Sunday, May 12, 2019

'The Wall' by John Lancaster

The WallThe Wall by John Lanchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Plot (from Amazon):
Ravaged by the Change, an island nation in a time very like our own has built the Wall―an enormous concrete barrier around its entire coastline. Joseph Kavanagh, a new Defender, has one task: to protect his section of the Wall from the Others, the desperate souls who are trapped amid the rising seas outside and are a constant threat. Failure will result in death or a fate perhaps worse: being put to sea and made an Other himself. Beset by cold, loneliness, and fear, Kavanagh tries to fulfill his duties to his demanding Captain and Sergeant, even as he grows closer to his fellow Defenders. A dark part of him wonders whether it would be interesting if something did happen, if they came, if he had to fight for his life…

My review: 
I absolutely loved The Wall! Dystopian future fiction at its best, and so very timely, given both the protracted fight over the United States' southern border and the torrent of bad news about climate change. I was mesmerized by the description of what it would be like to be both a conscripted soldier and someone fated, through no fault of one's own, to live on the other side of the wall. Should be required reading.

'The Things She's Seen'

The Things She's SeenThe Things She's Seen by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Teenager Beth Teller is dead, killed in a car accident. She has remained because her father, a police officer and the only person who can see her, is so bereft. Beth follows him on his first case back on the job, a fire at a children's home, and she's excited. Maybe she and her dad will have a crime to solve! As they investigate, the case gets more complicated, surreal, and downright supernatural.

Grief, storytelling, and the strength to fight oppression are the animating themes of this lovely YA novel. The authors are both Aboriginal Australians who weave the history of their people into the narrative. Although a quick read, this story is one that will make you think and stick with you.

Friday, April 05, 2019

'Maybe You Should Talk to Someone' by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a patient or a therapist in traditional psychotherapy, Lori Gottlieb's account of both sides of the couch is for you. Gottlieb is a fantastic storyteller, having mastered her craft first in Hollywood then as a journalist before becoming a therapist. She captures several of her patients' poignant journeys and recounts her own, which she sought out after a difficult break up. I am not qualified to critique the style of therapy, but I know there are other techniques in use, and Gottlieb makes no mention of them. Nor does she talk about health insurance, socioeconomic status, religion -- any manner of issues that complicate the story. Fair enough; she didn't set out to write that kind of book. What has created is a memoir with can't-put-it-down narrative drive, making it both an interesting and entertaining read.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

'The Valedictorian of Being Dead' By Heather B. Armstrong

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to LiveThe Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I was mesmerized and couldn't put this book down. It was also a bit difficult to read such a revealing look at major depression.

I think what most amazed me the most was how (SPOILER ALERT), from the vantage point of being recovered, Heather Armstrong was able to re-inhabit her depressed self. In finest story-telling fashion, she shows us rather than tells us, what her experience was. She also unfolds her experience like a plot. I should have guessed that the experimental treatments worked, but I still had to race to find out.

Conveying such a heavy topic with lightness and humor is a magic trick - how did she do it? She also manages to be loving toward everyone in her family, even though it is clear that her father's temper, her parents' divorce, leaving the Mormon faith, and her own failed marriage all played parts in her psychological difficulties.

Perhaps readers familiar with Armstrong's blog ( won't be so surprised she pulled off this memoir with such aplomb. Her aim is to share the experience of major depression in the hopes of helping others to recognize the illness and seek treatment. I believe she will accomplish that goal. I think it is noteworthy to show an experimental treatment from the inside. I have not read anything else quite like it, but to be fair, I have only heard about clinical trials from news reports.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

'The Inflamed Mind' by Edward Bullmore

The Inflamed Mind: A radical new approach to depressionThe Inflamed Mind: A radical new approach to depression by Edward Bullmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edward Bullmore's book is both amazing and disappointing. It's amazing because his writing is refreshingly clear as he lays out his thesis about inflammation's role in depression. He explains the nascent field of psycho-immunology and how much has been learned about the immune system 30 years. He also documents the weaknesses inherent in contemporary mental health-care, which is based on the ages-old Cartesian separation of mind and body.

The book is disappointing, however, because any treatment based on the role of inflammation in the brain is still years away. Unfortunately, he also has virtually nothing to say about any other approach to lowering inflammation in the body. For instance, there are a variety of anti-inflammation diets out there, but Dr. Bullmore has no guidance to give. No doubt that is because there is no inflammation-reducing diet verified as effective through research. (At least to my understanding.) But it would have been helpful if he at addressed it.

Regardless, any lay person interested in inflammation and the brain should find Dr. Bullmore's overview both accessible and educational.

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Friday, September 28, 2018

'Why Religion?' by Elaine Pagels

Why Religion?: A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wrenching memoir matched with intellectual study of Christianity from a groundbreaking scholar.

Elaine Pagels has had to endure incredible loss: first her six-year-old son, and a year later, her husband. She survived and apparently thrived in part through her research on the "heretical" texts of early Christianity. Her own story is interspersed with passages examining the meaning of the Nag Hammadi texts, also known as the Gnostic gospels. Pagels' personal suffering informs her research, and her the texts in turn help give her perspective.

My only beef is that I wanted to keep going with her life as she raised her children and worked, but she skips those years. As a middle-aged adult, I can understand why - life happens and time flies. No doubt her existence returned to more ordinary levels of stress during that time.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Nag Hammadi texts and Elaine Pagels.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Mini-review: 'Transcription' by Kate Atkinson

TranscriptionTranscription by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In general, I love Kate Atkinson's work. I really loved LIFE AFTER LIFE but didn't want to get into the same territory again with A GOD IN RUINS, so I didn't read it.

I had trouble getting into TRANSCRIPTION because I had just finished Dan Fesperman's SAFE HOUSES, also about spycraft and WWII. So, it took me a long time to read the beginning, and my being able to follow the plot and characters through time suffered for it.

Once I picked up TRANSCRIPTION and kept with it, however, I really enjoyed it. I love Atkinson's humor, provided through her heroine Juliet's divergent thoughts. (At one point Juliet wonders if anyone has every died from thinking too much.)

Keenly planned and masterfully executed, both the plot and writing are terrific. Readers who like to go from A to Z without detour may not enjoy it, but there's so much to like here for Atkinson's fans, readers of spy thrillers, and WWI fiction readers alike.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mini review: 'Safe Houses' by Dan Fesperman

Safe HousesSafe Houses by Dan Fesperman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Dan Fesperman's latest - a complicated espionage mystery that moves back and forth through time, from 1979 West Berlin to modern day Maryland, with a strong heroine at its center. Its timing couldn't be better, as the action that sets the narrative going fits neatly into the zeitgeist of #metoo. Fesperman's crisp writing brings the world of Cold War spying to life, and he deftly maintains suspense as he moves between the two eras, weaving in real-life history of a super secret intelligence agency. I recommend it!

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