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Book Review: Keep Moving

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change, by Maggie Smith

“Accept that you do not get to choose who loves you, who keeps their promises, who forgives.  But you can choose to love, to keep your promises, to forgive.  Choose well.  Have — and live — your own say.  Keep Moving.” 

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change

Maggie Smith experienced the crushing loss of divorce, after 20 years of marriage.  To begin healing and moving on, she told herself that everyday, she must write.  It might be nothing but a few sentences, but she wrote.  This book is a collection of the things she wrote, the things she told herself to keep moving.

Each quotation expresses the profound sorrow of loss, but also the idea of hope.  In reading them, her readers can choose which resonate the most; which quotations help them to keep moving.

“Tell yourself kinder truths.  You are not failing at life; you are reeling, sure, but you are succeeding at surviving.  Keep Moving.”

5 stars.

 

Book Review: The Sanatorium

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse

Le Sommet is a luxury hotel located deep in the mountains of the Swiss Alps.  It is also a converted tuberculosis sanatorium.  Elin Warner is a British police detective who is on a leave of absence from her job after an attempt to apprehend a murderer goes horribly wrong.

The Sanatorium

The hotel has recently opened after an extensive revisioning, fraught with conflict, protests, and the disappearance of the principal architect. 

Elin’s brother is getting married, and she would like to repair their estranged relationship, as he is the only family she has left.  Elin and her boyfriend head up for a week at Le Sommet, where her brother’s fiance works.  While they are there, the road up is wiped out due to an avalanche, and the funicular is stopped due to high winds.  And then, the murders begin. 

The police can’t get there, because all access is blocked.  But Elin can help, by beginning the investigation.  Does she have the nerve?

Sarah Pearse thriller takes the reader on a fast paced murder mystery with a series of twists and turns.  Don’t assume you know who did it!  She weaves the story of the hotel’s prior life as a sanatorium into her novel, making its history an integral part of the story.  Even though this isn’t a genre I typically go for, I was intrigued the whole way through!

3 stars.

 

Circus Trip 2018: The House of Seven Gables

Day 57, Monday, September 10, 2018
The House of Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts

First off, I must admit, I never read this book in high school or college.  I did read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s other well-known classic – The Scarlet Letter.

This home in Salem, Massachusetts, was the home of Hawthorne’s cousin during the 1800s; she entertained Hawthorne at the home often.  It is widely believe to be the inspiration for the home in the book.  In the House of Seven Gables, the home plays a large role and takes on the quality of a distinct character.  The dark shadows and creaking floors, the hidden staircase, and rooms tucked into the gables of the home added to the dark ambience of the story.  The cent shop that created the occupation for Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon provided a backdrop for the local children to mock and tease the old woman.  So given all that, what literary nerd wouldn’t want to see the home that inspired this fascinating story?

The House of Seven Gables was originally built in 1668 in Jacobean and Post-Medieval architectural styles, and its original owner, Captain John Turner I, was well off enough to expand it twice while he owned it.  During this period, it was originally believed to have had seven gables.  Future owners updated the interior in the Georgian style, with thick wood paneling, and removed four gables to make it appear more as a Federal style home, which was popular in the late 1700s.

The home was purchased in 1908 by Caroline Emmerton with the intention of preserving the home and opening it for tours, in order to support her work of assisting immigrant families who were settling in Salem in the early 20th century.  Emmerton had the exterior of the home restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, with seven gables.  She also added the cent shop that is currently a feature of the home, as an attraction for the tours. The hidden staircase from Hawthorne’s story was also added at this time.  Over the last hundred years or so, I can only imagine the numbers of people who have toured this home!

It is incredible to me to think about the people (and fictional characters) who have made this their home for the last 350 years!

The tour was really neat, with a couple of bonuses.  You can take photos inside!  And the tour takes you up the hidden staircase!  It was narrow and steep and oh-so-wonderful!  If you are uncomfortable making your way up a steep, narrow, claustrophobic staircase, you can take the regular stairs up.  I think every home should have a hidden staircase!

The grounds and a few other historic homes are on the property and open; visitors can do a self-guided tour.  One of them is the home that Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in.  It was built in 1750 in the Georgian style, and was moved to the House of Seven Gables site in 1958.  Be sure to check out this home!

Of course the gift shop sells copies of The House of Seven Gables, and Hawthorne’s other works, and I did buy the book and read it.  You can read my review here.

This was such an interesting tour for anyone who enjoys historical homes, literature, or both.  At $15 in 2018, it was on the more expensive end of history home tours, but I thought it was worth it!  So whether you read the book or not, I hope you check it out.  I would love to go back!

 

Book Review: Everything is F*cked

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, by Mark Manson

Mark Manson tells it like it is.  Without sugar coating, without appropriate language and without apology.

And yes.  Before you even ask, this post is equal parts book review and my opinion on the state of society these days…

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope

Global statistics tell a story about the world’s residents, and especially Americans, being better off than we have been at any time in the past.  We are more affluent, and less likely to be killed by any number of diseases that used to run rampant, and exploitation through slavery and other forced labor, while it still exists, is at a historic low.  Yet our PERCEPTION is that we are worse off now…

Americans have adjusted our expectations to expect that the minimum standard of living is to own a cell phone with unlimited data plan, at least three streaming services, two cars per household at a minimum, and that any home less than 2,000 square feet is not worth having…  People have all the conveniences of modern life, including riding lawn mowers, chainsaws, power wheelchairs, electric bikes, RVs, and everything else under the sun, and yet people won’t walk a half a mile these days…  Have we created our own crisis of hope?

Manson details the story of Elliot, a successful financial broker who gets a brain tumor.  Elliot’s tumor is excised, but he is left as an apathetic man; in short, he has no ability to give a f*ck.  He is seen by a multitude of doctors, who all give him a clean bill of health.  He has the ability to think rationally, he has the ability to make decisions, he even has the ability to cognitively know what he should do, based on his memories from before surgery.  But he can’t bring himself to care about the outcome.  He loses his job, his wealth, his wife, and his relationship with his kids as a result of choices that do not reflect his best interests.  But why?  

He finally finds a doctor who determines that the surgery has damaged his “feeling brain.”  And we need that part of the brain, just as much as we need the “thinking brain.”  In short, we can’t make good decisions for ourselves without the feeling brain.  Manson hypothesizes that the feeling brain is what is really driving the bus, while the thinking brain is really just trying to keep the bus from careening off the cliff.  It’s a balance.

And, Manson goes on to explain, we have become so acclimated to having it easy that we have begun to associate a little inconvenience with real suffering.  The brain is hardwired to get used to what it is given.  You experience a tragic event, and over time, your brain simply begins to process it as the new normal.  You can stay on Cloud Nine forever, and on the flip side, you can’t stay in crisis mode forever.  The brain just adjusts.  The funny thing is though, that if there isn’t a real crisis, your brain creates one around an event that wouldn’t otherwise be a big deal.  We begin to see devastation and drama where there really isn’t any.  We rage about inconveniences, or about things that our ancestors would have told us were simply not an issue.  Because they had real shit to worry about, like whether or not half of their children might survive to adulthood.  Or whether that broken arm would kill them.

So where did we go wrong?  The world today is simply so focused on rationality.  So focused on getting ahead.  So focused on having “things”, that we can’t see our true fortune.  Focused on denying our emotional needs, and the degree to which they control our choices.  We replace our emotional needs with stuff.  We are so focused on suppressing those pesky feelings, that we have created a world in which we have trouble making good decisions.  We perceive our affluence as misery…

We have it good people.  We have it really good.  So why have we become programmed to think that we don’t?  If we can’t shift this focus, we truly are f*cked.

4 stars.

 

Book Review: The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts

The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts by Burke Davis, has been out for a while, first published in 1960.  But of course, the Civil War has been done for a while too.

The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts

It is a compilation of unique and interesting facts about the war, collected into chapters of similar information.  Want to know about the spies of the war?  You got it.  New technologies, like submarines, machine guns, mines, grenades and hot air balloons?  Yep.  Want to know about the money that was minted by the Confederacy?  Families that were split on both sides of the conflict – there’s a chapter on that too.  There is much, much more among the pages as well.

Some of the stories I had heard before, but many were brand new to me.  They were interesting and well researched.  They add in a touch of humor along with the sadness that goes along with war.

3 stars.

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George

Monsieur Perdu is a bookseller in Paris.  Years ago he purchased an old river barge and converted it to a bookshop that is docked in the Seine River.  This isn’t just any old bookshop, and Perdu isn’t just any old bookseller.  You see, he can read people.  He reads his customers and selects for them the perfect book to heal them.  He calls himself a literary apothecary.  

The Little Paris Bookshop

His uncanny gift has helped scores of people along the way, those trying to understand the meaning of life, refocus their goals, deal with change, or heal a broken heart.  Unfortunately, his own broken heart is the one that he cannot fix.  It has been 20 years since she left, and he still has been unable to move on…

Perdu finally is confronted with his loss when he gives a neighbor an old table he isn’t using, and she finds in the drawer a letter that he never opened.  It sets him on a path to finally address his broken heart.

The book shows how the most unlikely people can become friends, and how total strangers can help us on our path to healing.  This novel is absurd, funny, and heart-wrenching in turn.  Nina George weaves her tale in a way that is relatable and whimsical, and leaves the reader wishing to join Perdu on his journey.

5 stars. 

Book Review: Rush

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, by Stephen Fried

In my quest to learn more about the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, I checked this out on audiobook.  I had really only heard Benjamin Rush’s name, and knew almost nothing about him.

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father

Rush had a fascinating career in several roles central to the founding of the United States.  He earned the respect of Benjamin Franklin at a young age, who helped him get into the University of Edinburgh to complete his medical degree.  He already had a Bachelor of Arts degree (earned at the age of 14!) from the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton University.  He had also apprenticed in the medical field for several years.

Rush was a prolific writer and wrote extensively both on medical subjects and the politics of the day.  His work as a doctor for many of the members of the Continental Congress opened the door for his own election into the Congress.  He was one of the youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence.  During the Revolutionary War, he was appointed to serve as the surgeon-general for Washington’s Continental Army.  He did create some controversy, as he complained about his colleagues and wrote letters behind their backs, including letters critical of General Washington.

After the war, Rush continued working as a physician and he taught at Pennsylvania Hospital.  He was a pioneer in the fields of medical illness and addiction and was also one of the first people to discuss Savant Syndrome.  However, he was also criticized, especially in later years, for holding on to the ideas of bloodletting and the use of purgatives.

The book is a comprehensive biography of his life and explores his career, his political writings, and his relationships with friends and family in great detail.  I thought Fried did a good job balancing the positive and negative aspects of Rush’s actions and personality.  And I learned so much about this less-known Founding Father.

3 stars.

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

Claire Randall has a secret.  She’s kept it for over 20 years, but finally it is time to return to Scotland and confront her past.  Dragonfly in Amber is the second in the Outlander series, but my friend assured me that you can read them out of order.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander, #2)

The story begins with Claire searching for historical records that will confirm her difficult to believe story.  20 years before, she went missing for months as a young, married woman, before arriving back at home malnourished and pregnant, as mysteriously as she vanished.  But where was she?

Now 20 years later, Claire’s husband has died and it is time to reveal to her daughter the truth about her father.

The book is a long saga weaving in the 1960s with the 1740s, in Claire’s attempt to stop the slaughter at Culloden during the Scottish Jacobite rebellion.  It weaves history into the novel’s story and is extremely detailed and painstakingly researched.  You will learn about the family connections of the clans in Scotland, the political motives of the various players, and some pretty gruesome medical treatments of the time.

I don’t want to give away the story, but highly recommend the book. The only challenge was that it took so long to get through (I admit I had to put it down to read other things in between), it was hard to remember the beginning once I got to the end.

5 stars

 

Book Review: The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, was another book club pick…

In 1995, back when email was a new thing, Harvard freshman Selin, a young Turkish-American woman, sets about to discover herself.  She navigates dorm life, takes classes in subjects she never imagined herself studying, and begins meeting new friends.

It all sounds like the beginning of a fabulous adventure, because who wouldn’t expect a novel about college life to be filled with fun and frivolity.  Except this one isn’t.

The Idiot is basically a story about what happens when people are so smart that they can’t actually relate to the real world.  Her conversations with others barely touch on subjects that normal 18 year olds would discuss, instead opting for the nonsensical ramblings of a genius with no real-life experience.

Selin bumbles along, disliking her roommate without ever having a conversation, falling in love and getting her heart broken via email without seeming to display any emotion, and never really finding any joy or sorrow in her surroundings.  The best way to describe her life is academic.

I kept waiting for this book to get better, because a friend said her mother told her it was funny.  I wonder now if she meant funny in the ironic sense.  At any rate, this book, for me, did not contain any funny.  It also didn’t contain any emotion at all…

1 star.

Book Review: The Murderer’s Daughters

The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers, was a book club pick, and I was thankful that my hold at the library came in just in the nick of time.  Of course, my hold at the library had been ready for several weeks, but pick ups were delayed by violence and protests at a homeless camp that had been set up on the library lawn…  2021 so far seems to be a continuation of 2020!  But that’s a story I won’t get into here.

The Murderer's Daughters

Lulu and Merry were 9 and 5 years old when they witnessed their father murder their mother in a drunken rage.  The family was fractured and dysfunctional, and shortly afterwards, the girls were sent to live in a group home for girls.  They had weekend visits with their grandmother, who inexplicably couldn’t care for them, even though she managed to live on her own, and visit their father in prison every other weekend.  She and Merry had to take a couple different buses and the Staten Island Ferry to get there, but visited him faithfully, while Lulu refused.  The girls spent years in the orphanage before they were finally fostered by an employee of the home for a short time.

Lulu and Merry each developed different coping methods and strategies and built drastically different lives for themselves.  They remained bonded in their trauma, neither effectively dealing with the pain of what happened.  The novel follows them from the time of the murder in the 1970s until the early 2000s; their careers, their relationships and their family bonds.

Randy Susan Meyers draws on her experience working as a domestic violence advocate to frame the story. It was interesting in many ways, with the characters displaying believable attributes.  The manipulative father who holds no accountability for his actions, the perfect child, and the daughter who rebels against everything…  That said, the characters felt one-dimensional and flat to me; they needed more depth to truly immerse myself in the book.

3 stars.