I’m a Little Brain Dead by Kimberly Davis Basso – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the author herself. Thank you!

Tuesday’s breakfast was interrupted by a stroke, and the only available help is the author’s second grader.

Launched into a medical crisis, Kimberly Davis Basso (and her brain) respond with wit, wisdom, and wishful thinking. From surviving a stroke to surviving a zombie apocalypse, “I’m a Little Brain Dead” is alarmingly irreverent. No matter how critical or ridiculous the situation, Kimberly abides by their family rule “Panicking never helps.”

You’ll get an inside look at being a middle aged stroke patient as she hosts a neurological event, juggles doctors, undergoes a heart procedure and asks the really big question – how tiny is tiny when it refers to dead tissue? What would you do? Are you prepared to have a medical crisis, unable to speak or walk? Would your kids know what to do? It’s time to make an escape plan. Kimberly will walk (or rather shuffle) readers through her experience in an honest, hilarious look at the site of the world’s smallest zombie apocalypse – her brain.

When reading a person’s account of a particular traumatic event, words like “brave” and “inspiring” are often trotted out by reviewers. And while those two particular words, plus many more that are similar could be used for I’m a Little Brain Dead; one that might be a bit odd to add would be “funny”.

Because that’s what I’m a Little Brain Dead is, funny.

At the young age of forty-four, Kimberly Basso had a stroke. An honest-to-God stroke. What happens next; from having her 8 year old calling 9-1-1 through to the MRI’s and countless tests to an eventual diagnosis, Basso somehow handles it all with a hefty dose of wit and humor. She does get a bit maudlin towards the end, but given the subject she is writing about, this can be easily forgiven. It’s not every day one faces their own mortality.

I will warn some readers, Basso likes to swear in this book. Some may find it off-putting, while others (like myself) will simply take it in stride. This is her story and she is telling it how she wants to.

Being close in age to Basso but also going through much of what she did with my mother, reading I’m a Little Brain Dead hit very close to home. Personally, I enjoyed it and recommend it to all my readers. Not just for the goodly amount of information it has, but also for the zombie jokes.

Provided for Review – The Lady in the Cellar: Murder, Scandal, and Insanity in Victorian Bloomsbury by Sinclair McKay

Number 4, Euston Square was a home like many in Victorian London. A boarding house, it was respectable, well-kept, and hospitable to those staying there. Yet beneath that veneer there seemed to be a darkness lurking.

In early May 1879, the corpse of a woman is discovered in the coal cellar. An investigation discovers she is an elderly woman named Matilda Hacker, a former resident of the boarding house. Questions are immediately raised. How did she die? How did she come to be buried in the coal cellar? And most importantly, who could have killed her?

In the investigation that followed, every resident of the home was scrutinized and more than a few secrets were brought to light. Someone in that house had killed Matilda Hacker and someone knew the truth.

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this ebook in exchange for a review.

The Lady in the Cellar is a true story. In the early summer of 1879, a body was discovered in the coal cellar of a boarding house. Almost every person who was there was a potential suspect. It was a story the newspapers grabbed on to, especially once more and more details started to come to light. And in a time when the so called ‘middle class’ were coming in to their own and the lines between classes were sometimes blurred, there were an abundance of details to titillate and delight.

The case of the murder of Matilda Hacker is a bizarre one. And it is one that the author covers in great detail. At times it feels like McKay is trying to reach a page count with their writing as there are long passages going in to details that nothing to do with the case itself. While it can be interesting to read about some of history about the family that owned the boarding house, with no actual relevancy, it leaves one to wonder why it was included.

Some of the other reviews I have seen where the reader did not finish the book lament the fact that McKay’s writing can be a bit tedious at times. It is an opinion I must agree with. Attention to detail is one thing, but to inundate a reader with information can be a it much. The actual trial and its aftermath take up roughly half of the book. And it is this half of the book that is the most interesting. It is slogging through the first half of the book and getting to the ‘good bits’ however, that can be difficult.

It is very obvious that McKay did a great amount of research in writing The Lady in the Cellar. The book is chock full of information and little details to draw the reader in. And while the actual case of the murder of Ms. Hacker was never solved, McKay gives a plausible ‘what if?’ scenario towards the end.

While I am sure there are those readers who dislike true crime books for one reason or another, I urge my readers to give this one a try when it hits shelves. In a day and age of sensational media such as ours, it is little wonder that the case of the lady in the cellar was so fascinating to the reading public of the day. It is my hope that modern day readers will enjoy it as well.

Fox by Dubravka Ugrešic

With the shape-shifting and wily fox of Eastern folklore as an underlying motif, Fox is a novel that reinvents itself over and over again. It is a blending of literary trivia and the timeless story of a young woman trying to find love.

Through it’s narrative force the reader is taken from Russia to Japan, through Balkan minefields and on American road trips. We are taken from the 1920s to present day, as the novel explores the power of storytelling and literary invention. Of the notions of betrayal, and the randomness of human lives.

It is incredibly rare, dear reader, for me to not finish a book – much less write a review on it. Yet that is what I find myself doing with Ugresic’s Fox.

When I picked the book up off the shelf at my library, the blurb on the back seemed very interesting. It was only when I began reading, or at least trying to read, that I found myself sadly disappointed.

Perhaps it is because I do not find Ugresic’s writing style appealing. She has a kind of rambling style of writing, her words seeming to jumble together in an almost stream of consciousness style. Each chapter is its own unique story, centering on one particular event or another, but also interspersed with random bits of information that seem to pertain to what is happening.

Unfortunately, due to the style of writing, I found myself going cross eyed halfway through the first story. I could not even finish the second one before I was forced to put the book down.

Readers who are familiar with Ugresic’s previous works claim Fox is typical of her work. Perhaps it is because I myself am not familiar with her previous novels, or perhaps it is because there is something lost in the translation of this book in to English. Suffice it to say, I did not enjoy reading Fox. So much so that I did not even finish it.

Whether it is good or bad, I cannot really say. Nor can I honestly recommend it.

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes by Cory O’Brien

For as long as mankind has been able to, they have told stories. Many of the stories told revolve around the gods and goddesses of the time and thus have survived. However, over time the stories sometimes tend to get a bit watered down.

In reality, the original stories are far, far more crazy. And interesting. And funny.

Any person who has been on Tumblr for a while will eventually learn of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes and the hilarious genius of it. It is truly a book that keeps on giving because while I have read it several times by now, I find it laugh out loud funny every time.

Now, I will warn my readers there is a LOT of swearing and potty humor. However, since most myths center around sex in some way or another this is pretty standard. Still, more sensitive (as well as younger) readers should have a heads up.

Personally, I loved Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes. While it’s a quick read, it’s also one that can be read over and over and enjoyed every time. I recommend it for my older readers.

The Countess by Rebecca Johns

In 1611, Countess Erzsébet Báthory, stands helpless as masons walled her inside her castle tower. She is to spend her final years in solitary confinement for her crime – the gruesome murders of dozens of female servants. She claims she was only disciplining them but her opponents paint her as a bloodthirsty witch.

Her only recourse is to tell her story in her own words; a feat she does by writing to her young son. She recounts her childhood and her love for her parents, her arranged marriage and a husband she would eventually come to care deeply for. She describes how she embraces her new role of wife and mother and how she does all she can to secure a future for her precious children.

Yet as she strives for these things, a darker side of the Countess surfaces. The Countess is a strict mistress; demanding respect, virtue, and above all, obedience. It is when she does not receive what she feels is her due that events take a more sinister turn.

Erzsébet Báthory is one of those individuals where the truth is just as disturbing as the fiction. Described as a bloodthirsty sadist, it was believed she killed countless young women and bathed in their blood. The truth, while no less disturbing, is only slightly less gruesome. And it is a truth that Johns expounds on in The Countess.

The Countess is the fictionalized biography of the very real Countess Erzsébet Báthory. Her story is told through her own hand as she writes to her son from her prison cell. She tells him of her life before his birth and after, all the while in the hope that he understands that she did only what she believed was right. For her and for her children.

The Countess is a heavy read at times. Women, even noble born, were treated as little more than commodities. Marriages were made to strengthen political ties; to join families and fortunes. In this day and age of feminism, it can be difficult to read about a time when this wasn’t true.

Jones does an admirable job of bringing the world of 16th century Hungary to life. It is a cruel world and Jones doesn’t pretty things up at all. She gives us a glimpse in to the life of one of the most infamous women to date and gives us a bit of insight in to her character. Bathory isn’t painted as a sympathetic character but as a women doing what she believed to be correct in a time where there were few choices.

A heavy read and a bit gruesome at times, overall I enjoyed The Countess. I recommend this one to my readers.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Roughly one week ago, Astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on Mars.

Now he is sure he will be the first to die there.

When a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his fellow astronauts to leave the planet, and him, behind; Mark wakes to find himself completely alone. With damaged equipment, Mark has no way to signal that he is alive. He is stranded on an alien planet with faulty equipment and dwindling supplies. Even if he could get a message out, rescue would be years away.

Yet Mark isn’t willing to just lay down and die. He’s a survivor and he plans to stay that way. Using the equipment he has as well as his engineering and botany skills, he comes up with a plan. Not only to contact NASA but to keep himself alive until they can get him.

But they did not name Mars after the God of War for nothing, for all too soon Mark realizes he’s going to have to fight to survive.

A brief note: This review is for the BOOK. I have yet to see the movie, but I do plan to. Especially now after reading the book!

I don’t think there is a man or woman alive who didn’t entertain dreams of travelling in space. I know as a young girl I wanted to be an astronaut and often dreamed of going up in a spaceship. And while many of us look at space travel through rose colored glasses, for all the things that go well, there are just as many that can go wrong. And that is where books like The Martian come in.

The Martian is a story of survival in the most adverse of conditions. For Mark, this isn’t like being stuck somewhere on Earth; he is on a completely different planet. Rescue isn’t days away but years.

Told from three different perspectives, Mark’s, NASA’s, and his crew mates making their way back to Earth; I found The Martian to be a riveting tale. From the first page I found it very hard to put down. I needed to know what happened next; to Mark, to the crew. This book held my attention from the start and did not let go.

Mark’s journal entries are quite science heavy; something not all readers will enjoy. This is tempered with his dry, gallows humor and his upbeat outlook on his situation. He is determined to survive, if he doesn’t accidentally blow himself up first.

Being a long time science nerd, I loved The Martian. Readers looking for a tense, edge of your seat thrill ride will love this book as well. I was enthralled from beginning to end and cannot recommend this book enough.

Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful by Teresa Riordan

“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.” – Helena Rubenstein

In the battle of the sexes, women have employed any number of potions and contraptions to catch the eye and win the hand. From corsets and crinolines to lipstick and hair dye, shrewd and canny women (and sometimes men) have used every means at their disposal in the quest for feminine flawlessness.

New York Times columnist Teresa Riodran delves in to the history of many of these incredible inventions. She explores that strange yet interesting intersection of fashion, business, and science. Where social trends often fueled technological innovations. And where beauty inventions have sought to put the imaginative and resourceful woman on an even playing field with the conventionally beautiful.

As a woman rapidly approaching 40 (kicking and screaming), I have found the subject of beauty and self care more and more interesting over the years. As something of a history buff, the history behind the subject is equally fascinating. To find a book that combines the two made for me a delightful read.

What could easily have been something dry and boring is instead made quite interesting with Riordan’s well researched and often amusing writing. It is obvious she finds the subject of beauty and the history behind it fascinating and she brings that to her writing. Each chapter is devoted to one aspect of appearance that women have focused on; hair, skin, nails, etc. Chapters are even devoted to the bust and the behind!

I found Inventing Beauty to be an informative read. While she concentrated on mainly the American/English aspect of beauty inventions and focused on a mere 100 years, it is a well thought out and well executed tome. I would love to read more on the subject going back further and potentially focusing on other cultures, but that will likely be another book at another time.

This is not the book for every reader as not every person finds the history of beauty interesting. Those who do (like myself) would do well to pick this book up and give it a read. It casts new light on what we women have done in the name of style and shows how primping and preening never really go out of fashion.

How To Be A Victorian by Ruth Goodman

The Victorian Era, as with practically all other historical eras, is something that we in the twenty-first century often tend to romanticize. Novels are written set in the era, even television shows and movies are produced. The thing is however, in these cases the story always takes the fore and the more mundane events are left in the background. And while a few books have been written on the subject of Victorian life, I have yet to read any that go in to the depth that this one does.

How To Be A Victorian proposes to take us through the average person’s day in Victorian London. Starting with waking up in a cold bed in an often very cold room to getting dressed to going to work. We are taken through what a normal day would be for practically all levels of society for while the day to day of the upper echelons is well documented it is the lower levels; the blue-collar individuals if you well; that tend to be overlooked. And it is these folk who Goodman tends to focus on. The working man, woman and in many cases working child who were the backbone of the masses.

What separates How To Be A Victorian from many other books discussing history is not just the depth of the subject. While Goodman goes in to great detail in HOW things were done she also includes a great deal of WHY it was done. That makes a great deal of difference in understanding the people of the era. She includes pieces from personal diaries as well as published papers from the time. It gives us a peek in to their minds and in to their general way of thinking.

Goodman is not just a historian studying the Victorian era, she is also a re-enactor. She has spent quite a bit of time not just researching the era but also living it. She knows the delicate balancing act one must do while trying to sit in a corset and petticoats. She has done many of the things she writes about even it if was just an attempt. This definitely shows in her writing, giving it a personal touch and showing the reader just how much she cares for her subject.

Not every one will find this book appealing. It will primarily appeal to those who are interested in history in general and the Victorian era in particular. As someone who dabbles in re-enacting I found the read quite fascinating and hope to use some of my well gained knowledge in the future.