The Book of Life

Every so often a book lands in your lap at the right moment. You are ready to hear the message, you are ready to be swept away, you are ready to be remade.

When I first read a Discovery of Witches I was knee-deep in other lore based novels and found the love affair between Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont endearing. What hooked me was Deborah Harkness’ ability to weave an intricate mystery steeped in political intrigue with a love story older than time.

But this isn’t even the most interesting piece of her trilogy. Yes, there is love neverending, bloodshed, victory, etc. but above all else there is a bit of reality hidden in the weft. For the modern practitioner looking for threads of truth, Harkness has done an amazing amount of research on the subject of witchcraft. My only complaint is that what she unearthed could (and should!) easily fill a tome in its own right.

The third book in the series does not leave readers wanting.

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

The prose in this novel is written so that time and memory drift through the pages much in the same way they do in reality. Some moments blurred together artfully, masterfully; decades passing like a flowing river; other moments written word-for-heartbeat so that you’re there with the mother of a revolutionary as she bear’s witness to an event that will change the course of her entire family. 

It’s not that Lahiri’s writing isn’t beautiful, it certainly is, but that there are no extraneous thoughts, not a word out of place, not a moment over-lingered. The Lowland is like a well-used cast iron pan, no rough edges and forged in fire. The novel follows a family from post-independence India to modern day America. The choices each person makes a reflection of their own values as well as the values of their country and their circumstance. 

A must read for lovers of historical fiction (or even just plain old history). Sad, deep, enriching. Definitely not a light-read, but worth it! Pick your copy up at Cloud and Leaf.

Where’d You Go, Berndette

There was an article I read recently regarding a shaman’s perspective on mental illness; the gist of it was that western culture is too quick to medicate. Rather than embrace the discord in a body as a calling from the other side, a sign that something is out of balance and needs to change, western medicine can only eradicate.

And just like when the blackberries threatening to take over the hillside of a quiet Seattle neighborhood are removed in the middle of one of the worst rain storms in history, a lot more than mud gets dislodged when weed eradication occurs.

Bernadette Fox isn’t crazy, and when you read through the correspondence her daughter finds after her disappearance you might begin to wonder just what is crazy.

This novel is a beautifully written story of the northwest yuppy that can only bitch and moan when their luncheon is disturbed because they’ve never encountered any real problem outside of having to design the new logo for their child’s private kindergarten. It is a piece of comic genius and a tale of love that blossoms in the most unlikely places.

An absolute must read, especially if anyone in your life has complained about your weeds growing onto their property. It makes sense that author Maria Semple has also contributed to comedy classic Arrested Development.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch, a mystery set in modern-day Manhattan, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, follows a young man’s life after the tragic death of his mother, abrupt upheaval from his home, and the accidental acquisition of a priceless painting. I won’t give away an inch here since each page is a treasured jewel of novel. Read every word.

What I will tell you is that I don’t like mysteries. I’m too anxious to genuinely enjoy them. And this book isn’t riveting. But it quickly (within the first 5 pages) became a new favorite. A deep settling quality that reminded me of P.D James. Nothing frantic despite the circumstances.

In fact, the humor is easily relatable and, although the subject matter is dense, it follows the pace of life in such a natural way that I found myself 200 pages in (the hardback is nearly 800 pages) and not wanting it to end.

It’s fun, believable, interesting (I learned quite a bit about art and antiques), and completely worth a read. It makes sense that it’s been a best-seller since it was released late last year, and has been keeping the literary world buzzing. It will keep you on your toes, in a pleasant way, anticipating the fate of Theo, even though you know from the beginning, it probably isn’t going to end well, or is it?

The Free – Willy Vlautin

The Free shouldn’t make you feel as good as it does. But when I closed the cover on the last page, I was strangely uplifted. Despite the topic; drug addiction, death, suicide, loss – this book made me laugh, not cry. And it was a deeply engaging novel. More a story of those who are ground up but step away from the mill to find the glowing joy of success in the small things. This is a must read for people from veterans to nurses, to lovers of amazing novels. If you want to meet the author, be here at Cloud and Leaf Saturday April 12 by 7:00. He’ll be here to discuss the novel, answer questions, or chat about anything you fancy.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, has changed the way I think about my unconscious actions. No longer do I feel anchored to my habits, and I had some big ones; anxiety, depression, rage, and a host of other annoying tics that I felt were so ingrained in my psyche that I was doomed to a life of self-imposed misery.

Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the book alone, I’ve been blessed to have a network of great healing friends and family that want me to be happy, and that is more than many people can dream of asking for. And I’ve been plodding (blindly at times I have to admit) down the path of mindfulness for some time now, reading books on alternative medicine, meditation, and the like.

But for the beginner, a person who may not even see their behaviors as habits, this book could be instrumental. It’s primarily a series of examples that illustrate human behavior at the micro and macro level. Be warned however, these are sometimes graphic illustrations as not everything we do as humans is pretty. It also includes a couple of exercises to try (only a few however, this is really a learn by example book).

For myself, I not only gleaned examples of how to reduce anxiety (that are still working even after I finished the book), but I also picked out some gems of organizational habits (as in businesses) that have been instrumental in my development of a solid business plan for current entrepreneurial endeavors. Hands down one of the best books on how to improve your life I have come across. A must read for those looking to be a saner and/or happier person and/or do better in business. Pick up a copy at Cloud and Leaf Bookstore.

The Magician King – Lev Grossman

For a genera largely geared towards kids, the Magician King is a rare gritty, chaotic, dark gem of magical literature. The second book of what is soon to be a trilogy, is a satisfying follow-up to the story of Quentin, a young man from Brooklyn that grows up reading a book series about a magic filled land called Fillory, only to discover that, not only does magic exist, so does the Kingdom of Fillory.

This novel picks up 10 years after the first one began, where Quentin is now a King, a magician, and suffering from a serious case of ennui. And this is not the tragic woe-is-me ennui of a Brooklyn hipster, where he began his journey. This is the ennui of a man who had everything, lost it, and can no longer find joy or meaning in his rulership.

So he gambles it all on the chance to be a hero. But a part of him is still the selfish and cocky 17 year old acolyte taking the right risks for the wrong reasons, and completely ignoring the consequences of his actions.

And then there’s Julia. The witch-queen magic school reject who toyed with men to gain power and knowledge only to lose the human part of her soul in the process.

Plus dragons, portals, and a universe to save. An easy, fun read. Mild swearing and lewd material, parental discretion and all of that, but if you grew up at Hogwarts, this is where you’d go for your masters. Definitely pick up the Magicians first, but if you don’t mind reading out of order, TMK is enjoyable and understandable as a standalone. Pick up your copy at Cloud and Leaf.