I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is not a genre that normally attracts me, but after several recommendations from another book group, I gave it a go. I found it simply fascinating! I found the first part of this book, especially, compelling and informative, filled with information and details about how the brain works, stores and retrieves information. Much of the information I have seen alluded to and referred to in headlines or self-help books, but this went further citing the studies and giving just enough background and detailed information so that a non-techie like me can still follow the information without getting overloaded by geek speak. We then follow the author of the book for a year, from his first observation of the American Memory Championships observing what appears to be absolutely astounding feats of memory to his participation in the same competition a year later.
Throughout this process, we learn that the world memory champions don't tend to have any special IQ gifts but have simply trained themselves and learned various memory tricks that work in different areas of memory. For example, memorizing a poem is an entirely different type of memory skill than memorizing a random set of numbers or a random list of items. I must say that I did one of the exercises along with the book as directed and now, about a month later, I can still recall the randomized list of 15 items without much effort which is simply amazing to me. However, I'm still having trouble remembering where I left my phone and my glasses which is where I REALLY need help!
I found the first half of the book absolutely fascinating because it was all about the way the brain works filled with interesting facts about education over the centuries and how the availability of information has changed our learning/educational process. The second half of the book tended to focus more on the author's training for the memory championships. While I found some of this interesting I did not find that part of the book nearly as compelling as the onslaught that delighted me at the beginning of the book.
I have to start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed most of this book. This was like a romp down memory lane as the author reminisced about Pop Rocks, Lick-a-Sticks and discovering the joys of Goo-Goo Clusters, a southern specialty that my Mississippi-born mother-in-law used to purchase by the case. It was rather difficult to believe that a book about candy could keep me entertained for hours since, even though I do enjoy my sweets, I would definitely not classify myself anywhere in the realm of Steve Almond, Candy freak, but this one did - for the MOST part.
When he was listing the favorite candies and trinkets of his childhood, I was right there. When he was describing the black market that developed as the demand for pop rocks exploded beyond the suppliers' ability to supply them, I was engaged. When he sought out various local "boutique" candy makers and visited their production lines to see, smell and taste first-hand their creations, I wanted to call him up and BEG him to take me along on a return visit. I may not be a complete "candy freak" but I do enjoy good food and his descriptions of stepping out of the car and smelling chocolate and imagining that there could be little else better than arriving at work every day to a place that smelled like heaven had me saying, "Amen!"
Then, he stopped short and stopped me with him when interviewing one of the owners of one of the small boutique companies, an entrepreneur, and speculated with dismay that this guy probably voted for George W. Bush, horror of horrors! In other words, up to that point, he had really liked this guy (the entrepreneur) and had become appreciative of the hard work and business sense that it took to get the independent candy maker to this point but if this entrepreneurial schlub had actually been stupid enough to vote for W, he couldn't be a human being worth much more consideration. This little rabbit trail rant unsettled and distracted me for about 15 minutes, but hey, there aren't many authors/screenwriters/reporters/newscasters these days who don't feel it their moral duty to constantly put in a jibe wherever they can no matter how inappropriate or irrelevant the comment or setting may be that basically categorizes all such creatures somewhere on the level of one-celled amoebas - and THEY call US judgmental and intolerant!
Anyway, his initial political digression made me realize that, much as I had wanted to come along with him to chocolate heaven, he had just made it very clear that if I voted for Bush, my ranking as a sentient human being had just dropped significantly, so much in fact, that he would have no desire to have me along for the ride. That is a rather unfortunate position to take when you are an author of a non-fiction FOOD book and are asking your readers to come along - UNLESS you don't happen to agree with him politically. So, because I was listening while gardening and didn't have the clean hands to stop the audiobook in progress, I continued on when, about three quarters of the way through, he did it again. That's the kind of commentary we need & want in a candy documentary, right?!!
In truth, his diatribes against the "rich" as well as anyone stupid enough to have any leanings towards conservative ideals probably lasted only a few minutes total. I don't expect authors to hide their political ideologies and I am willing to forgive a lot. I am very capable of enjoying a book or film by people I know are politically on the opposite side of the spectrum from me. However when they assume (and we all know what happens when we ass-u-me, right?) that anyone holding differing political opinions is not only less humane or intelligent, but someone not worthy of further consideration, I do tend to become personally offended at that. A book like this is an intimate adventure between the reader and the author and this author, spoke directly into my ear exactly what he thinks about people like me and, honestly it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth for what was otherwise a very sweet read.
I don't normally pick up books that are directed at "young adults" but because I was looking for suggestions for students I was taking to Paris and having the recommendation from another book group on this one, I went for it.
This one was difficult for me to review because there were some things that I loved so much about it and some things I didn't. This is a dual story told from the first person during two different time periods. You can read more about the plot from numerous others so I won't belabor that point. I loved the entire portion of the story that takes place during the French Revolution. I thought it was well told, well researched (I've done quite a bit of study on the French Revolution and I learned some things I didn't previously know) and was relayed in a manner that made the reader care about the events and characters from the Revolution. I was completely fascinated by this line of the story and kept wanting to return to the 1770's every time the story switched back to modern time. For the story that takes place during the French Revolution, I would give this 4 to 5 stars; for the modern storyline, 2.5 to 3 stars.
I was proofing this as a possible recommendation for some of my teenage students. When I am proofing a book for teenage readers, I tend to be doubly cautious and ultra critical, looking for any possible language or issues that may be inappropriate subject material for younger readers. While there was little or no foul language and no sex though the modern-day character was a troubled young lady. In reading about the troubled young lady, we also are introduced to a number of her troubled young friends and some of their troubling activities that tend to be very common these days though not admirable - drinking, drugs, bad attitudes, etc., while certainly not foreign to modern teens but subjects that as a parent recommending a book, I want to make sure are presented appropriately.
I think if I had not been proofing this book for younger readers, I may have been able to relax and enjoy the modern storyline more. However, as I have recommended this book to other teens or parents because of the historical subject matter, I always preface my recommendation with a, "but be aware that there are some inappropriate situations and reactions going on." There is nothing happening here that our teenagers aren't already well aware of, and even though Andi, the troubled young lady who is the main character, is a sympathetic character and not acting out for sheer rebellion's sake, she is acting out all the same and I hesitate to put forth sympathetic characters who are making poor choices to impressionable young people. I don't want to give them any more reasons for rationalizing poor choices.
I have to say that a book that has this much buzz makes me automatically suspicious. I usually prefer to wait it out a couple of years and if trusted friends still think it's wonderful then I might be willing to give it my time. That aside, the buzz about this is rightly deserved.
It is a remarkable, visceral book that is very difficult to categorize. It is not a vampire paranormal cliche yet it is magical. It is not a character/plot driven novel yet it has a story that drew me in. It is a unique book full of fantasy and imagination and whimsy evoking a strong sense of place yet it is a place you've never been before. Erin Morgenstern does a wonderful job of enveloping the reader in her setting drawing us in with the luscious smells she so beautifully articulates to the sumptuous feasts she dangles before our longing eyes. This is a very difficult book to describe and others will do a much better job than I at sharing plot details, but if you're looking for a magical escape to a rather mystical world this just might be your ticket.
Jim Dale does a simply amazing job of narrating this story. I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this one in paper form or listen but I must say that Dale's narration made this experience even more magical.
I was absolutely consumed by Ann Patchett's newest offering which takes us to the depths of the Amazon for drug company research. I knew very little about the book when I began other than it was written by the author of Bel Canto which was a huge recommendation and that it took place in the Amazon, another positive. The two books by Patchett couldn't be more different. I pretty much tuned out the rest of the world for hours at a time while I looked for excuses to listen to just a few more minutes. I found the pace of this much quicker than that of Bel Canto which I read in paper not audio format. I won't re-hash the plot because you can read that elsewhere and I don't want to give too much away but I found the entire premise of the book compelling and was completely mesmerized by the storyline. Two such varied titles as Bel Canto and State of Wonder make me marvel at the abilities of this author.
If you've never listened to a narration by Jenna Lamia, you're in for a treat. She gave the perfect voice to this wonderful, touching story that I won't soon forget. In becoming acquainted with CeeCee, it was similar, as many have already mentioned, to falling in love with Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or Lily from Secret Life of Bees. The South is not only the setting here, but provides a very visceral ambience to this wonderful gem of a book. The quirky characters, the southern ladies, all of whom will ring true to anyone who has any recollection of the South during the 1950's or 60's is brought to life in all of its sleepy, dark, eccentric glory focusing on the redeeming ability of love to heal and bind us together. It's already been several months since I read it, but as the cicadas are calling and its too hot to do anything else, I find myself tempted to allow myself to go back and wallow in CeeCee's story all over again.
As I listened to this excellent read I found myself looking for opportunities to run more errands and exercising more frequently in order to be able to stay with the story just a little bit longer. I love long, well-told family sagas. The narration was spot on once I got past the initial rather disrupting fact that 7-yr-old Lavinia was obviously being narrated by a grown woman.
Antebellum stories by their very nature have a given set of plot and setting issues that are going to come up every time. Having a white indentured servant in the midst of the slaves brought a unique twist to this well-told story. The focus on the story centers on the relationships developed and I grew to care about these characters fairly quickly. I anticipated MUCH of the plot but kept reading, hoping I was going to be wrong. The first half or more of the book was wonderful: some serious events happening, but overall very enjoyable. The last half, as you see it barreling down the road straight at you becomes heart-wrenching and difficult to read as we watch characters we've come to care about live out the consequences of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time compounded by poor decisions.
Overall, this was a very satisfying read.
This is an excellent exploration of the political, social and artistic background that led to the birth of Impressionism. It is a very detailed, in-depth look at the artists Manet and Meissonier, their work and how that work both exemplified and defied the artistic trends and political environment of 19th century Paris - the crucial time period that both shaped and changed the art world.
This is not a book for the casual art observer, but an in-depth exploration for those seriously interested in the Impressionists and/or the evolution of art during the 19th century as well as serious fans of Manet and Meissonier. Meissonier who, prior to this book, was rather unfamiliar to me exemplifies the ultimate, classically-trained French artist of his time. The author contrasts Meissonier with Eduard Manet who was was a key player in challenging the VERY strict dictates of the Academie des Beaux Arts in Paris. The Academie was the ultimate authority in mid 19th Century Paris as to who did or did NOT get presented during the annual exhibition each year.
This book gives an excellent, in-depth exploration of the numerous influences and happenings that resulted in the birth of Impressionism. It helps significantly to either be familiar with or have access (at least via internet) to copies of the paintings discussed here while King explores their significance and import. The beauty of reading a book like this today is the almost instant access the internet can provide to these works while reading the book. Its a bit like having your own personal docent step you through the foundational works of Impressionism, being able to see how one influenced the other.
I used this as research for a recent study tour I was leading to Paris featuring both the Louvre and the Orsay museums and I found the material here both well presented, fascinating and an excellent preparation for my trip. I've always loved the Impressionists and studied them for years, but this helped to fill in some of the blanks surrounding both their work and its revolutionary effect on the entire world of art.
I simply loved this book. I discovered last year that I am a Kate Morton fan and this book certainly did not disappoint. This definitely had elements of the "Gothic novel" though I've never really thought of myself as a gothic novel fan. An old castle in the remote English countryside, mysterious goings on at the castle that make us wonder, "a dark and stormy night" type story that makes you want to curl up by the fire with this book and a warm blanket! All those elements are here so if that's your definition of a "gothic" story then here you go.
As all of Morton's other books do, her story unfolds in both modern-day and through a series flashbacks. Morton is very adept at this style of storytelling and I have come to love it. Here we have the story of an eccentric writer and his eccentric (if not mentally ill) daughters who live in an old estate castle. Part of the story unfolds during the early 20th century and proceeds into the early days of World War II and part is from modern England. You can read a better synopsis elsewhere. I'm just giving you the bare bones to let you know that it is the sort of story I love set during a time period that has always fascinated me. There is enough mystery that kept me intrigued.
The reader did an excellent job of setting the right tone. I looked for excuses to run errands or garden or clean closets so I could have more time to listen to this book. Highly recommended!
I rarely read "young adult" books unless I am previewing them for young adults. However, when a number of my friends and numerous people from a book group kept talking about how fabulous this book was, I decided to give it a shot. I LOVED it!
The narrator did an excellent job. I found myself driving an extra loop around the block or waiting in my drive in order to finish a scene before turning off the book. This genre, post-apocalyptic, is NOT a favorite of mine and if it had not come so highly recommended and been available on sale, I probably would have passed. I found myself completely engaged in the story and look forward to reading the next one in the series.
Report Inappropriate Content