Monday, August 29, 2011

Night (Oprah's Book Club) by Elie Wiesel, Marion Wiesel

Night (Oprah's Book Club)

NIGHT by Elie Wiesel is a piercing account of the horrors of concentration camp, which impressed an incredible toll both internally and externally on his being. As a young adolescent, he is ripped from his home, plummeted to the depths of suffering, and driven to the edge of his own humanity. Mr. Wiesel openly shares with readers the tremendous weight of these experiences etched within his soul. His courage in doing so should be lauded.
From Mr. Wiesel we can learn that regardless of the burden from the sins of others imposed upon us and our own sins, it is possible to endure - and even to help others do so.
In that vein, I would recommend another memoir to readers of NIGHT - called A BEAUTIFUL WORLD, written by Gregg Milligan. It is a book you will not be able to put down - a deeply moving account of the indomitable human spirit as seen in the heart of a young child subjected to severe physical, mental and sexual abuse.

In the author's own words, he shares his story to help others 'buckle down and bear the ride' through their own hell - and know that they are not alone. A BEAUTIFUL WORLD is an incredible testament to the perseverance of hope. Exquisitely written and heart wrenching, it is an unforgettable story.
Both A BEAUTIFUL WORLD and NIGHT offer readers a chance to adjust their own perspective on suffering through the examples of both authors. Though they have suffered greatly and will never leave this experience behind, they will not allow it to end them either.
Further, both authors possess the incredible courage to reach out and share their stories, giving of themselves for the benefit of others. The astounding resiliency shown in that act alone speaks volumes of them as human beings -- and the words they press to paper will ever live on in the hearts of those that read them.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is from Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". Fifty years after Chinua Achebe wrote this deceptively simple Nigerian tragedy, Things Fall Apart has never been out of print. It's hailed as Africa's best known work of literature and I can easily see why.

At the heart of the story is a strong man, Okonkwo, with an overwhelming need to prove himself--to himself and his tribe; he must overcome the bad reputation of his drunkard ne'er-do-well father. Although Okonkwo can easily defeat enemies he can wrestle, chop or kill; his stubborn pride and anger collide with and fail to overcome those aspects of life which he cannot so readily tackle: providence, family and tribal laws.

So much of the appeal of Things -- for me at least -- is watching Okonkwo encounter a traditional village. I was fascinated (and repulsed) by its customs, mores, and overall precarious harmony. The appropriateness of the title is in the extreme delicacy of that tribal balance which is rocked to the core by the arrival of the English missionaries. All that was as Okonkwo understood the world to be, changes with the introduction of Christianity and Western civilization. It is both a clash of one individual against his own society and a foreign power, as well as the collision of two diametrically opposed cultures. You don't often find so much carefully-contained conflict in a book of this size. Truly incredible!

Chinua Achebe wrote this masterpiece before most of the African nations had declared their independence. Since that time, the Dark Continent has been washed in rivers of blood. One wonders when, and prays for an end to, all the suffering. Such a sacred place and beautiful people; in many ways so like the Garden of Eden. Long live Africa! 


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife: A Novel

The PARIS WIFE is a mesmerizing novel about Paris in the 1920’s featuring the bohemian “Lost Generation”. It is the touching and heartbreaking story of the love affair and marriage of literature’s original “bad boy” Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway.
Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding , the deeply in love couple sail to Paris where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
The Hemingway’s are ill prepared for the hard drinking, fast living life of Jazz Age Paris. They are surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos. Written in Hadley’s voice that is so well drawn and lyrical it manages to captures the spectacle of the man becoming the legend. She draws the twenty year old Hemingway as a handsome, magnetic, passionate, sensitive man full of dreams.
This portrayal of their marriage is so tender, so poignant that is an utterly absorbing novel. 


Friday, August 26, 2011

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

I heard a talk show host talk about this book being the next great "Harry Potter". I loved Harry Potter so I was anxious to get this book. I was captivated by the story. I enjoyed reading it, but I don't think it is the next great book like Harry Potter. First off, we have a boy living with his mother who finds himself in trouble at school a lot. His only friend is a really smart kid and then he meets up with the all popular cheerleader. (Interesting how the cheerleader is always the one that the boys want) In this book, we find that these children have special capabilities that evil people want to exploit. Does this sound like X-Men? Yup, it is very much the same story line. The book has some syrupy sweetness going on how the 'good' kids value home, family, and wrestle with the idea of worldly values: being able to buy anything you want and having no regard for people with no abilities or realizing that hurting others is just plain wrong. The problem is that this premise that the 'good' kids felt was a little overlooked when it came time for them to break out of the Elgen Academy and hurt those that had hurt them. The bad people are really cruel in this book. They kill family members, kidnap them to force the glows (the gifted children)to do their dirty work, and they manipulate these children by giving them great worldly goods and make them feel like they were ungrateful if they didn't do what was asked. A lot of mind playing tricks. They get away in the end and Michael's mother is still missing, so the book will continue and we as readers want Michael to succeed because he seems like the good guy. What will he do with his powers? Will he turn bad like the other children? Will he be able to find his mom before she is killed? The book is interesting enough to want to read the sequel, but the writing is not as good as Harry Potter.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue

Room: A Novel By Emma Donoghue(A)/Michal Friedman(N) [Audiobook]

Wow. A book hasn't swallowed me whole like that in a long time. This one will be haunting be for awhile. I wish I could tell you what it's about, but I wish I hadn't read the back cover 30 pages or so into and changed my own perception. It's best to figure it out along with the story.

I will say that it's about a 5-year-old boy who has never left the room where he lives. His whole world is Room and Bed and Rug. It's a little jarring to read from his point of view in the beginning and I was worried I wasn't going to be able to get into his story, but once I became accustomed to his voice, I couldn't put his story down. And his story wouldn't have the power it does without his perspective. We think about these type of stories from other perspectives, but never from his. Never from the child who is comfortable in his world that we know is all wrong. The child that never wants to leave his strange circumstances when we understand why he should.

Most of the time his naivete was right one, but there were occasions where Donoghue used his voice to explain something that I didn't buy into him understanding. I wish she would have trusted her reader more to see the discord of reality and his perception instead of using Jack to interpret his mother's emotions or the sequence of events. I loved the juxtaposition of reality and his interpretation and would have liked more of them. There were also some plot twists (view spoiler) that didn't ring entirely true, but I so believed Jack that in the end it didn't matter. There is one point where the plot takes a turn in a different direction from Jack's perception (view spoiler) but Jacks' reality is so real, you don't even consider other options. That's when I knew I'd follow Jack anywhere.

Maybe it's the unusual perspective or the strong voice. Maybe it's that I know what it's like for a child to change your world. Maybe it's that right now I feel trapped in my own room with my own baby. Maybe it's that Jack's relationship with his mother is so different from own experience and I was both shocked and saddened by their bond. Or maybe it's that Donoghue made me think about the world in a way I never have before. But whatever it is, this book grabbed my attention and wouldn't let it go. I related to Jack's story when I couldn't possibly know what his life is like. It's difficult to make the humdrum of ordinary life day in and day out inside an 11x11 room exciting, but Donoghue manages to keep my intense attention. (view spoiler)

While some of the events in the book are disturbing, I don't think they're too disturbing. Jack's innocent voice saves us from the horror that this story could be. It's not about all the things lost in Outside. It's about wanting to stay in and safe. And it's about the power of maternal love. Because of that, the story has redemption and hope and happiness.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Peculiar indeed...

The title and the cover decided things for me, and between the two of those, I was half convinced this would read like one of those YA historicals ala-Vixen or Luxe (given the cover) or one of those Series of Unfortunate Tales (given the title.) Wrong on both counts.

The Good:

Pictures. Everything Jacob said when describing those portraits were accurate: creepy, formal and yeah, creepy. They remind me of my grandparent's portraits hung in the house my mother grew up in. Both those portraits are black and white, with them posed all very formal and serious. The peculiar part is how their eyes just seemed to follow everywhere I'd go, comforting and creepy all at once. Nah, just creepy. It is from my brother that I've learned to pay close attention to where the portraits' eyes go (or stay.) To this day, those pictures get my hair standing on end. The very same feeling I got as I looked upon the many varied, creepy pictures in this book.

And to think that most of them are real, not manufactured for the sole purpose of the book! Me thought that was just cool... and creepy.

Time travelling. Now this is time travelling that I can get behind: the last one I read *cough* Hourglass*cough*was too pat, too easy. This one had loops and Ms. Peregrine types, and there were consequences that made sense. To say that its version was different, is quite true.

His devotion. Unlike his father, our MC had really close relationship with his grandfather. Sure, he'd had grown up and consequently doubted his grandfather's stories, but he cared for the old guy. The old guy really was his hero. It was this devotion that eventually got him on his adventure.

The Bad:

See that last sentence there? The one that says eventually? Well, "eventually" was almost half the novel. The first half had a lot of the funny parts, though: a priveleged teenage boy trying to get fired; a priveleged teenage boy who wasn't so popular with but one friend. BUT it got tedious, I tell you. The first half read like a YA contemp with some scary camp story thrown in. To be honest, the first half was so different from the second that I thought there were two novels in there. The first bit was him lost, drugged up just to cope and mourning. The second half was him and the Peculiars; you can guess which half I preferred.

And the... WTF?:

As with most YA's, there's a requisite love. In Jacob's case it's Emma. Jacob had voiced my concern early on in their relationship. It's not the instant love connection that I frequently complain of because there was no such thing here; the icky bit (kind of) comes in if you consider Emma and her history, (view spoiler)

Given all that ~ the good, the bad and the WTF, I'd say give this one a shot. It's got so many things going for it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Day (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Contemporaries) BY David Nicholls

One Day (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Contemporaries)

I absolutely loved this book. I became a big fan of Nicholls with his first novel (A Question of Attraction -- originally titled "Starter for Ten" with its U.K. edition.) I was a little letdown by his second -- The Understudy, which was fun, but not quite as good as his first. This book exceeds his first. He takes a great device -- following the lives of one couple on the same day over a period of 20 years -- and does a masterful job of storytelling with it. We go from the couple's idealistic college days -- they meet on the day of their graduation -- all the way into their late 30s, with all the physical and emotional changes that come during that timespan. We see the career missteps along the way, and all the various relationships they have while still remaining friends -- and the woman, Emma, always secretly in love with Dexter Mayhew, who has more than a few wild oats to sow before he realizes the woman he should be with is the one who's always been his best friend. The writing is absolutely marvelous. The dialogue is absolutely terrific -- the couple have a teasing/kneedling way of talking to each other and the reparteee between them remains funny and fresh throughout even though the novel is long -- 435 pages.

To say much more would be to give too much away. But if you like insightful books about relationships that can touch all of your emotions, this is the book for you. I think structurally the way Nicholls manages to take you on an extraordinary trip from the first page to the very last is a tour de force.

I had to buy this from amazon/uk because it was available in Britain a year before it became available in the United States, but I'm so happy I got it. This is definitely a book I will re-read several times -- and I hope Nicholls continues to have a prolific career.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition by Joel Fuhrman

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition

Rather than repeat many of the reviewers of this book, I simply want to add this book has the potential change one's life. I read that in one of the reviews before I bought this book, and I though that's rather silly, it's almost sad that a diet book can change someone's life.

Six months later, I now wholeheartedly agree. My girlfriend is now completely vegetarian and I eat meat only one or twice a week. Prior to this I would eat meat once or twice a day. If you told me six months ago that in half a year I would be for all intent and purpose be a vegetarian, I would have laughed and said that's impossible. I like to workout a lot, where will I get my protein from.
Well, I still workout a lot and I get most of my protein from soy products. I've managed to maintain my muscle and still loose 30 pounds, most of it coming off in the first couple months. My girlfriend has lost a similar amount.
It's worth mentioning that Dr. Fuhrman's diet is pretty strict, and it's a very dramatic change coming over from the typical American diet. He talks about making the commitment, and that's very important, but I think it's also important to be realistic and realize that it may take a while to fully adopt all of the eating habits he proposes. Even now, while others probably think all I eat is rabbit-food, I realize that we still not following his diet perfectly. We'll have buns with our black bean burgers, but just try to make sure they're not refined. And I'm not too concerned about it. The weight is staying off and we feel great.
So do yourself a favor and buy this book. While you're at it, buy your loved ones all a copy too, as I've recently started doing. If the thought of being a vegetarian scares you, don't let it. Dr. Fuhrman offers plenty of recipes with meat in them, so you'll have plenty to eat, and you might be surprised to see that it's possible to really go without meat in your diet. You'll also sleep better at night (and probably live longer) knowing that the stuff you're putting in your body is a lot better than all of your friends who are on Atkins or the South Beach diet.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris

"Learn to do good;" -- Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

This is the most engaging history book I've read so far in 2011.

While I was in college, I focused my studies on 19th century France because almost every possible variation of human history occurred there at some point between 1789 and 1914. In the course of those studies, I became very familiar with how French people and Europeans saw Paris. But it never occurred to me to apply the special lens of how visiting and expatriate Americans experienced the City of Light. I feel extremely grateful to David McCullough for conceiving of and brilliantly executing this book.

I should mention that I have read in great detail how 18th and 20th century Americans saw Paris. How I missed reading about the 19th century is beyond me.

One of the fascinating themes is how Americans went from being humble learners, seeking to gain from greater French knowledge of the arts and medicine, to being influential innovators bringing new influences (such as Morse's telegraph, Edison's electric lights, and John Singer Sargent's portraiture). Paris itself stretched to become a bigger stage on which technical progress was shared through the various exhibitions.

To me one of the best aspects of this book was becoming a little bit familiar with fascinating Americans who I didn't know much about before such as painter George P. A. Healy, American minister to France Elihu B. Washburne, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Naturally, Paris itself is the biggest character and David McCullough treats her with proper reverence.

I was particularly charmed by the descriptions of difficult Atlantic crossings in sailing ships, riding in French stagecoaches (diligences) to Paris, and how the newly arrived reacted to seeing their first French cathedrals, especially the one at Rouen.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder

This marvelous atmospheric and multi layered novel takes place in the Amazon jungle where an emissary from a pharmaceutical company dies under mysterious circumstances at a research facility.
Dr. Marina Singh is sent to find the remains and effects, but must first locate the famous and reclusive gynecologist, Dr. Swenson who is in charge of the research. Dr. Swenson is researching the women of a local tribe who can conceive well past middle age, and other secret remedies. She and her research are totally off limits except to a chosen few, just she and her research team.
Ms. Patchett’s true genius is her ability to write about situations that truly stretch incredibility but you end up believing every word, and even cheering. Very few authors can achieve this kind of rapport with their readers.
This is a vivid and emotional trip taking you on a journey so well written you are able to experience it through the eyes of characters you won’t soon forget. The unforgettable native boy, Easter will touch your heart, and linger in your thoughts long after you finish the book.
Highly Recommended 


Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13) by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13)

Wow.... Jim Butcher has done it again.

We move from the Cliff-hanger of Changes, where Harry Dresden is shot & presumably killed at the last page of the book, to his spirit roaming the streets... Well, not quite roaming, after all, he has been told that three of his friends will die, if his killer is not found, and what is a Private Investigator / Ghost suppose to do about it? Well, solve his own murder...

But, Harry is practically defenseless since he seems to be unable to use his magic while being a ghost.... So, who can he turn to?

Like the previous Dresden books, Ghost Story promises a lot, and it delivers. It's a fast, but fun read, in it's own way. Once again, we can Dresden wise-cracking and generally being himself...

The series reminds me of a blend of The Rockford Files and Mike Hammer who happens to be a wizard and deals with world threatening baddies.
At it's core, is a basic good vs evil conflict and with dash of moral dilemmas added in for spice.

By now, you have probably heard that Changes & Ghost Story, shake up the Dresden series... And it's true, in Changes Harry crosses "the line", and does what no one else was able to do, and virtually ends the Red Vampire War. In Ghost Story, we learn what the consequences of his actions were, and what Harry did to try to prevent them.

I do admit, I had figured out who shot him, within the first couple of chapters, but I didn't know Who Killed Harry, until the end of the Book.

It is safe to say, that there will be more Dresden books in the future... Especially if Jim Butcher can continue to innovate like this...


In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Nazi Germany is one of the most well-tread subject areas in literature of the last eighty years, and just when it seems everything interesting to say about it has been said, something new gives you a fresh reason to pay attention. As far as the historical record is concerned, Erik Larson’s latest book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, offers no big surprises, but this was never meant to be a history. What Larson does, and well at that, is to grant the general readership an insight into the time period by retelling the story of a single American family and their experiences during Hitler’s rise to power. In the Garden of Beasts tells the true story of William Dodd and his family during his first year as ambassador to Germany, which, incidentally, begins shortly after the naming of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933.
The book focuses mainly on the ambassador himself and his sociable young daughter, Martha. When they arrive in Berlin, in the summer of 1933, the history professor-turned-statesman and his daughter—along with most of the world at that point—see Hitler as more of a nuisance than a tyrant. Even a month into the job Dodd, “remains convinced that the government was growing more moderate and that Nazi mistreatment of Jews was on the wane”. To Martha, however, the Nazi “revolution” was exciting. This is how much of the book is framed; Ambassador Dodd is defined by his position, even at the many social balls thrown for and by the foreign diplomats in Berlin, which were seen as a vital part of the job, while Martha took in Nazi Germany as a young vacationer. The chapters tied to William Dodd have the ring of a more conventional history, recounting correspondence between the ambassador and various contacts at the states and highlighting his growing concern towards the Nazi party as requests go unheeded and the list of casualties gets longer. Meanwhile, the episodes featuring Martha are much more experiential as she entwines herself into the social fabric of Berlin, rubbing elbows with prominent members of the Nazi government, writers, newspaper correspondents, and enemies of the state. Larson describes, in glowing detail, Martha’s fashionable friends, her stylish parties and the exciting world into which she is drawn.
Both Martha and her father take some time to turn decidedly against the Nazi regime. The major turning point, the night of the long knives, is not encountered until the very end of the book, the chapters after it dedicated to the respective fates of each member of the Dodd family. Preceding that we see the ambassador’s growing frustration towards both governments with which he deals. On the German side he sees no adequate response to his repeated complaints of Americans being assaulted and finds that, despite their numerous reassurances, their rhetoric, as well as the law, only gets harsher as time goes on. Meanwhile, he finds himself alienated from the rest of the state department, the “Pretty Good Club” which was comprised mostly of old money and who grew annoyed with Dodd’s constant preaching for frugality and greater action to be taken in moderating Hitler’s government.
Martha’s change of heart comes from more personal sources. Even witnessing a women being beaten, shaved, embarrassed, and forcibly paraded around her hotel in Nuremburg did little to dissuade her sympathy for the cause. She begins to change partly due to her close social and romantic ties to several high ranking Nazis. Among these men is Rudolf Diels, head of the Gestapo, who flees Germany several times in that year when political infighting threatens his life. It is men like Diels and Ernst Hanfstaengl, men entrenched in Hitler’s government but still not immune from the whims of other Nazi officials that show her the true face of the “revolution”. Yet, the final inspiration is motivated not by a push, but a pull. Martha begins a relationship with Boris Winogradov, an employee at the Soviet Embassy, and also a spy. She becomes enamored with him and trades the Nazis for the Soviets.
The strength of In the Garden of Beasts is the very distance that is offered by the Dodd family in their encountering men known today only in superlative terms as evil incarnate. In 1933, to this family, they were still human, not in any redeeming way, but in a way that makes them small and petty. Larson sets out to bring color to a world typically known only in, “gradients of gray and black” and he succeeds, to a degree. One can imagine a newly arrived, young adult to be swept up in the excitement of these huge rallies. The brief descriptions of the Nuremburg rallies—which the Dodds refused to attend—give glimpses to the awesome spectacle provided for those not knowing what was to come. However there is little charm here and Martha’s early affinity for the movement is despite her experiences. What color he does provide is personality behind the names we know in the history books. The name Hitler carries tremendous weight now, and it is near impossible to think of him separate from the larger than life events which he caused, but here we get a glimpse at a man, one compared to, “a suburban hairdresser”. Larson is a master of finding bits of dark humor and irony that break the stiff wall of seriousness that has been built around the subject. He takes us out of the grand landscape shots and provides an extreme close up. The nuance is what makes this an interesting story and a good read, but do not expect a surprise twist ending.


Friday, August 12, 2011

StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

StrengthsFinder 2.0

What I liked about this book

I’ve read countless books that have been brimming with useful information, but it is rare to find one that has a practical way to follow up with that general information into useful and insightful next steps.
Here’s a clip from one of the reports for one of my skills:
“Choose work in which you ar paid to analyze data” — Gee … that’s the story of my life even though it took me a while to wander into that part of the computer industry.
And another one — “You are at your best when you have well-researched sources of information and numbers to support your logic.  Determine the most helppful books, websites, or publications that can serve as references.”  For those of who know my obsession with spreadsheets and filing email messages for years at a time, this is something of an explanation.  I need to wrap my mind around the numbers and spreadsheets let me do this.

Read this if

You’ve ever wondered what it is that makes you special.
This test will give you those answers.
You may think “everyone does that or would if they had the time,” but you’ll be wrong.  I mean, would you build a spreadsheet for the grocery store with prices and aisles?  Well that’s a natural thing for me and you’ll find that you have unique and useable skills.

Don’t read this if

For the first time, I don’t really have anything to put in this section.  I think this book is useful for everyone, but remember one key is to focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.


One of the best, if not the best, books that I’ve ever read and one of the most practical.

If I came across this book on a bargain table

I would check if the code had been used and if not, I’d snatch it up to give to a friend.

Nice introduction HERE