The Fault in Our Stars was a one-sit read for me – I simply could not put it down. I ached to find out how Hazel and Gus’s story played out, even as I...moreThe Fault in Our Stars was a one-sit read for me – I simply could not put it down. I ached to find out how Hazel and Gus’s story played out, even as I dreaded learning. I won’t lie – there were big crocodile tears shed.
But what a beautiful story. What an amazing message for people in any kind of relationship – after all, each day, each of us is closer to death than the last. It feels more intangible for most of us than it does for teens with cancer, but it’s undeniable. Hazel holds everyone at arm’s length in order to prevent being a “bomb” – a force that sends shrapnel into anyone who loves her when they lose her. As she comes to understand that love requires taking the risk that you will be hurt – and sometimes, even harder, the risk that you will hurt someone else – she also comes to understand the value of that trade-off, and by extension, the reader comes to or deepens their own understanding as well.
This was my first exposure to John Green, who, in addition to being an amazing writer, is also an amazing example of the self-promotional author. Check out his video blogs and his Tumblr, and ONLY IF YOU HAVE READ The Fault in Our Stars (SPOILERS! SPOILERS!), the Tumblr for the book (which is called ONLY IF YOU FINISHED THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) where he answers some questions from fans about the characters and ending of the book. (Note: that Tumblr will ruin the ending, and thus the entire reading experience. Seriously, don’t google it unless you’ve read it.)(less)
Whoa. Whoa. WHOA. That’s pretty much my reaction to Ashfall. From page one, I was utterly hooked, which was too bad, because I started reading it righ...moreWhoa. Whoa. WHOA. That’s pretty much my reaction to Ashfall. From page one, I was utterly hooked, which was too bad, because I started reading it right before bed. An apocalyptic story that starts out with a bang (literally) that could actually happen? Um, yikes!
I’ve categorized this as science fiction/fantasy, even though it’s not really – but it fits right in with those great post-apocalyptic YA reads like Cinder, Wither, and When She Woke. This one has a male protagonist, and a realistic one, too – which might get some teen boys to read. (Perhaps a few years after they finish the Percy Jackson books?)
Alex and the girl he meets on his trek, Darla, face danger, death, starvation, and government bureaucracy as they try to travel a three-hour drive on foot to reunite with Alex’s family after a freak supervolcano changes the world as we know it. The choices they have to make are not easy ones, especially for teenagers. I found myself wondering what *I* would do if such chaos descended upon my life, and I only hope I have half the smarts that they did in the book.
Ashfall was a great read, and I’m very impressed that it’s a debut novel. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, and I’m glad I procrastinated a little while to read it – that means I’m that much closer to the sequel’s publication (Ashen Winter, October)!(less)
True Believers thoroughly captured my imagination and transported me back into the 60s, to a time when the political activism meant much more than wea...moreTrue Believers thoroughly captured my imagination and transported me back into the 60s, to a time when the political activism meant much more than wearing buttons and running voter registration drives.
Between the intriguing story of Karen’s coming-of-age years and her kick-ass modern life as an almost shoe-in for the Supreme Court nomination, True Believers showcases a complex portrait of a woman with thrills and regrets and a firm determination to reckon with her past on her own terms.
There’s an incredible amount here to discuss, and this would be a fantastic book for book clubs. In fact, I’ve been nagging other people to read it quickly so we can talk about it – it’s the kind of book that begs discussion and probing. Highly recommended.(less)
I had been looking forward to reading this book for a long time, and I finally got to sit down with it while traveling for work - between meetings and...moreI had been looking forward to reading this book for a long time, and I finally got to sit down with it while traveling for work - between meetings and in the early morning hours (thanks, jet lag!) by the hotel pool. It's a great book for reading that way - while traveling or on vacation.
I was at first disappointed by the rather flat, stock-character aspect of most of "Lydia's" friends - like the yoga friend who *always* sits in full lotus, every time she sits down. (Seriously. Who does that?). But in the end, while their characters didn't develop at all, some of the others developed enough to make up for it.
Monica Ali uses a few different voices to tell the story - a third party narration of both Lydia and the paparazzi who is unwittingly about to stumble upon her story, and a first person diary-style narration by Lydia's trusted assistant, the person who helped her escape from her claustrophobic life. The pieces come together in a surprising climax, which ended with enough tidiness to keep me happy and enough left to the imagination to keep me from rolling my eyes.
This would be a lovely book club discussion, not just for the story but for what it says about how we view celebrity, what it would take to abandon one's life, and the importance of trust, friendship, and self-reliance.(less)
The Coincidence Engine is an utterly charming, quirky book. It’s not exactly light-hearted, although elements of it certainly are, but the story it te...moreThe Coincidence Engine is an utterly charming, quirky book. It’s not exactly light-hearted, although elements of it certainly are, but the story it tells is ultimately uplifting and hopeful. At the same time, it is surprisingly deep.
Following the intertwined stories of Alex, Bree, Jones, Davidoff, Sherman, and Carey, whose paths are circling closer and closer to each other thanks to a machine that may or may not exist, author Sam Leith expounds on mathematical philosophy, family relationships, responsibility, and the hazy feeling of being the only person in a chain restaurant between lunch and dinnertime. It sounds goofy – and it is – but it all works to tell a fantastical tale in a novel and entertaining way.(less)
I’m finding that it’s harder and harder to review later books in a series without giving away major plot points of the earlier books! Of course, this...moreI’m finding that it’s harder and harder to review later books in a series without giving away major plot points of the earlier books! Of course, this now seems obvious, but it didn’t occur to me when I set out on this adventure.
Book three in the shadow series finds our heroes and anti-heroes vying for world domination through a mixture of betrayals, deceit, and luck. While still young, they are no longer exactly children, which gains them both advantages and disadvantages. In a way, this book is the most coming-of-age of them all so far, as they struggle with decidedly adult personal issues for the first time.
One thing that I’ve found fascinating about all of these books is the way in which the internet is used to further their goals. It’s used in a way that seems both totally possible in the real world, as well as totally improbable. But if our society is heading towards a future based on information, doesn’t it make sense that those with the most contacts and the best skills at evaluating information would use publicly available resources to get data?
I’m getting close to the end of the series now, and although I’m still very much enjoying the reads, I’m looking forward to getting to review other fiction!(less)
Main Street Vegan is a thoroughly accessible guide to becoming a vegan – or a vegetarian, or even just cutting more meat out of your life. With a non-...moreMain Street Vegan is a thoroughly accessible guide to becoming a vegan – or a vegetarian, or even just cutting more meat out of your life. With a non-preachy tone and a realistic perspective on modern life with a left-of-norm diet, Victoria Moran educates, inspires, and provides a supportive starting point for all readers.
Full disclosure: I was a vegetarian from birth until age 28. For a time in college, I lived with a vegan who I found insufferable because of her dietary choices. Despite being a very strict lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I never, EVER considered going vegan. Then, when I was 28, I decided to try eating meat to see what I was missing – I had no particular religious, moral, or ethical reasons for being vegetarian, and “habit” didn’t seem like a good enough reason. I found a few meat dishes I liked okay, but mainly I appreciated the utter convenience of being able to order anything off of any given menu.
But it didn’t stick. Within two years of becoming omnivorous, I was back to being mainly vegetarian because, I don’t know, it just seems right to me. And now, thanks to Main Street Vegan, I’m considering going all the way – all the way to egg-free, diary-free, leather-free naturalness.
We’ll see. The lure of eating meat for me was the convenience – turkey sandwiches were a revelation to me in terms of the ease of packing a lunch for work. Making my own “cheese” from cashew nuts is pretty much the opposite direction of that. Still, I find that many vegan meals work themselves into my meal preparation, and I generally like all of them. Why not experiment with that a little bit? The recipes in Main Street Vegan sound delicious and are an easy place to start.
Moran covers a lot more ground than just diet – she thoughtfully covers ethical situations ranging from honey to zoos to cleaning products to cosmetics to pest control within the home. Her sections on travel and dining out are considerate and well-reasoned. In general, the entire book is an exceedingly well-thought-out series of essays on one person’s life choices – laid out in such a reasonable way that it’s hard not to be convinced after just a few pages.
While this isn’t a decision I’m making lightly, I’m definitely mulling it over – and I’ll be turning back to Main Street Vegan frequently as I consider my choices.(less)
I know, I know – all I’m talking about lately are Orson Scott Card’sShadow series books. But, really, what better recommendation can a series have tha...moreI know, I know – all I’m talking about lately are Orson Scott Card’sShadow series books. But, really, what better recommendation can a series have than someone compulsively reading through the books one after another?
Shadow of the Hegemon moves away from the science fiction elements that Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow had, to in fact be a book mainly about military strategy and politics. Far from being boring, however, it’s fascinating, because this time it’s the stage of world politics where the major players are all children. Because we know the characters so intimately by this point, their situations do not seem unbelievable or far-fetched, but rather almost inevitable. This is another fantastic edition to the series, and I immediately lined up the fourth book in the series to start next. I’m committed!(less)
The Age of Miracles is a spellbinding, postapocalyptic coming of age. The story of the earth's slowing is arresting, giving the reader ample opportuni...moreThe Age of Miracles is a spellbinding, postapocalyptic coming of age. The story of the earth's slowing is arresting, giving the reader ample opportunities for "what ifs" and "how would I's" - a cataclysmic event that, however unlikely, seems more than possible after the impossibilities we've already experienced.
Also absorbing is the story of Julia's life as everything around her begins to change. She's at that age where everything would be changing anyway, and throughout the book it is sometimes - often - those changes in nuance, relationship, and understanding that shake Julia's place in the world more than the shifting of gravity or the lengthening of days. (If I had to name one complaint, I'd have Julia be a year or two older than she is portrayed, just to keep the emotions and experiences closer to my own.) A young girl on the cusp of growing up is so often an important lens for seeing the world (think of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!) and Karen Thompson Walker uses the narrator here to devastatingly beautiful effect.
While not strictly science fiction, there's a lot here for lovers of postapocalyptic fiction of all kinds, with evocative language and excellent characters as well. A great read for book clubs, or for anyone who loves a thoughtful exploration of the question "What would happen if...?".
(Also excellent: the backstory of how this book came into being. The author was an editor at a big publishing house and wrote the book over four years in the mornings before work and on her subway commute. Her modest expectations for its sale were blown out of the water, and she's been (fairly!) given amazing blurbs by huge name authors like Justin Cronin, Karen Russell, Amy Bloom, and Dani Shapiro. It's a rag-to-riches publishing story, one that's fairly rare and is super heartening in this time of self published e-book fan fiction.)(less)
One thing that the flap copy does not tell you about this book: it’s SCARY. I started reading it shortly before bed one night, and read 78 pages befor...moreOne thing that the flap copy does not tell you about this book: it’s SCARY. I started reading it shortly before bed one night, and read 78 pages before I felt like I hit a passage where I could stop without having nightmares. And truthfully, I might have gotten more rest if I just stayed up all night to finish it! The psychological stress of Zoe’s world put me in mind of the traveling sections of The Passage – that sense of knowing the evil behind you, not knowing the evil in front of you, and pushing on towards it anyway.
Zoe is a sympathetic heroine, and the reader trusts her implicitly. What’s happening to and around her is atrocious and horrifying, but Zoe makes a point to retain her humanity even in the worst possible situations. That she does so betrays he once or twice, but at least she can live with herself – a message that’s rare to find in apocalyptic literature.
At one point, I thought I had the book wrapped up and figured out, but to any other reader who thinks the same – read the last line very carefully, and see if you don’t get goosebumps! An absorbing debut from an author I’ll be watching.(less)
The flap copy for The Sandcastle Girls correctly sums up the book as being “a very different kind of journey”. I was absolutely spellbound by Midwives...moreThe flap copy for The Sandcastle Girls correctly sums up the book as being “a very different kind of journey”. I was absolutely spellbound by Midwives, unable to stop reading it, but I couldn’t read Sandcastle Girls for very long at one time before being overwhelmed by the story. The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About was indeed news to me, and news that was very hard to stomach. Bohjalian’s descriptions of the women and children who managed to escape death are grim and shocking, all the more so because of his impeccable research. The characters are fully fleshed and complex, and the description of Aleppo in 1915 comes alive with shimmering heat.
This is a difficult book. It’s worth it, but it’s difficult in a very different way than Bohjalian’s other work, and I was not totally prepared for that. I think it’s an extremely important read, however, to shed awareness on a time and place that we have mostly forgotten (if we ever were aware of it), much to our shame. If you can stick with it, I think you’ll be rewarded.(less)
Charles Duhigg has written what might be the perfect book for readers of narrative investigative nonfiction. Filled with anecdotes ranging from person...moreCharles Duhigg has written what might be the perfect book for readers of narrative investigative nonfiction. Filled with anecdotes ranging from personal to societal to institutional habits, The Power of Habit is a broad and deep examination of how habits can rule our lives - for good or ill.
The majority of the book focuses on the history of this developing science - this is not a prescriptive book because as the author points out, each habit is different and there is no one-size-fits-all fix for the ones we'd like to change. Instead, learning how habits work can give us the knowledge and power to conquer our mindless behaviors. An appendix offers specific reader's guide to changing habits (it's available on Scribd) and helps the reader put into practice everything that Duhigg has explored in the previous pages.
I enjoyed this book every bit as much as I'd hoped I would - it's a wonderful, modern look at the topics covered in books like Blink, The Paradox of Choice and Emotional Intelligence. Highly recommended.(less)