Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters




What creates meaning in our lives? How do we know that our lives matter? These are questions that many people wonder about at some time in their years here on Earth. Great thinkers throughout the ages have pondered these ideals and offered the truth as they perceived it. And many are still trying to find the answer today, or turning to despair when they feel there is no meaning to be had. Smith begins in the way this search does fro each of us, with her own experiences. From memories of her childhood time around Sufi darvishes, reading great thinkers like Aristotle and Freud, to visits with speakers from The Moth, she pulls out threads from each source and weaves them together to form a complete picture - a tapestry of what makes a meaningful life. 

In her presentation, she describes four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. She gives multiple examples of how each pillar manifests itself, with quotes from sources such as researchers, artists, and authors. These exemplars are not only from past masterworks of literature or science, but from contemporary groups and individuals who are pursuing meaning in their own lives and trying to help others find it, too. And then she goes on to explain how finding these pillars and strengthening them can lead to personal growth and a way to improve the world around us. Whether it is the soul searching of Holocaust survivors like Frankl, or terminally ill patients in modern medical trials, the stories are honest and poignant.

Whether you are curious about what makes a life matter, or enjoy philosophical discussions of a meaningful existence, this book offers many different viewpoints and paths to take. Some may resonate more with one read than they do with others, but there is plenty to think about. And a little soul-searching is a good way to start this journey.

Visit the publisher's website for more information about the book or the author. You may also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Dot-to-Hot Darcy: 40 Literary Lovers and Heart-throbs

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Dot-to-Hot Darcy is a combination of scenes from literature, with a romantic "heart-throb" in dot-to-dot form to occupy each page spread. Along with the illustrations, there is a brief synopsis of the the character, what book he is found in, and commentary on his traits. Reading the text is like listening to a really clever friend explain what she likes and dislikes about each of these figures. Pontmercy from Les Miserables resembles an app "programmed for romance." Bolkonsky from War and Peace earns "#hotprince." And we are informed that Laurie from Little Women "should feel ashamed" for picking the wrong sister.

This is not a Cliff's Notes version of the books that are referenced. Instead, this is an entertaining look at major romantic figures from 40 different pieces of literature. With its combination of dot-to-dot pictures, coloring pages, and witty character analysis, it is the perfect companion for a rainy afternoon, a sick day spent on the couch, or an evening with friends and chocolate. 

I received a sample from the publisher for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2017 In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs

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When my father died two years ago, my brother and I talked about his influence on us as we were growing up. Dad was a computer programmer; my brother earned a double graduate degree in mathematics and computer science, while I run coding and robotics programs at my elementary school. Dad loved to read; we are both avid readers. But one of the earliest influences he had on us besides reading, was music. He loved music and performed in many church groups, and there were often records playing in the house when we were young (yes, vinyl). The majority of the albums were by gospel or folk groups, but Dad also had The Beatles. And that is where our love of rock and roll began.

Reading through the essays in this book was like having conversations with my brother about the different songs. Remembering the first time we realized this was a different type of music than The Kingston Trio or Simon and Garfunkel. Noticing songs on the car radio that we had heard on the stereo at home and singing along. Thinking of the first time we managed to play one of the songs on the piano or guitar. Laughing over the memories together.  Famous authors and musicians may have written the essays, but there is an inclusiveness about them that pulls you in as you read. We all have similar memories of where we were when we first discovered a Beatles album (whatever the medium), or a story about our favorite song. The remembrances of how a specific song connects to a life event or loved one are also something communal that we can add to with our own memories.

If you are a Beatles fan of any age, or simply interested in rock history and its impact on culture, then you should pick up a copy of this book. The discussions of how the group changed the face of popular music and how the songs changed as they matured as musicians and explored new techniques are interesting even to those of us not in the industry. Putting the essays in chronological order by the release date of the songs was a great idea. Even though the authors may have come to each song at different points between its release and the present day, we can still see the group's evolution over the years. And it reinforces the point that The Beatles have a continuing impact on those who have been listeners all their lives, those who have only recently discovered an affinity for their work, and everyone in between.

I highly recommend this book for young adults and up. (There are some instances of language that keep it from being ideal for a younger audience.)   I received access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Free Space (Evagardian #2)

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Let me confess. I would have rated this book more highly, but I am angry with the author for the cliffhanger ending. Those who have read Admiral (book 1 of the series), will be happy to see the return of the titular character, as well as Tessa Salmagard - another survivor of the previous adventure. That happiness may be short-lived, when they are quite speedily dropped into another dangerous situation and battling for their lives. After all, they deserve a little vacation, don't they?

The Admiral (we still don't know his name), and Salmagard meet up for a brief R&R leave, but there is nothing restful or relaxing about the circumstances that develop. They are thrown together with two more Imperial soldiers, Sei and Diana, and have to use their varied skills to survive repeated hazards. Without spoiling things too much, let me just throw out some examples in no particular order - cults, indentured servitude, cryosleep, poisoning, free market economy, and tacky lingerie.

Fans of the series will recognize the Admiral's quick wits and general snarkiness when he's stressed. At one point he can't speak and needs some medical help. When he fails to communicate his distress to someone using only his facial expression, he thinks to himself, "Did she think I was making faces at her for my health? Because I was." There are also pop culture references for film fans. Diana quips, "Have you ever danced with an Everwing in the pale moonlight?" as she maneuvers a space craft while being pursued. Our hero tells an opponent, "You think I'm sitting here because I don't have the strength to stand." And the man replies, "I've seen that drama." (You gotta love a good "Princess Bride" line.)

For fans of SciFi/fantasy who enjoy intrigue, high speed chases, sarcastic quips, and the debate of what makes conduct honorable, this is a series not to miss. Even if I am mad about the ending leaving us all in suspense.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, his Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing



This book accomplishes a number of things. It provides a biography of Hermann Rorschach, traces the development of his ink blots and their use since that time, and also delves into the nature of perception itself. As part of the biography and the explanation of how the his ink blot "test" spread and changed over time, it also traces the changes in psychology, psychiatry, and the treatment of mental and emotional problems. Any or all of these topics could be an interesting subject to read about, but seeing how they have interacted and influenced each other is fascinating. The inclusion of color pages with photos of Rorschach and reprints of a few of the ink blots helps the reader make a visual connection with the material.

Anyone interested in the history of psychoanalysis in the United States will appreciate the way Searls covers the changes from each generation and the swing from desiring an X-ray of the psyche to preferring quantifiable data, as well as the various groups that have defended the use of the Rorschach, argued against it, or attempted to revise it. 

Those who have actually undergone the Rorschach process will learn the reasoning behind its development and what its inventor hoped to gain from it use, as well as some of the more modern explanations of how it adds to a complete profile of an individual being studied or treated. I remember taking the "test" as part of a study being done on college students during my undergrad years. Those of use who participated were never told the results of our interviews, but at least I can now guess at what they hoped to learn.

The inclusion of how the ink blots were used during WWII, the Nuremberg Trials, and in cultural anthropology will be of interest to students of history and social studies in general.

Altogether a satisfying read, with plenty of food for thought and connections to many different interests. Please visit the publisher's website for more information on the author or the book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SYNC 2017 Begins April 27th


SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens. Returning April 27 2017, SYNC will give away two complete audiobook downloads a week - pairs of high interest titles, based on weekly themes. Sign up for email or text alerts and be first to know when new titles are available to download at www.audiobooksync.com.


I participate in SYNC every summer and I always find books that I enjoy. If you haven't tried it yet - get SYNCed this summer. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Speed of Life


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I can't imagine losing my mom when I was only 14. Imagine just being ready for high school and dating and all those teenage things, and having no mother to help you through them. Sofia is dealing with that. She and her father are trying to keep going, keep climbing. As Sofia explains in the introduction, "sometimes, if you just keep climbing, you get an amazing view. You see what's behind you and what's in front of you and - the big surprise - what's inside you." Of course, at the beginning of the book, she doesn't see any of that. Most days she is trying to recapture her old self, the one not weighed down with sadness. And after several months, her father begins dating someone. Sofia turns to Dear Kate, the advice columnist from Fifteen magazine for advice. Imagine her horror when she meets her dad's new girlfriend - Dear Kate, herself!

There are parts that made me cry and then parts that made me laugh out loud. All the ups and downs of moving to a new town, new house, and new school are there. The drama of your father starting to date, and being serious about his new companion. The awkwardness of getting to know that new woman, and her daughter. The thrill of meeting a boy you like and who likes you back. The sadness of having to tell your grandfather that your mom has died. There are so many life events packed into this one book and Sofia will win you over as she makes her way through each one.

Definitely for middle school and up. Mentions of sex, contraception, STDs, and other topics are a bit mature for readers younger than that. The topics are handled with a care you would expect from someone who can create a character like Dear Kate and make her believable. Perfect for fans of stories like Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Paula Danziger's The Cat Ate My Gym Shorts who are now reading YA.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.