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review 2017-03-21 00:32
Review: The Ultimate Happiness Prescription by Deepak Chopra
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment - Deepak Chopra

Quick review for a quick read. A library read that was recommended to me regarding texts on mindfulness. I really enjoyed it. "The Ultimate Happiness Prescription" is one of the most concise, inspiring reads that I've picked up in its respective genre. Chopra's explanation of the seven keys are logical, honest, encouraging, and informative. While admittedly much of this may be simply stated, I think revisiting the affirmations helps in one quick guide that's easy to flip back to and put to practice. Many of the principles here encourage mindfulness and note that happiness isn't a byproduct of having things from the external world, but rather comes from within and being honest in a unified mind, body, and spirit approach. I enjoyed the read immensely, and I definitely could see myself coming back to this for years to come. Chopra narrated the audiobook as well, and I give it extra notation for his clear diction and soothing voice.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-17 15:09
A magical fairytale with a touch of the classics
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK/Ebury Publishing for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

I’m a big fan of fairy tales and I’m always happy to discover new tales and stories that fit in that category, or that retell some old classics. And I love the stories based on old folktales that capture the beauty of old language, customs and the historical times and places long gone. The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me how much I like these stories and how the best of them are irresistible, at least for me.

Set in Russia (before it was Russia, as the author explains in her notes), the novel creates a great cast of characters, those “real” (princes and princesses, labourers, farmers, villagers, a landed family with food connections), others with a touch of the paranormal, like the protective spirits (of the house, the door, the stables, the forest, the lakes) that might turn nasty if not fed or treated kindly by human beings, the horrific ones (Death, The Bear, vampires), and animals, like the magical nightingale/horse of the title.

The character at the centre of the story, Vasilisa (Vasya), is the youngest child of her mother, Marina, who wanted to have a girl who would be like her. Marina had the ability to see things others couldn’t (the spirits of the forest, of the house, and she could also talk to animals) and she wants to pass her ability on. She dies when her daughter is born, and young Vasya grows among a family who loves her but doesn’t fully understand her. She can talk to horses, they teach her how to ride, and she can talk to the spirits others believe in but can’t see. She loves the old fairy tales and later realises they’re not only fantasy and old-wives tales. As is still the case, people fear what they can’t understand, and a newcomer, a priest, tries to change things by getting rid of old beliefs and putting the fear of God into people’s hearts. This can only lead to disaster.

The descriptions of the landscapes, the houses, the creatures, the atmosphere and the weather are beautifully achieved, in a style reminiscent of classical fairy-tales. The characters are also fascinating and we get a good understanding of their psychological make-up and of what moves them. Particularly interesting are the priest and Vasya’s stepmother, who try as they might, can’t reconcile their wishes with what is expected of them, but Dunya, the housemaid and ersatz mother to Vasya is a touching character, the family relations are heart-warming and even the animals have their own personalities. The author explains that she has tried to adapt the Russian names to make them easier for English-speaking audiences, and in my opinions she succeeds in both, maintaining the particular characteristics of Russian names, whilst not making it confusing or disorienting. The poetry of the language is another great success and I found the book impossible to put down.

There are many moments of sadness, scary moments, and also moments of the story that will make us think (Vasya is different and misunderstood, accused of being a witch despite her efforts to save her village and her people, the weight of custom and the role of men and women in traditional societies are also subject to discussion, family ties and religious thoughts…), but it is a magical story that will make us remember the child we once were. A word of warning, this is not a story for young children, and although some of the imagery is familiar as is the case with many of the classics, there are cruel and terrifying moments as well.

As an example of the writing, I wanted to share some of the passages I highlighted:

At last, they saw the city itself (Moscow), lusty and squalid, like a fair woman with feet caked in filth.

“In Moscow, priests are in love with their standing and think overmuch of the gold in their churches. They eat fat meat and preach poverty to the miserable.” (This is Sasha, one of Vasya’s brothers, who later becomes a monk).

Here, Vasya complaining of her lot in life:

“I am foolish. I was born for a cage, after all: convent of house, what else is there?”

“All of my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me….”

Just in case I didn’t make myself clear, I love this book, and although I know it’s not the type of book that everybody will like, I’d recommend that you check a sample or the read inside feature and see what you think. You might be rewarded with a magical reading.

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review 2017-02-25 20:54
In Search of the Golden Rainbow
In Search of the Golden Rainbow: A Once in a Lifetime Adventure - Charles Armistead

The allure of lost treasure fascinates everyone, yet no many try to actually find it.  Charles Armistead retells his time looking for such In Search of the Golden Rainbow with his father, great-uncle, and several business partners.  Yet while searching for gold, Armistead learns lessons about life and death.

 

Covering a period of nine months, Armistead describes his time while searching for a lost Mexican mine in the Oregon Mountains of New Mexico.  Over the course of 96 pages, Armistead relates many adventures and mishaps throughout in a smooth transition from one to another.  Yet because of nearly 40 years between the events and the writing only the incidents that made the biggest impression and the details both Armistead and his father could agree on were included in the book.  Although the book is clearly written for a teenage audience, its short length is a major downside and something I didn’t realize way back when my mother read me this book when I was a child.  While the book does have a religious message as well, Armistead doesn’t “preach” throughout it instead only bring in a religious message into the book at an appropriate connection to the events he is retelling.

 

In Search of the Golden Rainbow is over 35 years old, yet it is still an enjoyable read.  Armistead’s writing style provides a quick and easy read of his time looking for lost gold while also finding some spiritual truths.  If I had decided when I was a teen to read this book for myself instead of relying on my faulty childhood memories, I would have enjoyed it not only for the adventure but also that Armistead relayed spiritual lessons in a conversational way and not highhandedly.

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review 2017-02-24 17:48
Review: Ghostland: No Man's Land
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey
Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead - Christine Wicker

  I was quite excited to spend my monthly Audible credit on this book; what a fascinating idea--reframing American history by examining our relationship with our landmark haunted locales.

 

I, unfortunately, have returned it to Audible.

 

Each house is well-chosen: the Lemp mansion, for example, as a haunted touchstone in American history and culture...

and then debunked as an actual, or at least a full as-known haunting by the author. Chapter after chapter.

 

I hung on through the underlayer of smugness until the author stated repeatedly that Spiritualism didn't last, it was dead, it was no longer a thriving practice in the United States. Then I stopped reading. Why? I had reached the intolerable level of poor scholarship and research. There is an entire town of Spiritualists who live and work as such, in plain sight, and have done so for years: Lily Dale. Both a documentary and a book are available about Lily Dale, New York, and both are easy to find:

 

Lily Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead * Christine Wicker

 

HBO Documentaries: No One Dies in Lily Dale

 

Side note: The author was also treated well by the Lemp Mansion's hosts, taken on their Haunted Tour, and given the choice room--one that is on the tour because it is reported to exhibit so much phenomena. His entire account of his Lemp tour and stay was mocking, in my opinion, disdainful of staff, location's history, and even his fellow tour group members! I feel as if I have been subjected to a history book written by a hipster: "Look, we're supposed to be enjoying this. OMG, all these people are really enjoying this! I cannot wait 'til I return to my cocktail and typewriter." Combined with the shoddy research, and some debunking claims without citations, this book is disappointedly unprofessional.

 

Also posted at The Dollop: American History Podcast

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review 2017-02-23 21:00
Engaging. Thought provoking.
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything - Christopher Hitchens

I'll be honest, there's not a whole lot I can add to this. And I'm afraid if I go into too much of a lengthy review on this, it might upset people. That is not at all my intent.

 

Full disclosure: I'm not very religious. Wasn't brought up with religious beliefs. I am not anti-religious by any stretch of the imagination. My feeling has always been this: If it works for you and you're not trying to force-feed your beliefs on others or using your beliefs as an excuse to cause harm to others, whether physically or mentally, groovy.

 

That being said, I really enjoyed god Is Not Great by Hitchens. I can imagine how this book would upset people. The title alone should be a pretty good indicator as if this should be something to add to your TBR pile, or dismiss it outright.

 

All I can tell you is that I enjoyed the book. And I also enjoyed listening to Hitchens read it. He reads very fast, and at times this can prove frustrating as you might end up missing a few things. A few times I found myself drifting, but for the most part I looked forward to it and regret that I finished it so quickly.

 

I cannot tell you if this is something you should read. That's always been my stance. Whether I'm reviewing fiction or not, something that's controversial or not. All I can tell you is my honest experience with the book. I really enjoyed it.

 

4 stars

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