Category Archives: Book Reviews

How to Instant Pot

You already know that I’m obsessed with my Instant Pot.  Chances are, you’re either giving one to someone for the holidays or you’re getting one for yourself.

It is a little intimidating at first, though, even for the most experienced of cooks. Daniel Shumski’s How to Instant Pot aims to shorten the learning curve by breaking down each function (pressure cooker, rice cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, steamer) into its own section.

Few cookbooks have as definitive of a subtitle as this one. Indeed, it will help you master all the functions of the one pot that will change how you cook.

More of my thoughts on How to Instant Pot can be found here, in my full review in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness. 

 

 

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Book Review: Shut Up and Run: How To Get Up, Lace Up, and Sweat with Swagger, by Robin Arzón

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Robin Arzón is badass.  Make no mistake, this woman is as fierce and strong as they come. A former lawyer turned ultramarathoner (someone who runs any distance over 26.2 miles, usually 50K and 100K events), Robin’s life is defined by running and “sweat with swagger.”

It’s a life that was nearly taken from her one night in a horrific and violent attack; she emerged determined to transform her life through health and wellness. Today, she’s the Vice President of Fitness Programming for Peloton Cycle, a motivational speaker, brand ambassador and much more.

(Oh, and she’s a Philly girl like me, which means her grit and toughness is the real deal.)

Shut Up and Run packs a lot into its 192 pages. Whether you’re a new runner (like yours truly) or someone who regularly competes in marathons, there’s something in Shut Up and Run for runners at every level — even if you’re still sitting on the couch, contemplating whether you can do this. (Spoiler Alert: you can.)

“Start before you’re ready. Today seems like a good day.” 

Robin offers her personal inspirations for running (her mother, who has MS) along with a generous helping of motivation with splashy graphics, full-color photos, and quotes. (Two of my favorites: “Regret is a heavier weight to carry than hard work — in running, life, and love,” and “Be open to getting lost so that you end up moving in the right direction.”)  There are strategies for training — whether that means a 5k or 50k race.

After reading this, even I felt like I could be an ultramarathoner — and I say this as someone who has only been running for a year and not very consistently (to put it mildly). That’s the kind of book Shut Up and Run is: one that makes you believe you have the power to do extraordinary things.

“The human body is capable of extraordinary things
that start with the choice to try.”

 

 

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Nonfiction November – Nov 20-24: Nonfiction Favorites

This week (Nov. 20 to 24), Nonfiction November is hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey with the topic of Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Is the topic pretty much all that matters?

Definitely not. While there are certain topics that I tend to gravitate towards (basically the subjects I write about here on this blog), I’d like to think that I have a broad range of interests when it comes to nonfiction reading.

Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love?

I think that, with any story, it needs to engage the reader. That’s the most important thing, really. I’m merciless when it comes to DNF books; if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages (sometimes less) then I have no qualms about abandoning the book. That goes for fiction, nonfiction, whatever.

When I think about preferred writing styles, I’m drawn most to creative nonfiction. I love Creative Nonfiction, the literary journal. Among my writerly bucket list items is to be published in CNF one day.

Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

So many factors go into whether a particular nonfiction book will be one that catches my eye. It can be anything from the subject matter to the author to the setting. It really varies. You can find some of my nonfiction favorites on my Book Reviews – Nonfiction page.

 

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Book Review: Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, by Jean Chatzky and Michael F. Roisen, MD

During the past few months, I’ve found myself gravitating to wellness-related books, blogs and podcasts. This interest started last year around this time when I embarked on Couch to 5K and made some modifications to eat healthier; however, a few factors have accelerated this.

For starters, I’m less than a year and a half away from a milestone birthday, the one beginning with 5. A year after that, the kids will graduate high school, and The Girl has recently been giving a lot of thought to potential colleges. These next few years are looming large. There’s also The Ongoing Family Situation which has me thinking a great deal about what I can control now to potentially affect future quality of life. I’m thinking particularly of retirement planning and ways to slow memory loss through food and exercise.

And I’m trying not to let all these thoughts keep me up too much at night nor preoccupy my every waking moment because if one isn’t careful, this line of thinking can quickly spin out of control into full-fledged anxiety. There has been a bit of that associated with all this, like the other week when I met one-on-one with the retirement planning guy at work. They brought in our plan’s representative–who looked like he was about 12 years old–for one hour complimentary financial consultations and I swear to you, his advice to me was basically, “I don’t know what to say.”

I kid you not. I mean, I already knew I was screwed. Thanks, Junior.

All this is to say that this feeling of health and wealth (I speak of the latter figuratively, of course) coming into fuller focus made me the perfect reader for Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen’s new book, Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip which I spotted while browsing at the library and listened to on audio.

This is basically a manual for How to Live Your Life. I don’t mean that facetiously; rather, this covers every aspect of living. Yes, there’s plenty of advice that we’ve all heard or read — and either implemented, ignored or put off until “someday.” But there are also some good checklists and strategies, like starting with the importance of doing  “system checks” (both health-related and financial) before making any major changes. There are chapters on breaking bad habits, reducing stress, how one’s occupation influences health. The sections on financial information was more helpful than the representative from my retirement plan.

Here’s what Age-Proof doesn’t have: there’s no secret sauce, no magic elixir recipe for eternal life. (Besides, who would really want that anyway?) The most important thing it does have is reassurance that “no matter what you’ve done in the past, it’s never too late (till you’re six feet under) to get the body or bank account you want.”

Audio is definitely the way to go with this one, mainly because of Dr. Roizen’s exuberance about … well, almost everything. He and Jean Chatzky alternate narrating their portions of the book — sometimes interrupting and interjecting thoughts — and while it’s a little hokey in some spots, it’s also kind of cute.

Not to mention important.

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Book Review (by The Husband): Grant, by Ron Chernow

The Husband made his debut in Shelf Awareness yesterday as a published book reviewer. He took on the mammoth tome (more than 1,100 pages!) that is Ron Chernow’s Grant.

You can find his review here.

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Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

being-mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande
Metropolitan Books / 2014 / 282 pages
Audiobook narrated by Robert Petkoff
Macmillan Audio / 
2014 / 9 hrs and 3 mins

Lately, there seems to be a spike in the number of popular books — particularly memoirs — written by physicians and focusing on the issue of medicine.  Maybe this has something to do with aging baby boomers or our society’s preoccupation with health and wellness — or perhaps it’s the opposite and we’re overly obsessed with death. Whatever the reason, I can’t be the only one who has noticed this literary trend.

Because I read When Breath Becomes Air by the late Paul Kalanithi (and loved it, as per my review here), I was a bit hesitant to read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  I thought they would be too similar. In some ways they are, but where Kalanithi’s story is on facing death in the prime of one’s life, Gawande’s centers on the aging process and what society and the medical profession needs to do to honor life with a more compassionate approach to death, rather than prolong the inevitable at any cost. For all of medicine’s advances, we still haven’t gotten this right.

“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

Those conversations, Gawande writes, are where doctors and loved ones need to place their emphasis. We need to do more talking about what is important to patients and what their understanding is regarding the nature and prognosis of serious, terminal illnesses. In Being Mortal, Gawande shares those personal conversations — the ones he’s had with his family, loved ones, and patients — and how they’ve shaped his perspective as a doctor and a human being.

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

Gawande views life as a story with each of us holding the pen. “You may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.”  It’s an effective analogy.

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story. That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties. This is why the betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”

I listened to Being Mortal on audio and found it to be incredibly engaging. Gawande has a very practical yet compassionate narrative style that (at least in my experience) is rare among physicians. If his bedside manner is anything like his prose, his patients are in good hands.

 

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Book Review: The Rain in Portugal, by Billy Collins

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The Rain in Portugal: Poems by Billy Collins
Random House
2016
160 pages 

Reading Billy Collins is like visiting with a longtime friend. There’s a comfortable predictability; you understand each other. (Is he always late? Someone who likes to talk about the same subjects, rehash the same stories? Does she usually order the same meal at your favorite restaurant? There are probably a few people in your circle who don’t like this particular friend, for some reason or another. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes you just need a little time with someone who doesn’t put on airs of sophistication and isn’t pretentious.

That’s what Billy Collins’ poetry is for me. Having read four of his collections (Nine Horses; Ballistics; Questions About Angels; Picnic, Lightning) plus Aimless Love, a compilation of new and selected poems, I know what to expect.  He’s comfortable. I don’t need to think much. This collection, his twelveth, is all of that, with more than the usual number of references to literary greats and imaginary encounters with them. (One example, “The Bard in Flight,” fancies an airplane ride with a skittish Shakespeare holding the narrator’s hand.)

These offerings have been described by other reviewers as whimsical and imaginative, which I feel are accurate descriptions. The Rain in Portugal is an enjoyable collection for Collins’ longtime fans and a fine place to start if you’re new to his work.

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