Sunday, July 20, 2014

Audiobook Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (read by Kirsten Potter; 17 hours, 33 minutes) recounts the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina from the perspective of inside the walls of the city of New Orleans's large downtown hospital. Caring for many of the city's most vulnerable, those at the hospital made fateful decisions amidst the chaos following the hurricane - decisions for which some of the physicians and nurses faced criminal charges in the aftermath of the storm. A physician and investigative journalist, Sheri Fink takes the reader right into the hospital during the storm and tells the stories of the doctors, nurses, administrators and patients caught in the frantic deterioration following the devastation of the storm.

 The book opens a few days prior to the storm as the city prepares for the forecasted hurricane. Inured to the rituals of hurricane prep, many took the warnings less than seriously and didn't heed all the warnings. At Memorial, they arranged to have staff on hand but otherwise additional precautions were not taken. In addition, many of the staff and those that lived near the hospital used it to shelter during the storm. As the storm bore down on New Orleans, the hospital was bustling but everyone felt the hospital would ride out the storm without issue. Of course, the storm was stronger than expected and the breaking of levees with the resulting flooding was not anticipated. As conditions worsened at Memorial in the days following the hurricane, the shortcomings of the city and the hospital's disaster planning became increasingly evident. With power out over the city, the hospital was dependent on back-up generator power. The generators, however, were on lower levels below the flood line; very quickly, the hospital had no power. With patients on ventilators and other equipment, the situation soon became dire. The hospital staff had to figure out how to get patients evacuated from the hospital.

At this point, the lack of coordinated effort between the hospital, its corporate ownership and government became obvious. Messages were going out from the hospital but either not being heard or responded to with inaccurate information that drove some bad decisions. Ultimately, doctors in the hospital triaged patients for evacuation by making judgement calls on the likelihood of surviving the evacuation but they were not operating with the best information about the conditions and timing of any evacuation. Based on where they were triaged, some patients were essentially sentenced to death. Faced with patients they believed were not going to be able to leave the hospital and increasingly deteriorating conditions outside, some doctors and nurses made decisions to hasten the deaths of patients with lethal injections.

 My Thoughts
This story was gripping and read with the pacing of a thriller - the narrator was new to me but kept me gripped throughout without overdoing the drama.  Although the outcome of the storm and the fact that some patients were euthanized was known at the start of the book, I found myself anxiously listening to hear the details and the analysis that was not well understood outside of this book. The author tells the story from a neutral viewpoint and didn't demonize the doctors, nurses or officials but let the facts speak for themselves.

One statement that really stayed with me was that the lack of planning on so many levels is actually the failure of morality in the situation - not necessarily the actions of any individual. During Hurricane Sandy in NYC, seven years after Hurricane Katrina, I watched on television as they evacuated patients from NYU Hospital because the storm waters flooded the lower levels of the hospitals which is where the generators were located - the same situation faced by Memorial. I hope our government and public health officials commit themselves to adequate disaster planning so patients never have to face what was faced at Memorial.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sunday Salon: June 1, 2014

The Sunday

The Scene: 9 am - on the couch, coffee in hand. Enjoying fresh berries from yesterday's Farmer's Market with some plain greek yogurt

Reading: I am currently reading Cutting Teeth by Julie Fierro  - so far, it has provided an interesting insight into the world of the Mommy culture including one mother's paranoia and the constant anxiety that plagues her. Last week I finished The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating by Carole Radziwill. It was very well-written but I am not sure how much I liked the characters. It was good to finally read the book after watching the drama of "bookgate" on the reality show in which the author stars  - Real Housewives of New York City (RHONY is my guilty pleasure!)  In audio,  I am still working on Americanah - it is very good but long. This week I also hope to finish The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham - I have it on CD and listened to the first half on a drive a few weeks ago. I'll be driving again this week and plan to finish it off. 

Blogging: Oh dear, things have been slow here.  I am reading a lot but having trouble settling down to write posts.  Thanks for sticking with me - I hope to get my blog ging back on track soon!

This week was BEA and I loved reading about all the signings, sightings, etc over at the Javits.  Unfortunately, due to some work commitments, I wasn't able to make it over there this week. I  did make it to one party in the evening - Harper Collins hosted us at their offices and provided a review of their Fall books and then a happy hour with bloggers and authors. It was great to see so many familiar faces and to catch up.  Thanks to Diane at Book Chick Di for this picture of me with author Adriana Trigiani.

Shannon at River City Reading posted part 1 of her BEA wrap-up today if you are interested in hearing what went on. 

Watching : Not much other than my guilty pleasure of RHONY! 

Looking Forward To: Week 2 of the Couch to 5 K program - I am so excited to be back running (well, jogging as this article so aptly differentiated the two!) I tried a running class about two months ago but found it as too much jostling for my abdomen post surgery and had to drop out.  But now I can run without issue and am glad to be on the road again. 

Grateful: For the ability to get out and move in this gorgeous weather. Planning to milk it before it gets hot and humid in the city! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl: Billie Breslin is a young woman with an amazing sense of taste - she can identify even the most subtle ingredients in a bite of food. She leaves her home in California and arrives in NY to work at the preeminent foodie magazine, Delicious!. Her colleagues quickly learn about her special skill and it earns her their respect and some acceptance into her new world. Billie needs acceptance - she has lived in her older, prettier sister's shadow and considers herself awkward. When Delicious! is suddenly and abruptly shut down, Billie is thrown into uncertainty.  While figuring out her next steps, she discovers a series of letters sent by a young girl, Lulu, to James Beard while he was at Delicious! during WWII. Although only a young girl, Lulu has a lot of lessons for Billie and reading her letters becomes a way for Billie to face some things in her own life which she was tried to avoid.

Lulu lived in Ohio during WWII while her father was fighting overseas and her mother was working at a factory that made planes for the war effort. Although living with constant uncertainty about her father's safety and worries about getting by on the rationed food that was available, Lulu has a sunny outlook which comes right through the letters. With a passion for cooking and baking, she writes Mr. Beard for advice on recipes and ultimately their correspondence develops into one in which Lulu provides updates on her life and even reveals some of her anxieties about the fate of her father and her mother's ability to cope with it all. Billie looked forward to finding each letter (they had been hidden with cryptic clues by a librarian that had worked at Delicious!) and seeing what was happening with Lulu.  As Lulu matured and transformed, so did Billie.

My Thoughts
 This book offers a rich exploration of food, New York City, life during WWII and tops it off with the coming of age story of Billie Breslin.  Like a well-made dish, it has multiple layers and surprises you as you savor it. I was torn between whether I enjoyed the storyline with Billie in current day or the storyline with Lulu set in the 1940's more - both characters have something to hide which is ultimately revealed through the story and that kept me reading.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it will be on my Top 10 for 2014 for sure! I have not read the author's memoirs but I am certainly a fan of her fiction debut.

For other thoughts on the book, you can visit the blogs on the TLC Book Tour.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review: The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma

The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma: Ari Kong is an eighteen year old girl who was adopted from China by her Chinese-American mother, Charlie, when she was an infant. Raised in the San Francisco suburbs, Ari has always suffered from a sense of displacement even though her own adoptive mother is Chinese and she doesn't look as out of place in her own family as some of her fellow adoptees who were adopted by white families. This sense of displacement drives her back to China and the orphanage from which she was adopted where she begins a self-destructive spiral. Meanwhile, her mother, Charlie, worries about her daughter and wonders where the bubbly infant she brought home from China is - their relationship is now fraught with tension and resentment. In addition to concern over her daughter, Charlie is also coping with her own mother, Gran, who came to the US from China as the privileged daughter of a doctor and was educated at Bryn Mawr. Gran is disappointed by her daughter Charlie's choice to adopt from China, especially without a husband, and doesn't hold her tongue. Three generations of Kong women in crisis and unable to understand each other.

Ari Kong is in some ways a typical teenager  - she resists her mother's involvement in her life and shows her little respect. Her issues, however, are deeper and relate to her conflicted emotions about her adoption. She is desperate to know where she really came from and the story behind how she was left on the steps of a department store. The pain of knowing she was left and potentially not loved cannot be assuaged even by the knowledge that she was wanted by her adoptive mother who traveled to China to get her and poured herself into helping her daughter assimilate and ensuring she honored her Chinese heritage.

Gran is a prickly character who prides herself on her education and privileged background and how she elevated herself above other Chinese immigrants. Her goal for her own daughters was total assimilation - she gave them American names and did not celebrate Chinese holidays. She is inexplicably disappointed to learn her own daughter is going to China to adopt a girl - a baby with no history and who may come from poor and uneducated parents. She has been hardened by her own immigrant experience and can show no compassion or support to her daughter or granddaughter. She even rebuffs her daughter for crying when she met Ari and wishes her daughter could display her own stoic reserve

Charlie is the character caught in between - she is trapped between her mother and her daughter and receives understanding from neither. She seems to be sleepwalking through life - working long hours at her job as a public defender and coming home to the strife of a teenager in crisis. Her older sister, Les, also pushes Charlie around and tries to tell her what to do. Despite adopting a child, Charlie seems to have nothing that is hers - no intimate relationship with a man, no satisfaction or respect at work, and no support from her own family - most especially her daughter Ari.

My Thoughts
This book is told from alternating views - each chapter is told from one of the Kong women's point of view. As usual with this device, it is interesting to see how each looks at the same event since their perspectives are so different and they react to things so differently. The author expertly explores issues with international adoption and the process of assimilation. It is interesting to see how the effects of immigration reverberate through the generations of Kong women and demonstrates how much we are shaped by events even when we are not conscious of the impact and how it drives our behaviors.

Throughout the book, my sympathy went to Charlie - she is epitome of the "sandwich" generation and seems to have nothing satisfying her in her own life. She lives for to others - at work and at home - and seems lost. I did want to see some strength from Charlie and got frustrated at times with her passivity and her lack of fight. The book offers a fascinating exploration of family dynamics and how we never truly escape them.

You can read other's perspectives on the book at the TLC Tour Stops

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Review: On the Rocks by Erin Duffy

On the Rocks by Erin Duffy: Abby is engaged to her college boyfriend and trying on dresses at Vera Wang in Boston's Back Bay when she learns, via a Facebook update no less, that her fiance Ben has announced that their relationship is over. Abby is reeling and slides into a depression during which she isolates herself and develops an unhealthy relationship with Ben and Jerry's. Her close friend Grace, who has her own problems in the relationship department with her boyfriend who is married and also her boss, wants to pull her friend out of the depths of despair and suggests they join a summer share in Newport. Reluctant but hopeless, Abby agrees and, with the help of the Newport sun and shore, begins to pull herself out of the hole. Will she be able to bounce back completely or will modern dating and social media continue to haunt her?

Abby and Grace are joined in Newport by their neighbors Bobby, an unemployed attorney and Wolf, a German recently arrived in the US whose forays into understanding American idioms provides welcome comic relief. Bobby takes on almost an older brother role for Abby - he tells it like it is and generally frustrates her but also looks out for her and senses she was badly hurt and needs a little help. He is determined to push Abby back into the world of dating with all its pitfalls and tries to educate her on how guys operate especially in a dating world filled with tweets, texts and Facebook status updates. Humiliated by her fiance via Facebook, Abby is understandably reluctant to engage in dating and resents how much social media has infiltrated modern dating - she yearns for a more old-fashioned courtship.

My Thoughts
This book was the perfect antidote to the winter blues (which have been particularly long this year!) - even the cover is beachy and summons memories of my own summer beach house shares. Abby is a likable character and it was heartening to watch her find her footing and get her confidence back as the book progresses. The story was told with funny, witty dialogue and you felt as if you were sitting on the couch  in Newport with Abby, Grace, Wolf and Bobby knocking back margaritas and snacking on chips.  I highly recommend this book for your beach bag this summer!

For other perspectives, check out the TLC Book Tour Stops

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday Salon: April 27, 2014

The Sunday

The Scene: Post Readathon - on the couch, coffee in hand. Yesterday was the readathon - here is my post event summary (I didn't answer all the meme questions):

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I got tired at about hour 14 but it wasn't very daunting because I just went to bed :)
  2. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Maybe a mini-challenge focused on comments/interactions among participants?
  3. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Balancing movement with reading - I got my 10K steps in and think it helped with energy
  4. How many books did you read? Finished one and read part of a 2nd plus part of an audiobook
  5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Assuming my schedule permits, definitely! 
pages read: 165
minutes listened: 120
books finished: 1
steps walked: 10258
$$ raised for ASPCA ($.10/page or minutes read + $.25 for every comment) = $29.75 (I will round to $30 and my company will match for a total of $60)

Prince - my trusty readathon buddy! 

Reading: I spent most of the readathon enjoying Delicious! by Ruth Reichl - I am about halfway through and the book is excellent! Part celebration of food and NY and part historical fiction - the books has so much to offer! This week I finally gave up on my last audiobook - Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen. It just wasn't holding my attention and I found myself listening to anything else while I walked. I am disappointed because I know so many like her books but it just wasn't working for me.  I have moved on to Americanah

Blogging: This week I posted my review of The Last Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin. I listened to this last year but had not reviewed yet. I was reminded of it as I listened to story of Easter at Mass on Sunday.

Watching : I am hoping to catch a film as part of the Tribeca Film Festival today.  I say I am going to see something every year but somehow it never works out.  Hoping to change that today! 

Looking Forward To: Continued good weather - after getting a taste of sunshine and warmth in Florida last week, I am ready for summer! 

Grateful: For the chance to see my parents last weekend in Florida and spend some time catching up and relaxing. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Readathon - Kick-Off and Updates

It's almost 8 am on the East Coast and time to start the Readathon! I will be doing the first hour "on the road" with my audiobook because Prince needs his walk and we usually do a long one on weekends. After that I will be back on the couch ready to crack open my book.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Probably Family Life - since seeing the author speak 2 weeks ago, I have been dying to get into this one

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
My food choices are still pretty limited post surgery so I think the junk food snacks are out :( But maybe I will try a new smoothie mixture

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I adopted my little pup, Prince, the night before the last readathon and he will be by my side throughout these 24 hours.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
Definitely more movement.  I have my Fitbit on and plan to hit at least 10K steps today!

Hour 6 Update
Prince and I started off the day with a nice, long walk and I listened to my audiobook for about 90 minutes.  We picked up fuel for the readathon in the form of coffee and fresh raspberries from the farmer's market.

I started strong by finishing a book I was almost done with - On the Rocks by Erin Duffy and now I am about 50 pages into Delicious! by Ruth Reichl.  Although it is making me hungry, I am thoroughly enjoying it! 

pages read: 65
minutes listened: 90
books finished: 1
steps walked: 4826
$$ raised for ASPCA ($.10/page or minutes read + $.25 for every comment) = $15.75

Best of Your Reading Year Challenge:
The year is young but at this point, my choices are: 
Best Book of your Reading Year: Glitter and Glue (links to mt review) by Kelly Corrigan (a great Mother's Day pick too) 
Best Non-Fiction of your Reading Year: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink - gripping and reads like a thriller
Best Setting of your Reading Year: Newport, RI beaches from On the Rocks by Erin Duffy - brings back memories of summer beach houses and welcome warmth after our long winter.

Mid Event Meme
1. What are you reading right now?
Still working on Delicious! and Americanah (audio)
2. How many books have you read so far?
Finished one, two in progress (see above)
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I may not start a new book in the 2nd half - it depends on how long I stay up!
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Fortunately, I had a pretty free day
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
I really haven't had many interruptions and have been able to pace myself well
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How much reading I am getting done - usually I am easily distracted and find it hard to settle down to read during the event
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nothing yet! 
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
Nothing to change right now - my formula is working well this year
9. Are you getting tired yet?
I had a brief nap this afternoon so feeling pretty good! 
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
Others have probably already discovered this, but I have found working in some walking throughout the day has really made a difference in my energy! 

Hope you are having a great readathon! 

I will update this post throughout the day with my progress.  You can also follow me on Twitter (@booksnyc) and Instagram