Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Seventh Book Review: “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff

“The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff is lightweight philosophy where the most complex ideals are explained through Winnie the Pooh. It was a really fun read that brought up some interesting points and did a pretty good job of educating the reader on the basics of Taoism.

The big push in “The Tao of Pooh” is that everything has its own way of doing things and fighting against that just causes upset. “The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was inevitable. Only then did life become sour.” (The Tao of Pooh, pg 4). It is such a simple idea, and it makes so much sense. There have been countless occasions where I find myself frustrated when something is not going the way that I expect it to and most of the time, it is because I am trying to force something to happen in a way that doesn’t make sense. I do think backwards a lot, and my main takeaway from this book was that fighting against the natural order of things is often what causes the upset.

I liked the way that Hoff used the different characters in Winnie the Pooh to explain different philosophical ideas. Winnie the Pooh is the perfect example of someone that doesn’t overthink things, that just allows things to happen as they will, and doesn’t try to force anything. “The surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard – one that thinks too much. The animals in the Forest don’t think too much; they just Are.” The Tao of Pooh, pg 77).

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, it is a short read and it really made me think. It is so easy to get caught up in all the stupid little things in life. Reading “The Tao of Pooh” made me realize the quickest way to cause stress and unhappiness is to fight the natural order of things. The examples of the various kinds of people compared with the various animals in the forest helped me to understand just how differently people think. I think reading any book which causes you to ask questions and helps explain the way different people function is worthwhile. I’d definitely pick up more of Benjamin Hoff’s work.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Sixth Book Review: “The Key to Rebecca” by Ken Follett

I’m going to be honest… the main reason I picked up “The Key to Rebecca” by Ken Follett was because my name was in the title. Now granted, Ken Follett is one of my go-to authors as well, so that really sealed the deal with purchasing the book, but it was my name that caught my eye in the first place. I had no idea what the book was about, and lately that is how I prefer to go into reading a new book. I quickly learned that “The Key to Rebecca” takes place in Egypt during WWII and one of the main characters is a German spy intent on stealing British war strategies.

This was a whole different side of WWII that I had never really read about. A lot of the books that I have read which take place during WWII involve the victimization of Jews in concentration camps, the destruction of families and homes, and the general collateral damage that occurs during any war. It was a whole different experience reading about two men on opposite sides working behind the scenes in an attempt to bring victory to their country. I found the style in which Ken Follett wrote this to be very intriguing. Being given the perspective of both the German spy Wolff, and the British officer Vandam made for a great contrast. From Wolff’s point of view, he was trying to do what he could to set Egypt free from the British occupancy. I thought it was really interesting to learn his motivations and at times, I found myself cheering him on even though he was the antagonist. This is one of Ken Follett’s gifts with his writing; he is able to develop his characters so well that even the bad guy’s actions are relatable.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, Ken Follett is a fantastically talented author and I have yet to be disappointed by his work. This is a stand-alone novel and would be a great recommendation for those that are already in love with his writing as well as a good sample for someone that hasn’t read him before. I love historical fiction and I think Ken Follett is an absolute genius. I cannot wait to read more of his novels.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Fifth Book Review: “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

“The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney was described to me as a book about a dysfunctional family. When I heard that, I pictured “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – a fun, light story about a quirky dysfunctional family. That is what I expected from “The Nest” and that is not at all what was delivered. It was not so much a drama/comedy as it was just a full drama. Not that I dislike dramas, but the suggested comedy was part of why I chose this book. This was no lighthearted read.

The first person in the dysfunctional family that we meet is Leo. We soon learn that he is an overindulgent, entitled, selfish man-child. “The bubbles rising and falling on Matilda’s tray felt like an ecstatic summons, an invitation meant just for him.” (The Nest, pg 2). This expectant attitude that he has towards everything in his life is part of what made him so distasteful to me, but it did catch up to him within the first few pages.

Dysfunctional seems an inadequate word to describe this family. I found it really difficult to like most of the characters. It was more: here is a book about a family full of terrible people and what they do to each other. There were some characters that were more despicable than others. Leo was pretty bad. After meeting the mother of these five adult children, it makes a little more sense why they are the way they are. The combination of the two of them, Leo and his actions, and his mother, who tries to keep up appearances, actually bring the rest of the family closer together as a united front against them. But each person had his or her own way of being kind of terrible. And I found the whole concept about what the nest was a little hard to relate to personally. I liked Bea’s character, but the rest of her siblings and almost everyone else in the book was very difficult to like.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no…I think that it was a good read and I became absorbed in the novel when I was reading it. But at the same time, I didn’t like a lot of the characters, which makes it harder for me to enjoy a book overall. I think if this book was pitched to me differently, or not at all, I would have enjoyed it more. Going into reading the book with certain expectations made the whole reading experience a little more challenging to enjoy. But I think Sweeney did capture the characters’ difference voices well and the plot moved along quite nicely. I would pick up more of her work.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Fourth Book Review: “No One Knows” by J.T. Ellison

“No One Knows” by J.T. Ellison was a thrilling read full of twists. When we meet Aubrey she is several days away from her husband being declared legally dead. It is something that her mother-in-law has been pushing for but which Aubrey refuses to accept. The deeper we get into the story, the easier it is to understand Aubrey’s reluctance to write off Josh as dead and the more questions pop up that make his whole disappearance all the more mysterious.

What really made this an intriguing read were the characters. They all were flawed – some of them more so than others and it was impossible to tell from one moment to the next who was being truthful and who was not to be trusted. Even Aubrey wasn’t certain that she was a good person: “She’d been anesthetized against compassion. That made her a sociopath, didn’t it? / It was a horrifying thought. Surely it wasn’t entirely true… / A psychopath then. Able to feel, but always choosing to follow the wrong path.” (No One Knows, pg 156). Aubrey was an interesting character. She had a rough childhood, her parents died and she got put in the foster system. Although she knew Josh since they were kids, his mother did everything possible to keep the two of them apart, including calling the cops on Aubrey when she walked in on the two of them together as teenagers.

It was obvious from the start that Josh’s mother was unhinged, full of rage, and completely delusional. “ Josh wasn’t Tom’s son, not really, yet Tom had adopted him soon after their marriage began, had always loved him like his own, even when Josh was at his worst. She didn’t like having to share her grief with her husband. It was hers, hers alone, a tight ball of perpetually sustained energy that kept her body animated, jerking along like a zombie from day to night to day again.” (No One Knows, pg 54/55). Where most people would want to share their grief with a loved one, Josh’s mom is selfishly upset that her husband is grieving too. It was a really odd situation and I spent a great deal of time hating her.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. It reminded me a bit of “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn where I wasn’t sure if I liked most of the characters; although I enjoyed “No One Knows” a lot better than “Gone Girl”. It was an exciting read and I hope that J.T. Ellison continues to write. I just learned that there are several more books out there by J.T. Ellison and I cannot wait to get my hands on them.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Sixty-Third Book Review: “The Last Van Gogh” by Alyson Richman

When I saw “The Last Van Gogh” by Alyson Richman at the bookstore I knew I needed to read it, and bought it right away. Van Gogh is my favorite artist and a novel about him sounded amazing. It ended up sitting on my bookshelf for a bit because I was saving it. I know it’s weird, but when I’m pretty sure I’m going to love a book I wait until I’m in a book slump to read it. Unfortunately, it did not work out well for me this time.

I am a big fan of historical fiction, I love the combination of real events with a worthy artist taking the time to weave words together in a way that high school textbooks never did. I love learning bits and pieces about history in this way, and although authors usually take liberties, the story is all the better for it. I’m honestly not sure how much research went into this novel, but it felt like Richman sat in front of a Van Gogh exhibit and read a short biography about his depression during his short life and called it research. Then sat down and wrote this with the idea of ‘what if he had an affair with the daughter of a doctor he sought out for treatment?’ The description of his works was detailed, but that’s not really what I would be looking for in a novel about Vincent Van Gogh and one of his many messy affairs. I do think when writing historical fiction that you are more likely to be successful if your main character is more your creation than based on a real person. When I realized this book was being told from the perspective of the daughter of Doctor Gachet, I thought this was a formula for an exceptional novel.

It’s a nice concept, but where it fell apart was in the delivery. Marguerite could have been an amazing character that was inspired by love to do something with her life, and for part of the novel, that is just what she seemed like she was going to do: “I did not want to end up like Mother…stoically sacrificing my passion only to end up dying with regrets. It was so easy to imagine myself with a similar fate and I found myself yearning to create a more satisfying ending…” (The Last Van Gogh, pg 203). Unfortunately, by the end of the novel it didn’t seem like Marguerite did much at all with her life. I found her unendingly frustrating. When we first meet her, she is a servant in her own household and forced to wait on her father and brother. We learn about how she is treated by her family and the dreams she has for her life, and how she wants to escape it all someday…and by the end of the novel she is still the same. She never escapes to the life she yearns for, but somehow finds satisfaction in the brief affair she has with Vincent? He takes her virginity and she’s done with adventure and her dreams? I just found the whole situation exasperating. When I finished the novel I just closed the book and thought that’s it? Really? It was so unsatisfying and it made Marguerite such a disappointing character.

Would I recommend this book? Eh, it was a decent enough read but was by no means a page-turner. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but I was disheartened by the end of the novel. This was one of those situations where I judged a book by its cover and was disappointed that the writing inside did not match my expectations. I doubt I would pick up anything else by Alyson Richman.