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Friday, May 29, 2009

Gates of Fire

Gates of Fire
by Steven Pressfield
audio book: 18 hours

*** The Plot ***

This historical fiction novel tells the story of the epic ancient battle at Thermopylae, the one where 300 Spartans (and their allies) stood against the combined might of the Persian empire and fought to their deaths. The story is told by a fictitious lone survivor, a servant (squire) named Xeo. In this story the Persian king Xerxes was so moved by the valor of the Spartans that he wanted to know more about who these men really were. When his soldiers find a wounded Xeo on the battlefield after the Persian victory they brought him to the King's historian who writes down his story for the King to read later.

For a great quick overview of the battle of Thermopylae read the beginning of the Wikipedia article on it here.

NOTE: The pictures below come from Wikipedia also. The first are Greek warriors in a phalanx, the second are Persian warriors, and the third is a depcition of the battle with Spartan King Leonidas at the center.

*** Why I Read It (or listened to it) ***

I recently raved about The Saxon Chronicles, a series by Bernard Cornwell that relates the story of the first true King of England, Alfred the Great. One of the things I loved so much about those books was the authenticity of the story; the language, the relationships, the battles (!!!) all seems to be true snapshots of what life was really like back then. Plus Cornwell told a really great story.

Once I finished the series I was looking for something to follow it up with and that's when Lezlie reviewed one of Steven Pressfield's books. In her review she says "Looking for a good war novel? Steven Pressfield is your man. [...] No one I've read writes battle scenes the way Pressfield can." For me that was enough of an endorsement - I hopped over to my library's website and requested a few of Pressfield's audio books that very day.

*** What I Liked ***

By having the story told by a survivor rather than a 3rd person narrator the story became more personal. The King - and hence the reader (or listener in my case) - learns about the background of the men in a believable way. Xeo seeks to explain their actions on the battlefield but he can only do that by explaining who these men were BEFORE the battle. Through his descriptions we learn what it was like to be Spartan: boys trained from birth to fight, women valued for their stoicism, all people expected to sacrifice for their city, the intense relationships between men who've fought side by side, and so much more. And because Xeo was not a Spartan himself, we learn what life was like for citizens of other cities in that era and how they differed from citizens of Sparta.

I loved the characters in this book, even the ones who at first seemed unlovable: Polynikes - the Olympic champion who thinks he is better than everyone else, Decton - the slave who also thinks he is better than everyone else, Areti - wife of Xeo's master and a true Spartan woman, and so many, many others. Not all of them were as fully fleshed out as I'd like but I still loved getting to know them.

*** What Didn't Work For Me ***

On the whole I really enjoyed this book but there were a few things that just didn't work for me.

First, the 1st person point-of-view made for an engaging story but at times it felt more like a 3rd person narrator. Specifically there were times when I thought "How does Xeo know this stuff? How could he be telling this part of the story?"

That leads to my second issue. I know that the point of the book is to tell the tale of the actual battle at Thermopylae but after a few days of battle I got a bit overwhelmed. Everything was so BIG - the battle, the number of people involved, the whole story - and Xeo's voice got lost in all that. What I loved so much about the battles in The Saxon Chronicles is that you never forgot who was fighting and you always felt like you were right there with that fighter; it was personal. This book was very different - Xeo usually seemed to be watching from afar, and I didn't like that as much.

And one final thing that bugged me is the language. The author was trying to convey the rough talk of soldiers and the crude language they used by translating it into modern language and it just didn't work for me. Again I compared it to the language used in The Saxon Chronicles. There the language seemed to fit the era while here it did not. But that is just my opinion - maybe you'd disagree.

*** Final Thoughts and Other Reviews ***

Despite my complaints I did enjoy this book. It was the author's first book and he has written several since - I'm hopeful that the issues I had with this one won't appear in his others. I've already got TIDES OF WAR (another Pressfield novel) in my car ready to pop in the cassette player on my next ride to work.

And to be completely honest, I did have tears in my eyes as I listened to the final warriors die in the very end of the battle.

If you're on the fence about this book here's a link to a long excerpt. It depicts one of the more brutal aspects of a Spartan boy's training and will give you a good idea what you can expect from GATES OF FIRE. If you can appreciate that excerpt then I recommend you read this book. If not, then this book is not for you.

Have you read any of Pressfield's books? My search for reviews came up lacking so please let me know if you have reviewed any of them.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More Literary Connections

A while back I wrote about all the literary and pop culture connections that I found while reading THE THIRTEENTH TALE. I had to do another post like that because I just couldn't believe all the odd connections between what I've been reading lately.

Ok, here goes ...
  1. I recently read THE LOST MEN by Kelly Tyler-Lewis which opened with the telegraph station at Awarua, New Zealand receiving a vitally important message from the survivors of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party.
  2. Now I'm listening to MISTER PIP by Lloyd Jones and the city of Awarua plays a significant part in the story. The title of the book refers to Pip, the lead character in GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens.
  3. I just finished reading LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave, in which the title character is given GREAT EXPECTATIONS to read. The character of Little Bee is from war-ravaged Nigeria.
  4. The next book I started reading was THE SECRET KEEPER by Paul Harris. The main character in this book is a journalist who was in war-ravaged Sierra Leone and who has returned there several years later.
  5. As I was researching info for my book club's discussion of LITTLE BEE I came across this video posted on Chris Cleave's blog:

Now tell me that isn't a crazy set of connections!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Little Bee

Little Bee
by Chris Cleave
266 pages

*** Why Did I Read This? ***

LITTLE BEE, by Chris Cleave, is my book club's choice for June. I nominated this book for three reasons. First, the cover caught my attention. Isn't it just gorgeous? I'm not really picky about book covers - inside the book is what is important - but sometimes a good one really stands out. The second reason I nominated this book was the summary provided by the publisher.

It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it.

Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:

It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.

The story starts there, but the book doesn't.

And it's what happens afterward that is most important.

Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.
That really got me ... how 'bout you? And my final reason for nominating this book was the video of the author that you can watch at here. All those things combined to put this book right at the top of my TBR list. And it worked, because 8 of the gals in the book club voted to read this.

*** So, What's It About? ***

Do you really think I'm going to give it all away after that lovely plea from the publisher?! Not this girl ... at least, not publicly. Here's what I will say: This story has to do with the horrors of war, the refugee system in Britain, and the connections between people. If you want to know more before deciding whether or not to read it, feel free to email me (there's a link to my email through my profile) and I'll give you more info. But I'm not going to post details here because it will ruin it for those who don't want to know. And to be honest, after reading it myself, I'm glad I didn't know more than I did.

*** Did I Like It? ***

Oh yes, I LOVED it. The writing in this book is beautiful. I was completely caught up in the story, in the images, in the anecdotes, in every part of this book. The story is horrible and heartbreaking in parts but it is written in such a way that is doesn't feel heavy or burdensome to read. It is light and funny and wonderful ... and very, very real.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this book, about the passages that stuck out to me, but I won't. I'm sure that in the coming months this book will get lots of attention in the blogosphere and that you'll probably get sick of hearing about it after a while. So let me be the first to tell you that all the hype you eventually hear is true - this is a VERY GOOD BOOK. Make the time to read it ... you won't regret it.

*** Other Reviews? ***

I'm really looking forward to discussing this with my book club on June. 16th. I can't wait to see what the rest of the gals thought of it. I'll be posting a recap of the meeting on my book club's blog - I'll let you know when it goes up.

I did a search of my Google Reader to find other reviews of this book and I only came up with a few:
  • Whimpulsive - her review contains lots more details about the plot than mine but it is spoiler-free
  • Lesley's Book Nook - she says this book reminds her of Barbara Kingsolver's THE POISONWOOD BIBLE - that is one of my all-time favorite books and I can definitely see the similarities
  • Owl's Feathers - includes several lengthy quotes that really give you a feel for the language in this book
If you've reviewed it please let me know in the comments and I'll add your link here.

*** An Excerpt ***

To give you a taste of this book I'm going to transcribe the first two paragraphs here. Enjoy.
Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead - but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other's names.

A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and live the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind. When it feels warm and secure it will turn around and smile at you, the way my big sister Nkiruka used to smile at the men in our village in the short summer after she was a girl but before she was really a woman, and certainly before the evening my mother took her to a quiet place for a serious talk.
So ... what did you think?!

[Update: I forgot to mention where I first heard about this book. It was at here.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Going Postal ... a DNF post

by Terry Pratchett
audio book

This was my first Discworld book and I'm thinking it just wasn't the right time for me. I couldn't pay enough attention to the audio book to get really involved with the story and I think much of the humor was lost because of that. I quit listening after the first two hours or so.

I'm not knocking the series though - I'll give it another try at a later date, probably starting with this book again. It is very likely that I will enjoy it, but it is just not happening for me right now.

As an aside, is this book considered Fantasy? I'm guessing yes, but I'd like to know what you all think.

[Update: I forgot to mention that I heard about this from Darla D's review.]

What's on Your Nightstand? May '09

This monthly carnival, hosted by 5 Minutes for Books, is all about sharing. Here are the details:
Each month, let us know "What's on Your Nightstand" by sharing a quick review of recently completed novels, or a look at what you plan on reading in the month to come. You can show a picture of your nightstand (or your virtual nightstand — a bookshelf, the sofa end-table, a big pile beside your bed — wherever those to-be-reads reside).
I love this carnival because it forces me to take a hard look at ALL the books I have going at the same time, and (hopefully) encourages me to finish some of them. So here is What's On My Nightstand (actually, what is around my house, car, office, etc.) ...

*** My Carry-Along Book ***

The Secret Keeper, by Paul Harris - This book is "set in war-torn Sierra Leone, tells the story of one man’s search for the truth in a nation where the rules of civilized society simply don’t apply." I'm reading this for a TLC Book Blog Tour - my review will be posted on 6/2. I'm only a few chapters in but I'm REALLY into the story already and can't wait to see what happens.

*** In My Car ***

Two books in the car right now, one audio and one a regular book ...

Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield - This is a new take on the ancient Battle of Thermopylae (which was also dramatized in the movie "300"). I picked this up from the library based on Lezlie's recommendation and on the whole I have not been disappointed. I'm over halfway through it so expect a review within the next two weeks.

The Triumph of Deborah, by Eva Etzioni-Halevy - This is a retelling of the Biblical Old Testament story of Deborah, an Israelite prophetess, who led her people to war against the Canaanites. I'm really enjoying it, however I lost it for about a week and started THE SECRET KEEPER before I found it, so I've had to put it off for a little while. I can't wait to get back to it though! (For my regular readers, yes, I did find this book finally! It was under the seat in my car ...)

*** In the Bathroom ***

Two books, one to read and one to listen to ...

Castle Rackrent, by Marie Edgeworth - This book, published in 1800, is considered to be the first historical novel. I'm reading it for the 1% Well Read Challenge. To be honest, the lengthy introduction was a bit of a challenge but I'm hopeful that the rest of the book will improve. And if it doesn't, it is really short so I won't be reading it for long anyway!

Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones - audio book - I've been listening to this while I'm in the shower or getting ready for work. It had been on my reading list for quite a while but Chartroose's excellent recommendation sent me directly to the library to check it out. I highly recommend that you go read her review - she was inspired to research the history of the blockade of Bougainville island by Papua New Guinea during the early 1990s and she even posted of pictures related to the story.

*** In My Bed ***

The Secret Doorway: Beyond Imagination, by Paul Hutchins - This book combines images from the Hubble Space telescope with essays on the nature of the universe and other similar topics. I was really excited to read it but I've been rather disappointed so far ... although the images are GORGEOUS.

*** On My Desk ***

Two books again ...

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave - This is my book club's pick for June. I've already finished reading it and it is now waiting to be reviewed. Here is a quick video about the book that I strongly suggest you watch - it hooked me right away and I knew I HAD to read this book. I absolutely loved this book ... but you'll have to wait for my review (coming tomorrow) to find out why.

Red Rain, by Tim Wendel - Here's what I said about this book in March and again in April: "I started this WWII novel a while ago but it didn't really capture my attention at the time. I've put it aside for now but I do intend to finish it next month. It is based on a little-known story about the Japanese use of hot-air-balloon bombs that they sent across the ocean to the US West Coast." Yet again I've made no progress on this one.


Those are the books occupying my attention at the moment. And here is a list of what I'm planning to read soon:

Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell
The Greatest Generation Speaks, by Tom Brokaw
Tides of War, by Steven Pressfield (audio)

What books are YOU focused on right now? Tell me about them in the comments! And for more Nightstand posts, check out 5 Minutes for Books.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Need a smile and a laugh? I've got one for ya!

Watch this and tell me that it doesn't make you happy!

Here's what is says on YouTube: Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) playing impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. He'll be 90 in February.


(Thanks to MonkeyBoy Adventures for posting this video.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Finds, 05/22/09

Welcome to this week's Friday Finds where I admit to the shamefully large numbers of books I've added to my TBR list over the past seven days. This week I have four titles to share with you. Yes, I know, four books may not seem like a lot but over a month that amounts to 16 books, and over a year that amounts to 192. And since I read just about 100 books a year you can see how far behind I'm getting!

Ehhem ... anyway ... back to this week's list ...
  1. Beside a Burning Sea, by John Shors - This book "place in 1942 near the Solomon Islands. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor less than one year ago, and the United States is embroiled in war. On a U.S. hospital ship are 9 men and women who will survive the bombing of the ship and swim to a nearby island to wait for their rescue. One of the survivors is the person who sabotaged the ship, and the other people don’t find out until it’s almost too late." Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? says: "Bottom line: this will be one of my favorite books of the year."

  2. An Edible History of Humanity, by Tom Standage - From the Book Jacket: "Throughout history, food has acted as a catalyst of social change, political organization, geopolitical competition, industrial development, military conflict, and economic expansion. An Edible History of Humanity is a pithy, entertaining account of how a series of changes-caused, enabled or influenced by food-has helped to shape and transform societies around the world." I learned about this one from's newsletter.

  3. Magnifico, by Miles J. Unger - This is "a vividly colorful portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici, the uncrowned ruler of Florence during its golden age. A true "Renaissance man," Lorenzo dazzled contemporaries with his prodigious talents and magnetic personality. Known to history as Il Magnifico (the Magnificent), Lorenzo was not only the foremost patron of his day but also a renowned poet, equally adept at composing philosophical verses and obscene rhymes to be sung at Carnival. He befriended the greatest artists and writers of the time -- Leonardo, Botticelli, Poliziano, and, especially, Michelangelo, whom he discovered as a young boy and invited to live at his palace -- turning Florence into the cultural capital of Europe. He was the leading statesman of the age, the fulcrum of Italy, but also a cunning and ruthless political operative." I learned about this one from Simon & Schuster's May Update email. You can read an excerpt from the book here to see if you might like it - I did!

  4. Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin - "Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future." I learned about this one from Simon & Schuster's Academic English newsletter. My mom grew up in Brooklyn, daughter of an Irish mother and Italian father ... this story couldn't be more appropriate for me!
That's all for now folks. Feel free to share your own Finds in the comments or visit MizB's blog to see what everyone else is admitting to this week. Have a wonderful weekend all, and to those in the US (like me), Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lovely Links #15

Lovely, lovely links! There are always so many interesting things to find and share - I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Fun & Interesting

  • Laurie R. King reads from THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE set to a video of the Sussex Downs, cottages, 1917 England, and sheep. It is quite lovely.
  • This Book Swap and Salad Club sounds like a lot of fun - I may have to suggest this to MY book club as a break from our routine.
  • What do hockey players and the Bronte sisters have in common? This post explains it all.
Books into Movies
  • Coming in August, The Time Traveler's Wife. I know a lot of you really enjoyed this book but I found the audio version rather, um, boring ...
  • Coming in December, The Lovely Bones. A few gals in my book club read this and loved it but I've not been brave enough - the subject matter is a bit much for me.
  • A peek on the set of Harry Potter 6, coming in July.
  • New Moon's werewolf pack undressed, plus a very short comment from Taylor Lautner. And they are going to film Breaking Dawn ... you knew it was coming, but this is sooner than expected. AND the poster for New Moon can be seen here.
  • A clue as to where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One will end.

That's all folks!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I'm reading THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH and really enjoying it ... at least I was. Now I've lost it - AAAHHH! Don't you hate it when that happens? I had been carrying it in my bag wherever I went for the past week or so. I remember taking it out and thinking "I'd better put this back" ... and of course I didn't. I don't want to pick up another book yet because 1) I was really into this one, and 2) the author is waiting on my review.

Any suggestions as to where I should look? Just kidding. But I would like to know what YOU do when this happens. Do you keep searching for the book? Do you move on to something else? What do you do?!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kids' Picks (and a Kiddo Update)

Every month 5 Minutes for Mom does a feature called Kids' Picks where bloggers are invited to write about the books their kids are interested in at the moment. I try to write about what Kiddo is reading on a regular basis but I'm failing miserably at it, so this is my kick in the butt to actually do it. Here goes!

(For those new to my blog, or here just for Kid's Picks, Kiddo is my 7 year old son.)

We've had dragon theme in our house recently. I think Kiddo's love of dragons started with Harry Potter but now it has grown to encompass anything dragon related. He was even excited about the Barnes & Noble gift card that I won from Chartroose because it had a dragon on it (thank again Chartroose!).

But back to the books ...

A few weeks ago Kiddo came home from school with a library book called George and the Dragon. I've mentioned before that Kiddo is really struggling with learning to read but this book was PERFECT for him. First off, the story is adorable: A dragon is terrorizing the land but has a fatal flaw - he's afraid of mice. George is a mouse who accidentally learns that he can scare the dragon, so he becomes the protector of the castle. Second, the illustrations are fun: every page contains a glimpse of the dragon, and everything is bright and well-designed. And finally, the story is short: There's only about one sentence on each page, something Kiddo can handle without much difficulty.

The book was supposed to go back to the school library one week later ... but it has now been at our house for over a month. Since he loves it so much, I promised to buy him a copy. Of course, now I find out that it is no longer in print, and doesn't have it. So I'm on a hunt to track down a copy for him - wish me luck!

The second book with a dragon theme is one I picked up for Kiddo at his school book fair: Puff the Magic Dragon, book and music CD. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the old Peter, Paul, and Mary song by that same name (if not, I'm posting the video down below). I loved that song when I was a kid but Kiddo had never heard it. The book has lovely illustrations and the text is simply the words to the song. Kiddo and I took turns reading one page each. On my turn I'd sing the words. Kiddo quickly caught on to the chorus and enjoyed reading those pages. After we read the book - which we BOTH enjoyed - we popped in the CD and listened to the song. Kiddo LOVED it. In fact, he listened to it over and over again, and wanted to read the book several times over the next few days.

The CD has two other songs on it: The Blue-Tail Fly (which I remember singing as a child) and Froggie Went A-Courtin' (which I remember one of my grandfathers singing to me when I was very small and he was bouncing me on his knees - it is one of my few memories of him). Kiddo enjoyed both of these songs too, but not nearly as much as Puff.

A quick Kiddo update ...

For those who have been following along with Kiddo's oh-so-fun medical issues lately, thanks again for your thoughts, prayers, and comments. I love hearing from all of you and Kiddo thinks it is really COOL to hear from people he's never met. Like I said before, he thinks he's famous now.

We found a way to make the powdered version of the calorie/protein formula more palatable (because it really tastes nasty). We mixed orange juice, orange flavored Rice Dream (a rice-based dairy free ice cream), a bit of sugar, and lots of the formula in the blender and made a smoothie. Kiddo LOVED it. He's also drinking it in the mornings with orange juice and a bit of sugar. He still isn't up to the 32-42 ounces they want him drinking in one day, but he IS making progress. We are hopeful that he won't need the feeding tube after all.

The removal of chicken from his diet has been hard, but not as bad as we feared. We're coming up with new ways to make turkey (which is the only meat he can eat right now) and trying to think of ways to hide some beans in his meals (since he doesn't like them but they do have lots of protein). My newest idea is to puree some beans and put them in some turkey chili - that way he can't pick them out or say he doesn't like them. Ha! I'll get him there! ~LOL~

I promise to keep you all updated as the weeks go on. Thanks again for all your support.

And now that video I promised you ...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Number the Stars

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry
audio book: 2.75 hours

I listened to this at work one afternoon last week and really enjoyed it. This young adult book is set during World War II in Denmark. The brief story unfolds through the eyes of a young girl named Annemarie whose best friend is Jewish. As Holocaust-era stories go, this is a very tame one. It deals with difficult subjects in a child-friendly way, never going too deep but always with an undercurrent of trouble or confusion. I think it would be an excellent introduction to the time period for a young reader, perhaps progressing to The Diary of Anne Frank afterward.

This also counts toward the War Through the Generations - WWII reading challenge.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wheel of Time Fans, I've got videos for you!

If you, like me, missed out on the first annual JordanCon held in Alpharetta, Georgia last month, have no fear! Videos are here! did a live broadcast from the Con and they have now posted all the videos on their site. Many people had a hard time downloading them though, so one kind soul put them all up on YouTube.

There are lots of videos so take your time and enjoy them all. I was laughing out loud at the skit they used in the opening ceremony - a big pat on the back to Jason from for coming up with that one!

One important thing - watch the videos in order! They are mostly (but not all) posted in chronological order so be sure to read the titles and watch them in numerical order. Or at least do that for each panel you want to watch ... they make so much more sense that way.

Once you watch them come back and tell me what you thought - what were your favorite parts? Will you be attending next year? I certainly HOPE to!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Finds 05/15/09 (& Kiddo Update)

Happy Friday to all! Thank you again to all who have commented on my Kiddo update posts lately. Today's update: He is drinking the protein formula but he's not getting enough down during the day. Unless he can up his intake over the next few days he's going to need the feeding tube. He's working really hard not to get to that point but despite his excellent attitude I don't know if he can do it. I'll keep you all posted on his progress.

And now, this week's Friday Finds ...

  1. A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventures in Early America, by Tony Horwitz – "What happened in North America between Columbus's sail in 1492 and the Pilgrims' arrival in 1620? On a visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he doesn't have a clue, nor do most Americans. So he sets off across the continent to rediscover the wild era when Europeans first roamed the New World in quest of gold, glory, converts, and eternal youth." My lovely friend Ti emailed me about this book because she thought I’d enjoy it … and she looks to be correct!

  2. Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World, by Diana Preston – According to the review that same friend Ti told me about, “If there is a better book about Cleopatra for today's reader, I don't know what it is.” Now THAT is a ringing endorsement.

  3. Julian, by Gore VidalBibliolatrist says this book, about ancient Roman emperor Julian Augustus “is what historical fiction should be: fascinatingly intelligent, deeply moving, and highly entertaining.” Gotta love it when a blogger you trust gives a review like that!

  4. A Wall of White: The True Story of Heroism and Survival in the Face of a Deadly Avalanche, by Jennifer Woodlief – I’m a huge fan of good non-fiction, especially stories that take place in snowy regions. S. Krishna reviewed this book and had some great things to say about it.

  5. Tall Man, by Chloe Hooper - "In 2004 on Palm Island, an Aboriginal settlement in the "Deep North" of Australia, a thirty-six-year-old man named Cameron Doomadgee was arrested for swearing at a white police officer. Forty minutes later he was dead in the jailhouse. The police claimed he'd tripped on a step, but his liver was ruptured. The main suspect was Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley, a charismatic cop with long experience in Aboriginal communities and decorations for his work." I learned about this one from the Simon & Schuster Academic History newsletter.

What books made it on to YOUR list this week? Post them in the comments or join in the fun at MizB's blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kiddo's Results Are In ...

To follow up on the last two days of Kiddo info ...

This morning we went to the doctors office together to get the results of Kiddo's patch tests. Good news and bad news ...

The Good News: The patches showed allergies to four foods. Two we already eliminated from his diet based on the skin tests earlier this week: barley and oats. Two others were completely new and unexpected: green beans and chicken. Yup, you read that right - CHICKEN. The reason that is good news is that it explains why the test results kept getting worse and worse as we took more food away - Kiddo was eating more and more chicken! The other good news is that he did not show allergies to beef and pork, foods that were already eliminated from his diet.

The Bad News: 1) He's allergic to chicken ... and that is one of the main foods he eats. We have to get rid of all the chicken-based products in our house and replace them with turkey-based items (if they are even available). 2) We can't add beef and pork back into his diet for at least three months. 3) He has to drink 42 ounces of protein formula per day. Not only does it taste bad but it is ridiculously expensive - the main option is $115 for 27 juice box-sized drinks, and he's have to drink 5 per day. 4) If he can't keep up with the required protein formula he will have to go with the feeding tube, inserted through the nose several time each day or have surgery to put a tube from his stomach out of his side.

On the whole, I am actually relieved by today's appointment. At least we know what is causing the problem now (most likely). At the same time I'm very worried about having to do the feeding tube. They are giving him one week to try drinking the formula, then they will reevaluate his situation.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us and keeping us in your thoughts. I will keep you updated on his progress over the next week.

UPDATE: In the comments Julie P. mentioned getting insurance to pay for the protein formula and I wanted to explain about that a bit. Kiddo's doctors told us that in 2008 a law was passed that mandates insurance coverage for this. That is a great thing, but I'm not sure what type of coverage we'll get. For example, Kiddo is on a high dose of Prevacid right now. Without insurance it would cost us $350/month. With insurance we pay $250. So we are saving some money but this is still a huge expense every month.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Just to clarify, here is the list of things Kiddo cannot eat for now, with an * by anything we are sure he is allergic to: milk*, eggs, wheat*, soy*, fish, shellfish, peanut, tree nuts (esp. almonds*), beef, pork, barley*, oats*, green beans*, and chicken*.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today's Kiddo Update

Thank you to everyone who expressed support for Kiddo, Hubby and I - your response to my post yesterday was absolutely wonderful. I read some of the comments to Kiddo this morning ... now he thinks he's famous. :)

Here's today's update:

Hubby took Kiddo to have all the tape removed. As you may recall, it covered his entire back. The process of getting it off was VERY painful. In some spots the tape took off a few layers of skin. Needless to say, there were lots of tears.

After they left the doctor's office they came to visit me at work. I told Kiddo I wanted to update my blog with more pictures today so this is how he posed for you all. (Just so you know, he is supposed to be the airplane mechanic from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark - you can see him in this clip at 1:37 in.)

Here are some views of his back. The dark lines are tape residue. The numbers indicate where specific samples were placed. The dark spots you see are food residue from the samples. You may also see red circles - that is where the allergic reactions are starting to occur. Not sure that you want to see a closer view but if you do, just click on the photos and they'll open up larger in a new window.

This last photo is a closer view of the top of Kiddo's back. That red mark is where some of his skin pulled off along with the tape. It looks and feels like severe sunburn.

If the tape removal went well Kiddo was going to go to school this afternoon. After all that pain though, we're not sending him. Instead he's going over to Grandma's house to take a shower (his first since Sunday night) and get the food off his back. He can only rinse, not really wash, since the doctors are seeing him again tomorrow morning to determine the results of the test.

All three of us will be going to the results appointment tomorrow morning (9:30am EST, in case you'd like to pray for us then) but I will certainly update you all as soon as I can get to a computer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Asking for Support

Hi all. This post is a bit more personal than you're used to on here (and a bit long) but I hope you won't mind. I'm having a hard time with something at the moment, and I'm hoping I can rely on all of you for prayers, support, and possibly even knowledge.

You all know about my wonderful Kiddo (who, by the way, thinks it is VERY cool that he is featured on my blog), about his love of ice hockey and Irish Step dance, about his struggles with reading and his all-around cuteness. And if you have been reading for a while you also know that Kiddo has severe food allergies and a condition called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE for short). What that means is that eosinophilis - cells that belong in the intestines - are present in his esophagus. The cause of this condition is unknown but doctors suspect it is triggered by food in some way, sort of like an internal allergy. If left untreated, the eosinophils increase exponentially and over time cause furrowing and hardening of the esophagus, making it difficult or impossible to swallow. Only about 20,000 people in the US have this condition, and very little is known about it.

Kiddo has been treated for EE for the past 3 years or so. Treatment is really the wrong word though, because they are still figuring out what is the trigger in his case. Every 3-4 months he undergoes an endoscopy (under anesthesia they put a camera down his throat and do biopsies of his stomach and esophagus) to determine if the eosinophils are increasing or decreasing based on the changes made to his diet in the previous months. He also regularly has allergy testing (blood tests and scratch tests) to try to clarify what the triggers are. So far the results have been mixed.

We know beyond a doubt that he is allergic to milk - if it even touches his skin, he starts breaking out in hives, and if he ingests it he vomits uncontrollably. Beyond that, the following nine items have been removed from his diet as possible EE triggers: eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanut, tree nuts, beef, and pork.

Yesterday Kiddo had another scratch test. He tested positive for an allergy to barley. That is one of his favorite foods so he is very disappointed to have to give it up. They also removed oats from his diet. In addition, we got the results of his latest endoscopy. His endoscopy results from March were good. The April test ... not so good. We made absolutely no changes to his diet between the two tests but the eosinophils doubled in that time. Plus Kiddo has been on Prevacid for about 2 years, and on an extra high dose for the last month (Prevacid is supposed to get rid of many eosinophils). The doctor is baffled - she has no idea what is causing this.

In order to get a better idea of the trigger foods, Kiddo is currently undergoing a patch test. In this test, small samples of each food item are put onto a metal disk which is then taped to his back. They have to stay on for 48 hours. His little back is covered with 19 samples at the moment, as you can see in the picture. It is uncomfortable but Kiddo is being a real trooper. No tears, no whining, just sporadic comments about the tape pulling his skin or certain spots being itchy.

Based on the results of this test, more foods will likely be removed from his diet. They will do another endoscopy in 2 months. If the results are not good, the next step is to put Kiddo on an elemental diet ... basically that means that he'd only be able to drink a protein liquid for his meals for several months. No food, period. You can imagine how painful that is for me to even think about - Kiddo is only 7 years old, and he will be miserable if he isn't allowed to eat. And if he doesn't drink it (please God, let him drink it!) they will have to put in a feeding tube to get it into his system.

The doctor wants to rule out possible environmental triggers so she put Kiddo on a daily nasal spray in addition to the Prevacid. At this point, all we can do is wait and pray. The patches come off Wed. morning and we get the results Thurs. morning.

Of course, all these appointments mean that Kiddo is missing school - all day on Mon. and Tues., half days on Wed. and Thurs. And you know that he is struggling with his reading so missing these days could have a huge impact on his learning.

If you made it to the end of this incredibly long post, I'm very grateful. Thank you for your concern and your support. If any of you are familiar with EE or have heard of anything that might help us, please let me know. And please keep Kiddo (and Hubby and I too!) in your prayers. Thank you.

(And just so you know, those two pictures were taken within minutes of each other. Even with all the junk on his back Kiddo is still smiling!)
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