2016 Book Challenge: A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read

(Disclaimer- I was getting ready to do some blog updates and was super confused why my 2016 Book Challenge count didn’t add up to the number of months so far this year. After some head scratching and bafflement, I realized that I had somehow never posted the August review, even though it was sitting in my finished folder! So, as you all eagerly await not only September’s challenge book, but also the upcoming blog changes, here is August’s challenge entry. Apologizes for the ridiculously late post.)

2016 Book Challenge: A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read


August was a hectic month, part of it spent in Idaho and the rest taken up with a move to our nation’s lovely capital. With all of the upheaval, I was still able to enjoy reading my way through eleven books, mostly new release fiction, but I did manage to get a couple of narrative non-fiction titles in there, including my favorite recommendation right now, Patient H.M.  by Luke Dittrich. The one that breaks from the new release tangent I was on is this month’s 2016 Book Challenge Book, falling under the category of “a book I’ve been wanting to read.” Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok has been on my “to read” list for several years now (it was published in 2010), but kept getting pushed off until late one evening I was lying in bed, having finished my previous book (Miss Jane by Brad Watson- fantastic!) and had nothing in my queue. (The horror!) With a few clicks I was on the Boise Library website, searching for something intriguing that was currently available. Not too far through my scrolling, I came across Girl in Translation  and remembered that I had wanted to read it before, so a few more quick clicks and it was on my ereader.

With a soft spot for Chinese-themed literature, I was instantly drawn into the narrative of Kimberly Chang, a young girl whose mother immigrates to the United States from Hong Kong, searching for a better life for herself and her daughter. Not just a story of a hard working mom and a high-achieving daughter, this book digs into how easy it is for jealous to erupt and how difficult it can be for families to feel as if they are being left behind when success comes to some but not all.

Immigration stories are such powerful narratives, bringing together the hopes and dreams of generations, but when well-written, also explore the difficulties in not only achieving those dreams in a mere generation, but also the conflict that occurs when the next generation doesn’t understand the history that has lead them to their current life. Coming to America may seem like an easy decision, but it can be powerfully painful and great literature shines a light on the complexities of what it means to “be American.” (I highly recommend the recently released Behold the Dreamers  by Imbolo Mbue, about a Cameroonian family facing difficult decisions about how much citizenship is really worth.)

Girl in Translation  was a quick read, but I must admit to being frustrated with the ending. Without needing a spoiler alert, I will say that I think Kwok’s ending was a bit unrealistic and left me with many questions, not only in terms of logistics of the way the story wraps up, but with inconsistencies in the character portrayal as well. Nevertheless, a disappointing ending does not turn me off to the book as a whole and I’m glad I finally took the chance to pick it up, albeit six years later.

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

– A book published this year (A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin)

A book you can finish in a day  (When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)

_____A book you’ve been meaning to read  (Girl In Translation  by Jean Kwok)

_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian

 A book you should have read in school (The Hounds of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle)

A book recommended for you by your spouse/partner, friend, child, or sibling (Jasper Fforde books)

A book published before you were born (And Then There Were Noneby Agatha Christie)

  A book that was banned at some point (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess)

_____ A book you abandoned previously

_____ A book you own but have never read

_____ A book that intimidates you

A book you’ve read at least once (I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali)


Caldwell Perspective Review: A Hundred Thousand Worlds

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl



Decisions have consequences, but sometimes those consequences take a bit of time to catch up, which is just the case for Valerie Torrey. Six years ago, Torrey kidnapped her son (although the famous actor/ absentee father didn’t exactly protest), but now he wants back into Alex’s life, which means Torrey agrees to hand him over to his dad for two years, just enough to make up for missed visitations, rather than face court involvement. In a final family trip, Torrey, a famous sci-fi actor herself, decides to travel from her home base in New York to Los Angeles, crossing the country with the comic con tour schedule, taking Alex along on one last adventure. Both Alex and Val befriend a variety of comic con regulars: comic writers, artists, cosplayers, and the people who keep the industry ticking, both the executives and the fans.

The timing could not be more perfect for this book, as the Boise Public Library just hosted their outstanding annual comic con on Saturday, August 27. As we round out the summer, pick up a copy of A Hundred Thousand Worlds and drop by the Library! for information about next’s year’s comic con plans.

“Part of the job of adults was to set limits. But the last rule, the unspoken rule of any story or journey, is that all limits are suspect. All warnings show only the point where the last story stopped, the boundary past which the map is unmapped. The Kingdom of Here There Be Dragons is the province of explorers, magicians, and kids.”
― Bob Proehl, A Hundred Thousand Worlds

2016 Book Challenge- A Book You Should Have Read in School

2016 Book Challenge- A Book You Should Have Read in School


I’m a little behind on my 2016 Book Challenge write ups, but not behind on the reading itself. The reading has definitely been happening, but the around-the-world-move has put a damper on the time I should be spending getting these posts ready to go. (Kuala Lumpur to Boise to Washington DC- bonus room living and then a hotel room with *terrible* internet. None of these are good posting conditions! We officially move into our Chinatown place this Saturday, so here’s hoping life falls back into some semblance of order.)

My July Book Challenge topic was “a book you should have read in school.” I’m going with The Hounds of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I mainly went with this pick because my niece *was* reading it for school and I was helping her with a paper she had to write before the new year started and it has been decades since my last reading, which was probably in college. I definitely did not read this one in high school.

First of all, I have to question why I didn’t read this in high school. I’m really not sure. I took a lot of English classes at that time, but wasn’t as intrigued by the literary world as I am today. If memory serves, I did the reading required of me, but am not sure I did much beyond that. Thinking back to those three years at Caldwell High (at that time, freshman were still in the junior high), I can’t remember ever checking out a book from the school library. I remember going in to do a bit of research (mostly encyclopedia, as this was before the days of the wonderful Worldwide Web) or going for a class activity, but it is not somewhere I spent much time. (Highly strange, I know! When I was teaching, we were in the school library at least every week and we walked to the local public library a minimum of one time each quarter. Libraries are where it is at!) This lack of my own reading in high school makes me thrilled when I see my niece’s reading lists. While I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more diversity and modern additions to them, at least they exist. Looking back, I’m not sure what I had going on in this area during high school. I really don’t.

Other than being excited that it was on a reading list, I’ve been in a bit of a Sherlock-phase lately, as the genre (it is nearly is its own designation at this point!) has become popular with the TV producers of the world. I started with the BBC one last winter and ran through all the episodes available (so few per season, why BBC??) and then went to Elementary, which must have been on cable TV, but popped upon Malaysian Netflix. Sadly, I only made it through a couple of seasons before moving back and it isn’t on US Netflix. (Can I use my VPN to go the opposite direction?)

I loved jumping into the original Doyle book after my recent modern-day binge. Not only did it give me a renewed love of the literature itself, but I also found myself impressed by the ways Sherlock’s character has been brought to life in a contemporary setting. Fessing up to sheer nerdiness, I must admit to having loved getting to sit down over empanadas and coffee (two different meetings, those things do not go together well!) to talk about books with my niece as she prepared for her paper. From our discussions, one thing that stood out to me in relation to the difference between the literature and the shows is what it takes to draw in an audience. When Doyle was writing, a huge dog covered in glowing powder was enough to set readers on edge. Imagining being alone on the moors at night, the howling of mysterious canines and the possibility of a horrible, yet unexplained death was just the stuff to keep a reader turning pages. The literary imagery was enough. With today’s amazing technology and production abilities, it seems that the level of detail and perfection needed to induce that same anxiety exists at a much higher bar. I’m not sure today’s reader has the same petrified reaction to The Hounds of Baskervilles as they did a hundred years ago, and yet, the writing itself holds up. The characters still ring true. This is why certain books are classics. And The Hounds of Baskervilles has earned its place on that roster.

Getting the chance to reread The Hounds of Baskervilles alongside my niece was a treat! While it may not seem like a typical summer “beach read,” it was the prefect July pick.

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

A book published this year (A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin)

A book you can finish in a day  (When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)

_____A book you’ve been meaning to read

_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian

 A book you should have read in school (The Hounds of Baskervilles  by Arthur Conan Doyle)

A book recommended for you by your spouse/partner, friend, child, or sibling (Jasper Fforde books)

A book published before you were born (And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie)

  A book that was banned at some point (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess)

_____ A book you abandoned previously

_____ A book you own but have never read

_____ A book that intimidates you

A book you’ve read at least once (I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced  by Nujood Ali)



Caldwell Perspective Review: Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

(This review was first published in The Caldwell Perspective-

 https://issuu.com/chanteledicehensel/docs/september_2016_caldwell_perspective )




The history of medical advances is riddled with suspect practices and ideas that with hindsight seem less than stellar. Luke Dittrich’s new book takes a close look at mid-century neurologists who were operating at the height of the lobotomy crazy, one fueled by open access to insane asylums and mental health wards. (In a short two-year period in the 1950’s, the state of Connecticut alone authorized 550 such surgeries, the vast majority performed on women in an attempt to cure their “hysteria,” forcing them to conform to the expected role of docile and meek spouses so prized in housewives of the era.)

Excellent narrative writing, combined with the fascinating history of the brain and memory research in the United States creates a spellbinding tale, but with Dittrich’s personal connection to the #2 lobotomy surgeon in the world, the story of medical research dovetails with his personal history to create characters who are more than just names on documents. While his discoveries do not always paint his great grandfather in a favorable light, Dittrich refuses to shy away from asking difficult questions about the practice, its history and its seemingly limitless practice in New England mental institutions. Investigation of ethical lines within medical research is an overarching theme of the book, delving into the murky gray areas of consent and the debate about human research.

Fans of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will want to head to the bookstore today to pick up Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, Luke Dittrich’s newly released narrative non-fiction publication, a great companion read that continues the exploration of what we, as society, are willing to condone in the name of medical research and advancement.

A Summer of Change

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Home leave is always an interesting time. Not to be scoffed at, it gives Foreign Service Officers who have been serving abroad twenty-five days of paid time off between tours, provided they spend the time in the United States.

Yes. Please. Thank you.

With that said, it is often referred to as “homeless leave” by those who have been in the service and experienced it a time or two (or seven or eight). Home leave is paid leave for the officer, but for a trailing spouse, it is just more time of unemployment and a month of a credit card on fire.  We are lucky enough to stay with family (displacing a poor seven-year-old into her brother’s room for a month, one that just happened to span the first week of school), but even with a roof over our heads, purchases like a rental car for the entire time, many, many meals out each week and of course just the lure of American stores makes the numbers on my billing statement raise at a rate that feels commiserate with the national debt. (Have you seen that digital board that constantly rolls through the numbers? That is my credit card right now!)

Nearly five weeks in Idaho, (which included a day trip for me to the Shoshone Ice Caves- a kitschy roadside tourist attraction straight out of 1950s, a shiny new motorcycle license for Thad and lots of time with friends and family for both of us) weren’t the end of our time living out of suitcases through. From the Gem State, we flew to Washington DC (yet again, not a great experience with United, but I’ve chronicled those pains many times on this blog and have given up on public griping) where we took up residence in a hotel.

Hotel living seems like a glamorous proposition: a front desk that greets you by name, maids to make your bed each day, room service any time of the day or night, and a paper delivered to your doorstep each morning. These are all great perks that we’ve gotten over the last few weeks, and yet not enticing enough to make me want to stay longer. Because, although we have access to all of the above, I’d rather have the front desk concierge for the rather expensive apartment I am leasing do the daily greeting, I’ll make my own bed if it means I have a washer and dryer to do laundry on a regular basis, the room service food is terrible and I’ve eaten way too many meals sourced from the nearby CVS and let’s be honest, everything in that early morning Washington Post newspaper I read online the night before.

I am ready to give up my not-so-glamorous hotel living to move into my apartment. It might be small. It might be one bedroom. But it is mine.

I’m ready now.


Heck, I was ready yesterday.

But, there will be no grand move or end to suitcase living until our shipments arrive. While we have a cute apartment down in Chinatown, it is unfurnished and as much as I’d like to move in today and settle in, we are without a bed, without kitchen supplies of any kind and missing most of the essentials of daily living. (Although, in a brilliant end-of-tour-my-mind-is-mush decision, we did include our TV and PS4 in the air shipment, so that is here and will be delivered Friday. I have nothing to sleep on or cook with, but I can run over some innocent bystanders in Grand Theft Auto, I can score a touchdown or two in Madden NFL, and I can boogie and bop the afternoon away with Just Dance. Decisions were made. I must stand by them.)

Back to that poor seven-year-old I displaced for five weeks: I am feeling her pain. While we were home, both she and her little brother went back to school (second grade and kindergarten, respectively.) The transition was not easy. The school day itself went fine, but once they got home, it was as if all their crazy energy they corralled during the school day was released, a bit Exorcist-style. At the time I was amused by it (mostly because I was not their mom or dad, trying to find a way to channel the changes into positivity), but now I feel a bit more empathy for the disruption they felt in their little minds.

Change is tough on the brain.

We’ve been in Washington DC, hotel-living, for going on three weeks now and in all that time I’ve yet to come up with a regular schedule/rhythm. I find myself watching hours of cable TV (something I’ve not had the luxury of doing in years, but also something that has made me love commercial-less Netflix with a newfound passion). In the last few weeks I’ve read a mere three books (less than half of what I normally do), but I have said yes to 492 dresses, I’ve learned that being naked in the jungle makes one afraid, and that it takes about $50,000 in renovations to flip a house. All quality pieces of information. I’ve been to the hotel gym zero times and this is my first blog update in well over a month. (The first one is laziness and a ridiculous notion that I will wait for “my” gym at the new apartment and the second I partially blame on the fact that our hotel internet only works in the entryway to the room, so all web-related tasks have to be done sitting on the floor in what amounts to a small cubby, laptop plugged in around the corner and pillow under the butt for a bit of cushion. (My once-broken tailbone is hollering at me right now, as a matter of fact.)

That air shipment that is scheduled to arrive on Friday marks the beginning of the end to our summer of suitcases. It isn’t enough to get us fully situated in the new place, but enough to hopefully get my mind wrapped around the next year of DC-living and start to settle my boggled brain into routines that will soon be comfortable norms. (And hopefully get this floundering blog back on track!)



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