“If you had the time to lose, an open mind and time to choose.”

outlander

 

I avoided this book for years because I was told it was a romance novel and I have a prejudice against romance novels. Perhaps it was the seemingly endless supply of Harlequin books my mother seemed to devour. The closest I ever got was a minor obsession with V.C. Andrews which take a decidedly darker turn than the average “bodice ripper.” While I’m still not a fan of a straightforward romance novel, I have included books that fall under the “romance” umbrella into my TBR pile. This was the first and mostly like the most hefty in foray into the genre. The fact that there’s time travel, adventure and historical fiction definitely helped ease the transition.

For the five of y’all that haven’t read this book. It centers on Claire Randall, a combat nurse who is enjoying a late honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank after the end of World War II. While wandering through the stone circle at Craigh na Dun, Claire places her hand on one of the stones and is transported back about 200 years. Her accent and strange attire immediately cast her under suspicion. Due to some complicated circumstances, Claire is forced to marry Jamie Fraser a Scottish Laird/outlaw who is, of course, also terribly handsome. Naturally the two begin to fall in love and of course there are complications. The main complication being a sadistic English Captain named Jack Randall, who is a distant relative of Claire’s husband Frank and bears an uncanny resemblance to him (this sounds ridiculous when I describe it but…it works). Jamie and Claire run afoul of him more than once with some pretty awful consequences for both of them.

This book is…looooong. I’m in favor of giant books but since I bought this one in Kindle bundle of the first 7 books in the series I had no way to gauge just how far I was in the actual book. So just when I thought things were wrapping up, a whole new section started. So while enjoyed the heck out of Claire and Jamie’s adventures (though the last half of the book may need a trigger warning), I was ready to be FINISHED by the time I got to the last page. I may save the sequel, Dragonfly in Amber for when I have a long stretch of reading time to invest.

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Put on some lipstick and pull yourself together

the angry therapist

 

I’m of the opinion that in a perfect world, therapy would be treated like any other kind of health maintenance. Some of us only need to go once or twice a year to make sure everything is still functioning like it should, and others might need a little more frequent fine tuning. But until that magical time occurs, we Americans are pretty much on our own as far as mental health. While John Kim’s book is by no means a replacement for a good counselor, it’s a great little guidebook for the basics of living your life honestly and truthfully.

John Kim’s approach is honest, direct and to that point as the title suggests. This is a bare bones guide to living your truth. He shares his own failures with you, which makes his advice much easier to swallow for the average person. Despite the brevity of the book, I think an editor could have been used. It could do with a few more paragraph breaks and spell checks, but such are the perils of small publishers. Otherwise, The Angry Therapist is an eminently readable book that I immediately passed on to a friend.

“And how many times have I prayed, that I would get lost along the way.”

the gunslinger

 

Coincidentally, I started reading this book the day the movie trailer dropped. I first read The Gunslinger as a twelve year old who was blazing my way through Stephen King’s works. Like many preteens, I was overly fascinated with sex and violence but had no real appreciation of the consequences of either. I did not care for this book at the time. It was too abstract and had the feel of the old westerns that my dad and grandpa favored, which I studiously avoided as “old guy stuff.” As an adult, I recognize that The Gunslinger is a cut above Mr. King’s already excellent body of work.

The book’s universe seems to take place in a parallel or alternate timeline. Characters make reference to historical and pop cultural items that mirror our own but this world is an unforgiving wasteland in which, as the protagonist says “the world has moved on.” Roland of Gilead, the titular gunslinger trails a mysterious man in black across a barren landscape. Along the way he encounters a town that has been tainted by the man in black and later picks up a companion in the form a of a young boy named Jake Chambers. Along the way, we learn a little about both Jake and Roland as they travel together toward a fate of which they are both increasingly fearful.

This book was hard to put down. Like many of Stephen King’s best works, you know something horrible is going to happen but you can’t stop reading. I have already added the next two books in the series to my TBR pile. and made The Gunslinger part of my permanent book shelf rather than passing it on like I typically do with books I’ve finished. I’m glad I finally started filling in this gap in my Stephen King library.

“Believing the strangest things. Loving the Alien.

dawn

 

Octavia Butler is a name that pops up frequently in searches for sci fi writers who aren’t white and male. Naturally when the first book in the Xenogenesis Trilogy popped up on Kindle for sale, I grabbed it up. While Dawn contains many of the same ingredients as a lot of sci fi classics (alien races, the destruction of humanity) the finished product is very different.

Lilith Iyapo has lost everything. Shortly after her husband and son are killed in a car accident, humanity destroys itself in a great nuclear war. She awakes on an alien spacecraft hundreds of years later. She and the other remnants of humanity have been rescued by an alien race called the Oankali. They have restored earth into liveable habitat and will be sending the humans back to start society from scratch. The catch, because of course there is one, is that the Oankali have survived by genetically bonding themselves with other more primitive species. So Lilith’s generation will be the last true humans to exist.

Butler maximizes the “otherness” of the Oankali. These are not the sexy green ladies favored by Captain James T. Kirk. They are grotesque to the human eye; a mass of tentacles and sensory fibers that seem to change with their mood. Lilith is the first human who does not immediately attempt to kill them at first contact. It is because of this that she is made a leader of one of the human groups that will return to to Earth. She will act as a liaison between the disoriented humans and their alien “rescuers.”

The discomfort level is high throughout this book as Lilith bonds physically and emotionally with her “rescuers.” She is clearly conflicted about her new role but she acts decisively with little waffling. The book posits the question, “Does humanity truly survive if its descendants are not completely human?”

“Back at the hotel, Lord we got such a mess.”

heads in beds

 

I love traveling though my sad little bank account rarely allows me to do it. Travel memoirs are much more within my budget until I’m more financially solvent. So when I came across Jacob Tomsky’s memoir about what goes on behind the scenes at luxury hotels, I immediately added it to my TBR pile. While it’s not technically a travel memoir, it’s definitely travel adjacent and it was a nice light read that fueled my luxury travel fantasies.

Tomsky is a veteran of the hotel industry who started off as an eager valet shortly after graduating college. Since that time he has worked in all sections of the hotel, from valet, to front desk to housekeeping. He speaks frankly about the challenges of working in luxury customer services and the conflicts and camaraderie between himself and his fellow employees. He’s served multiple celebrities but don’t ask him to name drop.

His tips for not being “That Guest” and for getting employees to give you extras aren’t exactly groundbreaking for anyone who’s worked in the service industry. They are, in short: treat service personal like actual humans and and tip early and often. However the book is a fun engaging read especially if you enjoy “behind the scenes”memoirs.

 

“Better you leave here with your head still full of kitty cats and puppy dogs”

la confidential

 

My head was in a very bad place after reading this book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great book, but plot is so serpentine and gritty it makes the 1997 film version look like a Pixar short (opening sequence of Up notwithstanding). James Ellroy’s vision of 1950s Los Angeles is dark, mean and merciless. There are no “good guys.” There are only hard, jaded men whose demons push them to pursue some form of justice and none of them come away unscathed. That’s not hyperbole.

The three main characters, Edmund Exley, Wendell “Bud” White and Jack “Trashcan Jack” Vincennes have their fates intertwined by the “Bloody Christmas” scandal, a real-life even involving the severe beating of several civilians by LAPD officers in 1951. The subsequent departmental shake up sets all three men on a path involving police corruption, murder, drugs and vice connecting to the highest levels of society. It’s hard to say much more about the plot, not because of spoilers but because it so dense.

This book was really damned good but it’s not for the faint of heart. Everyone in it, even the protagonists, are ugly. Every awful thing that can be done to a person seems to happen at some point in this book. But it’s also very smartly written and keeps you guessing.

“Space around me where my soul can breathe”

introvert advantage

I don’t think I’ve ever read a “self help” book before. It’s not that I don’t think I could do with some improvement. I often find their advice to be overly simplistic or that they take a “one size fits all” approach to many of life’s problems. Ms. Olsen’s book has some of these issues but is generally easy to read. She divides her books into small, easy to digest sections making it easy to read before bed.

I would say one of the biggest issues with this book is that a lot of the information has become old news in the 15 or so years since it was first published. We all know that introverts get their energy from quiet time spent alone and that extroverts are just the opposite and that we prefer substantive conversations to small talk. On any given day one can find approximately 50 memes about being an introvert on their Facebook feed. I also found that she tended to view people in very black and white terms with regard to introverts and extroverts. That being said, there were some helpful tips on getting along in a society that seems to be built for the extrovert. She gives advice for relationships, the workplace, meeting people, social obligations and many other situations (I skipped the chapters on parenting).

Overall, this book is helpful if not particularly groundbreaking in 2017. I am already utilizing some of her advice at my job and it seems to be working.

“Never saw no miracle of science that didn’t always end up as something worse.”

never let me go

 

It’s been about 3 days since I finished this book and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. This is first book by Kazuo Ishigiro. This review will be a little more succinct than my typical review because it’s hard to go too deep into the plot without spoiling things. The basic story follows Kathy, Ruth and Tommy; three friends who are students at a school called Hailsham and the years after they move on from their education. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that there is something very different about Hailsham and its students. I figured out pretty quickly how things were going to go and how it would likely end but this in no way effected my enjoyment of it. While I can’t say I enjoyed this book which is deeply sad, it is beautifully written. It’s not the emotional gut punch of watching “Requiem for a Dream” but there is a pervading sense of quiet sadness throughout the book from beginning to end.

“Life itself is the proper binge”

my life in france

 

This book will remain forever on my shelf as something to read when I need to feel better about life, or for when I am feeling somewhat directionless. Julia Child’s memoir spoke to me on an extremely deep level. I already knew I loved her, now I idolize her. Watching her jump fearlessly from life in a foreign country in which she barely spoke the language, to cooking, to “cookery bookery” and finally into hosting a cooking show without allowing fear to hold her back is inspiring. I don’t typically use language like this for book reviews but I fell in love with this one from the first chapter.

“My Life in France” details Julia’s life from the time she arrived in France with her husband Paul for his job with OSIS through her return to the United States and the publication of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” volumes 1 and 2. Julia’s excitement and love for the nation of France and it’s people is evident from the start. Though told chronologically, it is more a series of memories about a pivotal time in her life. Though it is not without conflict, Julia does not dwell too much on the more difficult aspects of her life. She and Paul viewed most inconveniences and discomforts as part of a great adventure rather than anything to fret over.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Julia Child’s memoir is inspiring and lovely to read.

Seriously, just call the cops.

boy in the suitcase

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. But I foundĀ  Nina Borg, the main character in this first of Danish Mysteries to be infuriating and hard to relate to. Perhaps there is something I’m missing about Danish society and the way government employees react to foreigners, because many other people seem to think this book is excellent. But when someone like myself, who believes in a healthy mistrust of authority, is screaming “Lady, call the police and go home to your family!” it makes the book hard to enjoy.

Nina Bork works as a Red Cross Nurse and it’s clear from the jump that she takes her job Personally. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Nina’s patients are refugees who are often resented and disdained by Danish society. But Nina is often absent from her husband and two children. She is convinced by an estranged friend to pick up a suitcase in a storage locker which contains a small boy who is drugged but alive. She realizes quickly that there are extremely dangerous (who don’t seem to be associated with the police) people looking for this boy. I realize that calling the authorities at this point wouldn’t have made for a very exciting story. But the fact that Nina chooses to take this task on by herself, even after people start dying, made the rest of the story very difficult for me to get into.

Honestly, I can’t say that I enjoyed this book much but I’m in the minority. So…maybe pick it up?