Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt was recommended reading for a class I took on morality. After watching his Ted Talk, I was intrigued, so I decided to read the book. I hoped for insight to help me communicate better with those with whom I disagree about politics and religion... This book didn't provide that kind of guidance. Haidt's research is interesting. His conclusions less so. His writing is approachable, and he explains both his research and his conclusions well. However, I found his redefining of terms to better fit his research disheartening because it felt disconnected from reality. I found The Righteous Mind reminiscent of religious apologists only applied to politics. The vast majority of the book hones in on politics leaving little room for a discussion on religion. Honestly, I found The Righteous Mind frustrating and insulting while it re-enforced my disdain for labels even when it tried to achieve the opposite. Haidt tries to put an intellectual face on something that is most often driven by emotion, at least in this presentation of his research. His extensive discussion of what he calls the foundations of morality had me grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw as he made sweeping comments that just don't relate to me, most of the people I know or what I see in today's political discourse. While he claims to be trying to help the two sides understand one another, The Righteous Mind comes across as biased toward one side, though I won't say which side, because I think that would be a spoiler. It's hard for me to recommend this book yet I'm glad I read it because it did make me think.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

No Retreat: Poems on the Way to Waking Up by Shambhavi Sarasvati

Shambhavi Sarasvati writes about her journey in the poems of No Retreat: Poems on the Way to Waking Up. Many of her poems investigate the intricacies of life and relationships with self and others. Sarasvati's poems contain a spiritual element but often feel grounded in the world Sarasvati inhabits. She explores her need and desire for a spiritual awakening in a way that is both endearing and frustrating. No Retreat: Poems on the Way to Waking Up offers the readers a glimpse into Sarasvati's process and invites the reader to join her not only in her journey but in embracing the reader's own journey.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr transported me into World War II in a way I didn't expect by showing me the war through the experiences of two characters as they were pulled into circumstances beyond their control by their abilities and their inabilities. Doerr creates a fictional world based on a real world event that pushes the reader to cheer when they don't want to and jeer when they don't want to because his characters are so easy to identify with. He humanizes people and shows how easily people can be manipulated to do things they find unimaginable and the all too real effects from committing acts that go against one's conscience. Doerr writes in a way that makes it easy to suspend one's disbelief in areas where the story takes on fantastical airs. His characters are so real, I hurt with them, laughed with them, and wished with them even as I grew frustrated with them, admonished them, and pushed them to make different decisions. All through All the Light We Cannot See is the tapestry of the effects of war that are visited upon peoples and places for generation upon generation.  All the Light We Cannot See reveals its many layers through the characters interactions and the threat looming in the distance but always drawing nearer.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods explores the evolution of dogs as well as how they came to be such an integral part of the human experience. Hare tells the story of how he became intrigued with dog intelligence as part of studying human evolution. He explains the research his observation led to as well as the discoveries his research garnered. The Genius of Dogs shows us that dogs are both smarter and less smart than we think they are depending on the circumstances. Many dog owners have made these observations about their own dogs, but Hare and his colleagues have done, and continue to do, the research to prove or disprove various common beliefs surrounding dogs and their place in our society. Hare traces the evolution of the dog from the wolf to the various breeds that now exist. The Genius of Dogs offers a glimpse not only into dog behavior and intelligence but into their relationship with human beings told in Hare and Wood's easy to read, immersive, and entertaining style of writing.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Caul & Response by UpFromSumDirt (Ron Davis)

Caul & Response by UpFromSumDirt (Ron Davis) is an intense collection of poetry and poetic artwork that is raw and unapologetic as it tackles societal issues, inequality, and stereotypes. Davis is a master at turning a phrase and depicting an image that forces the reader to question conventional beliefs, attitudes, and histories. He reminds us that history is often written to support the narrative of those in power in order to maintain their power structure. This small collection of poetry and artwork has a powerful impact. Caul & Response is both a call to the present and a response to history to push the reader toward working for a better future.

While I currently can't find a link to purchase this book, contact Wild Fig Books & Coffee if you're interested in finding a copy. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rita Dove Collected Poems 1974-2004

Rita Dove Collected Poems 1974-2004 is a treasure trove of Dove's work published between 1974 and 2004. The poems are a journey through Dove's life as well as the world. There are moments that transport the reader into the past to explore how the present came to be and leave the reader conjecturing what the future might bring. Dove's words remind the reader how interconnected the world in which we live is as well as how our differences have the power to either unite us or divide us. Dove explores love, family, politics, culture, history, and self-discovery among other topics in this diverse and yet cohesive collection of poems. I took my time reading these poems often taking a day or so to reflect on what I'd read. Dove's poetry is inspiring and honest in a way that made me think about life, writing, and my place in the world.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D. with Gene Stone

How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D. with Gene Stone might not actually offer immortality, but it does offer a way to live a longer, healthier, more active life. Greger presents the science behind why a plant-based diet promotes health as well as how the science is often manipulated by those with a vested interest in selling unhealthy products to consumers. He manages to inject the same sense of humor into his writing that viewers of his videos on will immediately recognize. How Not to Die is a primer for understanding the effects of food on the body and why certain foods make us feel better while others make us feel worse. Greger delves into the research behind the diseases we associate with aging and why those diseases are diet related. He then goes on to discuss how changing one's diet changes one's health. He explains the science and how conclusive the studies are in an easy to digest manner. In the second half of How Not to Die, Greger discusses his "daily dozen" and how and why he incorporates them into his daily regimen. Throughout How Not to Die, Greger tells the story of how he came to be so interested in the effect food has on the body. How Not to Die is a fascinating, informative read I wish everyone would read, so we can all take control of the aspects of our health we can control.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom

Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil by Paul Bloom was recommended reading for a class on morality that I took a few months ago. The idea of studying babies to see how they react to determine just how much of morality is hardwired in us fascinated me. I read the book with intense interest, particularly the studies. I couldn't help but wonder if the researchers were reading into the babies' reactions to get the results they wanted, at least at times. Bloom writes an interesting and engaging book, but the skeptic in me kept showing up when he described how the studies were conducted. Just Babies is a fascinating read that feels like a starting point and left me with questions rather than answers, but maybe that was the point. Bloom explores many aspects of morality, moral philosophy, and moral psychology in conjunction with the studies conducted on babies. Just Babies struck me as more a book about whether or not babies differentiate between harmfulness and kindness than about the origins of good and evil.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

some of tim's stories by S.E. Hinton

I'm a long-time S. E. Hinton fan. I loved her early works, so I'm always eager to read her new releases. I say this because there is a possibility that influences how I read her work. Nothing she writes compares to the four YA adults she's most famous for, but some of tim's stories felt somewhat reminiscent of those early works. The stories are written in a way that links one to the other but also feels rather contained within themselves. All the way through it's an interesting and intriguing read that feels, like those early works, like a slice of life that demonstrates how interconnected life truly is and how the ripple effect sometimes doesn't show up right away but is always at work.

I found the interviews that make up nearly half the book just as interesting as some of tim's stories because they delved into S. E. Hinton's thought process and writing and thoughts on life and writing. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them because they, in some ways, helped me reconnect with my own purpose for writing and to remind me how important books can be to not only the writers but to the readers and even to society as a whole.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight by Maria Toorpakai with Katharine Holstein

I never expected A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight by Maria Toorpakai with Katharine Holstein to give me a greater insight into who I am at my core, but it did. I expected it to shine light on a culture I've never experienced instead it reminded me just how alike human beings are no matter where they live. Toorpakai doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable parts of her story. She goes into vivid detail about her journey to become her best self. She talks about breaking with the societal norms and expectations and her family's struggle to fight against the inequality in Pakistan. Her salvation didn't come from education but rather from first weight lifting and then squash. For someone like me who values education, this part of the story was hard for me to read. Her inability to sit in a classroom challenged my beliefs while gently coercing me to feel compassion for her circumstances. Her desire to live as a boy in a society where girls' participation in society is severely restricted challenges ideas about gender roles from around the world. As Toorpakai searches for a way to survive, to escape, and to protect her family, her strength and her family's love and openness shine through in the refusal to compromise who she is or sacrifice her for their own safety. A Different Kind of Daughter is not only the story about a daughter who is different but about the family who is different enough to buck societal norms and risk losing everything to honor their values and teach their children to be proud of who they are even if society doesn't understand them. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I winced, I pleaded as I followed Toorpakai and her family on this journey to find a place in the world where she belonged.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

I read Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway because a friend recommended it. I started reading with a sense of skepticism, but found the presentation of facts, history, and science compelling. Merchants of Doubt used facts and science to illustrate how people have twisted science for corporate greed, political agendas, and personal greed. Oreskes & Conway showed the documentation to back up their claims. They made the excellent point that science itself isn't biased; however, people with agendas are. Oreskes & Conway not only discuss the science, but how and why it was manipulated in a clear, easy to comprehend manner that is at once fascinating, enraging, enlightening, and frightening. They emphasize time and again the reality that facts and science don't change just because people choose not to believe them. Read Merchants of Doubt if you want to better understand how the government, the media, and corporations manage to manipulate the general public to believe things that support corporate interests but go against the interests of all Earth's inhabitants.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison

When I started reading Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison, I hoped to gain insight into Asperger's and what it's like to live with Asperger's. Robison writes a memoir that is at times shockingly honest in that he doesn't present himself as a very sympathetic character. I cringed at some of his interactions with others imagining what it must have felt like for those people. Switched On details Robison's journey to decide to participate in an experimental brain therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS. He wrote about how this experiment awakened him to not only emotions of the moment but of memories and the emotions attached to those memories. When he describes his reaction to a song after one of his early treatments, I felt like he was describing a hallucination. I found it hard to wrap my head around his experience, and I'm a highly emotional person. He also explored how the therapy opened his eyes to emotional truths he wasn't quite ready to face and how that changed his relationships. There's a sense of detachment and vulnerability that rides just beneath the surface throughout Switched On that oddly kept me engaged during some of the more technical parts of the book. Overall, Switched On is a fascinating examination of the brain, emotions, and humanity.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Stories from Generation Z by Tammy Ruggles

Stories from Generation Z by Tammy Ruggles explores teenage angst in this collection of heart-wrenching short stories. A thread of hope flows through even the most painful moments of these stories that address issues including abuse, self-harm, and suicide. Ruggles manages to write about real life issues in a way that immerses the reader in her characters' emotional journeys. Stories from Generation Z reminds the reader how easy it is to dismiss the pain of others, particularly young adults, as something that will pass, especially when dealing with our own issues. Ruggles paints a picture of a world where young adults struggles are never dismissed as growing pains while she offers hope they can be overcome.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Self Massage of 23 Essential Acupressure Points for Health and Wellness - The Secret to an Optimal Mind and Body by Selene Yangtze

20525722Self-Massage of 23 Essential Acupressure Points for Health and Wellness - The Secret to an Optimal Mind and Body by Selene Yangtze describes the process of self-massage using acupressure points in a way that makes it feel accessible and worth trying. Yangtze starts with a brief explanation of acupressure followed by some general instructions for how to best perform a self massage using acupressure points. Self-Massage of 23 Essential Acupressure Points for Health and Wellness illustrates and describes pressure points and what functions of the body those points should support and balance. I read this book while on a plane and didn't really try applying more than two or three of these pressure points though I did remember various times in my life when I've instinctively pressed on such pressure points to relieve stress or irritation. Yangtze's clear and concise writing and illustrations demonstrate how easy it would be to try self-massage using acupressure points to relieve stress.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Face in the Mirror by Audrey Austin

28675940The Face in the Mirror by Audrey Austin is a story of find one's inner strength to change one's circumstances. Sometimes looking into the mirror shows you who you were, who you are, and even a glimpse of who you can be. Randy faces all three not only in the mirror but in the face of his brother, Jimmy. Randy is faced with a decision... Who does he want to see when he looks in the mirror? Austin offers an easy to read, quickly paced short story that has the reader cheering for Randy to make the right decision. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Imprints in the Sand: Raja's Insights by Raja Williams

28097820Imprints in the Sand: Raja's Insights by Raja Williams opens a crack in the facade of what we often call life revealing that life can be so much more. Williams explores the intimacies of self and relationships as well as the place one holds in the world in this collection of poetry. There are moments that rang true enough for me to wonder if Williams had been looking into the mirror of my own struggle to find my place in the world while other moments left me contemplating the vast differences of life experiences that happen in our world. The lyricism of Imprints in the Sand explores the simplicity and the complexity of life with equal wonder.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Loving Kindness Meditation: How to create more joy, hope and love in your life by Fredrik Andersson

28164343I decided to read Loving Kindness Meditation: How to create more joy, hope and love in your life by Fredrik Andersson after taking a Positive Psychology Class where the instructor talked about the benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation. While the class provided quite a bit of information, I wanted another point of view. Loving Kindness discusses the benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation as well as techniques for practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation. Andersson writes about Loving-Kindness Meditation in an easy to understand way that makes the practice feel approachable. I found the book more supportive of what I'd already learned than eye-opening yet someone with less knowledge of Loving-Kindness Meditation might find it more informative.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Three O'Clock Seance by Joanne Pence

27986733Three O'Clock Séance by Joanne Pence,the third book in the Rebecca Mayfield series, crashes Richie Amalfi into Rebecca Mayfield's life again with a mystery surrounding a psychic whose clients are dying in suspicious numbers and circumstances. At first it appears it might just be coincidence, but that soon appears to be wishful thinking on Mayfield's part. The more time Rebecca and Richie spend together, the more the reader roots for her to accept and confess her feelings for Richie while she continues to fight them and Richie continues to woo her in his own confusing way. Once again, I loved every scene with Mayfield's little dog, Spike, especially the clear affection for Richie that Spike's not a bit shy about showing unlike his owner and much to Rebecca's irritation. Pence writes a fun, fast moving, intriguing mystery woven with bits of humor that had me struggling to not laugh out loud while reading it during a late night flight.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Creeling the Bridegroom by Neil S. Plakcy

21529417Creeling the Bridegroom by Neil S. Plakcy is an engaging love story that encompasses the universality of love, identity, and life's changes. Plakcy highlights the many times in life people make decisions that seem right in the moment and later remind us what we've left behind as his characters face familiar life choices. Rarely does real life provide the opportunity to rectify those decisions in a way that moves forward, but Plakcy creates a story that gives hope that love truly does live on even when life separates people.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Suicide Letters by Tammy Ruggles

24076878Suicide Letters by Tammy Ruggles is a collection of stories told in the form of suicide letters. The letters grip the angst of teenage life, remind us how powerful bullying can be, and delve into the pain that teenagers and adults alike hide from one another. At the heart of these stories is the hopelessness that accompanies suicidal ideology and the hope that can come from communication, compassion, and understanding. Ruggles brings the conversation of suicidal thoughts to the forefront in a way that made me grimace as I remembered times in my life when I thought I couldn't handle the pain any longer and that the world would be a better place without me in it. Those moments of connection reminds us that if we bring the conversation out of the whispers we can make a difference in people's lives. Ruggles demonstrates quite effectively the fact that suicidal thoughts and feelings aren't a sign of weakness or giving up, but of needing compassion and understanding. Maybe, just maybe, someone will read Ruggles words and seek help instead of acting on any suicidal thoughts or feelings haunting them.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Holler by Crystal Wilkinson

19279367Holler is first and foremost a story of family. It's about the kind of family that you find in the hollers of Kentucky. People who grow up with a kind of kinship that binds them against outsiders even when it's not necessarily in their best interests. Holler is a multi-layered story that feels simple in the read but hits on myriad and complex emotions throughout. In this short story, Wilkinson deftly immerses the reader in interactions that point out preconceptions about country people, city people, skin color, police officers, and even individuals leading to deeper understanding about how much misunderstanding, hurt, and violence could be avoided with a bit more communication and fewer assumptions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Willy, The Mighty Oak

24944638Willy, The Mighty Oak: A Short Story by Jaicy Ramsay is the sweet story of an oak tree's life and connection to a family. There's a beauty to the story that nudges one to think about what progress sometimes costs us. In this fable, the oak communicates with a small boy and comforts him after his grandfather dies. In the oak tree, Ramsay demonstrates the strength, understanding, and wisdom of a grandfather as well as the acceptance that many things are beyond one's control.

Note: I read this book as a Kindle book, and it no longer seems to be available via Amazon or elsewhere on the web.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sequah: An Indian Girl Named Sara by E. Wayne Courtney

Sequah: An Indian Girl Name Sara by E. Wayne Courtney is a story told in poetic verse. The story grips the reader while leading to the occasional squirm and wince. Courtney explores the life of Sequah as the story was told to the family. The story feels as if it mourns a lost history and connection even as it celebrates the very existence of that history. There's a cord that runs through the verses that feels like a reminder that all beings on this Earth are connected.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Higher Authority by Stephen White

Higher Authority by Stephen White is part of his Alan Gregory series, but it focuses on Gregory's fiancée, Lauren Crowder, more than on Gregory. White weaves together religion and politics into a quilt no one wants to curl up in. With murder and threats of violence lurking around every corner, relationships from the familial to the friendly to the romantic find themselves in jeopardy upping the stakes for the characters. Higher Authority pits morality against politics and religion as it weaves an intriguing story that at times leaves the reader slightly adrift only to pull one back into its murky depths.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran by Shirin Ebadi

I decided to read Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran by Shirin Ebadi for three reasons. One, I'm always looking to better understand cultures from around the world. Two, I think human rights are worth fighting for. Three, I admire people who are willing to put their whole lives on the line to fight for the rights of not only themselves but others. I started to read Ebadi's story unsure what to expect. The story was filled with moments of hope and moments of utter despair that took me on an emotional roller coaster. I laughed at times and fought back tears at others. I felt outrage and fear and joy. Ebadi tells her life story through the lens of her fight for human rights without denying what her fight for the rights of not only herself but others cost her, personally and professionally. At times, she downplayed her losses in comparison to other people's, but even then her story made me think. Sometimes, we use words so carelessly, but for people living under a truly dictatorial regime, careless words are death sentences, sometimes even careful words are death sentences. Yet, it is important that words that shine light on atrocities are spoken and written and shared with the world. Ebadi tells the story of how she worked her whole life to speak for those who aren't in a position to speak for themselves. Ebadi's story of dealing with the Iranian government are enough to give anyone chills but remind us that there are real people living under oppressive rule everyday and there are real people living under those regimes fighting for the rights of themselves and others. Until We Are Free is a well written and engaging book that is at once thought provoking, heartbreaking and inspiring.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

I've struggled a bit to write this review because I have mixed feelings about The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker.

I started reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined with the attitude that Pinker needed to first convince me violence had declined before getting into explaining why. To be perfectly honest, given the world we currently live in, it's hard to imagine that violence has declined.

While I finished the book convinced that violence has declined, I felt like the explanations for why seemed more hypothetical than proven. Pinker explored violence quite thoroughly beginning his book at the beginning of human existence and moving to modern times in the almost 700 pages of The Better Angels of Our Nature. He explored historical myths as well as historical documents to arrive at his conclusions. He used archaeological finds to disprove mythical battles. He described how the development of etiquette and the creation of government helped quell violence and change our norms about violence. He used a combination of statistics, anecdotal evidence, and archaeological studies to present his case.

Yet, the more I read, the more my college corrections statistics professor's words haunted me. He always warned our class to be careful when writing papers not to allow our biases and our desires to prove our points to affect the weight we gave the studies we used as evidence. 

Pinker seems less objective in some areas of The Better Angels of Our Nature than in other sections. He seemed to excuse violence against some people while unequivocally condemning it against others. This bias felt incredibly out of place in a book on why violence has declined. 

For example, when talking about things like the FBI's crime report and other such studies on crime, Pinker never mentions the effect of police discretion and biased court results on crime rates or how the statistics for individual areas are sometimes skewed by reporting or not reporting data. My assumption is he believes the numbers wouldn't be enough to skew the overall results, and a simple paragraph could have addressed that issue. Maybe even just a few sentences; however, if those sentences existed I couldn't find them.

His inconsistent handling of anecdotal evidence and research surveys deemed certain groups of people more credible than others without giving a clear reason why.

As I read The Better Angels of Our Nature, I found myself wanting it to be better than it was yet I still think it's a book worth reading. Pinker obviously studied violence in great depth. He explains the statistics in an easy to understand, straightforward method, and he tells the story of violence quite well. He makes violence the main character, for better or worse, in a story that is ongoing and relevant and important. In fact, Pinker tells the story so well and brings up such important points, facts, and conclusions, that I am tempted to dismiss the things that bothered me about the book. Yet, I can't do that in good conscience. Pinker drives home the fact that violence is much less acceptable than it used to be for a variety of reasons and that unacceptability has come about as humans have developed civilization and sought out ways to live together more peacefully. The Better Angels of Our Nature left me hopeful that we can continue to rise above violence and find nonviolent solutions in spite of my skepticism about certain sections of the book.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Matter is Life by J. California Cooper

The Matter is Life by J. California Cooper took me by surprise. I felt off-center as I began to read. Cooper uses language and grammar to give her characters voice and individuality. She writes stories that delve into the dirty aspects of life with an intense and uncomfortable honesty. Cooper writes life without dressing it up in frills and lace. Cooper addresses myriad topics from religion to drug use to family dynamics in this book of short stories. She delves into the way humans interact with one another as well as with themselves. She lets life's tatters and tears show. She creates raw and gritty characters in stories that feel all too real. The Matter is Life pushes the reader to think about why life matters and how to better embrace the what matters in life.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America by Tamara Draut

Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America by Tamara Draut provokes thought, anger, disbelief, and hope all in a few short pages. Draut investigates and illuminates the struggle of the working class in America as well as the importance of the jobs so often pushed to the side and misunderstood by the very people who are working class as well as those who are middle and upper class. She demonstrates how little we truly understand our own economy, taxes, and, sadly, way of life. I felt sharp pangs as I thought about times when I didn't stop to appreciate service I received or worse yet complained about service that was adequate but not top-notch. We so often assume we know things we don't know based on our own circumstances, but Sleeping Giant delves into all those areas where we make ourselves willfully blind so we don't have to face the reality of our choices and the reality of other people's lives. As I read about the deplorable conditions corporations in America get away with in spite of all of our so called worker protections I felt ill. Draut backs up her opinions, conclusions and conjecture with facts and evidence based on research. She marries research and anecdotes in a way that gives the facts a human face. Sleeping Giant challenged assumptions and pushed buttons I didn't even know I had, but Draut also left me with hope that we can change the future for not just the working class but for everyone.

Monday, June 6, 2016

No Asylum by Nicholas Karavatos

No Asylum by Nicholas Karavatos plays with words and phrases to convey the simple and the complex. Sometimes the poems feel like a journey and other times they feel like a destination. There's an attitude within the pages that conveys deep thought and strong opinions. At times I felt like Karavatos's poems spoke to me and other times like they were speaking a different language, but they were always thought provoking. No Asylum is unapologetic in its composition and its take on life.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

I have to confess Crank by Ellen Hopkins sat in my to-be-read pile for quite a long time, several years, in fact. I'm not sure why. There was something about the book that intimidated me before I ever opened it. Maybe I resisted the idea of a book about drug addiction written in a series of poems. Once I started it though, I was drawn in, seduced, addicted... I wanted more. I read more than I intended at each sitting. I wanted to know more. I felt a connection to the characters in the story. I felt the allure and the self-disgust. I cried at the consequences the addiction brought to those involved. I cheered in the hopeful moments and bemoaned the lost moments. Hopkins pushes buttons with effective character building and story telling that feels at once voyeuristic, enlightening, poetic, real, and addictive

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family by Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber tosses in a bit of this, a pinch of that, and a smidgen of the other to create a thoroughly engaging meal in Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family. Abu-Jaber pulls together American life and the influence of her father's Jordanian roots in a book that spoke to me in unexpected ways. Her descriptions of being in the kitchen with her grandmother made me long to be in the kitchen with mine just one more time. Fond memories from my own life stirred as she described her experience with her grandmother and then with her father sprinkled with her journey toward and into motherhood. When she describes obstacles encountered as she ventured out from her family's belief systems, I nodded and smiled. Abu-Jaber tapped the moment we all share when our opinions, experiences, and choices veer away from the recipe we've been assigned to create a life much more delicious. She explores love and loss and desire and need along side insecurity and confidence and self-discovery and growth. Abu-Jaber demonstrates the connection we all share with a life recipe that is sometimes overcooked, sometimes undercooked, sometimes too salty, sometimes too sweet as we search for the perfect ingredient to balance all the flavors to find the most delicious result. Life Without a Recipe is the story of a woman who knows her recipe is still being written...

This review is written based on a free advance reading copy provided by the publisher.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell

The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell offers insight into the effect the food we eat has on our health. I first learned about this book while watching the documentary, Forks Over Knives. I decided I needed to read it even though I started eating a whole-food plant based diet several years ago. Campbell and Campbell explore Dr. T. Colin Campbell's research through the years with a clarity that offers little room for argument. The China Study explains, true to its name, a long term study done on a group of healthy people living in China who eat a mostly plant-based diet where certain diseases are extremely rare. The Campbells demonstrate through an examination of eating habits and health tests how people from Asian countries develop the same health problems as Americans when they adopt a typical American diet. They also discuss the process with which our dietary guidelines are written and how they are influenced by industry including both the food and the pharmaceutical industries. Even though The China Study was published in 2006, the Campbells set an important foundation for understanding the discussion of nutrition and health through studies that have been done over several decades. The China Study provides important information regarding the policy issues as well as the misconceptions often touted with  authority regarding the food we eat and its relationship to our health.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Black Box Poems by Frank X. Walker

Black Box Poems by Frank X. Walker transported me to a place I both recognized and didn't recognize while expanding my understanding of the human condition. Family dynamics combined with life experience create a glimpse into country life and city life as well as juxtaposition of the simplicity of living complex lives and the complexity of living simple lives. Walker writes with a clarity that uses symbolism and bluntness in perfect harmony to drive home a point or to provoke thought. I'm always entranced by poetry that reminds me that we all share at least some commonalities in a world that works so hard to convince us all that to allow our differences to divide us rather than complement our efforts at living better lives. Reading Black Box Poems felt like taking a trip home and going into a strange land all at once.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Murder on Nob Hill by Shirley Tallman

Murder on Nob Hill by Shirley Tallman explores class, inequality, greed, and hypocrisy in Victorian San Francisco. When Sarah Woolson convinces a law firm that thinks women shouldn't be practicing law to hire her, she lands in the middle of a murder case her superiors are determined to push aside assuming the worst about the main suspects in the case. As Sarah, in an attempt to best represent her client, uncovers secrets her upper class society would rather not disclosed, she finds herself not only battling for her right to practice law but her life. Tallman creates characters that at once inspire and infuriate in a story that reminds the reader disclosed secrets are often blamed for destroying lives when, in fact, it is the action of doing things one feels the need to hide that destroys lives. Murder on Nob Hill examines the dangers of inequality fueled by greed and self-righteousness.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Floating Woman Poems by Leonard Orr

A Floating Woman Poems by Leonard Orr floats into the consciousness and takes up residence. I felt drawn to the poems and their lyricism. The romance of forbidden love and the despair of lost love woven into Orr's poems allows for an emotional journey that feels at once voyeuristic and universal. As I savored these poems over a few weeks, I looked forward each day to that day's poems to be read and after reading them hesitantly put the book aside to await the next day's reading. At times, Orr's poems feel symbolic of a larger message about the world and our place in it with a reverence for the interconnection we all share that shows how our actions affect one another even when we pretend they don't. A Floating Woman speaks to being inside all of us that longs to float into freedom...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by Bell Hooks

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by Bell Hooks approaches feminism from a perspective of inclusiveness as indicated by the title. Hooks explores the idea that everyone benefits from the pursuit of equal rights for women. Interspersed in her essays is the idea that feminist leaders are sometimes guilty of playing into the patriarchy's hands by pitting those who should be joining together against one another. She explores the use of racism and classism, sometimes unconscious, as instrumental in keeping feminism from making the strides it could make. Hooks points out that when equality comes to our society everyone benefits in a stronger community filled with productive citizens working together for the betterment of all. She goes on to explore how the upper and even middle classes use inequality to exploit others for their own benefit often while not even seeing how the very lives they live are built on the services of other people. Hooks explores inequality and its relationship to feminism with passion, intelligence, and integrity to the point of making me examine how I live my life in relationship to those around me.

Monday, March 7, 2016

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

I was excited to read All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani based on reading some of her earlier work. That said, I'm always a little hesitant to read work that assigns fictional possibilities for the events in real people's lives, so I felt a little uncertain about reading All the Stars in the Heavens. It's nice to imagine what might have been the circumstances of a situation, but fantasy never changes reality. Trigiani's writing immersed me and allowed me to suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy the story in spite of the moments when I felt uncomfortable with the portrayals of real people. All the Stars in the Heavens inspired me to research the historical people the characters were based on because at the end of the day All the Stars in the Heavens felt both too real and too much like a fantasy all at once. All the Stars in the Heavens is a well written, fictional account of a historical event that also manages to examine the mores of a period of time shining light on many social issues that resonate even today.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Prodigal by Linda Gregerson

Prodigal New and Selected Poems: 1976-2014 by Linda Gregerson pushes the reader to think through use of creative and provocative language. Many poems that feel simple on the surface hold an underlying complexity. The poems reminded me that often speaking in seemingly straightforward language can push readers to think beyond the words presented. There's a reverence and an irreverence woven through the poems in ways that connect the unconnected demonstrating just how connected the world truly is. Prodigal lives up to its name in that it examines how reckless and wasteful human beings can truly be but also demonstrates there is hope to find our way again.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Inflectionist Review: Anthology of Poetry

The Inflectionist Review: Anthology of Poetry celebrates words in a way that immerses the reader into the minds and souls of the myriad poets within its pages. The poetry offers a journey through life, nature, and human nature in a way that both nurtures and provokes thought. While some poems spoke to me more loudly and more clearly than others I enjoyed the book tremendously. The art included portrays a fluidity that invites the reader to rest and float through the pages of images on the way to the next journey of poetry without ever losing its poetic feel. The Inflectionist Review: Anthology of Poetry presents poetry that manages to be bold, inspiring, and comforting all at once.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde pushed me to think about equality from yet another angle. It's easy to think about equality from the point of view of one's own benefit, but when one expands out to think about equality from the point of view of people with myriad experiences, the struggle isn't quite as easily defined as once thought. Sister Outsider explores myriad attitudes toward people facing inequality and explores how a one size fits all feminism isn't going to fix the problems of inequality. She explores division and judgment and conflicting attitudes mirroring racial issues, class issues, and ingrained belief systems. The essays and speeches included in Sister Outsider drive home the point that we need to listen to one another and find ways to work together instead of assuming one group's work will benefit everyone or that other people's equality can wait until later. Lorde spoke from her experience to provoke thought and perhaps an understanding that could bring together myriad interests by opening a dialogue. Sister Outsider gave me insight into the complexity of the struggle for equality created by the fracturing of the groups seeking equality.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Farewell the Dragon by Lee Barckmann

Farewell the Dragon by Lee Barckmann drops the reader in China in October of 1987 among a host of characters from around the world all with different agendas, beliefs, and motivations. As they come together, clash, find common ground, suspect one another, and betray each other, they create a drama that had me struggling to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys. Barckmann doesn't shy away from the edges when it comes to painting his main character, or any of his characters, as flawed. Even as the story unfolds around the murder of two foreigners, there's an element that nothing is what it seems on the surface. Many of the characters seem incredibly uncertain of their feelings for one another ratcheting up the drama, the betrayal, the suspense. Both secrets and honesty were used as weapons throughout Farewell the Dragon. Farewell the Dragon brings relationships, sex, international intrigue, religion, politics, and a society in flux to create an examination of human nature that is at once blunt and nuanced.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose by Melanne Verveer and Kim. K. Azzarelli

I found much to like in Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose by Melanne Verveer and Kim. K. Azzarelli; however, there were times when it felt like it tried too hard to convince me to support certain companies. I liked the study of women's rights, the push for equality, and the progress that's been made. Fast Forward pushed me to think about how I can better use my life and my writing not just for the betterment of women but for all people. Verveer and Azzarelli kept a positive attitude about the fight for equal rights without dismissing the struggle still to be fought. Their work for equality interlinks with the stories of many powerful women, corporations, and foundations, and at times the overlap shines a light on the discrepancies between furthering equality and recognizing that not everyone around the world has the same issues. At other times,Verveer and Azzarelli seek to address those discrepancies with stories about the help foundations and corporations have provided. I found Fast Forward interesting, educational, and inspiring even though at times it left me with the impression of being a public relations move by the corporations, foundations, and leaders involved.

Friday, January 8, 2016

All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness by Sheila Hamilton

All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness by Sheila Hamilton is open and raw in a way that forced me to remind myself that I don't actually know her as I read. I cheered for her and her daughter, Sophie, but also for David, her husband suffering from mental illness. I winced when she was brutally honest about missing signs, mistaking the symptoms, and dismissing both as just his personality. I nodded as she demonstrated how charismatic David was in the beginning and how alluring, even intoxicating, that was. I blinked back a tear when she told her daughter when David's body had finally been found even though I knew before I even started reading that he died. Hamilton's examination of way mental illness is handled by the medical profession, the legal community, and even by family members left me gasping. There are so many glitches in the system where one little mistake, one little misstep, one little denial can be deadly. Hamilton writes an engaging story that reminded me why I am so fascinated with psychology and pushed me to pay closer attention to those around me. All the Things We Never Knew is a very personal story, but it is also a call to action for all of us to understand the dangers of stigmatizing mental illness driving people away from seeking the care they need.