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

Friday, May 8, 2015

I got you that book last year; wasn't everything in there?

It's May.

I've been thinking for a couple weeks about writing some books reviews.

But it's May. Do you know how overwhelming it is to consider writing book reviews for the 40 books that I have read in the last 4 months? And really, I only listened to a couple of audiobooks in January, so 40 books that I have read in the last 3 months.

But out of loyalty to you, my dear reader, I am going to make a valiant effort to get some thoughts down.

Rather than set this up chronologically like I normally do with my book review posts, I'm going to set it up by categories. So sit tight, grab a beverage, and let's get some reading on.

***

Fiction

Paper Towns by John Green
Here's what I like about John Green: He loves literature. He is so completely passionate about literature that it pervades everything that he writes. So this is a standard teen novel -- a rebellious girl, a guy who loves her, weird family, etc -- but throughout all of it, Green is pouring out his love of literature and that captures me every time. I would appreciate anyone who has that much passion for anything, but since this happens to coincide with how I feel, I like it even more.

I recommend it with reservations.


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
This is a seriously long, winding, "epic" narrative that tells the life of one man, two women who run from a bad situation that he takes in as his daughters, and then their daughter. So a sweeping epic of three generations growing up in a huge orchard in Washington state. The problem with the sweeping epic is it was seriously boring. I'm not completely sure why I continued to read this (hoping it would get better), but I did read the entire thing, and it didn't get better.

I don't recommend it.


The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss wrote one of my favorite books, The Name of the Wind. This takes one of the characters from the world he created in The Name of the Wind and tells her story. It's short, just a novella, and I loved how he created the story and gave some background and additional insight to the character of Ari.

I recommend it if you've read The Name of the Wind.


Rogues edited by George RR Martin
This is actually a collection of short stories by a variety of authors. I picked it up because I wanted to read the story by Patrick Rothfuss (see above). So in the novella, Rothfuss follows Ari around for the day. In this short story, "The Lightening Tree," he follows Bast. Now Bast is, of course, one of my favorite characters, so it is automatic that I would love this story. And I did.

I recommend it if you've read The Name of the Wind.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is Mandel's take on a post-apocalyptic novel. And I loved how she approached it. She has a great set up for the actual apocalypse itself, which is usual because most novels of this genre just skip what happened and let you attempt to imagine it. I was so caught in the descriptions of what was happening as the world as they knew it ended that I found myself panicking because I also don't have a landline telephone! Then Mandel moves to how the survivors build a new world and likewise that is also something that most post-apocalyptic novels don't deal with. It was truly imaginative and original and completely engaging.

I highly recommend it.


The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
I'm going to be completely honest here. I don't remember this book. I'm sitting here looking at the title and the cover and I have no idea what it was about.

Here's what I know: it was cute, it was a light read, it was entertaining... Clearly only for the moment.

I can't recommend it!


The Kate Daniels Series (Numbers 1-7, starting with Magic Bites) by Ilona Andrews
I'm listing these together as one entry, because I basically devoured the series, so now they are all muddled in my mind anyway. This is Urban Fantasy that takes place in an Atlanta that is being eaten by magic and is home to vampires (not sparkly ones) and shape-shifters.

I'll be honest, the first one is a hot mess. The authors did not do a good job of introducing Kate Daniels' world or explaining how that world operates and what her role in it is. But there was enough there to get me to read the second book, and they got a lot better at explaining as the series went on. It's a cute, light and fluffy, fantasy series with a strong female heroine.

I recommend it with reservations.


Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
Wow. This novel by Margaret Atwood does not stand up to the passage of time. Written in the late 1960s, it is deeply deeply entrenched in that time and that world. That doesn't sound that odd, but Atwood was trying so hard to make this universally applicable, and it just doesn't work. This is a super short novel, but it was really difficult to get through because of how she set it up.

I don't recommend it.





***
Next time: Look forward to these additional categories!

Classics
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Macbeth

Non-fiction
Shadows at Dawn by Karl Jacoby
Quiet by Susan Cain
Tracks by Robyn Davidson
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