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

Review: The Edge of the Earth

edge of the earthFlap Copy: From the author of Drowning Ruth, a haunting, atmospheric novel set at the closing of the frontier about a young wife who moves to a far-flung and forbidding lighthouse where she uncovers a life-changing secret.

Trudy is a polished, college-educated young woman from a respectable upper middle-class family, and it’s only a matter of time before she’ll marry Ernst, the son of her parents’ closest friends. All should be well in her world, and yet Trudy is restless and desperate for more stimulation than 1897 Milwaukee will allow. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her pre-ordained life. Alienated from Trudy’s family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse in the eerily isolated Point Lucia, California. Upon arriving they meet the light station’s only inhabitants—the Crawleys, a family whose plain appearance is no indication of what lies below the surface. It isn’t long before Trudy begins to realize that there is more going on in this seemingly empty place than she could ever have imagined.

Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the lush geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical and moving story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths, masterfully told by a celebrated and accomplished author.

Review: This is a gorgeous and compelling tale, one that haunted me whenever I wasn’t reading it until I finished the last page. I love the time period, the location, and the way the story unfolds as Trudy discovers truths about herself and others that aren’t apparent at first glance. This would be a fantastic book club pick, and I am looking for someone else who’s read it so we can discuss!

Source: Advance reader’s copy from Atria Books

Review: A Thousand Days of Wonder

thousand daysFlap Copy: A father’s intimate look at his daughter’s developing mind from birth to age three.

Unlike any other time in our lives, we remember almost nothing from our first three years. As infants, not only are we like the proverbial blank slate, but our memories are like Teflon: nothing sticks. In this beautifully written memoir of his daughter’s first three years, Charles Fernyhough combines his vivid observations with a synthesis of developmental theory, re-creating what that time, lost to the memory of adults, is like from a child’s perspective.

In A Thousand Days of Wonder, Fernyhough, a psychologist and novelist, attempts to get inside his daughter Athena’s head as she acquires all the faculties that make us human, including social skills, language, morality, and a sense of self. Written with a father’s tenderness and a novelist’s empathy and style, this unique book taps into a parent’s wonder at the processes of psychological development.

Funny, touching, and fascinating, A Thousand Days of Wonder will reveal the extraordinary journey into personhood that children make during the momentous first three years of life.

Review: I had really high hopes for this book, but they didn’t quite pan out. I think I was expecting a more scholarly, research-based approach a la Steven Pinker or Nicholas Day, but instead it’s a pretty introspective memoir about one father trying to figure out what his particular daughter’s experience of life is like. Since he is writing down every single thing she does and asking her about what she thinks all the time, it didn’t feel like the achievements his daughter made were applicable across large age groups, and many milestones are skipped entirely or covered in such broad strokes that it’s as if they didn’t happen.

There are some interesting things to try with toddlers, such as how to determine when exactly they realize that a baby in the mirror is them and not another baby, but on the whole, it felt like an updated version of One Boy’s Day – many pages on something so mundane that it generally passes notice for good reason.

Source: Public library

Review: The Farm

the farmFlap Copy: If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

Review: I think the word I have to describe this book is electric. I could not put it down – I finished it in two readings over two days. Tom Rob Smith walks the perfect line between creepy and concerning, and I simply had to know where it was going – and while I would never have guessed the ending, I found it both believable and satisfying.

One thing I particularly liked was the formatting – while son Daniel is the first-person protagonist, so much of the story really happens in his mother’s words, and the unusual formatting helped keep it very clear who was talking and kept the flow moving quickly. I haven’t read any of Smith’s other work, but it’s all going on my to-read list now – anything that engrosses me that much from page one is a keeper!

Source: Advance reader’s copy from Grand Central Publishing

Review: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

so much funFlap Copy: Where’d You Go, Bernadette meets Beautiful Ruins in this reverse love story set in Paris and London about a failed monogamist’s attempts to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love?

Despite the success of his first solo show in Paris and the support of his brilliant French wife and young daughter, thirty-four-year-old British artist Richard Haddon is too busy mourning the loss of his American mistress to a famous cutlery designer to appreciate his fortune.

But after Richard discovers that a painting he originally made for his wife, Anne -when they were first married and deeply in love-has sold, it shocks him back to reality and he resolves to reinvest wholeheartedly in his family life . . . just in time for his wife to learn the extent of his affair. Rudderless and remorseful, Richard embarks on a series of misguided attempts to win Anne back while focusing his creative energy on a provocative art piece to prove that he’s still the man she once loved.

Skillfully balancing biting wit with a deep emotional undercurrent, debut novelist Courtney Maum has created the perfect portrait of an imperfect family-and a heartfelt exploration of marriage, love, and fidelity.

Review: This is a deeply believable novel about the mistakes we make when we get too comfortable – with ourselves, with our work, with our partners. To fix the mess he’s created, our main character has to face some deeply uncomfortable truths about himself – and his realizations are food for thought for the reader. Despite being introspective on love and loss, this is also a well-told story, one that is easy to dive into and hard to shake off.

Source: Advance reader’s copy from Touchstone

Review: Far From the Tree

far from the treeFlap Copy: From the National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance – all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.

Review: Oh, how I loved this book. I think there’s something in it for all parents, but will resonate especially for those for whom the birth or parenting experience has not been what was expected. Solomon has a deft touch with his explorations of each condition, fully presenting the difficulties faced by the child and his or her parents, but also the unique joys that are possible despite – or because of – the unexpected. Just as I thought “I could never handle that,” he presents parents who have remind me of myself and give me confidence in the human race to overcome whatever is placed in front of us.

Solomon’s own journey through childhood and into parenthood gives a nice structure to the book, and yet it steers clear of memoir territory in the best possible way. It is a big book, and difficult to read in large chunks given the subject matter, but this was so worth my time. I will carry the inspiration from this book through the rest of my life.

Source: Public library

Review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Flap Copy: A big, brilliant,to rise again profoundly observed novel about the mysteries of modern life by National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris, one of the most exciting voices of his generation

Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God.

Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul’s quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual.

At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force.

Review: I’m sort of at a loss for how to describe this book. I didn’t not like it, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting and it threw me for a loop. I think the hard part was that I really didn’t feel much sympathy for the main character – he’s not a likable person, and I couldn’t quite grasp the importance of his soul-searching quest, because I wasn’t convinced that he would become more likable if he succeeded.

Despite these critiques, the writing is very good, and there were passages that stuck with me – the banal descriptions of life in a dentist’s office (of all things), the secret vices that people embrace even when they know better, and some of the characters that Paul interacts with are utterly believable and fun. I haven’t read anything else by Joshua Ferris but his short fiction comes highly recommended, and I suspect I might be a bigger fan of that than his longform work. I’ll have to check it out!

Source: Advance Reader’s Copy from Little Brown

Review: The Spark and the Drive

HarrisonFlap Copy: By an award-winning writer of short fiction, a devastatingly powerful debut novel of hero-worship, first love, and betrayal.

Justin Bailey is seventeen when he arrives at the shop of legendary muscle car mechanic Nick Campbell. Anguished and out of place among the students at his rural Connecticut high school, Justin finds in Nick, his captivating wife Mary Ann, and their world of miraculous machines the sense of family he has struggled to find at home. But when Nick and Mary Ann’s lives are struck by tragedy, Justin’s own world is upended. Suddenly Nick, once celebrated for his mechanical genius, has lost his touch. Mary Ann, once tender and compassionate to her husband, has turned distant. As Justin tries to support his suffering mentor, he finds himself drawn toward the man’s grieving wife. Torn apart by feelings of betrayal, Justin must choose between the man he admires more than his own father and the woman he yearns for.A poignant and fiercely original debut, with moments of fast-paced suspense, Wayne Harrison’s The Spark and The Drive is the unforgettable story of a young man forced to make an impossible decision—no matter the consequences.

Review: Devastating is right. This book has some really gut-wrenching scenarios brought alive by the author’s realistic and sympathetic voice. Justin is such a sweet naive idiot, you just want to shake him straight when he believes in love and goodness and happiness. The motivations are complicated and the results are complex — I highly recommend this book for people who like gritty fiction with real characters. (Or for people who like cars. I feel like I learned a little something about how to drive stick shifts from this book.)

Source: Advance copy from St. Martin’s Press

Review: Bread & Butter

bread and butterFlap Copy: Kitchen Confidential meets Three Junes in this mouthwatering novel about three brothers who run competing restaurants, and the culinary snobbery, staff stealing, and secret affairs that unfold in the back of the house.

Britt and Leo have spent ten years running Winesap, the best restaurant in their small Pennsylvania town. They cater to their loyal customers; they don’t sleep with the staff; and business is good, even if their temperamental pastry chef is bored with making the same chocolate cake night after night. But when their younger brother, Harry, opens his own restaurant—a hip little joint serving an aggressive lamb neck dish—Britt and Leo find their own restaurant thrown off-kilter. Britt becomes fascinated by a customer who arrives night after night, each time with a different dinner companion. Their pastry chef, Hector, quits, only to reappear at Harry’s restaurant. And Leo finds himself falling for his executive chef-tempted to break the cardinal rule of restaurant ownership. Filled with hilarious insider detail—the one-upmanship of staff meals before the shift begins, the rivalry between bartender and hostess, the seedy bar where waitstaff and chefs go to drink off their workday—Bread and Butter is both an incisive novel of family and a gleeful romp through the inner workings of restaurant kitchens.

Review: This was a fun look at the behind-the-counter life of a restaurant, but I had a hard time connecting to the characters. The three brothers’ personal storylines just didn’t grab me, although the description of the restaurants and the food, and the women they fall in love with, were enough to keep me going.

One warning – read this book with a snack at hand, because you will get hungry reading the descriptions of the food!

Source: Finished copy from Doubleday

Review: Landline

RowellFlap Copy:

From New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell, comes a hilarious, heart-wrenching take on love, marriage, and magic phones.

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her—Neal is always a little upset with Georgie—but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts. . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Review: A delightful little novel — it’s all magical realism and those musty old dinosaurs called landlines telephones. Is poor Georgie out of her mind, or is the phone really a time portal? It certainly works magic on Georgie’s priorities while she sorts out her life over a Christmas away from her kids and husband. I particularly appreciated how the author described her husband as slightly unpleasant — a little on edge, a little withdrawn, but passionate and devoted. It almost (almost) made me remember why I fell for boyfriends in high school (almost). Anyway, it’s not all doom, gloom then happily-ever-after. There are delightful characters like Georgie’s very sensual mother and her ex-pool boy husband, Georgie’s sister and the “pizza” “boy” and Scotty the Script Boy. One of these days, and I mean it, I’m going to read Rainbow Rowell’s other books because I’m sure they are just as pleasing.

Source: Review copy from St. Martin’s Press

Review: The Weight of Blood

Weight of BloodFlap Copy: The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.

What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.

The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.

Review: What does the weight of blood refer to? Is it the guilt on your head or the thickness in your veins that cements you to family, no matter what they become? This is a good mystery novel; a creepy whodunnit that makes you squirm a little at how familiar a monster can become when you see it every day. It’s a dense and well-crafted debut novel, which really makes it all the more admirable how the author wove the characters in and out over a span of fifteen or twenty years.

Source: Advance review copy from Random House

Image

Review: The Moon Sisters

ImageFlap Copy: This mesmerizing coming-of-age novel, with its sheen of near-magical realism, is a moving tale of family and the power of stories.

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

Review: This is a sweet but sad story of how a pair of right/left sisters bond after their mother’s tragic death. Jazz is a very real character, stifled by her family and the small town they live in and realistic about their mother’s life and death. Her sister Olivia is whimsical and artistic to the point of probably ending up like their mother if she doesn’t find an outlet. She dealt with the tragedy by staring at the sun, which with her synesthesia, makes her a big of an enigmatic wild card.

For all the ways the sisters were sheltered, they make their way on a journey to give their mother’s memory peace. Not all the decisions along the way were terribly realistic, but I suppose reality is frequently suspended when people react to grief. Along the way, their mother’s voice is interspersed through her letters to her father, lending mystery and satisfaction to why the girls are the way they are and how they end up.

Source: Advance review copy from Crown.


From books to video games

(Image credit: rosmary via Flickr)

Two fun ways of relieving stress

Eighty percent of workers feel stressed while on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42 percent say their coworkers are in need of such help. These are the statistics reported by The American Institute of Stress. Due to advancements in modern science, some people spend a great deal of money on medication, counseling and other psychological treatments just to help relieve stress. However there are better ways of getting rid of stress like reading books and playing video games. Both of them provide relaxation to your body and mind and they are also easy on your budget.

Reading books may sound traditional but it is one of the most effective ways to relax. Studies show that reading for as little as six minutes is already enough to reduce your stress levels by more than two thirds. The latest research conducted at the University of Sussex showed that reading works better and quicker in calming nerves more than listening to music, going for a walk, or relaxing with a cup of tea.

Among all the methods tested, reading was proven to be the most effective at reducing stress levels by 68 percent, according to cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis. The participants needed to read silently for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and alleviate muscle strains. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started. Listening to music decreased the levels by 61 percent, having a cup of tea reduced by 54 percent and taking a walk by 42 percent. Dr. Lewis added that no matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a book, you can escape from all the stresses and worries of your daily life.

A more advanced approach in battling stress is playing video games. In an article from PsychCentral, an unforeseen discovery suggests playing video games can reduce production of the stress-related hormone cortisol.

McGill psychology Professor Mark Baldwin and his team –PhD graduates Stéphane Dandeneau and Jodene Baccus and graduate student Maya Sakellaropoulo, have been developed a series of video games that train players in social situations to focus more on positive feedback rather than being distracted and deterred by perceived social slights or criticisms.
Although playing video games can help battle stress, players should also be aware of the importance of playing moderately. Most online gaming companies are addressing this issue by working with agencies who are advocates of responsible gaming. Alchemy Bet Ltd., developer for mobile gaming app pocket fruity, is cooperating with gambleaware.co.uk to provide information to help people make informed decision about their gaming. Responsible gaming means treating the activity as just one form of entertainment in a balanced lifestyle.

Simple but relaxing activities such as reading books and playing video games can relieve stress in more ways that you can imagine.

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