Tuesday, July 30, 2019

21st Century Talk Therapy

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb has done a great job of opening up the therapy room from both sides in memoir about a therapist getting therapy while seeing her own patients, being helped while helping others. Gottlieb writes the Dear Therapist column for The Atlantic magazine, so she's no stranger to writing for the general public. That journalistic experience helps the book flow quickly and easily; it's tender, funny, and tearful—everything you want in good stories. How do you give advice when your own life isn't going so well? The book answers that question, while engaging our hearts in the stories of ordinary people who could be our neighbors and relatives: a self-absorbed producer, a newlywed who's terminal, a woman who's always picking the wrong guys, a senior who thinks life isn't really much worth living anymore. Her own search for a therapist is catalyzed by her fiancé breaking up with her. These are some of the situations in life that can turn into problems, a minicosm of human experience.
It's a cliché in the coaching and counseling world that being vulnerable, i.e., honest, is the key to changing your life, and Gottlieb demonstrates this interpersonal truth gently and kindly, but clearly, even as she tells us about her own therapy. It's hard to turn that gaze inward in self-reflection; that's why Gottlieb herself gets help. She shows us that objectivity doesn't have to be cold, it can be kind. Some people haven't known a lot of kindness, and need that modeled. She shows us that other cliché, we're all alike under the skin: in the privacy of our own minds, we sometimes let rage and confusion take over—but we're also capable of great insight and compassion.
Maybe we should talk to someone when we need to be vulnerable with ourselves; maybe through the mirror of another's eyes we can see more kindly (this is, indeed, generally the case). Maybe we can talk to friends or family, maybe we can't. Gottlieb shows us that a therapist with the right training can help speed our recovery from emotional crisis, and she shows us what to look for. This has been one of my favorite books of the year, reminding me of the compassion and goodness in human hearts.

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sweet and satisfying as a slice of pie

Midnight at the Blackbird CafeMidnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 What a treasure for readers who love books about magical food. (Yes, it's a genre!) Heather Webber brings us a tale of broken hearts and broken families, magical birds and pies, and the healing power of love. In the town of Wicklow, Alabama, blackbirds sing at midnight in the backyard of the Blackbird Café. They are a part of Anna Kate’s heritage, but she doesn’t know that much about it—she’s had only snatches of time with her grandma, and never in Wicklow. Anna Kate’s mom left when she was pregnant with Anna Kate, and never set foot in the town again. She died, and now so has Anna Kate’s grandma; Anna Kate has to run her family heritage, the Blackbird Café, through the summer. Her grandma hoped that time would be enough to reveal all.
And it is. Family secrets and scandals, birding groups, lost souls, and small town kindnesses all have their turn in the spotlight. And of course there’s a love story or two. Will definitely appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen with its stubborn charm.
There aren’t blackbirds in the pie, just blackberries, by the way. The Blackbird Café gets its name from those European blackbirds that sing at midnight in the backyard. Even though European blackbirds aren’t nocturnal, or native to the Americas. I’ll leave you to discover their special magic and meaning.
Webber delivers a story that’s as sweet and satisfying as pie, with room for magical sequels.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Her Words Are Red and Black

Gods of Jade and ShadowGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The publisher category for this book is fairy tale, but it's so much more than that. It's a historical novel, taking place in the 1920s, when Frida Kahlo would have been the same age as our heroine. It's an homage to Mexican literature: a book written in English that has the cadences of translated Spanish; it's a portal into myth—in fact, it's a portal story, where our heroine Casiopea Tun is drawn into the quest of a god, the Lord of Death. You might also describe it as Coco for grownups; it's a journey into Mexica cosmology. Casiopea starts out as a Cinderella character and then she frees the Lord of Death from prison and goes on the hero's journey to help him reclaim his throne.
The book succeeds on all those levels: a romance with a touch of the picaresque, a tragicomedy, a mythic journey. Casiopea faces demons and desires and learns the truth of herself. The story moves quickly, and it moves your heart. I loved it.
Moreno-Garcia has made an exquisite jewel of a book; most people are going to appreciate it on the Coco level, and that's fine—what a gift all the other levels are, to those already familiar with mestizo culture.
In these days of making old things new again, the stories of our ancestors become refleshed in modern attire; the art of the storyteller is to birth new meaning from the same old stories, for the core lessons of the human story remain the same, like human nature. The storyteller leaves us having introduced change into the divine realms and leaves us with the unchanged ancient wisdom: life on earth is a gift to be savored and cherished, for it is sweet and good. Nevertheless, this goodness is borne from suffering, blood, and sacrifice; a true person makes her choices knowing that one day she may be the one who bleeds, the one who sacrifices. The birth will still be worth it.
**(I received a digital advance copy from Netgalley and Del Rey for review; it was worth the migraine, and I'll be purchasing the book to reread. Huge fan!)

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Scifi Thriller For Adrenaline Junkies

I'm unaware of any other authors who are doing what S. L. Huang has done with her Cas Russell series, but I'd love to read them if they're out there, because she leaves you wanting more. Null Set is definitely a middle book, bridging between Zero Sum Game and the next book, with a cliffhanger ending that for once I do not mind. I also don't mind that I can't think of other books to compare this to—only movies. If you like superhero movies, Chinese martial arts movies, and movies like The Matrix and The Fifth Element, you'll definitely be into this dark, gritty futuristic thriller and its gifted and violent anti-heroine. If you can imagine superheroes on steroids, if you dig movies like John Wick and Fast and Furious, that's when you enter S. L. Huang territory. 
Read Zero Sum Game first; it takes a while to remember how the first book made you sympathize with Cas; she's an antihero because she's not very likeable, but you root for her anyway, like her friends do. You get little character studies in the action between the action, but you are dropped full tilt into the current situation. Cas can calculate angles so quickly that she can shoot, sprint, jump and punch her way out of most dangerous situations. She and her pals are on the track of and on the run from the evil future corporation that messes around with people's heads, commits the occasional assassination trying to make the world a better place—their way. Hunters and hunted at the same time, perfect action movie plot.
It's really a gift to be able to put a movie on the page like this, to have just enough depth amidst heart-pounding suspense, enough detail but not drown the reader, enough rush for picky readers to not notice any discrepancies. Huang has taken her film and stunt experience and made it work in novel form. Most attempts at writing for adrenaline junkies fail; these books succeed. I am half "give me the next book now" and half "cliffhanger? Never said this before, but ok, maybe in 6 months to a year my heart can take it." 
Highly recommended for action fans and adrenaline junkies. 
(I received an advanced electronic copy for review, thanks to Netgalley and the publisher.)