Tag Archives: books to read

“The Serpent King” Book Review

The Serpent KingEvery high school has those kids that don’t fit in. In The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, three teens from Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Klu Klux Klan, are bound together as misfits and as best friends. Lydia comes from loving and prosperous parents; she’s got a popular fashion blog and is on her way to college in New York City. Travis escapes his father’s drunken beatings in the fantasy world of knights and noble quests. Dillard Early Jr. can’t escape his name: his snake-handling, poison-drinking preacher father was incarcerated for child porn and his grandfather went around wearing snakeskins and killing every snake he could.

Written in third person, this novel alternates among the three characters. The story covers the characters senior year of high school and is filled with poverty in the rural South, enduring friendship, heartbreak, clinging to faith at all costs, fear of the unknown, and learning the courage it takes to survive and to thrive.

While it took me several chapters to get sucked into the story, I ended staying up way too late to finish the novel. The book covers the harsh reality so many outsiders have to live in. And while parts of the novel did showcase that this was a debut, it’s a phenomenal coming-of-age story about hope and courage, of salvation and betterment, of surviving and flourishing when life seems too bleak to continue.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” Book Review

Health at Every Size“Health at Every Size” (HAES) by Linda Bacon, PhD is not a diet book. It’s the philosophy that showcases how well-being and healthy habits are more vital than any number on a scale. HAES’ basic tenets are to:

  • Accept your size. Grow to love and appreciate your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. Self-acceptance empowers you to make positive life changes.
  • Trust yourself. Your body intuitively knows how to keep itself healthy. The problem is that society has taught you to ignore your body’s natural internal regulation systems. Relearn to trust your body’s natural signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Find purpose and meaning in your life. Often you’re eating to fulfill some social, emotional, or spiritual needs, instead of for hunger.
  • Embrace size diversity. Humans didn’t evolve to be one size fits all. We come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Recognize your unique attractiveness.

This book is a must read for anyone who’s ever wished to be thinner. One of this novel’s strengths is how it’s split into two parts. The first half of the book deals with research showing why the traditional diet fails and how society has warped body image and ideals, and research on how the HAES method has been more successful than traditional dieting. The second half of the novel deals with the specifics of the HAES method, and gives you resources to change your life.

Many aspects of this novel are empowering. The research provided a solid argument against dieting, especially focusing on calorie restriction, by showing that dieting doesn’t produce lasting results, the false notion that if you’re overweight you lack control, and demonstrated how the food, pharmaceutical, and dieting industry have manipulated peoples’ senses of hunger and satiety for profit.

Despite all that, I had trouble believing Bacon’s argument that “fat does not cause any of our leading chronic diseases, except for some cancers, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.” While there are overweight and obese people who are healthy, many are not. Bacon doesn’t discuss the ways that obesity can lead to disability. She spends all her time focusing on body acceptance—which is a concept I completely support—and seemingly being a fat activist. I don’t understand why encouraging people to fight obesity, in order to prevent disability, and fighting discrimination about overweight people has to be mutually exclusive.

It’s important to love yourself and your body, to listen to your signals of hunger, to eat fulfilling and healthy foods—limiting processed foods, to have meaning in your life, to realize that much of society’s war on obesity is sponsored by companies that profit from peoples’ fear of fat, to take measurements like the BMI scale with a grain of salt, and to not discriminate against overweight people. I’m just struggling to convince myself that there should be utter fat acceptance. (If you’re not familiar with the FA movement, check out the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance’s website.)

This book’s notion that your weight shouldn’t keep you from enjoying your life is why I recommend you give it a try.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

What Are You Reading in 2017?

 

After completing my 2016 Goodreads Reading Challenge, I set a new goal for 2017. While this year my goal is to read 20 novels—10 less than last year thanks to a job promotion—I’m excited about figuring out which books I’m going to read. Currently, I’m in the midst of Survival in Auschwitz, an autobiography about a man’s 10 months in a German death camp during WWII. Has anyone read this novel?

Here are five more that are on my list:

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Wool by Hugh Howey

In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.

His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising.

I became excited to read this post-apocalyptic thriller the moment I learned that for someone to be born, someone must die. That sounds ominous—and maybe I’m a bit demented—but whenever there’s a world with that level of sacrifice, I’m intrigued.

Plus, it’s always interesting when an originally self-published novel gets picked up by a big publishing house (Random House) and becomes a New York Times Bestseller. (Remind anyone of The Martian?)

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The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly by Matt McCarthy

In medical school, Matt McCarthy dreamed of being a different kind of doctor—the sort of mythical, unflappable physician who could reach unreachable patients. But when a new admission to the critical care unit almost died his first night on call, he found himself scrambling. Visions of mastery quickly gave way to hopes of simply surviving hospital life, where confidence was hard to come by and no amount of med school training could dispel the terror of facing actual patients.

This funny, candid memoir of McCarthy’s intern year at a New York hospital provides a scorchingly frank look at how doctors are made, taking readers into patients’ rooms and doctors’ conferences to witness a physician’s journey from ineptitude to competence. McCarthy’s one stroke of luck paired him with a brilliant second-year adviser he called “Baio” (owing to his resemblance to the Charles in Charge star), who proved to be a remarkable teacher with a wicked sense of humor. McCarthy would learn even more from the people he cared for, including a man named Benny, who was living in the hospital for months at a time awaiting a heart transplant. But no teacher could help McCarthy when an accident put his own health at risk, and showed him all too painfully the thin line between doctor and patient.

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly offers a window on to hospital life that dispenses with sanctimony and self-seriousness while emphasizing the black-comic paradox of becoming a doctor: How do you learn to save lives in a job where there is no practice?

I’ve always been interested in medicine. I work in pediatric immunology research, so it’s a good thing I enjoy the medical field.

When I first heard about Matt McCarthy and his writings on NPR, I was intrigued. I’m not an MD, but I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to be a doctor fresh out of med school. So, when I discovered this novel, I read the free excerpt on Amazon and was immediately absorbed into this non-fiction story. It seems McCarthy has the rare ability to draw people in, while not being a writer by trade.

I can’t wait to read this refreshingly frank look into a young doctor’s life.

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A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog’s search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, this touches on the universal quest for an answer to life’s most basic question: Why are we here? 

Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for his new life’s meaning leads him into the loving arms of 8 year old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog. But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders, will he ever find his purpose?

Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh out loud funny, this book is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog’s many lives, but also a dog’s eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man’s best friend. This story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose.

With both my mother and grandmother having loved this book, I must understand what made them enjoy it so much. And, with having a nine-year-old German Shepherd, who follows me everywhere, and who acts like every time I step out the front door I’m leaving him forever, I suspect this novel will make me laugh as much as cry.

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America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father’s reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

Mystery, intrigue, and scandal…all wonderful bits and pieces that shape the most intriguing historical fiction. This novel chronicles Patsy Jefferson’s life from her childhood during America’s Revolutionary War, her teenage years in Paris at the start of the French Revolution, her father’s presidency, and through the War of 1812. This book seems downright delicious!

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Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

I’m prepared for this historical fiction, coming-of-age story to be heartbreaking, humorous, heartwarming, authentic, and compelling. I can’t wait to learn about some less known Hawaiian history and culture, and to see how this novel isn’t about death, but life, not despair, but hope. Despite this book being about a leprosy colony, this story is about the strength and endurance of the human spirit.

What books do you want to read this year? Got any suggestions?

(Photos courtesy of Brittany E. Krueger’s collection.)

“The Shadow of the Wind” Book Review

“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”

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The Shadow of the Wind is a compulsive page turner. From the opening pages, I immediately knew that I’d love this old-fashioned book saturated with offbeat characters, passionate storytelling, Gothic twists and turns, and tragic, thrilling rushes. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book is reminiscent of the great 19th century novels, while maintaining the precarious balance between high-brow literature and commercial fiction.

The novel begins in 1945 in a Barcelona suffering the aftereffects of the Spanish Civil War. Daniel, a 10-year-old boy grieving from his mother’s death, is taken to a secret labyrinth called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father. In this maze, Daniel chooses one book to care for; he selects a novel titled The Shadow of the Wind by an unknown author, Julián Carax. This choice dramatically shapes his life, sending him from childhood into young adulthood on an elaborate quest to discover the mystery behind why some dark, almost demonic figure is hunting down and burning all of Julián Carax’s books.

A novel about resourcefulness, courage, loss of innocence, love, cruelty, cowardice, murder, and redemption, The Shadow of the Wind mesmerizes as it elegantly unfolds mystery upon mystery, before shooting around breathtaking lurches and blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.

(Photo courtesy of Xavi.)

When the Books Start Piling Up: How to Settle and Read One Book at a Time

4442380869_6799f03bb2_oI’m always looking for the next book to read. This is great because I never run out of material. However, this often means that I have a teetering tower of books waiting for me.

Too often I find that when I go to select my next book, what I wanted to read a week ago is very different than what I want to read today. Add to that the fact that so many books exist, and I’m constantly finding more books to add to my list. This explains why my to-read list is one hundred three books strong and growing.

When I was younger, I’d attempt to read more than one book at a time. Usually, this resulted in me confusing which characters and stories belonged to which book. I ended up taking longer to read each book and enjoyed the novels less than I would have, if I’d read them one at a time. Then, there are times when I get so excited over new books to read that I lose interest in the current book I’m reading.

I used to force myself to finish every book I started, but with time and energy continuously feeling like they’re shrinking, I put down books much faster nowadays. Which is fine, if the book holds zero interest or is poorly written, but more often I find that I get distracted, whether by other novels I want to read or by the vast number of gizmos and gadgets that surround me…Netflix is a big one.

So, I’ve tried out different techniques to help me focus on the novel I’m reading:

  1. Find a place away from electronics. I keep the TV off, turn my phone on silent (sometimes I’ll flip it upside down), and put my laptop away. It’s too easy to get sidetracked by a text, email notification, tweet, or whatever else crops up. I also enjoy reading when it’s quiet. I’m so easily distracted that I can’t have any type of music playing in the background, even if it’s your standard elevator music.
  2. Schedule time to read. Everyone is busy. It seems like we have a million things to do every day, and no matter how hard we attempt to get every item on our to-do list crossed off, we never quite make it. Knowing how many other things we have to accomplish can make it difficult to concentrate on something that’s considered a leisure activity. However, reading for pleasure has many benefits, including “increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.” So, pencil in time to read, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day.
  3. Read widely. It’s easy to fall into a rut. This includes with what you read. Occasionally, I’ll find myself reading the same types of books. After a while, I begin to get bored. Books I normally would have enjoyed are irritating me, because they seem exactly the same as the ones I’d previously read. Therefore, I like to mix up what I read. Maybe I’ll read two young adult fantasies and then pick up a six hundred page non-fiction book. After that, I might go to an adult mystery novel. By reading widely you’re doing more than staving off boredom. You’re boosting your creativity, expanding your understanding, increasing your emotional intelligence, and enhancing how different parts of your brain link to each other by growing neural connections.
  4. Join a reading group or reading challenge. At the beginning of 2016, I joined Goodreads’s yearly reading challenge. I pledged to read thirty books this year, which is about a book every two weeks. With each book I read, my challenge is updated, and any of my Goodreads’s friends can see my challenge status. Since I take this challenge as a promise to myself, I’m unwilling to not reach my goal. I want my homepage to show that I succeeded in what I set out to do. Giving yourself goals and letting others know about them, creates a community in which you’re responsible for what you promised to do. This motivates you to achieve your goals, and you get to connect with people to discuss what you’ve read, see what they’re reading, and feel like you’re part of something greater than yourself.

Sometimes, however, nothing you do will help you focus, even if you’re reading something you enjoy. In those moments, put the book down and do something else. Your mood will change, and you’ll end up coming back to the book and binge reading.

(Photo courtesy of hawkexpress.)

“We Are the Ants” Book Review

“We Are the Ants” is a Young Adult semi-science fiction novel by Shaun David Hutchinson. I say semi-science fiction because the novel is more contemporary than Sci-Fi, and it deals with some very realistic and dark issues. However, if I rated this novel on a scale of 1-5, with five being I absolutely loved it, I’d try to cheat the system and give it a six.15785386571_4b0249c2ff_z

At first, I was put off by the amount of cursing within the opening chapters (heads up there’s several f-bombs), but I quickly became engrossed with the protagonist Henry’s personality, trauma, and, most importantly, story.

This novel engages readers, and forces them to witness bullying, mental illness, and come to understandings that they would normally otherwise rather not think about. Shaun David Hutchinson uses Henry to send some very important messages to readers: “Remember the past, live the present, write the future” and that we do matter; maybe not to the universe or in the grand scheme of things – all of us will be forgotten in time – but we do matter and because we live the present, we’ll keep on.

After all, we’re the ants. And what do ants do? They keep marching one by one.

There’s a deepness to this story that isn’t initially apparent, but then showcases itself brilliantly through the pain of loss, the presence of new love and the guilt and fear that sometimes accompany that love, and much more.

This novel begins with Henry telling readers about how he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and that they’ve now given him a choice: press the button and save Earth or don’t press the button and on 29 January 2016 the world is going to end. The question remains: will Henry press the button?

Though there is a love story within this book, this novel is so much more complex than a YA romance between Henry and Diego. Henry’s ex-boyfriend Jesse – the love of his life – committed suicide. Henry’s mother is a chain-smoking waitress, who cannot stand her one-time dream of being a chef because that dream reminds her too much of Henry’s dead-beat, door-slamming father, who abandoned them. Henry’s brother is a college dropout. The most popular boy in school alternates bullying and making out with Henry. Henry’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, and it is dark and amazing and heartfelt, and at times when readers need it most, comical.

Insight abounds in this novel, and what’s more is that the insight is conceivable. Usually in YA books, the protagonist possesses an awareness other characters miss, and often that insight is too deep or advanced for that character. However, in this novel Henry struggles with the big life questions. He asks others for answers, and the answers they provide create a well-rounded and realistic picture, with each of their answers reflecting the events that have occurred in their lives and how those events have impacted them. This story and its characters are believable to the point I imagined it as real life. That’s a big part of what makes this novel so engrossing, and what had me smiling, crying, and feeling all the emotions throughout the tale.

This book left my mind reeling with thoughts long after I closed the back cover. Definitely take the time to read this.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Brace.)

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir Book Review

13643683595_fb282dfbf6_zWhat a phenomenal book. The Martian is so well written, realistic, and has such a fantastic voice that I was endeared to the story and, especially, to Mark Watney.

With the movie out, I told myself I wouldn’t see the movie until I read the book. So, I bought the novel and turned to the first page. Two days later, I’ve finished the novel and am processing the roller coaster of emotions I experienced, while being entertained by Watney’s sarcasm, humor, and MacGyver-esque abilities. (Let’s just say I was a bit more tired for work than usual.)

The biggest strength of this novel is Mark Watney. No matter how hard the Martian environment tries to kill him, Watney manages to be humorous. One of the my favorite pieces from the novel follows (don’t worry these few lines don’t spoil the story):

“What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s [Mark Watney] stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

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How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

Mark Watney’s voice makes the story. Without it, this novel wouldn’t have been nearly as popular.

Why? (Besides missing Mark Watney.)

Because of how technical it is.

Which isn’t necessarily a negative. It wasn’t for me. Not because I understood everything. I’m not an astrophysicist. Nor have I studied orbital mechanics or relativistic physics (two of Weir’s hobbies), and I am far from any sort of engineer (Weir is a software engineer). But because Watney’s wisecrack comments after longer technical bits often clarified what he was doing, I was able to enjoy fundamental parts of the novel. Let’s face it, like how this book wouldn’t be the same without Watney, it wouldn’t work without being so realistic.

However, after reading multiple reviews of this novel on Goodreads, I noticed a pattern forming. Of those who didn’t enjoy the book as much (thus giving the novel three or less stars out of five stars), the major complaint seemed to be that this book had too much math. And because there was so much technical stuff, the tension slowed and people got bored.

I admit that there was a few times I skimmed over some of the more science heavy bits, but Watney is an astronaut. Science and math are necessaries for him. This book wouldn’t have been believable if Weir didn’t include all the science and math.

Watney’s strong narration and the Martian environment trying to kill him at every turn (not to intentionally personify Mars, but you get the point) balanced out the more science heavy sections.

When all is said and done, The Martian is a science fiction novel. It just happens to be one of the most realistic modern sci-fi books on the market.

Read the book. You’ll find yourself laughing at Watney’s dark humor and rooting for the astronaut who refuses to let a hostile, barren world kill him.

Human ingenuity, survival, and collaboration at its finest.

(Photo courtesy of Joel Tonyan.)