Category Archives: Book Books Books

The Magic Feather Effect: The Science of Alternative Medicine and The Surprising Power of Belief by Melanie Warner

Acupuncture, chiropractic, tai chi, qi gong, and energy healing are investigated by an author with a background in journalism to determine their medical efficacy, contrasting and comparing to accepted western medical options. Speaking with patients and practitioners, at times receiving treatment, she considers the placebo effect on psychosomatic pain, and finds that western doctors are becoming more accepting of the mind / body connection. American hospitals are incorporating reiki into their recovery programs, and German hospitals are adding Psychosomatic Centers as part of their rehabilitation programs. Through observation, interviews, demonstrations, and studies, Warner does not prove or disprove effectiveness of various alternative treatments, but allows people to share their success stories, leaving dear reader open to the possibilities by the end of the book.

I received a digital copy of this enlightening book from the publisher Simon & Schuster through NetGalley. I highly recommend this book by a reputable journalist if you’re at all interested in alternative medicine for pain management or wellness in general, or learning more about our world.

Unstrung by Laura Spinella

New England Symphony violinist Olivia Klein Van Doren destroys her husband’s Porsche after he places her mother’s house in financial jeopardy. For her community work, she chooses to volunteer in the class of an inner city high school music teacher, who is the key to her secret, and a lifeline to someone from her past.

Spinella excels at complex characters—Olivia is less endearing than interesting, and yet elicits sympathy. She also presents a marriage of larger-than-life personas who have developed a unique, symbiotic relationship, which does not preclude financial disaster, and survives volatile behavior. The story hinges on Olivia’s ability to finally communicate her needs and be honest with loved ones. A novel by a talented writer inevitably includes a life lesson or two, and a huge takeaway from this one, beyond communication being key, is foregoing judgment on what appears to be obvious. Plus, it’s a good story! I won this novel in a giveaway on Facebook and fell more in love with this author.

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Moloka’i told the story of Rachel Utagawa, nee Kalama, who lived in the Kalaupapa lazaretto from age 7 when she was diagnosed with leprosy. This book follows her daughter Ruth’s life, from the moment she was taken away from Rachel and her husband Kenji, for her health’s sake. Dear Reader watches her adoptive parents choose her, the half-Japanese, half-Hawaiian 5-year-old at the orphanage, sees her come of age on a California farm, and witnesses her incarceration in the Japanese internment camps in the US during WWII, along with her parents, brothers, husband, and children. This novel connects with the first one when Ruth meets Rachel, in the same scene from Ruth’s perspective this time, a brilliant and heartening re-telling of an emotionally charged meeting.

Brennert traverses the nuances of racism, fear of contagion, and human rights as he tells of the horror of being found out as a victim of leprosy in late 19th / early 20th century Hawai’i, and the dread of a child separated from her family to live with strangers. As with especially well-written historical fiction, the setting of Hawai’i / Moloka’i becomes its own character, showing Hawai’i’s children growing up surfing, the US stealing the islands from the last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, and the evolution of the lazaretto. Brennert touches upon Hawai’ian and Japanese honor, race relations and the lack of internment camps for Japanese in Hawai’i. He digs deep into Hawai’ian folklore, with a supporting character who is a native healer, how the “separating sickness” destroys families, and how friendship blends into family.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this beautiful novel from St. Martin’s Press. I highly recommend reading Moloka’i for full immersion into the multi-generational story.

Forget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser

Liza witnesses, via Skype, a masked man entering her friend’s home while her friend is upstairs tending to a child. She drives all night to make sure she’s okay after her friend doesn’t answer the phone, but Molly, the friend, dismisses the idea that a man came into her house, and she break’s Liza’s heart. Returning home to a life-changing event sends Liza back to her hometown, where no investigation is proceeding for the mystery man. Strawser digs deep into the fears of a married couple in multitudes of trouble, the evolution of friendship, and a reluctant return to one’s roots. She brilliantly intertwines the consequences of the characters’ actions as they rush headlong into premature conclusions. This novel is a great look into love resurrected and the ability to access romantic love after a trauma. Strawser is a talented storyteller. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book from the publisher Macmillan through NetGalley.

Family by J. California Cooper

From a cosmopolitan family are beget descendants who are stolen for slavery in the American South, bringing dear reader to Fammy, who begets Clora by a black man because she wanted a black baby for her own, after enduring her master’s rapes and the selling of her children. She takes her life, as does Clora, when she envisions the future of her daughter Always. Yet Clora persists as a spiritual entity, watching her family throughout their lives. This is the story of Always, unable to follow her siblings in their escape by passing for white, who rises above her veneer of subjugation, fully prepared to live free after emancipation. Clora witnesses her family branch out again across the globe.

Cooper explicitly presents the vicarious existence of slaves, and the various ways that could procure a safer passage, as well as the intricately convoluted familial connections betwixt white masters / mistresses and slaves. The hint of dialect bumps through both races, showing the blending of cultures based on proximity, and religion also bleeds across the barriers, represented by Clora’s routine references to the Christian God. This novel offers a valuable lesson in how the foundation for systemic racism was laid and on what our country was built, in spite of the whitewashed American dream. Read it with a careful eye toward the small references and unspoken understandings between characters.

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman


Daphne Maritch inherits the yearbook that the class of 1969 dedicated to her mother, their teacher. Attending every class reunion of that year’s class, her mom dashed off judgment calls in that yearbook, while alienating her family further. Daphne has no use for it and tosses it in recycling, only to discover her neighbor has rescued it and has documentary plans for it, focusing on her mother’s life. In her attempt to repossess it, Daphne learns exactly how much she didn’t know about her mother, and how much better her father knows her than she realized. Secrets explode, Daphne explodes…romance ensues.

Lipman creates a character whose complexity makes her less endearing than interesting, leading dear reader to enjoy her ups and downs from outside the emotions, yet still root for her as she makes terrible life decisions. Choices made by all family members in the past reverberate in the presence, causing confusion and offering challenging choices. The integrity of the characters remains resolute as they fluffercate over “9/10 of the law” and “right to know.” This is an absolutely FUN story, whipping back and forth in allegiances, and up and down in storyline. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this fabulous book from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through a Goodreads giveaway.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

A sleeping sickness befalls the little college town of Santa Lora, CA, starting with Mei’s roommate Kara, prompting a quarantine of their dorm. Quickly overwhelmed, the hospital sets up the children who succumb in the public library. The patients wake up in random order with time span and chronology confusion, or they never wake up—dying or coming to consciousness days, weeks, months after succumbing. Mei becomes part of the relief effort by those immune to the illness. Thompson Walker brilliantly moves in and out of the epidemic containment through cordon sanitaire and the sleepers’ astonishingly realistic dreams. Graphic descriptions of virtual long lives lived for decades and anomalies that persist after awakening draw the reader into the deep wells of grief and confusion of those who wake to a lesser reality. The frustrated anger and desperation of family and friends prevented from contacting loved ones is credibly shown by such irrational actions as climbing the quarantine fence and rushing the police. The author references other such unusual occurrences, and how conspiracy theories can easily form from a frightening epidemic never diagnosed by doctors. It brings to mind the sleepy sickness brought on by the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 20th century, whose victims remained catatonic for decades. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this well-written, wonderfully told novel from the publisher Random House through a Goodreads giveaway.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Anna Roux’s life changed drastically when her husband moved them from Paris to the American Midwest. Her profession as a dancer fades to history, and she disappears inside herself, despair manifesting as anorexia. In a holiday visit home, her family’s shocked reaction to her appearance prompts her husband to commit her to a strict program at 17 Swann Street, where Anna learns the hard way to eat again. There’s so much more going on than Anna feeling fat, so much involved in succumbing to an insidious disease. Zgheib carefully maneuvers through the complexity of her character’s inner turmoil. As a contributing factor as well as an integral part of Anna’s support system, her husband is explored through his emotional roller coaster, denial, and finally, tough love response to her illness.

This story paints a detailed description of a unique life with an unfortunately common disease, where one cannot point to any one action as a causation. Readers with no connection to this illness still will reel from the pain of a young woman who feels out of control of her own life, who cannot reconcile her less than desirable circumstances with the love she feels for her husband, sympathizing with her as she is forced to confront the voice of anorexia telling her that she is not enough. The slow, challenging journey is well told by a talented writer. This is a must-read for the awareness and understanding it brings. If anorexia has touched your life in any way, offer this story to friends and family. Even if it hasn’t, read and share for the compassion invoked.

Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting portrait of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia on an intimate journey to reclaim her life.  

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound. 

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears—imperfection, failure, loneliness—she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live: women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Every bite causes anxiety.  Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a PhD in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D’études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea” (http://www.aristotleatafternoontea.com/).

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The Other Boy by Ian and Rosi Taylor

Toby disappears in front of his father’s eyes as they explore the overgrown path to the pond near their new home in the country. With parents fighting to salvage their marriage, Toby struggles to rescue himself from another boy whose soul resided in that pond. His mother inexplicably attributes frightful incidents to the other woman…until she sees the other boy in her son’s face. Through dubious grammar and awkward phrasing, the story holds its own as a classic horror tale of possession based on location and opportunity, with unwitting recipients focused elsewhere. Fans of scary stories with creepy kids, wild English countryside, and ghostly bodysnatchers will appreciate this book. I was fortunate to win it in a contest from the publisher Dark Chapter Press.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

PI Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott share a moment right after her vows to Matthew, coloring their detective partnership. A disturbed young man caroms into Strike’s office to exclaim about a child murder committed decades ago. Being hired by a politician to spy on a colleague distracts them, but the possibility weighs on Cormoran’s mind, as Robin goes undercover in Parliament. The non-case of the wild story becomes entangled within the political investigation and a dubious suicide. Meanwhile, Robin’s husband shows his true colors, but her desire to be independent only prolongs the sexual tension between partners.

Galbraith keeps a fast, at times frenetic, pace throughout the story, with the main characters exasperatingly and credibly human in their complexity. It’s fun to see inside the heads of the good guys when they have fleeting thoughts that are unrealistic / unreasonable, such as when Robin finds herself drawn in by the charm of their client’s tall, dark, and handsome “bad boy” son, a person of interest. Fourth in the Cormoran Strike series, it’s easily a standalone for the case story, but adds layers of nuance to the partnership. The inevitable transition in the nature of the relationship will change the dynamics and sadly may be the beginning of the end, unless Galbraith finds a way to pull it off. Let’s hope she…whoops, “he” can do so!

I received a copy of this latest release in the series from St. Martin’s Press for an honest review.