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Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. by Delia Ephron

Sister Mother Husband Dog

Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. is the newest book from author and screenwriter Delia Ephron. I got a galley copy of this book through the Penguin Books First to Read program. I signed up to read and review upcoming books and was given this one in the first round (I only signed up about a month ago). It’s a great program and I really like the idea, plus… free books! I also think it’s a great program because this isn’t the type of book I would have picked out for myself to read since it falls into a few categories that I rarely select from – collections of essays and books written for women, to name two. I really liked parts of this book and others not as much, but the format made it an enjoyable and quick read.

Delia Ephron is a published author of novels and plays but has also worked on several films, including Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail in collaboration with her sister, Nora Ephron. In this book the author reflects on a number of experiences from her work as a screenwriter and as a writer, as well as emotional events in her life such as the descent of her parents into alcoholism, and the recent death of her beloved sister Nora from cancer. The individual essays are only loosely linked and might all only be described by the subject “what is on my mind as I sit down to write.” The range of subject matter covered is enormous, but she managed to transition quite smoothly between tones, even within a single essay. I think what I liked best about this book is how clearly you can hear the voice of the author. Her personality comes through loud and clear and I found it easy to connect with the words on the page.

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And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed

If I had to describe this book in two words they would probably be these: tragically beautiful.  And the Mountains Echoed is the newest work from the Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini of Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns fame. Similar to his previous works, this novel tells the story about family, love, loss, and life in Afghanistan. More deeply, the novel deals with the relationships between parents and children, especially as families come to grips with the effects of old age. It starts as the story of a brother and sister living in a small village and evolves into a nearly 70-year epic weaving through their very different paths, and the lives of those who come and go through Afghanistan in the 20th century.

When Hosseini writes about Afghanistan he shows the reader a place that is exceptionally beautiful, and full of vivid and interesting people, but also a place that is flawed, and has been scarred and damaged by its difficult recent history. I like the way he, and his characters, accept and acknowledge the violence and hardship that bring Afghanistan into world news, but the focus is really on the lives of the people and feelings that have nothing to do with war or politics. Family is something that people, regardless of culture, understand and participate in and by centering his stories on family, readers from around the world are easily transported into the many times and places in this novel – from Kabul, to Paris, to Greece, to California.

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Blundering to Glory – Napoleon’s Military Campaigns by Owen Connelly

Blundering to Glor

Recently, Napoleon Bonaparte has been showing up in almost every book I have read. His effect on Europe was described briefly in Postwar, his treatment of his generals and his personal relationship with Alexandre Dumas’ father was included in The Black Count, there is no way he could be left out of The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean, and he’s popped up in books I read before I started this blog like Les Miserables, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. I started to get more than a little intrigued about the man and what made him great. Some internet searching led me to this book: Blundering to Glory – Napoleon’s Military Campaigns since I wasn’t ready to read a giant tome of military theory and the perspective seemed to be an interesting one. I was not disappointed.

Napoleon was great for many reasons. Many people have argued he was the greatest military strategist to ever live and his war tactics were copied and implemented in later armies across Europe. Connelly has similar feelings about Napoleon’s greatness, but argues that his military victories were the result of more than just strategy. Napoleon was a great improviser and had a keen ability to sense the weaknesses of his opponent and change tactics mid-battle. He also made many mistakes, many of them worked in his own favor helping to build his legend as a general that never lost (a legend he carefully cultivated with propaganda). In this book Connelly explains some of his most famous “blunders” and how they led to his rise to the throne as Emperor of France and ultimate fall to distant exile. The focus is on the military activity of the French during the Napoleonic Wars, but the incredibly interesting personality of the man himself is well-viewed through the lens of his work as General Bonaparte.

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The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia

The Great Sea

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean gives exactly what it promises. I seem to be picking out a lot of long books recently but this one is definitely worth a read if you have time in your life for several histories of Europe  (I would recommend reading Postwar first). Abulafia manages to cover the entire history of the peoples living around the Mediterranean over the course of 5,000 years from ancient times until the present decade. Managing to encompass so much time, space, culture, and history in about 800 pages turns out to be no small feat! But I think it’s done brilliantly in this book.

The Mediterranean is big. It shows up on easily on a map of the world, but I didn’t appreciate just how big until reading this book. Reliable navigation across the Mediterranean didn’t become possible until the rise of the steamship in the 1800’s. For the majority of human time spent sailing the sea boats were powered by sails (and often oars) facing unpredictable weather and extremely restricted seasons. The people making these perilous journeys are the focus of this book. The author spends most of his time detailing the trade routes and the people who used them. It sounds like it could venture into pretty boring territory, but the stories these people have passed on make the narrative a really engaging one.

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

In the year since Gone Girl came out I feel like I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone reading it. It’s been recommended to me more than a few times and I have read a number of reviews, and I finally got around to reading it on Thursday. I feel like I need to be specific here, because it really took me one full day to read, and I don’t think I could have done it any other way. I was taking a 10-hour train trip to get back home and it was the perfect way to approach this novel. In total I think it took me 11 hours of continuous reading but it was so worth it!

Every time I’ve seen or heard this book described it’s as a ‘thriller’ with ‘lots of plot twists’. Everyone is rather vague about the real subject of the book, though. I can sort of see why – you don’t want to give away the ending – but one of the things I liked about this book was that it had so much more to it than just a simple mystery story. I found the main characters, a husband and wife, to be complex and multi-faceted and that made the story all the more interesting.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

12book "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller

A note ahead of this review: If you haven’t read the Iliad or don’t know the story be warned that there are spoilers. Also, you should go read the Iliad immediately. That being said, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is about Achilles and the Iliad and the Trojan War, but also a whole lot more. It’s the type of book that I think Greek mythology nerds would really like – it’s full of stories of love, rivalries, gods, and war.

The narrative of the book is told from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles closest friend at the Battle of Troy who famously leads the army into battle when Achilles was absorbed in his pride. The age old story of Patroclus’ death at the hands of Hector that sparks the rage of Achilles, causing him to duel and ultimately defeat Hector, is one of the most important events in securing Achilles’ fame and immortality in Homer’s epic poem. Patroclus is central to the story of Achilles in a way I hadn’t really appreciated before and he acts as a captivating narrator. As the person closest to Achilles, the familiar old story takes on a new life through his eyes.

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Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow

Do you want to know how your brain works? You might have to wait for another book for that. But, do you want to know more about how your conscious mind makes decisions and evaluates problems? You’re in luck! This is the book for you! Even if you don’t think you do want to know more about these things, you should probably still read this book. It’s really good.

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Laureate in Economics but has spent his whole life studying psychology and the processes behind decision making. Thinking Fast and Slow is about the shortcuts and tricks our own brains use to process information and decisions quickly. He defines two systems working within the brain – System 1 (the fast) and System 2 (the slow). When faced with a decision System 1 acts quickly, using associations and emotions to guide you to a decision. System 2 requires much more time and effort to operate and is, by Kahneman’s definition, extremely lazy. When there is an available answer from System 1, your “rational” mind will accept it and move on, even if it might not be correct!

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