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The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

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The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag is a fast, engaging read. As she often does, Hoag tackles issues in depth that many authors shy away from or gloss over. She plays with gender roles, misogynistic attitudes, family dynamics, child abuse, and sexual assault in the midst of following two detectives solving seemingly separate murder cases. Hoag creates characters with enough depth to immerse the reader in their lives leading one to feel a sense of compassion that at times surprises the reader while eliciting enough anger at other times to keep the reader wanting a better outcome for  myriad characters in the book even when the reader knows the outcome must be what it is. The Bitter Season explores real life attitudes and behaviors in the context of a fictional world that both intrigues and provokes thought. Hoag's books, including The Bitter Season, are never merely mysteries to be solved but a look into the conditions that lead to human depravity and the consequences thereof.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

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I bought Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham quite a while ago without really knowing what it was about or what to expect. As I started reading, I felt strangely like I was hovering above the characters watching them go about their lives. The use of Walt Whitman's work to weave these three stories set in different times together intrigued me and kept me wondering where Cunningham was going. As I read what in many ways felt like three novellas tied together by some common elements I couldn't help but think about the remnants we leave behind as we travel through life, remnants that might mean the world to us and nothing to someone else or might feel like nothing to us but change someone else's life. Cunningham's characters aren't all necessarily likable but they are engaging and even relatable in an uncomfortable way that seems to bring to mind some of the less desirable aspects of one's self as one wonders what one would do in similar circumstances. Specimen Day…

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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Sometimes you read a book that makes you stop and think and then changes the way you think. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is one such book. I started reading with my skepticism hat on as I do with most research based material. As I read, Kahneman's descriptions of how we think and how our thinking is affected by the world around us deeply resonated with me. I read Thinking, Fast and Slow like a textbook for a class, a chapter at a time, giving what I'd read time to sink in before moving on to the next chapter. His discussion of "framing" really made me stop and think about how many times I've been manipulated by the wording of an "offer" that mostly benefits the person making the offer. I also stopped to think about how often I make snap judgments attributing my thoughts to intuition based on experience. Thinking, Fast and Slow examines how our brains so often take the easy answer instead of engaging in more thought to find more accurate an…

Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats

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Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats takes the reader on the ride through mythology and Keats's time in the world. Keats wrote new imaginings on old mythologies in the form of poetry.   At times I found myself a little awash in a story that felt both oddly familiar and completely foreign at the same time. Keats plays with language in a way that feels both deliberate and carefree. I often found myself looking for a hidden message in the simplest of text and longing for a straightforward message in more complex text. Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats sometimes veers into unfinished thoughts and unfinished works with an honesty that disarms even as it brings up one's defenses. I found some of his unfinished work quite compelling as it was, even complete, and some of it... well, unfinished. Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats is an intriguing look inside the work and the mind of John Keats that somehow feels like a complete work even with…

Some Soul to Keep by J. California Cooper

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Some Soul to Keep by J. California Cooper reflects life in several long short stories that are realistic enough to feel voyeuristic while simultaneously feeling symbolic of something larger. Cooper captures the essence of life in a way that pulls the reader into the hearts and minds of her characters with unrelenting tenacity and compassion. She never shies away from the pain people can inflict on one another even as she offers a sense of hope that people can survive and grow and overcome the obstacles they face. Some Soul to Keep presents multi-dimensional characters who grab hold of one's beliefs, flips them over, and turns them inside out leaving one questioning life yet somehow feeling like one understands the world just a smidgen better than before one started reading.

Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer

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I wanted to love Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer when I bought it as a gift. I decided to read it before gifting it because I don't like to give people books I haven't read. As I read, I found many things to really like, but a few that definitely gave  me pause. Meltzer offers a rosy picture of the people he presents as heroes while never mentioning their flaws. I think including some of the flaws of these heroes would have made them more relatable. There were also some who I can't imagine having as heroes and would use to open a wider conversation about perceptions and images projected to the world rather than holding those particular individuals up as living lives one should model... Meltzer offers a quick snapshot into the lives of those he considers heroes for his son, and I hope this book will push children and perhaps even adults to further research and better understand the people, particularly the famous people, Meltzer included in Heroes for My Son, so they can …

Toby by Hazel Mitchell

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Toby by Hazel Mitchell is the sweet story of an adopted dog finding his way into the hearts of the family who adopts him. Mitchell creates a story that reminds us the importance of not giving up on others and of trying to help others find their way when they're struggling. Toby isn't the best behaved dog, and his new family struggles to connect with him. Mitchell illustrates the process of finding common ground and using persistence to change an undesirable situation. There's a lesson in Toby for all anyone who struggles to see the value in those who don't meet expectations.