Friday, August 2, 2013

Best Read of the Summer

The Curiosity spins a fantastical tale of the reanimation of a man, Jeremiah Rice, frozen in a glacier at the turn of the century, and the deep relationship he develops with a brilliant scientist involved in his discovery, Kate Philo. I was able to suspend my disbelief and ignore the scientific implausibilities of the plot and enjoy this novel for the wonderful page-turning fiction that it is.

The story unfolds in narration alternating between the four main characters, and is reminiscent of the pacing and science bending skill of a Michael Crighton novel; the tender relationships in the Time Traveler's Wife; and the wonder of seeing the world through new eyes in Flowers for Algernon. The Curiosity held me spellbound for two days, left me deeply moved in several places, and I was sad to see this story end.

This book is very well written, the story sweeps along at a rapid pace, the characters are interesting, complex, and endearing. What more could I ask from a summer read?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

After the Ending Left me Wanting

Post-Apocalyptic lit is my favorite genre, and I was very grateful to receive this ARC from NetGalley. The story began with promise, but the plausibility of the plot and the immaturity of the characters caused me to lose interest by the first third of the book. I prefer my female protagonists to be more independent, fierce and complex than Zoe and Dani, and I was distracted by both the romantic overtones of the plot and the back and forth narration of the main characters, using email to communicate. Widely available internet in the collapse of civilization made no sense at all.  

I finished reading the entire book, because I was curious where the story was heading, but the startling cliffhanger left me very unsatisfied.

I imagine that readers of romance novels and young adult literature may find this an enjoyable read, but hard-core post-apocalyptic enthusiasts will find this story lacking.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Adventurer's Guide to Living a Happy Life

The Adventurer's Guide to Living a…

At first glance, this book seems too slight or superficial to be of much benefit, but the simple advice in these pages contains wisdom that can be useful for anyone, adventurer or otherwise.

The advice comes in many forms, including positive mental attitude and fitness, and ranges from the simple (nap when you are tired) to the profound (make yourself your passion; uncover what you love and do it) to the humorous ( go the distance, even when you are cold and tired and reach your destination safely, but don't stay in a cabin ransacked by a bear!) and is filled with common sense that can be helpful in all stages of life.

I began reading this little book skeptically, but by the end was won over by the author's honesty and life advice distilled through many hours of contemplation and life experience. I took notes that I periodically revisit, just to check in and make sure my adventure stays a happy one. I recommend this book to all ages, and will be encouraging my teenagers to read it as well.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Attempting Normal

If you told me I would connect on a deep emotional level with a self absorbed cynical emotionally crippled neurotic Jewish comedian's memoirs, I would be sure you had me confused with someone else. But who knew? I really related to Marc Maron's world view and critical self analysis. Even if I didn't, I still think I would have laughed hard and long at his book, Attempting Normal. It is a scathing self analysis mixed with stand up routine, confessional and too much information, but for me it worked. As comedy, and as literature. I loved it and consider it among my favorite in the memoir genre.

This is the spur of the moment review I wrote to satisfy the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Algorithm which has gifted me with so many wonderful free reads in exchange for my grateful and humble opinion.  I posted it to Amazon too. And tweeted about it too. That's how much I want this book to find an audience. I hope good things for this book, because besides being funny, it was cathartic for me too.

Attempting Normal by Marc Maron

Abnormally Funny by Marc Maron

With no frame of reference or previous exposure to Marc Maron, I read an advanced copy of his book and laughed myself silly. I want everyone I know to read this book because it is the funniest laugh out loud memoir I've read in years and I want to spread the endorphins around. Marc Maron is brutally and neurotically honest in examining his life and he has a gift for turning sad and sordid events into funny ones. I bookmarked over a dozen passages to reread because they made me laugh so hard.

For the record, I'm female, so parts of the book made me cringe, deeply, but the author gets my respect for having no shame in exposing his most embarrassing moments, which are among some of the funniest in the book. In addition to the laughter, the book is a good read as a memoir, an attempt to understand a crazy life, a cautionary tale of substance abuse, an inspiration for recovery and as encouragement for aspiring artists. I could relate to many chapters in the book, which cover a crazy wide range of topics in a stream of consciousness vein, and marveled that someone finally calls out adorable hummingbirds for the vicious territorial murderers they truly are. Relationships, parents, sex, feral cats, air travel, shrink to fit jeans, clown dunking and near death experiences are just a few of the topics explored, and it would be hard to choose a favorite chapter.

 Marc Maron is everywhere right now, on the internet, cable and network tv and I wish him well. He has paid his dues and he has a comedic gift. I'll be checking out his podcasts and tv show to offset the endorphin withdrawal, because laughter is the best drug of them all. Thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program for the book and Mr. Maron for the laughs. I tried really hard to think of a funnier book I've read, and would rate the laughs per page of Attempting Normal alongside Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and J. Maarten Troost's Getting Stoned with the Savages and The Sex Lives of Cannibals.

Either that means I have really good taste in humor books or I am as warped as the author, but I don't plan on overthinking it right now.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Prodigal Summer

Barbara Kingsolver has moved to my list of favorite authors. After reading The Poisonwood Bible, which was a revelation, I acquired several more of her books and was told by friends that I needed to read this one next. I'm so glad I did, because I loved almost everything about this novel, which is so entertaining and educational and thought provoking. As a lifelong bug nut with a fixation on Luna Moths and the ecological web, as well as an obsession with the mountains where the book is set, this would be a great read for me regardless of the strength of the story or skill of the author. Given that it is elegantly and passionately written, skillfully paced and gravid with unforgettable characters, scenes and moments, I am sure to reread this one again, and recommend it to my friends and especially my nature and farming bedeviled family. There is more personal and scientific truth in Prodigal Summer than any book I've read in ages.

I'm holding back on that last half star because I wanted more completion in the story lines, I needed to know what happened to everyone, wanted at least for the book to take me into the first frost, not end so suddenly; and because I saw every twist of the plot coming for the last half of the book. Not that I'm complaining. It was a wonderful diversion, and will stay with me for a very long time.

Friday, May 3, 2013

You Were Never In Chicago

Halfway through reading the free e-book from the Chicago University Press, I bought the hard cover version so I could hold it in my hand, enjoy the cover, gaze at it on my coffee table, and hand it to family and friends to read, so I could have someone to talk to about this book and this city. I found the historical portrait of Chicago to be very well written and informative, and a great complement to my previous reads, Devil in the White City, Loving Frank, Lost Chicago and Sin in the Second City.

Neil Steinberg's book is a revelation, filled with bittersweet memoir of a city that never stops changing and growing, and is in a sense, unknowable, even to those who have lived here all their lives. As an east-coast transplant to the Chicago suburbs, the city has always fascinated me, from the visually stunning architecture and museums, to the public spaces and art, the lakefront, the people, the politics, the weather - and after decades of exploring I feel I will never know more that a hint of Chicago, a city in constant flux. Thankfully, this book captures a glimpse of what was, and what lies ahead.

Shifting seamlessly from personal memoir to historical and political context to homage to long gone businesses and institutions, You Were Never In Chicago captivated me as I rushed through my first reading, but I plan to revisit many chapters when my hard copy arrives. I have added many destinations to my must-see in the city list, and can't wait to find the next fascinating destination, person or experience in Chicago. This book gets my highest recommendation.  )

Monday, April 1, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian

The World's Strongest Librarian: A…

I could not have guessed that my favorite read this year would be about a Mormon Librarian Strongman with severe Tourette Syndrome. I was trying to describe the author and my love for his book to my family at dinner, and they said Wait. What?  It's that kind of book, full of unlikely and fascinating juxtapositions,  and among my very favorite memoirs. It's hard for me to separate out how much of my praise for this book is based on how much I like the author and his voice, or how much his story and world view resonated with me.

Josh writes in a forthright, honest, sparse manner, describing his childhood, his work and the characters he meets in the public library, his love of books and stories, his supportive family and his struggle to gain some control over his body, which rarely obeys his wishes. Finding strength training gives him moments of calm and a needed distraction from his daily struggles for normalcy.

I found Josh's story to be at times funny, thought provoking, shocking and heart warming, and was moved to tears several times, but in a good way. I highly recommend this memoir and hope it finds an eager audience.

I enjoyed discovering Josh's blog and facebook pages as well, and will enjoy watching his transition from librarian to successful author. He is a gracious in responding to comments.

You can read a Library Journal interview with him  here, or check out his blog here. You will be glad you did.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius is a great read that tells the astonishing story of Jacob Barnett, measured as perhaps the smartest person on the planet by the age of thirteen. Dismissed as an autistic who would never read before the age of three, Jake’s mother and father indulge and engage his curiosity as he silently pursues his passions and obsessions. Rather than focusing on his shortcomings, Jake’s mother pays attention to what interests and engages her son, and opens the doors that lead him to college physics classes by the age of eight, and graduate level mathematics research by the age of twelve.

I watched the 60 minutes piece about Jacob in January 2012 and was thrilled to read more about his fascinating development and his parents' journey to ensure their son had a normal childhood, friends and the unwavering love of his family. Jacob’s family is as amazing as their child, giving so freely of their time and money to help not just their son, but other autistic kids have fun.  They have more heart and hardship  than any family I’ve encountered, and I learned that Jake’s mother’s greatest gift is her ability to notice her child, to see what he’s doing and what he needs to keep growing and learning, and to notice it in all the kids she’s worked with.  Her discovery of their son’s limitless curiosity and photographic memory for among other things, mathematic equations, is as compelling a narrative as their son’s journey from a toddler trapped inside his mind to a brilliant, fine young man who wants to share his love of math with others. 

Memoir and biography of extraordinary genius are among my favorite reads,  particularly Paul Erdos, the Man who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman,  Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet, Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures,  and now, The Spark will rank among my favorites.

I highly recommend reading this book to learn about the minds of extraordinary people, to rethink education and parenting of special needs and typical children, to discuss in book groups or parenting groups, and I encourage you to learn more about Jacob and his parents’ continuing passion to make a difference in the lives of so many children.

Jacob just gave a lecture at TedXTeen, and you can watch video of him speaking here,
as well as read these startling facts:

Jacob Barnett is an American mathematician and child prodigy. At 8 years old, Jacob began sneaking into the back of college lectures at IUPUI. After being diagnosed with autism since the age of two and placed in his school’s special ed. program, Jacob’s teachers and doctors were astonished to learn he was able to teach calculus to college students.At age nine, while playing with shapes, Jacob built a series of mathematical models that expanded Einstein’s field of relativity. A professor at Princeton reviewed his work and confirmed that it was groundbreaking and could someday result in a Nobel Prize. At age 10, Jacob was formally accepted to the University as a full-time college student and went straight into a paid research position in the field of condensed matter physics. For his original work in this field, Jacob set a record, becoming the world’s youngest astrophysics researcher. His paper was subsequently accepted for publication by Physical Review A, a scientific journal shared on sites such as NASA, the Smithsonian, and Harvard’s webpage. Jacob’s work aims to help improve the way light travels in technology.

Jacob is also CEO and founder of Wheel LLC, a business he started in his mom’s garage, and is in the process of writing a book to help end “math phobia” in his generation.

Jacob’s favorite pastime is playing basketball with the kids at his charity, Jacob’s Place. It is a place where kids with autism are inspired every day to be their true authentic selves…just like Jacob.   Featured image, video and caption: Credit: TEDx (

Related reads:

An amazing genius! I'm not a math person (at all!), but I love smart, fascinating people - Erdos lived out of a suitcase, interested only in solving math problems with the brightest minds. He was socially clueless, bizarre and brilliant. One of my favorite biographies. 

Fascinating view into the Aspergian mind; amazing journey of self discovery, and an interesting supplement to Augusten Burrough's work as well. A very quick read.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Catching up with recent reads

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Drinking with Men was an interesting memoir of a woman's journey through the neighborhood bar culture with a stronger beginning than ending. The first third of the novel is unique and fascinating look at the regulars who inhabit these local haunts, but I started to lose interest two-thirds through the book and found myself ultimately disappointed by the turn of events in the author's life. The best parts of the book are those spent describing the makeshift communities that develop in the local bars frequented by the author, and the characters that inhabit them. I wanted a different ending, perhaps, than the one the author lived, and didn't manage to understand the unraveling of her marriage or her religious conversion, as they seemed to happen so quickly in the back half of the book. That said, I admire the author's honesty and originality in living her life authentically, and enjoyed reading many of the chapters immensely.

Another beautifully written, lyrical novel from Jeffrey Lent. I fell in love with his characters and despite the ending which broke my heart, I highly recommend this book, as I do all the works by this unique and literate author.  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A Look Inside Alzheimer's is a slight book, more memoir or introduction than resource, that details the personal experiences of a caregiver and two patients dealing with their diagnosis, as well as insight from a wide range of family members affected by this disease.

The book includes some references for further reading, a brief glossary and list of resources in the Appendix, but at approximately 100 pages it was a very short read that left me wishing for more insight. Maybe my family familiarity with Alzheimer's left me wanting answers that don't exist, but I was hoping for more from this read.  )

This was a spooky read for the Halloween season, a well written and frightful account of one family's experience in a haunted house. Frustrating because of the denial, the marital stress, the conflicted emotions of the family and the incredible amount of time it took them to seek help. It's often amazing what people can convince themselves to live with. Scariest of all for me personally, was the incredible, uncanny similarity to experiences of my family members who shared their home with a presence that disrupted their lives, in two separate homes. As in the book, it took the intervention of a medium/exorcist to stop the activity. This is the first account I have read that so closely mirrored those scary family stories, and gives the reader a lot of mysteries to ponder and a lot of creepy feelings on the back of the neck.  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I enjoyed reviewing Boozy Brunch as much for the cocktail recipes as for the lovely photographs and interesting quotes and stories. I found many new recipes that I'm eager to try, and fear I may be adding a wide variety of bitters and liqueurs to my collection. I'm also inspired to host a brunch soon with my friends and will have trouble deciding which of the drinks to serve, and which of the food recipes to try. This fun little book works as a cookbook, a brunch menu inspiration book, a coffee table book and as a conversation starter.  )

The Reapers Are The Angels rates among my favorite zombie and post-apocalyptic reads for its exceptional writing, pacing and characterizations, and is a remarkable work of fiction regardless of the genre. This story is a deeply moving and thought provoking look at humanity and what remains of the world through the eyes of an unforgettable fifteen year old warrior girl named Temple. I ordered this book based on the reviews after reading the frustrating young adult zombie novel, This Is Not A Test. I was in dire need of a good story, a compelling main character and greater literary depth. Alden Bell's novel delivered all this and more. I started reading the moment this book arrived, and did not stop until I finished well after midnight. Days later, I am still pondering the story and the nuanced layers of meaning and plan on rereading this novel to better appreciate the writing and the moral of the story.

This is not a typical zombie novel, although based on the action packed plot, it could certainly be enjoyed as one. Despite a few flaws with practicality, such as the long term availability of food and fuel, and the suspension of disbelief required in the mountain chapters, this is a very worthwhile and thought-provoking read on many levels. I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, for its bleak, sparse style and journey across a ruined America, Colson Whitehead's Zone One, for its social commentary and character development, Jeffrey Lent's After the Fall, for its beauty and brutality, and maybe a little of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, for its compelling, complex, strong female characters and Biblical allegories. Like all these novels, The Reapers Are The Angels contains memorable characters and beautiful writing, and is very highly recommended.  )

Despite the recommendations of Oprah and my friends, this book languished in my to read pile for years. Years. I was reluctant to undertake a novel depicting a missionary family, and had burned out on Oprah recommendations long ago. In need of a large book to take on a road trip I decided to give in to peer pressure, not expecting much, but determined to cross it off my list. I was not prepared to be swept away by the story, the characters, by Africa's history and culture, to be moved to tears so many times. Barbara Kingsolver writes masterfully, beautifully, and this rich story was one of the best I can remember reading. I loved this book, and wonder why I resisted for so long. I was very sad to see it end, and wonder now, how I can read something next that won't seem inadequate in comparison.  )

This quick but enjoyable book is a great companion to Matt's joyful Youtube videos and his website. After the release of Matt's fourth dancing video in 2012, I wanted to know more about his journey, his motivations and his experiences. This book provides all of that and more behind the scenes information. I only wish the book were longer, and that it had a sequel detailing his latest adventures.  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Soundings is a fascinating look at the life and accomplishments of Marie Tharp, whose intellect and hard work resulted in the first maps of Earth's ocean floors. Her maps caused a stir in the scientific community by supporting the revolutionary new theories of plate tectonics. As a woman in a field dominated by men, and during a time when women were not expected to hold jobs outside clerical and teaching fields, her accomplishments are even more astonishing and humbling. I was surprised to learn the maps I had taped to my walls in college were created by a woman I knew nothing about.

The author presents a detailed biography of her subject and her admiration for Ms. Tharp is evident throughout the book. At times, the author's insertion of herself into the narrative, as well as her use of a contrived Mission Impossible scenario detracts from the story which drags in places. This is a dense read, however, the material and the subject matter prevail to present a very complete portrait of an under-rated, under appreciated brilliant female scientist who deserves acknowledgement for her life's work.  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Light Between the Oceans is a deeply moving and thought provoking story about the depths of love, and the limits to what a person is capable of going in the name of love. The characters and setting are unforgettable, and the moral dilemma posed by the plot kept me reading and turning pages until I finished. I can usually guess plot twists and turns but I wasn't sure how this one was going to end. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as well as the author's beautiful writing and found myself moved to tears by the end. Highly recommended reading.  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Cybrarian's Web is a brief but useful compendium of informative and essential web sites. Of the 101 sites listed, I was familiar with a third of them, and did not need an introduction to facebook, wikipedia, skype and many other sites internet novices might need help discovering.  The problem with a book listing websites is the quickness with which information becomes obsolete, such as the site Amplify, which no longer exists, or Rollyo, which has been under maintenance for weeks. I did enjoy exploring other sites I was not familiar with, and wished for a little more information about the sites in the book, and for the chapters to be organized by function rather than alphabetically by product name.

I found the book's website links to all the sites a very useful bookmark, and more useful than the book itself because of the status updates for the defunct or merged sites.  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is everything I've come to love and expect from one of my favorite authors. I laughed out loud, I cried a little, sometimes a lot, but mostly I laughed because Anne Lamott is a very funny lady, and a very, very good writer. Reading her latest work, Some Assembly Required, is like hanging out with my imaginary eccentric, hilarious, brutally honest, neurotic, self-centered, articulate, Jesus loving nutty best friend who just became a grandmother. She journals her feelings about this first year of her grandson's life, the struggles of her son and his girlfriend, a young couple thrust into parenting and adulthood, and her attempts to let them live their lives on their own terms, not hers, which is both painful and hilarious. She includes interviews with her son, which add an interesting voice and perspective to the year's journal.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of her travels to India and Europe, the perspectives she gained through distance from her family. She has a gift for describing places, people and feelings that rings true for me and never fails to entertain and enlighten. Although I don't share the author's religious fervor, I don't mind her religious determination and certaintity one bit, because she doesn't preach, she just shares how she feels and views the world. I'm grateful she shared this first year of her grandson's life and the changes it brought to her and her son. I think fans of her work will enjoy this book as much as I did.  )