Wednesday Dec 23, 2009

How Doctors Think: A review

How Doctors Think How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a phenomenal book that changed the way I looked at every doctor's visit I've ever had, along with questioning at least one diagnosis from my past.

Groopman told story after story about how once one doctor gives you a diagnosis, most other doctors will shut down their "cognitive reasoning" and never question that diagnosis and will keep trying to treat something you may not have. In some stories, this resulted in the death of a patient. He also talks about how physician lore and influence from drug and device companies perpetuate incorrect diagnoses and treatments.

For a personal example of a bad diagnosis sticking, I was diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome by a nurse practitioner who referred me to an orthopedic surgeon, who confirmed the diagnosis and was ready to operate. I then was lucky to meet my friend's cousin, a Harvard Med student, who within moments said "you don't even have the right symptoms for carpel tunnel - you have a pinched nerve in your neck and any surgery to your wrist would just cause you more pain and discomfort". My problem was corrected by a series of chiropractic adjustments - no surgery and now I'm pain free (and have been for years).

One poignant set of examples in the book that really stuck with me was about spinal fusion surgeries - these are very common and are well reimbursed by insurance companies, yet there is little evidence that they cure low back and extremity pain. There is little follow up done by the actual surgeons to see how the procedure impacted quality of life, and when follow up is done and the patient hasn't improved, they are simply told "well, you're one of the people this treatment doesn't help". Basically, if you don't have a spinal tumor or an actual broken back, back surgery probably won't help and will likely make things worse!

Groopman keeps things real by even referencing his own mistakes.

This book isn't a scary book, but rather one that gets you to think more about your own health and teaches you how to communicate with your doctor to help them keep out of the cognitive traps and really question what \*else\* could be wrong with you.

It is a must read for everyone! Really!

Thank you, Stormy, for recommending this. I wish I had read it years before!

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Saturday Dec 05, 2009

Cake Wrecks: a delighfully silly read!


Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a silly book that has you laughing out loud and scratching your head as you wonder, "what \*were\* they thinking?!".

I'm a big fan of the website, so I've seen a lot of the material before - but loved how Yates added new cakes and additional background for some of the others. While this is no major literary accomplishment, it is a great way to pass time on a plane or with family or friends.

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Friday Nov 20, 2009

James Patterson's Sam's Letters to Jennifer

Sam's Letters to Jennifer

Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend lent me this book, so you really can't complain about a free book... but I will anyways :-)

In the prologue, it's established that the main character, Jennifer, had lost her young husband, Danny, in a swimming accident 18 months before. She laments that she mostly went through this grieving on her own, with the exception of support from two friends. One of those two friends was named ... Danny. Okay, four characters have been introduced and two have the same name? Not a Danny and a Daniel, but both Danny. I had to reread a few pages to make sure I had it all straight. This is fiction - pick unique names! Why couldn't the friend be called Bob? David? Charles? the good news is that the friend Danny was only mentioned in the prologue and never again.

The book covers Jennifer's ability to love again and her mixed up emotions when she finds her self falling for a childhood friend that ... is dying. Oh, and her grandmother is in a coma, likely dying. Fortunately for Jennifer, her grandmother has left her a series of letters detailing her life, so it would all be written down. Of course, Jennifer learns secrets so shocking she isn't sure what to do with them, but eventually learns to accept her grandmother for the imperfect woman she was.

The book was a bit sappy for my taste, but due to the way it was mostly presented in "letters" it was a very fast read.

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Sunday Oct 11, 2009

Two More Sookie Stackhouse novels down...

Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, #4)

Dead to the World (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 4) by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars This had to be my most favorite book in the series (so far!). Witches, both Wiccans and the ladies from scary movies, feature heavily in this story, as a coven moves into the Shreveport area and wants to wreak havoc amongst the other supernaturals in town (at this point, this includes Werewolves, shape shifters, vampires and a telepath).

Eric, who's kind of the head vampire of Shreveport, is put under a spell so that he suffers a debilitating form of amnesia. The other local vampires are not sure what to do with him, so they put him in the care of Sookie Stackhouse (our heroine and telepath). I don't want to spoil the book, but a lovely romance blooms and the book has such a bitter sweet ending I could read over and over again.

Finally, Sookie's friend, Tara, starts making some serious appearances in the books - from which she's been nearly absent, even though the TV show, True Blood, has her as a main character from the first episode.

I have a stack of other books I've been meaning to read for months now, but since my friend Jen gave me an entire stack of these Sookie Stackhouse books, I find it's just too easy to pick one of those up instead. They are all fast reads with really enjoyable characters and fascinating plots.


Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse, #5) Dead as a Doornail (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 5) by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The suspense continues in this book, as Sookie's brother, Jason, has now joined the rank of the shape shifters - and someone has it out for shape shifters as they are turning up dead all over the tri-state area! Jason's brother becomes a prime suspect, as he was made a shape shifter by a terrible ordeal in the last book, so Sookie has to work double time to try and clear her brother's name.

The Bon Temps detective, Andy, is finally coming around to admitting Sookie might be a telepath... and is ready to test it for helping to solve some crimes, all the while the Werewolf community in Shreveport is in the middle of a raging political battle to find the next pack master.

Yes, really.

Okay, I know this is all very silly, but I love how Charlaine Harris takes you to the deep south where you can just imagine everything is not as it seems. I love the local flavor all of these books have and how unique and varied all of the characters are.

Again, Sookie finds herself the subject of the affection of many supernaturals, but never seems to find the right "guy". All the same, I'm already well into the next book seeing how she fares now that she's got fairies in her life... :-)

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Monday Sep 28, 2009

Just can't stop reading the Sookie Stackhouse books....

Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, #3) Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Another wonderful fast read from Charlaine Harris. Sookie's adventures with the vampires continue in this book as she gains more exposure (although unwittingly) to other "supernatural" cultures - werewolves and shape shifters!

It is wonderful how Sookie's character evolves and changes - much as any of us would do - as she is now experiencing the downside of falling in love when the relationship has trouble. In this case, her boyfriend was kidnapped - but not before deciding he was going to end things with her.

Sookie finds herself in between a rock and a hard place, knowing she has the power (telepathy) to help find Vampire Bill, but having a broken heart makes her just want to stay home in bed.

She travels this time to Jackson and spends a lot of time with a werewolf, Alcied. Harris does a great job of developing his character and Sookie's conflicted feelings.

My only "nit" in this book is the lack of any historical fiction, which is an aspect I really enjoyed in the first book (and the TV show, TrueBlood, relies on heavily).

At this point, it seems that the book and the TV show no longer have much in common.

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Wednesday Sep 23, 2009

Just finished Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse, #2)

Living Dead in Dallas (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 2) by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, which takes Sookie (the telepath) deeper into the vampire underground culture. Again, the book varies wildly from the television show in that it has fewer characters and fewer plot lines. As the book is written as Sookie, it only follows things that she actually sees, thinks or knows about. While Jason, Tara & Eggs have major parts in the TV show, they are practically nonexistent in this book. In fact, one person that is a major player in the show dies at the very beginning of this book, so I guess plot drift will be inevitable going forward. That's okay with me, as it means that even though I've watched most of season 2 of TrueBlood, I was still surprised by things in the book.

This was a quick and fun read. Sookie visits Dallas and the headquarters of the Fellowship of the Sun and learns that as much as they preach about loving God's light, they have a very dark side as well.

Harris has no problems exploring all subspecies of supposed fantasy creatures, figuring that if she can make telepaths and vampires real, why not throw in some maenads, shape shifters and werewolves while she's in there. :-)

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Sunday Sep 13, 2009

Just finished the first Sookie Stackhouse novel!

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1) Dead Until Dark: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars Continuing on the theme of vampires (thanks, Jen!), I've started reading the Sookie Stackhouse books. Having watched a few episodes of True Blood, I was worried that the books would've already been spoiled - not the case at all! The show, while true in character to the books, has different characters and doesn't follow the exact same story line, either.

I enjoyed Charlaine Harris's writing style and the way she could keep the suspense going all the way to the end of the book. The characters were very interesting, and so far none of them falling into strictly black or white. They all have subtle nuances, and even our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, is not perfect in thoughts, actions or deeds.

This book does what every good vampire book, in my opinion, should do - gives you a glimpse into the past. I love historical fiction and feel that Harris did a great job of weaving in Bill's (the vampire) past into the book.

So far, I'm enjoying this series a lot more than the Twilight series and have already started the second book.

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Monday Aug 10, 2009

Ordinary People

Ordinary People Ordinary People by Judith Guest

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not 100% sure how this book, a 1980s version of the paperback, ended up on my bookshelves. Best bet was that it belonged to either my brother or one of my sisters, and it somehow got moved to California with me. I've noticed it around for awhile, but hadn't been motivated to read it until recently when I was looking for other paperbacks to lend to a friend.

While the reviews on the book jacket all claimed the book was "timeless", I can say that now 30 years on, it is a bit dated. The stay at home moms, 18 year olds legally drinking beer, the descriptions of the "cool cars", and discussion of shock therapy as if it is a normal occurrence in psych wards.

The book started out annoying me by referring to one of the main characters by several different nicknames - without clarifying they were the same person. It doesn't help that his last name could also be a first name (Jarrett). His first name was Conrad, which was often Con, Connie, or Jarrett. This got worse when they referred to his deceased brother in the same way (often just by his last name, which is shared by both sons and the parents), a nickname (Buck) or his first name (which I don't remember, but was something odd like Jared... not that Jared is odd, but Jared Jarrett would be...)

The story itself is a simple tale of a family coming together and falling apart at the same time. We only see the story from the perspectives of Conrad and Cal (Calvin, Jarrett, the man, etc), but never from the mother's side. This leaves the impression that many of the problems in the family could be root caused to her coldness and refusing to communicate. If I've learned anything in this world, is that a different story can be told by all people in the same room that witnessed the same events, as the human brain will tell a "back story" to fill in the blanks which will bias your opinion, regardless of whether or not your back story was correct.

It was a short book, a decent way to pass the time, but I'm happy to move on from this tale.

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Sunday Jul 26, 2009

The Glass Castle....

The Glass Castle: A Memoir The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars This book, from Jeannette Walls, was impossible to put down. Many times I think I should write a memoir - interesting things have happened in my life. I had an interesting childhood and I had a lot going on as a teenager. That might be interesting, right?

Well, not compared to Walls' life!

Her painful memoir of growing up with a severely alcoholic, but brilliant, father and a depressed artist mother, always on the skedaddle, starts with recounting her tragic tale at the age of 3 - when she catches herself on fire while cooking at a gas stove.

The misery seems to go down from there.

The abject poverty and terrible neglect these children were raised in is appalling. The most concerning thing is that Walls talks about all of the other families in the same slums, living similar lifestyles. It's heartbreaking and compelling. It's a story of survival against all odds, and of overwhelming family love.

I can't recommend this enough. Let me know if you want to borrow it :-)

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Monday Jul 06, 2009

Finally finished with the Twilight Series!

Breaking Dawn (Twilight, #4) Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4) by Stephenie Meyer

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Finally, I'm through with the Twilight series! [1] This was my favorite in the series, as Meyer used less foreshadowing (which lead to actually surprising plot twists). This book also told part of the story through Jacob's eyes, which was pretty cool. Jacob is, in my opinion, the most interesting character in the book. He actually has real life issues and emotions, and struggles to find the correct balance. Edward and Bella, on the other hand, are very self absorbed and have very one tracked minds.

The book, overall, though, was very compelling and I had a hard time putting it down (between this and writing code, I've been a bit of a hermit).

I was disappointed at the end, though. Much like a Cinnabon, it was delicious at the start, but the hyper sweetness left me with a stomach ache by the time I was finished.

I think my next book will have to be nonfiction, so I can maybe read it and maintain a life at the same time. ;-)

[1] yes, I know there is another book being written from Edward's perspective, but I understand that it overlaps, time wise, with Twilight, which is not very compelling to me. More interesting would be covering the prior 80 years of Edward's life as a vampire, before Bella came into his life. Think of how The Vampire Lestat was a wonderful companion to Interview with a Vampire. I know Edward tells us over and over that his life began when he met Bella, but I find such sentiments belittling to those who have spent time with you before.

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Friday Jun 26, 2009

3 Twilight books down, one to go :-)

Eclipse (Twilight, #3) Eclipse (The Twilight Saga) by Stephenie Meyer

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is my favorite in the series so far. A much more compelling plot than the first two books, with a very exciting climax with unexpected twists and turns.

I am still very annoyed with the glamorization of an uber-exclusive relationship. I mean, really, it's not healthy to see only your boyfriend - 24 hours a day, particularly not for emotionally developing teenagers, yet it wasn't until this book that Bella's father even mentioned that he wanted her to spend time with other people besides Edward. And her father isn't even aware of the fact that Edward spends all night, every night, with her.

Not to mention how controlling Edward was of Bella early in the book. That type of behaviour is never healthy, but can be especially dangerous with teenagers who are still developing a personality.

Other than those nits, the story in this book was compelling and a real page turner.

Of course, since it is a "juvenile" or "young adult" book, it is a very fast read for an adult.


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Tuesday Jun 16, 2009

Just finished the second Twilight book, New Moon

New Moon (Twilight, #2)

New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2) by Stephenie Meyer

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I liked this book a lot more than Twilight, as I found the characters more interesting and better developed. I loved the character of Jacob Black, though I did find the constant foreshadowing in Twilight and this book about Jacob's tribe ruined what could've been an interesting plot development (as I saw it coming in the first book!)

Jacob Black is the one character that isn't totally self absorbed and not overly melodramatic. Yes, I realize these are supposed to be teenagers, but I don't remember being that bad (but perhaps it's selective memory :-).

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Thursday Jun 11, 2009

Continuing the Lemming theme... I finished reading Twilight!

Twilight (Twilight, #1) Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) by Stephenie Meyer

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Okay, I'll admit it - I didn't want to like this book. I am a huge fan of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, so I did not see a lot of this book as being as original as many folks said it was (ie vampires with feelings and intelligence, as opposed to cold blooded monsters). That aside, the story is compelling and it is a quick and easy read for an adult. I now feel like I can relate to the rest of the world that has already read this book. Finally, I am so glad I am not a teenager anymore, though, and so easily caught up in such intense emotions. :-)

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Friday May 15, 2009

Just finished reading Restaurant Confidential

Restaurant Confidential Restaurant Confidential by Michael F. Jacobson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A friend lent me this book, and it has ruined my blissful ignorance of eating out in restaurants, though may save my life down the line. I had no idea how many calories those "snacks" in the mall had - they aren't really snacks at all, but full meals (and in some cases a full day's worth of calories and two day's worth of fat!)

Really, I did learn a lot about how to choose more healthfully off of a menu and how to keep my heart healthy. Still, I'm going to miss eating cheesecake!

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Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/

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