Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: "Some Like It Hawk"

"Some Like It Hawk" by Donna Andrews
Book 14 of the Meg Langslow mystery series
First published in 2012
344 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
(image source)

I've always said that Donna Andrews is like Janet Evanovich-lite. Andrews' books are funny but not vulgar, there's always a murder mystery but it's not super gory or intense, and the earlier novels have a bit of romance but no sex scenes.

All that would make me say Evanovich's books are the better ones, but I was struck by something reading this 14th installment of Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow series: unlike Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books and some other cozy mystery series, Andrews' books and characters have evolved over time. The Meg in book 14 is not the same Meg we met in book 1. Andrews has led us faithful readers along as Meg has grown, changed and experienced many major life milestones. Whereas Stephanie Plum -- nineteen books down the road -- has still not chosen between her two beaus, Meg is now happily married and is the mother of twin boys.

The evolution of the series and the addition of new characters gives way to more unique plots. Building on events from the previous book, in "Some Like It Hawk" the small college town of Caerphilly, Virginia, where Meg and her husband live is under siege by the Evil Lender, which has -- through the fault of the corrupt former mayor and council -- foreclosed on all the town's government buildings. It's Fourth of July week and the town is hosting Caerphilly Days, where tourists can check out "The Town that Mortgaged Its Own Jail" while enjoying food, drink, artisans and entertainment. When an Evil Lender employee is murdered during the festival, Meg must help Chief Burke and Mayor Shiffley find the killer before a huge secret the town is harboring is revealed.

Donna Andrews bird-themed books are quick, fun, lighthearted and smartly written reads with just the right sprinkling of kooky characters, humor and suspense, and I've thoroughly enjoyed each one.

Happy reading!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Musings: A Little Book Humor

(from a friend's Facebook page; original source unknown...
couldn't find it on someecards.com)

And that segues nicely into this not-so-book-related but very true pin...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Week In Pictures


1. I drove down to the big mall in Waikiki for a haircut, highlights, an eyebrow wax (and a honeydew bubble tea) to get beautified before Jarrod's homecoming.

2. In honor of the first day of fall, my latest knitting project is some miniature pumpkins. I'll post more about these cute little guys when they're all knitted up.

3. I spent a lot of the week getting ready for Jarrod to come home and -- in addition to cleaning, cleaning and cleaning -- I put out some fun welcome home decorations like this balloon and a big banner outside.

4. Jarrod is here! My love returned home Friday afternoon after spending six months in Afghanistan.

5. Last night we went to see Lady Antebellum in concert. Country music isn't super-popular here in Hawaii but the show was sold out and Lady A was amazing!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Conan's Canine Lymphoma: Chemo Day 4 + My Hungry Hungry Hippo


Famous last words, blogged on Thursday, September 13: "Today Conan will receive a vincristine IV. That's what we had the first week and he didn't seem to have any issues with it, thank goodness, so perhaps I'll get a week off from worrying."

Reality: "Hahahaha. A week off from worrying?! What planet do you live on, silly girl?"

Conan seemed to be in pretty good shape when I dropped him off for his chemotherapy treatment last Thursday. But shortly after we got home, as if by magic, we were suddenly afforded the lovely opportunity to get acquainted with the not-uncommon chemo side effect of bloody diarrhea.

Whenever I'd seen bloody diarrhea on the list of potential side effects in the past, I always breezed over it and assumed it'd just be regular diarrhea with a little blood. No, nonono. Bloody diarrhea can also apparently refer to a river of straight blood -- sans poop -- its only relation to actual diarrhea that it's coming out of your dog's behind. Naturally, I was terrified. And after an evening of wiping blood off Conan's butt half a dozen times and getting yet another terrible night's sleep because of the pit of anxiety in my stomach, I called the vet first thing in the morning Friday. They didn't seem concerned and told me to give Conan an anti-diarrhea pill (;sidfh;) and call back later if it persisted. When I came home from work on my lunch break Conan had another rather gruesome episode so I called the vet again. They still didn't seem concerned. Apparently bloody diarrhea is a fairly frequent side effect of chemo since the drugs target any and all rapidly regenerating cells regardless of whether they're good or bad, and the cells in intestines just happen to fall into that category. (So do bone marrow cells, which could be a whole other issue at some point.) Luckily, the "diarrhea" finally cleared up that night, though I've continued giving him the SDGDH every 12 hours to avoid another bout.

We finally got past that hurdle, and suddenly Conan -- who's always been pretty ambivalent about food -- has become ravenously, insatiably, frantically hungry, which is a side effect of prednisone, the steroid pill he's taking. In his former life, Conan would gently take a treat out of my hand, then chew it into pieces, spit the pieces out and eat them one by one. Now, in addition to literally inhaling his food, he will hoover up anything remotely edible he comes across including vast quantities of cat litter, cat food, tissues (both used and unused) and bits of fluff on the floor. I can't tell you how many times he's knocked Lily's food dish down in the past few days and snarfed up her kitty kibble. And it doesn't matter how many times I yell at him -- he's going to keep eating and eating and eating because his body is telling him he's famished. All the time, without respite. I know it's absolutely not his fault, but I have to admit that it's hard not to be frustrated with him. My poor, sweet boy.
To top all that off, today's chemo treatment is the scariest drug of the regimen -- doxorubicin. Thank goodness he only gets it four times. Doxorubicin has been known to cause heart failure so Conan had to undergo a cardiac ultrasound to make sure his heart was healthy enough to handle it, and it's so harsh that if it leaks out to the IV catheter or vein it is likely to eat through Conan's flesh all the way to the bone. Our vet even told me she gets nervous administering it. So tomorrow promises to be a nerve-racking day.

But if we can survive today, we'll be rewarded tomorrow with pure happiness when Jarrod/Daddy comes home from his six-month deployment. It promises to be the best day of Conan's life and I'll be sure to record the blissful reunion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jarrod's Deployment: What I've Learned


Jarrod gets home from Afghanistan on Friday -- only two days away! After over six months apart (more than seven if you count training) I am absolutely thrilled that I will soon have my husband and best friend back. The past half-year has somehow both flown by and dragged on. It's amazing to look back and think about all the things I've experienced, discovered and conquered while Jarrod's been away. Here are some things I've learned:

1. I don't really like driving and I'd prefer Jarrod to drive everywhere we go, but I am in fact perfectly capable of getting around on my own -- even in Waikiki with its confusing one-way streets, claustrophobic parking garages and hordes of jaywalking tourists. I still can't parallel park, though.

2. We need a bigger bed. Sorry babe, but I have not slept this well in over five years! A queen-size bed is just too small for a husband, a wife, an 80-pound dog and a cat.

3. Making meals for one is hard. I'm proud to say that, for the most part, I kept to my goal of cooking real food for myself these past six months. But my list of meals appropriate for one (usually with plenty of leftovers) has been woefully small and it'll be a while before I want to eat dishes such as spaghetti, reubens, fajitas, tomato bisque or chicken curry again!

4. When you're by yourself, sometimes cooking just doesn't seem worth the effort. And that can lead to eating shamefully un-nutritious "meals." One night after working until 9 p.m., I came home and had a bag of microwave popcorn, a Diet Coke and a miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cup for dinner. I didn't even eat that poorly in college!

5. Even with more-than-ample free time, few obligations, a fancy-pants elliptical in my house, two new sports bras and no one around to see me rain sweat, I still could not keep up with a workout routine. Meanwhile, my husband  -- who worked for 12+ hours every day of the past six months -- did manage to stick to an exercise plan while he was deployed and he has now lost something like 20 pounds and can run at least a half-marathon. Sigh...

6. I suspected this before, but it's now entirely confirmed: I am a total comfort eater. My go-to stress-relieving foods the past six months have been Starbucks white chocolate mochas and popcorn. (Oddly, I've been kind of ambivalent towards popcorn all my life, but somewhere during the deployment I started craving it incessantly!)

7. Jarrod and I do pretty much everything together, which I love, but it's been a nice change of pace to spend time cultivating meaningful friendships with some kindred spirits whose company I genuinely enjoy. Many of the friendships I've had in the past several years have formed simply because both of our husbands are in the military, not because we actually have much in common. It's been so refreshing to actually be myself -- dorky, book-obsessed, foul-mouthed, sarcastic, straightforward, relaxed -- instead of the rather closed-off Lindsay I had been around those other people. That's a major life lesson learned and I'm going to endeavor to follow it in the future -- always be my full, complete weird self and if other people don't like it, screw them.

8. Technology can be amazing -- and amazingly frustrating. But even when I was so annoyed with poor internet connections, misbehaving Skype and lagging conversations that I wanted to take my iPad out front and run it over with the car, I was still grateful for the chance to talk to my husband nearly every day. Some soldiers aren't so lucky due to lack of facilities, internet availability, location or their jobs and are forced to communicate almost entirely via e-mail (which would have sucked for me because Jarrod hates to write e-mails). We typically Skyped six days a week and occasionally Jarrod would call on the phone and, despite any technological issues we may have had, I always tried to remember to simply be thankful for the opportunity to talk to Jarrod across thousands of miles and a 14.5-hour time difference. I think Skype, more than anything else, helped me survive the deployment.

9. I have never lived by myself before (the longest I'd been without parents, roommate or spouse had been three weeks) and I was glad to learn that I can indeed survive my own company. I've stayed busy with work, friends, hobbies, and Conan's gazillion trips to the vet, and I wasn't nearly as bored or lonely as I feared I would be. Though I've missed Jarrod terribly, the deployment really wasn't as utterly heartbreaking and miserable as I expected. I'm proud to say that I'm pretty much exactly the same woman Jarrod left six months ago -- extra 10 pounds included. I haven't cheated on my husband, had a nervous breakdown or whined about Murphy's Law on Facebook. I learned that I can handle difficult things on my own -- and that my marriage can handle over six months of separation. And, as they say, absence makes the heart grown fonder. We'll see just how true that is on Friday!

Book Review: "Shadow of Night"

"Shadow of Night" by Deborah Harkness
Book 2 in the All Souls trilogy
First published in 2012
577 pages
My rating: 4.5 out of 5

(image source)

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the first book in Diana Harkness' All Souls trilogy, "A Discovery of Witches," was the best book I've read all year. While book two, "Shadow of Night," wasn't quiiiite as good as the first one, it was a close second.

In book one, we met Diana Bishop, a witch who's spent her entire life denying her abilities. Diana's a historian and is at Oxford's Bodleian Library doing research when she requests to see an antique manuscript known as Ashmole 782; that simple act changes her life more than she ever thought possible and affects the fates of many other creatures -- witches, vampires and daemons. One vampire, Matthew Clairmont, has a particular interest in the manuscript, but while trying to get closer to it he's shocked to discover that -- in a world where creatures aren't supposed to mix romantically -- he and Diana have an undeniable connection.

It's always hard to write about a sequel without giving away too much of the first book's plot, but I will say that "Shadow of Night" takes us from the modern-day New York, England and France of book one to Elizabethan England -- the 1590s. Harkness again shows her breadth of historical knowledge and introduces us to many of the contemporaries of the day, from Queen Elizabeth I herself to Shakespeare to the Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. She also weaves magic, science and romance into the tale as Diana and Matthew attempt to locate Ashmole 782 and find a skilled witch to help Diana unlock the secrets of her magic.

These books, which certainly appeal to a wide variety of interest with Harkness' command over topic ranging from genetics to witchcraft to wine, will entrance you. And with that thought, I'm left to pine away for the last book in the trilogy, which won't be released until next year. Ah, the bittersweet anticipation of immersing oneself in an ongoing series...

Happy reading!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Conan's Canine Lymphoma: Chemo Day 3 and WTF?!


Today -- Chemo Day 3 -- did not get off to a great start. Last night, my normally sane and not particularly naughty boy got into the cat's litter box, made a stunningly large mess and ate god knows what. And then he nosed around in the bathroom trash cans and ate some tissues! He hasn't done either of those things in a long while and he usually only acts up like that when he wants attention and isn't getting it. But he got plenty of attention last night. WTF, Conan?!

This morning I woke up before my alarm with a pit of anxiety in my stomach, just as I do every Thursday. Conan ate his breakfast and we left for the vet about 7:40 a.m. Then we had the pleasure of sitting there for 20 minutes waiting for one of the receptionists to inprocess Conan and a vet tech to come out and retrieve him... which is pretty ridiculous, considering Conan and I were the only people in the waiting room. To top it off, another receptionist was on the phone with a client talking about the cost and options for euthanasia and cremation. That's pretty much the last thing the mom of a cancer dog needs to hear! When the vet tech finally appeared, I asked to weigh Conan since I've noticed he's looking a bit skinnier. And the scale revealed that he's lost a startling 10 pounds! I need to consult with the vet about that when she calls this afternoon, but in the meantime I'm fretting that Conan's home-cooked low-carb cancer diet is responsible. He gets at least a pound of meat a day, though, and it's hard to believe that he's being underfed... but if he's not lacking for food, that means something else -- probably worse -- is causing the weight loss. After all that, I almost had a mini meltdown on the drive home but managed to hold it in. WTF, vet?!

Here's a bit of a sidenote rant: I hate our vet office. We go to a VCA, and it's insanely busy and chaotic. There are upwards of 10 vets who work there and tons of receptionists. At any given time, there are usually three to six receptionists working at the front counter. Because the vet office is so large, they have terrible customer service. Not only do most of the vet techs and receptionists not know me or Conan -- even after seeing Conan many, many times in the past year and a half -- but we inevitably spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting in the waiting room, which is a marked contrast from the small "mom-and-pop" vets we're used to visiting. Waiting for 20 minutes to simply have someone take Conan to the back is not abnormal at our vet. And I'll most definitely sit and impatiently jiggle my foot for at least 15 minutes this evening when I go to pick up Conan -- and at that point the vet office will be crazy busy and there might not even be a chair for me to sit in! In addition to all that, their prices are very high, even compared to other vets on Oahu (which all are more expensive than Mainland vets.) I can tell you that we will never again go to a vet office run by a national for-profit veterinary company. So why do we stay now? Because, rather unfortunately, we've become attached to our actual vet. In short, she's great. And, coincidentally, she went to Colorado State University for her bachelor's and vet degrees, which is where I went!

Anyway, today Conan will receive a vincristine IV. That's what we had the first week and he didn't seem to have any issues with it, thank goodness, so perhaps I'll get a week off from worrying. For his second treatment this past week he was given cyclophosphamide, which comes with lots of potential side effects -- especially stomach issues. I woke up every 30 minutes or hour last Thursday night to check on Conan because I was so afraid he'd start violently throwing up -- which is not uncommon with that drug. He didn't look great after breakfast the next morning, so I gave him an anti-nausea pill and he has been fine stomach-wise since. I did notice this week that Conan has had a lot less energy than usual, but I've read that fatigue is the most common chemo side effect for dogs. And that's really small potatoes compared to the acute vomiting, heart and bladder issues, wasting and tissue damage that are possible, so if having a dog who'd rather snuggle than play is the main issue we have to deal with I'll feel like one lucky mama!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Week In Pictures

I thought I'd try out a new little something here at the blog -- a weekly photo collage that sums up my last seven days.
My week got off to a rather rough start -- our air conditioner was out of commission from Saturday to Tuesday evening -- and Conan, Lily and I spent our Labor Day weekend camped out in the living room with the blinds closed, the windows open and three fans pointed at us. Turns it was geckos that caused us to swelter for three days, those ungrateful little reptiles! Apparently two geckos got themselves fried in the A/C unit and shorted out some converter thingamabob. Guess they forgot about all those times I saved their cousins from the cat...

The first part of the week was hot, but the second half has been unusually rainy for our side of Oahu. It's rained on and off since Thursday night, which is pretty rare. Incidentally, since it doesn't rain hard very often on leeward (west-ish) Oahu, people here are not so great -- I might even say notoriously bad -- at driving in the rain.

On to the actual photos, Conan turned 6 on Wednesday! He was disappointingly nonplussed with his steak cake and very unhappy about the birthday hat.
This week I checked out one of those fancy little cupcake bakeries for the first time (my friend Mindy took me to a cute place called Sugarlina), I got my first Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of the season (on the same day as the cupcakes; talk about sugary bliss!) and I wore my new leopard-print flats for the first time.
I have had a thing for pumpkin spice lattes ever since they were first introduced several autumns ago when I was in college, but I love them even more so now that we're stationed in Hawaii. Here we live in perpetual summer, which is really nothing to complain about, but pumpkin spice lattes give me a little taste of the season that I'm missing out on. PSLs are all the best parts of fall mixed together in a magical brew. And they always bring back good fall memories, like the trip Jarrod and I took to Estes Park to celebrate our first dating anniversary in October of 2005. Somehow, all these years later, I remember having a pumpkin spice latte on our little getaway. Since this is a post about pictures, I thought I'd share a couple photos from that fun weekend:


Friday, September 7, 2012

Furry Friday: Happy Birthday, Conan!

On Wednesday, Conan turned 6! He was thrilled with his "steak cake" but not so happy about the pre-snacking photo session!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Conan's Canine Lymphoma: Chemo Day 2 and Unsolicited Advice

IMG_8967What a week it's been in cancer world! Conan had to be sedated for his first chemotherapy treatment last week because he wouldn't hold still enough for the vet to insert the IV catheter (and who could blame him? The mere thought of an IV makes me queasy!) But apparently they really doped him up because my boy was a total zombie last Thursday night and refused to eat or exercise for two days, until Saturday night. But then, all of a sudden, he was perfectly fine -- great, in fact! So today when I dropped Conan off for his second treatment, an IV of cyclophosphamide, I asked that they try to use a lower dose of sedative. We'll see if they actually listen to me! (For what we're paying the vet office, you'd think they'd listen to my every whim. Ah, if only...)

After doing some research, we quickly decided it would be wise to switch Conan to a home-cooked "cancer diet" -- high protein and good fat, low carbs and sugar -- and I prepared his first batch of food last weekend. Making his food has been quite an adventure. Let's just say liver and I DO NOT get along. At all. When Jarrod gets back from Afghanistan, he will be taking over liver duties immediately. I have to admit, cooking Conan's food is a lot more time-consuming than I thought, and one batch (and an hour and a half in the kitchen) is only good for three days' worth of food. But I know when Jarrod is home it'll be much quicker to prepare Conan's meals, and honestly the work is all worth it when Conan starts chowing down. I've never seen him eat a meal with such gusto. He loves his food, which is full of beef, liver, cottage cheese, oatmeal, veggies, and little extras that I add on like blueberries, garlic and egg whites. This week I'm going to open up a can of one of his all-time favorite foods -- pumpkin. It probably has more carbs than we necessarily want to give him, but he certainly deserves a treat one in a while. And I'm sure the fiber will be good for him.

Some pet owners (not many vets, though) advocate raw feeding in general and particularly as a cancer diet. One of my good friends feeds her German shepherd a raw diet and I've actually gone with her to Chinatown to buy a pig head and all kinds of delicious/disgusting organs for her dog. Jarrod and I considered trying the raw diet at the get-go but decided to start off with home-cooked meals. Truth be told, I really thought Conan would turn his nose up at raw meat. But no -- he loves it! I've given him a few small pieces of raw steak when preparing his meals this week and he gobbled it down! Perhaps a raw diet is in Conan's future.

So, since Conan is looking and feeling great and my picky eater is scarfing down more than I've ever seen him eat before, it kinda took me by surprise when someone essentially told me that we were doing the wrong thing by prolonging Conan's imminent demise through chemotherapy -- and suggested that we go out and get ourselves a puppy so we won't be so heartbroken when our beloved boy dies. Nevermind the fact that Conan is likely nowhere near dying, that his cancer is in a very early stage, that canine chemotherapy is not as harsh as human chemo, that he's only 6 years old (as of yesterday), and that it's not really anybody else's business what we "put him through." But I wasn't really in a position to argue with this undoubtedly well-intentioned advice-giver, and I just had to swallow my words.

Unless they're expressing sympathy, I really don't care what anyone else thinks about Conan's cancer -- Jarrod and I have done our research and we're confident that we've made the right decision for Conan, though we definitely didn't make it lightly. Sure I've had the occasional doubt, but there's no right answer in these kinds of situations; you just have to get your facts straight and then go with your gut.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Book Review: "Fifty Shades" Trilogy


"Fifty Shades" trilogy by E. L. James
First published in 2011
My rating: 4 out of 5

(image source)

I have to admit it: I loved these books, albeit begrudgingly. There were times I wanted to scream in frustration, and yet I absolutely could not put them down.

By now every woman in American probably has at least a vague idea of the plot -- innocent, lovely-but-doesn't-know-it 21-year-old Anastasia Steele falls in love with Christian Grey, a gorgeous gazillionaire with some dark secrets and extremely kinky sexual tastes.

I started reading the first book with lukewarm feelings -- I'd heard so much about the poor writing style that I was really worried I would hate it. I was surprised to find that, for someone who never planned to publish her work, E.L. James is hardly a terrible author. But for god's sake, someone give the woman a thesaurus! She repeats the same words and phrases over and over and over... and over some more, and it quickly becomes completely maddening. In the last book, which I just finished, I read "once more," "bleak," "hiss" and "first one, then the other" so many times I wanted to cry.

But I didn't cry, and I kept reading -- our, more aptly, devouring -- the overly repetitive writing. I have yet to figure out exactly what it is about "Fifty Shades" that hooked me -- and so many other readers. The writing is mediocre, the plot, which is loosely based on "Twilight," is weak, predictable and unrealistic, and I didn't always sympathize with the characters.

Perhaps we're drawn to the novels in part because Christian Grey is the quintessential dream guy. He's perfect in most ways -- hot, sexy, rich, smart, funny, clever, intense, devoted, protective, beyond amazing in bed -- but he's royally fucked up in one major way. And Ana is the one and only woman on the planet who can fix him, who can make him whole again so he can love and be loved. And reading the books, we get to live vicariously through Ana as she helps Christian overcome the obstacles that have held him back for so long.

Though the "Fifty Shades" series is far from perfect and I'm not sure that I'd want to read it again, I know that these intense, arousing, moving novels will stay with me forever. It's so rare that a book makes such an impact on me that I know I'll remember it years and years down the road, but E.L. James, somehow, has managed to do just that.

P.S. By far my favorite -- and the most well-written -- book of the series was the second, "Fifty Shades Darker."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...