6 mini-reviews from my 30 day challenge

Title: The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks, Author: Bruce BartlettThe Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett. Finished 9-2-18, 4/5 stars, current affairs/reference, pub. 2017.

It’s only 136 pages and reads fast.  I assumed by the title that this was about Trump and his loose grasp of the truth so I was surprised when I realized it was written by a Republican who had worked for both Reagan and the first Bush.  This is a nonpartisan book and it was good.  He touches on many things…why the traditional media no longer serves our needs, differences between primary and secondary sources, trusting academic sources, using your local libraries, numbers must be put into context, polling, using Wikipedia, fake news, and more.

“President Trump has used the term (fake news) as an accusation against news organizations reporting accurate news that he doesn’t like.” (emphasis mine)  The book isn’t about Trump, but he is mentioned when talking about his obsession with what he calls fake news.  Bartlett gives a list of credible sources and gives you tips on how to not fall for the lies.

“In the end, the best defenses against fake news are critical thinking; taking in news from a variety of sources, including those that don’t confirm your own biases; being skeptical about information that sounds too good (or bad) to be true; and other self-defenses.” page 126

I think everyone should read this book.  It’s short enough and provides great historical context and sources.  If in doubt, go to your library.  They can show you what resources they have to help you.


Title: ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge, Author: Bronte AurellScandikitchen:The Essence of Hygge by Bronte Aurell. Finished 9-3-18, 4/5 stars, culture, pub. 2017

I chose this as I was browsing library books for short books (this one clocks in at 160) and saw that it was about something that I was completely clueless about.  It’s a Scandinavian term that suddenly hit the mainstream in the past few years. It’s all about being present in the moment, a perfect companion to my love of mindfulness.  It included great quotes from the likes of Gandhi, Epicurus, and Julia Child.  It is beautifully done with quality paper and gorgeous photographs.  The recipes she included look so yummy I’m to try a few (gluten & dairy free adapted, of course).  The small square size makes it a perfect book to give as a gift – maybe even to yourself!  I have at least one person in mind who will be getting it for Christmas 🙂 It’s about something real and important and inspiring.


Title: Wishful Drinking, Author: Carrie FisherWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Finished 9-5-18, 5/5 stars, memoir, 163 pages, pub. 2008

What a hoot!  I loved her snark and stories and our shared love of Cary Grant.  This is a memoir, complete with pictures of her life growing up with famous parents (she calls them the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston of their day).  Considering that she also married someone famous, expect lots of people you know.  I won’t say name dropping, because this just felt like her life and it all seemed relevant.  I know she also wrote novels and I may have to add them to my reading list because I enjoy her writing and sense of humor so much.


Title: The Joy of Cookies: Cookie Monster's Guide to Life, Author: Cookie MonsterCookie Monster’s Guide to Life. Finished 9-5-18, 2/5 stars, humor, pub. 2018

Today after school Gage and I read a book together. I found Cookie Monster’s Guide to Life The Joy of Cookies in the 818 section of the library.  Really?  The high ratings on Goodreads make me think I missed something, but as I page back through the 160 pages of Cookie Monster screaming about cookies, I think maybe they got it wrong.  Well, anyway, G laughed a lot when I did the Cookie Monster voice and he even tried it out himself when he read, but he’s a kid.  This book was in the adult section.  I don’t get it.


Title: God: 48 Famous and Fascinating Minds Talk About God, Author: Jennifer BerneGod: 48 Famous and Fascinating Minds Talk About God by Jennifer Berne. Finished 9-10-18, 3/5 stars, pub. 2017

Quite a mix of believers in math and science mixed in with those who embrace the unknowable.  I returned the book to the library this morning or I’d offer a few quotes.  Illustrations for every quote.


Cleveland A to Z: Historical Essentials for Newcomers and Residents in Northeastern OhioCleveland A-Z by John J Grabowski. Finished 9-7-18, 5/5 stars, local history, pub.2017

Perfect for new Clevelanders and old.  A fun pictorial history lesson for the storied city of Cleveland.

 

 

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Title: Faithful: A Novel, Author: Alice HoffmanFaithful. Finished audio 10-30-18, 5/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2016

Unabridged audio read by Amber Tamblyn (love her!).  7 discs.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.  from Goodreads

I fell in love with Shelby and her journey of guilt, grief and forgiveness.  This was not an easy read (or listen in my case) since Shelby was such a lost soul, but little by little, as she survived and discovered her value, the emotional pull ultimately satisfied.  Do yourself a favor and give this bald, young adult who believes she doesn’t deserve to be here a chance.

I could go into more detail, but I really don’t want to.  I want you to discover it on your own. Jason listened to it after I did and he loved it as well.  This is probably my favorite Hoffman so far (although I’ only read a handful or so) and I LOVED the audio narration by actress Amber Tamblyn.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Title: Number the Stars 25th Anniversary, Author: Lois LowryNumber the Stars. Finished 9-26-18, 5/5 stars, YA, 137 pages, pub. 1989

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.  from Goodreads

I adored this 1990 Newbery Medal winner.  I really had no idea what this was about and I’m not sure why I added it to my Classics Club reading list (must have been one of you bloggers gushing about it!).  What a joy it was to discover a children’s book that could entertain, engage and educate.  I was hooked from the get go.

Ann-Marie and her best friend Ellen are making the best of growing up with Nazis on every corner of their town, until one night the unthinkable happens at the local Jewish synagogue and now the Nazis have a list of Jews.  Ellen’s parents leave her with Ann-Marie’s family as they flee and what happens next is so emotional and horrifying that I became attached very quickly.  Ann-Marie and her family take extraordinary risks to do the right thing.

I didn’t know anything about the Danish Resistance that smuggled almost their entire Jewish population (7,000) across the sea to Sweden under the noses of the Nazis.  I was fascinated and in awe of the great things that ordinary people did to fight the good fight, even if the fight wasn’t theirs.  After this week’s shooting in the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh I was struck with the parallels when I sat down to write my thoughts about this book.  We must all stand up to hate. This is a perfect example of ordinary people doing the best that they can to do the right thing.  If you have a child in your life and you are struggling to explain what happened, reading this book together might be a good starting point.  And as a bonus you’ll probably learn something new.

This was my 23rd selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

 

The Battle For Paradise:Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists by Naomi Klein

Title: The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, Author: Naomi  Klein The Battle for Paradise. Finished 9-16-18, rating 5/5, non-fiction, 80 pages, pub 2018

In the rubble of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans and ultrarich “Puertopians” are locked in a pitched struggle over how to remake the island. In this vital and startling investigation, bestselling author and activist Naomi Klein uncovers how the forces of shock politics and disaster capitalism seek to undermine the nation’s radical, resilient vision for a “just recovery.”  from Goodreads

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that taught me so much in just 80 pages.  Admittedly, I knew very little about Puerto Rico, but this book isn’t just about the small US territory, it’s also about how capitalism can be and is at odds with humane aid when disaster strikes.  Thankfully, Trump is mentioned toward the end only, and as you can imagine, not favorably, so for the most part this is about what’s actually happening there, starting before the hurricane hit through today, where so many are still living without electricity.

First, let’s start with the term neoliberalism.  Sounds like a word that Mitch McConnell would spit out when talking about Democrats, but that definition didn’t fit with what I was reading so I had to do a small bit of research since the word came up a few times. A concise explanation for those interested…

Liberalism vs. Neoliberalism

“Although the terms share some similarities, the two are distinct. Both are rooted in 19th-century classical liberalism, which supported laissez-fare economics and the freedom of people against an overpowering government. Liberalism is more of a political philosophy that holds liberty to a high standard. It defines all social, economic and political aspects of society, such as the role of government, toleration, freedom to act, etc. Conversely, neoliberalism focuses more on the markets, meaning it supports deregulation, ending protectionism and freeing up the markets. Therefore, it is based on economics.”   From Investopedia

Even my investment hubby wasn’t up-to-date with the term. The Republicans passed a number of tax breaks for businesses and businesses to make Puerto Rico a paradise.  This takeover of the rich was happening before Hurricane Maria.  Now, as the devastation still continues there is a real divide between the native Puerto Ricans and the monied Silicon Valley millionaires wanting to change the landscape of the land.

This book led to some great discussion with Jason and I can now say that I understand the bitcoin phenomena a bit better.  Also of interest is how some of the things that happened after Hurricane Katrina are happening here.  It’s sad and scary.

I don’t know the answer for Puerto Rico but they are engaged and I hope that the heart of of the territory prevails.

I recommend this for everyone.

Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Skin and How To Fix It For a Beautiful Healthy Glow by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki

Title: Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow, Author: Sandy SkotnickiBeyond Soap. Finished 8-7-18, 5/5 stars, health, 296 pages, pub. 2018

North America’s leading dermatologist offers a ground-breaking, informative, and incredibly practical book that reveals the harmful effects of our modern skincare habits and how you can eliminate common skin conditions.

Sensitive skin is one of the most buzzed-about topics in dermatology today. It can be painful, debilitating, and inconvenient. Astonishingly, many of the women and men who suffer from problem skin are unknowingly causing it by washing too frequently and using too many skincare and beauty products. Often, we slather ourselves in creams and balms that can actually damage the skin. The miracle products we buy at department stores, specialty shops, and pharmacies have the potential to make us less attractive and prematurely age our skin.    from Goodreads

I accepted this book for the  TLC book tour  and just finished it last night, so good.  I could have skimmed it and gotten it done sooner, but once I started reading I was hooked and didn’t want to rush.  I thought I was going to read about how to fix my skin and I did, BUT it was so much more than that.  It was also a history and science lesson. I loved learning about the history of how we wash ourselves.  I know, I was surprised by this too.

An average woman uses 12 personal products which contain 168 different ingredients on a daily basis.  So, when you have a reaction how do you know what’s the problem?  Labels like hypoallergenic mean nothing since they aren’t really regulated.  You need to look first for products with no fragrances and as few botanicals as possible.  The BIG BRANDS of body products (shampoos, body washes…) go to great lengths to woo dermatologists, but in reality are little fazed by suggestions from them.  The companies want what the public wants and the public loves scents so most products are full of them.  Her advice?  Wash less and use fewer (and better) products. She does provide lists of some of her favorite products, but you’ll have to read the book to find them 🙂

Dr. Skotnicki was preaching to the choir about over washing since I gave up my daily shower a few years ago,  but I think this book would be great for everyone to read regardless of whether you think you have a skin problem.  The skin is our largest organ and what you put on it will have profound effects on your body as a whole.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Ack! Two way past their due date book reviews- Loving Frank & Rules of Civility

Title: Rules of Civility: A Novel, Author: Amor TowlesRules of Civility. Finished 8-28-17, rating 4.75/5, fiction, pub. 2011

Unabridged audio read by Rebecca Lowman

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.   from Goodreads

I listened to this beauty of a book and loved it.  It felt like a classic throwback.  The language, the atmosphere, the characters, the story.  Perfection.   Katey was a wonderful protagonist.  Unlike my problems with Mamah in Loving Frank, Katey was smart, independent, driven, and, ultimately, likeable.

This is a perfect New York City story, circa 1938, and I wish I had more to say to recommend it, but I waited too long to write this.  I read this for my book group but didn’t end up going to the discussion.  Later, one of the ladies mentioned she thought it had a Great Gatsby feel to it and she’s right (although I’m no GG fan I do appreciate it).  Read it!

Title: Loving Frank, Author: Nancy HoranLoving Frank. Finished 8-22-17, rating 4/5, historical fiction, pub. 2007

Unabridged audio read by Joyce Bean. 15 hours.

“I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.”

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

In this groundbreaking historical novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Mamah’s profound influence on Wright.

from Goodreads

I went in to this one knowing very little about Wright’s personal life and I think that was a good thing.  As far as I can tell, very little is known about the real affair between Frank and Mamah so the author had great license to depict the two and their relationship.  Neither of them comes off as particularly warm and fuzzy.  They are both married with children when they meet and still manage to go off to Europe together leaving them behind.  Back in the early 1900’s this was more scandalous than we might find it today and they faced a backlash from the press.

Mamah left her very small children behind.  As easy as it might be to understand her attraction to a successful, gifted man, it was less easy to understand her abandonment of her children.  So, she had flaws, maybe just as many as Frank Lloyd Wright himself, but the story was compelling.  But, the ending, the ending!!  Wow.  I would recommend this one. As a matter of fact, a friend handed this to me at a party and told me I had to read it.  Now I’m telling you.

 

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Mariana, Author: Susanna KearsleyMariana. Finished 10-4-17, rating 5/5, historical time travel romance, 373 pages, pub. 1994

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past…until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.   from Goodreads

Here were my first thoughts on Goodreads when I finished this one, “My love affair with Susanna Kearsley continues. This was one of her first books and it may be my favorite so far. I didn’t want it to end. I was worried that the ending would be all wrong. But it wasn’t. It was perfect.”  There is something so magical and romantic about her stories.  There is history, romance, and a perfect sense of place in all of her books.  This one also felt a little like a ghost story.

Julia was sure she’d found her house and she packed up and moved from London to a small English village without a second thought.  She was a children’s book illustrator and was able to make a few friends right away just as she was being transported back in time at unpredictable times.

It’s tricky when you are going back and forth between time periods and characters.  Inevitably, you are drawn more to one story than the other.  This one did a great job of tying the two together so I was invested in both.  Was this book, the first time she tried the time travel travel romance, perfect? No.  Was it perfect enough to have me rereading the last few chapters again and again because I wasn’t quite ready for it to end?  A resounding YES!

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J Gaines

Title: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Author: Ernest J. GainesThe Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Finished 9-28-17, rating 5/5, classic, 246 pages, pub. 1971

“This is a novel in the guise of the tape-recorded recollections of a black woman who has lived 110 years, who has been both a slave and a witness to the black militancy of the 1960’s. In this woman Ernest Gaines has created a legendary figure, a woman equipped to stand beside William Faulkner’s Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury.” Miss Jane Pittman, like Dilsey, has ‘endured,’ has seen almost everything and foretold the rest. Gaines’ novel brings to mind other great works The Odyssey for the way his heroine’s travels manage to summarize the American history of her race, and Huckleberry Finn for the clarity of her voice, for her rare capacity to sort through the mess of years and things to find the one true story in it all.”  — Geoffrey Wolff, Newsweek.

I wish I had taken the time to write this soon after I read it in September because although I absolutely loved this book some of the details now allude me.  I loved Jane.  She is a true survivor.  This book, spanning her 110 year life really comes full circle in the end and I would have been happy to spend another 110 with Jane.

Jane was a little girl of 10 or 11  when Lincoln freed the slaves and she left her plantation with a small group hoping to walk their way north from Louisiana.  When something bad happens Jane is left in charge of 3 year old Ned and she must rely on her wits to keep them safe and free.  She eventually come to raise him like he was her own son and find both happiness and heartache, never leaving her beloved Louisiana.

Jane is a warrior, a realist, and a trailblazer.  This story, which spans the time between slavery and the beginning of the civil rights movement told the story with real events and people framing Jane’s experiences.  This is one worth reading.

This was my 18th selection for the Classics Club and I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.  I am woefully behind!

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Title: Little Fires Everywhere, Author: Celeste NgLittle Fires Everywhere. Finished 11-8-17, rating 4.75.5, fiction, 338 pages, pub. 2017

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.  from Goodreads

We read this for my book group last night and we all liked it.  It also led to great discussion.  There are limitless things to talk about and over the course of appetizers, pizza, dessert and wine we touched on a lot of them. The author was in town (Shaker Heights where the story takes place) and a few of the members were able to go and hear her speak and they came away impressed with how intelligent she was.

Shaker Heights is a real place and I love it.  If not for Jason being put off by the high taxes I think I could get him to live there 🙂  Ng chose to show the Shaker that she grew up in and I think it’s fair, even though it has changed over the years it does still remain a progressive hotspot with old mansions lining picturesque streets.  The Richardson family embodies this perfectly.

Ng is genius at getting into the minds of so many different characters and giving them unique voices.  I understood and felt for every one of the characters in the book (save one who I just did not get – Izzy) and even when I didn’t like them I understood them.

The story centers around not only the fight over a baby left at a fire station by a distraught mother but also the mysterious Mia.  So many layers to this story and they were all connected by mothers.  What makes a good mother? At the end of this book I just wanted to hug Gage and tell him I was doing the best I could. One of the ladies in book club commented that it forced her to do a self-check on her own parenting skills.

I loved this book because it is overflowing with gray area. There are a few areas that I felt were black or white, but the rest was left for you to decide.  I admit that this one started slow for me (the only one in my group to feel this way), but by the hundred page mark I was hooked!  I loved Mia the most even though she was probably the one with the most issues.

Do yourself a favor and check it out.  Especially if you’re in a book club.

 

 

 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Title: The Color Purple, Author: Alice WalkerThe Color Purple. Finished 9-19-17,  5/5 stars, classic, 295 pages, pub. 1982

The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence.

from Goodreads

Celie did not have an easy life.  Abused by her father and then her husband, she relied on the love of her sister to get her through.  When Nellie goes away and Celie doesn’t hear from her she begins writing letters to God. When her husband brings home his mistress, Shug, to live with them, Celie finally starts to see herself in a new light.

This is not an easy read.  It’s emotional, sexually explicit and might wake you up in ways that you don’t like.  Walker has created such a powerful group of women that you can’t help but feel empowered, even when they aren’t.  Celie’s perseverance gives a voice to all the women who experience abuse, verbal and physical, and still manage to stay on their feet.

Honestly, it was one of those classics that I thought would not live up to the hype.  Only it did.  It exceeded expectations and now I’m anxious to get my hands on the movie. I want to spend more time with Celie and Sofia and Shug and Nettie.  I kind of want to read it again right now.  In 1930’s Georgia what kind of life did black women lead?  Still relevant and still addictingly readable.

 

This was my 16th selection for the Classics Club and I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.  I am woefully behind!