Wednesday, September 19, 2018

As Long as We Both Shall Live

As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Chaney    324 pages  I read a galley - book is due to be published in January, 2019

Sometimes, it's easier to walk away than make it work. Or maybe it's a better solution to just get someone completely out of the way of your new life. 

Is that what happened with Matt and his wife, Marie? While on a hike, Matt frantically tells park rangers that Marie has fallen off a cliff into the raging river below. No one could have survived that fall; it was a tragic accident.  Or was it? Matt's first wife died under suspicious circumstances. And when the police pull a body out of the river, Matt faces even more questions. This character-driven story is written with a taught, steadily increasing pace that will have you turning the pages (and probably staying up past your bedtime to read)!

I enjoyed that this story is character-driven and you get the perspectives of Matt and Marie, as well as some of the police detectives who are investigating what happened. It's an interesting way to get a fuller perspective and also adds some rich layers to the story. I don't like referring to Gone Girl (yet again, as so many book blurbs seem to), but this has some of the same appeal factors: a steady pace, unlikely characters (who may just be misunderstood) and some plot twists that keep you guessing.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King   320 pages

This is the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers (known to most of us as Mister Rogers). The author uses archival documents, original interviews, oral histories and more and takes the reader through Rogers' childhood through his decades of work.

I found this an absolutely fascinating book (and thought I would, so that was nice). I didn't know much about Fred Rogers and some of the information surprised me. For example, I didn't know that he had stopped working on programs for children for a while and made television for adults --- only to return to the Neighborhood with more sophisticated episodes. I also didn't know how extensively he consulted with experts on childhood development --- I mean, I assumed that he did and that he himself had some background in child development, but I didn't know how much time he spent with his mentor in the field.

This is a really richly written biography. You get a full picture not only of the person, but also of what they meant to the people around them. Fred Rogers is a beloved person to many of (even now, years after his death), but how much do we really know about him? This book does a great job of being true to its subject in an engaging way, even as a lot of information is covered. As a child, I watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and I remember really loving some of those shows (Daniel Tiger was my favorite).

Now, I just need to grab my box of tissues and find the new documentary about him to watch.

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian         Audio Book:  12 hours, 23 minutes       Hardback Book:  368 pages                  

Excellent book that tells the evolution of space dust to space particles all the way through humans and animals today.    Told in such a lively, fully engaged way, author David Christian makes the reader want to know more and more all the way to the end and yes, David Christian even goes so far as to predict where both the planet and civilization is headed discussing the melting of glaciers, the destruction of rainforests,  over consumption of earth’s land and sea, man’s continuing to ignore the time bomb of desecration going on to earth’s atmosphere offering discussions on how it could be lessened and how fast we need to be doing something about it and the lack of desire on many levels as capital gain drives corporate motives disregarding the need to safeguard the planet as well as ourselves.    He discusses the destruction of life as the dinosaurs knew it and how history is repeating itself as man is on a collision course of desimation and will kill off life as we know it unless the course is changed.   Beyond fascinating, this book is full of so much information and explains the ins and outs of how this universe and others could house life on other planets with a section on how earth in order to save its inhabitants may find colonizing Mars and even other heavenly bodies a necessity not just research.    Really compelling book.   Goes from what is scientifically known of the beginning of all things  leaving the reader confronted with the current trajectory as is currently and where things may go with different scenarios.    Well researched, well written totally down to earth language and concepts even when discussing thermal nuclear fusion, plate tectonics,  astro-physics principles to adaptations by man and animals over the years in balance with their diverse environments throughout time as we know it there is nothing that will be over any body’s head, he breaks things down in totally conversational terms and makes the lofty absolutely understandable like talking to a friend on every topic imaginable and still communicating on terms you each get.    Great book – much learning to be had here- lots of new ways of thinking on subjects covered many times over the years.   Well done David Christian. I would highly recommend this read.

Back Talk: Stories

Back Talk: Stories by Danielle Lazarin                                Audiobook: 6 hours, 30 mins                      Paperback Book:  256 pages                       Genre: Adult Fiction-Stories about females coping with their situations

Really well written stories about females of all ages accepting and dealing with the circumstances they find themselves in, some not so happy, some uplifting, some growing experiences some funny (I love the psychic sisters for example).    These stories take the reader through many circumstances with many alternating routes arriving at the destination as they do.   I enjoyed the stories in this book, the reader will get swept away with each one, I know I did.   The characters here go from young children, teens, young adults, adults, midlifers and elderly.    Each one unique and poignant.   I liked each story found in this book for its triumph for the shero (female hero) and there are some truly warrior gals to be found here, so much so, I can almost here that Xena, Warrior Princess yell going in the background.   Not everyone is nice but neither are they truly evil, just doing the best they can with what they have to deal with and in the end that is all any of us can do with life, it doesn’t always come in a pretty packages sometimes it is pretty rough and you still have to carry it and continue on and these stories offer some wonderful insights into their characters.   Good, bad, happy, sad and even indifferent – these are all good stories and worth your time.   I would recommend this read.

Every Time You Go Away

Every Time You Go Away by Beth Harbison           Audio Book:  8 hours, 13 minutes           Paperback Book:  320 pages               Genre:    Paranormal Romance

Willa has lost her husband, Ben and has been grieving for the past 3 years trying to force herself to continue living and going on with her life.    She can’t even be much of a comfort to their son, Jamie, because she is so distraught and her world as she knew it is gone.  The family own a beach house which is where Ben was when he died of a heartattack.    Willa has not be able to go there since because of all the memories it holds of all the good times they have had there over the years with family and friends and friend’s children.    After much thought, Willa decides to sell the beach house in Maryland.   Summoning all of her courage she knows she has to go there and clean it up and get it ready to put on the market.     Her son, Jamie cannot stand the thought of going back there knowing his Dad died there, Willa’s best friend has to work, but, promises to come up to the beach house that weekend to join Willa and help her get it sale ready.  So with much dismay Willa begins the trek dreading it all the way.    When she arrives there is a lot of work neede to be done to update the place and when she contacts a realtor she gets an even longer list of to dos on the place.   She decides to stay as long as it takes to get it all done and over with from there the story takes off into the paranormal range.   I don’t want to spoil it for the reader, but, it is really well done and I think anyone who is a fan of the ghostly, a fan of romance novels, anyone who has lost a loved one and anyone who enjoys a good read will find this book pleasing.    It shows the remorse of losing someone you love, the reality of not being able to function, the inability to be there for others as much as you would like when you are drowning in your own pain and the guilt of not being the comforter to your own children when grief surrounds you so wholely and the value of dear friends in your time of need and understanding.    Well done, well told, enjoyable read.

The Tao of Bill Murray

The Tao of Bill Murray: Real Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards           Hardback Book: 368 pages               Genre:  Biography

I love Bill Murray’s comedy ergo, I loved this book.    So many great, real-life as promised, stories about Bill Murray – the guy – from his home, growing up as Billy in a family of 9 kids to his Second City days honing his style and delivery so well that he still improvises to this day no matter the media or crowd.   He has been known to walk up behind total strangers, put his hands over their eyes and say, “Guess Who?”  When he releases them and they see who it is, Bill will say, “No one will ever believe you.”   Ya gotta a guy like that.    He is very loyal to his friends and has taken some questionable roles in some questionable films and made the best of them as best he can which is a lot all because a friend asked.   Married twice with 6 sons to show for it, Bill has always been a rambler and a rover.   When he goes someplace for a film shoot, or just checking it out, he will stay there hanging out and learning all about the locality doing touristy stuff and just going on Walkabout as the Aborigines call it.   He hands out meeting people and doing fun things even showing up and crashing weddings, frat parties, BBQs pretty much, you name it and if he is in the vicinity it is a good possibility Bill Murray will be there.   He is a riot.   Surprisingly while he is mostly good and kind to people he has been known to throw his weight around on a film set when it suits his purpose, though it is just as likely he will hire a band to play during lunch or maybe he will spring for a night out for everybody or maybe he will just disappear for a while then show up spot on when it is time for him to go before the cameras and will shock and amaze people by knowing every line, every cue, every dance step whether he has rehearsed or not.  This book is chock full of Bill Murrayisms.   Not everyone has his working style – he scared Mickey Rourke to death when he totally went off script but made it better with the dialogue he invented as he went.   Mickey is a one take maybe two take kind of guy but that shoot, Bill and Steve Carrell did the same scene 32 times and played it different each time, adlibbing the whole way.   Another time he totally frustrated Richard Dreyfus, who never got over it, by going completely off script delivering different lines than were written but in the same vein coming in with different lines but lines setting Dreyfus up so he could deliver the lines he had memorized allowing him the same reaction.    The frustration Dreyfus felt in real life showed in the film but made it that much funnier, it appears like Dreyfus is just doing a bit of great acting but it seems it was more real reaction than not.   Bill has been known to go up to complete strangers and sit on their laps, or hold his shirt up and rub his belly, whether they understood English or not.   Bill has done so many funny things that are captured here and there is good intel on behind the scenes stuff on Saturday Night Live (he and Gilda Radner were an item before she met Gene Wilder), each film he has done, his adventures in other countries, etc.  Bill Murray sounds like he would be a great friend to have – no matter what you or he would come up with – it would be no holds barred, let’s do it.   Fun!    I highly recommend this book to free spirits, fun lovers, fans and anyone looking for an enjoyable read about a guy that goes for the gusto and seems to enjoy every minute of it then like Zorro disappears.   Great book.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Iron Council

Iron Council by China Mieville     576 pages

"Following Perdido Street Station and The Scar, acclaimed author China MiĆ©ville returns with his hugely anticipated Del Rey hardcover debut. With a fresh and fantastical band of characters, he carries us back to the decadent squalor of New Crobuzon—this time, decades later.

It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.
In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.
In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the iron council. . . ."

This is the summary from Goodreads, which I'm using because I have no idea how to summarize the plot of this book in a way that makes any sense at all.

Most people I talk to about China Mieville's books either love his books (like I do) or they don't like them at all. I have never met someone who has read one and said "meh, he's ok." This book is one that makes more sense if you have read the other books mentioned, although they don't give you too much to go on. If I tell someone about Mieville's books, I tend to say, "you just have to lean back and relax into the story. Just go with it because he's never really going to explain anything and your mind will just go with the flow if you let it."

The first time I read this book, I felt it was weaker than Perdido Street Station and The Scar. I hadn't picked it up for a few years, but my re-read this time felt the same way. While I like some of the concepts here, especially the one character who is able to make increasingly complex golems, I found the story just never quite caught me in the same way as some of his other books. I wanted to love it, but just didn't. It has a lot of the politics that you expect if you'd read his book. It has the complex characters and storylines and interesting (and flawed) characters. But . . . there's something about it that just does always come together smoothly. So, worth a re-read, but not my favorite.

The Four Color Comic Book History of Comic Books: Birth of a Medium


Reviewed by Rae C.

This is a great book for anyone that loves comics!  Covers Platinum Age through Silver Age. There is a lot of information and history to cover, but it is deftly handled and presented clearly. (The more you know about comic books, the better, although newbies will benefit as well.) The illustrations are hilarious- often in very subtle or sneaky ways!
In particular I enjoyed the way they condensed the ascent, struggles, feuds, and victories of Stanley Lieberman, aka Stan Lee.  And the book discusses something about Lee that is unique in any of comics: that Lee is a writer, but is often confused for being a creator and/or artist.  The book also defends Lee (somewhat), and points out how this misconception came about.
Another favorite segment was the evolution of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, and The Shadow, and how they directly influenced Superman and other superheroes.  (Not mentioned in the book: V For Vendetta is also a direct descendant.)
One of the best things about it is the History of Women in Comics.  It’s one page per issue that focuses on (mostly unknown) female creators, artists and writers.  Patricia Highsmith, Jackie Ormes, June Mills, and, of course, Trina Robbins!

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW By C.S. Lewis  202 pages 
Reviewed by Rae C.
I’d read several of these when I was kid, but I generally don’t care for stories where a witch is the villain.  I loved Aslan and the childhood magic of Narnia, but I never read passed A Horse And His Boy.  I don’t recall this title being the boxed set I had in the 1970’s.
If you don’t mind the witch being evil (and she’s really more of an otherworldly, magically powered, royal dictator) this is a great book.  In fact, I enjoyed it much more than the other three I'd read.  This is the Narnia creation story, and the origins of the Wardrobe, but it is also a great adventure story in and of itself.  You do not need to have read any of the other books to enjoy it.
Uncle Andrew is the perfect villain- greedy, mediocre, cruel, and selfish, dabbling in powers he couldn’t possible comprehend.  Digory and Polly, both adventurous and fearless, unwittingly become part of his experiment.  And then Digory’s reckless curiosity brings the “witch” out of her world and into ours, and Narnia’s.
The ending is predictable but not unsatisfying.  Lewis is a good writer and there is never a dull moment and all of the characters are well developed. Most of the Christian mythology – or theological symbolism, if you prefer- that would have been well known to children when this was written, is unknown and invisible now.  Anyone who didn’t know this was a Christian themed book- that Aslan is Jesus, and Jadis the Witch is really Lilith- would likely not figure it out.  Especially with all the satyrs and fauns running among gold trees grown from shillings.
I read this because I am a huge fan of Lev Grossman’s Magician’s Trilogy.   Grossman’s Fillory is essentially Narnia, with some modern and pagan changes, and a Hogwarts-style college (Brakebills).  To better understand Fillory, one must revisit Narnia.  And so through the Wardrobe I go….

Krik? Krak!

Krik? Krak!  By Edwidge Danticat  224 p.  
Reviewed by Rae C.

From the epigraph by Sal Scalora:
We tell the stories so that the young ones
will know what came before them.
They say “Krik?” and we say “Krak!”
Our stories are kept in our hearts.

I had read some of Danticat’s work on the Haitian diaspora and also a YA book on based on the Arawak natives of Hispaniola before reading  The Dew Breakers. It is a novel-in-stories.  It embedded itself on me so deeply, was true, so honest, so primal, so affecting, that I had to take a break of several months before diving in to “Le Monde de Danticat” again.  (Or I suppose rather, according to Google’s Haitian Creole translator, “Danticat non mond lan.”)
Krik? Krak! is almost a novel-in-stories.  The family legacy, stories of lives told great-grandmother to grandmother to mother to daughter, and cousins, and godmothers.  You will almost drown in the Massacre river; you will emerge blood red, the ghost of a capsized migrant drowned at sea attempting to escape to the U.S.
The titular story and Caroline’s WeddingA Wall of Fire Rising, and 1937 have the strongest links, and the greatest impact.  1937 in particular will leave you reeling, but have the courage to read it.  Because it will also change your life.  
Between The Pool and the Gardenias is unbelievably shattering. A childless mother and a lifeless child, and a disastrous ending.  Night Women could have easily been titled Night Goddesses.   Danticat gives the men in the story a dignity that they almost do not deserve, that a lesser writer would have withheld.
Beautiful, evocative, heartbreaking, inspiring, sad, happy, aching, and joyful...   The whole of human existence can be found in these pages.  And Haiti itself is there always- the sounds, scents, spices, the ocean and the trees, the breadfruit, the sugarcane.
For any woman who writes- Haitian or otherwise- the last story, Epilogue: Women Like Us, on kitchen poets, is a necessary read. 
You thought that if you didn’t tell the stories, the sky would fall on your head.  You often thought that without the trees, the sky would fall on your head.  You learned in school that you have pencils and paper only because the trees gave themselves in unconditional sacrifice. There have been days when the sky was as close as your hair to falling on your head.
This fragile sky has terrified you your whole life.  Silence terrifies you more than the pounding of a million pieces of steel chopping away at your flesh.  Sometimes, you dream of hearing only the beating of your own heart, but this has never been the case.  You have never been able to escape the pounding of a thousand other hearts that have outlived yours by thousands of years. And over the years when you have needed us, you have always cried “Krik?” and we have answered “Krak!” and it has shown us that you have not forgotten us.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Human Errors

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan H. Lents          Audio Book: 8 hours      Hardback Book: 256 pages        

Such a good book.   You will learn so many things you never knew before about the make-up of the human body.   Fascinating!  And Biology Professor, Nathan Lents tells all these fascinating facts in such a fun down to earth way that will have you pondering everthing about yourself from your skin to your DNA and beyond.  I love learning new things and this book is a cavalcade of new knowledge,  He discusses bones, organs, the nucleus of our cells, he goes into diseases the ones our bodies can fight pretty easily and the ones that wreak havoc on us and why.    Talk about amusing conversation – you will stun your friends and family with the facts you will pick up here.   You will come away knowing the why and the how (you already know the who, what and when) of yourself.    He discusses so many medical and evolutionary, “huhs?”  things you may have thought about but never understood.    You will come away from this read feeling like you ought to be wearing a lab coat and that you have just finished your first year of pre-med.  Man!   This guy is good.    I’m going to search for his other book and keep him on my authors I must read everything they write list.    He has the humor and presentation of Mary Roach but less graphic, although, he does tell you lots of amazing things.  I highly recommend this read!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Vox

Vox by Christina Dalcher     326 pages

In an America where half the population has been silenced, one woman will discover just how far she will go to protect herself and her daughter.

Dr. Jean McClellan had seen the signs that things were changing, that the government was becoming increasingly rigid and restrictions on women were increasing. However, she remained in denial . . . until the day that the government decreed that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily.  Now, women wear bracelets that deliver increasingly painful electrical shocks if they go over 100 words a day. Cameras watch their every move and schools don't teach girls anything beyond basic math skills and, of course, home economics. There is no more reading or writing for women.  When she is given an opportunity to work on a medical research project she had to leave unfinished, Jean is determined to reclaim her voice and go as far as she can to restore the voices of all women.

Think about how many words you say in a day. Did you know that the average person speaks 16,000 words per day? In this version of America, woman are limited to 100. Beyond 100 means electric shocks (and I'm not talking about something mild, either).  And this is just the beginning if the government has its way (or rather, the way of the men running it).  I really enjoyed this book and wound up staying up late last night to finish it because I could not stop turning the pages. The pace starts slowly, but then starts to pick up gradually, increasing the tension in the story at the same time. Jean's husband is involved in the government, so you have that layer adding to her relationship with him and their children. Jean's oldest son also starts to become indoctrinated (especially after the school starts a new religious studies class), which means he is starting to possibly be a danger to Jean.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen at the end --- and won't reveal anything here.

I will say that this book is chilling in the same way that The Handmaid's Tale is; you can't imagine a world like this . . . until you can.  I found parts of the book absolutely infuriating (on Jean's behalf) and wondered if I would be able to limit myself to 100 words per day.  I probably could . . . but knowing that this was just the beginning would probably make me implode. The idea of not being allowed to read is impossible. And if you think about girls being born and never being taught how to speak --- it's a form of torture (especially because it affects brain development as a whole).  Definitely a thought-provoking story.

Frozen Charlotte

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell 297 pages Hardback 
Reviewed by Rae C.
Had I known the “Frozen Charlotte” dolls were central to the story, I might not have read this!  Haunted dolls usually scare me, even though I am in my 50’s.  However, I am glad I read this book!  It was edge of the seat engaging, genuinely suspenseful, frightening, and well written and plotted.
The book begins with a bang.  Sophie’s friend Jay has an Oujia board app on his phone.  Sophie’s dead cousin Rebecca is summoned. Rebecca died in a mysterious accident years ago in Skye. Mayhem and tragedy occur during and after the app’s use.   (I’m leaving out a big spoiler.)
A few weeks later, Sophie goes to the Isle of Skye to visit her other cousins.  Sophie is seeking answers to the death of her cousin, and also the clues that her cousin’s spirit communicated through the app.  Sophie is a very strong willed and determined.  She has a strong sense of self, and facing things squarely.  
But she is also unable to navigate the conflicts in her cousin’s family: her uncle is a basket case; her absent aunt is in an asylum; cute cousin Cameron has a burned hand and strange, sometimes violent, behaviors; Lilias is afraid of her own bones, and believes that the Frozen Charlotte dolls are haunted; and then there is perfect Piper, the only normal member of the family.
From Sophie’s first night there are strange and unexplainable events.  Plot twists, while sometimes predictable, always take unseen turns, but Sophie remains strong.  She is a heroine a girl can feel good about rooting for!
I had a few problems with the story, but they were fairly easy to ignore.  The first was the Skye location.  The Frozen Charlotte dolls were wildly popular in North America, but not so much in Scotland.  And the author did nothing to illustrate the landscape, culture, language or customs of Skye or Scotland.  I’d actually have preferred to have the location be in North America, as all that was needed was the creepy, haunted former school and the gates, beach, etc. 
And at the end there is fire, but the author didn’t demonstrate a thorough understanding of the reality of smoke inhalation. However, it was so well written and suspenseful that it was easy to ignore.
I recommend this book to anyone that likes supernatural thrillers, especially if, like me, you are a fan of Lois Duncan.

Minimalism For Families

Minimalism For Families:  Practical Minimalist Living Strategies to Simplify Your Home and Life by Zoe Kim        Paperback Book:  152 pages           

Excellent book on becoming a minimalist family.   Great tips on basing your needs up against your haves and your wants.    If you are spending way too much time cleaning, stepping over, stressing over and/or being overwhelmed by all the time you have to spend sorting your family stuff, if your rooms are way too full of furniture, sporting equipment, magazines, newspapers, books, toys, etc. it is time to consider minimalism so that you can spend more time enjoying your family, pets, friends and being able to leave the house without freaking out over all the chores that are going to be waiting for you when you re-enter the door.   If you have less stuff, you have less decisions to make.    If you stop saying yes to every invitation you will allow yourself to say yes to a relaxing evening or taking a vacation to treat yourself and anyone you take along.    If you feel like life is not fun and when you leave work at 5:00p.m. you feel as though you are starting your second shift when you get home because there are piles of laundry to do, dishes in the sink that need washing, furniture that needs to be dusted and carpet that needs vacuuming.   Zoe Kim suggests limiting your wardrobe, cull the items in your home, if you haven’t used something in 6 months, decide if you really need it or if it is used so seldom that selling it or donating it would serve your life better by making a space in your home, office, garage, attic, basement you name it.    Zoe has minimalized down to a core wardrobe including only the jewelry she actually wears and only keeping accessories as truly required.     She has taught these principles to her husband and four children as well.    Before going to bed they all as a family do a sweep of the house and their personal space to pick up things that do not belong, return things to where they live – books back to the shelf, paperwork and toys to their designated home, trash and recycling put in their proper recepticles.    She has downsized her dishes and utensils so there isn’t that much to wash anymore, she has used her creativity to think outside the box on repurposing items to find a new life purpose and continue to serve rather than going to a landfill.   She quotes a professional organizer that states most American homes contain 300,000 things from forks to bubble bath to sofa cushions every thing in a home which 80% of is not serving the inhabitants in any useful way.   After learning that statistic she was determined to keep an eye on just how much waste goes on in her own home and is teaching her family to be mindful citizens and try not to add to the waste in the world.    Really good read here.  If you are looking for ways to live better with less, Zoe Kim is your girl.   She also preaches no matter how good the deal or the sale you really don’t need to stock up on 5 years worth of shampoo.  She makes really good points and this book is so inspirational and so full of wisdom don’t be surprised if you find yourself creating your own Zen-like environment within your home and garden that nourishes your soul foregoing the life sapping clutter and overload many are in the throes of as we speak.   YAY Zoe Kim, you rock.