Some of My Favorite Books

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan is a True Life Dr. House Story

Okay, okay, okay. I am on a streak. I've read more good books lately than I've read in a long time:  

to name a few. I didn't expect Brain on Fire to continue my great book streak, but it did.

I hate to know what's going to happen before I read a book or watch a movie, so I won't give anything (much) away. But if you like a personal story that's intriguing and well written, read this one. 

In 2009, Susannah Cahalan was a reporter for the New York Post when at 24, she started feeling and acting weird. Weird seems like an appropriate word because she didn't know what was wrong with her other than she first noticed something wrong with the way she felt about the same time she noticed a couple of bites on her arm. She thought of bedbugs immediately because it was 2009 and bedbugs were at their heyday in New York City at the time. And she lived in a dump in Hell's Kitchen.

From there, more strange things happened that quickly led to her being hospitalized for continuing unexplained ailments.  She exhibited physical and mental problems that left her nearly catatonic.

Okay, enough. Just read it. 

This story is amazing since it's true and since Cahalan lived to tell her story (very well, I'd say).

Book Read:  Brain on Fire:  My Month of Madness
Author:  Susannah Cahalan

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Okay, I'm on a roll! I've been reading tried and true authors' books recently and I need to keep doing this. Last week I finished Tracy Chevalier's latest novel The Last Runaway and I just finished Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior. Wow, what great books!

I really, really, really enjoyed Flight Behavior. This novel should be a must read for anyone wanting to learn about climate change / global warming. It teaches without preaching (at all) using facts and a fictionalized (but believable) story of the monarch butterfly moving its winter habitat from the mountains of Mexico to the mountains of Southern Tennessee.

The books centers around a poor young woman, Dellarobia Turnbow, who's a wife and mother and smarter than just about anyone else she knows in her rural Tennessee world. She's the one to see the monarchs on the mountain near her house, and with the monarchs, her world changes. 

If you've never read any of Barbara Kingsolver's books, you're in for a treat. This one is just as good as any of her other novels. She develops the characters so the reader knows them and cares about them. 

A couple of really good passages from Flight Behavior follow:

  • "So she was what Hester called a 911 Christian:  in the event of an emergency, call the Lord. ... No wonder people chose Him as their number-one friend. But if the chemistry wasn't there, what could you do?"
  • "He looked surprised. 'No college?' 'No college. Sorry.' She wondered if humiliation ever ran its natural course and peeled off, like sunburn, or just kept blazing."

I don't know about you, but I often get so involved in the characters in a book that I hope for certain outcomes. Reading this book brought out very strong opinions to me of what Dellarobia should do. And the ending was not a disappointment.

Book Read:  Flight Behavior
Author:  Barbara Kingsolver

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

I love Tracy Chevalier's novels. I think I've read them all, and her latest, The Last Runaway, is one of her best.
For one thing, The Last Runaway is set in America (mostly) during the mid-1800s. Chevalier is American but lives in England and usually sets her books there or in Europe.  

The premise--Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman, travels with her sister from England to America because she was jilted by her fiance--is a good one. When her sister, who is engaged to marry a Quaker from their English town who has settled in Ohio, dies on the trip, Honor is left in alone in a strange country where she only knows her sister's fiance. 

On top of this, the Underground Railroad that was big in Ohio at the time plays a large part. As do quilts.

From there, the story gently unfolds like real history with the help of the letters at the end of each chapter, usually written by Honor but occasionally but another character.
I found the Quaker history and customs interesting and pretty shocking in places. Read it. You'll see!

Book Read:  The Last Runaway
Tracy Chevalier

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

True North by Jill Ker Conway

Some people just seem to get a lot more done in their lives than others. Jill Ker Conway is one of the most prolific women in writing and deed that I can think of. 

I finished reading True North that was a continuation of her book about her childhood, The Road From Coorain. True North picked up after she got on the plane to attend graduate school at Harvard in the early 1960s. 

She taught history, wrote a few books, wrote her dissertation, received her PhD, and became first Vice President at the University of Toronto then became the first woman President of Smith College.

Then she began writing books full time. 

Book Read:  True North
Jill Ker Conway

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Best Book I've Read in a Long While: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Well, I almost put The Dog Stars by Peter Heller back in the pile because when I first started reading it, I found out it's about a few survivors of a catastrophic event where nearly everyone is wiped out. Oh brother, I thought. Not this crap. 

I wasn't interested in reading some Mad Max saga, a shoot 'em up warrior tale. Nah. But I hung in there, and I'm so glad I did! Wow, this book really pulled me in with the uniqueness and hopefulness of Hig, a survivor of a flu that killed off 99 percent of mankind. And of course there's Jasper, Hig's dog.

The novel is set in Colorado, mostly at the Erie airport, which is north of Denver. I used to fly out of a tiny little airport near there with a person who will remain nameless in his little prop plane. We'd fly to Cheyenne for lunch or dinner or just around the Boulder area, maybe over the mountains then back again. A couple of times we even flew across several states stopping at rural airports for aviation gas like you do when driving cross country, just less often. I had to really watch how much I drank because it's just not as easy to land to go pee as it is to pull over to go pee.

So all of the flying Heller wrote about felt very familiar as did the poor guy's outlook. He remained hopeful through his nostalgia and memories. This book moves along through the space of a few months. 

I liked this book as much for what it didn't have as for what it did have, mainly there were no outlandish scenarios about how the world fared after this tragic turn. Yes, there was shooting and defense of what they had because other survivors roamed the landscape stealing and killing. But it wasn't over the top or unbelievable. In fact, I'd love to see this book made into a movie. Oh yeah.

Read it. You won't be sorry.

Book Read:  The Dog Stars
Author:  Peter Heller

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson

I finished reading Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson the other night. I had this book on my nightstand for a few years and finally started reading it. I'm not sure why I never read it but I ended up liking it. 

The premise:  a teenage runaway living in a tent outside Seattle who picks mushrooms to earn money sees the Virgin Mary one day. Another mushroom picker helps her meet the local priest, who is skeptical, but he helps her as best he can. A few other stories fill out the novel, mainly the one of Tom Cross, whose son is paralyzed.

The story moved along to what I found to be a fairly satisfying ending, even though it was all rosy for everyone.

Book Read:  Our Lady of the Forest  
Author:  David Guterson


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