an eclectic mix of really good books

Lately, I’ve been reading books from a variety of genres. Some of my recent reads include a non-fiction book about astrophysics, a science fiction book about quantum physics, a spiritual non-fiction selection about the meaning of life, and a collection of other fiction novels that range from YA to serious contemporary literature. These are all 4+ star books — in my opinion, of course, your mileage may vary πŸ™‚ — with only one exception which is noted below in my review.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

This is one of the most interesting and entertaining books I’ve read in quite some time. It’s definitely a science fiction novel, exploring the what-if’s of quantum physics and the multiverse and yet it’s also a mystery novel.

Oh, and this is completely unrelated to the Dark Matter tv series on SyFy.

I listened to the first third the book and then switched back and forth between reading and listening for the rest. The audio narration was very good, and I’m not usually a big fan of listening to books. I was driving for 5 hours the day I started this book, and listening really made that drive a lot more fun.

schrodinger's catQuantum physics is like rocket science – super complicated if you don’t understand it, and even if you do, well, still complicated. Crouch does a great job of explaining the multiverse in a very accessible way. This book is sort of a mind trip and very scary to think about.  At least, I thought so.

Back to the story. Jason Dessen is walking home when he is abducted by a man wearing a geisha mask. When he wakes up, he’s surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. They all seem to know who he is and have been eagerly awaiting his return.  Jason, however, has no memory of any of these people, or the lab in which he’s being held.

The story follows Jason on his search to return home and solve the mystery of who kidnapped him. Let’s just say this novel reminds me of Schrodinger’s cat, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing, however, I loved this book. 

Each new twist and turn takes Jason beyond where my imagination normally goes, and it was a thrilling ride while it lasted.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, was imprisoned in Nazi death camps (including Auschwitz) during the Holocaust. This book is part memoir and discusses his imprisonment and the conditions of life in the camps, and part psychology text about logotherapy. Logotherapy is founded on Frankl’s belief that the purpose of life is to find meaning.  

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as form a clear and precise picture of it”

One of the most interesting things about this book is the way that Frankl has told his story in a very detached manner. His original intention was to publish it anonymously, and he tells the story merely to support his belief that man’s purpose in life is the search for meaning. Frankl recounts the horrors of the concentration camps with little emotion, and even mentions that he was able to disassociate his own emotions from his current conditions by finding meaning in observing human behavior under those conditions.

Frankl believes his meaning of his life is to help others find the meaning of theirs. This is gave rise to Logotherapy, which Frankl refers to as “a meaning-centered psychotherapy.”

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I don’t care for the title of this book.  I’m not in a hurry, but I don’t have a background in Physics. I would have preferred a title like Astrophysics for Everyday People.

Despite not liking the title, I did like the book. I felt it was very accessible and something that almost any adult could pick up and read to learn about a little bit about Astrophysics. It’s a nice non-fiction companion to Dark Matter.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson wrote one of my favorite fantasy series, Mistborn. As such, I had high expectations for this book, and the whole series. 

The Way of Kings got off to a really slow start for me. I think I read about 1/4 and had decided to give up on it. Yet I kept coming back to it, but always moving on to something else. This book/series is all about world building, and it’s a bit chaotic at the start. 

However, it does coalesce into a stunning tale of a world in peril, where hidden dark forces are at work, and men slave in empty battles for a war they cannot win.

If you enjoy epic / high fantasy, and have patience to navigate through the muddled beginning, this is an excellent novel.  I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I didn’t know this was going be a TV series on Hulu when I started reading it. If I had known, I probably would have skipped the book and just watched the show.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel about an alternative history, where the United States becomes a monotheocracy, where women are not allowed to have bank accounts, money or own anything, and are basically belong to men. 

The story is told from the point of view of Offred, a young woman who, under the new society’s rules, has been forced to become a Handmaid.  A Handmaid must live with a man and his wife for the sole purpose of bearing them a child. If she does not succeed within a certain timeframe, she will be placed in a new home. After three homes, if the Handmaid hasn’t produced a healthy, living baby, she is declared an Unwoman and sentenced to the Colonies for the remainder of her life.

This is a feminist’s nightmare, and the entire premise is very scary. While it’s very though-provoking and interesting, the characters seemed a bit flat to me. The novel reads like a memoir, as though you’ve discovered Offred’s secret diary about her time as a Handmaid. However, it seemed like it was told from a distance, and it was missing the depth and emotional connection that a story like this requires to be truly compelling. For these reasons, this is a 3 star book. 

And now that I know there’s a TV series, my recommendation is watch the show, skip the book. (Note: I’ve only seen the first episode of the show, it started within a few days of when I finished the book. I will go back and watch it at some point though!)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I loved this book so much.  Laini Taylor does not disappoint.  Strange the Dreamer presents a marvelous fantasy world, complete with magic, fantastical beasts, ghosts and gods and goddesses. And it’s not only all of that, but also the story of the underdog-turned-hero, and like many others, I’m a sucker for those.

β€œOn the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky. Her skin was blue, her blood was red.”

Our main character, Strange, is a lonely man, a junior librarian who grew up an orphan. Strange is obsessed with the lost city of Weep. As a child, he, and everyone else, knew the name of the mythical city, but one day that name was stolen. In it’s place, the name Weep was left. Strange spends his life learning and dreaming about The Unseen City, despite teasing from everyone he knows.

One miraculous day, Strange’s life is turned upside down when the Godslayer arrives seeking help. The Godslayer has a unknown mission, and while he will not accept Strange as an official member of the delegation, he takes him on as a sort of assistant.

Crossing the desert with the Godslayer and his band of warriors, Strange strives to be useful to his companions, and to learn as much as he can about his beloved city Weep.

It only gets better once they arrive in The Unseen City!

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

This one almost falls into the chic lit genre, but it deals with a very serious topic — domestic violence. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reading about domestic violence and I was hesitant to read this one.

It Ends with Us starts out like a romance novel. Slowly, we learn about Lily’s past, her parents’ relationship, and her unfolding relationship with Ryle. Ryle is handsome and mysterious, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, even though he insists he’s not interested in anything serious.

A tough read, with some graphic scenes, this was a gut wrenching, tear-jerker. This book made me understand why leaving a domestic violence situation us not always easy or as simple as those on the outside would believe. Despite my hesitation, it turns out this was really a great book. 

What’s next?  I’m currently (re-)reading Wizard and Glass, book 4 in Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower saga. The whole series is about 4,000 pages, so this is no small undertaking.


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