NY Times

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air.jpg

Summary:

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. 

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. 

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" “When Breath Becomes Air” is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This was a book that reminded me a lot of “The Opposite of Loneliness” where I was overly-aware that my perception of the book was influenced the knowledge that the author was going to die by the end.  That being said, I found this book incredibly poignant and a fantastic reminder of what are the most important things in life.  Thought you can’t live every day like it’s your last (contrary to the saying), the book is a good grounding in what is most important in life.

This was a book that I finished in three sit downs because despite my best intentions, it was one I couldn’t put down and I was desperate to know what happened.  While unsettling, it’s also fascinating to hear what other people do when they know that their time is soon to run out.  Though it left me in tears, it’s a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life!

Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

Summary:

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for “Into Thin Air”, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is a book that I had postponed reading because I have heard a lot of opinions from family and friends around me who are passionate fans of mountaineering.  If you look at the historical accounts, Krakauer is a little more contentious and I’m planning on reading Boukreev’s counterpart to the story soon.  (Note: I have heard his book is not quite as accessible to the casual reader.)  But this is all a side note, onto the review!

The things that is undeniable about Krakauer’s account is that it’s extremely compelling.  It’s fascinating storytelling and he does an amazing job introducing the topic of Everest with history, why people are drawn to the mountain and he himself ended up with the ill-fated climbers.  I was fascinated with the build up of the book just as much as the events that followed.  The tension portrayed through the final three days had me pausing to stop and take a walk around the room before going back to it.

One thing I found extremely annoying, however was the tendency to alternate between calling people by the last name and their first name.  It made it confusing when switching back and forth and meant that I made ample use of the first few pages that described each respective climbing party.  I would highly recommend reading this book, but if you enjoy it, also encourage you to check out some other accounts as well.

Warning: Contains repeated violence of people’s own choices as a side effect of dangerous climbing.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone with interest and enthusiasm into the type of climbing that happens on the top of the world.

The Fate of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #3)

The Fate of the Tearling

Summary:

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader.

And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies - chief among them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them.

To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable - naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne.

So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea - and the Tearling itself - will be revealed... (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is going to be a difficult review to write without revealing any plot holes so I’m going to do my best by describing my general feelings about the series at the end.  I really liked that Kelsea is a strong, but not infallible leader and that she is mature enough to identify which choices are being made for herself and which for her kingdom.  My biggest frustration at the end is what I perceive to be some solid plot holes that leave me with a lot of questions unresolved. 

I initially really didn’t like the ending feeling like it was too convenient, but have warmed up to it slightly.  I just wish that some of my questions were answered.  The main let down is that I thought the series was building up to something a little more intense and it didn’t quite deliver for me.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the series, but I believe it’s unlikely that I’ll reread it.  Much of the “big reveal” drove my motivation to finish the series and without that mystery I think the book may have dragged on a bit more.

Warning: Contains repeated violence.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Only folks who have read the first two in the series, otherwise there is going to be a lot of complexity lost.

Want to read the whole series?

Invasion of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #2)

Invasion of the Tearling

Summary:

Kelsea Glynn is the Queen of the Tearling. Despite her youth, she has quickly asserted herself as a fair, just and powerful ruler.

However, power is a double-edged sword, and small actions can have grave consequences. In trying to do what is right - stopping a vile trade in humankind - Kelsea has crossed the Red Queen, a ruthless monarch whose rule is bound with dark magic and the spilling of blood. The Red Queen's armies are poised to invade the Tearling, and it seems nothing can stop them.

Yet there was a time before the Crossing, and there Kelsea finds a strange and possibly dangerous ally, someone who might hold the key to the fate of the Tearling, and indeed to Kelsea's own soul. But time is running out...(Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

The best part of this book is discovering the back-story of “The Crossing” and the logistics that pulled everything together.  In this sequel to “Queen of the Tearling” Kelsea grows into an entirely different kind of ruler – and perhaps not the one she intended.  The visions grow and as Kelsea learns more about her legacy with the gems, things also get more confusing at the same time.

This was a slower book at times as we spend almost equal amounts of time in the past as we do in the present.  It was fascinating to see what steps Kelsea took first to consolidate her power and shape the new world in a better way.  Of the new characters introduced, I really enjoyed Father Tyler’s perspectives.  Yet there seems to be challenges from all corners and Kelsea will have to move quickly in order to save the kingdom.  I found this book compelling in that I consistently wanted to find out what was happening next, but the ending left me in a lurch and feeling obligated to find out what happens next.

Warning: Contains repeated violence.

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Only folks who have read the first in the series, otherwise there is going to be a lot of complexity lost.

Want to read the whole series?