Friday, January 30, 2015

Slow, Green Medicine

God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of MedicineGod's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

God’s Hotel is a medical memoir in the spirit of Oliver Sacks. Victoria Sweet tells her experience at the last almshouse in the United States, Laguna Honda in San Francisco, for the last years of its life. Laguna Honda was the step after the County Hospital: extended care and rehab for the homeless, the poor, and the terminal.

It was the place where young Dr. Sweet, fascinated with the medieval model of health care and Hildegard of Bingen, was privileged to work while getting her PhD in the history of medicine. It was the place that she learned that time and caring are the best healers and that patients are teachers.

I enjoyed the compare/contrast strategy and Dr. Sweet’s longing to combine the best of modern medicine with the best of folk medicine—as she says, to bring in Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman. I enjoyed the stories of the patients, Dr. Sweet’s special teachers on her journey. I was afraid, at the beginning of the book, that I was going to end up angry and depressed at the end, but I ended up infected with Dr. Sweet’s own hope: that the slow but strong natural tendency for health running in all living things will make everything all right in the end.

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Same SkyThe Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For people who don’t know much about the people who cross the southern border of the U. S., or those who live near it, this could be an eye-opening—and heart-opening, read.
It’s the story of two people, one of them a girl from Honduras and the other a woman who lives in Texas, and the path their lives take to the moment their lives briefly intersect.
The alternating chapters and viewpoints didn’t work for me; I believed each story, but I did not believe the voices—both are written in first person—very hard to pull off.  Interestingly, it’s the girl’s voice that rings truer fictionally.
Some folks are better at suspending disbelief, perhaps. I’ve lived near the border most of my life, so only the Texas part is new to me. But that structure/voice issue is why it only gets a 3 instead of a 4 from this reviewer.
Recommended for book clubs, though—sure to engender discussion!

I received a digital galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jurassic, Squared

The Great Zoo of ChinaThe Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Great Zoo of China succeeds at one-upping Jurassic Park in concept and non-stop action. According to the author, Matthew Reilly, the movie Jurassic Park inspired him to become a writer; this makes all his books, in a sense, tributes to the movie.

The book is everything the author wants it to be, an over-the-top, explosive, cinematic exploration of imagination. Is it Michael Crichton or James Rollins? Not quite. But it is just like reading an adventure movie--and the female hero is fantastic.

It's actually quite a feat to provide just enough violence, just enough romance, just enough plausibility,  just enough suspense.  And it's actually a pleasure to root for the heroes and boo the villains--that's part of why we read these kinds of books. It's not deep, but it's fun. Bravo! And I'd like a sequel.

I received a digital galley of the book for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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For fans of military, horror, blood & guts gaming

Gemini CellGemini Cell by Myke Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gemini Cell is a great book I wish I liked better. The prose style is excellent. I'm as in love with the wife as the hero is (almost). The military action is well done. I think it will appeal more to fans of horror and gaming; there's proportionately enough graphic violence (blood spattering, bones crunching) to skip over in this as there is sex to skip over in a paranormal romance. It would make a great movie, and I would watch the movie. I would buy it for someone else; I would recommend it to fans of military, horror, and blood & guts gaming.
Why do I wish I liked it better? I'd have his Shadow Ops books on my TBR pile. I still might try them, he's that good.

I received a digital galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Pleasure of the Mind

My Life in MiddlemarchMy Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's taken me months to read this book--I've been stretching it out, not wanting it to end. Rebecca Mead writes beautifully about her life and that of George Eliot, and how books transform as well as inform one's life. You read a book in your teens and then later in life, and you're reading a different book. You read a book and then learn about the author's life--this also changes the reading experience. You read a book and more books from the period, and some history; society changes, you change. You read a book and then write about a book, and again, the book changes--in your mind and heart, which is really where the book exists, being more than words on a page. I feel privileged to have gone on this journey; it's been years since I read Middlemarch, and I don't think I'll reread it--but I'm inspired to reread some of the other classics I read as a teen.

I think it's a great success for a book to make you want to read more! And no, you don't have to have read or remember Middlemarch to read this book--in fact for modern readers, it might help to read this first. Another way Mead has done a great job with this book.

I have to say I hate the texture of the cover. It's gritty and I had to take it off to read the book.

I received a copy of the book for review from Blogging For Books.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Bright Places

Five very bright shining stars and I hope it gets many more five star ratings from its intended readership, teens. I hope every teenager reads this, and gets some hope and/or understanding from it. It has been more years than you might guess since I was in high school, but evidently it has not changed.  So easy for all the adults around you to believe everything is fine or ignore the clues when in reality, death and madness are waiting to embrace and engulf you…
And then you find somebody or some book or something inside to help you hang on.

This is first of all a love story, how Finch and Violet fall in love. It’s also a story about dealing with high school and cliques and tragedy, difficulty, mental illness, survivor’s guilt. It’s about resilience, and sinking or swimming.  It’s hard to survive to adulthood, and the book acknowledges that, no talking down. All told in present tense, alternating chapters with Finch’s point of view, then Violet’s.

All in such luminous, tender prose. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book and I read the last three chapters and beyond while sobbing. Good tears and sad tears and grateful tears.  I can’t go any deeper without spoilers…

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Philosopher's Plant: An Intellectual HerbariumThe Philosopher's Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium by Michael Marder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Philosopher's Plant is a lovely series of explorations of philosophy in the light of postmodern ecology, a turning of the mental eye from the world of the abstract back to the world of the physical--an attempt at organic food for thought, if you will. Roughly following the timeline of Western philosophy from Plato to Luce Irigaray, we can follow a path or wander, plow ahead or meander through this intellectual herbarium, touching, tasting, sniffing, and engaging the physical senses in addition to the mental ones. We can practice philosophy, forming a world view based upon observation, experience, and contemplation of the world around us, herein exemplified in vegetable life.

An excellent book for beginning philosophers and anyone interested in philosophy, botany, shamanic theory, or similar disciplines. A companion reading with David Abrams' Spell of the Sensuous would be very provocative. Very much a book for intellectuals; not recommended for those who do not enjoy doing their own thinking. Fun and umami for those who do.

I received a temporary EARC from the publisher for review.

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