how people looked at him. It always surprised him when he hears it said about him; even his own son Gregory knew this and understood the gossip. Later in the book, this passage resonated with me:

I shall not indulge More, he thinks, or his family, in any illusion that they understand me. How could that be, when my workings are hidden from myself? (pg. 536)

Hilary Mantel is successful in beautifully portraying what life might be like in the early 1500s, within the courtly and political world that Cromwell was a part of. While simultaneously weaving in these political tensions, it is the human side that rounds out the character and shows him to be one worth fighting for. Measured in his calculations and countenance, Cromwell is the very man you'd want to have on your side. The tale is haunting, with Mantel relaying ambiguously who is saying what, and while that was initially confusing (and continued to occasionally be) it finally moved past that into a comfortable rhythm that seemed to make sense. While I fought with the story initially in the first thirty or so pages, concerned that I was going to walk away unhappy with the way it was written, I instead realized that there was a method to the unclear madness, which made for a much better and more compelling story of Cromwell's life. What has stuck with me the most these past three weeks is that Cromwell's love for family was so grounded and strong. He may have grown up with a horrible and abusive father, but Cromwell looks at all in his household as part of his life and people that he needs to watch over and protect. He regularly thinks of his wife and children who died years before, and he mourns the new chapters in his "people's" lives, as they begin to make new lives outside of his home with their spouses. He misses the sounds of babies and the pitter-patter of children's feet; Hilary Mantel virtually reached out of the book with her writing and made you feel everything. What an amazing piece of work.

I look forward to her second book and I recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction, particularly the Tudors, but I would also recommend this to those interested in political strategy and intrigue. It's quite the story, one you just will not forget. (Just remember that when you see the word "he," more than likely it's probably Cromwell speaking or thinking the thoughts.)

Major Events
  1. Cristophe joins the household at Austin Friars. (How many people will Cromwell take in? A young man with a shady past, he is loyal and ready to be a Cromwell man. I wouldn't mind having this kid on my side as well; as Cromwell points out, Cristophe is like a version of Cromwell.)
  2. In 1533, Lady Anne and King Henry finally take their wedding vows. Anne is crowned Queen of England shortly thereafter.
  3. Cromwell gets a new post, chancellor of the exchequer.
  4. Thomas More is pronounced as poor. (I must admit, this made me happy. I felt the man was a vile nut job, so his misery didn't bother me in the least bit. Especially when it was alluded to that he was more interested in his daughter and not his wife).
  5. Anne gives birth to a girl, then loses her second child while giving birth.
  6. Cromwell takes in Elizabeth Barton, the "prophetess" and begins to question her. Away from the priests and monks who touted her as someone who could communicate directly with God, she is now considered more ordinary. She confesses that she is a fraud and is eventually executed.
  7. Mary Boleyn is pregnant with Lord Stafford's child. Anne thinks it's Henry's child so she puts Mary out. (Seriously, Anne, did you think Henry was actually going to be loyal to just you?)
  8. Richard is promised in marriage to a young woman of France.
  9. Rafe has secretly married Helen, another person Cromwell took in because she had two children with a husband who may have been dead and used to beat her all the time.
  10. Cromwell gets another title no one has ever held before: Vicegerent in Spirituals, deputy in church affairs.
  11. Thomas More is put to death. (No love lost there)
A few players that made me research more

Eustace Chapuys
Elizabeth Barton
Stephen Gardiner
Passages (the third one is my favorite)
For a moment, he seems like a carved statue, like a simpler form of himself, or one of his own ancestors; one of the race of giants that roamed Britain, and left no trace of themselves except in the dreams of their petty descendants. (pg.413)

When a woman withdraws to give birth the sun may be shining but the shutters of her room are closed so she can make her own weather. She is kept in the dark so she can dream. Her dreams drift her far away, from terra firma to a marshy tract of land, to a landing stage, to a river where a mist closes over the farther bank, and earth and sky are inseparate; there she must embark toward life and death, a muffled figure in the stern directing the oars. In this vessel prayers are said that men never hear. Bargains are struck between a woman and her God. The river is tidal, ad between one feather-stroke and the next, her tide may turn. (pg. 447)

He is conscious that his son is taller than he is: not that it takes much. He steps sideways, though only in his mind, to see his boy with a painter's eye: a boy with fine white skin and hazel eyes, a slender angel of the second rank in a fresco dappled with damp, in some hill town far from here. He thinks of him as a page in a forest riding across vellum, dark curls crisp under a narrow band of gold; whereas the young men about every day, the young men of Austin Friars, are muscled like fighting dogs, hair cropped to stubble, eyes sharp as sword points. He thinks, Gregory is all he should be. He is everything I have a right to hope for: his openness, his gentleness, the reserve and consideration with which he holds back his thoughts till he has framed them. He feels such tenderness for him he thinks he might cry. (pg. 489)

The fate of people is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh. (pg.566)

Thank you to everyone who joined in the readalong and I'm so excited we finished! Post your thoughts on your blog and add the link to the Linky below (don't forget to visit the other participants).


17 December 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Rudee Inlet, Virginia Beach

After Thursday's humbling and inspirational visit to Grommet Island Beach Park for my feature "A Walk About Town," I had a few pictures of Rudee Inlet and the Virginia Beach Boardwalk that I wanted to share. The angle here is right around the 2nd street area for both the inlet and the start of the boardwalk. I don't know about you, but while I enjoy going to the beach on a warm day, I think I actually prefer it when it's a bit cold, with a little bit of wind. Something about it makes it a bit more peaceful.

For more of this week's snapshots, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


15 December 2011

A Walk About Town is a weekly feature hosted here at Coffee and a Book Chick throughout the month of December. Anyone can participate; for those who do, simply write a post, include the button you see to the left in the sidebar, and add your link in the Linky below so that we can all visit your post. You do not need to include a picture to participate.

"A beach park & playground for every body."

It's time to put aside simple disagreements with others. Not only is it the holidays, but no matter how big it might feel at the time, anything is pretty inconsequential after you visit Grommet Island Beach Park in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

On the History tab of Grommet Island's web page, the tag line reads "From Adversity, the Birth of an Idea." Nothing could be more compelling and humbling. In 2006, at the incredibly young age of 33, Josh Thompson was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A passionate surfer, Josh was forced to begin a new chapter in his life.

While family and friends headed to the beach one summer day, Josh had to stay back because there just wasn't any access to the beach that could accommodate his wheelchair, nor was there any place that he would be able to get across the sand to the shoreline and see the waves he loved. It is this obstacle that inspired Josh's father Bruce to begin the plans to create a place that would be accessible to everyone. The city of Virginia Beach also came through and with the help of the city and local companies, not to mention the resounding support of the residents of Virginia Beach, Grommet Island Beach Park at 2nd Street became a reality and just last year, in 2010, the Grand Opening was held. Since that time, more than $4 million has been raised to support research, park funding, and the ALS association.

This is one of the most extraordinary places I've ever been to. The vision of creating a spot for anyone, regardless if they were in a wheelchair or not, to comfortably access the beach and shoreline also produced a playground and a statue of father and son surfers. I loved every moment today, but I started to wonder about other beaches in the country, in the world. How easy is it for someone who is wheelchair-bound to access the shore and see the ocean that brings peace to many? How could you help make a difference in your community?

It is an unprecedented location and I was honored to be there today. I tip my hat to Bruce Thompson, the city and residents of Virginia Beach, the companies supporting it, and most especially to one surfer named Josh.

To see more about the site and to make a donation, please click here. For more information on the ALS Association and to make a donation, please click here.

To participate in A Walk About Town and to highlight a spot in your area, grab the button in the sidebar, write up a post, and then add your link to the Linky below.


14 December 2011

Winner of Holiday Giveaway Number 1

Click Here... are you on Pinterest, too?
A quick post for the winner of Holiday Giveaway Number 1 ~ Ellen from Fat Books & Thin Women! I don't know if she's in Albania or New Jersey right now, but the following books in the below picture are going in the mail this week! Congratulations!


11 December 2011

This is my first time participating in Beth Fish Reads' weekly meme and I'm so excited to share this one with you. I was in the mood to make something with blueberries for my husband's co-worker as a thank you to her and her husband for hosting a party and I stumbled upon this recipe at The Travel Bite. (I don't have a lot of cookbooks for some reason, so I normally just jump online.) My goal is to be much more creative in 2012 so being more in the kitchen are on the list, along with scrapbooking and journaling. I used to do all of this years ago, but work has pulled me away from most of that. So, these Blueberry & White Chocolate Chip Cookies looked like they might just do the job.

And. They. DID.

Oh, my goodness. They weren't overly sweet, they were just right! The punch of the blueberry and the sweetness of the white chocolate were a wonderful combination and the dough has an almost cake-like consistency. I can see why The Travel Bite writer wrote that she would eat these for breakfast also. YUM. (By the way, you MUST visit her site, it is delish).

The recipe came from The Travel Bite and the box to put the cookies in (along with ribbon and sticker) is Martha Stewart.

Maine Blueberry & White Chocolate Chip Cookies*

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup medium-cut oats (not quick cooking)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup fresh Maine blueberries (if frozen, allow to thaw and drain) I used regular blueberries
*I used regular blueberries; no Maine options here, but the regular ones worked just fine!

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, sour cream, and sugars and beat on medium speed until well blended. Add the egg and mix until smooth.
  3. Add baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, and salt to the mixture and combine.
  4. Fold in the oats, then the flour and mix until just blended. Fold in the white chocolate chips and the blueberries.
  5. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until puffed and barely dry to the touch. Try not to allow the cookies to brown.
  6. Eat!
Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.


Note: This is the second of three posts for the Wolf Hall Readalong co-hosted by Nicole at Linus's Blanket and me, so be prepared for spoilers. Readalong participants should add their post's link into the Linky below so we can read your thoughts. Also, remember to use the hashtag on Twitter #WolfHallReadalong so we can stay in the loop with everyone if there are questions (or grumbles).

This week's section was much longer than our first week, but my, oh my. I love what I'm reading now and the action stepped up considerably in this section, don't you think? From Cromwell and Johane breaking up, to Henry VIII meeting with the King of France, to monks being burned at the stake for their support of Tyndale...oh, my. The pacing, at points, felt to me as though it were a suspenseful thriller of momentous events, punctuated by the stillness of deep sorrow which made my heart ache.

Cromwell continues to be an all-around exceptional human being in this representation from Hilary Mantel, and while at times it felt almost unbelievable that he could be this perfect, I went along with it because of the beautiful writing. While simultaneously loyal to family and friends, Cromwell is also a brilliant adviser, a tough and reasonable strategist. Not to mention, he is an animal lover (and endearing enough is the fact that he likes to name all his dogs Bella). Again, there are splashes of reminders that he can also hold his own when it comes to a fight. He's just THE MAN, in this story at least. As you all may recall from last week, I'm not especially knowledgeable about the Tudors, so I am trusting that, while personality traits may be fictionalized, the events itself are accurate. Regardless, despite any doubts, when I compare Thomas Cromwell to Thomas More in this book? Thomas More was a malevolent, vile creature who tortured people and was abusive to his wife. Cromwell continues to be a just and loyal man.

Two players in this section that made me research a bit more
Thomas More
Charles Brandon
Major Events
  • Cromwell gets a seat in Parliament, representing Taunton.
  • The King's advisers are preparing no fewer than forty-four charges against the cardinal, from the violation of the statues of praemunire (the upholding of a foreign jurisdiction within the king's realm, to buying beef for his household at the same price as the king, financial malfeasance, to failing to halt the spread of Lutheran heresies. (Good gracious. If there were any indication that the cardinal was not liked before, it's fairly evident now. Nonsense charges.)
  • Thomas' sister and brother-in-law succumb to the sweating sickness. (Thomas has lost his wife, his two daughters, and his sister and brother-in-law. I can't believe how sad this has become, but while I realize these were not the healthiest of times, it's still so depressing.)
  • Cardinal Wolsey is arrested November 1, 1530 and dies November 29, 1530 from an unnamed illness. (I felt for Cromwell, as this man was key to him and treated him well. It was a sad moment that Cromwell wasn't with Wolsey in his final moments.)
  • On the last day of 1530, Cromwell is sworn into the King's council.
  • Thomas and Johane, his sister-in-law, who had begun discreetly dating after his wife passed away, break up in one of the most moving sections of the book. (p.288)
  • Harry Percy claims he and Lady Anne Boleyn are married, causing a brief stir of potential calamity for the Boleyns' quest to have Anne be the Queen.
  • Cromwell and Mary Boleyn have a moment in which they somewhat kiss, but it appears she was initially waiting for Lord Stafford. (Gah. I was thrilled for Cromwell, but then was embarrassed for him that she's waiting for someone else.)
  • The prophetess, Elizabeth Barton, predicts to Henry VIII that he will only reign for seven months if he marries Lady Anne.
Again, my, oh my. So many events occurred throughout this week's section that with Mantel's construction of events and writing, it became a completely engrossing week for me and I couldn't put it down. I still feel conflicted about Cromwell because while part of me initially believed he seemed a little too perfect, I look at my notes and am reminded that less than one month after Cardinal Wolsey dies, Cromwell is then sworn into the King's council. I feel a little uncomfortable by this at first, because I want Cromwell to be this perfect man, but for him to now be a supporter and trusted adviser of the king who turned his back on Wolsey was unnerving. Of course, I then am even more conflicted, since really, what else can Cromwell do? Turn down being part of the King's council? Not really. This was the time of torture, burning at the stake, etc.

A Few Passages
Why are we so attached to the severities of the past? Why are we so proud of ourselves for having endured our fathers and our mothers, the fireless days and the meatless days, the cold winters and the sharp tongues? It's not as if we had a choice. Even Liz, once when they were young, when she'd seen him early in the morning putting Gregory's shirt to warm before the fire, even Liz had said sharply, don't do that, he'll expect it every day. (p.287)

"I hope I can always look myself in the face. And you, Johane, you should always have a fine glass to see yourself. As you're a woman worth looking at." You could write a sonnet, Thomas Wyatt could write her a sonnet, and not make this effect...She turns her head away, but through the thin film of her veil he can see her skin glow. Because women will coax: tell me, just tell me something, tell me your thoughts; and this he has done. (p.288)

Any year before this, the king would have gone to pray at Becket's shrine and leave a rich offering. But Becket was a rebel against the Crown, not the sort of archbishop we like to encourage at the moment. In the cathedral the incense is still hanging in the air from Warham's interment, and prayers for his soul are a constant drone like the buzz of a thousand hives.... Rafe visits the shrine. It is his first time. He comes back wide-eyed, saying it is covered in jewels the size of goose eggs. (p.365)

Click here for more images
Another week of beautiful writing and a compelling story. I am ecstatic that I am reading this book.

What did you think of the Parts 3 and 4? Post your thoughts on your blog and add the link to the Linky below. If you are participating and don't have a blog, go ahead and leave your thoughts in a comment below. If you have already read it, feel free to add your thoughts as well!