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Guest Post & Giveaway: Being Mortal by Gawande

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Welcome to our first guest review & Giveaway (scroll to the bottom for details on giveaway)! Periodically, we will feature guest reviews and we will try to pick reviews for books and genres we don’t typically feature on our blog. For these posts, we will be picking books that our guest contributors have rated as among their favorites. We hope you that you enjoy these reviews and they lead you to pick up something new that you could also love.

Starting us off with a non-fiction pick is Anita. I’ll hand it over to Anita, who will introduce herself and will provide her review of Being Mortal by Gawande.

anitiaAnita: I’d like to say reading is my passion, but if I were to be totally honest, I think interacting with other readers is as wonderful as reading the books themselves. To that end, seven years ago, I founded Play Book Tag.  PBT is a group on Shelfari.com where talking about books goes on 24×7!  My favorite books are most definitely literary fiction, but I punctuate that with quite a bit of non-fiction where my taste runs to tales of outdoor adventure. I’m the proud mom of two sons, one in college and one almost in college, and a cockapoo, Teddy. In real life, I have two part time jobs, and do lots of philanthropic work as part of the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle, an organization with which I’m really proud to be affiliated.

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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Published in: 2014
Reviewed by: Anita
Rating: 5 stars + a favorite
Find it here:Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Anita’s Review:

Everyone who is going to die someday should read this book.

Dr. Gawande has written an excellent book that both informs (which I expected) and moves (didn’t expect this) the reader.

By explaining how the current medical system understands and handles death and weaving in anecdotes of real people facing their mortality, he writes a book that is very engaging, but also very important. No one really likes to think about the end, but eventually such thinking is forced upon you – – whether you are facing the demise of a parent or a scary diagnosis. My impression is that this book would be best read before encountering the worst, as it provides both solace and pragmatic advice.

Gawande asks his readers, “ . . .what if the sick and aged are already being sacrified – victims of our refusal to accept the inexorability of our life cycle? What if there are better approaches, right in front of our eyes, waiting to be recognized?”

There is no challenge of aging that Gawande doesn’t touch upon with care and sensitivity. The difficulty of leaving one’s home to live in institutional care. What makes life worth living? Dying with dignity and with less suffering.   Reading about such subjects could be boring and/or completely depressing, but this book is none of those. It increased my empathy tenfold. It’s not a mere self-help book where you are advised on options available to you. It’s a book that moves you to look at death in another way. A way that’s more accepting. And a way that the medical professions whole raison d’etre strives against with all its might.

People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs . . .

Medicine, in its efforts to prolong life, ignores the real need of people to die on their own terms. This book takes a first important step toward empowering people at the end of life by shining a light on what actually happens versus what could happen.

We are all going to die, and death is just flat out scary. Like every other rite of passage, it deserves to be considered. It deserves to be discussed. This book is the conversation starter that might just help the end be a little less frightening, a lot less painful, and way more peaceful.

Talk about a book that should be on 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die. This might be just the one book that you really, really should.

You can also watch a t.v. special based on this book at PBS here: Being Mortal

Want a chance to win a kindle copy of this book? One lucky, randomly selected reader will win a copy of this book. To enter simply comment on this post to let us know you want to enter the raffle. The winner will be selected on May 13 @noon EST and will be announced at the bottom of this page.

Want to try this book for yourself? Find it here:Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

UPDATE:  The winner of the free copy is Tessa! Congrats. We host lots of giveaways so stay tuned for more prizes and giveaways in future posts.

1001 Book Review: The 39 Steps by Buchan

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The 39 Steps by John Buchan
First Published in: 1915
Reviewed by: Jen and Book Worm
Find it/buy it here (free on kindle): The Thirty-Nine Steps

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Richard Hannay’s boredom with London society is soon relieved when the resourceful engineer from South Africa is caught up in a web of secret codes, spies, and murder on the eve of WWI. When a neighbor is killed in his flat, Richard, suspected, decodes the journal, runs to the wilds of his native Scotland in disguises and local dialects, evades Germans and officials.

Book Worm’s Review
Rating: ★★★

Credited as one of the earliest spy novels and set in 1914 before the outbreak of WWI this is the story of Robert Hannay. Hannay, who recently moved to London from Rhodesia is finding life rather dull until the mysterious Scudder turns up on his doorstep and tells him about a German conspiracy to assassinate a key public figure.

When Hannay comes home to find Scudder murdered in his flat, he realizes he is being set up for murder. Instead of trying to explain things to the police and clear his name, he decides to continue Scudder’s work and escapes London for the wilds of Scotland.

Told entirely in the first person, this is a fast-moving adventure story. The only problem is that Hannay is unbelievable as a character. He is too skilled at everything. Nothing fazes him and he is a one man spy network. While this makes for an exciting read, you do need to suspend your disbelief and just go along for the ride.

Jen’s Review
Rating: ★★★

The 39 Steps is a fast-paced and entertaining, but completely unbelievable man-on-the-run, spy novel. Richard Hannay is bored with society life and is saved from his boredom just in the nick of time by a stranger who turns up in his apartment only to trigger a series of increasingly unbelievable events.

In many ways, Hannay is the like the movie version of James Bond (the book version of Bond being much more believable), but without all the spy training — he just happens to be naturally brilliant at handling explosives, disguising himself, decoding military secrets. Mix in a little Sherlock Holmes and you have Richard Hannay. Reading this book, you can’t help but see how it would translate into a great movie. In fact, several film translations exist, including a 1935 Hitchcock version.

The writing style is rather sparse and typical of the dime novel genre. Buchan worked for the British War Propaganda Bureau and this book, originally published as a magazine serial, was highly popular among men in the trenches during WWI. The Guardian listed 39-Steps as one of the 100 Best novels and Boxall considers it to be one of the 1001 books to read before you die. It’s a relatively short and entertaining read — if you don’t require realistic scenarios in your novels. It’s worth reading simply because of its contribution to the genre.

Want to try it for yourself? Find it (for free on Amazon) here: The Thirty-Nine Steps

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Read Around the World: India

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The next stop on our world tour of reading is India! This month, we have a special guest contributor: Aarti. Aarti is from Pune, India and will be sharing some fun facts about her country, Indian literature, and her personal recommendations for books to help immerse you in your “travels.” Book Worm and I will chime in with our pick of the month and our reviews for that book.

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Non 1001 Book Review: One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night Christopher Brookmyre

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One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre
Published in: 1999
Page Count: 384
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find/Buy it here:One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

Synopsis from Amazon: Like a highball mix of Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Brookmyre hits you hard and fast. Now Brookmyre is back with his most lethal book yet: One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night. Gavin Hutchinson had it all planned out. A unique “floating holiday experience” on a converted North Sea oil rig, a haven for tourists who want a vacation but without the hassle of actually going anywhere. And what better way to test out his venture than to host a fifteenth-year high school reunion, the biggest social event of his life, except no one remembers who Gavin is. That, and his wife has discovered his philandering ways and plans to leave him with a very public announcement in front of his assembled guests. Throw in a band of mercenaries who crash the party even though they aren’t on the guest list, and you have a wicked farce of a thriller from one of the most original voices in mystery fiction.

Review: I chose to read this book because according to this website, it’s one of the top 10 Scottish novels. While it was not a 5 star read, it was definitely entertaining and well worth reading, especially if you have a dark sense of humour.

This is a story about a school reunion on of all places an oil rig that has been converted into a holiday complex (can you imagine being stuck with former school mates in a hotel with no escape?). Unfortunately sinister plans are afoot and it turns out a reunion in “paradise” is anything but predictable.

I really enjoyed this story, the humour is dark and made me chuckle several times, the writing is fast paced and the story line compelling, which made it an easy read.

Despite really enjoying it, I am only giving it 3 stars as I felt there was nothing spectacular about it. An enjoyable and humorous read but not great literature.

My favourite quotes;

“It’s so exclusive, big man. So’s scrotes like you an’ myself cannae get near the fuckin’ thing. Like wan o’ thae wee islands, whit dae ye cry them? There’s hunners o’ them. The Endives.

“Maldives, ya fuckin’ eejit. Endives are in salad”

“So that would be thousands of islands then?”

“Aye very fuckin’ funny, Eddie”

“George Eliot? That’s the one whose husband jumped oot the windae on their weddin’ night. She must have threatened tae read him her new book”

“nor were the locals going to flog the Jocks much paella until they’d sussed a way to batter and deep-fry the stuff”

Want to try it for yourself? Find it here: One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

1001 Book Review: The Victim by Saul Bellow

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After reading and hating Henderson the Rain King, I approached The Victim with a sense of dread. I read this book as part of a reading challenge. Henderson the Rain King is one of those books that made me mad. I resented the author for putting me through that awful experience and desperately wanted the lion to just go ahead and eat Henderson, so I could be put out of my misery. I know lots of people love Bellow but he strikes me as a pretentious author who enjoys battering readers over the head with his philosophical musings.

So I approached The Victim with a sense of apprehension and resentment for the fact that I had pulled this particular author for one of my challenge books. Expectations, whether they be negative or positive, influence how we evaluate books. So, when I didn’t hate this one, I was pleasantly surprised and almost wanted to write a glowing 5-star review. However, had I not been basing my rating on my prior experience, this would not be a 5-star rating for me. So in an effort to be somewhat more objective, I settled on a 3-star rating.

Here’s my review:
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Mother’s Day: Gifts for the Mom who loves to read

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May 10th is Mother’s Day for those of us who live in the U.S. Need some inspiration for the mother in your life? Below we’ve compiled a list of recommended gifts with a range to cover all budgets.

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Love it or Hate it: Gone With the Wind by Mitchell

Have you ever noticed how some books seem to drive a wedge between people? You check the reviews and find almost no middle-of-the-road ratings. Instead people either seem to love it or hate it. Well, welcome to the Love it or Hate it post category! Each month, we’ll pick one book to review and two contributors will battle it out to convince you to pick it up or throw it out. Last month we discussed The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and for the first time we ended up with a tie.  Many thanks to Nicole D and Charisma for their wonderful reviews.

This month we will be discussing: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The names of our two contributors will be revealed after voting closes! Please make sure to vote for this month’s book even if you haven’t read the book! The poll is at the bottom of this post.

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Synopsis (modified from Amazon.com): Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. It vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage.
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