Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Comedy of Manners (The Univited Guests) and Rom-Com (When in Doubt Add Butter)

I confess...both these books let me wavering on ratings.  Despite the fact that I publish reviews regularly, I often find it a struggle to "rank" books and select a number of stars.  I make a decision to round out my posts on Amazon and Goodreads, but I much prefer writing a bit of my thoughts to settling on a numeric review.
The setting is Sterne, an estate in England in the early 1900s.  Sterne is inhabitted by a mother, her new husband, and her three children from her deceased first husband (an older boy and girl and one younger girl).  The family is in an uncertain financial state and the new husband has left to try and get money to save the house.  Meanwhile, a small gathering is being held to celebrate the twentieth birthday of one of the daughters.  The gathering is put off-track when a railway accident occurs and the household is asked to play host to displaced travelers until the rail personnel can retrieve them. There are a number of twists and turns, including gothic elements and a side story involving the unsupervised youngest daughter's adventure with a pony.

Much of this book (read as an advance edition supplied by Harper) is a comedy of manners and a study of class, both actual and percieved.  I felt a bit thrown at times by the plot shifts and it seemed like the author jammed multiple ideas into a single novel.  I enjoyed the social study aspects and watching the family interact with both the invited and uninvited guests. 

I'd prefer to give it 3.5 stars but will round to 4 because I was definitely interested in the book and in the twists in the characters.  I do, however, wish a sharper editorial knife had been taken to the book and that some matters...especially the random pony storyline...had been cut in favor of the class commentary.

I won a copy of this book through Goodreads. 

Gemma Craig is a woman in her thirties who earns her living as a personal chef for several families in the D.C. region.  She goes to different households each day of the week and provides her clients with homemade meals for the assigned night and ready-to-heat meals for the rest of the week.  Some of her clients tax her patience while others feel like friends.  She is also balancing her personal life, including a rare night out with a friend that leads to meeting a guy in what feels like fodder for a "Missed Connections" post on Craigslist. 

I often feel like the label "chick lit" is both overused and can have a bit of a negative connotation.  I find it useful, however, for distinguishing what I expect from a book.  I don't expect chick lit to have leave me with deep, meaningful thoughts or an urge to discuss the book and read others' thoughts.  I do, however, enjoy the occasional "reading candy," and this book fits in that realm for me.  It was an easy read and entertained me for a few days.  I didn't feel deeply involved with the characters, but I did enjoy them and a few made me smile.  I'd prefer to give it 3.5 stars but will round to 4 with the caveat that I'm rating it for what it is...a bit of fun fluff and entertainment, not something I'd call "literature" but a style of book that has its place in my reading world.  I can definitely see these book turned into a Romantic Comedy on Lifetime or maybe even in the movie theater.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

i know you've missed the bullet points

I confess...it's been a long time since I wrote a post that wasn't about pain issues or a book review.  I'm having a rough couple days after having felt a bit better for at the start of the week.  I am, however, also in bullet-point withdrawal...
  • I had a better day last Friday and was able to get out for dinner. We decided to try a "new to us" Indian place.  I've never had a sit-down place ask my companion and I to share a (very small) four-seater table with another couple.  Our server didn't take our order or even stop by the table for a good thirty minutes.  I'd have blamed it on having been a "squeeky wheel" (I asked to move when I saw how tiny the table was and that another table opened) but I noticed the two couples who ended up sharing the table waited a good ten minutes longer than we did to order. All I ask is a"Sorry, we're short-staffed but we'll be with you soon."  That said, the food was excellent.  Tempted to try their lunch buffet sometime but not sure the food outweighed the service for dinner (menu only at night).
  • I'm kind of interested in what happens on Glee but not interested enough to actually watch.  I've been known to break up with tv shows by skipping viewing in favor for reading the mini-recaps on TWOP.
  • On the other hand, I really want to go to a taping of The Colbert Report.  It's past my bedtime but I catch the reruns of both it and Daily Show at 6 and 6:30 the next evening.  I do think that the Secret Service and GSA stories have made their jobs way too easy.
  • Why is Dominos touting the fact that you can't make any substitutions on their artisan pizzas?  Some of them do look yummy (despite not being a Dominos fan) but I wouldn't call not allowing changes a selling point.
  • MM and I went to feed the ducks on Monday.  It was extremely disturbing to watch a group of male ducks surround a female and take turns attempting to mate with her while she tried to flee.  We later saw the female lying in some higher grass where she was badly injured and looked near death.  Apparently this is actually quite common behavior among ducks.  I don't agree with labeling it "funny" and Cracked.com isn't the most highly regarded source but this article on sexual aggression by ducks is both fascinating and disturbing (warning -- wording may be upsetting).
  • I need to get a bathing suit.  I'd glanced briefly last week and found a serious lack of one-pieces in the single-digit sizes.  Aside from not being fond of my belly these days and wanting to cover the "zipper" (aka the three or four inch scar from surgery), I need it for a visit with a physical therapist and a two-piece feels inappropriate.
  • Jelly-Belly jelly beans have lots of fruit flavors so they are clearly a balanced meal.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Two "meh" Reads...The Mulligans of Mt. Jefferson (Reid) and An Uncommon Education (Percer)

I confess...I met with the therapist in the pain clinic who reassured me that I'm not a wimp and that it is sensible to need pain relief medicine despite what the pain doctor seems to suggest.  I did also get a follow-up call from a nurse who had seen I was upset after the last doc visit.  I'm glad there are at least some "good" people in the practice.  Going to do another diagnostic injection on May 14 and then decide if the conflict with the doc is too much of a barrier to further treatment there.

I have been able to read more in the past few weeks which is good since I still spend a good chunk of the day in bed.  Two reviews, both decent but neither memorable for me.

I won a copy of this books from the Goodreads site.  It follows the lives of three boys who become friends during childhood in a small Virginia town.  We see the boys as a trio of trouble-seeking kids and then follow each as he grows into his own adult.  The characters remain close as friends and their relationship, and each man's examination of himself and his role in the group, intensifies when one man is shot in his home.  The man who is shot has inherited his father's business and his friend's have become a cop and a priest.

This is a 3.5 star book for me.  I enjoyed the portions of the book focused on the boys' childhoods and adolescent years more than the parts focusing on them as adults. The coming-of-age story was good but I wasn't really invested in the "present" timeline that involved the cop and priest responding to the shooting that harms, but does not kill, their friend.  I can't put my finger on why, but I felt a bit of the book was kind of preachy.  I didn't feel satisfied when I finished the book so will round down to three stars on this one.
This novel, provided to me in advance reader's edition, follows Naomi Feinstein from girlhood into her young adult years.  As a girl, she longs to connect with her mother but is close with her father who instills in her the desire to attend Wellesley and become a doctor.  Naomi is a lonely child, with only one intense friendship that comes to a sudden end.  Most of the book focuses on Naomi's years at Wellesley where she gets involved with Shakes, a group steeped in tradition and that attracts some complex members.  Her college years leave Naomi more uncertain about her future and searching for who she really wants to become.

I really enjoyed the first third of this book, the part focused on Naomi's pre-college years.  I did not, however, enjoy her years at Wellesley.  I had trouble following the many characters she encounters and understanding the nature of the Shakes organization.  I could understand Naomi eventually questioning the plans she had as a child, but the way the doubt was developed didn't feel real.  I kept hoping that the strong characters development in the first third would return, but it just didn't.  Some pages just straight out confused me and I just stopped caring about Naomi and didn't develop an interest in the people she meets in college.  Three stars overall though I'd give four stars to the first third.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

frustrated, offended, and pissed off

I confess....this is going to be more doctor-related ranting.

I wrote last week about the earlier encounters with the pain management doc.  I went back to him today for a follow-up to talk about how the first round of diagnostic injections went.  I was nervous going in to the appointment.   He'd actually TOLD ME to see my GP if I needed a prescription for pain medicine aside from the one he'd recommended that made me sick.  I'd done so and knew he wouldn't be pleased with that decision.  He wasn't...and the appointment was bad from moment one...

He asked how I did after the injection.  I told him I had some degree of relief for about half an hour but then the pain came back  He told me that this response didn't make sense.  I understand that it wasn't an EXPECTED result, but he outright said my results were WRONG.  I don't see how my honest reporting of the post-procedure pain levels can be WRONG.  I also reported that I'd had a nasty migraine during the day on Wednesday.  I told him I didn't know if it was related but noted that the migraine-tied vomitting certainly didn't help matters.  Again, I'd have understood if he just said it was unrelated but he said the migraine was unreasonable and also an incorrect response.  If only I knew it was wrong to have a migraine, I'd have not had one...

He was NOT happy with the choice to start a pain medicine.  He said he'd gotten me in for the procedure faster because he didn't want me to go that route (but when MM asked about interim pain relief he TOLD me to see my GP).  He went on at length about how pain medicine can have negative outcomes long-term.  I told him I didn't WANT to use it long-term but that I needed help while we worked on the injections and getting a long-term FIX.  He ignored that explanation entirely and pretty much said it was unreasonable to need relief for any amount of time.  I do understand he doesn't think pain meds are the answer, but I need some sort of answer and hope.  I told him I could deal with the pain if I could see an end point but didn't have that yet.

He then said that he thinks I really just need to learn to cope with the pain.  I understand that there's a mental element to facing pain.  But I don't think it is unreasonable to want to FIX it when the pain has me bed-ridden.  I could learn to cope with a level 3 (out of 10) pain, maybe even 5, but I don't think it is unreasonable to ask for help when the pain is regularly around an 8.  He said that war veterans have to learn to cope if they come home with a disability and that I needed to do the same.  I told him I had gone to the pain psychologist and did have a second appointment scheduled.  This wasn't good enough.  I am apparently unreasonable in expecting any amount of reduction in pain.

He also suggested I'm a wimp.  He said he DOES believe I have pain but that I cried too much during the diagnostic injections.  I told him I'd been very nervous.  He didn't think that was a reasonable response.  How dare I be nervous about shots in my spine!  The shots hurt....it was a short duration but they were rough.  I don't think it is surprising the shots were painful when merely getting out of bed was hard.  I feel like it is ironic to be called a wimp when I've often had to be pulled back from trying to do too much and had to be convinced to rest.  He said that he didn't think I'd be tough enough to go through one particular procedure since it is tough and they can't put you under for it.  The aide suggested that he should consider giving me something to calm my nerves if we go that route...the doc said he could but he still didn't believe I was strong enough to go through it.

I asked where we go from here...which seemed to be an annoying question.  He said we could re-try the same diagnostic test we'd done last week but then said it had clearly failed.  I mentioned that he'd considered a different injection and asked about doing that one.  He said he was willing to try it but then went back to saying I need to just learn to deal with it.  Nonetheless, he told the nurse to schedule these different injections which will be on May 14th.  It is the only hope that was offered and other back patients and Dr Dad) have suggested that the joint he's going to try may be the culprit.

I don't know how well I'm writing today.  I spent weeks looking towards the pain management appointment as a beacon of hope.  I made it very clear that I wanted a long-term "cure" and not a band-aid.  If all I wanted was a prescription, I wouldn't have gone through with the injections after the GP gave me medicine.  I wouldn't be asking about other longer-term fixes or be willing to go through another round of shots.  I have long accepted that pain is a part of my life, but I can't imagine spending the rest of my life with pain at the level it has been lately.  Being bed-ridden is "new" and I don't think I'm wrong that I don't want to just accept it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Devil in the Grove (Gilbert King) -- A History of Race and a Real-Life Atticus Finch

I confess...this one took me a good while to finish, but it deserves it's own review post.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction but this book really intrigued me and I was excited to receive a copy to review from the folks at Harper.  The book's primary focus is on the case of four African-American men accused of raping a woman in rural Florida in 1949.  The atmosphere at the time almost guaranteed a guilty verdict simply on the accusation, despite many inconsistencies.  The case sparks mob behavior, KKK activity, and involves local law enforcement riddled with racism.  Although the Groveland case is the primary focus, the book also presents an in-depth look at Thurgood Marshall in the years prior to his Supreme Court appointment and the struggle of the NAACP to combat widespread racism in the community and the state and local authorities. 

King does an excellent job with this book, a story that feels like a real-life version of To Kill a Mockingbird.   It is in-depth and clearly extensively researched.  It reads much like a novel, with well-developed portraits of Marshall and others involved in the Groveland case. King develops a well-constructed portrait of a culture dominated by racism in both the general community and in law enforcement institutions.

I found it particularly interesting to read Devil at the same time as race issues are being raised by the death of an unarmed black teenage boy at the hands of a neighborhood watch vigilante.  It gives the reader a lot to think about and I think it would be an excellent addition to classes on race issues in America in the 1940s and 1950s.  Recommended to anyone with an interest in race relations, even those who don't consider themselves history buffs.  Four and a half stars, rounded up for being a readable and accessible history. 

b/c clearly pain management doesn't require a decent bedside manner

I confess....I've felt like the potato in a game of medical Hot Potato.  I also know this is rambly and that I'm becoming a bit of a broken record since I really only "talk" about the back issues.  I do have a book to review and might post that later but I need to vent. 

I saw the pain management doc on Thursday.  I was actually told I'd only see the physician assistant but after the nurse clocked my pulse at 117bpm, she had me lie down and the doctor appeared.  The nurse had taken a detailed history but the doc didn't ask any questions.  He acted like I was interfering with his day by being there.  He was brusque and didn't make me feel listened to at all.

The plan he put forth is injections that would eventually block the nerves.  This is not a fast answer since they need two test rounds before the real treatment.  I had the first test round on Monday.  The nurse was kind but the doc was visibly annoyed when he was told I was nervous.  Clearly it is silly to be nervous before they put needles into your spine.  He'd been unsure if the trouble was at the L4/L5 and L5/S1 or more at the SI joint. He went with the former.  It was pretty painful...there were four injections of local anesthetic and then the medicine itself...but didn't take that long.  I got a bit of relief (moved from a 7-8 to a 4 on the "pain scale") for about 30 minutes.  I'm not sure if that qualifies as a positive result or not.  I have a follow-up office visit next week. 

I am absolutely looking for a long-term fix (and will avoid a long rant about how I thought the surgery WAS the fix), but I also need help in the short-term.  I've gone from walking 6 miles a day to being bed-ridden.  That's not okay and it's just been getting worse since late February.  At the first appointment, the doc said he wanted to try a new pain medicine.  I tried it and it did not agree with me at all...I fell twice and felt all the blood rush from my head and into my feet whenever I stood.  It also barely took the edge off.  When I got the shots yesterday, I told the nurse beforehand about the bad reaction.  After the procedure she told me that the doc said to discontinue the medicine but that he wasn't going to give anything to replace it.  MM was there since I needed someone to accompany me home.  He banged on the office door (the suite was an odd set-up and the entire office was behind a locked door) and told the nurse that, having seen what the past weeks have been like, it was not an acceptable answer.  The nurse talked to the doc said to see my GP.  It felt RIDICULOUS to go to my GP for pain help when I had just seen a specific pain management doctor.  I'd been in last week but the GP had me come in again today.  He did offer a new approach...the medicine takes a few days to build up but hopefully it will help and a few days is a LOT quicker than the weeks or months it may take before the shots really work.

The pain doc also referred me to their psychologist.  I do think my actual depression is well-controlled but I am obviously not a happy camper given the rapid decline in quality of life.  The way the doc framed it, however, was downright offensive.  He said it was to teach me to identify when pain impacts my mood so "You aren't mean to your boyfriend when the real issue is the pain."  SERIOUSLY?!?  I retreat when I hurt.  I don't talk nearly enough to be mean (MM agreed).  My rapid change in life DOES impact him, but the assumption that I'm mean to him was plain rude (and sexist).  I'm trying to reframe it better in my head.  The psychologist is focused on only pain patients and I probably wouldn't have been opposed to trying it if it had been presented as helping me cope with the stress of pain while we work on the medical angle.

I know that some doctors are great at medicine but lacking in bedside manner.  But I would think pain management specialists would be good with people in pain.  I'm trying to believe that the injection plan will lead to good results, but can't see myself ever recommending this clinic to anyone.  Maybe my sleep doc can give this guy some tutoring.