Sunday, February 26, 2017

Homesick for Another World

by Ottessa Moshfegh

Penguin Press     2017

304 pages     Short Stories

In her book of short stories, Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh has created characters that you might not want to know, but who fascinate you none the less. From the first story to the last, these are people at the fringes of society and at the fringes of their mental health.

The first story is about an alcoholic, divorced math teacher, who hates her job, hates her life, and hates her students. She keeps trying to put herself back together, but just can’t do it. Finally, she quits her job, but not before telling her principal that she fudged on the state exams. (I loved that—every teacher wishes to fudge on the state exams.)

The final story is about twins, a boy and a girl. They are about seven or eight, and the boy has filled his sister with the ugly thought that at some point, the earth is going to swallow her up and take her to another place. She has to kill someone in order to go to this other world, and she desperately wants to get there. How she goes about making this wish come true is devastating and a fitting conclusion to this fascinating collection.

I feel somewhat at a loss in blogging about Homesick for Another World. Each story features a character or two in a uniquely painful situation.  Sometimes I felt like a voyeur. I didn’t want to know about the messiness of these lives. Sometimes, I hurt for their pain and their loss. I had never met these characters before, and therein is the allure of the book. You have not read these stories before. I could not read more than one story at a time; they were just too painful. Frankly, this is not a book for everyone. Why persist in reading it?—because these are people that you need to know; because even if they would not become your friends, these are the people you see on the subway, or the bus, or in line at the grocery store.

The New York Times reviewer says, “A good story is a high-wire act that uses angle of vision, voice and plot to produce a work that somehow, against all odds, radiates meaning at all levels — in the sentences, the structure and in the absences.” Moshfegh is a master of the absences.  

Ottessa Moshfegh is a young author. She has published a novel, Eileen, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Law and Disorder

by Mike Papantonio
Select Books     2016
338 pages     Legal Procedural

Legal procedural novels are novels about court cases. If you have read any John Grisham , you have read a legal procedural.  Law and Disorder by Mike Papantonio is a novel about civil litigation. Civil proceedings are cases where one individual or group is seeking damages (money or otherwise) from another group or individual.  

 In Law and Disorder, there are two types of civil suits pending: damages are being sought against a pharmaceutical company and there is also an environmental lawsuit against an oil company. The protagonist is Nick "Deke" Deketomis, a very successful and prominent Florida lawyer, who takes on a drug company dispensing a birth control pill that is causing paralysis and death for the women who take it. This is personal for Deke because one of his clients dies just before the trial, which totally freaks him out. Then  his own daughter becomes extremely ill as well. In the midst of all this, Deke is spending time working on a Texas environmental case. Meanwhile in his hometown, an evangelical preacher is out to get him. This subplot ends in disaster for Deke as he accidentally kills a parishioner. So, he not only is dealing with two civil cases, but he is also facing manslaughter charges. 

There is a lot going on in Law and Disorder. We learn a lot about civil law; we have a cast of characters running around doing good and evil; we have an accidental death; and we have a lot of political posturing. Although Deke is an interesting protagonist, he is not a very appealing character, and we never get to know any other characters very well. The media circus around the cases is also interesting. What is most interesting are the political aspects of the author's intent. While there are many readers who might be offended by Papantonio's liberal politics, it certainly suits the mood of the country.

What is lacking is a reason to keep reading the book. The Kirkus review calls the book "bumper sticker prose." As Papantonio develops his writing career, I would hope that he could create more finely-tuned characters and a more sophisticated plot outside the courtroom. 

There is an excellent review on the Above the Law legal website. That reviewer suggests that lawyers will love the book because of the strength of the litigation. All others might be put off by the lack of strong characters and just too much going on with nothing fully developed. 

Papantonio is a liberal radio and talk show host on the RT America network. His show is called "America's Lawyer." The book came out about the same time as his show.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Still Life

by Louise Penny
St. Martin's     2005
312 pages     Mystery 

My friend Nancy has told me several times that Louise Penny is her favorite mystery writer, but up until last month, I had never read any of her books. Well, now I am hooked for several reasons. First, I had never read a novel based in Quebec. Second, Chief Inspector Gamache, the protagonist in the series, is an extremely thoughtful, charming man, loved by his subordinates and a very thorough detective. The Kirkus reviewer said, "Cerebral, wise and compassionate, Gamache is destined for stardom. Don't miss this stellar debut."

Still Life begins spectacularly. (I have become aware of how important opening lines of novels are.) Penny writes: "Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all around." Jane Neal, an elderly retired schoolteacher, was a cherished member of the small community of Three Pines, south of Montreal. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his associates set out to solve her murder, made more difficult because the community is small; everyone knows everyone, and someone is keeping a secret. 

The beauty of Still Life is not the plot, which is a bit scattered. The beauty is in the awesome detective, the spectacular setting, and the genuine character development. Penny writes about Gamache viewing the village: "As he sat quietly and let the village happen around him, he was impressed by how beautiful it was, these old homes facing the green, with their mature perennial gardens and trees. By how natural everything looked, undesigned."

Gamache is a master detective. He knows that "crime is deeply human." He knows that if he is to catch Jane Neal's killer, he has to know the setting and the people. He has to connect with all the human beings involved. 

Mystery buffs will find that there are a lot of loose ends in the novel. This was Penny's first mystery novel, and I am assuming that she improved because she has won many awards for this series. My favorite line in the book comes from the musings of the village book seller, Myrna. "She felt if she could just get a good look at a person's bookcase and their grocery cart, she'd pretty much know who they were." A truth if there ever was one!

It's cold and snowy here; warm and cozy by the fire. Find a good mystery and settle in. Louise Penny has written 12 books in the Inspector Gamache series. Start with Still Life and read through them all. Then it will be spring!

Louise Penny's website.
Here are the books in order:

Still Life, A Fatal Grace/Dead Cold (same book, different title), The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder/The Murder Stone (same book, different title), The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, How the Light Gets In, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Fearless and Free

by Wendy Sachs
American Management Association     2017
226 pages     Nonfiction

The subtitle of Wendy Sachs' excellent look at women and their careers is: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers. In it, Sachs tells her own story of the multiple iterations of her career and encourages her women readers to be creative, resilient, and passionate about their career choices and career plans.

In story after story, Sachs shows how women create opportunities for themselves—or seize opportunities—and shine in whatever career they choose. She suggests that in today's world, opportunities abound for the determined, creative woman. She also asserts that most women will have several careers in their lifetimes, with agility being a must-have skill. She says:

"This book is for women at all stages of their professional journeys. Some may be looking for a total relaunch. Others are trying to reposition themselves to stay relevant. Still more may be looking to get back into the game after taking time off to raise kids and need the confidence and direction to take the first step." 

I kept seeing my daughters, step-daughters, and daughters-in-law in the context of the book. They are all attempting to be resilient, relevant, and challenged.  Actually, I saw myself as I figured out what career would best meld with my life as a widowed mother of three. Then, what I would do after I retired from my education career. Actually, I have made 4 different career moves in the years since I retired. 

At the same time that Sachs is telling all these wonderful and inspiring stories, she is also telling women about how to be successful in a male-dominated world. Her story about Hilary Clinton is a case in point, and it is certainly something that all the women in the country observed in this last election. The question kept coming up, "How is a woman supposed to act?" I appreciated her advice, for example, to stop apologizing all the time. Just tell it how it is.

Well, for sure, the world of women is changing rapidly, and Wendy Sachs and her book should prove inspiration for an entire new generation of women who must be agile enough to take advantage of the change as it happens.

About the Author
WENDY SACHS is the author of Fearless and Free (AMACOM; 2017) and a master of the career pivot. An Emmy-award winning TV news producer, Wendy has worked at Dateline NBC, Fox, and CNN. She also worked as a Capitol Hill press secretary, public relations executive, CNN contributor, content strategist and editor-in-chief of In a more random role, Wendy appeared as the on-air spokesperson for Trip Advisor. A frequent speaker, Wendy has written about work/life and women’s issues for multiple publications, including The New York Times,, the Huffington Post and Refinery29. She has appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, including Good Morning America, NBC's Today, Fox and CNN’s Headline News. Wendy lives with her husband and two children in South Orange, New Jersey. For more information, please visit and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy

by Acharya Shunya
Sounds True    2017
376 Pages     Health/Wellness

I would like to share with you this morning a very insightful and useful book that came across my desk from a publicist. It is available today.

Ayurveda is a health system that believes that true health is everyone's birthright, and that each of us is a self-healing entity who can use nature's abundance to restore and renew ourselves. The practitioner and author, Acharya Shunya, was born in northern India, where her formative years were spent learning the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda from her guru, who was her grandfather (or Baba). He was a spiritual teacher and practitioner of this ancient wisdom. 

Shunya now is a practitioner herself, in California, and her book, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, is the result of her years of work teaching people how to understand, use, and practice the Ayurveda philosophy. Acharya Shunya presents a narrative-based guidebook that meticulously covers the how-to's of morning and evening self-care, daily contemplations, self-massage and skin care, cooking (including recipes), beauty rituals, and more. It also talks a great deal about yoga.

She writes "To rid ourselves of the suffering that afflicts the body, mind, and soul, what we need is an affirmative knowledge of life and how to live it in alignment with nature."

I loved the stories that begin each section. In them she relates the enormous influence her Baba had on her by giving examples of conversations she had with him as a child and the wisdom he imparted to her.

This is truly a unique book. It certainly can't be digested in one sitting, but it looks to me that someone seeking its wisdom needs to work on it, one step at a time.
Here  are some steps that every reader can do.

  Wake up early each morning at a set time. 
  Have an altar in your room and put fresh flowers on it every day. 
  Every morning meditate to your healing for fifteen minutes. 
  Stop eating (or minimize your consumption of) harmful foods - which foods are harmful, and which foods are best eaten at certain times of the day and the year are discussed throughout the book 
  Eat beneficial foods - there is a big section toward the end of the book that discusses food and includes recipes.

Here is a review in a blog about health and wellness.
Here is Acharya Shunya's website.