Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a huge baseball fan.  The Tampa Bay Rays are my boys!  During the regular season, Fox Sports ran a story about one of my favorite Rays, pitcher Chris Archer.  It's well known that he loves to read and he told how his friend recommended The Alchemist to him.  He asked the friend more than once if it was a good book.  When he got reassurance that it was, he read it and found the story changed his life.  I wanted to get on that bandwagon!

I've read Paulo Coehlo before and love his simple stories about life.  The Alchemist is a fable about a shepherd, Santiago, who is looking for his treasure.  The search takes him from Spain, to Africa and across the desert to the Pyramids.  Along the way he meets all kinds of people, some good, some bad but who all teach him what he is capable of in life.

I'm inspired by this book.  I love the spiritual wisdom found on these pages.  Maintaining a positive outlook can be difficult in a world full of negativity.  The Alchemist is thought provoking and uplifting.  We can all use a little reminding of how fortunate we are in life.  We can overcome any obstacle if we simply try.  I'm going to read this one again and will probably make some notes in the margins the second time around.  It's that good.

There are many lessons in The Alchemist, and the most important one in my view is to keep an open mind.  Look at me, I watched a baseball game which led me to an intelligent book that touched my soul.  When one door closes, another opens.  Follow your dreams, they will lead you to your treasure.  Be patient.  And watch baseball.  You might learn the difference between a fastball and a change up, but you might also find something far more satisfying. The path to your own Personal Legend.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Dr. Alice Howland celebrates her 50th birthday and realizes she's not herself.  She's built her life on the study of language and words and suddenly her words are lost in everyday conversations.  Names and places escape her.  While out for a run one day, she can't find her way home, a route she's taken a thousand times before.  Alice tries to write these changes off to menopause but that is not the cause.  Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Having recently turned 60, the topic of Still Alice scares me.  Every little ache and pain is cause for alarm. My memory is certainly not what it used to be and that just sucks.  I know too many people around my age who have suffered through physical or mental illness themselves or of a loved one.  The clock is ticking.  I usually have a positive outlook on life, but that 60th birthday threw me for a loop and I haven't recovered.  Still Alice made me think about what may lie ahead for me and my family.  I know that age is strictly a number and soon I'll be back to my youthful mindset.  But Alice didn't have that option and that made me sad.

Still Alice is a beautifully written and crafted novel.  The reader follows Alice step by step as the disease changes her. We see her triumphs and her failures.  We watch her husband and children try to come to grips with the changes in their lives too. Still Alice is difficult to read, her disease is a painful and heartbreaking one.  It's one that once we reach a certain age, we all fear will happen to us.  And that's probably the one thing about Alzheimer's that's normal, the angst that we all see in it.

I learned a lot from this book and the most important is that every human being that suffers from any form of dementia is still a person who lives.  Alice was Still Alice living a life full of hope, and for that I'm glad.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd

The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd

I picked up this book on a recent trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  While there, I fully immersed myself in the social etiquette of the early 20th century.  I found myself dreaming of a simpler place and time.  Browsing through the bookstore, I was drawn to The Art of The Handwritten Note.

Writing notes as a child to my grandparents is what built the foundation for my writing life.  I still love to write notes, but as a society we've opted to replace personal interactions with short snippets of conversation posted publicly on Facebook and Twitter for the whole world to read and scrutinize.

The Art of the Handwritten Note is not a stuffy narrative about manners.  The author makes it clear that the handwritten note is still alive and well in our high tech 21st century.  A note that arrives in our mailbox is first, a surprise, and then a personal interaction between two people.  It's not publicly posted online for strangers to see.  It's special.  And as human beings we will always adore being made to feel special.

Ms. Shepherd writes of how to choose stationery, a pen, ink.  She gives us do's and don't's for all kinds of correspondence.  She asks us to practice what we want to say and not be intimidated by handwriting that may not be perfect.  By sitting down and taking the time to write a personal note, we are creating a singular experience for the recipient as well as one for ourselves.

I know that posting a review online about a book on sending handwritten notes is quite contradictory.  But maybe if we all spent some time letting our friends and family know what they mean to us, this world would be a happier and more peaceful place to be. We'd all be feeling special and our mailboxes would be filled with joy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

I hope you all know by now that I'm not a serial reader.  I'm also not much of a mystery or thriller reader, but a friend is in love with Jack Reacher and gave me one of her beloved paperbacks to read.  Since we are both people who would prefer to have our nose in a book than do anything else, I said I'd give it a try.

Reacher is an ex-military special investigator.  He was part of a team of special investigators who have suddenly started showing up dead.  When he received an unknown deposit to his dwindling bank account, he knows he's being summoned back to work.  The rest of the group slowly respond to urgent messages to assemble to hunt for the killers.  Reacher travels light, with only a toothbrush to his name.  Neagley, O'Donnell and Dixon have enjoyed much more lucrative careers than Reacher since leaving the army,  showing up with suitcases and credit cards to finance the search.  Reacher resorts to emptying the wallets of men he kills along the way in order to keep up.

I enjoyed the the action in Bad Luck and Trouble.  The pace, tension and suspense made this a real page turner.  The author did a great job of keeping the reader guessing.  I'm not sure I'm ready to ready the other 19 Jack Reacher novels but if another one came my way, I wouldn't turn it down.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Front Yard by Norman Draper

Front Yard by Norman Draper

After winning first place in the world famous Burdick's Best Yard Contest, George and Nan Fremont have happily settled in to enjoy their new found fame and fortune.  They won the prize despite sabotage from another contestant.  Now they have set their sights on a beautifying the front yard too.  After a few glasses of their favorite merlot, topped off with a gin and tonic, nothing can stop them.  Or can it?

Jealousy abounds in the town of Livia and all eyes are set on the Fremont's yard.  I'm not a gardener, so I found myself lost in the plant names and gardening terminology.  I had a difficult time picturing  what the flower beds and trees should have looked like and why everyone thought they were so beautiful.

I also found this story too busy.  It had a large cast of off the wall characters to contend with, many of whom were quite entertaining but others who lacked purpose.  As I read further into the book, I started thinking that they were all too similar, quirky but all in the same way.  Alcohol flowed on almost every page to the point where it overwhelmed the story of the garden.  George and Nan decided to give it up but only for a few seconds.  A couple pages later, they were back slugging it down.  By the end, there was so much history, dirt, fairies and treasure flying around, I had trouble keeping it all straight.

I want to thank Net Galley for my free copy of Front Yard.  Unfortunately it didn't contain a topic I had much interest in.  A gardener would feast in this story but it wasn't for me. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Buddah in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly

Buddah in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly by Tai Sheridan

We all seem to have busy lives full of hustle and bustle.  A common complaint is that we never have a moment to ourselves to relax.  If you've ever thrown your hands up, thinking there was no hope, this book is for you.

Sitting quietly, listening to the ocean of your breath, can help solve a multitude of issues and calm your soul.  As the author says, sit quietly for three minutes or sit for three years, and be amazed at what you may learn about yourself.  And not that sitting quietly takes much instruction, but this book will walk you through how to do it.

And it's an extremely short guide.  It will only take a few minutes of sitting quietly to read it.  And we all need a little quiet time, so go for it. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 is a book I never would have picked up on my own.  It's this month's book club selection.  When I began reading it, I had no knowledge of what I might be getting into or even what the book was about.  The first chapter turned my stomach, painting a picture of starvation, bitter cold and fear in 1933 Russia. Honestly, I thought I was headed for a twisted version of The Hunger Games.

But I hung in there.  The story fast forwards twenty years.  Leo is a rising star in the MGB, the state security force.  He's assigned to look into the death of child, whose family insists he was murdered.  The communist state brushes the child's death off as an accident.  Leo is a war hero, who loves his country, is loyal and follows the state party line.  His wife Raisa, is a teacher who goes along with the state as a way to survive.  When Leo discovers that a serial killer is on the loose, he and Raisa go against the state and set out to find the criminal.

Child 44 is full of twists and turns.  It's a page turner, so be prepared.  What struck me the most however, is the range of emotion that this story could evoke.  The evil torture of the government on its citizens disgusted me.  The cunning of a killer toward children made me cringe.  And the tenderness of the love story between Leo and Raisa, brought tears to my eyes.

What a book can make me feel is the gauge I use to rate a story.  After the first ten pages, I never thought I could make it through this book.  Since it's so rare that I don't finish a book, I kept going.  Child 44 is a wonderfully written thriller.  The story's "Ah Hah" moment is perfectly placed, releasing some of the tension, but not revealing all the answers the reader is anxious to learn. Mr. Smith's writing style is superb. The subject matter, Stalinist Russia, is a tough one especially for someone like me, who has always lived in a free society.  Child 44 opened my eyes to the reality of life in a communist state in the 1950's.

And that's what I love about book club.  I'm forced to go outside my comfort zone and learn something new, which is a good thing.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...