‘No Apparent Distress’ by Rachel Pearson

no-apparent-distress-pearsonNo Apparent Distress: A Doctor’s Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine is inspiring, dispiriting, and profoundly informative all at the same time. Author and MD Rachel Pearson tells the story of medicine in America and how it has developed into a skewed system that favors the rich and the white.

Pearson beings her story at the beginning of her own journey into medicine. A former creative writing major and Texas native, Pearson decides to change her career path and pursue a future in medicine. No Apparent Distress catalogues this journey as Pearson attends medical school in Galveston, Texas, a notoriously diverse and poverty ridden area. Volunteering time at a student-run, free clinic, shadowing doctors on procedures she’s only ever read about, Pearson begins to unravel the unethical nature of medical training.

Throughout her training, Pearson is confronted with the reality that she is learning on those who can’t afford to complain or ask for better. She is making mistakes, time and again, as a student and a doctor in training, on patients who don’t have health insurance, who don’t have any other choice but to accept sub-par care at the hands of a learning medical student. Pearson herself comes from a working-class background, and the effects of inadequate, faulty, and often rushed care has affected her family as well. Pearson’s own mother contracted hepatitis-C during an unnecessary blood transfusion after giving birth to her daughter without health insurance.

Pearson has a unique way of weaving her own person experiences into a larger conversation about healthcare, the care of the unhealthy, and the prejudice biases that drive these very American systems.

A beautiful and frightening portray of American medicine, No Apparent Distress, is a book so relevant to our current times that anyone can relate. Whether you are the lucky one standing on the side of the insured receiving adequate care, or you’ve experienced the distress of inadequate care, No Apparent Distress will find resonance with you somewhere.

Published by W.W. Norton and company in May of 2017, No Apparent Distress by Rachel Pearson is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘These Heroic, Happy Dead’ by Luke Mogelson

these-heroic-happy-dead-mogelsonThese Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson is a collection of stories that unearth the unending terror of war.

Each story follows a protagonist that has had some experience with war, whether a veteran, the mother of war hero turned criminal, or simply someone who knows someone who was once in the war. Though Mogelson does not stick with a single character or plot point, the stories are connected through the emotional verve in which they are steeped. Each character, though unique, shares with every other the universal burden of war, of having seen death or been close enough to feel its effects on someone they love.

Some of the most poignant stories are those that don’t fit into the reader’s inklings of what will happen. In To the Lake, it seems almost too obvious where the story is going, but somehow in the last page, the last paragraph, even the last sentence of the story, Mogelson turns the entire narrative on its head, and what the reader was sure was going to happen is transformed into a completely different representation.

Perhaps the one largest critique of These Heroic, Happy Dead is the profusion of gendered stereotypes throughout the collection. Women only appear as widows, mothers of the main character, or ex-lovers who have fallen out of love with the wounded who have come home. No woman is a main character with her own story unattached to a male. Now woman is a soldier herself or has a validated set of experiences that makes the reader want to know her better.

Nonetheless, These Heroic, Happy Dead is a collection of stories wrought with emotion and dripping with a pervasive sense that something needs to change, that war is not glamorous, and that the damage is brings cannot outweigh our urge as humans to both fight and protect.

Published by Tim Duggan books in June of 2016, These Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Dear Mr. M’ by Herman Koch

dear mr. m - kochIf you’ve ever read any books by Herman Koch, Dear Mr. M is simply another chapter in what has already been a breath taking, hilarious, and deeply disturbing compendium of work. Koch’s latest novel follows in the footsteps of all his novels that came before but somehow seems to go deeper and get more at who the characters are, while still maintaining the very traditional distanced and oddly removed perspective of his previous work.

Dear Mr. M meets at the intersection of crime and literary novels drawing elements from each genre to create a truly chilling and poetic work. When the novel first begins, it’s hard to tell what the story will even be about besides a creepy stalker writing a letter to a writer. Quickly, though, the relationships between characters build, and the reader starts to see that the characters’ connections go deeper than even they know. As the story develops, the reader, along with the characters, is dragged through the intricate and shocking plot that creates Dear Mr. M.

A murder that happened 40 years ago, a nearly washed up author, an affair between a young girl and her high school teacher, friendships, backstabbing, first love, and old love, are only a few of the plot points that are travelled throughout Dear Mr. M.  The shift in perspective that Koch uses further encourages distrust and unreliability among the characters and the plot as the reader tries to unravel the truth of what has happened and what is happening.

A truly thrilling read, Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch was published in paperback by Hogarth Press in June of 2017. You can purchase a copy of Dear Mr. M at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Kindred Spirits’ by Rainbow Rowell

kindred-spirits-rowellRainbow Rowell’s short story, Kindred Spirits, is one of the most laugh-out-loud, hilarious books of the year. Rowell tells the story of a teenage Star Wars fanatic who stands in line four days early for a seat at the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Kindred Spirits, though, is much more about the relationships that form during those four days than it is about Star Wars.

Elena is 18 and obsessed with Star Wars, mostly because of her dad’s obsession with Star Wars. And now, it’s 2014 and The Force Awakens is about to be released. Elena has heard of the lines that formed for Star Wars movies in the 1980s and even the 2000’s when the prequels were released, and she is ecstatic to be able to join in the comradery of this tradition. So, she has her mom drop her off at the theater four days early. And, there are two people in line…for the entire four days.

Throughout their four days together, Elena, Gabe, and Troy form something like a friendship. Elena, though, discovers more about herself and the unpredictability of life. Things might not always turn out like she imagines they will, but they often turn out in a way that still brings joy and unexpected life changes.

Released by St. Martin’s Press in 2016, a special release hardcover edition of Kindred Spirits was released for this year’s Independent Bookstore Day.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Girl in the Blue Coat’ by Monica Hesse

girl-in-the-blue-coat-hesse.jpgGirl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is a novel steeped in history, passion, and emotion. A coming of age book that tells the story of the main character, seventeen-year-old Hanneke’s experiences in Amsterdam during World War II. Hanneke is an angry citizen of Amsterdam during the German occupation in 1943, angered not only by the Germans’ presence, but mostly because her boyfriend died during the war and she feels responsible. Now, Hanneke works in dealings on the black market, delivering goods like coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes to her fellow citizens.

At the beginning of the novel, Hanneke is completing a routine drop off at Mrs. Janssen’s house, a woman Hanneke knows well and whose son and husband have also died at the hands of the Germans. When Mrs. Janssen invites Hanneke to stay for real coffee and pastries though, Hanneke is suspicious of what more Mrs. Janssen might want from her. After reluctantly agreeing to join the old woman, Hanneke begins to relax and wonders if perhaps Mrs. Janssen is merely lonely. And she is, though not exactly for the reasons Hanneke was thinking.

Mrs. Janssen reveals to Hanneke that she was hiding a young Jewish girl in her house, a girl she not only feels responsible for because the girl’s whole family is dead, but a girl she has also come to love as a daughter. Though Hanneke has never worked in dealing with contraband people, she decides to help Mrs. Janssen almost as a way to please Bas, her dead boyfriend. She knows he would help Mrs. Janssen if he were alive, so in an attempt to regain the trust she thinks Bas has lost in her, she decides that hunting for this girl is the right choice.

Along the twisting roads of mystery leading up and down Girl in the Blue Coat, Hanneke finds much more than and not at all what she was ever looking for. She finds unsuspecting friendships, passion for a cause, and more than one reason to keep living her life.

Though marketed as a young adult novel, Girl in the Blue Coat is an exhilarating and powerful read for any aged booklover.

The paperback version of Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse was published by Little Brown and Company in April of 2017. You can purchase a copy of the novel at your local bookstore.

Read more historical fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

‘All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown’ edited by Catherine Burns

the-moth-imageThe Moth is an ongoing, live performance where people, often famous or well established people, get on stage and tell a true story that is relevant to a given theme. Launched in 1997, the Moth is also now a podcast, and they just released their second book All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing The Unknown which is a collection of stories from varying live performances.

All These Wonders takes Moth episodes from different shows and organizes them based on categories that cut across those themes. Some of these categories include: Things I’ve Seen, Grace Rushed In, and To Face The Fear. The one common thread in all the stories though is the message of hope, resiliency, and inspiration. While nearly every story is about a challenging event in the author’s life, none of them end without some movement toward courage and change.

Some of the most outstanding stories in the book were almost unbelievable. One such story was Fog of Disbelief told by Carl Pillitteri, a field engineer at Fukushima when the tsunami hit Japan. Pillitteri’s description of the day is not only terrifyingly real, but his thoughts, his fears, and his observations as the tsunami hit are what bring a sense of humanness and powerlessness to the story. But as with each Moth presentation, Pillitteri finds a way to turn a grossly petrifying event into a story about the power of humanity, of giving, and of everyday experiences.

Another story, Forgiveness by Hector Black, tells the story of one father’s forgiveness of the man who murdered his daughter. A bleak and agonizing tale, Black shows the true capacity of human nature: both the bad and the good. While Black does not necessarily say “go forgive everyone for everything” nor does the story make the reader feel this way, it does encourage readers, especially those who’ve faced trauma at the hands of another person to at least consider the possibility of forgiveness. If someone can forgive their daughter’s murderer to the point of visiting him in prison, writing him letters, and bringing him gifts, why can’t the rest of us get there someday, somehow.

Other stories were not as heavy and included anecdotes about working for Saturday Night Live and the recent NASA mission to Pluto. The sense of self-discovery in the face of terror and confusion is what drives each story forward though: the hope that there’s more than just the moment of now.

A mosaic of beauty, pain, and joy, The Moth’s All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown  was published by Crown Archetype in March of 2017. You can purchase a copy of All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions’

rigor-mortis-harrisRigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions is NPR correspondent Richard Harris’ attempt to bring awareness to the very poor science that he sees as dominating the biomedical field today.

While the title suggests a macabre narrative thread, Rigor Mortis is actually a pun on the lack of rigor that is going into the science experiments Harris discusses. Harris provides historical, social, and environmental contexts and stressors for the issues that he brings up, while also providing an overlay of solutions. Harris recognizes the difficulties in implementing his solutions given the various factors mentioned above. However, he nonetheless feels that scientific rigor must improve for science to keep moving forward.

In Rigor Mortis, Harris targets what he sees to be the major roadblocks in doing good science. Among these are the lack of incentive to do science well, the sheer challenge in reproducing studies that have already been conducted, the fact that most studies are done on animals and not humans and studies don’t always account for that, the lack of authentication of cell lines before use, a lack of guidelines for conducting certain types of experiments, and pressures surrounding publishing and funding. And these aren’t even all of the issues that Harris brings to the table.

The reproducibility problem is something that surfaces again and again in Rigor Mortis. As Harris points out from the outset, “there’s little funding and no glory involved in checking someone else’s work.” Not to mention the fact that people who try to do so often have a hard time actually reproducing the experiments. This difficulty can arise because of a lack of information from the original experimenters or social stigma that reproducing someone else’s work is in fact questioning that work instead of checking it.

From creating incentives for reproducing studies to simply sharing data and working collaboratively, Harris provides a host of suggestions for scientists, universities, labs, and journals to encourage the rigor of science and help the field to actually move forward, instead of spin in circles as he feels it so often does.

Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions by Richard Harris was published by Basic Books in April of 2017. You can purchase a copy at your local bookstore today.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.