Thursday, April 28, 2016

'Everyone Brave is Forgiven' by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (author of Little Bee) is starkly beautiful and heartbreaking, filled with astute observation, keen insights, and touches of humor. It is the story of four young London friends at the start of World War II. Three remain in London during the Blitz and one serves on Malta. I found it gripping and moving, and it made me wonder how people recover from war, witnessing so much cruelty and destruction and suffering so much pain and deprivation, but Cleave based his novel on his grandparents’ courtship. For an excellent fuller review, which I cannot better, see the one written by Jeanette Zwart for Shelf Awareness:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

'Before the Wind' by JIm Lynch

Before the Wind

Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do you like to sail? I don’t mean lying in the sun on a sailboat while someone else steers. I mean rigging the boat, launching it, manning the sails. If so, you will thrill to Jim Lynch’s new novel, which is set in the world of boats driven by the wind. If not, prepare to be schooled as well as entertained.

Narrated by Josh, the adult middle child of the famous, boat-building Johanssens of Puget Sound, the central family story is surrounded by other quirky, sailing-related stories, such as Einstein’s love of sailing (who knew?) and the various dreamers and dropouts who want to sail around the world or live on moored sailboats.

There is copious detail about the sport, and I love the way Lynch delves into the topic and makes his protagonist family around it. I don’t sail, but I live with a racer of small sailboats, so I can’t be an impartial judge as to whether all the references to vangs and halliards and jibs will it be too much for the uninitiated.

I can say Lynch really captures sailors, even though the ones I know sail small boats and live on the east coast rather than big boats out west. Including anecdotes about Einstein, elements of physics, and a mathematics-obsessed character fit too.

For the family story, Lynch broadens some familiar roles--the domineering father who drives his children to excel and ends up driving them away, the hot-headed oldest brother, the peace-maker middle child--with others than go against type and a touch of magical realism in the person of Ruby, the youngest Johannsen who is a gifted sailor and healer bordering on the supernatural. Lynch also weaves humor throughout, including Josh’s recounting of his online dating experiences and a co-worker who likes to quote the movie March of the Penguins.

Before the Wind is touched with both wonder and sadness and ultimately about finding one’s place in the world, which may mean leaving family or returning to it. The reader may need a little patience to read through the setup to get to the meat of the family story, but it is well worth it.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

'Smarter Better Faster' by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg is a master storyteller and adept translator of cognitive science into plain English. The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist used this approach in his bestseller The Power of Habit, and he has done it again in Smarter Faster Better: the Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. In this new book (available March 8, 2016), he tackles motivation, teams, focus, goals, managing others, decision making, innovation, and absorbing data. It sounds like a lot of ground, but Duhigg creates focus by framing each chapter with a memorable story. He explains the neuroscience behind processes that sometimes fly in the face of common ideas, and ends each chapter with succinct suggestions on how to make use of the ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and will long remember the stories contained therein, which range from the everyday (a teenage girl growing up in poverty) to the spectacular (the story behind the story of Disney’s mega-hit Frozen). Highly recommended for anyone wishing to influence the behavior of themselves or others.

Smarter Better Faster - buy on IndieBound | Amazon 

The Power of Habit - buy on IndieBound | Amazon

Thursday, December 10, 2015

New Venture

New books venture for me: Upper Valley Book Buzz blog on  Check it out (please)!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

'Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights' by Salman Rushdie

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight NightsTwo Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rich, thoughtful, fantastical, beautifully and masterfully written. A fable of a war between the earth and Fairyland, between humans and jinni, that is also a meditation on philosophy, religion, love, fear. Wonderful. Loved it.

For an interesting conversation on the book with the author, see NPR's "Salman Rushdie: These Days, 'Everyone Is Upset All The Time.'" And I love this review over at BookPage.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

'Scorpion Rules' by Erin Bow

The next Hunger Games may have arrived.

Erin’s Bow’s Scorpion Rules is riveting. In a post-apocalyptic world ruled by an artificial intelligence called Talis, the ancient practice of offering up children as hostages against war has been revived. The heads of the latest nations of the earth must provide their offspring as hostages to be raised in Prefectures. These “Children of Peace” are destined to rule their countries, should they survive to age 18. Any time before then, if their leaders — their parents — declare war, the children's’ lives are forfeit.

Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a superpower located where Canada once was. At 16, she has been an excellent student and an obedient Child of Peace for 11 years. When a war in the former U.S results in a new nation threatening her country’s water supply, Greta witnesses a new hostage arrive: Elian. He, too, is a teenager, but he was not raised in a Prefecture and has a hard time adjusting to his new status. Both Greta and Elian know their countries are at the brink of war and that they will die if things come to that.

Events on the Prefecture, located in rural Saskatchewan, do not proceed as Greta presumes they will. Elian’s country captures the Prefecture, which is strictly forbidden by Talis’ rules of war. In the midst of this threat, Greta struggles to maintain her dignity and keep her friends alive, and discovers truths about her world that will change everything for her.

Erin Bow’s book is engaging and intriguing in a way only the best YA can be. Although I didn’t quite understand why the essential nations had given up on negotiations, Bow’s world is believable and well-wrought. I found myself thinking about the Prefecture when I was away from the book and surprised by some of the turns the narrative took. This book is clearly the beginning of a story that is so filmable I can’t wait to see on it screen, nor can I wait to see where Erin Bow takes it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

'Circling the Sun' by Paula McLain

Circling the SunCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paula McLain has done it again, channeled an amazing women from the early 20th century to create a lovely and affecting historical novel. Beryl Markham grew up motherless and wild in colonial Africa, was the first woman to train racehorses there, and then became the first woman to fly solo east-to-west across the Atlantic. The novel, beautifully written and thoughtfully observed, follows Beryl from girlhood through learning to fly and is framed by her record-setting flight. To me it felt like it ended a little abruptly; Markham had a long life afterward, marrying again and not dying until the age of 83. I suppose had become fond of Beryl and would have followed her story to the end. Even so, I believe admirers of McLain’s popular work The Paris Wife will also enjoy this book, as will readers of Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, as Blixen appears as a character in Circling the Sun.

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