Book Review

The Attack by Dauvillier and Chapron

This graphic novel (and the novel it is based on) is about the struggle to come to terms with decisions and actions that do not correspond with the facts as the main character sees them. It illustrates the humanity underlying the desperation in an act of terrorism, without trying to justify the act, and it explores the expanding circles of family and friends affected by the attack. Many peoples’ lives are changed forever and the carnage is far more than those involved directly in the attack. The collateral damage is more than the surrounding buildings. The author explores the complicated circumstances without being didactic and without providing clear answers. This story thoughtfully engages a sensitive and controversial topic. Back to Book Reviews  

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I found Colson Whitehead’s idea intriguing, portraying the Underground Railroad as a real railroad that traveled beneath the land. However, the real highlight, I found, was Cora’s story, a woman who clung to the railroad as her only hope of freedom, or even survival. As she journeys on the railroad the reader witnesses the many different kinds of horrible slaves experienced throughout the South, and in fact throughout a long and embattled journey towards equality, each stop signifying a different struggle. While it is an important story, I found it lacking in continuity and depth in comparison to Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which portrays similar narratives and was my favorite book in from the past year of reading. I happened to read two one right after the other, which maybe was unfair to Underground Railroad, a very good book in its own right. Back to Book Reviews  

Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

These well-written stories center on Refugees’ experiences. The characters are caught in a transition between two cultures, two worlds, two lives, not able to fully inhabit either, struggling with the idea of assimilating while clinging to the memories of a life that was ripped away. I recently heard Viet Thanh Nguyen say in an interview on NPR that he believes refugees have the valuable experience of being outsiders, which helps them feel compassion and empathy towards others. He wishes everyone “had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, an other.” These stories give the reader a brief glimpse into how that might look and feel. Back to Book Reviews

Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

For those who do not have first-hand experience of it, this book offers an opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes and try to understand the onslaught of racism many people experience daily. Using personal examples from his life, Dyson annotates events and points out the building frustration, the sparks of emotion and the cultural patterns lurking beneath seemingly normal interactions. This is even more powerful realizing this is a highly educated African American professor at an Ivy League school who has regularly feared for his life, with reason, in circumstances the majority would consider routine or mundane. This is an important contribution to race relations, well worth reading. Back to Book Reviews  

The Faithful Executioner by Joel Harrington

Frantz Schmidt was a complex man. He spent his life in quest of honor, holding fast to his religious convictions, but earning a living as a career killer. His father was an executioner, and in 1554 that meant he would inherit that profession. Executioners dealt out justice for towns that looked down on them. They weren’t allowed to hold citizenship, enter churches, or live within the city walls. Frantz kept a journal for 45 years, chronicling the 394 executions he performed and the personal anguish they wrought. With great psychological fortitude he respected his duty to the violent job he despised. This book is a fascinating account of a man trying to reconcile the hopes he had for his life with the dishonorable curse he was born into. Back to Book Reviews

The Healing Kitchen

If you're avoiding eggs, nuts and seeds, and/or nightshades, this is a fantastic book. I've just started avoiding eggs and I also avoid gluten, soy, and dairy. Also, I avoid sugar most of the time. So, it's nice to find these autoimmune paleo cookbooks which have plenty of recipes I do not have to make any modifications to even though they go a bit further in restriction than I do. So far I've enjoyed the oven-baked pancakes (make them all the time), "cheesy" broccoli soup, sweet and savory shepherd's pie, beef pot pie, garlic sauce, and cilantro chimichurri. They include tons of different weekly meal plans based on time, if you have kids to please, etc. I found the plan for busy cooks really helpful for my weekly planning. Definitely a book I'll need to own (I have the library's copy right now). Four out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews

Normal by Warren Ellis

Too flippant to take seriously, was my first reaction, but I soon realized the marrow of this short near-future mystery is not in the plot or the tone, but the incidentals. Normal is a psychiatric rehabilitation center for people who have worked with information on a large scale and are traumatized by the dissociative, destructive, or futile nature of their work. Sure these characters are mouthpieces for Ellis' outlook, but pay attention to their rambling monologues for an enlightening but very sobering read. Back to Book Reviews  

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

This book was difficult and emotional for me to read, but it was completely worth it. I think some of the concepts she presents might be a little abstract for some, but the majority of what she said (I listened to the audiobook) really hit home for me. Brown talks about her research, but, largely, it was the focus on probing our emotions and writing what she calls your "sh*tty first draft" (for kids: "stormy first draft") that I realized I absolutely have to do and have absolutely no desire to do. She's right when she says this process of building emotional resilience (aka "rising strong") is hard work. It means you have to face the stories you're making up about yourself: the way you're altering reality to reflect the narrative that is easiest for you to construct. The narrative that typically involves a hefty dose of shame (e.g. I'm not enough) and a distortion of the truth. She also emphasizes something that is hard for me to accept, but that she thinks is essential to acceptance and "rising strong": most of the people around you are trying their best. I'm still wrestling with that one, but she makes a strong case for why accepting this is so crucial to building the kind of emotional strength she's talking about. Needless to say, I'm going to be thinking about this book for a very long time. And, I hope I have the strength to not only probe my emotional narratives, but to try to change them. Also, Brene Brown (the author) narrates the audiobook and she's just perfect. Five out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

This book was clever, original, surprising, and all-around awesome. The art is manga-style and the story reflects many manga elements while also playfully mocking them. Katy is a likable but seriously flawed character whose bound toward disaster when she discovers she can "erase" yesterday's mistakes. As you might guess, things get out of hand as she erases mistake after mistake and weird stuff starts happening. Though a somewhat cliche premise, the humor is spot-on and Katy proves to be an irresistible protagonist as she rushes headfirst into something she doesn't understand. I couldn't put it down. Five out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews

Goop Clean Beauty by the Editors of Goop

There is some great information in here and then other information that is either nonsense or just didn't land with me. The chapter on cosmetics was really strong in terms of providing a straightforward and concise breakdown of ingredients to avoid in beauty products; however, there's a lot of emphasis on the Goop line of beauty products, so it's definitely also a vehicle to market those products. I looked into the prices of the Goop line and it's something like $100 for a bottle of face moisturizer, so it's beauty for rich ladies as far as I'm concerned. At the same time, they recommended other brands and it didn't necessarily feel like they were shoving their products in your face. This chapter does give you the knowledge and know-how to identify safe products meaning you can use what you learn to find cheaper, natural products. The chapter on nutrition and food had misinformation and seemed like a cursory, shallow intro to the concept of digestive health; for example, it discussed alkaline v acidic diets despite that being an erroneous concept. It has a list of foods to avoid, but then no information about why they are to be avoided. Many of the editors preach colonics, which I've been told you really should not do on a regular basis (every GI ever has told me this is a bad idea). Another thing I just don't get is why they all love Tracy Anderson's exercise so much. I've tried her videos and the movements are odd and make me feel like I'm going to pull something accidentally. I don't feel very challenged by her workouts. The last chapter were the editors demoing hair and makeup