Claire reviews: Ikigai

51Hls-Umt1L._SY346_Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life isn’t the type of book that should be judged by its airy, delicate cover. Written by former CERN engineer Héctor García and personal inspiration author Francesc Miralles, Ikigai is certainly a light and enjoyable read but pulls no punches when it comes to content. It unabashedly tackles some of the most complex philosophical questions concerning happiness, resiliency, and what makes life worth living. In its short length of 194 pages, García and Miralles illuminate an abstract Japanese concept that quite literally describes the life force that wakes us up in the morning and contributes to longevity and wellbeing.

By far the most impressive part of the book is the elegant simplicity with which the authors explain ideas that could easily confuse or frustrate readers. Foregoing jargon and flourish, García and Miralles approach subjects of Eastern philosophy with a gentle touch that can only be described as “just so.” In addition, their intellectual respect for their readers is evident in their reliance on a variety of source materials – from scientific studies to Greek and Roman philosophers – to back up primary source interviews collected in Ogimi, Okinawa.

Subjects covered in the book range from basic concepts of good health such as a diet high in fruits and vegetables and regular, sustained movements to more difficult ideas such as the importance of joy, celebration, and community. Wisely, the authors leave the residents of Ogimi – some of the longest-lived people on earth – to explain their own theories of longevity. By the epilogue of the book, García and Miralles manage to boil down their findings to a 10-step plan for increasing lifetime vitality. Unlike many books approaching health and wellness, though, their plan is simple, actionable, and eminently practical.

Perhaps the reasons for the practicality of Ikigai are twofold: first, the book is simply and clearly organized with a guiding inquiry and a clear thesis directing its trajectory; second, García and Miralles avoid coming off as experts. Instead, they offer suggestions but allow the reader the freedom to develop their own passions and plans in tune with a few basic principles. This approach harmonizes completely with the main topic of the book, which contends that each human being is unique and possesses a purpose that can make only them genuinely happy. There are no prescriptions in Ikigai and certainly no restrictions, which makes it an excellent source from which to brainstorm a healthier life.

While transitions from chapter to chapter and theme to theme are not always as clear as desired, it is not a major detriment to the overall writing, which is crisp and brisk. The book can easily be read over a weekend or taken at a more leisurely pace. Although it certainly does follow in the footsteps of books such as Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, its subject is unique, humane, and easily synthesized with popular lifestyle trends such as that covered by Wiking’s books.

Ikigai is a lovely gift for anyone who enjoys books on Scandinavian lifestyle, enthusiasts of Eastern philosophies such as Zen and wabi-sabi, or anyone just looking for great ideas for a 2018 New Year’s Resolution.


Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is in stores now. (Penguin, $20.00, ISBN 0143130722).


Stephanie reviews: Artemis

41NQKXLoVUL._SY346_Artemis is not The Martian.

When someone writes a book that swept the nation like The Martian, and they come out with another super-science space novel you kinda expect more of the same. Artemis is in a way more of the same- but not in any of the ways you are expecting.

It is heavy on the science, sarcasm, and snark. Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara has lived on Artemis her whole life and has made a lot of mistakes in that time. She’s a professional smuggler looking to make a little extra money to get out of her ‘coffin’ apartment and on the outs with her father. Artemis is a full city of two thousand people living on the moon. Tourists come and stay there and spend a lot of money doing so, but the blue collar and underbelly people have to try a little harder to get that spending cash. So when Jazz is offered a million slugs (Artemis currency) to destroy some equipment she can’t bring herself to say no.

And then, of course, it backfires. And some people are dead. And now she’s on the run. In a city, that’s in a bubble… on the moon. Oh boy. Jazz luckily has a great group of interesting friends, a quick wit, a sharp mind, and a lot of sarcasm to digest it.

I enjoyed Artemis a lot. It was a fun heist/caper/suspense novel but I think the biggest problem readers will end up having is the stakes are different from The Martian. In The Martian, we are rooting for Mark to make it back home. It is one man fighting an entire planet and trying to use his brains, potatoes, and limited resources to survive. In Artemis, we are along for the ride as Jazz makes purposefully nefarious and underground decisions and you are hoping she doesn’t die but you just never know. The other problem for readers might be the science. With Mark, he gave us short log entries, that were digestible and it felt like Mark did a lot of talking through his problems so we could keep up. Here Jazz lives and breathes space science every day. She has to tell us everything about Artemis and it can become a lot holding how many double air lock chambers, entrances, valves, air pressure readings, small-town economy checks and balances, and etc that Artemis contains. It’s a lot on the reader to be able to remember things at a time and Weir does a good job to remind us along the way but it can be a bit much at times.

Artemis is an enjoyable book, it’s enjoyable, science-y, has a good caper, and the characters are off-kilter but endearing all the same (for the last time Svoboda she will try out your condom when she is good and ready!) Just remember, it’s not The Martian.


Artemis is in stores today. (Crown Publishing Group, $27.00, ISBN 0553448129).

Georgette reviews: The Vineyard

51n65CluCYLI’m a big fan of Isabel Allende’s work. Her new book came out recently. I was disappointed in it. THIS book by Maria Duenas? The opposite. In fact, I would go as far to say that this book is more like an Isabel Allende book than that one. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves Allende’s work, or fans of Kristin Hannah. Really, anyone who likes historical fiction based around a time and those living in it (rather than historical events that took place), would enjoy it.

Imagine having financial security based on years of hard work, and then life comes along and deals you a losing hand, which results in that security being threatened. This is what happens to Maura Larrea. But this guy is a fighter, and he manages to take a huge chance with what he has left, and he inherits a neglected house and a vineyard in Spain. He leaves behind his life and heads for Spain, with the intention of selling the property and going back to Mexico. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, however, and this is certainly the case when Mauro meets Soledad, the widow of a local wine merchant. She’s a feisty one, but so is Mauro, and before you know it, the two of them happen upon a chance that could bring them an opportunity beyond their wildest dreams, or will it end in heartbreak and further debt? The only way you’ll know? You have to read it!


The Vineyard is in stores now. (Simon & Schuster, $26.00, ISBN 1501124536).

A Death Metal Song of Winning: Ryan reviews “Stephen Florida”

511uha1fo9LGabe Habash’s Stephen Florida is a story about a college athlete wrestling for an NCAA Championship at 133lbs. However, it’s really all about voice, and that voice is magnificently unwieldy. The mantras and interior monologues of this singularly unique narrator look you right in the eyes the whole time. Habash unleashes upon the reading public some wonderful combination of the relentless Bride (Uma Thurman’s character in “Kill Bill”) with the predictably fragile façade of stereotypical male masculinity. The velocity of his narration left me on my back, pinned, and staring up at the gym lights, before I even finished the first page.

In 1993, wrestling for my high school squad, I competed in several tournaments, but at one, I met my match. As soon as the whistle went, I went down. I got batted upside my headgear, tossed around, and lost within about ten seconds. On my back, my knees beside my ears, struggling to get a full breath of mat stench, getting bested so easily was humbling. But, in the end, I didn’t mind. I knew I was up against a superior physical being. Habash puts you in the head of that superior athlete and it’s exhilarating, feels like winning. He beautifully accesses the Trump-level bluster one needs to even be so foolish as to dream of greatness, then earnestly depicts those snags we all have but don’t tug on lest it unravel us.

“Stephen Florida” is filled with dark humor, clean prose, and a worthy, brisk plot, but it’s going to be the narrator’s voice that keeps you on the phone. I simply just wanted to hear him talk. Florida’s too consumed with ambition to be anyone’s close friend, but Habash gives you his personal phone number. I called it all day, every day until he stopped picking up. I haven’t read a book this fast in five years, but I put it down two pages from the end, because I didn’t want to see Florida go.

If you don’t like it in the first five pages, you’ll likely never warm up to it, but you should. Florida’s is the story of dreaming and the inherent cost of dreams. I don’t know what other story there is.

5/5 stars.


Stephen Florida is in stores now. (Coffee House Press, $25.00, ISBN 1566894646).

Georgette reviews: Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera

51fmby6mjoL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_I got this in a box of advances over the summer. I read it, thinking it was fiction that a 44-year old who enjoyed the Muppets as a child would enjoy as an adult. I realized later on that it says “Young Readers” on the back cover and that it’s classified as having a target age group of 9-12 years old. Well, I’m here to tell you that all ages can enjoy this!

If you have young ones who are not huge readers or who may have reservations about reading “the classics”, here’s an excellent way to introduce them. Miss Piggy stars as our heroine, the young soprano, Piggy Daae, with the winsome Kermit, as her admirer Viscount Monsieur Kermit de Chagny. Co-starring Fozzie Bear as the detective seeking the Phantom’s ring (in this case, NOT a gold wedding ring, but a candy Ring Pop instead), and all of our other Muppet friends, life at the Paris Opera House was never this much fun in Gaston LeRoux’s original classic masterpiece. If you want to introduce your kids to a classic franchise’s take on a classic novel, this is a great start. If you just want to regress to your childhood a wee bit, this is also an excellent sidewalk to take.
Muppets Meet The Classics: The Phantom Of The Opera is in stores now. (Penguin, $12.99, ISBN 0451534379).

Stephanie talks: podcast companions

Double dip your media with podcasters and their books!


Podcasters: Anthony Dave and Gareth Reynoldsdheegw3R

Podcast: The Dollop


Official iTunes Description: Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds pick a subject from history and examine it.

BookThe United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American                                   History


1424727845212Podcasters: Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor

Podcast: Welcome to Night Vale

Official iTunes Description: Twice-monthly community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, where every conspiracy theory is true.

Books: Welcome to Night ValeMostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume OneThe Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume TwoIt Devours!: A Welcome to Night Vale novel.




Podcasters: Sarah Koenig and “This American Life”

Podcast: Serial


Official iTunes Description: Serial unfolds one story-a true story over the course of a whole season. The show follows the plot and the characters wherever they lead, through many surprising twists and turns.

BookAdnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry (not a straight connection but inspired)


lore-logo-lightPodcasters: Aaron Mahnke

Podcast: Lore

TV Show: Lore (find it on Amazon Prime)

Official iTunes Description: Lore is a bi-weekly podcast about the dark historical tales that fuel our modern superstitions. Each episode explores the world of mysterious creatures, tragic events, and unusual places. Because sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.

Book: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures


PodcasterphotoMarc Maron

Podcast: WTF with Marc Maron

Official iTunes Description: Comedian Marc Maron is tackling the most complex philosophical question of our day-WTF? He’ll get to the bottom of it with comedian friends, celebrity guests, and the voices in his own head.

Book: Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast


cover-image-j6ymtsrz-cover_artPodcaster: Jamie Morton

Podcast: My Dad Wrote a Porno

Official iTunes Description: Imagine if your dad wrote a dirty book. Most people would try to ignore it and pretend it had never happened-but not Jamie Morton. Instead, he’s decided to read it to the world in this brand new comedy podcast.

Book: My Dad Wrote a Porno


moth_podcast_1400x1400Podcast: The Moth

Official iTunes Description: Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of true stories, told live and without notes to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. Moth storytellers stand alone, under a spotlight, with only a microphone and a room full of strangers.

Book: The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown (Moth Presents) by Catherine Burns, The Moth: 50 True Stories by Catherine Burns.


1200x630bbPodcaster: Greg Proops

Podcast: The Smartest Man in the World Proopcast

Official iTunes Description: Comedian Greg Proops is smarter than you.

Book: The Smartest Book in the World: A Lexicon of Literacy, A Rancorous Reportage, A Concise Curriculum of Cool


WWDTM_logo_clr_stacked_highresPodcaster: Peter Sagal and NPR

Podcast: Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!

Official iTunes Description: NPR’s weekly current events quiz. Have a laugh and test your news knowledge while figuring out what’s real and what we’ve made up.

Book: Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Crossword Puzzles and News Trivia


Angelica reviews: History of Wolves

51nKDlBJFKLIn her debut, History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund executes a mysterious and unique coming of age story. We are introduced to Madeline (Linda), a solitary and intelligent 14-year-old. Having grown up in a Minnesota commune, Linda exists isolated from her peers, teachers, and even her parents, often looking towards nature as a refuge. Linda’s life is changed when a new history teacher, Mr. Grierson, arrives, only to be arrested for possessing child pornography and accused of having sex with one of his students. Amidst the allegations, the arrival of a new family across the lake from Linda further transforms her daily existence, as she becomes their babysitter. While Linda grows close to Patra and her son Paul, distrust emerges as his father, Leo, returns from Hawaii. Intensely observant, Linda notes Leo’s domineering presence and braces for the worst. As tension builds and unresolved questions arise, something terrible and unexpected happens, altering Linda’s life and those around her.

History of Wolves is a thrilling and unusual novel, jumping between Linda’s past and present, between the pain and the uncertainty trauma leaves behind. Often reading like vignettes, Fridlund seamlessly drifts from reflections to first-person accounts, creating a unique and disorienting style. Fridlund evokes a heavy sense of loneliness, from her descriptions of the woods that surround Linda’s home to the dense solitude many of the characters exist in. Despite Linda’s yearning for deep human connection, she is unable to grab hold of those she feels closest to. While the storyline between Linda and Mr. Grierson felt like an afterthought at times, her empathy towards him crystallizes her solitude. History of Wolves is a slow burn as Fridlund takes her time to reveal crucial and gut wrenching details, precisely controlling the climax to a startling effect. In the end, Linda is as mysterious as when we are first introduced, offering no neat endings as Fridlund mirrors the severity of real life.


HIstory of Wolves was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is out in paperback 11/7. (Grove Atlantic, $16.00, ISBN 080212738X).