Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Long Way Home

By Saroo Brierley
Berkley, 2015. 273 pgs. Biography

Saroo Brierley spent his first five years living in rural India with a loving but very poor mother and his three siblings. Barely finding enough to eat from day to day, his brothers expand their search for work and food by catching trains to nearby villages. One night Saroo goes with his brother to another town and falls asleep on a bench waiting for his brother to return.  Waking up in a panic and still drowsy Saroo enters a train car looking for his brother but then the train leaves the station.  Many hours later the train reaches Calcutta. Saroo is so young he scarcely knows his name, let alone where he is from but he manages to survive from day to day.

If you irretrievably lose your family what would be best thing that could happen to you?  Given that there are millions of homeless, abandoned, orphaned children in India Saroo is very fortunate to be picked up off the street, sent to an orphanage, and then adopted by a family in Australia. Still the memory of his birth family and his longing for them is always with him until one day he vows to find them.  Saroo’s story is a glimpse into a faraway world – at once triumphant and heartbreaking.  This book was made into the film “Lion,” released in 2016. It is a quick and rewarding read.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Orpheus Clock: the Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis

By Simon Goodman
Scribner, 2015. 353  pgs. Nonfiction

The Orpheus Clock brings to life the tragedy of the Gutmann family’s losses to the Nazis.  The Gutmann’s acquired their wealth through banking in Germany but by the time of the World War II, the family trustee of their famous art collection lived in Holland. The Nazis soon became aware of the priceless collection of art owned by Fritz and Louise Gutmann and couldn’t rest until they had taken everything, even Fritz and Louise’ lives. Because the Nazis usually made their art thefts look legal by forcing their victims to sign documents verifying their “sale,” most European governments were extremely slow to recognize and return art to victims and their families after the war, claiming the art had been legally acquired by the Nazis. Many governments ignored the life and death pressures experienced by the victims and required them to repurchase their art!  

Inheriting his father’s voluminous correspondence from the decades after World War II, Simon Goodman renews his father’s quest to locate masterworks once owned by his grandparents that ended up in the hands of governments and galleries in Europe and the United States after the war. This gripping book also traces the lives of the Gutmann family as they acquire and then lose their wealth because of Nazi policies toward the Jews.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life

Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life
By Peter Walsh
Rodale Books, 2017. 256 pgs. Nonfiction

Peter Walsh is a expert on decluttering and how to be happier with less. In his newest book, he focuses on how to downsize when you are faced with major life changes like the death of a spouse, the death of your parents, a job change, retirement, or moving into a smaller home. He acknowledges that often when faced with these monumental life changes, it is not the best time to try to sort through what is really important. Usually you will either hang on to too much, or you'll get rid of something that you will regret later because of a time constraint.

I am in the process of decluttering my home and I decided to see if this book would give me the motivation I was looking for. There were a lot of helpful tips on things you should consider before you start to downsize like how much space you will have and what are the real treasures you want to keep. I didn't realize that this book would talk so much about downsizing because a life event like a death or retirement. Those aren't concerns I am dealing with currently, so a lot of the information felt like it didn't apply to me. He did convince me of the importance of going through my own stuff now, while I am physically able, so that my loved ones won't have to deal with it after I die. I listened to this on Overdrive and even though it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, it still had some good tips.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Fall of Lord Drayson

The Fall of Lord Drayson
By Rachael Anderson
HEA Publishing, 2016. 284 pgs. Historical Fiction, Romance

Lucy Beresford is shocked when the new Earl of Drayson shows up at her door and informs her that the estate will soon be sold and Lucy and her mother must leave the dowager house and find a new place to live. The problem is that they don't have any options. Since her father's death, they barely have enough money to scrape by and they don't have any relations they can turn to. She can't believe the earl would break the promise his father made. Soon the tables are turned when Lucy discovers the earl unconscious and hurt in the road. When he wakes up, he has no memory of who he is and Lucy decides to teach him a lesson by telling him that he is her servant.

If you are a fan of Regency romances, this is a great read! Lucy is charming and feisty and Colin is pompous and cocky but you can't help falling in love with both of them as you get to know them better. There are some fun twists and hilarious scenes and of course the tender moments that make you sigh! This was the perfect clean romance to relax with at the end of a long day.


Friday, May 19, 2017

My Not So Perfect Life

My Not So Perfect Life
By Sophie Kinsella
Dial Press, 2017. 434 pgs. Fiction

Katie Brenner, a farm girl from Somerset, is determined to become Kat Brenner, successful London professional.  She wants it all, the lively set of friends, the fulfilling job, the picturesque flat, and the money to enjoy restaurants, clothes and clubs.  But, her London life is less than ideal as she struggles to find friends, lives in a glorified closet, barely manages to budget money for the essentials, and finds herself dyeing her boss’s roots instead of designing brilliant re-branding campaigns. And then things get worse.

My Not So Perfect Life was the perfect book to kick off my summer reading.  It’s light and funny but still perceptive and well balanced.  I am a big fan of Sophie Kinsella (minus her Shopaholic series because the protagonist’s spending habits give me anxiety).  Her chick lit is among the best in the genre.  I always look forward to her new novels and am rarely disappointed.  Sunny reading for sunny days!


American Spirit

American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2017. 176 pgs. Nonfiction

American Spirit is a wonderful collection of 15 speeches written and delivered by David McCullough.  Many are commencement speeches and the others were given to commemorate significant dates, place, or people in American History.  They are all insightful and timely.  As McCullough states in his introduction, he shares them to “help remind us, in this time of uncertainty and contention, of just who we are and what we stand for…”.  Here he provides careful words of advice and admonition that we stand for what is right, that we make a difference in the world, and that we do not ignore the examples and lessons of the past (also that we stop using the works like and actually).

I feel like David McCullough is currently America’s grandfather.  His messages are wise, patient, and slightly exasperated with the current generation and I absolutely love him for it.  Each speech, like each of his books, provides insight and entertainment and leaves you feeling uplifted and enlightened.  And, if you’ve never listened to any of his audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to this one.  He is a wonderful speaker and it is a treat to hear his words in his own patriarchal voice.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry
by Christie Wilcox
Straus and Giroux, 2016. 236 pages. Non Fiction

Did you know that the Amazonian bullet ant has the most painful sting of any creature on Earth? Or that a male platypus has venomous barbs on their hind legs? Want to know the difference between venom and poison, or why animals evolved to be venomous in the first place? Author Christie Wilcox will take you on a journey around the world, presenting the most venomous creatures in land and sea. 

 Wilcox describes the chemical makeup of venom and its effects on the body, as well as the evolutionary pressures behind the existence of these toxins. The text can be jargon heavy, but the author balances it out with interesting anecdotes of peoples’ experiences with bad stings and bites. 

My favorite part of this book (besides the gory anecdotes of course) was learning about the contributions venom has played in the medical world. Wilcox refers to certain venoms as “lethal lifesavers” due to their potential as medical treatments. Cone snail venom is used in a medically well-known drug used to treat diabetes. Venomous leeches are used in treatments when blood clots need to be avoided. Cobra venom is a popular black market painkiller in many parts of Asia, and some people even self-administer snake venoms with the belief that it boosts the immune system! This book is a fascinating and fun read for anyone that wants to learn more about venom!


The Crossover

The Crossover
By Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin, 2014. 237 pgs. Young Adult  

“A bolt of lightning on my kicks…
the court is sizzling.
 My sweat is drizzling.
 Stop all that quivering.
 Cuz tonight I’m delivering.”

 Adults, do not be fooled by the Newbery medal on the cover—this book is for young and old alike. Josh Bell, a fourteen-year-old basketball phenomenon, raps his coming of age story through poetic verse. Josh and his twin brother start to grow apart, and their father’s health starts to take a turn for the worst.

Many young adult readers can relate to the growing complexity of the brothers’ relationships, as well as the pressure to succeed in competitive sports. Adult readers can relate to how Josh’s parents try communicate with their boys. The poetic style of the story really speaks straight from the heart, getting the point across without any superfluous prose in the way. The audiobook version is well worth a try, as the rap-style lends itself perfectly to be spoken aloud. Whether you choose to read or listen, The Crossover will leave a lasting impression.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Dark Talent

The Dark Talent
By Brandon Sanderson
Starscape, 2016. 300 pages. Young Adult

It’s finally here! It took almost seven years, but Alcatraz #5 is out and the series is finished. And yes, there is an altar of outdated encyclopedias. It took him long enough.

Book #4 (Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens) ended on a definite cliffhanger. Alcatraz had somehow managed to break the Smedry Talents, Bastille was in a coma, and the Free Kingdoms were in eminent danger. #5 picks up right in the middle of that mess. After fighting on Librarian terms for so long, Alcatraz is angry and ready to take the fight to the Librarian capital, aka the Highbray in Washington D.C. His Grandfather is, of course, up for anything that audacious, and Kaz and a new Smedry cousin named Dif join in. Oh, and Alcatraz’s mother. THAT isn’t awkward at all.

A few things have changed in the past six years. First of all, it seems that “Alcatraz versus” is no longer a part of the title; it’s just the series name. Also, the Alcatraz series now has an illustrator! Though sparse, the drawings by Hayley Lazo were excellent and I found them a welcome addition to the Alcatraz universe. As far as the actual content goes, The Dark Talent fulfills all the promises of the previous Alcatraz books. It continues the same humor, the same exciting storylines, and the same (mostly) loveable characters. But it also delivers something the rest of the series has been none too subtly hinting at the whole time: the reason that Alcatraz isn’t the hero everyone thinks he is. This series-ender is dark and may leave many readers dissatisfied, but you can’t deny that Alcatraz warned us. Many plot points are left hanging, but the final pages also include the hint of a sequel series, so it seems the story WILL continue eventually. All in all, though The Dark Talent doesn’t knock it out of the park the way Shattered Lens did, the book is definitely worth reading and the (kind-of) surprise ending will make you excited for whatever Sanderson comes out with next.


The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Cover image for The inexplicable logic of my life : a novel
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Clarion Books, 2017, 445 pages, Young Adult Fiction

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it's senior year, everything is changing, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal's not who he thought he was, then who is he? And what does his adoption have to do with it?

Saenz takes his time unfolding this character-driven tale, but it doesn’t feel like it. Written in short yet poignant chapters, I was compelled to keep reading. Saenz’ writing style (short choppy sentences that are still beautifully written) reminded me a lot of Beth Kephart, although I feel like Saenz’ writing style is a little more relatable.

I loved the healthy, respectful relationship Sal and his father have. (And because I’m old and grumpy, I related a lot with Sal’s father’s exasperation whenever Sal and his friend Samantha texted each other while standing right next to each other.) While Sal is having trouble dealing with the changes life brings, his friends also have family troubles and they find refuge with Sal and his father. I didn’t enjoy how much some side characters swore, but I loved the themes of family, compassion, social responsibility, death, redemption, and the value of a human life. This is a beautifully written book that will resonate with those who read it.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Forgotten Warrior

The Forgotten Warrior
by Kathi Oram Peterson
Covenant Communications, 2009. 257 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Sydney Morgan is a teenage girl who has a black belt in Karate; her life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with cancer and her absentee dad comes home trying to play nice guy. When an unexpected gift takes her back to the land of Zarahemla, she is almost immediately accused of being a spy and a soothsayer. Syd not only has to persuade Captain Helaman that she is not a spy but his stripling warriors she has to train in this strange fighting style no one has ever seen before. It will take everything she has to survive till she can make it home.

I have loved this story since the first time I read it my Junior year of high school. It appeals to my inner self to have a short girl taking on and holding her own with grown men who are twice her size. Syd is an amazing teenage character who is going through some difficult life situations but grows through it. Part of the reason why I chose to review this book is I have been waiting for the sequel to this book for eight years and it finally came out this week! I am so excited to read if and how Syd makes it home.


For Love and Honor

For Love and Honor 
by Jodi Hedlund
Grand Rapids, 2017. 239 pgs. Young Adult Fiction

Sir Bennet rushes home after his mother’s request only to find that his older brother has gambled away his family’s fortune and the neighboring lands are ready to be paid in full. The only way they can save the family estate is to make an advantageous match and marry a wealthy woman. Lady Sabine is a well to do young woman with a birth mark that if it were discovered people would label her as a witch. Sabine’s grandmother arranges for her granddaughter meet Sir Bennet under the guise of seeing his art collection. Jodi Hedlund takes the reader on a journey as she provides insight in to her two main character’s minds as you wonder if these two strangers will ever trust each other enough to share their deepest secrets.

I enjoyed reading this story. I found it interesting how the author tied in the superstition that would have been incredibly common at the time. I loved the two main protagonists and their relationship with each other. I also really liked the grandmother. I loved the matriarchal role she played in her granddaughter’s life and their relationship was also really fun to watch.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Loving My Actual Life

Loving My Actual Life
By Alexandra Kuykendall
Baker Books, 2016. 224 pgs. Nonfiction

Alexandra is a mother of four, looking for balance in her life, just like all of us. She decides to spend nine months focusing on ways that she can love her actual life, not the idealized version of her dreams. Working on one specific thing each month, she strives to find ways to more fully enjoy the season of life she is in.

I found this book reminiscent of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project with more of a Christian slant. Filled with Bible verses and quotes from religious leaders, this book gives the reader many things to ponder as they evaluate their own lives. I listened to this eAudiobook from Overdrive and enjoyed the conversational feel of this book. While I'm not a mother balancing the needs of a family, I still found many things to think about as I decide how to love my own actual life!


Friday, May 5, 2017

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Back

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Back
By Jessica Fechtor
Plume, 2016. 274 pgs. Nonfiction

Jessica was 28, newly married, and a graduate student when she fell off a hotel treadmill while attending a conference. After going to the hospital the doctors determined that an aneurysm burst in her brain. She had surgery to put a clip in her brain to hopefully fix the aneurysm. All looked well, considering the circumstances, that is except for the fact that she lost vision in her left eye. After a few other complications and many, many months of recovery, Jessica finds her way back to a new sense of normal.

This book reminded me a lot of Molly Birnbaum's Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way. I liked how the author talked about food and how certain recipes had influenced her life before and after this traumatic incident. She includes many of the recipes she talks about. I'm always interested in a memoir about food and this one did not disappoint!


Food Fights and Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste

Cover image for Food fights & culture wars : a secret history of taste
Food Fights and Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste
by Tom Nealon
Overlook Press, 2017, 223 pages, Non-Fiction

In this eclectic book of food history, Tom Nealon takes on such overlooked themes as carp and the Crusades, brown sauce and Byron, and chilies and cannibalism, and suggests that hunger and taste are the twin forces that secretly defined the course of civilization. What and how people ate provoked culinary upheaval around the world as ingredients were traded and fought over, and populations desperately walked the line between satiety and starvation. Parallel to the history books, a second, more obscure history was also being recorded in the cookbooks of the time, which charted the evolution of meals and the transmission of ingredients around the world.

This book was such a fun and fascinating read! Nealon writes with a dry sense of humor, and I kept imagining this book being read aloud by Great British Bake-Off presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. The book is stuffed with interesting tidbits of information, but perhaps the best part is that it’s also stuffed with images from old cookbooks, advertisements, and even old manuscripts that depict people cooking. One of my favorites was an image titled “The brovvyllinge of their fishe ouer the flame” (The broiling of their fish over the flame).

This book doesn’t attempt to be a complete history of food, but if it has a weakness it’s that its main focus is on European (especially French) cooking. Africa is never mentioned, and Asia is mentioned only a few times in passing. A few chapters cover the Americas. Still, the stories told were very interesting. Those who enjoy non-fiction authors like Mary Roach, odd stories from history, random facts, and food should put this book on their To Be Read lists immediately.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Bell Jar

By Slyvia Plath
Perennial Classics, 1999. 264 pages. Fiction

The time is the 1940s, and Esther Greenwood is at the peak of her college life. She has friends of all sorts (from kind to sassy), she’s on scholarship, she has a beau in medical school, and she’s won a month in New York City working on a fashion magazine. Though showered with free makeup, heaps of caviar, and fancy parties, New York is where things start to fall apart. Always the girl with a plan before, she starts to lose sight of her goals and motivation. She finds that she won’t do what she’s supposed to, but can’t quite do what she isn’t supposed to either. Suddenly she stops getting out of bed. She can’t sleep, can’t read, and is forced to move home with her mother. After an attempted suicide, her mother places Esther in an asylum. She has experiences with behavioral and shock therapy, both good and bad, and slowly moves up through the ranks of mental illness, gaining more and more of herself back as she goes.

Originally published in 1963, The Bell Jar is a captivating look at mental illness before the DSM. Esther’s plight sucks you in as a reader, and there is a sort of horrible fascination to watching “medieval” psychiatry at work. Even more than that, however, is the painfully personal and accurate picture of clinical depression that Plath paints. The book is largely autobiographical (though the names have all been changed), and it shows in the detailed nuances of Plath’s writing. No one could describe depression so perfectly without having been there. Though this book is often read in high school English classes, its powerful messages apply to a much broader audience. Since one in three college-age females suffers from depression, this is a book of vital importance to the secondary education crowd.  Even beyond that, I would wager that everyone in the United States knows someone struggling with depression, whether they know it or not. This book is an important piece of validation for those suffering and of understanding for those who want to help, and as such I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to struggle with some heavy themes.

Oh, and the writing is gorgeous. Can’t forget that.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
By Michael Moss
Random House, 2013. 446 pgs.  Nonfiction

Using examples from well-known companies like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, etc, Moss shows how food scientists use technology to calculate the "bliss point" of foods to make them irresistible to consumers.  They can enhance the "mouthfeel" of foods by manipulating their salt, sugar, and fat content, and these companies then use clever marketing campaigns to manipulate consumers into buying more and thinking that it might even be healthy for them. 

This book is highly praised and has important information for consumers today. But I was a bit disappointed that major points and even stories were repeated frequently and I came to loathe hearing the words "salt, sugar, and fat" together. I also felt that the author would sometimes over-dramatize the insidiousness of food companies. I essentially agree with his points, but companies trying to further their profits at whatever cost to the consumer does not surprise me at all.  The lessons of the book can be summed up on the dust cover, but he does cite some interesting studies and evidence, and this can be a helpful book if you need motivation trying to put off a processed food habit.



By Stephen King
Signet, 1988. 338 pgs. Horror

Paul Sheldon has just finished writing his latest novel. As he’s driving through Colorado in celebration, a snow storm causes his car to slide off the road (not helped by his intoxication) and the crash breaks both of his legs. When he wakes up, he finds himself in the home of Annie Wilkes, his deranged “number one fan.” When she discovers that her favorite character was killed off at the end of his newest novel, she forces him to continue the story for her. Unable to escape, Paul must endure Annie’s various moods and the torture she inflicts in order to complete a new novel and hopefully, one day, escape.

Horror isn’t usually a genre I pick up, but I came across a video online of a crazed woman yelling at a sales clerk at Barnes and Nobel. I was very curious about why this woman was yelling about an author I’d never heard of. I then discovered that it was the fictional author Paul Sheldon, and this was a marketing stunt for a theater performance of Stephen King’s Misery… four years ago. I was so intrigued I had to read the book. I loved it! It was a roller coaster of intense emotions that often flipped my stomach. This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of suspense which is great, but the descriptions of Paul’s torture is pretty graphic. It’s not often that my jaw drops when reading, but it did… several times. I really loved this book, but it’s definitely not for everyone.