Monday, August 27, 2018

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live LongerNatural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really loved the subtitle of this book. That, and the fact that I liked her other book "Nickel and Dimed," was what made me want to read it. I found it intriguing that she talks about the fundamental unreliability of our bodies, looks into the cellular basis of aging, and shows us how little control we actually have over it. She believes that preventive screenings, healthy eating, or throwing ourselves into meditation and spirituality offer only the illusion of control. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she said and even when I wasn't sure I agreed, it made for some thought provoking reading. Living well and joyously while accepting our mortality is definitely the great challenge of her book. I found her funny and caustic, but again...very interesting. With Chapter titles like "The Madness of Mindfulness," "Death in Social Context," "The Invention of the Self," and "Killing the Self, Rejoicing in a Living World," how could you resist?


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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Natchez Burning (Penn Cage, #4)Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At 791 pages, this is a big book--and as it unfolds it tells a gritty story of lies and deceit, treachery and bravery, all with a vibrant backdrop of history. It has scope and passion and the writing is good. The themes of race, violence, anger, amidst the Deep South has whispers of Faulkner and Wolfe. It is the first of a trilogy that is fast becoming a classic. It is the first I've read of Iles, but I will undoubtedly continue this fascinating journey. Some people have said it is a bit repetitive, but the writing is of such a caliber that I didn't think so. If someone tells the story well, I'm right along for the ride no matter how many pages it takes. It is truly an amazing piece of popular fiction.


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The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's WorkThe Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work by Kathleen Norris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Kathleen Norris and find her writing beautiful, thought provoking, and transformative. Two of her earlier books, "Dakota: A Spiritual Geography" and "The Cloister Walk" are a couple of my all time favorite reading experiences. She excels at focusing attention and bringing joy to your spiritual journey and zeroing in on the meaning of love, faith, and grace. She reminds us that the little tasks are meant to ground us in the world, not grind us down. This is an insightful and deeply personal work that discusses the mysterious way that daily tasks can open us to the transforming presence of God.


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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a thought provoking book. Being someone who loves solitude and being alone, but at the same time enjoys people as well, I wanted to try to understand a little better why someone so young (age 20) just walks away from life, disappears into the woods, and doesn't talk to another person for almost 3 decades. Not sure I understand it any better even now that I've finished the book. But what a fascinating read it is. What is the role of solitude, the value of suffering, the diversity of human needs? What is the balance between social obligation and the need to retreat? This quote by the author really made me think about sociability and its place in our lives-- "Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid loneliness at all costs, but maybe it's worthwhile to face it occasionally. The further we push aloneness away, the less are we able to cope with it, and the more terrifying it gets. Some philosophers believe that loneliness is the only true feeling there is. We live orphaned on a tiny rock in the immense vastness of space, with no hint of even the simplest form of life anywhere around us for billions upon billions of miles, alone beyond all imagining. We live locked in our own heads and can never entirely know the experience of another person. Even if we're surrounded by family and friends, we journey into death completely alone."


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The Bone Tree (Penn Cage #5)The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can only repeat here what Stephen King has aleady said...this is an amazing work of popular fiction.


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Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was such an interesting read--and one that I really enjoyed overall, despite a 'what's up with that?' ending. Those 80s pop culture references were a blast, and I managed to catch most of them well enough. I am not a gamer either, so the fact that I still got a lot out of this despite that fact is a testament to the way it was written I think. Cline has said that his primary occupation has always been geeking out, so if you are a member of that club you will probably like the book. The movie will be released in March, directed by Steven Spielberg. If it is as visually striking as Ghost in a Shell was and the storyline demands, it will be a popular one. In the meantime, read the book. It's 2044 and most of humanity escapes an ugly world by escaping into a hyper-realistic 3D videogame paradise called OASIS. Somewhere within that networked playground the creator has hidden an Easter Egg--the ultimate lottery ticket. Wade Watts is on a mission to find it. With the help of his best friend Aech, Art3mis (a famous egg hunter and blogger), and Japanese gamers Daito and Shoto, he goes up against a wicked international corporation (IOI) in a story that is one part techno-thriller and one part nostalgia trip. But be prepared for that ending!


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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd (One Thousand White Women, #1)One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written as a series of journals recording the fictitious adventures of May Dodd, as part of an imaginary "Brides for Indians" program, this book won the 1999 Fiction of the Year Award from the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association. It's French translation was on the French bestseller list for 57 weeks and it has garnered an appreciative audience since then. The premise of the "Brides for Indians" program is that the northern Cheyenne Indians are shrinking in numbers and need a way to assimilate into white society. If they marry white women and have half blood children, the two cultures would blend naturally. The proposal is made to trade 1,000 white women for 1,000 horses. Women who are physically healthy and of child bearing age can volunteer. May Dodd, born into a wealthy family but ensconced in an asylum for promiscuity thinks the program is an excellent way to escape her captivity. The descriptions of the countryside are lovely and the journals read like they could indeed be real. If you know anything about the Indian Wars you will have an inkling how this all ends, but an enjoyable historical novel nonetheless.


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Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved the humor in this book. I have never seen the HBO series before and though as a librarian, I am obviously aware of the popularity of the author, this is the first book I've read by her. It was a book club selection, and definitely a change of pace from some of our previous selections...but I found it to be a fast and easy read and quite enjoyable. Now I want to watch the HBO series to see those characters come to life in the capable hands of those fine actors and actresses.


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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical ReadingTolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book. The author wrote it after the death of her sister, to help her find joy and healing. She read a book a day for one year. I was aware of many of the books she read, but some of the others were new to me and I loved how she tied them into her family dynamics and filtered them through her own thought processes. There were some excellent quotes, very thoughtful and intense. There is also a list of all the books she read at the end so you could follow up on those that appealed to you.


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FaithfulFaithful by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Alice Hoffman's writing. The lyrical style and haunting, moody/mystical tone combined with her usual magical realism are always a strong draw for me. This novel about grief is a real page turner. It is also heartbreaking in its exploration of family, its examination of faith, and its perspective on love. Shelby Richmond lives an ordinary life until one night she experiences a great tragedy. She is driving and has a catastrophic car accident that leaves her best friend in a coma and Shelby in a tailspin of survivor's guilt and remorse. While this is a tale of ultimate redemption, Hoffman's gorgeous and elegant prose takes us on a powerful journey through dark suffering and loneliness and ultimately back to the light. Hoffman's greatest gift is her ability to write about the balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary. Beautifully crafted and extremely moving.


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WishtreeWishtree by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a sweet read by Applegate, who's book "The One and Only Ivan" is one of my favorites. It is narrated by Red, a giant red oak near an elementary school. This tree has become a wishtree for the neighborhood (where residents hang wishes on scraps of fabric or paper on his branches). A new family moves into the neighborhood and there are some problems with acceptance of them. Red has some wishes of his own that involve his generosity and a deep spirit of kindness that he is embued with, and it is lovely how this all plays out in her story. Told in a very accessible manner with short chapters. It is a book that the whole family should read together and talk about.


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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had read a lot about this book before I ever actually read it, and I found it quite different than what I expected. I did think it made some interesting points. He talked about our culture today as being one that encourages social decay instead of counteracting it, and lamented the fact that too many young men he felt were immune to hard work. And he thought there was a feeling that you have little control over your life and therefore a willingness to blame everyone but yourself. I did, however, disagree with several things he mentioned--some political and some social. It was written from a very anecdotal viewpoint...which I wasn't expecting--not that I thought it would be a sociological treatise or anything. Book Club will be discussing this title this month, so it will be interesting to hear everyone else's point of view.


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Arthur: The dog who crossed the jungle to find a homeArthur: The dog who crossed the jungle to find a home by Mikael Lindnord
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read just about every dog book I come across, because I love canines, and I love reading--so it's a perfect pairing. Arthur is a dog who latched onto an extreme sports team during a race in South America. Extreme sports teams engage in very grueling races, this one was 435 miles through the jungles and mountains. The last thing you would think about is coming across a stray dog, much less the thought of being responsible for him after he starts to tag along. Mikael Lindnord, the captain of this Swedish adventure team, felt an immediate connection with the mongrel and this is the story of what he went through when he decided to save the dog and bring him home to his family in Sweden. As I find with all dog books, this one captures the amazing bond between people and dogs.


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Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy John Green’s writing. The book he’s best known for, The Fault in our Stars, was such a lovely, funny, and heartbreaking book. So I was really looking forward to reading his latest effort, even though it is on a difficult subject—OCD. Green has struggled with severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder for about as long as he can remember. He is able to keep it in check with medication and therapy, but every once in a while, it consumes him. He says he couldn’t escape the spiral of his thoughts, and after he recovered he started writing this book—a wrenching look into what it’s like to live in constant fear of your own mind. Coming out of that experience, he felt that it was difficult to write about anything else. His main character here, Aza Holmes, is a 16 year old girl in Indianapolis who struggles with anxiety and obsessive thought spirals. Aza has all the normal teenage issues—trying to navigate the rites of passage from adolescence to adulthood, dating, worrying about college, dealing with an overly concerned mother, appeasing her best friend. But she is also overcome by extreme dread. She is certain that a cut on her finger (which she presses uncontrollably) will become infected and she’ll die, she often wonders if she is fictional. She can’t direct her own thoughts, so who is really controlling her? Though it is hard for me to understand this disorder, I feel like I do understand it better after reading this book. Green’s trademark quirky humor and sharp sensitive portrayal of teenage characters is awe inspiring.


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Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of DiscoveryEndurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott    Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the fact that this book proves it is never too late to find your direction in life. Scott Kelly was a very indifferent student and goofed off all the way through high school and even into his first years of college. Then one day in the college bookstore he picks up a copy of "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe and reads it. And he had his "aha" moment...he knew that this was what he wanted to be...a test pilot--a member of that elite fraternity of daredevils and danger seekers. From that moment on he buckled down, learned to study, and his whole life was brought into focus. He started making goals and accomplishing them one by one and actually made it as an astronaut. This book about his early life and the year he spent on the International Space Station was very interesting and makes you think about the technology and the personal dedication that will eventually take us to Mars and beyond.


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The Whole Town's TalkingThe Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fannie Flagg says this is going to be her last book, that novel writing is hard and she wants to do something else--possibly short stories. If so, this is sort of a sweet book to go out on. She has written three other books about Elmwood Springs ("Welcome to the World Baby Girl," "Standing in the Rainbow," and "Can't Wait to Get to Heaven"). This is the tale of the founding of that town by a Swedish immigrant in 1880 and ends in 2020. I read Fannie Flagg because of the sweetness and nostalgia that are manifest there. They are witty and charming and warm and inviting. Full of decency and simplicity, they acknowledge that life is both happy and sad, simple and complex--all at the same time, and the best thing you can do is to love your neighbors and have yourself a good time. Makes for delightful reading!


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The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adore Alice Hoffman's writing. This book is actually a prequel to Practical Magic (which became a cult classic and was made into a Warner film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman). One of my favorite quotes concerning Hoffman's writing is from Jodi Picoult who says "Reading an Alice Hoffman book is like falling into a deep dream where senses are heightened and love reigns supreme." I would say that is a pretty good assessment. I absolutely loved this book. I can't even begin to tell you how much. The Owens family is dangerously unique. Upon a visit to an aunt, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. It is a story about the power of love told in dreamy prose with unforgettable characters, set in a world abounding with enchantment. A story that tells you that we are fated to lose everyone we love because that's what it means to be human, and that the only remedy for love is to love more--and be true to yourself.


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ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an old fashioned heist story, which just happens to be set on the moon. It is an action packed techno thriller and it doesn't disappoint the legion of fans he picked up with his first book, "The Martian." Weir was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. So with this background, his characteristic blend of engineering/science/math along with a large dollop of humor are in full display here. Jazz Bashara, the female first-person-smart-ass narrator of this tale is a delight--very flawed, but very likable. And it is interesting to me that Weir wrote a female character so well. His description of the lunar colony living under various bubbles named after famous astronauts was intriguing and well thought out. You could tell he did his research. This was a fast easy read and great fun to boot!


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HorrorstörHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It may not seem like an obvious choice to combine horror and comedy, but in this case I think it pays off in this account of a haunted IKEA like furniture showroom. A group of people stay overnight in an ORSK store to investigate strange acts of vandalism. Manager Basil and his employees discover the store had been previously the site of an asylum that had been closed due to the cruelty of its warden--which explains why ghosts were haunting the store. The story is told mostly through Amy, an employee who is very unhappy because she views her work as an unfulfilling dead end job. The book is very much a social critique with great banter between Manager Basil and employee Amy, like when Amy says to Basil "I know this is your religion, but for me it's just a job." To which he retorts, "That's your problem. For you it's just a job...A job is what a guy in a gas station has. People at Orsk have work. It's a calling. A responsibility to something bigger than yourself. Work gives you a goal. It lets you build something that lives on after you're gone. Work has a purpose beyond making money." The concept and design of the book is really unique, and I found it to be a lot of fun.


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FeathersFeathers by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very sweet read based on the lines from an Emily Dickinson poem..."Hope is the thing with feathers..." Jacqueline Woodson is a treasure and her books are always so beautifully written. A delightful read.


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From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good DeathFrom Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always find mortician Caitlin Doughty's books interesting. In this, her latest, she continues her examination of how other cultures care for their dead. She goes on a global journey, examining rituals unknown here in the United States. In rural Indonesia they dress the mummified dead's body and it resides in the family home for years. In Bolivia they have wish-granting human skulls and in Tokyo they use chopsticks to pluck their loved ones bones from the crematory ashes. She approaches her subject with great curiosity and trademark humor. She does make some important criticisms of the American funeral industry that is expensive, impersonal, and fosters a fear of death that she says inhibits our ability to cope and mourn. A fascinating read.


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No Time to Spare: Thinking About What MattersNo Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have long admired Le Guin's Earthsea fantasy series. When I saw a quote from this book concerning our cultural perceptions of fantasy--"The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is 'escapism' an accusation of?"--it made me want to read the ruminations of a varied writer and deep thinker in her eighth decade. I knew from her background--she grew up in a household of anthropologists, views the dominant socio-political American system as problematic, and ideas of anarchism and taoism appear in her work--that her views would be sharp, opinionated, and erudite. Even when she's talking about her cat she is always rigorous in her examination and discourse. Our current society is one that doesn't necessarily value its elders, so it was interesting to read the thoughts of a woman who continues to fight invisibility and will always stand out with her intelligence and wit.


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