Saturday, December 31, 2016

Born on a Blue Day

by Daniel Tammet

I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of this book; the part about Daniel's childhood.  And then I didn't care as much and/or the holidays brought on their distractions - company and sickness.   Whatever happened I decided not to finish the last few chapters.

I've read some criticism about the writing but the fact that it wasn't a beautiful work of prose did not bother me.  It seemed more real to Daniel's personality.

Speaking of real.  I read a review that Tammet may not be an authentic autistic savant.  I hope that's not true but I don't care enough at this point to search further.  I may keep my ears poised to discover more but that's it.

Sleep Wise: How to Feel Better, Work Smarter, and Build Resilience

by Daniel Jin Blum

Lots of good information on why we need sleep and how sleep works.  There's some science thrown
in these chapters but explained easily enough for the layman.  I enjoyed knowing the science behind our sleep and what is actually suppose to happen during a good night's sleep and what happens when we don't get the sleep we need.  The author recommends a sleep assessment and then provides some sound advise on how to improve our time in bed.  Many of these I already do, such as use bed for sleep only - no reading, watching t.v., etc.  I usually wait for 40-50 minutes before getting outing of bed without going to sleep.  Blum suggests only 20 min.  And I never lay in bed if I wake up in the middle of the night and can't go back to sleep.  I'm anxious to implement the incremental time change for waking up - wake up 15 minutes earlier for a week and then go to 30 min. 

I recommend Sleep Wise to anyone wanting to know more about what happens when we sleep, what we are sacrificing when we don't sleep well, and what we can do to improve the quality of our sleep.  As a major insomniac I appreciated the concrete suggestions on how to improve my sleep.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Church of Spilled Blood

by Jesse Miles

I did not finish this book.  Even though the storyline was interesting, the writing was stilted and there were too many characters.  I probably would have persevered but the language turned raunchy.  That tipped the scales for me.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Author Buzz and NetGalley.  This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution

by Scott Solomon

As a retired high school biology teacher I found this book compelling.  With some nonfiction books, even ones you enjoy, you don't always feel compelled to pick it up and read because there are always fun mysteries or interesting dramas tugging at you to read them instead.   I found myself uninterested in reading a novel during the time I read Future Humans.  Every time I set it down I wanted to hurry with my chores and so I could get back to it.

That said, I don't know that this book will interest a large audience.  It is very science-y, but in an interesting way.  If you are familiar with the basics of cells and DNA you will do fine.  I learned so much.  One of the reasons I read is to cause more connections between my brain cells.  I could almost feel a few of them glowing at times!

Now that the Human Genome Project is finished researcher are starting a program to map the DNA of all the bacteria and other tiny creatures that live inside and on humans.  Humans living in urban situations tend to have the least diversity of microorganism.  Everywhere else in nature it is better to have great diversity.  Have we killed off so much of our good bacteria that we won't be able to adapt to a crisis?  Just one of the interesting topics discussed.  I've read for years about building up good bacteria in our guts and I take a probiotic every day in hopes of doing that.

There's a section about sexual selection that was interesting.  Also, what is technology doing to aid and hinder reprodution of the species.

Future Humans gives a great overview and provides a good basis to hook future information.  I'd highly recommend to anyone who reads the jacket and feels some interest in this subject. 

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from The Yale University Press and NetGalley.  This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Gratitude Diaries

by Janice Kaplan

Loved this book.  I've read several self-help books over the years and this is one of my favorite.  Kaplan's writing is engaging, as is her research and practical application.  Several summers ago I kept a gratitude journal and felt my life was extremely blessed.  I suppose the busy-ness of teaching lured me from that practice but now that I am retired I am grateful for the reminder this book provided.  I dug out my languishing journal and reread the entries which took me back to that lovely time in my life.

Kaplan shares her experiences of implementing gratitude into her life.  Along the way she shares insights from professionals and lay persons who specialize in how gratitude affects the mind, body, and soul.  She begins each chapter with a quote - one of my favorite things in a book.  I marked this book well and will enjoy reading these passages over from time to time.  This passage from Kaplan expresses were most of us are with the concept of gratitude:  "It's as if there were a magical happiness rock sitting in the middle of a field and half of us didn't even bother to go over and pick it up.  I was one of the people running around that field and never getting near the magic stone.  I knew it was there.  I kept thinking about it.  But something always got in the the way."

Another qualifier of a good book, for me, is if it teaches me something.  The Gratitude Diaries introduced me to Candace Pert, who as a young graduate student discovered the first opiate receptor.  I spent that day googling Ms Pert and learning more about her.  And, of course, that trail forked here and there on the internet and led me to the study of epigenitics, which I've been interested in for the last couple of years.  When links connect in my mind it makes me very happy.  Gratitude can actually change the expression of our DNA by sending out peptides that signal the making of certain proteins.  I would prefer that the proteins my DNA makes are those that promote happiness and good health.  If expressing gratitude and feeling gratitude does than I want to encourage those practices in my life.

I highly recommend this book.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from The Penquin Group and NetGalley.  This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Nightingale

by Kirsten Hannah

I feel like I've read my fair share of WWII literature and had decided I wasn't going to read any more.  I was tempted to read The Nightingale when I kept hearing so much about it but I'd already read Kristen Hannah's Winter Garden in 2012 and, even though I liked it, I shied away from another WWII novel, especially one by an author I'd already read.

Obviously, I finally gave in and read The Nightingale.  I think it was an offering on Pixel of Ink, or one of those type emails, and I couldn't resist when the price was low and the ratings high.

Set against the backdrop of Germany invading France, is the story of two sisters who experienced a childhood tragedy that created feelings of injustice, guilt, abandonment and animosity between them.  

I highly recommend The Nightingale.  

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Extraordinary Journey of Vivienne Marshall

by Shannon Kirk

I loved this book.  As with most books I loved reading, I am having a difficult time finding the right words and thoughts to describe The Extraordinary Journey of Vivienne Marshall.

The story is mostly told from Vivienne's point of view as she lies dying in a hospital bed.  Although she is in immense pain and is, almost completely, covered in casts she is well cared for by a male nurse who reads another woman's journal to her and helps her cope with her pain in humorous ways.  Marty is a delightful character with story of his own that is revealed too quickly.  One of my only complaints is that I wish his story would have taken more time to reveal itself.

So here we are in the hospital shifting from Vivienne's telling of a childhood friendship that blossoms into true love with Noah, to the woman's journal - this woman had been in a year-long coma but had just recently died under Marty's care, Marty's story, Vivienne's retelling of moments in her life with important people, her visits to these people's "heavens" in an attempt to choose what she wants her heaven to be like.  Her escort to these different heavens is her boyhood sweetheart, Noah.

Occasionally, there are notes dated and written by Vivienne's son, Ivan, who mentions often about rereading a favorite childhood book every year on his mother's birthday.  Ivan's birth father, Jack, is a remarkable man who is married to another woman.  He felt great remorse for being unfaithful to his wife.  Vivienne loves him immensely because of his goodness and the wonderful father he is to Ivan.

As I read back over this review it sounds like there is a lot going on.  And there is.  Even more than I've written about. I didn't even mention Vivienne's mother and her best friend, who is Noah's mother.  However, all these stories are easy to keep track of and each has a richness that adds to the overall elegance of this novel.

The Extraordinary Journey of Vivienne Marshall has depth of meaning and beauty.  I feel like I need to reread it, now that I know the story, and focus of the symbolism and different layers of meaning.  It was such a captivating story and so easy to read that I only paused occasionally to appreciate the beauty of the words.  I think it is a lovely, endearing, heartbreaking, and hopeful story of love, life, death, heaven, hell, caring, and perspective.

I strongly recommend this book and would love to hear others' thoughts about their experience with this story.  

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reputation Books and  Net Galley.  This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Lonely Teddy Bear

by Chelsea Radojcic

I started this book, then stopped because I thought it was a children's book minus the pictures. My copy was a galley so I thought they just hadn't been put in yet. Then I saw several 5-star ratings on Goodreads so I started over and read to the end.

I had a hard time buying into the idea of a stuffed animal who could walk, talk, and drink tea. And then the teddy bear left home and met up with other people on his journey to find his best friend Janie. These people interacted with the teddy bear like it was just part of everyday life. It was too silly. Even the ending was silly.

I cannot recommend this book. I felt like it was a waste of my time.

The Whole Town is Talking

by Fannie Flagg

I loved the other two Fannie Flagg books I've read: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl and Can't Wait to Get to Heaven.  They were upbeat, a little wacky, and definitely fun.  So when I saw this title offered by NetGalley I jumped on it.

Although, The Whole Town's Talking was upbeat I did not enjoy it as well.  I really can't say that character develop was totally lacking because, over the course of the book, I felt like I knew a few characters pretty well, but there were too many characters.  Names zipped by in quick succession.  Time zipped by, as well.  I feel like one of the themes of the book was the fleetingness of life, so the way the story was told supported that theme.  

I did a bit of research on this book as part of writing this review and discovered that there are three prior books set in Elmwood Springs, Missouri - the two I mentioned above and Standing in the Rainbow.  I suspect that reading these books first helps in knowing the characters.  

I was delighted to see some characters I was familiar with, especially Aunt Elner Shimfissle, who is a breath of fresh air.  Norma & Macky were included but I missed hearing more from Neighbor Dorothy and her radio show.

The Whole Town's Talking is published by Random House and will be released on November 29, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Net Galley.  This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Light Between Oceans

by M.L. Stedman

Oh my gosh!  What a book!  This is book has been around for a few years but I just barely read it.  I've been rather busy with life and haven't read others' reviews as much as I use to so I didn't know very much about the story line.  In many ways that adds to the anticipation as I am reading trying to unravel what will happen.

I must live in a bubble because I didn't know The Light Between Oceans was made into a movie.  Just now as I was looking for a picture of the book for this post I discovered the movie.  Can't wait to watch it!

What I liked about this book: 

1. The slow, mesmerizing build up that is quite tantalizing.  How Tom & Isabel meet and fall in love, then move to their own little island with a lighthouse.

2.  The setting.  The island of Janus, the small community where Isabel grew up, both in Australia during the 1920's, mostly. 

3.  The idioms.  Some of them had me guessing as to their meaning.  Many I shared with my husband.  One even showed up in a movie we watched the very day I read the phrase in this book.  Serendipity I guess.  It amazes me how often that happens.  I need to share a few with you. 
"She chucked a wobbly."  Which means she threw a fit.  
"I'm hardly a full bottle on it."  Meaning, I guess, I'm not an expert on the matter.  
"You're carrying on like a two-bob watch."  ??   
"What was he thinking?  He must have had kangaroos in his top paddock."  
"No. This was the place for the child, with her true family.  She'd have the top brick off the chimney."  "People will think he's got no lead in his pencil."  The way we would say that around here is, "He was firing blanks."  
"They get a bit dark with us if the prisoners cark it before trial."

4.  The story.  It's beautiful and heart-wrenching.  Excellent.

5.  The symbolism.  I'm a bit fuzzy on how to put it into words but I'm aware that it's there.  The lighthouse that safely guides boats through the darkness, the island and the desire to be isolated from others, the two oceans that come together at Janus Point and mixing and clashing of two families lives.  There's more, I know.  This is where a book group would come in handy - sharing the meanings picked up by other readers.

6.  The telling of the story.  I think Stedman did an wonderful job of telling parts of the story about the different characters and revealing those tidbits at just the right time.

I think I've covered enough of the highlights of the book - at least the highlights from my perspective. There are more but reviews can only drag on for so long before they become tiresome.

If you one of the few who have put of reading this book, as I did, I suggest you quit the stalling and read The Light Between Oceans.  You'll be glad you did.

I checked this ebook out from my local library.

The Visit

The Delightful History and Origin of The Night Before Christmas as recalled by Dinghy Sharp.

by Mark Kimball Moulton

I love this book.  Moulton has written an easy-to-read and easy-to-listen-to poem about the history of The Night Before Christmas written by Clement Moore.  The background for this book came from Moore's great-great-granddaughter, Dinghy Sharp.  (Where did she get a name like Dinghy is another story I'd like to read!)

Growing up my parents and 6 siblings gathered in the living room for a Christmas Eve program, of sorts.  We sang Christmas carols, read the story of Christ's birth from the Bible, and shared various stories and talents before setting a bowl with our name attached on the sofa so Santa would fill it with a few nuts and an orange.  One of my siblings, usually the second oldest brother, would read The Night Before Christmas. 

I am now 65-years-old and as many of us and our families who are in town still gather on Christmas Eve for a program of singing, present exchanges, reading the nativity story, and reading The Night Before Christmas.  I've always loved hearing it reread through the years.

Another Christmas tradition dealing with Christmas stories started when we children grew up and had families of our own.  My mother would buy each family a Christmas book and give it to us in early December.  It was a tradition much loved by her offspring.  

In view of these two traditions, I bought this book to share with my family since Grandma isn't with us anymore.  I am looking forward to gathering them around after a Sunday dinner in early December to share The Visit with them.  And on Christmas Eve I will share it with all the siblings & spouses, and nieces & nephews after we first hear The Night Before Christmas.

I am in awe of  Moutlon's ability to tell this story in such a delightful and lively poem.  I read it to my husband when it first arrived in the mail a few months ago and we both adored it.

The Visit is published by Lang Books.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Passenger

by Lisa Lutz

The write-up below is why I chose to read this book:
Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.
Two short sentences packed with information but the left too many questions I needed answered.  Did Tanya kill her husband?  Who did the shadowy voice belong to and what was Tanya's relationship with that person?  Why did Tanya have to flee the first time?  

The Passenger is told in the present with flashbacks that reveal Tanya's first lives and why she is on the run.  This is a technique that I like and this author used it masterfully.  

Tanya meets a girl named Blue who plays a major part in the story.  Blue is likable but I was always questioning her motives and if Tanya was wise to trust her.  Tanya is a likable character, as well, which usually makes for an easier reading experience.  

There are a few unexpected twists and turns that added to the tension.  I would definitely recommend this book to mystery lovers.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz was published by Simon and Schuster and was released on March 1, 2016.

**I received a complimentary copy of the book. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, November 01, 2016


by Beatrice Ojakangas

I love to read cookbooks and this one was lots of fun.  It's not your typical cookbook, even though there are recipes.  It's more of a memoir with recipes that go with the family stories thrown in to satisfy the reader.  After reading the stories that encompass the recipe, you want the recipe!

The University of Minnesota Press explains what I'm trying to say so well:
This memoir-cum-cookbook from celebrated cook Beatrice Ojakangas is chock-full of recipes, anecdotes, and a kind humor that bring to vivid life the Finnish culture of northern Minnesota as well as the wider culinary world. Homemade delivers the savory and the sweet in equal measures and casts a warm light on a rich slice of the country’s cooking heritage.

I decided to read this book because I have a sister-in-law who is of Finnish descent and I have enjoyed her stories.  She grew up in Minnesota, as did the author.  I thought if I enjoy Homemade that I could recommend it to her and her children.  I do recommend it.  I think they will enjoy the humor, the stories, and the recipes. 

**I received a complimentary copy of Homemade from NetGallsy. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

I borrowed this book from my sister, who recommended it.  I loved it!  It has a graceful beauty that is soft, gentle, and endearing.

Even though it wasn't a book I owned I still made good use of marking passage that caught my attention - I used book darts and left them in the book.  For me, one of the treats of reading a book is to look back and reread the phrases I marked.  Sometimes they merely remind me of moments in the story and other times they take on greater meaning after the story is finished.
This passage is beautiful in its sadness, eloquent in its sense of loss.It's odd, Julia, but a confession, a disclosure is worthless when it comes at the wrong moment.  If it's too early, it overwhelms us.  We're not ready for it and can't yet appreciate it.  If it's too late, the opportunity is lost.  The mistrust and the disappointment are already too great; the door is already closed.  In either case, the very thing that ought to foster intimacy just creates distance.
These passages are spoken by a young, blind man to a woman with club feet who is unable to walk.
The true essence of things is invisible to the eyes.  Our sensory organs love to lead us astray, and eyes are the most deceptive of all.  We relay too heavily upon them.  We believe that we see the world around us, and yet it is only the surface that we perceive.  We must learn to divine the true nature of things, their substance, and the eyes are rather a hindrance than a help in that regard.  The distract us.  We love to be dazzled. 
It is rage that blinds and deafens us. Or fear.  Envy, mistrust.  The world contracts, gets all out of joint when you are angry or afraid.  There is only one thing that is stronger than fear.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers

by Sally Allen

I read this wonderful book on a trip to Oregon and the California Redwoods via Glacier Park, Spokane, and Seattle.  My husband did the driving - it's our favorite kind of trip.  Mostly I watched the scenery and listened to our favorite music but in the evenings and when we would stop somewhere awe-inspiring I would read morsels from this book.  Sometimes I read aloud to Myke as he drove and that would spark a discussion on books, authors, and the magic of reading.

The problem with reading at a jaw-droppingly beautiful vista is you don't get much reading done.  In my plans for the trip I wanted to provide pockets of time to just sit and soak in the surroundings.  If I read a bit I remember both the book and the scene more vividly.  And if I have a tasty treat the memory can become a lasting one.

I read the majority of the book in our hotel rooms while Myke documented our trip on Face Book.  It's easy to concentrate in the mediocre environment of a hotel room compared with the grandeur of Glacier National Park.

I highlighted so many passages.  When I finish a book I quite often go back and reread those passages and then when I sit down to write my review I get to read them again.  Memories flow back in and passages are valued over again.  I'm not suppose to share bits from an advance-copy book because those bits may not show up in the published book.  

Allen shares her views about reading, connecting with the world the author creates, and the shared experience of various readers of the same book.  I related with her experiences with the written word.  She so eloquently describes what I feel and also opens up some new perspectives.

The harm in reading this insightful book is adding many more books to my lengthy list of to-be-read books.  The upside to that is I recently finished reading The Light Between Oceans.

I strongly recommend this book to any and all book lovers.  You will discover like-mindedness with Allen and you'll enjoy reading about her recommendations.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. This review reflects my honest opinions. No compensation was received.**

Friday, September 09, 2016

A Great Reckoning

by Louise Penny

I love this book!  And this series!  Every time I start to read a new Louise Penny novel I feet the warmth of coming home, of settling in, and covering up in a favorite quilt.  Penny's fabulous story-telling, complex characters, excellent mysteries makes that happen for me.  I know that I'm in for another wonderful adventure with dear, old friends.

Louise is better at character development than any author I have read.  Each person is real, with flaws and strenghts. And I love each of them like family.  Whoa!  There was a character or two in this book that I didn't love, or even like, but they taught me well the dangers of taking the road to power and manipulation. Louise introduces us to four new young characters in this book that I hope we will meet again.

A Great Reckoning is probably the most suspenseful of the series.  I caught myself holding my breath several times through the last half of the book, hoping one of my favorite characters was not the murderer.  There was an underlying theme of maps and the roads people choose to take in life.  I feared one of my favorite characters may have made some decisions that, as the results started lining up, would have led down the wrong path.

All of Penny's books are mysteries but they are also excellent literary fiction.  As I mentioned above one theme in this book is diverging roads.  Every book has a theme and she introduced this one with a map discovered behind an old wall and then she skillfully and subtly slants the light to show different views of that thems. All of this is done with her careful and masterful use of language.  I am always delighted and often surprised with how gifted she is with the use of language.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Flight of Dreams

by Ariel Lawhon

This is my favorite book of the year, so far.  Lawhon uses the known facts of the tragedy of the Hindenburg and then tells a plausible story of what may have happened during the flight across the Atlantic.  I was kept guessing who the person was that didn't want to see the Hindenburg return to Germany.

I had always thought, probably because I was once told, that the demise of the Hindenburg was due to an electrical charge between the landing pole and the dirigible, but Lawhon offers another possibility.

My recommendation:  Read this book if you get a chance.  I want to see this one made into a movie.

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton

by Elizabeth Strout

I have mixed feelings about this book.   When I initially finished reading I felt let down by how much of the story wasn't told but on further reflection I began to think the restraint was on purpose.

Lucy Barton went in the hospital for a simple appendix operation but three weeks later she is still in the hospital with an undiagnosed illness.  During that time her mother visits for five days. Lucy hasn't seen or talked to her mother in years.  The book's setting is those five days in 1980 when her mother came to visit her.

As her mother shares mundane gossip from their hometown, Lucy remembers scenes of extreme poverty and times of neglect and abuse.

The more I think about this book, the more powerful is its hold on me.  I have great admiration for the author.

Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts and feelings about it?  Did you like it?  Why or why not?


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Beside Myself

by Ann Morgan

Six-year-old Helen and Ellie are identical twins, but Helen is smarter, more popular, and their mother's favorite. Ellie, on the other hand, requires special instruction at school, is friendless, and is punished at every turn.
Until they decide to swap places--just for fun, and just for one day--and Ellie refuses to switch back. 
This book knocked the wind right out of me.  It was like falling from a tree and landing flat on your back.  I'm still trying to catch my breath.

Not always a pleasant reading experience, but definitely a powerful one.  Hats off to Ms. Morgan for capturing the feeling of loss of self and the spiraling descent into mental illness. Told from Helen's perspective,  I appreciated that towards the end of the book the author gave the reader a glimpse into Ellie's life as well.