Tuesday, June 30, 2015

484 (2015 #41). Being Mortal

by Atul Gawande

This is an important book for everyone to read, as we will all die some day.  In particular, if you have aging parents or other loved ones, you should definitely read this book.  I took the advice of my younger sister, a lawyer who also volunteers in many senior service programs, and read it.  I'm glad I did.

Atul Gawande is a general surgeon, researcher, and writer (this is his fourth book, and he has also written numerous articles for The New Yorker, Slate, and other well-known publications).  His writing focuses on the practice of medicine, particularly its ethics and costs.

Subtitled "Medicine and What Matters in the End," this book is really about quality of life issues.  Through research and case studies of patients (including his own grandfather and father), Gawande addresses such topics as independent living, assisted living, nursing homes, palliative care, and hospice.

Medicine has advanced to such a degree that it's possible to live a long life even with serious illnesses and conditions.  The message I got from this book is that it is important for medical professionals and friends and loved ones to ask the aging or ill person what s/he wants.  Sometimes it's to go all out and do whatever it takes to stay alive.  Sometimes it's to stop treatments and procedures that are only prolonging pain and let nature take its course.  Sometimes it's something in between, providing enough palliative care to enable one to live a life of choice.  Sometimes what is right at one point in time changes in the future.  What's important is to have those difficult conversations with your doctors or your loved ones.

This book was so valuable to me that it is one I am going to purchase, rather than just borrow from the library.  I recommend that everyone at least read it.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to a public library]

Saturday, June 27, 2015

483 (2015 #40). The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

by Phillip Hoose,
read by the author and Michael Braun

This is the true story of the book's subtitle, Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.  Pedersen founded the group, consisting of himself and seven other teenage boys, to perform acts of sabotage against the Germans occupying Denmark in World War II.

The story is told primarily through Pedersen's words.  National Book Award winner Phillip Hoose worked with Pedersen in 2012 to create an English version of his story, little-known outside Denmark.  Hoose conducted 25 hours of face-to-face interviews and exchanged nearly 1,000 e-mails with Pedersen.

The narrative is exciting and should hold the interest of the target teen audience, especially boys.  The book can definitely be used in history classes on World War II (there's a teacher's guide from the publisher on the author's web site), and could also spark some interesting discussions on courage, on the morality of sabotage in wartime, and on taking risks and keeping secrets.

In the audiobook, actor and voice artist Michael Braun reads Pedersen's words, while author Phillip Hoose reads everything else that's in the audio version - including sidebars, which can be a bit distracting if the listener doesn't realize they are sidebars, since you can't see the graphic elements that separate them from the main text.  Hoose is adequate as a reader of his own work (not outstanding like Neil Gaiman, but not awful like Madeleine L'Engle), while Braun is a bit melodramatic - but also epitomizes the defiant nature of Pedersen's character.

I think this audiobook is best paired with a print (preferred to electronic) version of the book.  The print version has features not available in audio format, such as photographs, maps, and other illustrations (which are not done especially well in the e-book), as well as a bibliography, end notes (both also present with active links in the e-book) and index (useless in the e-book as there are no page numbers or links).  However, the audio version would enhance understanding for any struggling readers in the targeted high school age group.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.  It will be donated to my university library.]

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

482 (2015 #39). Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs

by Davide Cali,
illustrated by Raphaëlle Barbanègre

This is a "fractured folktale" retelling of the Snow White story, but in this case, Snow has moved in with 77 dwarfs, not just seven.  This leads to a number of problems, from learning their (hilarious!) names...

...to trying to keep up with the chores, from beard maintenance to breakfast coffee.  French-Canadian artist Raphaëlle Barbanègre's colorful, whimsical illustrations add a lot to the story - especially Snow's facial expressions! (Click on the illustrations for enlarged views.)

Swiss-born Italian Davide Cali has written a slightly feminist take on the traditional tale with a twist at the end that might be over the heads of (or possibly upsetting to) the 3- to 7-year-olds this book is supposedly designed for.  However, I could definitely see using this book in a second grade classroom in my state, where students are supposed to "compare different versions of the same story in traditional and contemporary folktales with respect to their characters, settings, and plot."

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this hardbound edition from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to the curriculum collection at my university library.]

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

481 (2015 #38). The Chalice

written by Nancy Bilyeau,
read by Nicola Barber

This is the second in a series of three (so far) books featuring the invented character Joanna Stafford, a member of a (real) noble family in England who was a novice in a Dominican priory during the reign of Henry VIII.  This book is set (mostly) in the period from October 1538 to January 1540, with the first chapter flashing forward to December 1538 and then back ten years earlier.  The final chapter of the book takes place in March 1540, and mostly seems to be laying the groundwork for the third and next book in the series, The Tapestry.

I read the books in the series out of order, finishing #1, The Crown, first, then The Tapestry.  I would strongly recommend reading these books in order.  Some of what happens in this second book was spoiled for me, having read the third book before it.

In this installment, Joanna travels various places over a span of ten-plus years to meet three seers who repeat the same base prophesy, but add additional information each time.  The first seer she meets is the real nun Elizabeth Barton, when Joanna is 17.  The last is another real person - Michel de Nostredame (aka Nostradamus, although this occurs at a time when little is know about his life).  Not surprisingly, their prophecies involve the former nun, who is also trying to deal with her interrupted wedding, the disappearance of her fiance, the former friar Edmund Sommerville, and the other man in her life, Geoffrey Scovill, the constable in her home of Dartford.

Nancy Bilyeau cleverly weaves real people, places, and events into her novel.  Among them are the 1538 destruction of St. Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury, the Courtenays and Catherine Brandon, the 1539 Revolt of Ghent in Belgium and the Gravensteen castle there, and Anne of Cleves as she travels through Calais on her way to England to become Henry VIII's fourth wife.  Bilyeau does it so well, though, that the reader never feels she is just namedropping all these famous people.  Their real and fictional actions are key parts of the story.

This is a Tudor thriller, so our heroine Joanna spends a lot of time tied up or imprisoned or fighting her way out (and some time drugged or sick or nearly dead).  There really were Six Articles passed by Parliament in 1539 that would have prevented former nuns and friars from marrying - thus preventing a marriage I felt would be a mistake.

Nicola Barber's reading is wonderful again.  I did learn that I cannot listen to audiobooks as I am lying in bed; invariably I go to sleep and miss parts of the story.  I was trying to beat a deadline for this one as the e-audiobook is due tomorrow, and thankfully the Overdrive app for my Kindle has a snooze feature that automatically stops the playback at a designated length of time,  Thanks to this feature (which I set to the length of the chapter), I could easily go back to the beginning of the chapter the next day if I fell asleep in the midst of it.

I have a feeling there will be at least one more book in this series.  For one thing, the Six Articles were not repealed until after Henry VIII's death in January 1547. While this book is my least favorite of the three so far, I would definitely read another book in this series and anything else Nancy Bilyeau decides to write.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

Saturday, May 30, 2015

480 (2015 #37). The Last Anniversary

by Liane Moriarty

Thirty-nine year old Sophie Honeywell is still single, and surprised to hear from her former boyfriend Thomas Gordon, especially after their awkward breakup just before he was ready to take her to Fiji to propose.  He tells her his great aunt Connie has died and left Sophie her quirky house on tiny (fictional) Scribbly Gum Island in Australia.  Veronika, Thomas' sister and Sophie's former friend, is not too happy about that.

Thus Sophie gets to better know all the few but related year-round inhabitants of the island - Connie's sister Ruth, Thomas' cousin Grace and her handsome husband Callum and their baby Jake, and Thomas' parents Margie and Ron.  Oh, and of course Margie's mom and the grandmother of Grace, Thomas, and Veronika.  That would be Enigma, the famous baby of the "Munro Baby Mystery," whose parents disappeared and left her behind in her crib in their house on the island, to be taken in and raised by Connie and Rose.  Since then, the family has made good money from tours and special events related to the "Mystery."

Complications ensue with Grace's post-partum depression and seemingly-uncaring mother Laura, Margie's weight-loss program, and Sophie's efforts to find the dream man Connie hinted would be perfect for Sophie.

I've read a number of books now by Liane Moriarty, and so far, I like this one the least.  It's mostly because there are a few short chapters where a couple of characters are having a conversation, and those characters are not identified.  Sometimes you can guess who they are from the context, but many times I found myself puzzled as to who was speaking.  I found Grace's behavior to be very disturbing, and the "mystery" was rather predictable.  The last anniversary of the title is the setting for the climax of many of the conflicts in the book.  Even though this book was not too great, I'd still read another by Moriarty.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Saturday, May 23, 2015

479 (2015 #36). The Tapestry

by Nancy Bilyeau,
read by Nicola Barber

I requested this audio book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because:

1) I love audiobooks, as I have a 40-minute-each-way commute each workday,
2) I love historical fiction, and
3) I love reading about the Tudor era.

This book sounded especially interesting because it was NOT about the typical subjects - Henry VIII, his wives, or his children.  Instead, author Nancy Bilyeau has as her protagonist a fictional woman, Joanna, a former Dominican novice, from a real aristocratic family, the Staffords.

While this audiobook could stand alone, I found I enjoyed it more when I finished the first book in the series, The Crown, which I borrowed from the public library and started reading shortly after I started listening to this.  I think it would have been even more helpful to have read the second book in the series, The Chalice, before reading this one, as there were many more references to events in that book which might have been more clear in this third novel with the background of reading the second novel as well.

In addition, the second novel has been spoiled a little bit for me now as well, in that I have a pretty good idea of what happens in that one.  Thus, I would definitely recommend reading the first two books in the series before reading this one.

That being said, I enjoyed this book.  The tapestry in question is one that Joanna has been commissioned by Henry VIII to weave, as he has appointed her tapestry mistress.  This brings her from her peaceful home in Dartford, where many of the nuns and novices from the former priory have settled, back into the dangers and intrigues of the court.  Joanna apparently knows too much, and someone is trying to kill her.

As tapestry mistress, she meets the artist Hans Holbein the Younger, and gets to travel to Brussels in search of more tapestries for the king.  Learning about this art form was a highlight of the book.

Bilyeau weaves in many other Tudor era personages - Henry VIII of course, his fourth wife Anne of Cleves and fifth wife Catherine Howard (the latter a friend of Joanna's), Thomas Cromwell, and Bishop Gardiner, among others.  Joanna also interacts with other even less well-known real people like Thomas Culpeper - a gentleman of Henry VIII's Privy chamber and another friend of Catherine Howard.  Bilyeau doesn't have any of them doing anything too out of character, which keeps the story believable.

British voice talent Nicola Barber has a beautifully feminine and cultured voice, and was quite believable as Joanna.  She also does well with other voices, even male.  At times I had to listen to sections more than once, but I believe that was due to some of the complexities of the plot (particularly with all the alchemists of the era referenced, such as Agrippa and Paracelsus), as well as my lack of familiarity with the previous two installments in this series.

I did not know much about alchemy or tapestries of the period before listening to this book, so once again, good, well-researched historical fiction has inspired more learning for me.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.  It will be donated to my university library.]

Friday, May 22, 2015

478 (2015 #35). At the Water's Edge

by Sara Gruen

I had high hopes for this book, since I loved Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, and from its description, this appeared to be historical fiction.  Alas, World War II is only a backdrop, and it's really a (rather bad) romance.

Madeline (Maddie) Hyde, her husband Ellis, and their friend Hank are spoiled, clueless Philadelphia socialites who go to Scotland at the height of World War II to search for the Loch Ness monster.  Ellis' father, Colonel Hyde,  was accused of faking photos of the monster years earlier, and when Ellis makes the mistake of making fun of his father at a party, he is financially cut off.  He and Hank decide to photograph the monster themselves and get back in the Colonel's good graces.

Ellis (especially) and Hank are despicable characters who annoy the locals, especially with their expectations of being waited upon.  Maddie eventually learns to be of some use and even makes friends with the two women, Maggie and Anna, who work at the tavern/inn where they stay.  She's also drawn to the mysterious operator of the inn, Angus.

There's not much history in this book (although some of the details about blackout blinds, bombing shelters, and rationing are interesting), and not much about the Loch Ness monster either (what there is adds some fantasy elements to the book).  While Maddie's character develops a little, I still found her to be wimpish, and the romance was not believable at all.  This book was a disappointment all around.  Pretty cover, though.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]