Book Review: Struck by Orca, subsequent encounter


Struck by Orca: ICD-10 Illustrated
Ed. by Niko Skievaski
November 2013

As most of you know, my husband is an ICU doctor at the University of Chicago. He’s also got a wicked sense of humor. So when Niko Skievaski released his collection of illustrated ICD-10 codes, it was inevitable that at least one copy would make its way into our house.

For those of you who don’t spend your lives navigating the US healthcare system, ICD-10 is an internationally used system to describe tens of thousands of medical diseases, symptoms, and illnesses. It’s astoundingly specific, with codes for conditions like “V91.07xD: Burn due to water-skis on fire, subsequent encounter” (not again!) and “W56.49: Other contact with shark.”

It’s also been used in Europe for years. What prompted this particular book is the introduction of ICD-10 into the United States.

In Struck by Orca, Skievaski showcases the illustrations of several artists with varying backgrounds in the medical field. Each has chosen one or more ICD-10 codes to illustrate.

Some of the illustrations are remarkably entertaining. The illustration for V61.6xxD “Passenger in heavy transport vehicle injured in collision with pedal cycle in traffic accident, subsequent encounter” shows a grinning five-year-old on a big wheel tricycle peddling away from an overturned 18-wheeler truck that is burning merrily half a block behind her.

I’m also a huge fan of “Z89.419: Acquired absences of unspecified great toe,” which reads “After years of toe-tal bliss, Mr. Hallux put on his best pants and left to discover the world.”

In other cases, the illustrations are fine, but it’s the idea of the code existing at all that prompts the laughter. As long as you don’t think too hard about the details, that is. In retrospect, it may be a very good thing that the illustration for “W61.62: Struck by duck, sequela” is a bit on the pedestrian side.

All told, this is a highly entertaining book that would make a great stocking stuffer for any hospitalist on your holiday gift list. Sadly for me, my resident hospitalist already has two copies.

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5 Things I learned reading Nancy Lamb’s Crafting Stories for Children

Crafting Stories for ChildrenThe Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children
Nancy Lamb
Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

Last year for NaNoWriMo, The (then) Seven-Year-Old convinced me to take a break from writing historical fiction she wasn’t allowed to read, and try my hand at writing stories about rabbits she could read.

The (then) Seven-Year-Old: “And dragons, Mommyo. Your story needs dragons, rabbits, a rutabaga, and a pogo stick that has a sword hidden inside. Write me something that has all that.”

With a writing prompt like that, how could I resist? Continue reading

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Surprising facts about my favorite authors: The Agatha Christie Edition

Agatha Christie surfing. (Photo: Agatha Christie Ltd)

Agatha Christie surfing. (Photo: Agatha Christie Ltd)

Did you know that Agatha Christie and her husband may have been among the first Britons to learn how to surf standing up?* Me either.

According to Pete Robinson, founder of the Museum of British Surfing, Agatha Christie and her first husband, Archie, learned to surf while on a world tour to promote the British Empire Exhibition of 1924.

They first encountered surf boards on the beaches of South Africa in January 1922, but it wasn’t until Christie and her husband landed in Waikiki, Hawaii in August that they mastered the art of surfing while standing up.

*She wasn’t the very first. That honor apparently belongs to Prince Edward. At least, so far.

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3 books I can’t wait to get my hands on

At the 2015 Chicago Writers’ Conference, I learned that it’s possible for lay people to track what sorts of books have been snapped up by publishers in a given week. If you are interested in pursuing the traditional publishing route, this can be a useful tool to see which sort of books are selling, and which agents are having the most luck selling them. The trick, apparently, is to monitor a couple of key websites: TheBookseller and Publishers Weekly.

I’m always looking for a good read, so naturally, I promptly started following both of them on Twitter and Feedly. Here are 3 books I learned about this month that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
Jonathan Evison
Mollie Glick, Foundry Literary + Media
Algonquin Books
Publication Date:
 September 2015

HarrietChanceBook synopsis (from Publishers Weekly):

“Harriet Chance, a 78-year-old Seattle native, gets an unexpected phone call informing her that her husband, Bernard, now dead, had won a trip on an Alaskan cruise at a charity auction and failed to pick up his winnings. With the voucher set to expire, Harriet decides to go out of her comfort zone and bring a friend on the trip. The trip causes Harriet to question everything she thought she knew about her past and her relationships.”

100 Years of the Best American Short Stories
Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: October 6, 2015

Book synopsis (from the Fall 2015 Literary Fiction Announcements on Publishers Weekly):

“A centennial retrospective showcases representative stories in the series as well as literary moments in time, from Edna Ferber to George Saunders, including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Cheever, Munro, Lahiri, Alexie, Diaz, among many others.”

The Wonder
Emma Donoghue
Agent: Caroline Davidson at CDLA
Publisher(s): Little Brown (US), Picador (UK), Harper Collins (Canada)
Publication Date: September 2o16

Book synopsis (from the article on The Bookseller):

“Set in 1850s rural Ireland, The Wonder is a story of “love pitted against evil in its many masks and of a child’s murder threatening to occur in slow motion before our eyes”. It tells the story of Anna, a girl who has stopped eating but mysteriously remains alive, and Lib, the English nurse charged with determining whether Anna is a fraud. As Anna begins to deteriorate Lib finds herself responsible not just for the care of a child who appears to subsist on air and faith alone, but for that child’s very survival.”

Want to find new books for yourself?  

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At CWC2015, Ines Bellina said we should write 15 minutes every day. Here’s what happened when I tried it.

Simply showing up to write has long been my greatest challenge. Life keeps getting in the way.

At the Chicago Writer’s Conference last September, Ines Bellina gave us her top tip for getting work done despite the distractions of daily life.

“Write for 15 minutes a day. Every day. Before you do anything else. Because no matter what else happens that day, you will have at least accomplished that.”

I thought to myself — fifteen minutes. With the exception of family emergencies, almost anything can wait 15 minutes. Bellina works her 15 minutes immediately after breakfast, but that doesn’t work for me, because The Eight-Year-Old needs to get to school then. But I can fairly reliably predict an open space of time at ten o’clock, when The Eight-Year-Old is at school, Michael is at work, and I have the house to myself.

So I tried it. Continue reading

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Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and only IvanThe One and Only Ivan
By Katherine Applegate
Harper, 2012
Genre: Middle Grade (Ages 8-12)

Once upon a time, I was the one who fed books to The Eight-Year-Old. “Mommyo, she would ask, “I need a new book. Can you find one for me?”

“Sure,” I’d say, handing her a Hardy Boys mystery, one of Thornton Burgess’ animal stories, a new collection of fairy tales, or an adaptation of fairy tales like the Dragon Chronicles by Patricia Wrede or Valiant by Sarah McGuire. “Try this,” I’d say. “Let me know what you think.”

Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking her. “The Eight-Year-Old,” I’ll ask. “I need a book. Do you have any good ones I can read?”

“Sure, Mommyo!” And then The Eight-Year-Old will run off to her room at cheetah speed and come back bearing whatever book has struck her fancy that week. That’s how I came to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Dragon in the Sock Drawer, and Mr. Pants: It’s Go Time!

The last time The Eight-Year-Old and I had this conversation, she had just finished reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Doublecross by Jackson Pearce

The Doublecross

The Doublecross (And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy)
Jackson Pearce
Bloomsbury USA Children’s (July 2015)
Genre: Middle Grade (Ages 8-12)

Twelve-year-old Hale Jordan has always wanted to grow up to be a superspy like his parents. But while he’s inherited their intelligence and resourcefulness, he’s inherited none of their physical abilities. His younger sister appears to have gotten all of that.

Hale is completely focused on figuring out how to pass the physical tests to become a junior field agent of the Sub-Rosa Society (SRS). That is, until the day his parents don’t come home for dinner.

Hale’s parents ALWAYS come home for dinner. Even when they’ve been sent on one of those super-tough top-secret field missions. Clearly, they’re in deep trouble.

But no one in the SRS seems to care. Whatever trouble his parents have gotten themselves into this time, it looks like it will be up to Hale to get them out of it.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a marvelous blend of humor and intrigue, fast-paced action, surprising plot twists, and a modest, yet resourceful hero whose kindness and quick-thinking save the day. Even better, the ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel.

This book is an excellent addition to any middle grade reader’s library.

Disclosure: I received a free kindle copy of The Doublecross via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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Book Review: Valiant by Sarah McGuire

By Sarah McGuire
Egmont Publishing, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade (Ages 8-12)

I first heard of Valiant back in February when Cuddlebuggery hosted a blog hop to celebrate (and mourn) Egmont Publishing’s last list. Although I was ultimately assigned to review Anne Bustard’s Anything but Paradise as part of that blog hop, I was so intrigued by Valiant’s premise that I requested an advance copy of it from NetGalley anyway.

Aimed at Middle Grade readers, Valiant reworks the story of the Brave Little Tailor from the perspective of a teenage daughter who despises sewing, but is forced to take over her father’s business to keep from starving after her father suffers a debilitating stroke. Women are not allowed to act as tailors, so Saville cuts her hair, and becomes Avi, Tailor to the King. Continue reading

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Breakfast with Jane Austen

In case you like me, feel the need to bake something that starts with about a pound of butter this weekend, here’s a recipe for Jane Austen’s pound cake from The Guardian.

Equal parts (by weight) butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, this pound cake is dense and moist. And, at least for me, gains a great deal of flavor from the knowledge that this is what Jane herself would eat in the mornings, along with a cup of tea, of course.


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Writing Tips from Muriel Spark

KensingtonSparkA Far Cry From Kensington
By Muriel Spark
Original Publication: Constable & Company, 1988
Reprint: Virago Modern Classics, 2013

For much of the year, I have been eagerly awaiting last April’s planned trip to London. We were going to stay at a fabulous hotel in Kensington. Daddyo, The Eight-Year-Old, and I spent weeks making detailed plans for how we were going to spend every minute of every single day.

Sadly, due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to cancel the trip. By the time what The Eight-Year-Old refers to as the Great Nurses Rebellion of 2015 got sorted out, it was too late.

I found this book while browsing through my local Powell’s on a lazy afternoon during the week when we should have been in London. At the time, The Eight-Year-Old was knee-deep in a debate with her soccer coach about the relative merits of toe-kicks and side-kicks. I could tell that was going to take a while, so I picked up Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington. What can I say? The title spoke to me.

The book tells the story of Mrs. Hawkins, a publishing professional who makes the mistake of telling the aspiring author boyfriend of an already established publishing rock-star that he is a “pisseur de copie” who “urinates frightful prose.”

The fallout from that diplomatic failure and Mrs. Hawkins’ subsequent refusal to retract it costs her two jobs in publishing. It also has dire repercussions for one of her boarding house mates, who gets caught up in a swirl of anonymous letters, quack remedies, and inevitably, blackmail threats.

The book itself is a lovely mix of the absurd and mysterious. It’s also a surprisingly rich source of advice on the craft of writing.

The first dollop of crafty deliciousness comes shortly after Mrs. Hawkins throws the pisseur de copie out of her office on page 84.

“Now, it fell to me to give advice to many authors which in at least two cases bore fruit. So I will repeat it here, free of charge. It proved helpful to the type of writer who has some imagination and wants to write a novel but doesn’t know how to start.

‘You are writing a letter to a friend,’ was the sort of thing I used to say. ‘And this is a dear and close friend, real – or better – invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you. Now, you are not writing about the relationship between your friend and yourself; you take that for granted. You are only confiding an experience that you think only he will enjoy reading. What you have to say will come out more spontaneously and honestly than if you are thinking of numerous readers. Before starting the letter, rehearse in your mind what you are going to tell; something interesting, your story. But don’t rehearse too much, the story will develop as you go along, especially if you write to a special friend, man or woman, to make them smile or laugh or cry, or anything you like so long as you know it will interest. Remember not to think of the reading public, it will put you off.'”

The other piece of advice addresses the question of how writers can achieve the necessary concentration.

“‘For concentration,’ I said, ‘you need a cat. Do you happen to have a cat?’

‘Cat? No. No cats. Two dogs. Quite enough.’

So I passed him some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp. The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.”

Canelo and I are pleased to report that this latter piece of advice works great. That is, until the cat does something like this.


(Photo: Shala Howell)


That never ends well.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

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