Review: The Nostalgist

HansburyFlap Copy:Stoop-shouldered and balding beneath a porkpie hat, Jonah Soloway is an old man before his time. Effectively orphaned when an SUV took his mother’s life, he has retreated into a solitary world of vintage artifacts and comic books. But he longs to make a human connection–even if it means twisting the truth to get it. When he dials the number on Rose Oliveri’s 9/11 missing poster and reaches her mother, Vivian, one innocent lie leads to another, and before Jonah knows it, reality becomes uncertain even to him.

Stalked by Rose’s ghost, Jonah finds himself falling deeper into his own fabrications as he wanders a city turned surreal in terrorism’s settling dust. But when he meets Jane, an irreverent student of psychoanalysis, he’ll be forced to choose between illusion and the possibility of a true relationship.

Both a poetic journey into the heart of post-9/11 New York and a darkly comic commentary on how we cope with loss, The Nostalgist is a striking debut novel from a masterful new author.

Review: The Nostalgist is a parable of the worst that can happen when we give voice to our fantasies, when they leave our heads through our words and draw innocent believers into a web of false hope. Jonah is both a villain – a manipulative sociopath – and the hero we can’t help but identify with on his search for companionship and redemption. His “lost love” Rosie is no less complicated for being dead throughout the novel – she is an uncomfortable pill to swallow with what she has to say about how we mourn for our lost loved ones. Griffin Hansbury reminds us that the unbearable pain of loss and unrealized dreams can be lifted, ever so slightly, but looking around for the joys right in front of us.

Source: ARC from MP Publishing

Review: The Visitors

Flap Copy: James Dwyer was born in rural county Limerick before moving to Dublin as a teenager and ultimately settling in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One night in July 2000, James’s past appears in the form of a down-and-out old man named Walter who O'Keefeissues an invitation for James to come to New York’s Hudson Valley to visit his old childhood neighbor, Kevin Lyons. Although neither James nor Kevin particularly cares for each other, there’s no denying their complicated past. Kevin and James’s sister, Tess, were lovers when they were teenagers, which caused anguish for both families, and James was once in love with Kevin’s sister, Una.

Illuminating the precarious balance of family intimacies and how stories can carry over from one generation to the next, O’Keeffe’s The Visitors further delivers on the elegant prose and plotting that earned him critical acclaim and The Story Prize for The Hill Road.

Review: The Visitors has the old-world cadence of the McCourt brothers and carries the wistful, introspective regret of an ex-pat wandering through the States. James ruminates on what is lost, poring over details of his past that seem to have set his future in stone. The stories weave back and forth like a memoir until, suddenly, there is a crime novel in your hands — and you realize you weren’t paying attention to the clues and motives that were there all along. The twists and turns of James’s memory and the brief glimpse into his future remind us that, no matter where we go or who we become, if we aren’t where our heart truly lies, we’re only ever just visiting.

Source: ARC from Viking.

Review: How to Be a Good Wife

Flap Copy: Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after college. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife – as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.

But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember – or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is becoming more real every day, and she wants something . . .

Chilling and page-turning, How to Be a Good Wife unravels with the unnerving precision and compelling uncertainty, introducing a tremendous new talent in psychological fiction.

ChapmanReview: Like Marta’s gift from her mother-in-law, I also received a worn copy of a retro marriage advice book, from my grandmother on my wedding day. It had tips on how to make my husband happy – reapply my lipstick and straighten the bow in my hair as I timed dinner perfectly to when he walked through the door after a long day of work. Of course, he was unemployed for much of the short marriage, and that made dinner tricky to time. Or perhaps, as in Marta’s marraige, things would have turned dark even if I’d read the book and applied its precepts. In How to Be a Good Wife, The Feminine Mystique is put into action, set in Scandinavia and seeped in the nagging doubts so many women have about who they are after years of identifying in reference to another – a husband, a child, or even a clean house. Marta’s psychological break reveals the terror of truly not being able to escape a captor because the captor is either in your house – or in your head. If you’re going to hand out books to brides on their big days, don’t make it How to Be a Good Wife – either the advice book, or the novel! It’s the kind of book to make you lower your dinner fork and eye your spouse suspiciously until you remember it’s just a book – just a very good one.

Source: ARC from St. Martin’s Press

Review: Bringing Up Bebe

bringing up bebeFlap Copy: When American journalist Pamela Druckerman has a baby in Paris, she doesn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” French parenting isn’t a known thing, like French fashion or French cheese. Even French parents themselves insist they aren’t doing anything special.

Yet, the French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play.

Motherhood itself is a whole different experience in France. There’s no role model, as there is in America, for the harried new mom with no life of her own. French mothers assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this. They have an easy, calm authority with their kids that Druckerman can only envy.

Of course, French parenting wouldn’t be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They’re just far better behaved and more in command of themselves. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are- by design-toddling around and discovering the world at their own pace.

With a notebook stashed in her diaper bag, Druckerman—a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal—sets out to learn the secrets to raising a society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents. She discovers that French parents are extremely strict about some things and strikingly permissive about others. And she realizes that to be a different kind of parent, you don’t just need a different parenting philosophy. You need a very different view of what a child actually is.

While finding her own firm non, Druckerman discovers that children-including her own-are capable of feats she’d never imagined.

Review: I wonder what I would have thought of this book if I’d read it (or had kids) when it was first published in 2012. I think some of Druckerman’s revelations have become so talked about in parenting circles that they just didn’t seem as surprising to me as they would have had I not had almost three years to hear the secrets in the book.

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book – I did, immensely. Just that some of the things, like letting children learn to play on their own, weren’t as revolutionary to me as they might have been (and maybe they weren’t at the time the book came out, I don’t know).

At any rate, Druckerman’s take on French parenting certainly leaves a lot to be desired from American parenting. French kids are better behaved, better eaters, better sleepers, have more autonomy and are respectful towards adults. Their parents are more relaxed and have active, fulfilling lives outside of their families and make time for romance. What’s not to like?

Well, probably not all French parenting is the way Druckerman experienced it, but it does sound good. I really liked the interviews with both French and American parents, and her own experiments with learning how to incorporate a little French parenting into her own style. While I still believe the American way is better in some respects, this is one parenting book that was full of actual useful parenting information that I will try to make use of.

Source: Public library

Review: The Language of Food

language of foodFlap Copy: Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.

Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like “rich” and “crispy,” zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky’s insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.

From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

Engaging and informed, Jurafsky’s unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.

Review: I heard about this book on a radio show, and was completely intrigued. I think I’ve mentioned before that I love books about food and writing, and this combines both! Full of surprising stories about the origins of the foods we know and love, as well as the words we use to describe them, this is an interesting way to get a dose of history and linguistics. It’s a little drier than Words to Eat By (How is it possible that I didn’t review that book?!) but still entertaining and informative. I could have done with less information about San Francisco and more history of where ice cream or ketchup came from, but on the whole it was a great read.

Source: Public library

Review: Breastfeeding Books

nmgtbfAAP New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding
Flap Copy: Offering the most up-to-date information and statistics about the benefits of nursing, sage advice on how to establish a breastfeeding routine, and troubleshooting tips, the second edition of New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding will provide new and expectant moms with everything they need to know about breastfeeding. It takes time (and practice!) for mom and baby to adjust to the new routine. Helping to smooth the process, this book provides easy- to-understand guidance and the latest medical findings to ensure that the breastfeeding experience is a healthy and positive one. Complete with more than 50 illustrations and drawings, numerous Q&A sidebars addressing common questions and concerns, and a handy list of other breastfeeding resources, New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding is an indispensable tool. This updated version covers more than a decade’s worth of the latest research, including:
• New research on ways breastfeeding can stave off childhood allergies and obesity
• Expanded coverage of proper nutrition for nursing mothers, including vitamin, mineral, and supplementation recommendations
• Information for mothers preparing for the first feeding and adjusting to home, family, and work as a nursing mother
• Proven ways to establish a nursing routine and what to do when mom returns to work
• Information on handling special situations like premature birth and C-sections
• Mom-tested solutions to common breastfeeding challenges Under the direction of one of the country’s preeminent lactation experts, editor-in-chief Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, FAAP, IBCLC, this outstanding guide was developed with the assistance of numerous contributors from the AAP and is the essential resource for getting new moms and their babies off to the healthiest start possible.

Review: As expected from a medical organization, this is somewhat dry and factual – not quite a textbook, but not something designed to tweak your interest in the bookstore. I found it to be a bit judgmental also (particularly regarding c-sections, as it assumed that any woman who had one obviously did not want it but had no choice in the matter), which was too bad. It is very detailed and easy to read, though, and covers all the information I hoped to learn.

Source: Free copy from my OB

so that's whatSo That’s What They’re For: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide
Flap Copy
: The Critics Love “So That’s What They’re For!””A practical, light-hearted, and humorous look at breastfeeding…that’s full of factual information and down-to-earth answers to the universal questions all breastfeeding mothers have.” –La Leche League

“This light-hearted approach to a truly serious subject offers a healthy mix of medical fact and hearty humor, and is a must for all moms.” –Dr. Dean Edell, nationally syndicated radio/television talk show host

“BEST PICKS: Best breastfeeding book out there for new moms.” –“Parent Soup”

“Janet Tamaro has produced a humorous, informative, concise, affordable, fun-to-read book on the joys and trials of breastfeeding.” –“The Journal of Perinatal Education”

“”So That’s What They’re For!” lends support and encouragement to those wondering whether they should try breastfeeding, for pregnant women who are sure they will breastfeed, and for new moms who are having trouble an are considering stopping.” –“Natural Health and Alternative Medicine Newsletter”

Review: Most likely to win “Girlfriend’s Guide to…” award. While this is a good foundation book, written by an experienced lactation consultant who admits to breastfeeding problems she had even after writing a book on breastfeeding (the first edition of this title), there are some things that rubbed me the wrong way. It’s really pro-breastfeeding. As in, basically discounting any reason that women are unable to breastfeed – including problems with the infant. I don’t recall seeing any information regarding tongue/lip ties or swallowing problems mentioned, which are somewhat rare but definite problems that interfere with breastfeeding. There was also no mention of (and therefore no advice for solving) problems with overactive letdown or lipase issues. While these aren’t huge issues, they are oversights that frequently come up among breastfeeding women I know, so I was surprised that they weren’t covered.

Source: Public library

great expectationsGreat Expectations: The Essential Breastfeeding Guide
Flap Copy:
In Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding, Marianne Neifert, MD, one of America’s leading pediatricians and a nationally recognized lactation consultant, gives nursing mothers all the advice they need to breastfeed their babies successfully. Distilled from Dr. Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding, this is the most up-to-date, comprehensive, and effective book on the subject. Neifert has spent the last 25 years addressing the situations that nursing mothers routinely encounter; her sound, reassuring, and practical advice makes this a must-have for all new moms and mothers-to-be.

Review: My favorite of the three. No-nonsense, filled with information in an easy-to-access format, and with a more nuanced approach to the problems that some women face when trying to breastfeed, I think this is the breastfeeding bible for me.

Source: Public library

Review: Gone Girl

gone girlFlap Copy: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Review: Hmmm, well, how do you review this kind of book without giving everything away?

I’ll just say that it’s intense, absorbing, fun to figure out the “whodunnit” aspect, and somewhat surprisingly well done. I say that only because the POV alternates between the two main characters (or at least their writing), and generally that is really hard to pull off well. Flynn absolutely manages it though – I read this book in two sittings and hardly blinked through the second half of it because I was so entranced.

Source: Personal library

Review: C-Section Books

There aren’t a ton of pregnancy books out there that are c-section friendly, much less c-section focused. These were two that I was able to easily get my hands on, and felt worth sharing.

The Essential C-Section Guide
c-section guideFlap Copy:
Childbirth is a life-altering experience for any woman, but a Cesarean delivery can be overwhelming, whether it’s unexpected or planned. Despite the fact that roughly one in four babies in the United States is delivered by c-section, very little information about the experience is included in typical pregnancy books and physicians and childbirth educators often gloss over the details.

The Essential C-Section Guide is written not only for women to read in preparation for a scheduled c-section and for those considered “high risk” who know that a c-section may become necessary but also for women recovering from an unexpected surgical delivery. This book provides answers to important questions about what the surgery entails, what a woman can expect as she recovers, and what considerations should be made for future pregnancies and deliveries.

With frank discussions about the physical and emotional aspects surrounding a c-section, the authors share comforting wisdom about early bonding, pain control, breastfeeding, infant care, healing from surgery, postpartum exercise, partner involvement, and much more, in detail not available anywhere else.

Written by authors who have firsthand knowledge of birth by c-section, The Essential C-Section Guide is well-researched and addresses its unique concerns with intelligence and compassion.

Review: This book is everything the title says it is – essential for women who will or are likely to face a Cesarean. From the history of the procedure to a detailed description of the day of surgery to honest descriptions of post-partum recovery and debunking of myths, I would even say that this book is as important to read for all pregnant women as What to Expect…just in case.

The only downside is that the edition I found is dated, published in 2004. There are some more up-to-date versions (2008 and a 2014 ebook), but this book seems to be a little hard to find in hard copy so you might have to make do with the old information. Even so, the out-of-date information is not anything super relevant to the meat of the content (more stuff about hospital policies, breast pumps, and that sort of thing), so it was just something to note and get additional information from other sources. I wish I’d been able to read this before – or even immediately following – my first section, but I’m glad that I had a chance to do so before my second.

Source: Public library

Choosing Cesarean
choosing cesareanFlap Copy:
Obstetrician and gynecologist Magnus Murphy, MD, and journalist/advocate Pauline McDonagh Hull offer a compelling case for surgical delivery as a legitimate birth choice for informed women. By offering a wealth of medical evidence from around the world and thoughtfully countering the many objections detractors have lodged against it, the authors convincingly demonstrate that a planned cesarean birth at thirty-nine- plus weeks is a safe and often preferred alternative to a planned vaginal delivery. An indispensable guide for women, their families, and medical professionals.

Review: This book is definitely not for everyone. While I’m hesitant to use the words “scare tactics”, there is a lot of information regarding vaginal births that is in fact very scary – but I’m not sure how realistic it is. It’s true that until you give birth, you do not know how your body will react, and there are definitely a lot of problems that are caused or exacerbated by the “natural” delivery process. However, the authors are kind of preaching to the choir, as anyone reading a book called Choosing Cesarean is probably already leaning that way, and one thing the Mommy Wars needs less of is people armed with information that doesn’t matter spouting off opinions.

Anyway, one of the things I really liked about this book was its emphasis on the safety and efficacy of planned Cesareans and the breadth and depth of data that is mined from around the world. I especially like how the authors break down the differences between emergency c-sections, whose data should be included with planned vaginal deliveries, and planned c-sections which involve little or no laboring beforehand. The results are pretty stark, and pregnant women deserve to think about these issues with all the information available to them.

Ultimately, if I’d had any qualms about signing up for a repeat section (I don’t; I trust my OB’s recommendation and reasons), I would have been totally put at ease after reading this book. I came up with some additional questions to ask before I go in for surgery based on the information it contains, and feel like I got a good framework for discussing both of my c-sections with other people going forward. I don’t think I will ever be someone who recommends that just anyone consider a planned c-section (and the authors take pains to point out that they don’t recommend that), but I can certainly talk about my sections without guilt or shame and encourage women whose doctors are recommending sections to consider why it might be a good idea.

Source: Public library

Review: Down in the River

down in the rierFlap Copy: After the death of his sixteen-year-old twin sister, Lyle Rettew moves from the mountains of Idaho to Eugene, Oregon. His religious, well-intentioned older brother has forbidden any mention of her name. But Lyle, fighting to keep his memory of her alive, has quit taking the lithium that numbs his mind, and openly rebels against his mother and brother for the first time. Taking his mourning out of the house, he embarks upon a fraught pilgrimage that is at once heartbreaking and macabre. Dark though it may be, Lyle’s fevered journey along the margins of youth culture is ultimately driven by fierce love and a deep, instinctive need to find a liturgy for loss and grief.

Review: I wasn’t sure what to expect of this book, and frankly now that I’m finished with it I’m not entirely sure what to say. It’s an extremely disturbing story, and I have to be honest that that overshadows anything good I have to say about the writing or the storytelling itself. I think that the flap copy does not adequately describe the content, and this is a disservice to the reader – had I known that there was abuse of a corpse (and one of a minor, at that), I would have passed on this book in a heartbeat. I guess if you like really dark, messed up stories, tales of seriously drug-addled people, or macabre games of trying to fit in, this is for you…but it was not for me.

Source: Finished copy from Slant Books

Review: The Giver

the giverFlap Copy: Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Review: Uggggggghhhhhhh. I wanted to like this book so much. I have heard such amazing things about it, and I had such high hopes after the first few chapters, and then it ended and I was like WTF.

So much is left unexplained. How did this society come into being? Why don’t any of the adults seem to remember what happened 10 years ago? How are memories transmitted between the Giver and the Receiver? How do the memories flow back to the people? WHY???

And it wasn’t even like the unanswered questions are to evoke discussion – they just seem like they would be inconvenient to answer, and they don’t help drive home The Greater Point, which I guess is why this keeps getting selected for school reading lists and stuff. Too bad – I am glad I missed out on this one in school and was actually given books that had more to chew on.

Source: Personal library

Review: The Rook

the rookFlap Copy: “The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.

Review: Oh, my gosh, I haven’t been so excited about a book or a new author in….I don’t know how long. This book is Ghostbusters meets Downton Abbey. It’s James Bond and Harry Potter. It’s what happens when the Parasol Protectorate grow up and get jobs in administration.

And I loved Every. Last. Second. of it.

I don’t know what else I can say without giving it away, but it’s got a tight plot, great pacing, amazing characters, a lovely protagonist and a wholly satisfying ending – and even better, it’s the start of a series. Yay!

Source: Public library

Review: The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

rise and fall of great powersFlap Copy: Following one of the most critically acclaimed fiction debuts in years, New York Times bestselling author Tom Rachman returns with a brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.

Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still.

Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.

Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.

Tom Rachman—an author celebrated for humanity, humor, and wonderful characters—has produced a stunning novel that reveals the tale not just of one woman but of the past quarter-century as well, from the end of the Cold War to the dominance of American empire to the digital revolution of today. Leaping between decades, and from Bangkok to Brooklyn, this is a breathtaking novel about long-buried secrets and how we must choose to make our own place in the world. It will confirm Rachman’s reputation as one of the most exciting young writers we have.

Review: This is a quiet but powerful book. It took me three tries to get into it, which is fairly unusual for me, but I’m glad I managed to stick with it. It’s hard to describe the plot without giving too much away, but I am impressed with how Rachman managed to build characters and jump around in time without leaving me too confused. And when I say he builds characters, I mean that this novel is one serious study of characters – each person is a world unto themselves, made real on the page, with their own cadence of speaking and little quirks that are easily visible beyond the words. The ending is not what I expected and manages to be bittersweet without being saccharine, and overall left me with a sweet sensation of having been on a journey that will stay with me for a long time.

Source: Advance Reader’s Copy from The Dial Press

Review: The Magicians (series)

magiciansThe Magicians Flap Copy: Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

magician kngThe Magician King Flap Copy: The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy.

magicians landThe Magician’s Land Flap Copy: Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate and fantastical thriller, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Review: If Harry Potter smoked a lot of pot and had low self-esteem, this is the book he would star in. Which maybe doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but it is! Grossman creates two fantastic worlds in this series, one a world much like ours wherein magic is possible and another that is magic. Both live on in the mind of the reader when the books are closed.

I had read both The Magicians and The Magician King previously, but re-read them when the third book was released, and I think I enjoyed them more on the re-reading than I did the first time around. The third book nicely wrapped up some outstanding questions the others left unanswered and was entertaining on its own merit as well.

Source: Public library

Review: Expecting Better

expecting betterFlap Copy: An award-winning social scientist uses the tools of economics to debunk myths about pregnancy and to empower women to make better decisions while they’re expecting

Pregnancy is full of rules. Pregnant women are often treated as if they were children, given long lists of items to avoid—alcohol, caffeine, sushi— without any real explanation from their doctors about why. They hear frightening and contradictory myths about everything from weight gain to sleeping on your back to bed rest from friends and pregnancy books. Award-winning economist Emily Oster believes there is a better way. In Expecting Better, Oster shows that the information given to pregnant women is sometimes wrong and almost always oversimplified, and she debunks a host of standard recommendations on everything from drinking to fetal testing.

When Oster was expecting her first child, she felt powerless to make the right decisions for her pregnancy. How doctors think and what patients need are two very different things. So Oster drew on her own experience and went in search of the real facts about pregnancy using an economist’s tools. Economics is not just a study of finance. It’s the science of determining value and making informed decisions. To make a good decision, you need to understand the information available to you and to know what it means to you as an individual.

Take alcohol. We all know that Americans are cautious about drinking during pregnancy. Official recommendations call for abstinence. But Oster argues that the medical research doesn’t support this; the vast majority of studies show no impact from an occasional drink. The few studies that do condemn light drinking are deeply flawed, including one in which the light drinkers were also heavy cocaine users.

Expecting Better overturns standard recommendations for alcohol, caffeine, sushi, bed rest, and induction while putting in context the blanket guidelines for fetal testing, weight gain, risks of pregnancy over the age of thirty-five, and nausea, among others.

Oster offers the real-world advice one would never get at the doctor’s office. Knowing that the health of your baby is paramount, readers can know more and worry less. Having the numbers is a tremendous relief—and so is the occasional glass of wine.

This groundbreaking guidebook is as fascinating as it is practical.

Review: Ahhhh, what a refreshing take on pregnancy! Emily Oster dives into the research that supposedly substantiates the rules that pregnant women are given and shares her often surprising findings with the rest of the world. Peppered with a healthy dose of common sense, she does a huge service to the literature of pregnancy. I wish she had covered c-sections more in-depth, but otherwise I feel like the book was extremely thorough and well-researched and provided a great deal of insight and information.

Source: Library

Review: The Maze Runner (series)

maze runnerThe Maze Runner Flap Copy: If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

scorch trialsThe Scorch Trials Flap Copy: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.

Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.

There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.

The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.

There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

death cureThe Death Cure Flap Copy: It’s the end of the line.

WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test.

Will anyone survive?

What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say.

The truth will be terrifying.

Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all.

The time for lies is over.

kill orderThe Kill Order Flap Copy: Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease.

Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next. Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.

Review: The Maze Runner trilogy (plus prequel) are a series of fast-paced dystopian novels focusing on the world after a disaster involving sun flares and a man-made virus. Of course, the kids in the maze don’t know that at first – they don’t know anything but the maze, and are trying to figure out what it’s for and why they are there. Then everything changes.

I sped through these books and found them entertaining, and in some cases even thought-provoking. The writing is not fantastic – there’s a lot of exploring of teenage boy feelings which I could have done without (ugh, the repetition!) but it’s easy to skim past and the story moves fast enough to make the books easy to read in one or two sittings. I could have done without the prequel entirely, but I am glad I read the second and third books to get some answers to the questions raised by the first book.

Source: Personal and public library


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