Dylan’s Book Recommendation: Proof of Heaven

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander

First line: When I was a kid, I would often dream of flying.

Summary: Dr. Eben Alexander had an NDE (near death experience) that completely contradicted all of his knowledge that would suggest that consciousness resides only within the brain. Dr. Eben Alexander’s NDE was brought on by a meningitis induced coma. Coming back from his experience, Dr. Eben Alexander took the risk of being completely ridiculed by the scientific community for sharing his story.

Thoughts: NDE’s are very interesting to study. The thought of the afterlife is one of the very pillars that holds up the ceiling of society. Surely everyone will ask the question, those of a faith and those without faith. Dr. Eben Alexander shows through his experiences that consciousness does not reside in the brain.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Dark Tides

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

First line: The ramshackle warehouse was on the wrong side of the river, the south side, where the buildings jostled for space and the little boats unloaded pocket-size cargos for scant profit.

Summary: Twenty-two years have passed since the events at Foulmire. Alinor and Alys have established themselves in a warehouse along the Thames with a decent income from sailors and merchants. But on the same day two people happen into their lives that will change it once again. Sir James who has spent years in exile is looking for his child. And Rob’s widow from Venice arrives with their young son. The women try to deal with these changes the best they can.

On the other side of the ocean, in New England, Ned has traveled in the hopes of starting a new life where he is free and far from the reaches of the King he hates. But even with an ocean between his old and new life he finds that things are still the same. He has befriended the native people and learned much from them but he is looked down upon for this from his fellow Englishman. He is stuck between two worlds and doesn’t know which side to choose.

My Thoughts: Once again Philippa Gregory writes a stunning book! I loved this just as much as the first one in the trilogy but for different reasons. The first part was very character driven and where the landscape plays an important role. This one is more plot driven but has strong characters and amazing locations. From the very beginning I was strongly invested in the story. At one point I had to put the book down because I was so frustrated with the characters.

I loved being back with Alinor even though she was not the main character anymore. This centered more on her brother, daughter and granddaughter. A new generation of the Reekie family in a new time. The picture of these poor women striving for a living along the Thames is perfectly done. And then we visit Venice in the second half of the story. I can picture the canals, gondolas, and beautiful buildings. I visited Venice years ago and loved the city on the water.

Ned’s life in New England reminded me so much of Gregory’s book, Virgin Earth, with her beautiful descriptions of the forests of America before the settlers cleared the lands. The plants, the people and wildness of the land comes alive in her telling. It is so hard to read about the past at times when you see all the injustices that were done. Settlers took advantage of the natives and treated them terribly.

FYI: This is book two in the Fairmile Trilogy.

Terese’s Thoughts: Voodoo Histories

Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch

First Line: “In 1919, The European citizen–who five years earlier had perhaps, like the young Hitler, celebrated the outbreak of war–now surveyed a world that was utterly changed.

Summary:

Aaronovitch breaks down a number of conspiracy theories, from the bogus Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the theory that Barack Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen to a conspiracy theory involving an elderly English woman who was passionate about growing roses. For each conspiracy, Aaronovitch meticulously traces its origins and details the ways in which it spread. Each falsehood is contradicted by the presenting of evidence, much of which has gotten lost over the years as the often more exciting version of the story spread.

This is a great book for anyone interested in how conspiracy theories start and what allows them to proliferate. It also provides useful information for anyone looking to arm themselves with facts that can be used to debate these conspiracy theories.

My Thoughts:

This book is wonderful in its thoroughness, but it can sometimes make for a dense read. That being said, I learned a lot. As the book states, at one point in time, a majority of U.S. and U.K. citizens believed that the government was somehow involved in the assassination of JFK. When I was in high school, a retired police officer was invited every year to give a presentation on the JFK assassination, the theme of which was that his death was a government conspiracy theory. This is a conspiracy theory that is readily accepted as fact among many communities. I can say that it is certainly something my father believes, as did the author’s mother. But what I didn’t know before reading this book was that Lee Harvey Oswald had attempted the assassination of an army major general just seven months prior to the assassination of JFK!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Best of Me

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

First line: I’m not the sort of person who goes around feeling good about himself.

Summary: A collection of previously published essays and stories from David Sedaris. He covers everything from short stories, family drama and the loss of a sibling. His stories range from serious to hilarious.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I fell in love with David Sedaris and his work. I have read all his books, listened to his holiday collection multiple times, and spent hours waiting to see him at Watermark. Ninety percent of these stories were ones I had previously read but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few that I had not experienced yet.

It was great to rediscover some of his early stories that I had forgotten about. I laughed just as hard this time around as I did the first time. Even though Sedaris is considered a humorist he also brings a lot of heart to his work. The way he talks about his family makes one appreciate my own family. Everyone has quirks and life can be crazy but we all love each other and will be there for one another.

I think that this was exactly what I needed at the end of 2020. Focusing has been difficult this year. A book of short stories and essays are perfect for my attention span lately. And the laughs help as well! Thank you Mr. Sedaris!

FYI: All stories are previously published.

Monica’s Musings: The Water Cure

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Trauma is a toxin that hooks into our hair and organs and blood and becomes part of us, the way heavy metals do, our bodies nothing more than a layering of flesh around everything ingested and experienced.

-Sophie Mackintosh

Sisters Grace, Lia and Skye are raised to believe that the world outside of their island is extremely toxic and deadly, especially for women. Their parents, whom they call King and Mother, have the girls living a life of purity, which is practiced through various cleansing rituals. One of which is called the water cure, where the girls put on a weighted dress and hold themselves under the water for as long as they can. This cult-like behavior begins to unravel, first when King disappears, and second when new men from the toxic mainland arrive on their island.

I will admit, this story was quite odd. The behaviors of this family were so strange, but it kept me intrigued. The dysfunction and cruel mindsets of these sisters had me unsure of who I was supposed to root for. All three of the girls had been brainwashed into maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle of “purity”. Although their practices seemed absurd, I am still unsure of what all is true of the outside world and what is not. Since the story is told from the girls’ point of view, we are also experiencing their confusion as the story unfolds. I believe the author, Sophie Mackintosh, left readers a little perplexed on purpose to replicate that of the sisters.

As I listened to this story on Libby, I had to backtrack multiple times to understand who was talking. The viewpoint switches between all of the sisters, so sometimes it was difficult keeping up with who was telling the story. I would recommend reading the hardback version because of this. Overall I found this to be an interesting read. Sophie Mackintosh created an intriguing yet troubling story to experience through the lives of Grace, Lia and Skye.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Leia, Princess of Alderaan

Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray and Haruichi

First Line: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Summary: Leia, the princess of Alderaan, is learning how to lead and one day take over the role of Queen. She needs to prove herself. But she is worried that she will not be able to live up to her parents expectations. And recently she has noticed her parents paying less attention to her. Are they disappointed? Or has she done something to upset them? She decides that she is going to take matters into her own hands with the hopes of earning their approval.

My Thoughts: I’ve read this story before but I had read the novel when it first came out and this is manga. This is my first venture into manga. If you have never read or even heard of manga I will give you a quick summary. Manga is a Japanese comic or graphic novel. They are usually printed in black and white. But the most challenging bit (for me at least) is reading from right to left. It took me a while to get used to the format and focus on following the story properly. I really enjoyed it!

I liked the artwork, the story was still great and it was a new adventure. If you want to try something different and are a fan of Star Wars I would highly recommend picking this up!

FYI: This is the same plot as the novel by the same name.

Xochitl’s Book Thoughts: Exhalation

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

First line: O mighty Caliph and Commander of the Faithful, I am humbled to be in the splendor of your presence; a man can hope for no greater blessing as long as he lives.

Summary and Thoughts: In Exhalation, multiple short stories written by Ted Chiang either look at the future or even the past through futuristic lenses and technology. Morals and ethics are brought up in each story. The reader is taken to a magical place in the Middle East, a distant planet, and other dimensions throughout this book. From an old-age robot nanny to built-in memory hardware for humans, there’s a short story for everyone. The first story takes a look at a young man’s journey into a time-traveling portal where he learns that fate and what is meant to be can never be altered. The second story is about a civilization on a foreign planet whose lungs need to be physically taken out to be filled up with oxygen, meaning their life expectancy is practically immortal, but that also comes with a price. What happens when the oxygen supply is running out? The next one, ‘What’s Expected of Us’, deals with the concept of free will with a button game and how it turns people mad when they think too hard about it. The fifth story is about a robot nanny who causes some trouble from humans, especially the inventor and his family. ‘The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling’ is technically two stories alternating, but they both share the essential theme of memory. One half is set in the future, memory is now digitally stored in the human brain. One can now skim through old memories and relive or inspect them. The other half is set in with a native tribe and their journey with an English missionary. ‘The Great Silence’ is a haunting read as it’s told from a near-extinct bird’s thoughts. The story after that is a tale of religion and science co-existing together, but a religious archeologist is not so sure after a latest discovery. The last story is set in a world where it is easy to communicate with yourself in a different dimension. Of course, people use this to their advantage and not in a good way. Each story is different in length and in story-telling.

This was one of my favorite reads ever. Each story left me questioning my and society’s relationship with technology. Each story was beautifully crafted and unique, writing styles and storytelling differed so it never felt like I was reading one book. Some parts I did have to re-read to get as he sometimes gets confusing when dealing with past, present, and future being told as one. I liked that this didn’t feel like your typical science fiction book, so people who usually don’t read this genre can enjoy it too. He also spends some time explaining the science behind certain products used in stories which I was grateful for. Chiang doesn’t outright tell the reader what point he is trying to make so I often had to stop and ask myself what is he trying to say exactly. My favorite thing about this book is though the genre is science fiction, Chiang often sets his stories in the past. I like the blend of old and new he uses, to me it keeps the book from being repetitive. I would definitely recommend this book to people who read any type of genre.

FYI: There are sexual themes within one of the short stories but this isn’t a graphic book.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem

First line: Plants have long been underestimated.

Summary: Walker and Alec Holland are twin brothers who are nothing alike but are still inseparable. Walker loves to be the center of attention while Alec is more quiet and reserved. Their last summer before college is spent in a rural town with their cousins. While Walker makes friends and parties, Alec spends his time working on a science experiment that starts to affect the swamp outside of town.

My Thoughts: This is a DC Comics reimagining of the origin story of Swamp Thing. Author Maggie Stiefvater works with illustrator, Morgan Beem to create a new beginning for one of their classic villains. I liked how they included science and information about plants into the story. It does a little teaching while also entertaining. I wasn’t completely sold on the art work but near the end as the swamp and its creatures started to appear I came to like it more. I am not familiar with the character Swamp Thing but I did enjoy this. It is a fast story from one of my favorite YA authors.

I got to watch an interview with the author, illustrator and moderator (Laini Taylor – another fantastic YA author) via Watermarks Books. It was great to listen to them talk about their work and how they developed the book. If you would like to see their conversation it can be found on Watermark’s Facebook page.

FYI: This is a graphic novel.

Rachel’s Recommendations: This Is Where It Ends

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

First Line: The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

Summary: At 10:05 am gunshots ring out. Within a span of 54 minutes four students must come face to face with the possibility of death; their hopes and dreams could be over in a single second. Anything can happen. Anyone can live and anyone can die. Who would do this? Why would they do this? And who will survive the next 54 minutes?

My Thoughts: I have mixed reviews about this books. While it does offer some intense scenery, I felt like the author didn’t really dive deep into the psychology as to why this student felt the need to commit such a violent act. Yes, there was some reasoning explained, but I felt like as a whole there could’ve been more offered to the character of Tyler, the shooter.

There were certain parts of the book that kept me reading due the intense nature of a school shooter and the desire to know why, but there were other parts where I became frustrated with the characters who were trying to survive the dangerous situation that they were forced upon. School shootings are such a deep and tragic event that you have to bring the right amount emotion writing about it in a fiction setting.

I wish that the author would’ve dedicated a little more time with the character development as well. I lacked a certain amount of emotion with the characters and didn’t really feel as bonded to them. I would give this book a 3 out of 5.

Trigger Warnings: mass shootings, violence, death, sexual assault, and some language

What’s Ashley Reading?: Clue Mystery Readathon

Clue Mystery Readathon!

I love a good reading challenge! It makes me read books that have been on my TBR list and diversify my selections as well. Plus it is fun! I was so excited when Alyssa decided to do another readathon this fall and I immediately started looking at which books to choose. My final list is below.

  • The criminal was Colonel Mustard (a book set during a time of war).
  • The weapon was a rope (the next book in a series).
  • The location was the billiard room (a book written by a person of color).
  • The motive was secrets (a book with a one-word title).
  • The witness was the motorist (a book that contains travel).
  • The final end was with a getaway car (a book that’s under 200 pages).

My favorite of the six books was Mindy Kaling’s collection of essays. I follow her on all the social media. She is funny, insightful and just a happy person. Her other two books, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and Why Not Me?, are great as well. If you want a laugh then these are perfect! I had a great time reading these books! I cannot wait to do another challenge.