Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg

I think this is my third time through Lovingkindness and I get more out of it each time.  If only I could live up to these ideals!  I think each read-through drives the concepts in a little deeper.  I wish everyone could read (and really hear) this book.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I didn’t expect the lead characters to be back in the arena themselves for the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, but she figured out a way to get them there.  Now I’m wondering if she can pull it off for the third book.  There was plenty of excitement and adventure in this book, and her story lines gain momentum when the games are being played.

The ending seemed hectically rushed.  There were no long chapters of wrapping up and resolution, just a couple of quick paragraphs to catch the reader up on a wealth of backstory that had been occurring unseen (though not completely unguessed) throughout the book.  Now we wait for the third installment (not yet published) to find out how she wraps up a complex set of story lines.  The romantic triangle seems unsolvable.  It’s hard not to root for Peeta since he’s the love interest we see the most of.

See Them Die by Ed McBain

See Them Die is one of McBain’s more artistic works.  There’s no mystery, just a series of events that play out over the course of a hot morning and afternoon in the city.  It examines themes of racism in the context of how juveline delinquents are inevitably created in certain environments.

When my friend Sheila gave me a nice hardcover edition for Christmas, I thought I hadn’t read it, but once I started it did become familiar.  Maybe there aren’t any unread McBain’s out there for me.  But this was a great one to re-read and the edition is a big upgrade from my tattered paperback.

Tweak by Nic Sheff

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines is the counterpoint to Beautiful Boy. Tweak is by the addicted son; Beautiful Boy by the suffering father. I first read Beautiful Boy, which was also published first, with every intention of reading Tweak, but Beautiful Boy was a pretty depressing read. As I mentioned in my review of it, I’m accustomed to a “happy ever after” ending for mental illness and addiction books. Although I guess we always know that relapses are lurking in the shadows, you like to end on some kind of hopeful high note. Beautiful Boy ended with Nic in treatment but after so many relapses that neither his father nor the reader could believe he’d been through his last.

Tweak has no better picture to paint. In fact, although it ends where Beautiful Boy did, my edition contained two additional epilogues/afterwords chronicling two more (shorter, it sounds like) relapses. Since then, Nic has had a blog but when I went to check it out, I found the last post was one saying “Bye” because other things were consuming his time, which reads a bit like addict-speak for “I’m getting ready to relapse.”

Aside from my increasing frustration with Nic’s relapses, I enjoyed the book. His writing is a little too obviously casual, peppered with “like” and “you know.” It’s meant to sound like he’s really talking but it comes off as artificial over a space as long as that book is, but he’s honest and open and a good writer. I wish him luck.

Mary Cassatt by Sophia Craz

This was a nice collection of Mary Cassatt’s works with a one-page summary of each of the major periods of her life and many full-color prints. It was interesting that Mary Cassat was a long way from being an ovenright success. She didn’t come to like her own work until later in life but she kept working, taking lessons and trying different mediums until she found her niche and honed her talent. She’s best known for her mother/child drawings and those were the most striking and best-represented works in this collection.

The Hunger Games

Warning: spoilers (if you can’t guess the ending by chapter 2)

The Hunger Games is the first book in the latest sub-adult series to hit it big with audiences of all ages.  I didn’t realize that Hunger Games was considered Young Adult until I went to look for its sequel and had to find my way over to that section.  Compared to the early Harry Potters, which were clearly written for children, or Twilight, which has unquestionable appeal for teenage girls, Hunger Games seemed pretty adult to me.  Yes, the protagonists were children/teens, but the writing level was up to adult speeds and the themes are pretty grown-up.  Except that, as with Twilight, no one is getting it on.

My only gripe with Hunger Games is that it’s monumentally predictable.  That she will win, we can guess.  That somehow he’s not going to die either, we can assume.  That they’ll fall in love?  Well, she managed to surprise me there only by ending the book without a decision.  I didn’t realize going into this book that it was a series.  I now see the impending love triangle, but I also see a lot of potential for some more serious themes.  Future installments won’t just be a glimpse into the future of reality TV.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith

Havana Bay is by the author of Gorky Park, which I’d read before, and features the same Russian detective. In this story, he travels to Cuba. I guess since communism is gone in Russia, the author had to move his story line. Politically based mysteries aren’t really my favorite but as a spy story, Havana Bay is not high in convoluted plotting. As a novel, the characters are interesting and the story unfurls at an unrushed but attention-keeping pace. When finished, you remember the detective’s inner drama more than whodunit, which is more satisfying (and allows you to read the book again some day).

Dali by David Larkin

Dali is a nice collection of color prints of the artist’s works. It’s interesting that some of these works are actually smaller in person than in the prints. The book also contained detailed blow-ups of some sections of some of the works and a review of Dali’s life.

Hold Tight by Harlan Coben

Hold Tight was a fast-paced good read. It starts with the question of whether parents are right to spy on their teenage son who appears to be going bad. It ends up all over the place with one unlikely coincidence/event leading to another, yet it hung together and kept my interest. I liked the twist at the end. The characters were multi-dimensional and yet still sympathetic.

My father lent me this one while I was visiting and now he’s passed on another one to me, so I’ll be reading more by this author.

Sway by Ori & Rom Brafman

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior is often compared to Blink and with good reason. I actually thought it was written by the same guy, but it’s not. It covers the same sort of warped thought processes we humans use to make decisions. They’re interesting to read about but often discouraging since it seems unlikely we can really overcome these ingrained human traits. It might not be advantageous to overcome them all anyway. The need to conform and the lack of time to thoroughly evaluate every possibility don’t allow us to always make the right choice based on solid evidence and rational thought. Sometimes we need to jump to conclusions or just go along with the crowd.

Of course, it’s good to be aware of when we’re doing that so the brakes can be applied in cases where clear thinking is critical, as in the example in the book of a pilot who killed a whole plane full of people by being stubbornly committed to a pre-planned course of action. But in the example of saying whether or not three lines are the same length (when they’re clearly not) because everyone else is saying so . . . well, there are times when agreeing is the right choice. The dissenter, while an important role, is not a popular one. Perhaps companies and other organizations with important decisions to make could hire consultants to dissent. These people could show up, dissent to the point of getting a good conversation going, and move on without damaging their careers. I would make an excellent professional dissenter. I’ve already spent too much time being an amateur one.