Prions. Before reading The Family That Couldn't Sleep, I had no idea what those were. Since finishing this book, I've developed an equal sense of respect and fear of them. "Prions are ordinary proteins that sometimes go wrong, resulting in neurological illnesses that are always fatal. Even more mysterious and frightening, prions are almost impossible to destroy because they are not alive and have no DNA." How's that for a mouthful?
At the center of this book is a Venetian family with a deadly legacy of Fatal Familial Insomnia dating back to the 1700s. FFI is a disease that strikes its victims in middle age, and causes complete insomnia, exhaustion, and eventual death within a matter of months. Max, himself a victim of a degenerative neurological disorder, expounds on the history of prions, theories on their origins, and the culminative affects on peoples and lands throughout the world. Cast your mind back to the Mad Cow Disease scare in Europe, or even the first cases of scrapie among sheep in Europe in the 18th century; these can be linked back to very bad little prions.
I really enjoyed the break down of scientific terms and I especially loved the history part. I find that I almost always enjoy the style and flow of books that are written by journalists, which is probably why it put me in mind of Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan and Lost in Shangri-la by Mitchell Zuckoff. A great read whether you're scientifically inclined, or just along for the adventure ride! Another plus: I now kinda understand the scientific references Amy Farrah Fowler, a fictional neurobiologist on the show The Big Bang Theory, periodically makes to her research work. Winning!
This book was described very simply as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the servants, which made me both excited to read it, and also hesitant because I've read some pretty bad ones. That being said, this is NOT a retelling, in fact the Bennets take a back seat to the"belowstairs" lives of their servants. Told from the perspective of Mrs. Hill, the Bennet's housekeeper, and the the scullery maid, Sarah, we have a fresh perspective of life during the Regency era, and a slice of life for a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. I don't think I will ever look at Pride and Prejudice the same. I'll never be able to watch the BBC adaptation (1995 Colin Firth), and not want to follow "Hill" off camera after she's administered cordial for Mrs. Bennet's "poor nerves." A definite read for lovers of historical fiction.
"I don't believe in New Year's resolutions." Ever said that or heard that? I actually don't believe in making huge vows at the beginning of the year, and falling flat on my face a month later. I am a believer in trying to implement lasting lifestyle changes in my life that lead to a happier/healthy me. The problems usually arise after my burst of energy fizzles out, and I am back to square one, usually 10 lbs heavier and just a smidge bitter.
What I needed was a way to organize my ideas and goals, and a way to jump from goal to action. Once that was in gear, I needed help with sticking to those goals. Thus the book, which if you didn't already know, is a "self-help" book, which already was an issue for me, since I don't care for this genre (probably because I've only read a few really, really bad ones). That aside, I really enjoyed the straight forward layout and style of the book, and the practical suggestions. It served as a workbook and was divided into sections that you can revisit from time to time if you need to refocus on your projects.
While some information was repetitive and also a little contradictory, I was able to take away a lot of good points, for example, reflecting on habits that were successfully created in the past, and what I did to accomplish them. It took awhile to really hone in on past successes, but I was able to reflect on how I broke the habit of cursing (including even thinking them in my head), avoiding soda, and even when I lost 35 pounds and kept them off for two years. She also tackled awkward subjects like dealing with naysayers, especially when they're family or close friends. Made me realize that I've been that person in the past. Why do we do that?!
I read about 60% of this book last year in an effort to finally shed unwanted pounds, and then just didn't have the energy to finish it. How funny and sad, huh? Needless to say, I did not lose the weight I wanted last year. This year though, I finished the book and even downloaded the audio book so I can listen to certain areas again when I need to get reenergized. My three main goals this year are to run a half marathon by the end of the year (I am not a runner at all), adopt a cleaner way of eating (including buying organic meats, fruits, and vegetables), and to review all of the books I read this year. I'm actually doing pretty good!
So what about you? What are some things that you've wanted to implement or change in your life? If you're feeling a little stuck and need some direction on pinpointing where to get started, you'll probably really enjoy this little book.
I’ve been playing this weird reading game with the books in my personal library lately. I don’t ever buy books on a whim. I usually either know what they’re about, or have heard of them through a second hand source, like a review or an NPR author interview. In the last few years however, my memory has gotten very shoddy, so I’m starting to have a hard time remembering why I bought certain books, or what they’re even about without reading the dust jacket. That’s where the dangerous fun comes into play! I’ve stopped reading my dust jackets! I know, right? Crazy book lady has gotten in over her heard. I’m just picking them up and reading them. Who the heck does that?
This Russian Reading Roulette game motivated me to pick up Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Days after finishing it, I’m still wondering what the heck I just read. I don’t even know how to talk about it. Is that weird? Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome book! I think I’m probably just suffering from sensory overload. It is a thickly layered book about family, first loves, friendship, and so many other things. I also felt like it was told in an odd sort of modern day fairy tale way. Well, sort of modern. It’s set in 1987—thus the basis of its appeal! So there you have it. A review that tells you almost nothing about what this book is about. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, then good! Maybe this book will motivate you to play the game, too.
It’s hard to escape the escalating decline in world conditions. Whether it’s refugees’ stories from far flung war-torn countries, or reports involving the abuse of our environment and its critters, there is no limit to the different forms of media that are reporting global events non-stop. Even if the view outside our kitchen window is generally uneventful and peaceful, books like Half the Sky are a cold slice of reality pie.
Half the Sky focuses on human rights violations against women around the world, but mostly in Africa and Asia. Divided into areas of concern such as sex trafficking, systematic rape, maternal mortality, and illiteracy, Kristof incorporates statistics with personal life stories. Many of them were hard to listen to, and at one point I found myself stuck in rush hour traffic sobbing into my sweater sleeves. As “advanced” as mankind is, why are things like this still going on today? Why are these things generally unknown, although they’re not taking place in secret? I enjoy documentaries and books like these because they make me more aware of what is going on around the world. If all I believed was based on what I saw on the news, I’d be one short sighted individual.
Pee-Wee Herman summed me up when he said: “I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.” I mention him because my only complaint about this book, call me a pragmatic idealist if you want, was that I don’t like being told what to feel. A compelling life story was almost always followed by a proposed plan of action that equated the group of women to monetary assets. Everything was reduced to dollars and cents. I get it, people higher up won’t focus on these women’s issues if it’s not profitable, but isn’t that the sad part to begin with? What’s a life worth? No matter how much is donated to certain causes, or how many laws are passed, it ultimately can’t change the way people think or feel, let alone how they treat others. I guess I would have prefered the journalistic touch without the agenda. Just my musings, at any rate. Highly recommended if you’re interested in current events in regards to the oppression of women, and what is being done to bridge these injustices.
Middlesex has been stacked in a pile of books I like to refer to as my "Jumanji" books. The two main child characters in the film Jumanji begin a creepy, larger-than-life board game that results in the "Little Man Tate" boy disappearing, and the the young girl running away in horror, putting an abrupt end to the game. Though stowed away in the attic soon after the occurrence and forgotten, a distant jungle drum beat still emanates from the board game, forever beckoning that someone continue the game, and finish what was started.
That pretty much sums up my avoidance dance with this amazingly beautiful book. I first began this audio book in 2007, and got so carried away in the language and pace of the narrative, that I knew I wanted to dedicate more time and attention to it, for fear of missing any details. I returned the book to the library and bought a physical copy from my local used book store. Since then, Middlesex has sat in that pile of "Jumanji" books, forever beckoning me to finish what I started. Sure it's made it's way into my purse a few times, and followed by a few false starts, but nothing lasting. Even the cajoling from well meaning friends in that "I can't believe you haven't read that yet!" voice didn't help. So finally, after 7 years, I broke down and bought the audio book and downloaded it to my phone last week, so that I could take it and the Stephanides family with me everywhere. What a journey we've had!
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."
So begins this sweeping family saga of three generations of Calliope/Cal's family beginning in Asia Minor on through to Detroit, and finally ending in Berlin spanning the 1920s to present. Through this historical narrative, we learn about the Stephanides family and their dark family secret. Told in a sort of whimsical voice, with Woody Allenesque aside interruptions, it's hard not to get swept up in the story and totally lose yourself, or to find yourself laughing out loud, or rolling your eyes incredulously. I can easily believe that this book took Eugenides 9 years to finish. It is such an epic read, and each sentence packs a sensual punch. There are a handful of books that have left me this happy and disoriented...also incredibly sad to turn the last page.
It's worth noting that the narrator, Kristoffer Tabori, is one of the best voice actors I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. How good is he, you may ask? Audible.com only has a handful of weird books for which he is credited on. The selection seems to be limited to children's horror stories, funky sci-fi, and self-help books. Oh well, that's dedication. I hope the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School books are worth it, because guess who'll be listening to them here shortly.
I was living my carefree, ignorant life until I decided to visit my best friend last November in Kansas. What do best friends do when they get together? We hunker down with slouchy pants, greasy processed foods, and keep that Netflix streaming, sugar!
I introduced her to Flowers in the Attic and other awful films, and on one cold Wednesday, she started me on Sherlock. Sometimes I don’t know whether I was better off before, when I didn’t have to wait for the next year to roll around for a new season. What kind of life is that? So for all of you who can relate, what do we do with all that time in between? We read Sherlock stories, of course!
I’m sad to say that I’ve never actually read any of Doyle’s original stories. I own them, but I just have no idea what to expect; I guess I am just a bit cautious, as with all classics. I wonder if the language will be too dense and over my head. When I heard about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I wasn’t sure what to expect, either. After all, Holmes coming out of retirement accompanied by a young, female apprentice, seemed a bit farfetched. But boy was I wrong.
I know the three star rating makes this review suspect, but I really, really enjoyed the historical elements of this book. Set in 1915, and a little beyond that, I found the references to Post WWI England enlightening and so cozy! Holmes is very much his INTJ self, and I couldn’t help but picture Benedict Cumberbatch in his mid 50s, though still as boyish as ever. I especially like Mary Russell’s character, and the intelligent duo they made. All the other characters are still present, too: dear, dear Watson and Mrs. Hudson.
While the mystery component of the book didn’t always hold my attention, I did still find this book worth the read. It put me in mind of The 39 Steps, The Tale of Hill Top Farm and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I am looking forward to continuing the series.
Trying to write this review without using the cliché words “cute” and “cozy” is so hard, because it was! It’s cozy in the way only the British royal family can be. Picture the lovely Helen Mirren sitting in a clearing at Balmoral, and that prancing deer—the epitome of visceral restraint! That’s this book.
At its center, penniless Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the throne, is looking to strike out on her own, and earn a living—an unheard of endeavor for someone with royal blood in the 1930s. Why can’t she be content to marry a distant wealthy relative, like all the other young ladies of good, royal breeding? Leave it to stubborn Georgiana to get embroiled in murder, black mail, and seduction in the process. This is the stuff that makes for fabulous reading!
While this book was nominated for the Agatha Award in 2007, I’d say that the mystery element wasn’t its strongest point. Although it’s my belief that that isnt’ necessarily a bad thing. I see this book as an introduction to Georgie, her family, and Depression era London. Everyone had fallen on hard times, and that included members of the aristocracy. It was also startlingly witty and hilarious! I listened to the audio edition of this book and the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, did a wonderful job of intoning the accent and demeanor of all of the characters. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. If you like historical “cozy” mystery books like this one, might I recommend the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood? That is also an awesome series set in 1920s Australia, and I find that it’s even better when you listen to the audio editions. Check out the first book in the series, Cocaine Blues.
In my youth, I had a strange list of comfort films that I would turn to both when I was happy or feeling blue. My mom never understood why I gravitated to A Trip to Bountiful, Mrs. Brown, Remains of the Day, and my special favorite ‘night, Mother. I’m sure a part of me likes “sad” things, but I think that even as a youngster, I’ve always been attracted to simplistic beauty that is both deep and meaningful. It’s hard to marry these elements, especially in literature and film, but when I come across them, I have to snatch them up!
I am currently reading a literary thriller wherein the victim was murdered in such a way as to call in to question whether it was self-administered. When perusing the victim’s bedroom, the uncanny order of the closets lead one of the detectives to question whether the victim had “arranged” things in preparation for death, as is common with many people contemplating suicide. I couldn’t help but remember ‘night, Mother, which I had no idea was a play—further yet, that it garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1983.
A one-act play spanning a few hours, this quite simply is the story of a woman, Jessie, preparing for her death, and her candid, endearing conversation with her mother, who desperately tries to both understand and dissuade her daughter from taking her life. It is such a beautifully written play, and though it’s heavy in scope, I never felt overwhelmed. You find yourself playing the devil’s advocate for both sides, as you’re forced to see how life and its disappointments can snub the life force out of some people who are too “good” for all of the bad out there.
I think the line that just made me lose it was the following, and even reading it now, it just gets to my core!
“…I didn't know! I was here with you all the time. How could I know you were so alone?”
I have to credit my best friend with making this book a priority in my life. We both love to read, but she's only seriously recommended a handful of books that most affected her. Thus far she's been pretty accurate. I loved Jane Eyre, and I just finished Rebecca last year. This one though, the one that impacted her the most, has been the longest coming. I've lost count of how many times I've attempted to read this one, but I just haven't been at a place in my life to really appreciate the weight of it as a whole, until now.
This was Steinbeck's commentary on the times during the Great Depression, and the subsequent tribulations that befell the working class—the hardest hit during the economic downturn. At it's core, the Great Depression really unveiled the greed behind faceless banks and corporations, interested in making a profit, rather than the children that were being turned out of the only homes they'd ever known.
"There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation...the fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot."
Although it's been 75 years since it's publication, today's economy isn't too much different. In a land that is figuratively "flowing with milk and honey", many people go to bed hungry. We may not be farmers, but it's hard to throw a rock and not hit someone who has had their home foreclosed on—their "land" taken out from under them. Don't even get me started on people who live here illegally, who are taken advantage of by their employers. They're grateful for a job that will fill their bellies, but isn't enough to improve their situation. If boss man decides he can't afford to pay them that week, what recourse do they have?
It's hard not to want to take the Joads under your wing, and protect them. As you follow along with their preparations to head to California to farm other people's land, you can't help but know that things aren't going to end happily for them. What warms your heart is that no matter how bad their situation gets, they always try to assist others. Ma Joad said it best:
"'I'm learnin' one thing good,' she said. 'Learnin' it all a time, ever' day. If you're in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help—the only ones.'"
And then there's dear Tom Joad—the wise beyond his years ex-convict who sits in as the family patriarch, and probably my favorite character, next to Ma. Coincidentally, I had stumbled upon Walker Evans' self-portraits a few weeks before I started reading this book, and he kept popping into my mind when I pictured Tom. Really, most of Walker's early pictures seem to encapsulate the general mood of that era.
If you haven't read The Grapes of Wrath yet, why not join the NPR book club, and read it before it turns 75. You won't regret it, I hope. It seems like it can only get better with re-readings.
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