Tag Archive for: book reviews

I love writing book reviews that end up prompting the author to contact me. I love it even more when it turns out the author lives in my same area.  Here is my latest book review for BookPleasures. Check it out if you are interested in nonfiction works about social justice.  Also, if anyone lives near Whidbey Island, the author, Jen Marlowe, will be speaking about the book tomorrow night. This is the link to information about that.

Despite the New Year celebrations (or lack thereof – I never make it to midnight anymore), I never really feel as though the year has begun until school starts again. Bubba went back to work on January 2, but the girls didn’t start back until yesterday, so we had a few aimless days of laziness interrupted by spurts of organizing and not much else.

I also signed up for a 30-day green smoothie challenge with a group of friends that started on January 5 which added to my confusion about when this “new year” was really supposed to get going.  I don’t really know what the ‘challenge’ portion of the program is about since the goal is simply to drink one green smoothie every day for 30 days and see if you feel different.  There are no dietary restrictions (although they highly recommend that you eat as few processed, high-fat, high-salt foods as possible) and send you a new recipe every day.  So far I’m not hating it, despite the fact that there are things like kale and spinach in my daily drinks.  I love most all vegetables, but I like some things to remain distinct in my life.  Drinks should be liquid, food should be chewed.  It’s a little odd to get chunks of raw vegetable in your mouth when you drink something, so I’ve learned to peel the toughest strings from the celery rib and discard them before blending and to buy pre-pulverized ginger so I don’t get the fibrous strings stuck in my teeth when I drink.  Other than that, the drinks are tasty and filling (although those people who swear drinking one keeps them full all day? I don’t know who those people are. I’m still hungry for lunch at lunchtime).

The girls are happy to be back at school with all of their friends and Bubba begins his grueling travel schedule next week. As for me, I am enjoying the peace and quiet around the house and appreciating my newfound antipathy towards anything that resembles a New Year’s Resolution.  For some reason, I am completely sanguine about the state of my life at this point, knowing that at some point I will feel compelled to change or improve something about myself, but for now I am happy to just take it day by day and plug along doing the things that feel good to me for the most part. There are, of course, things that I do which don’t fit into that category (like walking the dog for the fourth time in one day in the pouring rain or cleaning the litterbox or scheduling a dental cleaning), but generally by the time I am either immersed in doing those things or have successfully accomplished them, I am at least pleased that I am able to cross them off my list.

I have lined up three great book reviews in the near future that I am excited about and, while I often feel a tad bit guilty about curling up on the couch with a book in the middle of the day, it is all I can do to stop soliciting more reviews. I know that reading makes me a better writer, or at least it makes me want to be a better writer, and I often end up with pages of scribbles of inspiration or exclamation at a particularly beautiful phrase I just read.

It’s a pretty damn good life.  Hope your year has kicked off in a positive way!

I just finished reading Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, for BookPleasures. You can find my review here. It is a quick read, but frightening in the way psychological thrillers can be – that is, if you’re prone to being a tad bit of a hypochondriac when it comes to your own mental health.

I have also read several other good books lately that I thought I’d pass along in case anyone is looking for something to give to themselves this holiday season.  I generally read more than one book at a time, one on my iPad, one from the library, and one I couldn’t resist buying from the used bookstore.  In addition to that, there are always magazines lying around in different places, propped open to various pages, that I can pick up and peruse when I only have 15 minutes or so before dashing off to do something.  My favorite magazines are The Sun and Natural Health, but my new favorite is a literary magazine out of Portland, Oregon called Stealing Time. It is geared towards all things parenting and may be a new place for all you writers out there to send submissions. It is truly fantastic, with poetry and photographs and essays both fictional and non-fiction.  
The books I have read most recently on my iPad, in no particular order, are:
  •  Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House” (she is a wonder, this one – I love everything she writes), 
  • Alex Mitchell’s “All Gone” – a memoir about her mother’s memory loss/dementia and how the author copes by cooking up memories of her childhood dishes. I enjoyed this one, but am glad I didn’t spend the money for the hard copy because it was such a quick read.
  • Karen Thompson Walker’s “The Age of Miracles” – I am sad that this one is on my iPad because I know both of my girls would LOVE this book, but they have Kindles, so I may need to buy it again for them.  The premise is incredibly unique and the story was fascinating, especially to someone who tends to get lost in philosophical reverie. I didn’t even know it was supposed to be a teen book until after I read it. Loved this one!
  • Amanda Coplin’s “The Orchardist” – this one felt like a Pacific Northwest, caucasian “Roots” in a way. It was epic, spanned generations, and completely sucked me in with the imagery and the fact that I live not far from where it was set.  Tremendous read. 
  • M.L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans” – this book made me cry in a good way. Again, the premise was unique and made me think well beyond the pages of the book. Loved it.
  • Darcy Lockman’s ” Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist” – a memoir of Lockman’s residence in a Brooklyn psych hospital. Well-written, quick read. Mostly it made me sad about the state of our healthcare system (especially as it relates to mental illness) and how we train our physicians. 
  • Sarina Berman’s “Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World” – Amazing story! Amazing. I devoured this book and was so sad when it was over. One of my favorite works of fiction this year.
  • Laura Moriarty’s “The Chaperone” – fun, light read that I would recommend for summer vacation.
  • John Irving’s “In One Person” – I had to work to finish this one.  Actually, it was the first third of the book that was work. The rest was pleasurable, but I only kept reading it because I heard Irving interviewed on a local public radio station and I find him so fascinating.  Ultimately, I enjoyed it, but felt like it could have used some editing. (Look at me – novice writer saying that about John Irving! Ha! Who do I think I am?)
  • Liz Moore’s “Heft” – My friend Carrie raved about this book, and I trust her taste, so I downloaded it. What a beautiful story! Another favorite fictional work, for sure.
  • Tupelo Hassman’s “girlchild” – I think I wrote about this book earlier this year, but I have to say it again – I think it’s brilliant.
  • Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” – this one made me grieve so much for the folks fighting wars all over the planet. It also made me wish they could all unburden themselves of their stories and see them in a different light.
I just gifted myself Anne Lamott’s new book “Help Thanks Wow” and Brene Brown’s newest, “Daring Greatly.” I can’t wait to start them, but first I have a teen fiction book to review that I have to finish because Eve read the back the other day and is chomping at the bit to read it when I’m done.  
Happy reading!

Follow this to get to my latest book review of “The Wilder Life” on www.bookpleasures.com.

It took me a few beats to type the word ‘review’ in the title of this post. Mostly because I was searching for a more accurate word which I failed to come upon. This is not a book I am reviewing because it was assigned to me from some third party or chosen from an array offered to me by BookPleasures. I am not so much reviewing this book as singing its praises and encouraging you to go find it and read it. Every so often I come across a book that moves me profoundly. Even so, I can generally write a review of it and move on. “Because of Katie” went one step further and not only moved me but left me with a sense that this book exists for a much higher purpose than simple entertainment.

I know many books strive to do the same, especially nonfiction, especially memoir, and some do manage to leave the reader with that feeling of expansiveness that leads people to recommend them over and over again. “Because of Katie” is different in that it possesses that expansiveness as well as a solid groundedness. Karen Boren Gerstenberger wrote this book not because she was an aspiring writer who wished to share her story, but with an eye toward teaching, informing, deepening understanding of what a family is going through when they are dealing with a major crisis. Her gentle yet firm message comes through without judgment as she describes each step of their journey through diagnosis, aggressive treatment and hospice care for their daughter’s terminal cancer. She is able to acknowledge both strengths and areas for improvement at each point along the way, with each person they encountered.
This book is an absolute gift from Gerstenberger to each and every person whose lives are touched by severe illness or injury. From relatives to hospital personnel, communities looking for ways to help and other support staff, every person who has occasion to be in contact with families struggling with uncertainty and discomfort will find lessons in here taught with concern and gentleness.
I am generally a very fast reader, often finishing a book every two to three days, especially if I am enjoying it. “Because of Katie” took me nearly two weeks to finish for several reasons. The story was compelling but painful and difficult to read as my daughter is the same age Katie was when she died. I found myself empathizing with Karen on many different levels, especially given the years of experience we had with Bubba’s undiagnosed illness and our trips to and from the hospital. I also read slowly because this book is absolutely packed with information and I wanted to be sure I gave myself time between chapters to decompress and absorb it all.
The detail with which Karen writes about the hospital stays and the upheavals to their family’s life brought me right in to the story. The tenderness evident in the way Katie’s family responded to her needs and the acknowledgment of her desires (fairly typical for a 12-year-old girl, but not so easily met) is a testament to the high value this family placed on love and shared experience. While their experiences were most certainly unique, there are so many powerful messages about how to reach out and become more effective in our support of families in any kind of crisis that the book itself has the potential to become a teaching tool for multitudes.
I would like to thank Elizabeth for prompting me to read “Because of Katie,” and Karen for sharing her wisdom with the world. I am honored to have been allowed this glimpse in to your family’s life and feel the better for it.
You can get your own copy of “Because of Katie” here.

My latest book review for Book Pleasures was posted here last week. It is a fun read and, at less than five bucks for the digital edition, it’s totally worth the money.

I also had a new essay published in the online magazine Buddha Chick yesterday that you can check out here. It’s a free magazine and has some really great writers. If you like to read about women’s spirituality, you may enjoy it. And if you like to write about it, read an issue and submit some of your work. It’s unpaid, but a great community to belong to.

I realized I’m also woefully behind on updating the sidebar of the blog that lists the books I’m currently reading. The truth is, I read two or more books a week, on average, and I’m not very good at messing with the format of the blog, so I rarely change it. Here are a few of the titles I’ve read recently, with a decided bent toward nonfiction.
1. “Girlchild” by Tupelo Hassman. The lone fictional work on this list, I highly recommend this book. What an amazing work by this new author! The book is written from the point of view of a child and her voice is spot-on. I think many of us can identify with the desire to grow up and get the heck out of our hometown, but this little girl has more incentive than anyone I know. Despite that, she is as tough as they come and has a unique way of looking at the world.
2. “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the author who wrote “Seabiscuit” and, while I’m not generally drawn to biographies (I prefer memoir), this was an epic ride and a history lesson all in one. I prefer to learn history by way of personal stories, anyway, so for that reason, this story reminded me a bit of another book I loved, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” by Diane Ackerman. This is the heartbreaking story of a soldier who became a POW during World War II and his astonishing survival.
3. “Moonface: A True Romance” by Angela Balcita. I love me a memoir, especially with dark humor and medical interest. This has all of that and more. I actually read this one quite a while ago, but highly recommend it.
4. “fathermothergod: My Journey out of Christian Science” by Lucia Greenhouse. Another memoir that educated me immensely. I know of Christian Science only what the media tells me about parents who refuse medical treatment for their terminally ill children or Tom Cruise and the way he slammed Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants. It was very eye-opening to read this account of a young woman growing up steeped in this way of life and coming face-to-face with its limitations when a loved one falls ill.
What have you read lately that you can wholeheartedly recommend?

My latest book review (a fictional novel which is a departure for me) can be found here. It is a quick, fun read about book-banning in a small town in the South.

Other things going on here over the long holiday weekend include some angst (on my part, anyway) about this little guy. I’d tell you his name, but there is some dispute about it, given that he doesn’t really belong to us. Or maybe he does. I’m not sure at this point.

The day before Halloween I was in the driveway cleaning out my car (a weekly necessity thanks to the carpool snack consumption that goes on inside) and I heard a pathetic maiow. I looked up to see this skinny black kitten watching me and slowly, tentatively making his way toward me. I managed to convince him to come to me and I scooped him up and brought him to the garage. I called all of the neighbors to see if he belonged to anyone and we decided to keep him around until at least after Halloween to keep him safe. By the time I heard from one neighbor who claimed him, it was November 1 and he had settled in quite nicely to our garage and back porch with several periods a day of snuggling inside on the laps of Bubba and the girls. We couldn’t let him live inside because of our other cat, but he seemed perfectly happy to play and sleep outside and come cuddle a few times a day.
When I told our neighbor I’d bring him back home, she said, “Whatever. He lives outside, anyway. He’ll come back on his own.” This cat was not destined to live inside their house, in any case, so she figured he would just roam the neighborhood at will and roost at their place. We disrupted that, I’m afraid.
At this point, two days after Thanksgiving, I’m not sure they’ve seen him at all. We have settled in to this pattern of feeding him in the morning, snuggling with him often during the day, and feeding him again at night. Bubba generally claims him for an hour before bed, messing with his tail and ears and paws in a show of masculine affection.
I know, I know. We have stolen the cat. I have considered not feeding him but that feels mean. We have plopped him back inside the fence of the neighbors’ yard and he promptly jumps on top of the posts and follows us back to our place. They won’t let him inside their house, so there’s no keeping him away (and we’re not terribly motivated to, in any case). Lola has expressed some concern from time to time that we are doing the wrong thing and I understand her sentiment, but this little guy is so lovely I can’t stand it. I have this squishy morality going on in my head that says he can go home anytime he wants – roaming the neighborhood until he gets there (they live next door) and, if they offered him any affection, he would choose to stay. I know we’re tipping the balance by feeding him.
But wouldn’t you?

I recently began reviewing books for BookPleasures and my second assignment was this series of travel guidebooks geared toward children. The author has written several and I offered to review the ones she wrote for Chicago, New York City, and Walt Disney World. The reviews are below and, while the books are suggested for 8-12 year olds, I would say that I think anyone with kids over the age of four or five could find a vast array of vital information in these books. Here goes:

Planet Explorers Walt Disney World: A Guidebook for Kids
If you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World, this is the perfect companion for your travels. The sheer size of this massive amusement park can make it overwhelming to navigate, but Laura Schaefer’s guidebook breaks it down in a fun, easy-to-read style.
The park is organized in to different areas in this book, each with its own list of restaurants, rides and attractions. Schaefer offers a wealth of good information about each ride, having devised a way to catalog them for kids of all ages (S=scary, D=dark, A=awesome, T=thrilling, W=wet). She also posts height restrictions so you can skip the ones your kids are too small to ride without much drama.
Each section also highlights fun facts like when certain attractions were built or if there are renovations or new rides being planned. There are tips on when to go do certain things or how to find characters roaming around the park.
The illustrations and photos, maps and fun facts are a fantastic complement to the vast amount of information packed in to this book. Most of the sections contain hyperlinks to things they might want to know more about like Bill Nye the Science Guy or the Samurai swords.
This book is a great way to help plan your trip through the park and come to an appreciation of the work that goes in to maintaining a place like Walt Disney World.
Links to the other two reviews are here for NYC and here for Chicago. The books all follow a similar format, so the reviews are quite similar as well. That being said, if you are planning a family vacation anytime soon, Laura has written Planet Explorer books for Disneyland, Disney cruises and Philadelphia as well as the three I reviewed. Do yourself a favor and find one that fits your travel needs.

I recently joined Book Pleasures as a reviewer and my first assignment was a long but rewarding book. I’ve posted the review in its entirety here, but I highly recommend you pop over to their site for any other book reviews you might wish to see. Their reviewers represent all different genres and the list of books there is staggering.

Book Review
Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America
By John-Manuel Andriote
ISBN: 978-1-61364-678-6
University of Chicago Press

In this revised and updated version of his comprehensive book, the author takes a look at the AIDS epidemic in America from its explosive beginnings to present day. He traces the strange origins of what was first known as the “gay cancer” and, through exhaustive interviews and vast amounts of research, paints an extraordinary picture of the way gay culture was significantly altered because of it.

Andriote, himself a gay man who was present as AIDS made itself known, spreading like wildfire through the gay communities in cities like San Francisco and New York, has a unique perspective on what life was like for gay men before and after the epidemic hit. He watched as this population, actively discriminated against and almost completely disenfranchised, came together as a cohesive unit to address the issues that AIDS presented for them. The book is a fascinating history of the movement almost entirely started by the gay community to demand recognition and respect in the face of this deadly disease. It traces the roots of the comprehensive in-home care systems (known as the “San Francisco model”) that ensured that those afflicted with AIDS could receive effective, appropriate care based on their individual needs. Far from treating AIDS as a solely medical issue, the gay community quickly recognized the need for housing, food, and counseling as well as medical treatment.

The author looks at the drive for acceptance and acknowledgment by gay men and women and the monumental barriers put in their way by the political and cultural establishments of the 1980s and beyond. The reader quickly begins to understand how incredibly hard it is to navigate a bureaucracy like the United States government when you are part of a group so hated and stigmatized. Nonetheless, the early efforts of those determined to fight for funding and research and treatment for AIDS were tireless and passionate and served to change the gay community itself from a set of disparate individuals not prone to sharing struggles or finding commonality amongst themselves into a unified, organized force for change.

The book itself follows some of the most dynamic individuals in this struggle up to present day as well as the course of AIDS policy throughout the years and changes in political leadership in the US. The path taken by many of the organizations created in response to the AIDS crisis is a primer for any other service organization, as the author does a thorough job of exploring, through the lens of history, some of the mistakes and missteps as well as acknowledging the triumphs and lessons learned by these grassroots efforts.

Victory Deferred is a testament to the passion and spirit of the gay community when faced with a catastrophe within their ranks. He shows that the fight is far from over and, indeed, has gone a bit off-course in the last two decades, but his even-handed and painstakingly complete account of this crisis serves to enlighten and educate the reader to a degree I would not have thought possible.

If you’re interested in buying this book click here.

Review by Kari O’Driscoll for BookPleasures.com

Feminist Review, an organization that provides reviews on all sorts of things – books, movies, music, and theatre to name a few – has moved their website here. My latest book review for them can be found here<.

If you like it, please comment at the site. They like to know people are reading the reviews (and so do I).