Friday, July 10, 2015

But not a movie I have to read, I get enough of that from books.



All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Story:
A World War II tale about a blind French girl and a young German man. The novel switches back and forth between them as they grow up and as the war takes over their lives.

The Review:
This book has been getting rave reviews for a while, and I really liked it. I liked the switching back and forth between the two main characters. I liked the girl's interactions with her father and great-uncle and the mystery that was part of their lives. I was so sad for the young man and how his skills were used by the Germans. Doerr did a great job of pulling together many different threads, of both narrative lives and historical facts, and weaving them together in a new and interesting way.

 I highly recommend it.





Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane
Format: Audiobook

The Story:
During the downturn in the economy, Clay lost his job. He finds work as the night-clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore, and as he settles into the routine, he discovers a mystery.

The Review:
This is a re-read. The book is just as charming the second time. It's nerdy, but for me, a good kind of nerdy. I like Clay as the narrator. He is clever and funny with a good running commentary throughout.

The audio-book was really well-done. There is one section where Clay listens to his favorite book on audio, and they did some special effects with that that made it clearer than when I read it on the page.

I highly recommend it.






Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates

The Story:
Laura Bates writes a memoir of her time teaching Shakespeare courses in a maximum security prison. Most of this memoir focuses on one particular prisoner, Larry. She relates the work that she did with the prisoners, the way their life runs, and how learning Shakespeare impacted them. Larry was her star pupil, rising to be the group leader and he tells her that "Shakespeare saved my life."

The Review:
I found this really interesting. Bates includes lengthy sections where she discusses the material they were working on and how the prisoners interpreted it. Their interpretations often focused on different aspects of the plays than critics usually focus on, and she explains why their interpretations are so interesting. In addition to the Shakespeare stuff, she talks a lot about the prisoners and how the prisons operate. She also describes what they did. She gets very close to Larry, and discusses his crime and treatment in the prison.

The book is a little slow and repetitive. It drags. Despite being an English professor, Bates is not extremely skilled at bringing things to life, so her writing feels a little dry. Despite that, it was interesting and got me thinking a lot about my students and the prison system that we have.

I would recommend this, but please realize that I am also an English professor, and I teach Shakespeare courses, so I'm well-versed in the content she's discussing. That made this more interesting to me than it was to my mom. So take the recommendation with a little warning.





When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

The Story:
Buddhist thoughts and lessons presented in Pema Chodron form -- very small bites, very simply.

The Review:
I like Pema Chodron. This book is a similar style to "Comfortable with Uncertainty." It has very short chapters that present a  simple thought or viewpoint. Chodron is gifted at making these views, that are sometimes unfamiliar to us, very accessible through stories and anecdotes, often from her own life. She also very clearly explains how to try and apply it to your own life.

I recommend it.




The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

Format: Audiobook

The Story:
The novel opens with the Night Circus. You walk in and see the the black and white striped tents. There is a huge clock. The circus won't open until dark. You wait with the others, and when the gates finally open, you enter a world of magic. Then we learn about the Illusionist Cellia. Then we learn about the others who make the circus run, and others who love the circus, to the point of following it around.

The Review:
I love this book. It's just so beautiful. I think this is the third time I have read it.

And it was charming to have it read to me by a man with a British accent, who pulled various British, Irish, and Scottish accents for the different characters. I really enjoyed his reading of the book. It was an interesting choice to have this narrator, because nothing in the novel specifies whether the narrative voice should be a man or woman, but I enjoyed the choice.

I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Do you ever read anything other than technical books.

The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
Genre: Classic Fiction
Format: Audiobook

The Story: A young prince discovers a poor boy who looks just like him and because he is frustrated with the rules and responsibilities of palace life, he decides to switch places with him.

The Review: This is an interesting story of power and wealth and deception. Mark Twain is great, but I can't help feeling the characters are jerks. Still, it's worth a read.






Stoner

Stoner by John Williams
Genre: Because of it's age, I'm going to put this in Classic Fiction. But it is a little-known book that was just republished and is getting some attention.

The Story:
Stoner is the man's last name, not his hobby.

This novel tells the life story of a man named William Stoner. He's born into a poor farming family, and when he is old enough, they scrape together enough money to send him to college at the University of Missouri. He is supposed to study agriculture so he can help the family, but he falls in love with literature during his introductory literature course. He changes his major and the course of his life.

The Review:
The book opens with Stoner's funeral and how he is viewed by his colleagues after he has passed. And I thought, oh no, this is just going to be a book about the pathetic life that this man had.

But as I finished the book, my feeling was entirely the opposite. He didn't have a sad, pathetic life. And to me the novel centers around the idea of what makes a good life? What makes a life worth living? And although the facts of Stoner's life on paper seem small and unexciting, I think he lived a good life.

It was also interesting to read about his time as a professor at the University, because it was such a wonderful portrayal of the life of academia. Williams is not given to long flowery description, but he created great images and impressions that made this really complete.

I highly recommend it.






The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
Genre: Non-fiction
Format: Audiobook

The Gist:
Pinker is frustrated by some of the (archaic) rules of style, and sets out to write a new style guide in the vein of Strunk and White.

The Review:
I teach writing. That is something that you should know before you read this review.

I really liked Pinker's approach to writing. He starts with an introduction and then sets up basic ideas about writing. These really fell in line with how I feel about writing and with how I teach writing. He gave me some ideas about new ways to explain what I mean because I felt that he was really clear. And I'm always looking for new ideas.

This was not a good book to listen to. The reader was fine, but the format of this book doesn't work for an audiobook. So I did not listen to any of the "Grammar" section.

I recommend it if you teach writing or are trying to write a book or write better for school/work/etc.





Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do: 2013 Edition

Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do by Greg Anderson
Genre: Non-fiction

The Gist:
Anderson runs a cancer treatment center and writes his tips for what to do to regain your health when you have been diagnosed with cancer.

The Review:
This was a very simple and very quick read. Anderson starts off with an introduction, but then gets to his 50 tips very quickly and keeps them clear and succinct. The tips are comprehensive and range from picking a doctor, getting a second option, and how to talk to your doctor to things like exercise, meditation or prayer, and drinking water. It's a very whole-person approach.

The problem is that I really did not like Anderson's tone. I continually felt like he was talking down to me, like he has told me these things over and over and over and I'm too dumb to do them. I'm not sure why this tone came across so strongly to me, but I wound up feeling frustrated as I finished the book.

Don't read this one, read Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber instead.





Adultery
Adultery by Paulo Coehlo
Genre: Fiction

The Story:
A woman is having a mid-life crisis and decides to have an affair. She spends a long time trying to figure out how to have an affair with a man she used to know.

The Review:
I didn't finish this book. It is kind of an awful premise, and I hated the main character. I tried to read it because it was the book club pick, but I gave up.

I don't recommend it. Partly because I can't because I didn't finish it.





Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Genre: Self-help
Format: Audiobook

The Gist: Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher and in this book she examines the beliefs about shame and how we can (and need to) become more vulnerable in our lives to get what we really want which is love and belonging.

The Review:
I've reviewed the content of the book before, so I'll just reiterate how much I like Brene Brown and her work.

The audiobook was narrated well and I enjoyed listening to it. It is interesting what stories and examples stick out when you listen rather than read.

I highly recommend it.






Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr
Genre: Non-fiction

The Gist: Carr was diagnosed with cancer and filmed a documentary of her story and then wrote this book with tips for people with cancer.

The Review:
This book really upset me. I did not like her approach to cancer or her perspective on how people (this is aimed particularly at women) should deal with cancer. I was also annoyed that her tips said "do this" and didn't explain how to make that happen. For example: One of her early tips is "Don't get blindsided." She explained that what she meant was don't walk into a situation thinking that no one knows what is going on with you and then get blindsided by the fact that they've all been told. I've had that exact situation happen more than a few times, and it's frustrating and awkward (also awkward: when you think someone knows so you said something, and it turns out they don't...). So I'd like to avoid that, but I have no idea how to avoid it. And Carr does not give any advice on how to avoid it. So I found her tips very incomplete.

It also bothered me that Carr has made a whole brand out of cancer and is giving advice on how to deal with cancer treatment -- chemo, radiation, surgery -- and the aftermath -- hair loss, scars, etc, when she did not go through any of that treatment herself. Now, this reaction is entirely because of my own personal experience, but there it is.

I don't recommend this. Again, if you want to read about cancer and being healthy, read Anticancer by David Servan-Schreibers.






The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Genre: Fiction
Format: Audiobook

The Story: During World War II, the island of Guernsey was occupied by the Germans. After the war, a young writer receives a letter from a man on Guernsey and is pulled into their story.

The Review:
I believe I have reviewed this novel before, and it is charming. It is cleverly told through the letters that are exchanged as well as telegrams and notes passed. It allows each character to have their own voice and expression.

The audiobook is equally charming. They had a different actor read for each character and so each letter is read in a different voice. This made it easier to keep up with who was talking, but also made the characters come to life. But because they were reading entire letters, it wasn't a disconcerting back and forth and constant changing.

I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I brought you some books on tape since you say you can't concentrate to read.

Props to you if you are still reading these. This is the final installment of the book reviews (until I decide to write a bunch more....)

Audiobooks

To explain a little bit about the audiobooks: I found that I was having a really hard time falling asleep, and one thing that I discovered helped (helps? I'm still doing it) is to play an audiobook on my phone. The Overdrive app lets me check out audiobooks from the library and it has a timer on it, so I can set it for 45 minutes and fall asleep with someone reading to me.

The other thing I found about this is I got frustrated trying to listen to books that I had never read before. Because they fulfilled their job of helping me fall asleep, I would often pick up the next night and have no idea what was going on in the book. This gets worse if I wake up at 3 am and start it up again to get back to sleep. So to avoid that frustration, I began getting books that are very familiar to me because then I can start them again and still know what is going on, because I know the story.

That led me to listen to a lot of the books that I read as a kid. And that always leads to different discoveries because things stand out that I had never noticed before.

The Eight by Katherine Neville
This is a very long, sweepingly epic novel that begins in France in the 1600s (or something) and jumps back and forth to the present day. I remember it being about chess and nuns, but otherwise I have no real memories of this book.

I would suggest that if you are curious about this one (how could you not be with a great review like that?), it would be better to read it than to listen to it, simply because of how the chronology jumps and for the easy of tracking the characters.


Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
This is another one that I don't have any memory of. I think I stopped listening to it because it was causing the above problem.


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A reread. With Little Women, it is interesting how women's perspectives change on the March girls depending on how old they are when they read this novel. But what I noticed this time is the long digression on "spinsters" and "dear reader, be kind to the spinsters. They were once girls like yourselves."


Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Reread. Oh my gosh. Could Anne Shirley possibly talk any more? I didn't realize until I was actually listening to everything she says how much she talks, and honestly how annoying that is. And yet, Marilla still loves her.


The Song of the Lioness Series (Numbers 1-4) by Tamora Pierce
I read these in middle school. Oh, how I loved this series. And it was shocking to me how much I remember the exact wording of these books. Why can't I harness that brain-power for good?


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Did you realize when you read this as a kid that the entire novel is a treatise on the power of positive thinking? Weird, right?


Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery
A little-known second series by the Anne of Green Gables author. I liked it better as a kid because she has my name. And I liked it better now because Emily doesn't talk as much as Anne. She writes instead.


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
As I was listening, I could just see Emma Thompson playing Eleanor.


Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne
Ok, this was a really cute audiobook. It was a full cast reading of the Winnie the Pooh books. Steven Fry played Pooh, Judi Dench read the narrator, and a cast of a half dozen other easily recognizable names. It was cute and well-performed.


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
This is a classic gothic mystery novel about a huge diamond with a curse on it that goes missing. It's actually a really entertaining book, and one most people aren't familiar with.


The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
I was awake for this one. I listened to this as I was driving.

It tells the story of a young woman with vision/neurological problems who discovers that the vision problems are caused when she sees love between two people. She is under a curse and must identify the six types of love before the stroke of midnight on her 30th birthday.

I found her to be really annoying as a character (probably partly why I don't remember her name), and the story had a lot of problems and holes in it. The idea was meant to be cute and clever and a different take on a romantic story, but it just fell flat for me.

I don't recommend it. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

You've been reading my psychology books again.

How many books did I say I read again?


Spirituality

How to Expand Love by the Dalai Lama
I didn't finish this one. All respect for the Dalai Lama, I didn't get through it before it was due back at the library.


Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron
Chodron sets this up as a series of 108 lessons. They are short and quick to read. She has a great style and tells stories about her life (now and pre-Buddhist) and connects each idea to something concrete that we all experience. She also gives good instructions on how to meditate.

I recommend it.


No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron
This is set up differently than most of Chodron's books. In this one she takes one of the ancient Buddhist texts and breaks it down stanza by stanza to explain the meaning of it and how to apply it.

Confession: I got through 2/3 of this book. And I was just struggling to get through it, so I decided to call it and move on to other things.

I can't really recommend it because I didn't get through it all.


***
Last section coming up!

Audiobook
The Eight by Katherine Neville
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
The Song of the Lioness Series (Numbers 1-4) by Tamora Pierce
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne
The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When I get around to writing my memoirs, you can expect a very effusive footnote.

We're making progress. I hope you are getting good books ideas.


Memoir

Tracks by Robyn Davidson
Robyn Davidson writes about her trek across the Australian outback alone with camels in the 1970s. The idea is a bit like Wild -- a woman, alone, doing a crazy, long, and difficult, physical journey.

I'll confess. I didn't actually finish this one. I got halfway through and she still hadn't started the actual journey and I was bored with her explaining how she was trying to do something.

I can't recommend it.


Two or Three Things I know for Sure by Dorothy Allison
It is really difficult to sum up this memoir. Allison writes about her life growing up, she reflects on how women were treated and keeps coming back to the things she knows for sure.

This is dark and not very inspirational. It is a fast read and Allison's style is really interesting. It has flavors of slam poetry. So it is a fast read and interesting. But very tough subject-mattter.

I recommend it with reservations.


I am Malala by Malala Yousafazai
Malala is the girl who was shot by the Taliban because she was a vocal advocate for educating girls. She writes about her life and her fight for education and being shot. She is an engaging storyteller and is passionate about the subject of education.

I highly recommend this.

***
Up next:
Spirituality
How to Expand Love by the Dalai Lama
Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron
No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron

Audiobook
The Eight by Katherine Neville
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
The Song of the Lioness Series (Numbers 1-4) by Tamora Pierce
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne
The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I just wish this was one of your books and you could re-write the ending.

Shifting away from fiction today!

Non-fiction

Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby
The subtitle to this is "A borderlands massacre and the violence of history." It tells the story of an attack on Apache Indians on the border between Arizona and Mexico. What was extremely interesting about this book is how Jacoby set it up by telling the stories of the four different populations that lived in the area and how unbiased he was as he explained each groups' actions and motivations. It felt like a very well-documented, not sensationalized portrayal of a terrible event.

But it was extremely difficult for me to read. I don't think I had the necessary mental capacity at the time, but it also was pretty dry.

I recommend it with major reservations.


Quiet by Susan Cain
Cain writes about introverts and how they interact in the world around them. This is particularly important because as she sets it up, she explains how our American society is "The cult of the extrovert" where extroverts are praised and lauded and held up as the model of how you should be. She explains the research and findings and some concrete things that introverts need to do in order to manage their activities in the world around them. One is to make deals with yourself -- like ok, I will do two social things every week, and then when you have met that quota you get to stay home and recharge by reading/cooking/whatever. And I realized, I already do that! Rocks in the jar! I am awesome.

This was a great read. Very easy and clear and informative.

I highly recommend it.


Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Re-read. Just as awesome the second (or is it third?) time. Everyone should read this book. Let's change the world!


Everything Changes by Kairol Rosenthal
Subtitle: The insider's guide to cancer in your 20s and 30s.

Rosenthal was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 27, and that launched her into a project to interview other 20 and 30 somethings (anyone from 20-39) who had been diagnosed with cancer and who were dealing with the treatment and life that comes after the diagnosis.

It's hard for me to write a review of this that separates the book from my personal experience over the last four months. And the last eight years, really.

So for me, very personally, this was a hard-hitting book. In the interviews, all of the cancer patients expressed my feelings. I finally felt like someone gets it, and that I'm not alone in feeling this way about so many different aspects of life.

I also ended by wanting everyone to read this book, selfishly because I want there to be more empathy in the world, and caringly because I want young people to take any symptoms seriously and get screened early. Rosenthal's fact is that 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer every year, and they are far more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer because often their symptoms aren't taken seriously by medical professionals who don't think they could have cancer that young, or because they don't have enough access to doctors.

I highly recommend this book. Especially if you or a young loved one has cancer.


Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber
Continuing a theme: Dr. Servan-Schreiber is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 30. His book has two premises: 1. Everyone has microtumors that develop in their bodies. We want to keep those from turning into cancer. We can do it by taking care of our "terrain." 2. If we've been diagnosed with cancer, we need to take care of our "terrain" to make the treatments most effective and to prevent a relapse.

As a doctor and scientist, this book is very grounded in scientific studies and does a very good job of explaining them clearly. In the first half of the book, I got very very upset about how we are destroying our planet, how we have ruined our food supply, and how clearly that connects to all of our illnesses (not just cancer). But as he moves into the second half, he has very clear and direct instructions on how to best take care of our bodies, even in the world we live in.

I highly recommend it. Even if you haven't been diagnosed with cancer. It's mostly a treatise on how to live healthfully.


***
There's still more! Stay tuned. 
Memoir
Tracks by Robyn Davidson
I am Malala by Malala Yousafazai
Two or Three Things I know for Sure by Dorothy Allison

Spirituality
How to Expand Love by the Dalai Lama
Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron
No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron

Audiobook
The Eight by Katherine Neville
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
The Song of the Lioness Series (Numbers 1-4) by Tamora Pierce
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne
The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book? It's called the internet, grandma.

More book reviews!

Classics

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I'll come clean. I had never read Wuthering Heights before. I've read tons of classics, but you can't read them all, and this is one of the ones that I had missed.

Now that I've read it, I really don't feel like I was missing out on anything at all.

This is a dark novel. It is hard to be immersed in that for as long as it takes to read this extremely long novel. And I found that I hated all of the characters. Every single one of them. At book club, one of the ladies asked, wait, but what about Cathy? What about Hareton? Nope, I'm serious, I hated them all. And that makes it very difficult to see anything redeeming about the novel.

I don't recommend this.


Macbeth by William Shakespeare
I love Macbeth. This was a good re-read.

I recommend it.



***
Look forward to these reviews next time!

Non-fiction
Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby
Quiet by Susan Cain
Tracks by Robyn Davidson
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Everything Changes by Kairol Rosenthal
Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber

Memoir
I am Malala by Malala Yousafazai
Two or Three Things I know for Sure by Dorothy Allison

Spirituality
How to Expand Love by the Dalai Lama
Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron
No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron

Audiobook
The Eight by Katherine Neville
Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
The Song of the Lioness Series (Numbers 1-4) by Tamora Pierce
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne
The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins