The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Miller, Tom 2018.02The Philosopher’s Flight creates an alternate history where Emperical Philosophy (which looks very much like magic), is practiced and taught as regularly as Geometry or French, its use ranging from growing larger tomatoes to gruesomely murdering ones enemies. It’s also mainly practiced by women: in the matriarchy of Emperical Philosophy men are treated as not-quite-as-capeable and are not allowed the same opportunities or to move up the ranks with the same ease as their female counterparts. Hmm, this seems familiar…

The novel is set in the midst of World War I, and our narrator is Montana teenager Robert Weekes. His mother was well-known for her daring bravery for flying wounded soldiers from the front lines of battle for the Rescue and Evacuation (R&E) Department of the US Sigilry Corps, the Emperical Philosophy branch of the United States Armed forces. Robert dreams of joining the R&E, but doesn’t have a shot (remember the aforementioned matriarchy) until a chance of luck and a brush with death lands him with a scholarship to Radcliffe, a prestigious Boston College where the various branches of philosophy are taught. The book launches from there as Robert encounters many obstacles and enemies, but gathers support as he strives towards his goal.

This details and complex characters of this book are woven carefully with the creation of an alternate universe that is the same, yet not quite ours. This alternative US history makes it a good read for both lovers of fantasy as well as historical fiction. Miller subtly threads themes of war, violence, friendship, politics, and even feminism while keeping the overall tone of this book light and fast-paced. There is also a charming love story so this novel really does appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

The book’s use of magic to fight in real wars, mention of actual historical figures, and creation of a complex form of magic reminded me a lot of “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell“, although at 400 pages it is long, but not quite as a long as Susanna Clarke’s 2004 volume. The Philosopher’s Flight is in the works for a sequel, which is a well-deserved opportunity for first time novelist Tom Miller, and a treat for his readers.

The Philisopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

Published on: February 13, 2018

I read this as: a library book

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Bejamin Chloe 2018.02I cannot think of a way to begin this post without a morbid thought so I’ll just come out and say it: this book is about death. Not just about the end of life, but life itself, and how would you spend it if you knew when your last day was coming. The four Gold siblings seek out a fortune-teller in 1969, who tells each of them the day they are going to die. The rest of the book is how each of them live with this knowledge, both in denial and obsessed with it, knowing their last day changes their courses and behavior, or was that how it was always meant to be?

I believe that while we see things as linear, with time progressing from beginning to end, our souls live outside of the dimensions of time, so that in a way, everything is always occurring. This gives me peace when loved ones have passed, I believe that somehow, our happy moments never leave us and somewhere they live on (my husband calls these my “hippie thoughts”, but hey, like I said it gives me peace). Of course, if everything is always occuring, that means that the date of death is already set, and there’s really nothing we can do to change it. The Immortalists is written with a similar premise, with each character continuing to their last day, even though the reader and the characters keep wondering if there is anything they can do that will alter it:

‘What if I change?’ she asked the fortune teller, all those years ago, sure that knowledge could save her from bad luck and tragedy. ‘Most people don’t,’ the woman said.”

When I started this book I thought it would have a bit of magical realism, but aside from the fortune telling, it is set firmly in reality; there is no whimsy in this book, I don’t even think there was one joke. As one could expect in a book about death, there is a good amount of heartache in this story, but the writing was beautiful and I think Benjamin did a good job of showing how each sibling felt and how that impacted their decision-making. This book is also about life, as each sibling chooses to spend it quite differently, and about family and sibling relationships, and Jewish culture. I would recommend it to anyone looking to read a strong piece of literary fiction or someone who enjoys philosophical questions of fate and destiny.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

I read this as: an audiobook from Audible

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Jones, Tayari 2018.02“It turns out that I watch too much television. I was expecting a scientist to come and testify about DNA. I was looking for a pair of good-looking detectives to burst into the courtroom at the last minute, whispering something urgent to the prosecutor. Everyone would see that this was a big mistake, a major misunderstanding. We would all be shaken but appeased. I fully believed that I would leave the courtroom with my husband beside me. Secure in our home we would tell people how no black man is really safe in America.” – Celestial, An American Marriage

A young black man is accused of a terrible crime in Louisiana. Despite both his and his wife’s testimony that they were together, and no evidence, he is convicted and given a 12 year sentence. What happens after and because of this injustice is an exploration in how lives and love go on after being handed the worst cards possible. Black people in America are all too familiar with these circumstances.

I can see why this was the latest pick for Oprah’s book club, it was beautifully written and compelling, much of it was a collection of letters between Roy and Celestial, the husband and wife of the titular “Marriage”. Although the story centers around their relationship, many marriages comprise this story. Spanning unions with casual betrayals to those with the fiercest loyalty imaginable, they all sought to establish their own as the ultimate display of marital union, and who’s to say they aren’t each correct? If we are honest can we say that relationships are largely impacted by luck and timing? Would the strongest marriage stand a terrible blow? Could a flimsy union survive by luck of the draw?

After watching 13th last year I became very aware of how our justice system is tilted against African-Americans. This book brought to light what it’s like to walk in their shoes, being treated like less than human, the years lost and dreams dashed all for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This sad story was given a lot of grace and honesty, I think it’s a very important book for this time and this country.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Published on: January 29, 2018

I read this as: a library book

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Delaney, Brigid 2018.02My husband teases me regularly about my frequent change in diet, which I try to take in good stride because he’s mostly right. In our eight years of marriage I have been a vegan, which morphed into pescatarianism, a phase that lasted 4 years until a personal trainer told me I wasn’t eating enough protein (who can eat fish 3 meals a day?). This transitioned me back to meat-eater, then I stopped eating sugar, which lead to not eating carbs, which lead to not eating gluten, and now I maintain a sort of “paleo, gluten-lite” type diet (which I occasionally cheat on), and I try to eat a lot of probiotics, which I’ve been told will help me avoid Alzheimer’s. I also attend 4 yoga classes a week, have a Fabletics subscription, and listen to Pema Chödrön audiobooks when I’m feeling stressed out. In the club of Western woman searching for wellness, I’m a pretty active member.

Wellmania is about that search, but Delaney, a travel journalist, doesn’t settle for attempting the latest fad diet or trying Pilates at her local gym. From taking on 101-day-fast to practicing transcendental meditation, Delaney thoughtfully balances out what she gains from these experiences with the challenges of maintaining a picture-perfect version of health. She considers the consumerism driving this search: after all, isn’t it only wealthy people who are able to attend 90 minute, $20 yoga classes, travel to Thailand to learn meditation with a Buddhist monk, and eat organically?

 What I loved about this book is the author’s honesty and frame of mind, she’s doesn’t try to paint herself as a guru or the embodiment of wellness, and she doesn’t try to hide her hedonistic side, she enjoys when her experiences demonstrate that she could do both:

“This is my path – what C.S. Lewis called a ‘secret road’ that we are all walking on, but each road is different. I like to think that I’m walking in the middle of the road, between the wellness lane and the hedonism lane, trying not to get run over by cars. Maybe I am meant to pick a side. But right now, I can’t – and that’s okay.” (page 149)

Ultimately Wellmania made me think about how I practice wellness, my occasional obsession with it (and then lack thereof), and what a realistic healthy life that is good for the entire planet should look like (hint: it’s probably not the one that Lululemon is trying to sell me. No hate.) I genuinely loved this book, was surprised by it, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in health, yoga, modern society, or enjoys irreverant life advice from an honest, funny, writer.

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC*

*This book was published in another version that came out in 2017, I’m not sure why it is being republished or what the differences are between the two. I like this one.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

I tend Finn, AJ 2018.02to enjoy a psychological thriller: the fast-paced story that you can’t put down and that everyone is talking about; they’re just good reads, even if there are holes/weird endings/characters acting unbelieveably. Which is to say, most psychological thrillers.

I’m not saying “The Woman in the Window” is a perfect story that is untouchable from having holes punched in it, but for me it was richer and more layered than most of the suspense novels I’ve read in the last few years. There are the regular references to Hitchcock films, which I initially thought was gimicky, but as I got into the book, I began to see the connections to the story-line and created a noir richness. There were also a few surprises and twists that in addition to catching me off guard, added meaning to the novel’s central story. I also found the story’s protagonist, Anna, to be sympathetic, even though all she does for half the book is get sloshed and spy on her neighbors, sounds like a good time in theory, right?

Finn’s first novel felt like a story that he had to write, as opposed to those seemingly piggy-backing on the “Gone Girl” style of unreliable narrator story-telling that we’ve seen again since Gillian Flynn’s novel came out in 2012. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a plot-driven thriller, especially if they enjoy and have seen a lot of old movies.

The Woman in the  Window by A.J. Finn

Publication date:  January 2, 2018

I read this as: Audible eAudiobook

Trump budget eliminates funding for libraries (again)

Trump budget eliminates funding for libraries (again)

On the same day that the American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners of the Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King, and other notable book awards, the White House announced its budget, which cut all federal funding for America’s library services, also known as Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

This happened in 2017 as well, and libraries fought back, gathering bi-partisan support in Congress to continue library funding. IMLS provides all sorts of library services, but in my opinion it is most valuable in supporting more equal access to rural areas around the country. If you live in an area where no internet access is provided (my library serves a neighboring county where this is the case) then you are most likely to get your tax forms, apply for jobs, and do your homework in a library. Certain IMLS funds go directly to ensure that libraries in these areas can support these services, especially since they are less likely to receive the same kind of local support/funding that those of us in well-populated areas benefit from. Cutting IMLS from the budget is going to directly impact the people in these areas, they may well be those that need it the most.

If you are interested in showing your support for IMLS please contact your Congress-person and Senators. ALA has created this contact form which is quick and easy to use. Please also use the hashtag #FundLibraries in your social media posts.

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

Maddy Stewart loses her child, eight year old Vinni, suddenly during a Maloney, Julie 2018.02day at the beach. The book progresses in exploring every emotion a mother would go through in the desperate search for her baby. Ultimately this book is about the pain of this loss, Maloney thoughtfully weaves the experience through stories and interactions as Maddy tries to find reason while enduring unspeakable heartbreak. The book really does explore what this experience would be like: would you even want to live? Could you stand looking at happy families together? Could you find the strength to use your experience to help others?

The characters in this novel are well developed, although this is not a plot-driven suspense story. I would compare this book to a TV mini-series as it has lots of interesting characters, but if it was going to be made into a movie, a lot of the story would need to be cut out. Ultimately this novel is for someone interested in the psychology of loss, motherhood, resliance, and maybe a little bit of a thrill.

A Matter of Chance by Julie Maloney

Publication date: April 10, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC