Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

darkmatterDark Matter is a fantastic, sci-fi read about regret, love and quantum mechanics.

My book club picked this wild ride of a book and everybody took something different out of it.

We all enjoyed it, which is weird for us. Usually, we have opinions across the spectrum. This one, though, was universally loved. That’s saying something.

“In the shadow of this moment, my life is achingly beautiful. “I have an amazing family. A fulfilling job. We’re comfortable. Nobody’s sick.” pg 28. And then, something truly surprising happens. No spoilers!

I think that, as time passes, we grow comfortable in our lives, our marriages and relationships. Part of this book is about appreciating what you may take for granted. “He says, “It’s like we get so set in our ways, so entrenched in those grooves, we stop seeing our loved ones for who they are. But tonight, right now, I see you again, like the first time we met, when the sound of your voice and your smell was this new country.” pg 67.

The leader of my book club picked quotations that had to do about self-knowing and quantum mechanics. It was no surprise that mine were all about love. I’m one of the hopeless romantics of the group.

And one of the most open-minded: “We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality that we can possibly imagine.” pg 96. I truly believe that.

A local physics professor joined our circle and gave a short lecture on basic quantum mechanics and wave theory. But, you don’t have to be an expert on the subject to enjoy this story. It’s approachable science, like The Martian.

Recommended for book clubs, especially, but also anyone who wants an unbelievable story will probably love this too.

I heard that this is going to be made into a film- read the book anyway. It’s always better.

Thanks for reading!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

lifeafterlifeA lovely and unusual book about reincarnation, free will and destiny.

Ursula Todd was born on a snowy day in February with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. That was the first time she died…

I loved how Kate Atkinson built this story through seemingly insignificant details. As the reincarnations progress, layers are added upon layers, so that by the end of this tale, it is a rich tapestry of events, emotions and possibilities.

I was surprised by the open-endedness of this story. I feel like Atkinson wrote a tale that reads like real life- it has the meanings that we assign it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I listened to the audiobook of Life After Life and it was very good. A few times, I wished that I had the physical book in front of me so that I could double check a date or detail. Other than that, the narration was excellent.

This story has me wondering about life, reincarnation and all of it. If, as so many world religions say, there are parts of us that are immortal, wouldn’t we all go a bit bonkers after millennia of existence? Would we get bored of it? Would we ever choose to not come back? What’s the bigger picture?

Anyway, this book will make you wonder, question and dream about existence. Which, in my mind, is one of the highest functions of a book.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, spirituality and life itself. I think Atkinson has written a masterpiece.

Thanks for reading!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis

lionwitchThis is the story of four siblings who stumble through a wardrobe into a different world. They discover magic, monsters and their destiny.

One Christmas, when I was 11 or 12, my mother gave me The Chronicles of Narnia. It ignited a lifelong love of fantasy fiction and reading.

“Peter! Susan! It’s all true. Edmund has seen it too. There is country you can get to through the wardrobe. Edmund and I both got in. We met one another in there, in the wood.” pg 40.

I get the criticisms of this series- that it is heavy handed with its symbolism.

But, when I read it as a child, all of that slipped right over my head. All I knew, was that this was an adventure and I loved it.

The White Witch is one of the best villains in children’s literature: “As for you,” said the Witch, giving Edmund a stunning blow on the face as she re-mounted the sledge, “let that teach you to ask favour for spies and traitors. Drive on!” And Edmund for the first time in this story felt sorry for someone besides himself.” pg 113.

She opposes Aslan, a great golden lion and the ruler of Narnia, who hasn’t been seen for an age: “And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business. I feel I m going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.” And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it.” pg 161.

The film did a solid job capturing the magic of this story, but nothing compares to the book.

“Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia.” pg 186.

In fact, just writing up this review makes me want to read them all again.

I’ll see you on the other side of the wardrobe…

Thanks for reading!

The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg

The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand  by Elizabeth Berg

thedreamloverThe Dream Lover encompasses some of the best qualities that historical fiction has to offer. It transports you to the 1800’s France. It introduces you to an extraordinary person: Aurore Dupin, pen name, George Sand. Then, the reader gets to sit back and enjoy the wild ride that was her life. Talk about escapism.

For a woman in the 1800’s, George Sand had it going on. She left her husband, had a series of lovers- both male and female- became a famous author, involved herself in the political upheavals of her time… it is truly an incredible life.

Not everyone in her life accepted her for who she was: “I feel I have made a mistake, George, and that I do not love you after all. … The only thing you are passionate about is locking yourself up at night and writing your precious fiction, ignoring all that is before you here, which, if you would pay attention to it, would make your stories infinitely richer!” … It was as if I had been shot in the chest.” pg 242. But she wrote and loved anyway. Well done, Aurore, well done.

She rejected the role that society set out for her. “Tell me, George. Do you wish you’d been born a man?” … “In my youth, I wished that. … But now I find I don’t wish to be either man or woman. I wish to be myself. Why should men serve as judge and jury, deciding for us what can and cannot be done, what is our due? Why should they decide in advance of our deciding for ourselves what is best for us; why should they decide what IS us?” “But then you do wish to be a man!” “Perhaps I wish to be a woman with a man’s privileges.” pg 151. Amen.

I loved the drama in this novel as well as the romance. One would think that the sheer quantity of lovers that she had would have nullified any quality in the feelings, but Berg does a good job proving that this was otherwise. The passion that she exhibits in one, Sand seems to have shown in them all.

My only complaint about The Dream Lover is that it felt rushed because of the almost unbelievable amount of important events that peppered Sand’s life. I would have savored a 1000+ page book like Margaret George’s treatment of Cleopatra in The Memoirs of Cleopatra, but The Dream Lover appeals to the more casual reader.

Still, it would have been awesome. A bookworm can dream, can’t she?

If you enjoy Margaret George, you may like this book too for its sumptuous descriptions and tempestuous relationships. Also, you may want to pick up In the Company of the Courtesan or Marrying Mozart. Both are excellent historical fiction novels with similar themes to The Dream Lover.

I received a free advance reader’s copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Thanks for reading!

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilationA group of female scientists and professionals are sent to explore a region that is not like the world they know. Annihilation is a hypnotic science fiction/thriller that weaves its spell slowly. Then, all at once, it has your complete attention and you find yourself hanging on every word. I loved it.

Isolation from the modern world and technology places this tale in an anachronistic bubble: “One rule for an expedition into Area X was that we were to attempt no outside contact, for fear of some irrevocable contamination.” pg 7, ebook. It harkens back to the idea that, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

They’re far from home in a surprisingly deadly world. It has already claimed eleven groups of explorers. But, we don’t know what killed most of them: “We were scientists, trained to observe natural phenomena and the results of human activity. We had not been trained to encounter what appeared to be the uncanny.” pg 46, ebook. Extraordinary things begin to happen, almost from the moment the team sets foot in Area X.

“When Area X first appeared, there was vagueness and confusion, and it is still true that out in the world not many people know that is exists. The government’s version of events emphasized a localized environmental catastrophe stemming from experimental military research.” pg 61, ebook. The government has reasons to cover this place up. But why? What is it really and what does it contain?

Creepy and enthralling, Annihilation is a treat. It is easy to see why this won the Nebula Award for Best Novel. I highly recommend it for science fiction lovers and those who enjoy experiencing a world that doesn’t behave by the usual rules.

Thanks for reading!

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz

fouragreementsThe Four Agreements is a simple and short presentation of some very deep wisdom. In a world filled with spiritual reading material, this one’s a goodie. It just made a lot of sense to me.

These lessons come from the shaman culture of Central America. “Toltec knowledge arises from the same essential unity of truth as all the sacred esoteric traditions found around the world. Though it is not a religion, it honors all the spiritual masters who have taught on the earth. While it does embrace spirit, it is most accurately described as a way of life, distinguished by the ready accessibility of happiness and love. introduction pg x. Happiness and love! Sign up the Hippie Librarian, pronto.

The book goes on to talk about how everyone has unconscious beliefs that we pick up as children. We view and experience our world through these beliefs. Most folks aren’t even aware that they have them and this causes a myriad of misunderstandings and problems: “We keep searching and searching, when everything is already within us. There is no truth to find. Wherever we turn our heads, all we see is the truth, but with the agreements and beliefs we have stored in our mind, we have no eyes for this truth. We don’t see the truth because we are blind. What blinds us are all those false beliefs we have in our mind.” pg 17.

So, how do you cut through the fog of these beliefs to see clearly? Ruiz suggests using The Four Agreements.

The first is: “be impeccable with your word… you begin to see all the changes that can happen in your life. Changes first in the way you deal with yourself, and later in the way you deal with other people, especially those you love the most.” pg 46. This includes your inner voice, the way you talk to yourself and how you narrate your reality.

Ruiz mentions that some people talk to themselves in a manner that they would find unacceptable to use with the people they care about. Change the way you speak and, Ruiz claims, your life will follow.

The second agreement is: “Whatever people do, feel, think, or say, don’t take it personally. If they tell you how wonderful you are, they are not saying that because of you.” pg 59 This helps you because: “When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do. Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying to you because they are afraid. They are afraid you will discover that they are not perfect.” pg 63.

The third agreement is ‘don’t make assumptions’: “If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate.” pg 74. Now that I’ve been looking for this, I’ve caught myself assuming things all the time.

It’s funny how quick hurt feelings evaporate when I just put an “assumption” label over any stories I’ve concocted. It has actually been world-changing for me: to realize how many stories I make up because I’m bored or confused or simply don’t know what someone else is thinking. And to realize that they’re not real is such a relief. Really.

Finally: “Just do your best – in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break a big spell that you have been under.” pg 85.

This was another big one for me. I used to get down on myself about how circumstances played out even if I had nothing to do with it. Now, I just pause and give it a quick think over, “Did I try my best?” Generally, yeah, I was trying my guts out.

And that’s all I can ask of myself, really. I can’t control the uncontrollable, I can only do the best I can with what I’ve got in front of me.

The Four Agreements may help readers live in the now and experience life as it is rather than as they’ve imagined it to be. At least, that’s what it has done for me. Also recommended for readers who may be interested in spirituality but want a easy place to start. This one is simple and packs a big punch in a very few pages.

Thanks for reading!