Approachable non-fiction is the unicorn of the book world. Most non-fiction I've come across is dry at best, and completely unintelligible at worst. NApproachable non-fiction is the unicorn of the book world. Most non-fiction I've come across is dry at best, and completely unintelligible at worst. Not so with Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari's book on dating and relationships in the modern world. It helps that he's hilarious (if you haven't seen "Master of None" on Netflix, I beseech you to do so), so he presents a lot of research in a way that is both understandable and interesting. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect with this book. I worked in a bookstore for over a year, during which this book was released, and when it was shelved in the "Community & Culture" section of the store, I was confused, knowing Ansari solely for his comedy. But the research itself is solid and fascinating. Ansari's take on it is just the icing on a very enjoyable piece of cake....more
I keep trying to come up with adequate words to describe Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. “Haunting” seems to come to closest to what he achieves so quietlyI keep trying to come up with adequate words to describe Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. “Haunting” seems to come to closest to what he achieves so quietly and elegantly in his prose. I first read Ishiguro when I picked up Never Let Me Go, which suggests a dystopian future in England. The Remains of the Day, an older work, is set in the past, in the post-WWII era. While it isn’t as obviously tragic as Never Let Me Go, it is in some ways perhaps more heartbreaking.
The Remains of the Day follows Mr. Stevens into the twilight of his life, as he reflects on his years in the service of Lord Darlington as butler of the latter’s majestic English estate. Now under the employ of Mr. Farraday, an American, Stevens leaves the estate to embark on a journey through the English countryside with the hopes of convincing former housekeeper Miss Kenton to return to the household.
That, in a nutshell, is the “plot” of The Remains of the Day. It’s certainly not a plot-driven story, instead focusing on what is below the surface, in the private joys and challenges of the characters, particularly Stevens. Ishiguro is masterful at exploring the nuance in his characters, and because of this, we come to learn that although appearances are paramount in Mr. Stevens’ world, what is going on in the private reserves of his mind are far more complex and fascinating. Stevens’ worldview is challenged repeatedly, both by the demands of his new employer (Stevens struggles with the concept of bantering, which seems to be more important to his American employer than his former British one), as well as with the acceptance of who Lord Darlington really was. Stevens is reserved to the point of repression and although this is abundantly clear to the reader, it is less than self-evident to the butler. Through a series of vignettes that he recalls, it is undisputed that Mr. Stevens has given more to his employer than even he realizes. His sacrifice may be in service of what is noble and proper, but he has little to show for his efforts.
Like Never Let Me Go, The Remains of the Day leaves the reader feeling melancholy, heartbroken by the sense that although Ishiguro’s characters can’t miss something they never had they are missing it anyway....more
These days, when people hear the word "Scientology", this is probably what first comes to mind:
As ebullient as Tom Cruise was when he jumped on Oprah'These days, when people hear the word "Scientology", this is probably what first comes to mind:
As ebullient as Tom Cruise was when he jumped on Oprah's couch to proclaim his love for then-girlfriend Katie Holmes, he is, for better or worse, the face of Scientology, and as Leah Remini claims in her book Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, Cruise is also one of the de facto leaders of the controversial "religion."
That Remini is so openly critical of Cruise and of other church officials comes as something of a surprise, given the reputation of the CoS as being a group that deals with dissenters in no uncertain terms. However, as Leah Remini notes, Scientology holds far less sway over Hollywood as a whole than they'd lead non-members to believe. Inside the church, however, it's a different story. Celebrity congregants are required to pay exorbitant tithes, for lack of a better word. They are also expected to recruit other celebrities to the religion, as Remini points out when recounting the story of being asked by church leadership to invite friend Jennifer Lopez and Lopez's then-husband Marc Anthony to Tom Cruise's wedding to Katie Holmes in 2006.
There is certainly some dishing in this book about the church hierarchy and an interesting behind-the-scenes look at "Mr. Cruise" which paints him as an infantile, spoiled, protected and coddled jerk. But the heart of this book lies in Remini's humour which is probably what kept her sane through 30+ years in this cult-by-any-other-name (she was brought into the fold as a child by her mother).
I remember Leah Remini from her first appearance on Who's The Boss back in the mid-80s, which was one of her first roles. I've always liked her, and I can still say that after reading this book. She is self-aware enough to admit that she is far, far from perfect, but she remains charming, stubborn, humorous and likeable, which makes her easy to root for as she takes on life outside of Scientology....more
The only thing that really entertained me about this book was the reveal of the "guardian angel" Gabriel's real name. If it doesn't ring any bells forThe only thing that really entertained me about this book was the reveal of the "guardian angel" Gabriel's real name. If it doesn't ring any bells for you, Google it, along with the phrase "sloppy seconds."...more
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction that's not set too far back in the past. The early 20th century is hugely fascinating to me because it was such aI'm a huge fan of historical fiction that's not set too far back in the past. The early 20th century is hugely fascinating to me because it was such a turbulent time, caught between the two World Wars, with huge sociopolitical upheavals and the effects of first wave feminism. Add to that the jazz age and flappers, and the setting of Libba Bray's Diviner's series is catnip to me.
The second book, Lair of Dreams, returns to New York City in the early 1920s, bringing the reader back into the world of Evie O'Neill, the "Sweetheart Seer" and her motley assortment of friends. Evie takes something of a backseat in this book, although she's still crucial to the plot. Meanwhile, friend Henry Dubois and a new character named Ling Chan take center stage as the Diviners try to solve the mystery of what's behind a terrifying new "sleeping sickness" affecting New Yorkers. Hot on the heels of 1918's Spanish Flu, another epidemic shatters the fragile facade of inclusiveness in the city, leading to calls for Chinatown's population to be segregated and deported.
As Henry and Ling descend into their dreams first for their own reasons, and then to solve the mystery of the illness, Evie has her hands full with Sam Lloyd as they try to discover the truth behind the mysterious Buffalo Project, a thread that runs through both novels in the series to date and ties them together. At the same time, Jericho, Theta and Memphis are fighting their own battles as they come to terms with who they are.
Lair of Dreams is a story that in a way feels very self-contained, and could probably be read mostly independently of The Diviners, although it helps to have some background knowledge of each character's history. There are also threads that are left untied, with the expectation that there will be a third book (or possibly more) in the series to tie up loose ends and solve the mysteries that remain.
One of the great strengths of both books is the language that Bray uses. The challenge of writing a book set in the past is getting the "voice" of the period correct; many writers fail to tend to this detail, but when it's done well, it greatly enhances the reader's ability to get immersed in the story. Bray's facility with the slang of the period is a testament to not only her writing skill, but her ability to get inside her character's stories. She should also be recognized for the richness of her characters; the Diviners come from a variety of sociopolitical backgrounds, cultures, and orientations, and these books are all the more interesting and engaging for it.
While I felt that the first book was a little stronger in terms of plot, Lair of Dreams certainly entertains. I look forward to the next book in the series, and hope that it comes along in a shorter period of time than elapsed between the first two.
Digital ARC graciously provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Netgalley....more
Unlike a lot of people, my issue with this book was not its reliance on an unreliable narrator; I can appreciate and even enjoy a character that doesnUnlike a lot of people, my issue with this book was not its reliance on an unreliable narrator; I can appreciate and even enjoy a character that doesn't have it together, and Rachel, the narrator and the eponymous girl on the train, is nothing if not a mess. Sometimes the messier a character is, the more interesting their story. I have a love/hate relationship with villains and I often find them the most interesting characters. Rachel isn't a villain, nor is she particularly interesting. Hawkins establishes early on that Rachel is on a downward spiral: divorced, unemployed, and a floundering alcoholic, she wants nothing more than to be a part of life, even if that life has nothing to do with her. So when she sees something suspicious and then learns of a connected disappearance, it's not a surprise that she gets involved in the investigation. The victim, a woman named Megan, lives on her old street, a few doors down from her ex-husband and his new wife. This, of course, lends itself to several levels of complication in the story... but none of them are particularly compelling. This was a fast read, but that doesn't mean that it was an absorbing one. Instead, it was glossy and easy to skim over. When the reveal came, it felt as if I was sitting at the finishing line, waiting for the characters to catch up.
A number of reviews have compared The Girl on the Train to Gone Girl, but I think this is a mistake, a simplistic sorting of the two into a sort of "female thriller" subgenre. None of the characters in this book, and certainly none of the "twists" are as clever as what Gillian Flynn achieves. ...more
**spoiler alert** A boy tries hard to be a man His mother takes him by the hand If he stops to think, he starts to cry Oh why?
Bono wrote those lyrics in**spoiler alert** A boy tries hard to be a man His mother takes him by the hand If he stops to think, he starts to cry Oh why?
Bono wrote those lyrics in 1981 but they're the words that I thought of when I finished J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar -- part memoir, part tribute to the bar that had helped raise him -- but I wondered as the book drew to a close, would he recognize the sacrifices that his mother had made to make him a man? (Spoiler: yes. At one point, he writes: "All this searching and longing for the secret of being a good man, and all I needed to do was follow the example of one very good woman.") Throughout and even after, however, he was full of praise and adoration towards the men who were surrogate fathers to him, from his Uncle Charlie to Bob the Cop to Bobo and Cager and most especially to Steve, the owner of Publicans, the bar he romanticized throughout much of his life.
And yet, the person he turned to in his hour of need was often his selfless, long-suffering mother. He turned away from her as well, in shame, self-loathing, embarrassment, and in the need to become independent (even though it seemed doubtful he would accomplish this). Perhaps this is what keeps me from rating this memoir, which is undoubtedly well-written -- even poetic at times -- and full of heartache and joy and grief and love, with five stars. Moehringer is a talented writer, but is sometimes myopic in the treatment he gives his childhood and young adulthood. It is clear to the reader that he doesn't always give credit where credit is due, nor is he able to view the men and the bar at all objectively. Given that this is his memoir, that's fine. It's even to be expected. But it's disappointing because the reader never really feels that young J.R. has grown....more
Full disclosure: I am firmly in the pro-vaccination camp; I think it is incredibly selfish and shortsighted, as well as dangerous, to refuse to vaccinFull disclosure: I am firmly in the pro-vaccination camp; I think it is incredibly selfish and shortsighted, as well as dangerous, to refuse to vaccinate against illnesses that have known (i.e., documented and proven) effects ranging from disablement to death. The argument that certain diseases no longer exist therefore we do not need to vaccinate confounds me. How do people think diseases become extinct in the first place?
On to the book: I found this an interesting and well-researched overview of the history of, and philosophical arguments behind vaccination. To my mind, it was not critical enough of the anti-vaccination movement; Biss takes great pains to avoid criticizing the anti-vaxxers, instead couching much of her discourse in neutral language. I found this disappointing when the evidence against altered vaccination schedules or, at an extreme, a refusal to vaccinate has been so clear about the risks both individuals and the larger community face when vaccination numbers decline.
Still, this was a good starting point to learn about some of the issues surrounding the vaccination debate. Aside from my disappointment with Biss' reluctance to be confrontational, my only real issue with this book was in the editing. First, that whomever was responsible for taking a fine-toothed comb to it didn't reorganize some of the arguments. The book jumps from topic to topic and back again and could have used some more structure. Finally, I am not a huge fan of endnotes (as opposed to footnotes) in the first place, but when they are used without notations in the main text, they become doubly as frustrating (particularly when reading on an e-reader, which thankfully was not the case here).
All in all, On Immunity: An Inoculation was thought-provoking and interesting, but not quite what I expected....more
Cute but predictable. The travel was mostly well-researched but the part about "all the little towns" in Jasper National Park as well as the descriptiCute but predictable. The travel was mostly well-researched but the part about "all the little towns" in Jasper National Park as well as the description of all the mountains on the train trip out west from Toronto made me laugh. Not quite. ...more
So much has been written about the European theatre in WWII that it occurred to me while reading this book that I knew very little about the other "haSo much has been written about the European theatre in WWII that it occurred to me while reading this book that I knew very little about the other "half" of the war, with Japan. Unbroken tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and POW imprisoned by the Japanese after his capture off the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.
This is a remarkable story about endurance against immeasurable odds, and a testament to the human spirit. ...more