Nonfiction

Rivers of Oregon by Tim Palmer

Beautiful photographs and vivid descriptions abound in this coffee-table style, loving tribute to the waterways of Oregon. The author describes what must amount to many trips across these great rivers with an enthusiasm that had me excitedly plotting out my next great adventure. His knowledge of Oregon's riparian ecology provides for informed essays that are fascinating and informative. My only complaint is that it should have been a larger book to really showcase the fantastic photos. Four out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews  

Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf

Great slice of life graphic novel that provides a glimpse into everyday life in the region during that time. The story is told through a child's eyes making the political fervor surrounding them seem somewhat muted but still present, often in the background via the stunning visuals. Riad's parents are well-developed characters with complexities that are captured subtlety and artfully. Full of humor and a poignant memoir of family and place. A great read-alike for fans of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (especially if you enjoyed the family dynamics more than the politics), or anyone who enjoys memoirs and/or glimpses of life in this region. Four out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews  

Is It All in Your Head? by Suzanne O’Sullivan

Is It All in Your Head? is filled to the brim with psychosomatic case studies. This book captivated me from the start. It features the heartbreaking and utterly fascinating stories of patients afflicted with terrible illnesses that have no physical cause, only a psychological one. Many of them never received satisfying explanations when doctors failed to find a reason for their ailments. Even people who had suddenly become paralyzed from the waist down or stricken with violent seizures were being discharged from hospitals with no course of treatment. This book calls for a different approach to healing these patients and Dr. O’Sullivan’s compassion for them is evident through her writing. This is a must read for any fan of television shows like House or Grey’s Anatomy. Back to Book Reviews  

The Natural History of Unicorns By Chris Lavers

In 398 BC, when Ctesias of Cnidus described a creature known as the Indian Ass, he defined a beast known through the rest of time as the unicorn. The Natural History of Unicorns digs deep into the physical characteristics, geographical distribution, and mystical stature of the unicorn. While fabled reports of the unicorn were probably an amalgamation of accounts of the Kiang, Chiru, and Rhinoceros, people were not willing to give up on its existence. The royal families in Europe who collected alicorns (unicorn horns), which were worth 10x their weight in gold, and the many references to unicorns in the Bible and Christian symbolism, kept its power alive. Even if all the stories of unicorns were truly an invention of the imagination, this fascinating and well-researched book is still worth reading for any history buff or unicorn enthusiast! Back to Book Reviews

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

This book is set up in small chapters highlighting books that have lessons you can learn.  Examples: Stuart Little searching, Bird by Bird feeling sensitive, Odyssey embracing mediocrity. I came away with a curious list of books that I now want to read.  I enjoyed his thoughtfulness. 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

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

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