Monday, June 9, 2014

Me Before you

by Jojo Moyes

"Aren't Jojo Moyes's books, well, sort of...insipid?" asked my friend as I rhapsodized about this book.
"No," I replied, "Definitely not, it's only her cover art."

And, you must admit, the titles and the cover art of her books suggest a certain boilerplate cheesiness within. But this is most definitely not the case here. This author is taking on tough topics, including assisted suicide, chronic pain, and, most importantly, the meaning of life when life has seemingly lost all meaning. She does so with delicacy and without judgment, giving intelligent voices to both sides of topics not often discussed--even herein--in calm and thoughtful voices. Reading this book brought to mind some of my favorite reads on the same subject, namely "A Lesson Before Dying" and "Man's Search for Meaning".

In particular, however, this story brought to mind "Dying Well", a concept beautifully covered in Dr. Ira Byock's book with that title. No marking time in a living death once Lou enters Will's life; as they grow to love one another, each gives the other the gift of meaning.

"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how," per Nietzsche. Unfortunately, the operative word here is 'almost'. Love or hate the ending; you won't ever forget it.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Orphan Choir

by Sophie Hannah

Started strong but progressed to just so-so.  The quirky protagonist loses her sense of humor and her grip on reality after her 7 year old son leaves home for boarding school whilst her next door neighbor plays sound wars through their thin, adjoining wall.  Granted, no one can stay arch and amusing while both mourning and not sleeping, but poor Louise devolves into an unconvincing, obsessive madness as I wonder with a yawn how much longer her tedious, journal entries will be the gimmick that moves the plot.

That said, other reviewers confirm what I suspect, namely that this particular work is a disappointment in light of Ms. Hannah's other, better books.  So, while my enjoyment of "The Orphan Choir" was most tepid, I look forward to more wit and better story lines in future Hannah thrillers.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"How Far Would You Have to Ride a Bicycle..."

by Jonathan Bailor
" burn off the calories in two slices of bacon?" asked a headline on the front page of yesterday's Denver Post. The answer on page 16B? Four or five miles! And lord help you get any work done if you had a pat of butter and a Starbucks grande skim latte with that breakfast bacon indulgence because now you'll never get to work on time-- you'll be walking 1.25 miles on the downtown mall and jogging around City Park lake 1.5 times to work off the extra calories for those bad boys. can lift and lower Mr. Bailor's book over several weeks and change your mindset and your midriff!

I gave up preaching the calories in/calories out theory of weight gain some time ago, replacing it with "you can eat but you can't eat that" sermon, with that being the bread, tortillas, rice, potatoes, and sweets with which my patients snacked their way through long, sedentary days. This book while a bit repetitive and disjointed will supply you with the physiological facts supporting this nutritional sea change. I'm not sure if Mr. Bailor's program will fit your meal planning any better than it does mine, but it certainly is food for thought, and his suggested foods may well sneak their way into your grocery cart as more and more of them now arrive in mine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Casual Vacancy

by J.K. Rowling

I've mentioned this book and how much I enjoyed it to several friends.  "Can you pronounce the names in the book?" asked one; another simply stated "I don't like fantasy."  The location, a small village in England; the time, the present; the characters, believable if not always appealing and often tragic.  If you've ever wondered how life will go on after you die, this well-written work is a most interesting exploration of the ripples and waves in the wake of one man's demise.  No fantasy here but a rather engaging and grim reality.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book reviews

I started reviewing books on Amazon about 6 years ago hoping that the activity would help me remember what I read.  As a result of my public reviews, I've been approached by authors to review their work in return for a free copy of same.  Anyone who births a book has my complete respect, but I should know better by now than to offer to read and review their work.  Too much my grandma's grandchild, I take to heart her advice: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

The first offer came from a thirty-something Saudi woman who'd written a book on her dating experience.  Or so I thought.  In fact, it was a rather explicit narration of her sexual exploits called "When the Veil Drops: The Erotic Tales of a Muslim Woman."  I could've titled my review "When My Jaw Drops: Not the Demographic for Erotic Tales"  The author and I exchanged several e-mails; she doubtless would've been a great companion for a hilarious girls' lunch out.  My dilemma, however, how to review her book, her labor of love, when I'm more aghast than engaged?

This month I've read two freebies for review.  "Firebug", available on Kindle, by Daniel Berenson, is well-written, a bit of a tear-jerker.  Again, however, this is not my kind of book, and so, was difficult to review.  The other, whose title I will keep to myself, was badly written, full of adverbs, adjectives, and overdrawn scenes.  When the heroine's 'angriness' flooded out of her like a stream, I knew I was in trouble.  

So little time, so much to read.  Time to just say no to cold calls for reviews.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Three Stations Audiobook

by Martin Cruz Smith

I always assumed that Martin Cruz Smith would be too much for me in the way that John le Carre's George Smiley books leave me dazed and confused.  Thus, I have never read "Gorky Park" which has sat on our shelf for ages, and chose with trepidation "Three Stations" on CD for our recent cross country car ride.

Despite the fact that this is number seven in the Arkady Renko series, I was immediately drawn into this story, not one bit befuddled.  A great peek into modern day Russia complete with its corruption, thuggery, runaway kids, prostitution rings, and street gangs.  Arkady Renko is a most appealing police inspector good guy, and despite the fact that Cruz Smith pulls out one of those unexpectedly sudden and implausible plot solutions, "Three Stations" is an engaging listen.

Ron McLarty narrates perfectly, giving voice to characters as disparate as a teenaged mom, a boy chess genius, a Pakistani shop owner, and two enforcers from organized crime.  He joins George Guidall, Dick Hill, and Frank Muller (who narrate Vince Flynn, Lee Child, and Elmore Leonard respectively) as a perfect match of reader to author.

Now on to "Gorky Park."

Addendum:  Actually, "Red Square" not "Gorky Park" in the personal library, and I gave up on page three.  I need oral interpretation on these dense intrigue books.

The Death of the Moth and Other Essays

by Virginia Woolf

I was lying on the floor, nominally exercising but really just taking time off from gravity, when I noticed a small piece of fuzz on the carpet.  Pinching it between forefinger and thumb, I realized it was a small moth crushed now in my fingers, as soft as lint.  Oh yuck, I thought, and good riddance too, darned thing and its cousins probably feasting on my winter wool wardrobe.

Virginia Woolf, however, has more moth compassion in her four page essay than I've mustered in a lifetime.  "The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth's part in life...appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic."  She stuck with Moth-Guy to his end, musing over life force and death. And that is why I loll on floors and she authors books.

Best essay of all in this book was "Street Haunting" wherein an early evening walk in winter through London streets "gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow.  We are no longer quite ourselves."  She proceeds on a 14 page meditative journey through the streets and shops of central London.

The bulk of the book's entries are literary criticism for which I have no background to appreciate.  But the first five essays are definite jewels.