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This is a tough book for me to review as it's written for middle grade readers, and I graduated from that group long, long ago. It was so highly reviewed that I decided to read it. I think the 4 and 5 star reviews may be from people that like happy endings and can better imagine how this book will be received by the intended audience than I was able to.
Things I liked about Wonder:
*August is an engaging, original protagonist.
*Palacio's use of different points of view. August's sister, Via, had an amazing exploration of what it was like to be the non-sick, normal kid in the family. She hit on all the aspects, positive and negative, avoidable and unavoidable. I actually found Olivia to be the most interesting character.
*Palacio's whole exploration of "beauty is only skin deep" and "it's what's on the inside that counts" from many angles. Even after reading Wonder, I'm still not sure what my reaction to a person like August would be, or what the best response might be.
Things I didn't like about Wonder:
*I wish there had been more detailed medical information. The lack of detail is most likely because it's not something the intended audience needs or wants, but I think more information would have added to a better understanding of exactly what August had gone through during his ten years. There is a mention of his 27 surgeries, and that he suffers from Treacher-Collins syndrome combined with some rare mystery syndrome, but a bit more background would have added to exactly what a wonder he was.
*I wish there had been more development of Julian. He played a big part in the story, but was the least explored.
*I wish the ending had not been so "happily ever after". There were pat resolutions on all fronts and this is not how things would have worked out.
*I listened to this as an audiobook, and the voice of August was horrendous. I almost gave up in the first ten minutes because it was so bad. Another reviewer describes the voice as sounding like "a slightly retarded Marge Simpson" and I completely agree.
*The cover! Is it meant to be slightly disturbing without too much attention to detail? It's certainly not a depiction of August with one eye and the presence of ears! It may seem like a silly detail, but covers are important to me, and I think think this book deserved a far better cover.
Overall, 3 stars for a book that takes an overly simplistic approach (even for middle grade readers) to a very complex subject.
“Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." I couldn't read the opening sentence of Everything I Never Told You and not read the book. As a mother, I would like to think that my connection to my sons is so strong that I would know if something life-threatening had happened to them. I know this maternal connection fairy tale I tell myself may be a bit at odds with reality, but it still bothers me intensely that a child could be dead and her family might not know it. Yet, that is the tragedy that befalls the Lee family. James is a Chinese-American father, married to his white wife, Marilyn. Because of his race, James has always felt like an outsider, so as he raises his children, Nath, Lydia, and Hannah in the 1970s in Ohio, he aches to have them be popular and fit in as he never has. Marilyn has unrealized dreams of becoming a doctor, and her unfulfilled dreams become her expectations for the favorite child, middle daughter Lydia. Everything I Never Told You explores how a family falls apart when they can't see, understand, and accept each other for who they really are. Celeste Ng writes this from each character's perspective while telling their stories so the reader can better understand why each family member acts as they do. She explains the culture and climate of the 1950s when James and Marilyn marry, along with the years of assumptions, misunderstandings, miscommunication, and sometimes total lack of communication that has led the Lee family to this point. There is no big reveal or twist, just a heartbreaking, poignant resolution.
There are several things that I don't understand or can't judge because I have no experience with them, and they affected how I felt about the book. I believe that a Chinese-American would have experienced some prejudice in the 1970s, and even more so in the 1950s, but I wonder if the level of prejudice displayed towards interracial parents and their children was as much as is written here. Also, Lydia seemed to be a lovely child, but I would have liked more detail as to why she was her parents' clear favorite, to the point that Nath and Lydia are barely noticed. Lastly and most importantly, I wonder about a completely reprehensible, almost unforgivable act that James commits after Lydia's funeral. I can understand being so emotionally distraught at the death of your child that you want to blot out all emotion, but what he did has repercussions later in the book, and I wish there had been some further exploration of why he behaved this way and his wife's response, or lack of it! I couldn't find any other reviewers that seemed to be bothered by this as much as I was, but it was a big one for me. This is a solid 3.5 star book, rounded up because it is a worthwhile read that has made me think.
The narrator of this book had an unfortunate habit of reducing her volume at the end of some sentences, especially during highly emotional scenes. This may have been an attempt to add some emotion to her narration, but there were some disruptive instances where it was just plain difficult to hear what was being said without rewinding and relistening at a higher volume.
I run across a lot of books that I add to my to-be-read list and then forget about until after their publication dates or I stumble upon the book in the library or bookstore. How Not to Be Wrong was initially one of those books, but it sounded so good that I found myself obsessively thinking about it and started a search for a pre-publication copy. Since I'm not a librarian, didn't win a copy via First Reads, and don't have friends at Penguin Press, it took some time and effort, but having procured a copy and read it, I can say that it was well worth my time and $6.00. How Not to Be Wrong is a catchy title, but for me, this book is really about the subtitle, The Power of Mathematical Thinking.
Ellenberg deftly explains why mathematics is important, gives the reader myriad examples applicable to our own lives, and also tells us what math can't do. He writes, “Mathematics is the extension of common sense by other means”, and proceeds to expound upon an incredible number of interesting subjects and how mathematics can help us better understand these topics, such as obesity, economics, reproducibility, the lottery, error-correcting codes, and the existence (or not) of God. He writes in a compelling, explanatory way that I think anyone with an interest in mathematics and/or simply understanding things more completely will be able to grasp. Ellenberg writes “Do the Math” for Slate, and it's evident in his column and this book that he knows how to explain mathematical ideas to non-mathematicians, and even more so, seems to enjoy doing so with great enthusiasm. I won't pretend that I understood everything discussed in this book, but it's such an excellent book that I also bought the audio version and am listening to it (read by the author himself!) so I have a much more thorough understanding. I've wished for a book like this for a long time, and I'd like to thank Jordan Ellenberg for writing it for me!
I used to do the lab. work for a local group of oncologists, and one evening I heard someone crying in the waiting room. The rest of the staff had left and the doctors were doing rounds, so I went to see what was going on. I found a patient, sitting there, crying quietly. She had been in remission twice, but had recently relapsed. She said she needed to talk to one of the doctors because she didn't know what she was doing wrong. When we talked further, she said she had been using some visualization tapes, where you are directed to imagine that lasers or your vigilante white cells are killing your tumor. She had also been using some “positive thinking for cancer patients” tapes where you are told to repeat, “I am healthy” and “I am cancer-free.” She was incredibly upset, not so much by the cancer, but because she felt that her inability to cure herself with positive thinking meant that she was doing something wrong and it was her fault. For me, that moment confirmed that positive thinking, used in the wrong circumstances and for the wrong reasons, can do more harm than good. The Antidote explores that interesting idea.
Oliver Burkeman is not out to bash positive thinking, but rather to explore “the negative path”, the idea that the more we search for happiness and security, the less we achieve them. This is done through chapters on Stoicism, the ways goals can be counterproductive or destructive, insecurity, the nonattachment of Zen Buddhism, failure, and our fear of death. He presents ideas about what might make our lives less unhappy, but this isn't in the typical self-help form of strict rules or a program to be blindly followed.
The conclusions Burkeman seems to come to are to embrace insecurity, and stop searching for happiness and quick fixes. Rather than thinking about everything in a positive way, it is much better to see things realistically, accurately, and truthfully. That is a philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with.
This has to be one of the funniest, quirkiest books about a funny, quirky character that I've ever read. Isaac is a plumber in Paradise, Michigan but he really wants to be a surgeon. After high school, he dutifully took over his father's plumbing business, but he's been dreaming about attending the University of Michigan as the first step toward becoming a surgeon. For many reasons, he's been afraid to actually apply to college, but he has been busy conducting surgery on animals, reading medical journals, and carrying on an intense internal dialogue. It's this internal dialogue that really helped me connect with Isaac, see him as more than just plain weird, care about his character, and care about what happens to him. My internal dialogue was screaming, “NO, NO, NO!” at the end, but I don't think Liam Card could have ended it any other way.
I really hope my sister doesn't think I lied to her when I told her how much I was enjoying this book initially. While it is a heartwarming, sweet book, developments at the end turn it into a sickeningly sweet, predictable, TV-movie-type stereotype of a book. I originally thought I might be able to understand A.J. Fikry and his curmudgeonly ways. That may still be true, but what I don't understand is the "magic" that surrounds everyone on Alice Island that makes everything turn out fine, despite child abandonment, suicide, alcoholism, etc. If an author is going to give her characters difficulties like these, I think they owe their readers a better written and deeper explanation of how characters dealt with them than just a few cursory sentences. For me, this book was much closer to a fairy tale than fiction. They all lived happily ever after, but as a reader I have no idea how that happened. The story was worthy of 2 stars, and while Scott Brick can be an excellent narrator for action, drama, or sci-fi, he would not have been my choice for a book of this type.
The premise piqued my interest and Parkhurst's writing held it. Octavia Frost has decided to rewrite the endings of each of her previous novels of loss. She is a woman who is estranged from her rock star son and who has experienced the tragic death of her husband and daughter. The original and revised endings are woven through the book, as Octavia cautiously reconnects with her estranged son who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend. I really enjoyed this original idea about rewriting endings; they are beautifully written in this book. I would definitely read a book of rewritten endings; Ann Patchett, Suzanne Collins, and Jeffrey Eugenides, I'm talking to you!
My Wish List is a difficult book to rate and review. Delacourt stated that he wanted to write a book about what would it would take to change your life. He does this by having his protagonist, middle-aged Jocelyne, win the lottery, to the tune of €18.5 million. The story unwinds when Jocelyne doesn't tell anyone about her new fortune, not her husband, grown children, or the twin hairdressers that encouraged her to play the lottery. The only person that Jocelyne reveals her secret to is her father who has suffered a stroke and has only a six-minute memory span. Jocelyne leads an ordinary existence, running her own haberdashery shop in a provincial French town, but one she seems quite content in. After her lottery win, she begins to make lists of things she needs, but realizes that many of them are ordinary - a new lamp, a lovely wool and alpaca coat, a non-flowery shower curtain. Her husband wants "more" - a flat-screen TV, a Porsche, and all the James Bond movies on DVD. She is afraid that if she gives her husband everything he wants, he will no longer want her.
I don't want to reveal any more of the plot because that is something each reader should discover for themselves. While not a heartwarming, light read, this book is definitely thought-provoking!
Addendum: The title of the original French version seems to be The List of My Desires. It may be a small thing, but I think that title works much better.
Caffeinated is a compendium of facts, interesting stories, and history about one of our favorite unregulated drugs - caffeine. Murray Carpenter writes about caffeine's physiologic effects (on adenosine receptors), why people metabolize caffeine at different rates (because of genetic predisposition, smoking, or other medications), and that there is no standard amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee or tea. He recounts his trips to Guatemalan coffee farms, Mexican cacao farms, and a synthetic caffeine factory in China. He covers caffeine research by the military, the beneficial and problematic aspects of caffeine use by athletes, and the many regulatory difficulties surrounding caffeine in foods, beverages, and supplements. The marketing of caffeine in sodas and energy drinks by “Big Beverage” is one of the most important sections of the book, sounding suspiciously like nicotine marketing by tobacco companies.
The exhaustive research presented in Caffeinated is both a strength and a weakness. I'm a person who loves to see a good argument supported by relevant data and details, but there were quite a few times that the numbers presented by Carpenter became simply overwhelming. I'm also a person that can admit that there are many mornings where the only thing that gets me out of bed is the lovely anticipation of my morning cup of tea and how good it's going to make me feel. Caffeinated doesn't judge whether my dependence on that cup of tea is good, bad, or otherwise, but it does make the reader think about caffeine - not just coffee, tea, or soda - in all its myriad presentations.
It's possible that I'm an old curmudgeon that overthinks things and takes them too seriously, because that would explain why I did not like this book at all. My biggest problem was that I couldn't tell if the author was laughing at or with the protagonist, Don Tillman, who is most likely somewhere on the autism spectrum. To be honest, much of the book felt the author just wrote sit-com-like scenes for the reader to laugh at Don and be entertained by his inability to understand social norms and cues. I thought Gene, Don's best friend, was fairly repulsive, and Rosie was just immature. As others have said, the book is predictable, reads too much like a screenplay, and Simsion should have stopped writing the ending sooner than he did. This was just not a book for me.
Wild Ones is one of the best non-fiction books I've read this year. I know it's only April, but I have a feeling that this book will still be a top contender at the end of the year. Jon Mooallem takes a look at the connections (or disconnections as the case may be) between the anthropomorphic animals that populate his four year-old daughter's world and the animals in the real world. He writes about three species that are at different points along the endangered species arc – polar bears, Lange's metalmark butterfly, and whooping cranes. What is so extraordinary about Wild Ones is that Mooallem doesn't write to scare, preach, or belittle his readers, but rather to provide a balanced look from many different perspectives and let readers reach their own conclusions.
“Just as we’re now causing the vast majority of extinctions, the vast majority of endangered species will only survive if we keep actively rigging the world around them in their favor. Scott and his colleagues gave those creatures’ condition a name: conservation-reliant. It means that, from here on out, we will increasingly be forced to cultivate the species we want, in places we protect and police just for them, perpetually rejiggering some asymmetrical balance to keep each one from sliding into extinction. We are gardening the wilderness. The line between conservation and domestication has blurred.”
What animals and plants are worth saving at all and who gets to decide? Wild Ones can be disturbing at times because it questions even our success stories, such as bald eagles, the California condor, and whooping cranes. Should we be bothered that extreme, expensive measures are required to keep many species from disappearing forever? Or should we be inspired that people are willing to do so much to keep the remaining few whooping cranes or condors around, even if the rescue of something in nature requires it to live out its days unnaturally? These are incredibly valuable questions to ask, and Mooallem does that brilliantly.
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