Our blog about books, authors and reading

When Breath Becomes Air

ISBN: 
9780812988406

As a young neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi had the difficult task of preparing patients and their families for death. As a brain surgeon his patients included everyone from young children with epilepsy, to teens shot in the head during gang violence, to people of all ages suffering from brain tumors.

Then there was the man who spoke only in numbers. He enunciated well, and spoke with a conversational lilt to his words yet no one understood him. The numbers signified nothing, and left him feeling more alone.

Unlike many doctors, Dr. Kalanithi enjoyed the challenge of discussing death with his terminally-ill patients. His undergraduate and graduate studies of philosophy and literature helped him make these talks both meaningful and helpful while always being cognizant of where the patient and family were coming from in their understanding of the patient’s condition.

But then in his last year as a resident when he was the chief neurosurgery resident at Stanford, he woke one day with intense back pain. He had a checkup but nothing serious showed, so he flew to upstate New York for a reunion with dear friends that he had long been anticipating.

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir

ISBN: 
9781595148032

If you have been feeling that you'd never find another book you could love like The Hunger Games, then have no fear, An Ember in the Ashes is here! Laia is a Scholar, one of the oppressed people living under Martial rule. Her family has been destroyed by the rebellion against the empire and now she's on her own, trying to save her brother from a Martial prison. Elias is a Mask, one of the Empire's most elite soldiers, but he doesn't feel fully connected to the Empire. He plans to desert on the very day he graduates from the military academy, but he's not sure he'll actually be able to go through with it.

Laia's story is one of covert operations, family, and endurance. To save her brother, Laia is placed as a slave in the household of the ruthless leader of the Empire's military academy. Her need to collect information is quickly sidelined behind a greater need to survive. Elias meanwhile is chosen to compete in the Trials, a ruthless test that will leave one of the chosen few standing tall as the new Emperor, one as his second in command, and the others will not survive.

Readers will find themselves quickly pulled into Laia and Elias' story. With two heroes to root for and two separate lives to follow, the narrative is very fast paced. You might think this is just another story of a chosen one, but you'll be surprised where An Ember in the Ashes will take you!

A Fall of Marigolds

ISBN: 
9780451419910

This beautiful novel weaves together two stories from vastly different time periods. One is that of modern Taryn, a single Mom, who works at a high-end fabric store in Manhattan that specializes in matching rare fabrics. The other is Clara’s story about working as a nurse with infectious disease patients on Ellis Island in 1911.

Both women have experienced deep tragedies.Taryn lost her husband in the World Trade Bombings of 2001. A special fabric assignment made her late to a Windows on the World restaurant breakfast with her husband who worked in one of the towers. He died. She survived, thanks to a the scarf that is featured in the title, a beautiful scarf more than a hundred years old that Clara also wore on Ellis Island.

Throughout her life Clara had been spunky. As a teenager she helped her dad in his doctor’s office and unlike her mother and sister, could handle even the bloodiest patrons, and the most horrific sick room scenes.  Unlike many young women of her time, she traveled far from home for a job, first working in Manhattan for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

ISBN: 
9780316386531

Do you remember what significant event happened on Nov. 30, 1999?

The World Trade Organization protests, which rocked Seattle that day, shocked the world. In many ways, they served as a precursor of what was to come: Wall Street protests, the Occupy Movement, anger against Wall Street, and massive climate change rallies.

This dramatic, fast-paced novel shows you how thie WTO protest felt from the perspectives of protesters, the police and mayor, and one delegate from Sri Lanka whose country’s future hung in the balance.

The protesters were mostly young, and trained in nonviolence. But alas, the cops were ill-prepared and vastly outnumbered and reacted with fear and brutality. The police included a woman from Guatemala who’d worked for the LA Police during the Rodney King fiasco, another who had been severely scarred by the Oklahoma bombing, and Seattle’s Chief of Police himself, a man who preferred no conflict and whose careful planning was torn aside in the torrent of history.

A Lesson Before Dying

ISBN: 
9780739323670

Since 1976, four hundred and ninety four blacks have been executed in our country. This is more than half the amount of executions of whites, although Caucasians make up a much greater percentage of our population.

This powerful short novel tells the story of Jefferson, a young black man, who was sentenced to execution in the Jim Crow days of the 1940s in Cajun Louisiana. Grant Wiggins, one of the few college-educated blacks in the area, narrates the story.

It opens with a liquor store robbery where Jefferson unfortunately happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Soon an all-white jury convicts the young man, and he is sentenced to the electric chair. Attending the trial are his godmother, Miss Emma, who raised him, and Tante Louise, who brought up Grant and with whom he still lives.

The Lightkeepers

ISBN: 
9781619026001

This wow of a novel traces the year Miranda nee Melissa nee Mousegirl spent on one of the Farallon Islands, thirty miles from San Francisco, taking photographs of the wildlife and living with a band of equally wild biologists.

Miranda received a grant to take pictures on the Farallons and she hides behind her camera. It allows her to observe the world, but always keep it at a safe distance. If you like photography, you will love reading how Geni describes this art, and what a photographer thinks in the moment of shooting.

Then there are the manic, neurotic, preoccupied, risk-crazy biologists. There’s Lucy, bird expert, particularly of murres, and Forest and Galen, white shark experts. Also, Mick, scholar of cetaceans and pinnipeds. Also, sharing the too small cabin is Andrew, Lucy’s boyfriend, and Charlene, the red-haired intern who helps everyone in their research.

In Order to Live: a North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom

ISBN: 
9781594206795

Born weighing less than three pounds, Yeonmi Park, had to fight to survive infancy. Her can-do spirit and inner resiliency also kept her alive through the Great Famine that struck North Korea in the 1990s.

Park describes the horror that descended upon North Korea after Russia and China stopped supporting their economy. In the far north, Park’s mother and father had to scramble for work. Most of the manufacturing jobs in their city disappeared so Yeonmi’s father began selling on the black market.

Even doing this dangerous work, the family tottered on the edge of famine often, and at other times did quite well. But well in this context was relative. In the flush periods, the Parks had rice three times daily, and meat only two or three times a month.

Park also describes the rigid class groupings the North Korean government enforced. There were three classes (songbun) and movement between them went in only direction, down.

M Train

ISBN: 
9781101875100

This absorbing new memoir by artist, poet, performer, and rock star Patti Smith provides a personal take on her daily life: her dreams, philosophical musings, friendships and myriad exotic journeys.  Favorite black jacket, check.  Watch cap, check. Black coffee at Café ‘Ino, check.

Unlike Just Kids, which focused on her past, her life with artist Mapplethorpe in the famous Chelsea Hotel, in this book the past and present intertwine. Coffee, the connecting themes.

Appropriately enough, it begins with a dream. One of many that thread through the book. Next Patti describes her trip to French Guiana in the 70s. After her husband promised her a trip anyway in the world. Patti--idiosyncratic as always--chose the place where French writer Genet was imprisoned. They were almost jailed themselves on the way back when their driver was caught ferrying a man in the trunk to the airport.

The Best American Essays 2015

ISBN: 
9780544569621

The year 2015 has rushed out the exit door, but no worries, this wonderful mix of essays is not time-centric.

My favorite in the collection I randomly chose first. Sorry, editor, Ariel Levy, I just dive into these collections and start reading wherever my finger lands. Tim Kreider’s “A Man and his Cat” describes a single fellow’s devotion for his cat.  How one small nonhuman creature fills his home with love and his life with a sense of purpose.

On the other hand, in the humorous sounding essay “My Grandma the Poisoner” John Reed makes a strong case that the early deaths of several relatives and the upset stomachs and inertia of certain houseguests were not accidental. Reed found himself comatose for fourteen hours several times after eating a Grandma meal.

The sweet and spot-on “65” describes how aging has affected one boomer’s life.  Mark Jacobson milks the slowing down and aches and pains of age for all they are worth. The tone is light but the sentiments serious, especially when he ponders the overarching question, how did this happen to me.

The Lunar Chronicles

ISBN: 
9780312642983

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite series of all time. These science fiction retellings of fairy tales are exciting, romantic, smart, funny, and all around awesome. The first book in the series, Cinder, introduces readers to the world and its conflicts. Scarlet brings in some great new characters and sets the plot moving along. Cress also introduces new characters, new conflicts, and new allies. I loved all three of these books, as well as Fairest, the prequel to the series. The most recent book, Winter, is exactly what fans have been hoping for. At just over 800 pages, it's long enough to completely lose yourself in the world and feel like you get enough time to spend with all your favorite characters. Although, I was still disappointed when it was all over.

In Cinder the reader learns that humans have colonized the Moon, now known as Luna. The Earth is broken into fewer, large countries. Cinder lives in the Eastern Commonwealth, one of the largest and most powerful countries. The Commonwealth is ruled by an Emperor and his son, Kaito, is a very handsome prince. Cinder is a cyborg, a human with robotic components, who is also the best mechanic in the Commonwealth. She lives with her adopted mother and two sisters, working hard to earn her keep and never feeling like a part of the family. When Prince Kaito shows up at her booth to inquire about her ability to fix his favorite android it's the start of something much larger for both of them. Cinder finds herself drawn into the political power plays of Queen Levana of Luna, a cruel leader with her sights set on the Commonwealth. A plague is ravaging the people of Earth and Levana has an antidote, but the young prince must first give her what she wants if he's ever to save his people. 

This series is great for fans of action, romance, fairy tales, science fiction, Sailor Moon (trust me on this), and characters you wish you could be friends with in real life. The library has these books on audiobook, ebook, and traditional format. Choose one and get started enjoying your new favorite series! Then come to The Ground Floor and talk to me about them!

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