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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Romance

Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Loved, loved, loved! I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club. I converted my read to the audiobook version which was excellent.

This book was just all-around well-paced, adorable, fun, and adventurous. Side note- I think I may make a scarecrow for my garden just like the character.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Science Fiction

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov’s SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer’s stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.

What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven’s other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sort of an eclectic collection of short stories. I read this for Life’s Library Book Club and it was one already on my TBR. I’d say more of them are within the fantasy realm. I converted to audiobook, narrated by Todd McLaren & Abby Craden, which was ok as it added a bit of personality to some of the more boorish reads for me. Abby’s reads have a wide range of character, though at her lower register became fatigued and I was getting sleepy listening to it, so I ended up going back to the physical copy of the book to finish up some parts.

My favorite was the first story, the one about the Tower of Babylon. Although theologically it doesn’t really represent the Biblical point of the building of the tower, this story one was the most intriguing one to read. The descriptions of the atmosphere, emotional turmoil, and characterization of brick layering while working under the hot sun to accomplish a common goal was well thought out.

I wasn’t as fond of most of the other stories though. Between scientific jargon sort of thrown about, kind of forced and like a word salad at times, some of which were less precise in definition and illogical, not in the fantasy story sense, but in the actual physiological characteristics and function of normal/pathological anatomy. And reading the thought pattern of a teen trying to solve a math problem in her head was just not for me.

Overall, though I liked the riddle-like sense captured each story.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Science Fiction

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, an homage to 1940s noir, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

The Yiddish Policemen's UnionThe Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this one for Life’s Library book club. I feel a bit indifferent about the story. It’s certainly not a bad book, as I did enjoy where it was initially taking me, but it just was not my most favorite as far as how invested I was in it.

Many parts were very interesting and I loved the directness it offered at the beginning, but then that became lost and certain parts overemphasized as far as detail in what was taking place. As a result, the remainder of the story meandered around which made me lose my full attention.

It begins as a very plot driven story, but some of it is revealed before much of the character development begins. So perhaps that is where I began to feel disconnected because I did not feel immersed into the story right away and that sort of set the whole tone for me to not feel well invested about the rest of the book. It almost started to feel like the plot trajectory and some holes along with it were being filled in a retrospective manner.

I did like the alternate concept though and I would like to check out more from this author.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon © 2019 ericarobbin.com | All rights reserved.

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Biography Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

This powerful and inspiring book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the WorldMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this for Life’s Library Book Club and really enjoyed it. It features an incredibly detailed biographical account of Dr. Paul Farmer, both his professional and personal life as a physician serving in the global health arena. It also included a mix of interesting tidbits of day to day life including the many rewards and challenges he faced and also bits of dialogue with an intriguing approach to include some Hatian history for context.

I’d highly recommend it to anyone!

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies.

Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.

The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.

The House of the SpiritsThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This one just wasn’t for me. It was too fanciful, wordy, and just plain weird for my taste. I read this for Life’s Library Book Club. It was not likely one I would pick up on my own though, but I did give it a good try and I know other people will love it.

I converted my reading experience to audiobook about half way through to see if it would help bring me into the more positively popular perspective about this book, but I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it though as other people would probably relate to it more than me and might find themselves better immersed in the story.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

Columbine by Dave Cullen

“The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . ” So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of “spectacle murders.” It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.

What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we “know” is wrong. It wasn’t about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

ColumbineColumbine by Dave Cullen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me through so many emotions. Those who remember the tragedy unfolding first hand, as well as those less aware will find the events related to the shootings at Columbine High School to be well documented in this book.

The author, Dave Cullen, did an excellent job presenting the timeline of events through the lens of an observer as well as from the perspective of the two boys, the victims, the community, media, and law enforcement personnel. I can’t imagine the amount of time and research put into the collecting the testimonials and subject matter never mind deciding how to approach, organize, and give clear, unpersuaded perspective to the story. The writing elements were somewhat journalistic in style with a straightforward manner, yet incorporated real time language with unstructured, unfiltered prose. At the same time, the author managed to explore the complexities and depth of human thought, bringing forth reasoning and reconciliation to each viewpoint.

For myself, this book has more impact on me from a relational standpoint. Remembering exactly where I was at the time it happened (20 years ago now) with teachers at school relaying a carefully worded message, being let out of class early, continuing to watch the news at home, all the conflicting reports, so many conversations taking place, discussions about what-ifs, prevention strategies being thought out and put in the place, the possibility of copycats, everyone internalizing their own suspicion of students who wore black trench coats and those who had concerning emotional disturbances in my own school, they were really brought to the forefront of my mind as I read this book. The shock, the horrific imagery, the confusion, the questions, as it were unfolding again in real time. I did have to put it down for several days about half way through to allow myself to process it all.

I was really surprised at the myths that were dispelled and the amount of information that I was completely unaware of. From contradictory reports of what was happening as it took place, to significant discussion of nature vs nurture, they were all outlined in great detail.

I feel like reading this book brought some closure for me in some ways. I don’t think I realized my own grief and the impact on my life at the time. Certain aspects brought on a sense of high school nostalgia for me and it was met with deep compassion for those who suffered from the horror. I really appreciated the writer’s effort to bring honor to the victims and not glorify or sensationalize the evil acts.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Historical Nonfiction Nonfiction

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman

LONG-LISTED FOR THE CARNEGIE MEDAL

Reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, an astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight.

Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government’s ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times.

Yet despite all the reporting, the video, and the wrenching photography, the stories of ordinary Syrians remain unheard, while the stories told about them have been distorted by broad brush dread and political expediency. This fierce and poignant collection changes that. Based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled is a breathtaking mosaic of first-hand testimonials from the frontlines. Some of the testimonies are several pages long, eloquent narratives that could stand alone as short stories; others are only a few sentences, poetic and aphoristic. Together, they cohere into an unforgettable chronicle that is not only a testament to the power of storytelling but to the strength of those who face darkness with hope, courage, and moral conviction.

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from SyriaWe Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This books shares powerful testimonials of Syrian refugees and the tragedies they have faced. I think everyone should read it. I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

The book largely presents a compilation of narratives about life in Syria as a refugee. I think the author did a fantastic job organizing and curating each story to give an overall picture of the horrific tragedies and conflicting circumstances that people have faced in Syria. It was incredibly heartbreaking to read about and each person so brave and strong for sharing.

The beginning paragraphs of the book took an informative, somewhat introspective approach to the conflict faced in Syria. Within the introduction, I did find some of the seemingly avoidant inclusion of religious and social ideology as part of a driving forces of oppositional groups interesting choices to note. It touched a bit on the topics later on in the book, but didn’t go into expanded detail. I found some of the translations of terms and phrases, such as “Allah akbar” or the use of ISIS as an organization instead of ISIS militants, ISIS fighters, or other variants to be an interesting approach by the author as well. I would have been interested in these additional details as I think it would have helped to convey the internal conflict that some of the people experienced.

The writing built upon a thought-provoking focus on the political motivation of forces and the emotional responses of the Syrian people which ended up being the overall theme in the rest of the writing. I really appreciated the extensive time and effort the author put into this book as well as the courage of the people who were willing to talk about their experiences and the compassion they had for others who would be willing to hear them.

I imagine trying to convey a complete picture of the historical context and meaning was probably difficult for the author to hone down in the beginning paragraphs, especially when it came to the overarching theme in supporting personal testimonials rather than depicting a complete account of the opposition’s biogeographical movement and underlying motivation.

This book will really bring perspective into your life and help you understand the oppression, hope, and endurance experienced by the Syrian refugees.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Nonfiction

The Republic by Plato

Presented in the form of a dialogue between Socrates and three different interlocutors, this classic text is an enquiry into the notion of a perfect community and the ideal individual within it. During the conversation, other questions are raised: what is goodness?; what is reality?; and what is knowledge? The Republic also addresses the purpose of education and the role of both women and men as guardians of the people. With remarkable lucidity and deft use of allegory, Plato arrives at a depiction of a state bound by harmony and ruled by philosopher kings.

The RepublicThe Republic by Plato

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this one! I read it for PewDiePie’s Book Review/Literature Club.

Though I was already quite familiar with the published pieces, having taken philosophy classes in undergrad, I still found the content intriguing. I started out reading it in digital format, but ended up listening to the rest of it via audiobook. My version didn’t list the narrator, but it was perfect for this particular book which consists of a lot of dialogue. The audio version allowed it to be an enjoyable conversation to listen to. I think those familiar and less familiar with the notions and key figures of philosophy will be able to understand the flow and concepts and the audiobook version makes it just that much more easy to follow and understand.

I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are in high school or college as I think students would find it particularly insightful and helpful in developing their worldview, exploring habits of thinking, bringing relevant human behavior and perspective into discussions and debates, and for an overall general must read about historical key figures who contributed so much to the world of philosophy even as we know it today.

I really liked the dialogue style format. Basically this book reads like a real time conversation between philosophers, most notably Plato and Socrates among a few others.

As far as content is concerned, the philosophers discussed interesting perspectives of the most basic and abstract needs of humanity. They commented on topics such as aging, wealth, deeds, death, tales, and fears. They talked about contrasting viewpoints on the just and unjust, intention vs action, as well as wisdom and virtue. Each conversation took each viewpoint to the extreme for exploration purposes, almost lost in minutia but ultimately became helpful for establishing boundaries as well as creating and assigning meaning.

It can be a heavy read at times and definitely one you will want to take your time with.

Here is a photo of the complete collection of Plato’s works that I took while visiting the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. back in February. The Library of Congress is a marvelous place!

The Republic by Plato, collection located at the Library of Congress © 2018 ericarobbin.com | All rights reserved.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the story, the writing, not so much. I read this for SunBeamsJess Book Club. I would recommend it to those who enjoy a bit of mystery and romance within a gothic setting.

I really got into the story as I found the plot to become more intriguing. I stumbled over the excessively descriptive writing style though. I restarted this one twice. There were just too many adjectives. Just about every noun was preceded by one, sometimes several, and it was distracting to me. I was distracted to the point that it sort of stole the joy out of my reading and I had a hard time getting over it. I liked the way the characters where set up and the atmosphere that the writer, Daphne du Maurier, created.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Both Elisha (Ellie) and Jeremiah (Miah) attend Percy Academy, a private school where neither quite fits in. Ellie is wrestling with family demons, and Miah is one of the few African American students. The two of them find each other, and fall in love — but they are hesitant to share their newfound happiness with their friends and families, who will not understand. At the end, life makes the brutal choice for them.
If You Come SoftlyIf You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this one for the Life’s Library Book Club. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. Perhaps I’m not the target demographic or can hold my attention enough to appreciate it. I’d recommend it to those that are more in the middle school age group.

The premise and tone were definitely there but the writing style, character development, and plot reveal were so incredibly slow for my style. It’s one of those books where you can read the first and last page and know the entire book.

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Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

The Woman in the Dunes, by celebrated writer and thinker Kobo Abe, combines the essence of myth, suspense and the existential novel.

After missing the last bus home following a day trip to the seashore, an amateur entomologist is offered lodging for the night at the bottom of a vast sand pit. But when he attempts to leave the next morning, he quickly discovers that the locals have other plans. Held captive with seemingly no chance of escape, he is tasked with shoveling back the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten to destroy the village. His only companion is an odd young woman, and together their fates become intertwined as they work side by side through this Sisyphean of tasks.

The Woman in the DunesThe Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. I read it for PewDiePie’s Book Review/Literature Club. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction that looks into the mystery of the mind particularly as it relates to isolation and relationships. I listened to it via audiobook, narrated by Julian Cihi, which was excellent.

The writer, Kōbō Abe, wrote in a beautifully expressive style that merged an intriguing storyline with philosophical theories of human attributes and behaviors that were taught in many of my college freshmen courses which added depth and richness to the characters.

It was an interesting depiction of impulse and cumulative response. I loved the interjections of entomology and the descriptions of sand and all its properties. It was completely engrossing within its allegorical context. I’d be curious how it reads in the original language it was written in, that being Japanese.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima enters his life. She is a curandera, one who heals with herbs and magic. ‘We cannot let her live her last days in loneliness,’ says Antonio’s mother. ‘It is not the way of our people,’ agrees his father. And so Ultima comes to live with Antonio’s family in New Mexico. Soon Tony will journey to the threshold of manhood. Always, Ultima watches over him. She graces him with the courage to face childhood bigotry, diabolical possession, the moral collapse of his brother, and too many violent deaths. Under her wise guidance, Tony will probe the family ties that bind him, and he will find in himself the magical secrets of the pagan past—a mythic legacy equally as palpable as the Catholicism of Latin America in which he has been schooled. At each turn in his life there is Ultima who will nurture the birth of his soul.

Bless Me, UltimaBless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the premise and most parts of the story, but the writing was incredibly dry for me. I read this for Dulce Candy’s Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about the American southwest culture and stories of mysticism as told from an individual’s perspective.

The premise of the story and perspective-driven plot was interesting. I appreciated the experiences being told, as well as the cultural references as they related to daily life within the setting, and the integration of Spanish language.

I liked the idea but the delivery came across as overly embellished and was dull for much of the book. I felt myself getting stuck in the overly descriptive and play-by-play details which took away from the overall flow of the book, which ultimately moved very slowly. The writing lacked appeal and reveal. I had a difficult time getting into each scene and following them all the way through.

It contained some interesting aspects of family dynamics and culture though!

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