Month: January 2023

My Month of Madness

by Susannah Cahalan

Like A Stitch of Time, this book is about the author’s experience with a health issue that severely affected her brain. There are some similarities and some stark differences. In the prior book, the onset was very sudden (an aneurysm). In this case, the onset was gradual and confusing, at first Cahalan thought she just had the flu. Then she started having problems with motor skills, visual perception and emotional control- breaking into sobs over nothing or displaying extreme aggression and suffering from vivid paranoia. Her behavior become so erratic she was finally convinced to see doctors but got different answers: alcohol abuse withdrawl, side effects from medications, a mental illness such a schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Her family got her checked into a hospital when she started having seizures. She was nearly at the catatonic stage when a different doctor was assigned to her case and finally came up with the answer- a rare infection had attacked her brain tissue. The rest of the story is about her treatment and recovery.

Again like the prior book, she describes struggling with language afterwards, but didn’t do any therapy sessions and doesn’t go into nearly as much detail about how loss of language and articulation temporarily affected her life. Her recovery was complete enough that she was able to return to work and of course, write this memoir, in the hopes that it would help others who suffered from the same frightening illness. That’s the part that struck me most, after reading this book. Not the alarming symptoms and interesting information about the brain, but how very narrowly she avoided being put in an institution for the rest of her life, misdiagnosed with a mental illness. A lot of her symptoms very closely resembled schizophrenia, her inarticulate vocalizations and stiff body movements in later stages were just like those depicted in horror films about people being “possessed”. And why do those films invariably depict young women? well guess what, this disease tends to afflict women under 18. It is horrifyingly sad to think how many hundreds of people in the past probably had the same illness and were condemned as being possessed by demons or shut up in mental hospitals. Nowadays it’s treatable but still only if it gets recognized quickly enough- the testing was not at all cheap, author was so very lucky to have affluent parents who didn’t give up on her and insisted on more answers. I can’t stop wondering how many other mental afflictions are due to pathological causes that could be treated if we just knew more about them.

I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as the last one, though I did read through it pretty quickly. It’s not as articulate and introspective. The writing is a lot more straightforward, which I don’t mind. I admit I had some moments of disbelief, probably colored by finding out that Cahalan is a reporter for a tabloid newspaper. However all the things I’ve looked up since finishing the book, sound quite true enough. There was one scene where I was thrown out of the narrative by an unlikely choice of words: someone was described as nibbling on her yougurt. It just seemed odd to me. I think of nibbling as something done with crunchy food. Very minor detail to get hung up on, but still it stuck with me.

Rating: 3/5
266 pages, 2012

the Year a Brain Injury Changed My Language and Life

by Lauren Marks

The author was only twenty seven when she collapsed during a karaoke performance in a bar, due to a ruptered aneurysm. Most people don’t survive this but she did- and woke up in the hospital afterwards with aphasia. The stroke had affected her use of language- she could no longer find words easily, had difficulty understanding what people said to her, and initially it took hours for her to write a few sentences or read just one page in a book. All this happening to a student who loved reading and was a theater performer, must have been devastating. You’d think. But strangely, she describes feeling an immense sense of calm and quietness inside, during the first period of recovery. Because she could not easily call up words, her very throught process and memory was affected, she simply could not think about certain things. She had no great sense of loss, because she couldn’t remember clearly what she’d lost. She knew people around her were dear and familiar, but had no sense of history with them- family vacations, inside jokes, past arguments- all just gone from her mind. So not only was her functionality in daily life affected, but also her relationships. The memoir is about her gradual recovery of language, her thoughts on how language use (and lack of it) shaped her thoughts and outlook on life, and how things went with the people around her- family support, friends she felt she didn’t quite know anymore, her boyfriend. Not really knowing the person she used to be, trying to become the person she was now. And all the things she learned about brain function and aneurysms in her quest to understand what had happened from her. Her surprise and insights when she finally met other survivors with aphasia, how different all their experiences were. I really enjoyed this book and now have a few more to add to my list, that she mentioned in the text.

Similar read: Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
362 pages, 2017

by Barbara Kingsolver

In rural Appalachia, the story of a boy who’s always down on his luck, but keeps trying to make the best of it. Damon (soon nicknamed Demon) doesn’t get a good start in life, at all. Teenage drug-addicted mother, deceased father, abusive step-father. Living in poverty and soon shunted around between dysfunctional (not to mention exploitative) foster homes. He’s surrounded by people both good and bad. He and some friends seem to make poor choices simply because their options are so few. What looks like bad choices to others, might simply be better than the worse ones easier to reach in front of them. So I thought. Midway through this book things are looking a bit up for Demon- he finally gets into a better home and starts exploring some talents that could lead to a future. Then a football accident ruins his knee and drags his life down. An operation is a months-long wait that turns into never. He succumbs to addictive painkillers- so gradually you hardly see it happening. Slides into all kinds of bad situations. Somehow you keep rooting for this character. He seems good at heart, deep down. Maybe it’s the humor? I have to say, this book took me by surprise. I felt like this author wrote a young male voice pretty well- crude jokes, foul language and all- sometimes it had me cringing a bit, more times admiring. I’ve read all over the place that this novel is a patterned after David Copperfield but I haven’t read that so can’t compare. However the voice and circumstances reminded me of several others- The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. What it did not remind me of, was Kingsolver’s other books. This one is so different. I’m not sure if I actually liked it? as in, would I avidly read it again. So much of the story was just dismal things happening. It really kept me turning the pages, though.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
560 pages, 2022

More opinions:
Book Chase
Sam Still Reading
anyone else?

made by Impact ~ photographers unknown ~ 500 pieces

My kid gave me some puzzles he wasn’t interested in anymore. Said “you’ll like this one, Mom- it has all the different weird shapes.” He was right! While it’s not my favorite kind of picture (collage) and there was a tad too much glare, the pieces were nice and sturdy in this one, and the shapes very fun. Totally random cut. It was a bit slow at first because I had to keep peering at the picture insert (which wasn’t much bigger than the box cover) to see which small photo each piece went in. But once I got a third done, much easier to just eyeball things and put them into place. This one is a brand I hadn’t done before, and I’m sorry to say it really irritated my skin (I had to use plastic gloves and the fingertips got all discolored) and it has a loose fit, so moving sections around had to be a piece at a time.

I’ve been using a different puzzle board lately, it’s a piece of chipboard (the kind looks like made from cardboard pressed together). It’s smaller than my plywood board, lighter weight so easier to pick up and move around (when I want to put it near a window for a photo- especially useful when the puzzle surface has so much glare). And nice that it has a bit of texture, so the pieces don’t slide when I tilt the board. Downsides are it doesn’t stay flat, bows a bit when propped up. Also with the lower contrast between the board and the puzzle itself, a tad harder to instantly visualize shape matches and pick out pieces. Plus it’s not big enough to spread all the pieces out on one surface, I have to get out a second board or use the tabletop. So might go back to using my plywood one again.


made by Passtime Puzzles ~ artist Jun Sato ~ 300 pieces

This puzzle was a great thrift store find! It was still sealed in the original plastic, pristine condition and no missing pieces. I hadn’t done one with whimsy pieces that isn’t a wooden puzzle before. Before opening it, I felt dubious about the quality- how would it hold up to intricate shapes, being cut from cardboard? Actually, it was very well made. Nice sturdy pieces. The shapes are oddly cut enough to be a lot of fun, but don’t have tiny little narrow parts that would make them get damaged easily. Some of them I just couldn’t tell what they were supposed to be, though. I think this is a badge, a lizard and a wrench?

Others were pretty easy to discern- here’s a duck, lamp, scissors, key, star, game piece, guitar, book, car, boot, thumb’s up, two sitting kids, and one that I thought looked like a hat with animal ears but it’s probably something else. There were more tool shapes and the Eiffel tower in here too, but I know I didn’t spot all thirty whimsy shapes!

And plenty of just unique oddballs, too! (along with regular-shaped pieces).

It was a decent challenge with the odd shape cut, while not being too hard  because of the relatively low piece count, so I finished in just a few sittings. Really nice after a frustrating puzzle to do one so engaging and fun.

a thrift store find

Wings of Fire Book 5

by Tui T. Sutherland

This fifth book wrapped up the plot arc of the dragonet prohecy. It’s narrated by Sunny, the smallest of the five dragon protagonists. I think she’s one of my favorite characters. Sunny is very kind and always the optomistic one. Unfortunately her friends often dismiss her as just being little and cute, not really consequential. But Sunny proves in this book that she’s quite clever, and can be just as bold and brave as any dragon. She’s off on her own in this story, determined to still do something about the war, even after that devestating revelation about the prophecy. She goes to the Sandwing kingdom where she learns more about her parentage (and why she’s different from other dragons), runs into an old enemy, and uncovers quite a few important secrets. Sunny comes up with a real plan to end the dragon war, a thing that seems nearly impossible as there’s plenty of dragons who are happy to drag it on for decades, no matter how many dragons die. I liked seeing more about the human “scavengers” in this book, who yes, do have more of a role to play in what’s going on with all the dragon tribes! Oddly, they seem able to understand the dragons, either that or they have their own knowledge of dragon history, based on some of their actions. I really hope that gets explained in future books in the series. Didn’t mention it before, but the last few books and this one have, alongside the spying, kidnapping and violence, a few love stories developing between certain dragons. And I liked how that was handled- it was just as complicated and confusing as real relationships can be, but these young dragons are figuring things out.

In the end of The Brightest Night, Sunny’s actions along with the support of her friends, draw all the dragons together in a final confrontation with the three warring Sandwing queens. Again, nothing in this final scene went as I expected, which is delightful. I think this series is really growing on me, much in the way the Animorphs did. It’s a story that has a lot more going on than you’d expect at first, with continued surprises for the reader. And a very satisfying ending.

Rating: 3/5
308 pages, 2014

More opinions: Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?

the Conversation That Could Save Your Life

by Pamela A. Popper and Glen Merzer

Yeah, I don’t know about this book. Kind of like the other one I pulled at random off a shelf browsing in the library, I thought it would be in general about healthy eating, but it seems to go to extremes. It is obvious not too far in that this book is written by two staunch vegans. They not only eschew eating any animal products, but no oils or nuts either. It’s promoting a strict no-dairy, no meat, very low-fat plant-only diet. And it goes on and on about how this will make your body so healthy you never get or miraculously recover from, a wide variety of diseases. One of the authors stated she hadn’t see a doctor in seventeen years. They are very negative about the medical establishment. Saying that tests for almost everything from mammograms to bone density scans are more harmful or useless than good. Saying that doctors don’t know anything about nutrition. Sharing a lot of sounds-to-good-to-be-true anecdotal stories about people with serious conditions who got better after going on this diet. Weird thing is that this book is one long transcribed conversation between the two authors. Personally I found that very easy to read, but it didn’t give enough detail or context with most things to satisfy me that I was reading facts. Funny thing is that when I was browsing before starting the book, the one page I flipped it open to at random, they were talking about people who have to avoid gluten. But that’s the only part of the book that talks about that at all. There’s some recipes. I copied a few down, just to try. Nothing wrong with adding more dishes featuring vegetables into my repertoire. I might come back and comment on here after I’ve attempted them.

Part of the book that was really off-putting were two final chapters, one all about how food industries are corrupt and FDA advice is bad and pharmecutical companies are bad, etc. Another that gets into politics. The authors just kind of lost me on all those points.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5
240 pages, 2013

the Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances

by Rachel Anne Ridge

Eh, I waffled between giving this book a 2 or a 3– I did like reading it and it kept me turning pages, but once done I find I have very little to say. I actually finished it several days ago, in between some of those Wings of Fire books. It’s a memoir about this author’s life full of work, kids, everyday stressors and insecurities etc- very familiar stuff. Coming home from a long tiring work day, she and her husband find a donkey blocking the road. They struggle (for hours) to get him into their pasture, hoping to find his owner the next day. Nobody ever claims the donkey. Eventually the family becomes attached to him and decides to keep him, even though he’s just there. He never works or is trained to do any tasks, but the family members find his presence comforting and take inspiration from things he does. Some of this seemed like a bit of a stretch, honestly. It was charming and sweet, but I wished there had been more about the donkey and less about the author’s struggles to expand her business. Plus her religious musings. Almost every chapter ends with scripture quotes, thoughts about God and faith, and little inspirational sayings the author extracted from something the donkey did. With encouragements for the reader to apply these “lessons” to their own life. It was just a bit much in that regard.

Rating: 3/5

made in China ~ artist Abraham Hunter ~ 500 pieces

I did it! I finished all ten puzzles from the box. Completed several days ago, actually.

I had left this one (untitled) to do last, as it looked hardest. And my guess was correct. All those lovely, soft colors make for a very difficult puzzle! I feel like I got all the sky and water in place correctly, but the trees on the sides was a different matter. Very tricky, with all those pieces the exact same shape, and the detail so random. I became tired of it in the end, knew I had a few pieces in wrong places, kept going, got far enough to count how many pieces were left (about thirty) and realized one was probably missing. Then I just didn’t care anymore. I put them in more or less the correct area, and yep, one piece short. This was one of the puzzles that hadn’t been opened in the box yet, still sealed in plastic. It’s possible I lost a piece on my bed or on the floor, but I looked carefully, shook out all the blankets, swept the floor, nothing. Oh well! Moving on.

Here’s all ten puzzles laid out on my table boards.

Assembly of the final one:

from neighborhood free exchange

Wings of Fire Book 4

by Tui T. Sutherland

Warning for a pretty big SPOILER below!

This book felt a little darker than the earlier Wings of Fire books, and not just because some dragons die in horrible ways. A lot of it takes place in the Nightwing kingdom, which is doomed- natural disaster looming. The Nightwing dragons are in desparate need of a new home, and their plan is to relocate to the rainforest- ousting the Rainwing dragons by force. Luckily our narrator, Starflight in this case, with his companions starts to figure things out. He meets his father (the encounter is not stellar), finds out the Nightwing dragons do awful experiments, discovers why the Nightwing queen keeps herself hidden, meets the “alternate” dragonets of destiny, and starts to realize what’s really going on behind everything. One of the evil, machinating older Nightwing dragons literally pitches the young dragonets against each other, but instead of succumbing to the temptations to fight Starflight cautiously makes friends with some of his peers. I really like his character, even though he struggled to find his voice. I found him just as interesing as Glory was, for different reasons. Starflight is worried the Rainwing dragons will think he’s come back to the Nightwing kingdom to betray them, but he manages to kind of save the day in the end, getting messages across (via a magical object) and delightfully, the Rainwing dragons in spite of their laidback attitudes and lack of fighting skills, prove they have means to overcome their enemies without using brutal force. The biggest shocker came at the end though, when the scheming older Nightwing reveals to the dragonets that he made up the whole prophecy thing. No wonder he was trying to force things to go his way. The young dragons are reeling from this revelation, it makes everything they’ve worked for so far seem worthless.

There’s so much to like in this story, I can’t help leaving a lot out. In spite of the dark aspects, there’s lots of charming moments between friends, and funny bits. In spite of the violence and distrust going on around them, the five dragonets staunchly keep asserting their goal- to find a way to peacefully end the war. To help the other dragon tribes get along, not solve everything by killing each other. Their ideas seem odd or misguided to most other dragons, but some of them are starting to come around to this new viewpoint.

And I’m getting more intrigued by the glimpses we have of “scavengers” or the humans in this world. I suspect they’re going to have a role in what happens with the dragons at some future point. Every now and then one of our main characters will come across a few scavengers and take pity on them (because the eyes look so intelligent) and carry them to safety or simply refrain from eating them. Then they move on without another thought. I wonder if this is starting to affect the humans- do they notice that some of the dragons have mercy, will it influence their behavior, perhaps they’ll turn a hand to help the dragons out (unexpectedly, because they’re so puny!) hm. Just me speculating here.

Rating: 3/5
295 pages, 2013

More opinions: Charlotte’s Library
anyone else?


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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