Book review: The Seven Good Years

The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret is a memoir.  Keret has written several fictional works, including a collection of short stories.  The title of the book refers to years between when the author’s son was born and when his dad died.  It sounds kind of depressing, but this book was hilarious.

I’m usually not very fond of memoirs (with a few exceptions), but I really enjoyed reading this one.  The book is short and filled with funny vignettes about the author’s life.  I think my favorite bit was when he described how he used to write fictional inscriptions for people at book signings.  He would write things like, “Where’s that tenner I lent you?  You said two days and it’s a month already.  I’m still waiting” and “I don’t care what the lab tests show.  For me, you’ll always be my dad.”  Too bad he stopped writing those kinds of inscriptions at his book signings.  I would have loved to have gotten something like that at a book signing.

It should be mentioned that the author is Jewish and lives in Israel.  This is important to know because some of his stories involve being a Jew.  I loved that he laughs at himself.  For example, he confronts his paranoia in his story about his first trip to Germany.

It’s a short book – you could probably finish it in one sitting.  Read it.

Book Review: Proof of Heaven

Proof of Heaven is a non-fiction book by Dr. Eben Alexander about his near death experience (NDE).  Normally, I’m really not interested in this sort of stuff, but this guy is a neurosurgeon … a scientist who has heard about NDEs and had always been convinced that they weren’t real so I thought I’d give this book a shot.  Plus, it’s a pretty short book.

Dr. Alexander is a decent writer.  His descriptions were interesting to read.  Spoiler alert: he describes a sort-of holding place that was gray and then described heaven.  Heaven is the white light area where you feel love and there is someone there to be your guide.  As I said, I don’t read much about NDEs, but from what I’ve heard/seen/read, that seems to be pretty usual.  He drifted back and forth between the gray area and heaven until heaven shut its doors to him.  Then, he started recognizing faces in the gray area and realized that they were members of his family.  When he remembered his family, he realized that he had something to lose and that was his way back to awakening from his coma.

Dr. Alexander said that he was taught many things by talking to God through his guide, but that since he had to return to his earthly body, he was still trying to process everything and couldn’t teach it all to us.  We are all spiritual beings, but our mortal bodies tend to limit our instinctual understanding.  His message to us is that we try to expand our spirituality by looking beyond the physical world.  I’m not exactly sure how to do that.  I’m not sure how I feel about the message either.  I did, however, like the message that he got from heaven.  The message was (and I’m doing this from memory so it’s not verbatim) that you are loved unconditionally and there is nothing you can do that would change that.  How could anyone NOT like a message like that?

It begs the question, though, what about Hell?  What about the people who do bad things? His descriptions of what happened during his NDE were too vague to understand.  He describes the places and how he felt, but he couldn’t describe what he learned or discussed with God.  The gray area wasn’t really Hell even though at first he felt uncomfortable … to me, it seemed more like a holding place.

I found his description of the rare meningitis that caused his coma more interesting, to be honest.  He certainly has a supportive, loving family who were by his side throughout his ordeal.

I haven’t looked up anything else on this book so I don’t have much additional information.  I know that he spends time going around and speaking about his experience, but I wonder if he ever went back to neurosurgery and how his colleagues feel about his book.

I liked the Burpo book about the little boy who went to Heaven better.

Cookbook review: Against the Grain

If you are interested in this book, you had better stock up on tapioca flour (same thing as tapioca starch) and light buckwheat flour.  There are recipes that call for other types of flour such as rice flour and oat flour, but you can make quite a few recipes with just tapioca starch and light buckwheat flour.  In case you are new to gluten-free eating, despite the name, buckwheat doesn’t actually contain any wheat and is gluten free.  If you can find someplace that sells the flours in bulk, great.  Otherwise, be prepared to shell out up to $10 for a small bag of these gluten free alternatives.

The food turned out just fine.  It’s definitely different from baked goods with regular gluten, but the food was certainly edible.  The recipes were easy to follow and understand.  Most seemed to be fairly simple.  The most “difficult” part to trying recipes in this book was that I didn’t have many of the gluten free alternatives on hand so had to do some shopping.  Tapioca starch was easy to find, but I had trouble finding light buckwheat flour and brown rice flour.

The concern that I have with this book is that it uses tapioca starch quite a bit.  They call it tapioca “flour,” but they’re the same thing.  Starch is pretty much sugars (carbs) with very little other nutritional value.  That being said, tapioca starch is used in all of the gluten-free cookbooks that I have seen because it gives structure/texture so I guess you get the gluten-free, but have to deal with the carbs to make up for it.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review from Blogging for Books.

book review: Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation is written by unapologetic atheist, Sam Harris.  It is a short read that, while addressing Christians in particular, decries all religion as being equally unbelievable.  While I am not an atheist myself, I found that I couldn’t come up with good arguments against him.  Some of his arguments are: 1) many Christians believe that those who don’t believe in Christ will go to Hell.  Many other religions have similar beliefs. Those other religions also have sacred texts that support their beliefs and who is to say which religion is correct?  2) There is much evidence to support evolution.  Some argue in support of intelligent design by saying that something must have created the Big Bang to spark the creation of everything.  Doesn’t it stand to reason then that there was something else that created this thing that caused the spark?  3) There are many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible.  If the Bible isn’t taken literally, anyone can interpret whatever they want from the Bible.

There were other points brought up, but those were the ones that stuck with me the most.  Whether or not you are Christian, it is an interesting read.  It’s good to challenge your beliefs once in a while and to question why you believe what you believe.

Book review: The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden

Don’t let the title fool you – even though it’s called “The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden,” I found this book to be full of useful information for any beginning gardener.  There were many tips for how to maximize vegetable yield in a smaller area (go vertical), but there was a section in the book about how to  make sure you have enough nutrients in the soil and how much of each vegetable to plant (for example, 1 artichoke per person but 12 asparagus plants per person).

I thought I would skim through this book to just read the sections that interested me, but I ended up reading the book from cover to cover.  It was so helpful and interesting!  I loved everything from the sample gardening plot plans to the different variations of plants to the “typical problem” section for each vegetable.  It does everything from teaching how to compost to providing tips for natural pest remedies.  I can’t say enough good things about this book.  Buy it if you are thinking about starting a vegetable garden!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The 13th Gift

The 13th Gift was an easy, fast warm-your-heart holiday memoir about a family who is spending their first Christmas without the Dad, who died of a heart condition.  Presents start appearing 12 days before Christmas with cards that contain modified versions of the 12 days of Christmas song on them from “true friends.”  The gifts are small items like a poinsettia, candles, etc., – little gifts that remind the family of Christmas.

The author did a nice job of portraying the pain and anguish that her family felt.  She also was very honest about how she didn’t want to celebrate Christmas and how even buying presents for her children were difficult.  It was interesting how, once the author started getting into the Christmas spirit more, she encountered more people who were willing to help her (furniture store) instead of rude people (guy in the parking lot).  At the very end of the book, the author does finally track down the “true friends.”

This book is exactly what you would think it would be.  It was fun to read and I’m glad that there are good people out there who help others without any recognition.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books for my honest review.

Book Review: Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong

I was excited to get the book Fields of Blood because the summary sounded interesting – is religion a rooted in violence?  It’s a topic that is has been and is still relevant for centuries.  Unfortunately, the author spends so much time presenting the different religions that her message gets lost.

At the end of the book, I was left wondering whether her argument was pro or con because she kept changing her stance.  It seemed like she was trying to say that religion has always been accompanied by violence (as evidenced by early hunters using rituals when they killed prey), but when the violence/oppression becomes too extreme, people rise up and speak out against it (many examples given in the book of how rulers who were the head of state and religion were criticized in song and literature … and sometimes deposed due to their excessive aggression.

It took me a long time to finish this book because, while the topic was interesting, the way it was presented was exhausting.  Basically, the author covered religious history going all the way back to the early hunter/gatherers and covered religion in different cultures – everything from the deities in Mesopotamia to Hinduism to Confucianism to modern day Christianity.  I kept asking myself, though, whether her presentation of these religions was opposing the idea of violence in religion.  The book itself, if it were presented more as a history book of religions in the world, is fine.

The book reminded me of a person I know (and we all know someone like this) who likes to talk and talk and talk and talk.  Often, they monopolize conversations.  When they start to speak, you involuntarily cringe because you know that you’re going to be listening to them for at least 10 minutes straight.  Then, at the end of their monologue, your eyes have glazed over and you’re just nodding to be polite and even THEY have forgotten their point.

Religion in and of itself is neither good or bad.  It’s an idea.  It’s a tool for humans to help them explain things that occurred in nature that they couldn’t explain, to cope with difficult situations in their lives, to build community.  However, it is also a tool for oppression (listen to what I say and do what I say or you’re all going to Hell), for hatred (anyone who does not believe what we believe is evil and must be punished), and for division (they aren’t cultured or smart enough to believe what we believe so they aren’t as good as we are).  Religious zealots and unscrupulous opportunists will use religion as an excuse to incite others to serve their purposes.  Should the zealots and opportunists be separated from the idea of religion itself?  I think that would be a better question for a book.  I would argue no because religion fosters the mentality that one should have faith and belief without evidence.  This kind of mentality makes it easier for zealots and opportunists to take over.

Read this book as more of a history book on the world’s religions when you have time … lots of time.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography is a cute idea and brought back some fun memories of those Choose Your Own Adventure books.  Unfortunately, I received the ebook version and it doesn’t seem to work properly.

I tried another e-book that was similar to this once.  It didn’t work at all.  The text said to turn to page XX.  Unfortunately, the pages in the text didn’t match up with the e-book version.  I was so excited when I saw that in this e-book, they had hyperlinks.  YES, I thought!  A publisher who gets that ebooks are becoming more popular!  Alas, my excitement was premature.  Many of the links take you to the same page.  For example, at the beginning of the book, when NPH has readers choose between a happy childhood or a miserable childhood, guess what?  The hyperlinks lead to the same page.  Then, when the reader tries to choose between exploring the world of theater, learning magic, or practicing a speech for the Optimist Club, guess what?  Same thing.  No matter what you choose, you end up on the speech page.

At first, I thought that maybe that this was on purpose.  Maybe it’s meant to be ironic – you really don’t get to choose.  However, ALL of the “choices” of hyperlinks in the e-book seem to be lead to only one page.  If it’s on purpose, it’s stupid because it defeats the purpose of the book and the joke is only funny when you do it 1-2 times.  If it’s not on purpose, it’s also stupid because the publishers didn’t check the hyperlinks.

I went through and “cheated” so that I could read more of the autobiography since I wasn’t getting anywhere with picking my own adventure.  The writing was okay – humorous at times, but a bit self-centered (as is the case with most autobiographies).

If you are going to read this book, do NOT get the e-book.  It doesn’t work properly.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book through Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review of this book.

Book review: Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It

This was a fast read that I finished in a day.  Basically, Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes presents the argument that we are getting fat due to the amount of carbohydrates that is in our diet.  This book is sort of like a synopsis of his other book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories.”  In short, Taubes argues that obesity cannot be fixed by exercise and the belief that we need to consume fewer calories than we take in is flawed.  Instead, obesity is caused by insulin and other hormones in our bodies.  Eating carbohydrates and other simple sugars causes our bodies to produce more insulin, which stimulates the storage of fatty acids in our fat cells, which means the fatty acids aren’t available to our bodies to use as energy, which then causes us to feel more hungry and eat more.

I checked out his references before reading the book.  He is not a medical doctor, but he studied physics and aerospace engineering and received a master’s degree in journalism.  While he isn’t qualified to do nutritional research himself, his background gives him enough credibility (with me, anyway) to not dismiss his review of scientific research.

He presents a lot of evidence and makes a compelling argument against eating carbs.  My problem with this book is that he supports a high in saturated fat diet (like the Atkins Diet) and he suggests that exercise can actually be detrimental to losing weight because exercising makes you more hungry.  Exercising helps your body – physically and mentally.  It not only makes your body stronger, it releases endorphins that make you feel better.  There is little long-term research showing the effects of such a diet (most of the research done on this kind of diet lasts <2 years).  It also doesn’t address the side effects and risks of such a diet (see  and for more info).

I would recommend this book so that people can learn more about the dangers of eating carbs, but personally, I would never follow a high in saturated fat, low exercise regimen.  I would suggest cutting back on carbs, exercising, cutting out sugary drinks like sodas and fruit juice, and eating a balanced diet with some protein and lots of green vegetables.

Book review: The Psychopath Whisperer (nonfiction)

I finished The Psychopath Whisperer by Kent A. Kiehl in two days.  In fact, when I went to post my review, I couldn’t because Blogging for Books said that I had to wait at least 5 days after downloading the ebook.

The book is very well written.  Dr. Kiehl has a nice balance between writing in lay terms so that the average person could understand his research and explaining just enough so as to not insult readers.  It was evident that he has written and published prolifically.

While many of the identifying symptoms of psychopaths aren’t shocking (narcissism, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, callousness, lack of empathy, etc.), the author’s explanation how to identify a psychopath using the Hare Psychopaths Checklist was novel to me.  He explained the reasoning behind why he gave certain psychopaths their scores on the checklist.  I especially enjoyed the case studies (e.g. Wilkes-Booth vs. Gautier) and the explanations of his research and findings.  I loved that he included some actual MRIs.

The author’s passion for learning about psychopathy was contagious.  I was motivated enough to look up some of his articles in scientific journals after reading this book.  My friends/family might be sick of hearing me talk about psychopathy.

I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review from Blogging for Books