Monday, December 30, 2013

Eat, Pray, Love

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Pages: 331
Rating: PG-13 (a few scattered swear words, some brief talk about masturbation and sex, nothing extremely graphic, but I still would say this is a book for adults, no one younger.)

Summary: In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want - husband, country home, successful career - but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

My Thoughts: I read the book and then I watched the movie, and I have to say, regardless of how you felt about the movie, read the book. It was much better than the movie. I mean, you really can't tell the story of a year in 2 hours, so it's automatically more fleshed out of a story in the book. Also, the movie made everything into a love story and I didn't like that.

Ok, so enough with the movie/book comparison and on to how I felt about the book. I'm not sure if I would say it was life-changing, but it was definitely interesting. There's definitely a feministic message: Gilbert says she married with the expectation that she would someday have the desire to have babies and be a cute little housewife, but when she hit 30 she realized this desire was just not there and might not ever surface. The only thing she could do was leave her marriage and go on this journey of self-discovery. She desperately wanted to find God and balance in her life. The message is: don't sit around feeling like you have to fill a certain stereotype. Go figure out who you want to be. I think it's just a reminder that you should really know what you want from life before you go and get married.

If you want to escape the talk of sex and whatnot, just skip the Bali section. That's where Liz finally decides she's ready for love again. In Italy, she learns to just enjoy life. Let it happen, and be happy. Don't allow depression and loneliness get you down. My favorite part was the section where Liz is in India. Here is where she is determined to find God and make peace with herself, and she does it. I think that most world religions have a lot of good in them, so it was fascinating to learn about how Liz feels that she finds God through meditations Sanskrit prayers. I just really resonated with the things Liz learns in India. Very interesting stuff.

Anyway, pretty good book. Did not get a negative rating from me.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Matter of Magic

Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Pages: 448
Rating: PG (there's a few murders, but nothing grisly or overly upsetting)

Summary:
When a stranger offers her a small fortune to break into a traveling magician’s wagon, Kim doesn’t hesitate. Having grown up a waif in the dirty streets of London, Kim isn’t above a bit of breaking-and-entering. A hard life and lean times have schooled her in one lesson: steal from them before they steal from you. But when the magician catches her in the act, Kim thinks she’s done for. Until he suggests she become his apprentice; then the real trouble begins.

Kim soon finds herself entangled with murderers, thieves, and cloak-and-dagger politics, all while trying to learn how to become both a proper lady and a magician in her own right. Magic and intrigue go hand in hand in Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward, two fast-paced novels filled with mystery and romance, set against the intricate backdrop of Regency England.

My Thoughts: I decided to read this book after seeing it on my sister-in-law's Christmas wish list. And, my personal opinion....you can skip this book. I don't feel like it's very well written. Like the summary says, it's really two books in one, and I felt like both books failed to draw me in. The summary makes it sound way more exciting than it really is. They both have some sort of mystery in need of being solved, and random, confusing things happen throughout the book, and then they figure it out in just a few quick pages, and everything is wonderful. I've also never been a fan of the criminal randomly confessing his entire plot when the heroes finally catch up to him. It always seemed stupid to me, and in this book, it happens not once but twice. I just felt like there wasn't enough background information, plot points just kind of randomly appear, as if the author suddenly remembered she wanted to include this random thing so she just throws it in, but it doesn't really fit with anything else going on.

You might enjoy it, and if you're bored, it's not a boring book to read. It was at least entertaining enough for me to finish it, but I don't really recommend it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Abandon Trilogy


Author: Meg Cabot
Pages: Abandon - 304, Underworld - 322, Awaken - 343
Rating: PG-13: It's violent in places, not too graphic, but she does have sex a few times and talks a little about it but only in very vague terms, nothing specific or overly graphic at all.

Summary:
Abandon - Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.
But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.
Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.
But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

Underworld - Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera isn't dead. Not this time.
But she is being held against her will in the dim, twilit world between heaven and hell, where the spirits of the deceased wait before embarking upon their final journey.
Her captor, John Hayden, claims it's for her own safety. Because not all the departed are dear. Some are so unhappy with where they ended up after leaving the Underworld, they've come back as Furies, intent on vengeance . . . on the one who sent them there and on the one whom he loves.
But while Pierce might be safe from the Furies in the Underworld, far worse dangers could be lurking for her there . . . and they might have more to do with its ruler than with his enemies.
And unless Pierce is careful, this time there'll be no escape.

Awaken - Death has her in his clutches. She doesn't want him to let go. Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera knew by accepting the love of John Hayden, she'd be forced to live forever in the one place she's always dreaded most: the Underworld. The sacrifice seemed worth it, though, because it meant she could be with the boy she loves. But now her happiness -- and safety -- are threatened, all because the Furies have discovered that John has broken one of their strictest rules: He revived a human soul. If the balance between life and death isn't fixed, both the Underworld and Pierce's home back on earth will be wiped away. But there's only one way to restore order. Someone has to die.

My Thoughts: Not gonna lie, Meg Cabot is and always will be a fantastic writer. I was completely hooked on this little trilogy. I would recommend checking them all out from the library at once since you're not going to want to wait to get the next one. I literally closed one book and immediately picked up the next!  I read all three in less than 2 weeks. And I'm a pretty busy person.

The story is loosely based on the ancient Greek story of Hades and Persephone. Recap, if you don't remember, Hades kidnaps Persephone to be his consort in the world of the dead. She makes the mistake of eating 6 pomegranate seeds while she's there so even after her mother manages to free her, she is still obligated to spend 6 months of every year with Hades in the Underworld.

Pierce, our main character, has heard this story before and thinks its all a myth. Until she dies. The book is very frustrating on this point and is very vague about how she dies until you're about a third of the way in. Since there's no particular reason for this, I'll just tell you. Pierce is outside her home one day, in the winter time, trying to rescue a fallen bird. She trips on her scarf, hits her head, and falls into the frozen waters of her pool. She dies of hypothermia actually before she even drowns, and she goes to the Underworld, where she meets John. John is not Hades, per se, he just happens to rule the Underworld that is underneath the Island Pierce and her mother live on. He sorts the souls of the dead into two lines. They each get to get on a boat, which will take them to their "final destination." John knows nothing about these final destinations, only that one boat goes to a good place, and one boat definitely goes to a bad place.

When John and Pierce run into each other in the Underworld, he immediately falls in love and tries to convince her to stay with him forever. Pierce isn't too sure she's thrilled about this plan, but doesn't have to worry too much about it because the paramedics back in the real world manage to revive her. That's when everything starts to get WAY more complicated. Pierce would love to believe what all her therapists are telling her, that it was all just a hallucination. Unfortunately, while in the Underworld, John gave her a multi-million dollar diamond necklace to protect her from harm....and it managed to come back to earth with her.

Also, as it turns out, there are a bunch of people who are out to kill Pierce. Again. And they weren't too thrilled she didn't stay dead the first time. There's a lot of mystery and intrigue. John obviously has issues and baggage and secrets, and Pierce bugs him incessently about how he became who he is and why he is that way. He's only 150 years old, so he hasn't been Lord of the Underworld forever. There are also a lot of sketchy humans roaming about the island. Trust me, it's good, you'll be hooked. I loved that it was based on a Greek myth we've all heard a zillion times before. Super cool.

Like I said in the rating, there's not much language, some violence (people are trying to kill Pierce. On multiple occasions) but the main reason for the rating is that she does have sex a few times. It's not at all graphic though. No detailed descriptions or steamy writing. Very safe, in my opinion.


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Star Garden: a Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine

Author:  Nancy E. Turner
Pages: 304
Rating: PG (some intense fighting scenes, mild swearing)

Summary:
In this stunning sequel to the tale begun in These Is My Words and continued in the beloved Sarah's Quilt, pioneer woman Sarah Agnes Prine is nearing bankruptcy. After surviving drought and the rustling of her cattle in winter 1906, Sarah is shocked when her son brings home a bride who was slated to become a nun. Meanwhile, neighbor Udell Hanna is pressing for Sarah to marry him. Then a stagecoach accident puts Sarah in the path of three strangers, who will forever change her life....

My Thoughts: First of all, that summary is terrible. The people she meets in the stagecoach accident, although they do reappear later in the book, don't "forever change her life." That summary makes the stagecoach accident seem like much more of a plot point than it really is.

I had a rough time with this book, mostly because Sarah again is being a huge idiot when it comes to love. She loved Udell, but is so stubborn and ridiculous, it takes her forever to finally agree to marry him, and then she changes her mind at least twice. So frustrating. Also, this book is quite a bit darker than the other two. Although Sarah faced hardships in the past, I felt like this book was worse because her neighbor Rudolfo, who she used to be friendly with, is pretty much set to take Sarah's land from her. And if she won't let him, then he won't stop at anything to take it illegally, even if it means killing her whole family. So that creates a huge tension that finally climaxes near the end and makes you want to cry for days.

The realness of the characters was not diminished, however, and I still felt touched at the end, and like I'd read something that was really worth my time. You just can't get over the feeling of awe towards this woman. Sarah has had more than her fair share of trials, has buried WAY too many family members, and yet she still pushes forward and manages to find some happiness, even when she certainly has enough grief to justify giving up on life. She just comes to terms with her difficulties, and refuses to let them beat her. She's a character that, even though she annoys the heck out of you with her stubbornness sometimes, demands admiration and respect, while at the same time not sounding fake or like someone that couldn't possibly exist. I loved the three books in this little trilogy. So worth it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before

Author: Jean M. Twenge
Pages: 242
Rating: PG-13, but only for some language, mostly when she is quoting young adults, or lines from movies.

Summary: Called “The Entitlement Generation” or Gen Y, they are storming into schools, colleges, and businesses all over the country. In this provocative new book, headline-making psychologist and social commentator Dr. Jean Twenge explores why the young people she calls “Generation Me”—those born in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s—are tolerant, confident, open-minded, and ambitious but also cynical, depressed, lonely, and anxious.

Herself a member of Generation Me, Dr. Twenge uses findings from the largest intergenerational research study ever conducted—with data from 1.3 million respondents spanning six decades—to reveal how profoundly different today’s young adults are. Here are the shocking truths about this generation, including dramatic differences in sexual behavior, as well as controversial predictions about what the future holds for them and society as a whole. Her often humorous, eyebrow-raising stories about real people vividly bring to life the hopes and dreams, disappointments, and challenges of Generation Me.

GenMe has created a profound shift in the American character, changing what it means to be an individual in today’s society. The collision of this generation’s entitled self-focus and today’s competitive marketplace will create one of the most daunting challenges of the new century. Engaging, controversial, prescriptive, funny, Generation Me will give Boomers new insight into their offspring, and help those in their teens, 20s, and 30s finally make sense of themselves and their goals and find their road to happiness.

My Thoughts:  While I thought this book was completely fascinating, I didn't feel like I really learned any new information. Most of it was me saying, "Yep, that's how it is!" Also, since the book was published in 2006, some of the information is a little outdated, and there was hardly any mention whatsoever of social media, which has become HUGE since then.

However, I felt the book made a very good case for erasing so-called "self-esteem" curriculum from schools and homes and replacing it with the learning of self-control. Twenge makes the point that GenMe was so saturated with the "You Are Special" message, that we tend to feel important for no reason at all, and are more narcissistic than high in self-esteem. Most members of GenMe feel that they are more important and more special than anyone else.

We also have a big gap between our expectations of life and the reality. We've been raised to believe that we can be anything we want to be, and that if we just try hard enough, it will happen for us. However, we can't ALL be movie stars, rock stars, and famous athletes, and all the trying in the world is not going to change the fact that some people just don't have the talent.We've also been led to believe that if we find the right job and/or the right life partner, that we will always feel fulfilled and completely happy. Previous generations never expected their job to feel personally rewarding, it was just expected to pay the bills. Previous generations also understood that their marriage was not always going to be soul-mate heaven. As a result, the divorce rates of today are high, and people unhappy with their perfectly good jobs are many.

GenMe also has a high tendency to be depressed and anxious, and for many good reasons. First of all, we're more likely to live far away from family when we reach adulthood, to move frequently, and fail to keep in touch with those who are important to us, meaning we don't have a strong support system underneath us to buoy us up in hard times. We also expect a lot out of life, at the same time when life has gotten more difficult. For example, we expect to have a good house, a good job, and great insurance, just when all of those things are ridiculously hard to obtain. Twenge relates that when her parents bought their first house in the early 1970's, it cost $23,000, a little more than their combined annual income. "The rule of thumb used to be that your house should not cost more than two times your annual income, and that you should spend about 25% of your income on housing. What a joke." A quote from political scientist Robert Putnam reads, "Virtually all of the increase in full-time employment of American women over the last twenty years is attributable to financial pressures, not personal fulfillment." We're stressed out because a lot of moms would like to stay home with their kids, but they can't afford not to work. However, the cost of child-care makes working almost as bad as staying home. According to the book, more and more women are forgoing having children at all. Because of what we see on TV (people who are able to afford basically whatever they want) we feel like we are constantly failing. "It's like a cruel joke - we've been raised to expect riches, and can barely afford a condo and a crappy health care plan."

The end of the book offers some practical solutions to employers, parents, and young adults about how to deal with the attitudes instilled in GenMe'ers. Overall, I thought the book was completely fascinating. Worth a read, even if you just need a reassurance that you're not the only one feeling like life is kind of impossible these days.
 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sarah's Quilt: A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine

Author: Nancy E. Turner
Pages: 402
Rating: PG (More death. Nothing graphic, and nothing inappropriate)

Summary:
Sarah's Quilt, the long-awaited sequel to These Is My Words, continues the dramatic story of Sarah Agnes Prine. Beloved by readers and book clubs from coast to coast, These Is My Words told the spellbinding story of an extraordinary pioneer woman and her struggle to make a home in the Arizona Territories. Now Sarah returns.

In 1906, the badlands of Southern Arizona Territory is a desolate place where a three-year drought has changed the landscape for all time. When Sarah's well goes dry and months pass with barely a trace of rain, Sarah feels herself losing her hold upon the land. Desperate, Sarah's mother hires a water witch, a peculiar desert wanderer named Lazrus who claims to know where to find water. As he schemes and stalls, he develops an attraction to Sarah that turns into a frightening infatuation.

And just when it seems that life couldn't get worse, Sarah learns that her brother and his family have been trapped in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. She and her father-in-law cannot even imagine the devastation that awaits them as they embark on a rescue mission to the stricken city.

Sarah is a pioneer of the truest spirit, courageous but gentle as she fights to save her family's home. But she never stops longing for the passion she once knew. Though her wealthy neighbor has asked her to wed, Sarah doesn't entirely trust him. And then Udell Hanna and his son come riding down the dusty road. . . .

My Thoughts: I'm not sure if I liked this book better than These is My Words, but I definitely still loved it. It's a different kind of book in that the first one was a diary, and this one is absolutely more of a novel, though still written in first person with every section dated. Also, the first book covered about 10 years, and this book only covers only about 6 months.

Sarah is the type of character that you admire, want to be like, and by the end of the book, you feel as if you're as much a part of her family as anyone else. It's the type of book that draws you in by the closeness of the characters and the stubbornness and strength of the heroine so that you feel as if you're just keeping up with the life events of a close friend or family member by the end of it all.

Lazrus is the creepiest and weirdest part of this book. Not gonna lie, he freaked me out. He's this eccentric wild man who randomly decides to be obsessed with Sarah, and she can't seem to get him to go away. He terrifies everyone.

The only thing that drives me crazy about Sarah is that she's really stupid when it comes to love. She did that in the first book, taking forever to decide she was in love with Jack. And now in this book, she spends way too much time thinking about marrying her neighbor, who she knows she doesn't really like. However, the author does a great job of revealing Sarah's healing process. At the beginning of the book, Sarah (and me as well) was still mourning the death of her husband Jack. Even though it happened years ago, she misses him deeply and longs for him daily. However, you get carried along in her journey of letting go of him, and finally getting ready to move forward in her life. At the beginning of the book, I was right with Sarah, thinking she could never love anyone the way she loved Jack and that no one could ever replace him. But by the end, I was feeling the same way as she was, that Jack was wonderful, but that she could maybe start to let it go while still remembering the happiness of that relationship.

As a story, this book is full of even more tragedy and trial than the first book was, but Sarah is just so strong, you just know she'll be able to make it through, and things will be alright. When I finished the book, my feeling was that life is full of bad things happening, but that's normal. That happens to everyone. The important thing to do is remember your blessings and be grateful for what you still have. That will take the sting off of the difficulties.

Anyway, I loved this book, and can't wait to read the final book, "The Star Garden."
(By the way, don't feel like you have to invest in 3 books if you want to read just one. So far, the two books seem to be very able to stand on their own, with satisfying, not cliff-hanger endings.)


Saturday, August 17, 2013

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine 1881-1901

Author: Nancy E. Turner
Pages: 384
Rating: PG - it's the wild west, there are shootings, train robberies, and twice Sarah narrowly escapes rape, but nothing is overly graphic or inappropriate

Summary:
A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author's own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon—from child to determined young adult to loving mother—she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her, and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose.
Rich in authentic everyday details and alive with truly unforgettable characters, These Is My Words brilliantly brings a vanished world to breathtaking life again.
My Thoughts: Wow. I really really ended up loving this book, recommended to me by several people, and so I finally read it. If you're looking for a strong female character who feels as real as real can be, read this book. The book is largely fiction, and is only loosely based on the experiences of the author's grandmother, but I don't feel like that ruined the book for me at all. You can easily imagine that Sarah's experiences were not at all unusual to a woman living in the Territories during that time.

Sarah is an extremely strong-willed, sensible, and brave woman. She's a quick shot with a rifle or pistol, she works hard every day of her life and thinks nothing of it, she yearns for knowledge and does everything she can to read all sorts of books in order to further her learning, and she's smart too. I absolutely loved her character. Even though she has many moments of vulnerability, she is mostly someone who just takes whatever life gives her and just keeps moving on with it. She's completely in the dark when it comes to love though, and goes for years without realizing that someone is trying to secure her affections. She also doesn't know what it feels like when she's in love, and thinks that said man is frustrating and cruel.

Reading this book definitely alerts you to how many blessings you have and how easy you have it. I know I found myself more thankful in my daily prayers as I read this book. By the time Sarah is 18, she has lost two family members, several close friends, has witnessed the deaths of several people, and has actually killed a dozen men herself. Life in the Arizona Territories back in the 1800's was rife with Indian violence, and death was much more common of an occurrence than it is now. Sarah experiences so many trials and difficulties I hope I never have to deal with, and it makes me grateful for modern medicine and hospitals and the fact that we have cures or vaccinations for so many things that plagued Sarah's family.

I highly recommend this book. You will be amazed by Sarah's life. Throughout it all, she hardly ever complains, and then only for a moment or two. And I just know that there were women just like her that lived back then. They were amazing people. READ THIS BOOK! =)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Edenbrooke


Author: Julianne Donaldson
Pages: 255
Rating: G

Summary:
Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she'll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will Marianne be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

My Thoughts: The summary makes this book out to be more scandalous than it really is, but I still liked it. If you like Jane Austen or anything similar, this book is set in the same time period, but with slightly more modern language, and a little less tedium in the wording. Edenbrooke is a love story, and very well done I thought. Even though there weren't many surprising twists and turns, it was still a very sweet story, not too cheesy, and totally clean. Yay!

I really enjoyed the character of Marianne. She has always played second fiddle to her sister, and has never felt that she is very beautiful or even desirable. She's very innocent and pure, and feels that she could never really be an elegant lady because of how much she enjoys being outdoors and other activities not considered "ladylike." When a handsome gentleman begins to pay special attention to her, Marianne convinces herself that he treats all women like this and she is not anything more than a flirtation to him. She doesn't have the best self-worth, believing that her sister will always get what she wants, but Marianne will just get whatever is left. Definitely worth the read if you want a clean, sweet love story with just enough intrigue.
 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns

Author: Glenn Beck
Pages: 162
Rating: PG-13 (he talks about a lot of the gun massacres that have happened in the last several years, and also describes in detail some of the violent video games out on the market)

Summary:
When our founding fathers secured the Constitutional “right of the people to keep and bear arms,” they also added the admonition that this right SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.

It is the only time this phrase appears in the Bill of Rights. So why aren’t more people listening?

History has proven that guns are essential to self-defense and liberty—but tragedy is a powerful force and has led many to believe that guns are the enemy, that the Second Amendment is outdated, and that more restrictions or outright bans on firearms will somehow solve everything.

They are wrong.

In CONTROL, Glenn Beck presents a passionate, fact-based case for guns that reveals why gun control isn’t really about controlling guns at all; it’s about controlling us. In doing so, he takes on and debunks the common myths and outright lies that are often used to vilify guns and demean their owners:

The Second Amendment is ABOUT MUSKETS . . . GUN CONTROL WORKS in other countries . . . 40 percent of all guns are sold without BACKGROUND CHECKS . . . More GUNS MEAN more MURDER . . . Mass shootings are becoming more common . . . These awful MASSACRES ARE UNIQUE TO AMERICA . . . No CIVILIAN needs a “weapon of war” like the AR-15 . . . ARMED GUARDS in schools do nothing, just look at Columbine . . . Stop FEARMONGERING, no one is talking about TAKING YOUR GUNS AWAY.
Backed by hundreds of sources, this handbook gives everyone who cares about the Second Amendment the indisputable facts they need to reclaim the debate, defeat the fear, and take back their natural rights.

My Thoughts: AWESOME BOOK! Back when I was a teenager, I don't think I really had an opinion one way or the other about guns. But as an adult, I am completely pro-gun. Regardless of how you may view Glenn Beck, this book is full of full-out FACTS. Basically, he takes quotations from various political and media public figures, quotes that many people just take for granted to be true, because it was said on the news, and then shows you how those claims are completely false and how half the time these people really don't know what they are talking about. He quotes numerous official studies (not paid for or backed by the NRA, as many liberals claim) and he also presents plenty of anecdotal evidence that taking away guns is actually not going to solve anything. It's extremely informational. One of my favorite quotes is towards the end of the book when Beck says this:

"If a boy stabs a cat to death with a steak knife, society doesn't debate the knife, it debates how the boy got that way. We look at his life, his upbringing, his schooling, his friends, his medications, and what he does in his spare time. But if that same boy uses a gun to kill that cat, everything changes. All of a sudden it's not about the boy, it's about the weapon. What kind of gun was it? How many rounds did it hold? how did he get it? Why didn't it have a trigger guard? While there are certainly legitimate questions to be asked in the wake of a violent act, gun crimes seem to divert attention from where it should really be: on the person committing the act."

Awesome. The first 2/3 of the book deals with debunking all the claims made in support of more gun control. My favorite was the quote from Piers Morgan, a famous anti-gun person, who said "In the last 30 years there have been 62 mass shootings. Not a single one has ever been thwarted by a civilian despite America being a heavily armed country." Well, DUH. If it had been stopped then it wouldn't be a mass shooting! Then Beck lists several accounts of killings that COULD have become large-scale if they had not been stopped by...someone with a gun.

Beck calls guns "the great equalizer." Basically the idea is that if you're an older person or a female, and some young, strong male (the normal profile of criminals) comes at you trying to hurt you or kill you, whether or not he has a gun, you're pretty much toast. However, if said senior citizen or young female has a gun, the chances of survival are WAY better. I love this quote from the book. "Consider for a second that you felt threatened for some reason and then ask yourself this: would you feel safer with a sign on your front window saying 'This house is a gun-free zone' or with an armed guard on call whenever you were home? If you wouldn't put this sign on your home, why would anyone think it's okay to put them in places where young children gather nearly every day?" Right you are, Mr. Beck.

The last 1/3 of the book focuses on the real reasons why Beck thinks we are having so many issues with violent crime lately. And it all starts with society and our acceptance of violence. He lists several studies that found that children who were exposed to violent television and/or video games were more likely to show aggressive behaviors later on in life. I have always been against violent video games, and now I'm even MORE against them. Beck describes the storylines of several of the more popular games out there right now, and I promise you, you will be SHOCKED! Oh and by the way, the rating M for Mature basically means that it's probably a really horrible game but the manufacturers got it past the raters by selecting specific less violent clips to show to the people in charge of giving ratings. He basically makes the argument that when we let kids spend hours playing games in which they are rewarded for being violent and for basically committing heinous acts, it starts to affect the way their brain perceives the world around them. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is already pro-gun and wants a bit more ammo to use during "discussions" with your anti-gun peers, or to anyone who hasn't really formed an opinion about them yet and wants to get some really good, fact-based information. (By the way, everything in the book is backed up with sources at the end. That you could go check out on your own if you're that interested.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Survivor's Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life

Author: Ben Sherwood
Pages: 337
Rating: PG - some of the things that happen to people in this book are a bit frightening, but there is no language, and nothing too horribly graphic.

Summary:
Which is the safest seat on an airplane? Where is the best place to have a heart attack? Why does religious observance add years to your life? How can birthdays be hazardous to your health?

Each second of the day, someone in America faces a crisis, whether it's a car accident, violent crime, serious illness, or financial trouble. Given the inevitability of adversity, we all wonder: Who beats the odds and who surrenders? Why do some people bound back and others give up? How can I become the kind of person who survives and thrives?

The fascinating, hopeful answers to these questions are found in THE SURVIVORS CLUB. In the tradition of Freakonomics and The Tipping Point, this book reveals the hidden side of survival by combining astonishing true stories, gripping scientific research, and the author's adventures inside the U.S. military's elite survival schools and the government's airplane crash evacuation course.

With THE SURVIVORS CLUB, you can also discover your own Survivor IQ through a powerful Internet-based test called the Survivor Profiler. Developed exclusively for this book, the test analyzes your personality and generates a customized report on your top survivor strengths.

There is no escaping life's inevitable struggles. But THE SURVIVORS CLUB can give you an edge when adversity strikes.

My Thoughts: This book was actually referred to me by my husband, who is not reader. He read it so fast, that I figured it must be worth the read. It was fascinating, let me tell you.

I have always been one of those people who is pretty much terrified at the thought of what life might possibly throw at me. I know we all usually have to face something majorly difficult in our lifetime, and I can give myself anxiety attacks wondering what that trial is going to be for me.

However, this book taught me that the more prepared you are, the better you'll fare (leading me to want to have more discussions with my husband about what we will do in various disastrous situations), and that people are almost always stronger than they think they are. The most fascinating chapter to me was the one on resiliance, where it explains that the majority of people who have some kind of traumatic experience do NOT experience severe PTSD and they actually recover quite well. Also, most people who have been through a difficult trial are grateful for the experience, and feel like they came out on the other end a better person than they were before.

My husband's favorite chapter was the one about plane crashes specifically. That one was also really interesting. I learned that it's very important to pay attention to the safety briefings, and also be aware of the exits and how you might be able to get out if there was a crash. Contrary to popular belief, most airplane crashes are NOT 100% fatal, and most people actually end up surviving. Also interesting is the fact that it doesn't much matter where you sit on the plane, as long as you are ready to jump into action in the face of an emergency. Plane crashes have been analyzed and found that people who died were sitting right next to people who lived. Those who died simply froze out of panic and therefore made no effort whatsoever to escape.

I would highly, highly recommend this one. It is so super interesting, and it gave me more confidence in myself. Also, you can take the Survivor Profiler test online and find out what your strengths are, and they might surprise you! I didn't think my results were accurate, but the test is pretty well put together, and it's really hard to get the wrong result. So maybe I'll surprise even myself in the event of a disaster!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leaping Beauty and Other Animal Fairy Tales

Author: Gregory Maguire
Pages: 197
Rating: G

Summary:
Once upon a time . . . nothing was as it seemed!
What if Sleeping Beauty were actually a frog princess, doomed to be Weeping Beauty forever? What if the Three Chickens had to outwit Goldifox? What if Cinder-Elephant lost her glass plate slipper? Then you'd have this hilarious collection of twisted fairy tales from the master of the absurd, Gregory Maguire!
My Thoughts: I would aim this book right at 8-11 year olds. The sarcasm, goofy inserts, and just plain wackiness of these stories is just what would set a pre-teen laughing and laughing. For adults, I felt more like I was just laughing at a really clever but not really that funny joke. But there's modern stuff thrown in there, and it's all just so goofy. Like I said, definitely a funny read for pre-teens. I think my favorite was "Little Red Robin Hood" because it was a mashup of two stories, and the results were pretty hilarious.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fire and Wings: Dragon Tales from East and West


Author: Various
Pages: 141
Rating: G

Summary:
Newbery Award winner Jane Yolen’s enchanting preface “Dragons: An Unnatural History” introduces this collection of 15 dragon stories from England, Western and Eastern Europe, Korea, Japan, and China. Ferocious fire-breathing dragons face off with clever princesses and courageous village girls in a riddle match. But the last dragon in the world is a kind, gentle beast who sheds tears of joy when a princess calls him “dragon dear.” Ferocious or kind, wise or wicked, these mythical creatures transport readers to the far corners of the world.

My Thoughts: I got this book from the library to read throughout the week to my Summer Camp kids as we learned about China for the week. While there are two or three stories from China and other Asian countries, not all are like that. I thought it was a great little book of stories. Dragons are often found in various fairy tales, but they are not usually the main character, so it was fun to read a whole slew of stories just about dragons. None of them were stories I had heard before, although some were similar to other tales I have heard. Some stories were more serious, others were comical, and the dragons varied between being evil and good. It's definitely a twist on the run-of-the-mill fairy tale book. Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The World Above

Author: Cameron Dokey
Pages: 175
Rating: G

Summary: Gen and her twin brother, Jack, were raised with their mother's tales of life in the World Above. Gen is skeptical, but adventurous Jack believes the stories--and trades the family cow for magical beans. Their mother rejoices, knowing they can finally return to their royal home.
When Jack plants the beans and climbs the enchanted stalk, he is captured by the tyrant who now rules the land. Gen sets off to rescue her brother, but danger awaits her in the World Above. For finding Jack may mean losing her heart....

.
My Thoughts: This would probably be one of my favorite of the Once Upon a Time books. It's kind of a mixture between "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Robin Hood," which makes for an interesting story. Like all fairy tales, the love part is super cheesy and overdone, but it's still cute. Basically, the idea is that Jack and Gen were originally from the World Above, but their mother came down to the "World Below" to run away from a man who was trying to kill her. She raises her children Below, with the promise from her old nursing maid that when the time is right, she will send a messenger with the magic beans to take them back to the World Above. And the giant is actually a nice guy who helps them. He's not a bad guy. Definitely worth the read. If you've read my other posts about these books, they typically have too much build up and not enough climax, but this one I felt had the right amounts of everything. I didn't feel gypped at the end.

The Age of Miracles

Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Pages: 269

Rating: PG-13 (There is some language, including maybe 3-4 F-words. I would say there's probably a swear word once every 30 pages or so. It's not a lot.)

Summary:
On an ordinary Saturday, Julia awakes to discover that something has happened to the rotation of the earth. The days and nights are growing longer and longer, gravity is affected, the birds, the tides, human behavior and cosmic rhythms are thrown into disarray. In a world of danger and loss, Julia faces surprising developments in herself, and her personal world—divisions widening between her parents, strange behavior by Hanna and other friends, the vulnerability of first love, a sense of isolation, and a rebellious new strength.

My Thoughts: This is first novel, and the concept was interesting, but I thought the author could have gone a lot farther with it. Basically, the earth's rotation slows down so that eventually "days" and "nights" are lasting 60 hours each. But instead of something really interesting happening, everyone just does their best to adapt. It's more of a coming of age story, but with a different setting than you've seen before. I thought it was a good book, definitely interesting, but not as good as I thought it was going to be. Also, I couldn't figure out how the title applied. The only "miracle" in the book was that the earth wasn't turning they way it's supposed to. Everything else was just sad, like birds dying and people getting sick.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table

Author:Tracie McMillan
Pages: 241
Rating: PG-13 (There is some language, which was kind of disappointing. I think the F-word was there 5 or 6 times.)

Summary: When award-winning (and working-class) journalist Tracie McMillan saw foodies swooning over $9 organic tomatoes, she couldn’t help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? To find out, McMillan went undercover in three jobs that feed America, living and eating off her wages in each. Reporting from California fields, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee’s, McMillan examines the reality of our country’s food industry in this “clear and essential” (The Boston Globe) work of reportage. Chronicling her own experience and that of the Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks with whom she works, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to explore the national priorities that put it there.
Fearlessly reported and beautifully written, The American Way of Eating goes beyond statistics and culture wars to deliver a book that is fiercely honest, strikingly intelligent, and compulsively readable. In making the simple case that—city or country, rich or poor—everyone wants good food, McMillan guarantees that talking about dinner will never be the same again.

My Thoughts: It took me forever to get through this book. Probably mostly because I was really only interested in the summary at the end of the book. Basically, the entire thing can be summarized in: American's know that we need to eat better but because of lack of basic cooking skills (kids aren't being taught by their parents or home ec classes anymore) and the difficulty of obtaining healthy, good quality food, we just don't eat as well as we all know we ought to.

Also, there's a lot of crap going on in the fields. When McMillan spent some time as a farmworker, she learned of some pretty common practices. When she picked garlic, all the workers were payed by the bucket. She got $1.60 per bucket of garlic picked. At her best, she only picked about 10 buckets per 12 hour day - earning her a whopping $16. Now, California law requires the farm companies to make up the difference, so that each worker will make minimum wage at the end of the day. Big surprise....they don't.  McMillan's pay stubs were still for $16, but instead of showing that she worked for 8-12 hours, they showed that she worked for 2. This is extremely common, and rarely disputed, especially since many farmworkers have questionable legal status. Also, there are laws about how close workers can be to a field that is being sprayed with pesticides, or how long they have to wait until workers go back into a field that has just been sprayed. These laws are largely ignored.

In her time at Applebee's McMillan learned that you don't need much cooking expertise to work in a restaurant kitchen, unless you're cooking the steaks and burgers. Other than that, all you're really doing is scooping out pre-made portions and sticking them in the microwave.

Basically, the end statement was that in order for Americans to eat better, we need to make quality, affordable food more accessible to the general public, and we also need to make sure that we have the basic cooking skills necessary to prepare basic, healthy meals. And I totally agree. It's just plain easier to eat what's cheap and simple to prepare.
 


Monday, April 1, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce
Pages: 320
Rating: PG-13-R (There was more swearing than I was comfortable with, including at least 15 instances of the F-word)

Summary:
Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

My Thoughts: I wasn't really all that impressed with this book. It's interesting, that's for sure, and a different story line than perhaps you may have read before, but I don't know. It just didn't grab me that well. Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for it.

Either way, it is a really good story about healing, both of individuals and as groups. Harold and Maureen have a rocky marriage that has been quite loveless for some time. The walk manages to renew their feelings for each other, slowly and surely. There is also a problem in the book about Harold's son David. You get this feeling that something went wrong with David and that Harold has blamed himself for it for all these years, and Maureen has let him do it. They need to come to terms with their son and with each other. Harold and Maureen were both very well developed characters, but I honestly felt that there was not enough development of some of the secondary characters in the book.

There wasn't really anything inappropriate in it, just the language. And like I said, I felt like there was too much swearing for me.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Author: Michael Pollan
Pages: 201
Rating:  G

Summary:
What to eat, what not to eat, and how to think about health: a manifesto for our times

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, the well-considered answers he provides to the questions posed in the bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Humans used to know how to eat well, Pollan argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated, and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists-all of whom have much to gain from our dietary confusion. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." These "edible foodlike substances" are often packaged with labels bearing health claims that are typically false or misleading. Indeed, real food is fast disappearing from the marketplace, to be replaced by "nutrients," and plain old eating by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Michael Pollan's sensible and decidedly counterintuitive advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food."

Writing In Defense of Food, and affirming the joy of eating, Pollan suggests that if we would pay more for better, well-grown food, but buy less of it, we'll benefit ourselves, our communities, and the environment at large. Taking a clear-eyed look at what science does and does not know about the links between diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about the question of what to eat that is informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach.

In Defense of Food reminds us that, despite the daunting dietary landscape Americans confront in the modern supermarket, the solutions to the current omnivore's dilemma can be found all around us.

In looking toward traditional diets the world over, as well as the foods our families-and regions-historically enjoyed, we can recover a more balanced, reasonable, and pleasurable approach to food. Michael Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we might start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives and enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy.

My Thoughts: This book was a real eye-opener. Basically, the author argues that we are so obsessed with nutrients, and so focused on the one magical thing that will make us healthier (less fat, lower carbs, more omega 3's) that we have forgotten the fact that we're not eating nutrients, we're eating food. And a whole food is more than just the sum of its parts. Pollan basically tells us that the entire Western diet is flawed. Diets from other cultures, as diverse as they may be, inevitably create healthier human beings than our diet does.

And it's more complicated than just buying more healthy foods. Since we are part of a food chain, what our food sources eat is important too. The soils our food comes from are starting to become less nutritious, which is bad for our cows, which then results in meat that isn't as nutritionally healthy.

There are definitely some really good points in this book. I'm not sure that I'm convinced that I need to go buy everything organic, as the author suggests, but I will say that I am more wary of how many weird ingredients crop up in my food, and that I am more determined to eat more fruits, veggies, and stuff made from scratch at home, where I know what exactly is in it.

I guarantee that if you read this, the way you look at food and the way you eat will change significantly. It's a fascinating, and very easy read. Some of the nutrient science was a bit over my head, but I still got the main idea. He ends the book with a series of tips of how to be a better eater, so don't think that the book is just condemning your current eating style. Some of his tips include:

-Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food
- Avoid anything with a health claim
- Avoid anything with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you don't recognize.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves

Those are just a taste. You'll have to read the book. It was really a good one!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cheyenne in New York

Author: Jack Weyland
Pages: 279
Rating: G

Summary:
Ben Morelli is a brash, up-and-coming New York City ad agency executive. He's just landed a huge account, and his future looks bright. The last thing he needs is to share the spotlight with some hick from Idaho.
Bright, outspokenly moral, and unfailingly honest, Cheyenne is everything Ben thinks he dislikes in a woman. She's also a Mormon, whatever that is. It doesn't help, either, that his most important client thinks Cheyenne is terrific. And so does Ben's family.
In Cheyenne in New York, Jack Weyland introduces us to an intriguing pair of strong-willed, seemingly mismatched characters whose family backgrounds, interests, and ambitions are worlds apart.
A contemporary love story played out in the aftermath of a horrific national disaster, this latest Jack Weyland novel reaffirms in an unforgettable way the power of love, faith, and family ties.

My Thoughts: Honestly, I wasn't that impressed. The book was pretty cheesy, and everything moved much too quickly. Ben doesn't struggle for very long about the whole Mormon thing before he all of a sudden believes it. The whole first half of the book was just straight cheese. The writing did get a lot better in the second half of the book. Basically, what happens is 9/11 and Ben has family that is directly effected by the terrorist attacks. Suddenly, the storyline is interesting and no longer quite so cheesy. It becomes a lot more real at that point. I still felt that the development of the relationship between Ben and Cheyenne left something to be desired. They're so pure together, and then they get upset over dumb stuff. I don't know, it was a nice little read, and uplifting for sure, because the gospel is so prominent, but I wasn't all that wowed by it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trilogy: Divergent

Book One: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Rating: PG-13

Pages: 487

Summary:
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Thoughts:
First of all, I have to say, I like this better than "The Hunger Games" which I hated. I felt like Hunger Games was really sadistic and morbid and I just couldn't come to terms with the idea of putting a bunch of teenagers in an arena to kill each other for everyone's entertainment. Divergent is different. I like my share of dystopian novels, and this one I really liked. It's not as sadistic really.

Divergent is extremely well written. I finished the book very quickly because it was impossible to put down. There are no good stopping places. And even when the first book ends, the next book picks up right where it left off. I can't wait to get the second one from the library. The way that Erudite blames everything on Abnegation and tries to exterminate them for no reason reminded me quite a bit of the Holocaust, so I'm sure that's part of where the author got her ideas from. It's a little bit scary to realize that it's a dystopian futuristic society novel, but with a touch of reality. Stuff similar to this actually happened in the past, and can happen again.  

It is pretty violent. It's war. People die, and there's some level of psychological torture as well. But like I said, I didn't feel the violence was as bad as in the Hunger Games. Divergent violence is more warlike and people are getting hurt out of self-defense type stuff. Hunger Games was throwing a bunch of people together and forcing them to kill each other. So I guess it depends on whether that bothers you or not. But I'm just saying I was wary of Divergent because of the fact that I hated Hunger Games so much, but I didn't find myself disliking Divergent. I'm just realy intrigued and can't wait to find out what happens next.

Book Two: Insurgent
Pages: 525
Rating: PG-13+

Summary:
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.
Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

My Thoughts: This book was a LOT more intense and scary than the first one. I found myself putting it down a lot because I would just get too freaked out and knew I would probably not sleep well if I kept reading. Sometimes the only thing that kept me going is knowing there was no possible way Tris could die, because the story is ABOUT her, so she has to survive. I would definitely not recommend this series to anyone younger than high school just because of it's high-intensity level. And I don't think I could actually handle watching a movie version of these books. They are full of heart-pounding suspense and scariness.

That being said, I liked this book, but probably not as much as the first one. For example, Tris spends most of this book being such a suicidal idiot that I really wanted to smack her. She is so full of grief from the tragedies she experiences in Book 1 that she turns into a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and throws herself into several extremely dangerous situations without really thinking about it. Also in this book, several people die, and there's torture, and it's difficult to read about. However, you eventually find out that all of this war has something to do with what is outside of the city fence that keeps them all in. (But we don't actually find out specifically what is out there.) Tobias and Tris also have some relationship issues that are hard to deal with.

All in all, I cannot wait for the third book to come out! Not till October, yeesh! Haven't had to wait like this since Harry Potter!

Book 3: Allegiant
Pages: 526
Rating: PG-13

Summary:
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered- fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories. 
But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature- and of herself- while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

My Thoughts: First of all, SO happy I finally got to read this. I actually really enjoyed this series as a whole. I felt like it was a very realistic portrayal of a futuristic society, some of the attitudes and ideas portrayed in this final book seem like they could really happen in our lifetime. This book was really sad at the end, but I still really loved it and was very satisfied with the ending. I would definitely recommend this trilogy. I feel like I really can't review this without giving out what happens, so....for the first time ever, I am including spoilers! 

Spoiler Alert! Do not read beyond this point if you don't want to know what happens!

So let me start at the beginning...Tris lives in a city where everyone is divided into "factions" based on their internal traits and characteristics. Tris, however, is Divergent, meaning that she doesn't fit exactly into just one faction. Divergent is a dangerous thing to be. No one really knows why, but one of the city's leaders is killing all the Divergent she can get her hands on. To make a long story short, there's a war, and Tris manages to get her hands on a video where one of the city's earliest members explains that the city was put together because those on the outside need help, and when there is a high population of Divergent, they should send them outside the fence to help those on the outside. 

Here's where book 3 comes in. Tris, Tobias, and several others decide to journey to the outside of the fence, find out what is out there, and what they can do to help. What they find is not what they were expecting. They learn that centuries ago, the United States discovered that the undesirable qualities in human nature could be traced to genetics. So the government decided to start altering people's genes to get rid of these problematic qualities. However, they found that the alterations actually caused more problems than they solved. There was a huge war between those who had been modified and those who hadn't, and the result was that the government took large numbers of genetically altered humans, wiped their memories, and placed them in controlled environments like Tris's city. The city Tris has lived in is basically an experiment, and they are constantly be watched. The Divergent are those whose genes are the most healed, and the point of the experiment is to wait for enough Divergent to evolve that they can then reproduce and create more genetically pure people. 

Unfortunately, the government is only concerned about creating a new population of genetically pure people, who will supposedly be perfect, and nothing bad will ever happen again. They don't care how many "damaged" people die in the process. So, Tris and her band of friends set out to change this prejudice. In the end, Tris actually dies while fighting for this new cause. It's really sad, but I felt the ending was still really satisfying and good, and I wasn't too torn apart by it. I really like the last line of the book, hopefully me putting it here doesn't ruin it for you. "Life damages everyone. We can't escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this:  We can be mended. We mend each other." I thought that was a great final message. 

The whole storyline of putting people into an experiment to strengthen the human race reminded me of a book I've read several times and absolutely love, called "Running out of Time" by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I would recommend giving that one a read if you loved the Divergent series. 

In all, I loved this trilogy, thought it had some great messages and it was an imaginative and captivating storyline. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Life of Pi

Author: Yann Martel
Pages: 319
Rating: PG-13 (I know the movie is only rated PG, but in the book, the tiger rips apart several animals and another human, and the descriptions are quite graphic. They must have glossed over these parts in the movie.)

Summary: After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan—and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary and beloved works of fiction in recent years.

My Thoughts: It was definitely an addicting read. And I'm not normally one for solitary survival stories. There are three parts to the book: before, during, and after Pi's lifeboat experience. The before part is really interesting. It tells all about Pi's life in India, and about how his dad owned a zoo, giving Pi the informational resources he needed to survive for almost a year in a lifeboat with a tiger. It also talks about how Pi really loved religions, and became a practicing Christian, Hindu, and Muslim, much to the chagrin of the leaders of each of these faiths in his area, and his parents. I thought that part was really comical. And it was a fascinating commentary on the good that can be found in all religions.

Like I said at the beginning, I would not recommend this to young readers because the killings that take place are rather graphic. There is no language, just violent deaths, be it of animals or in one case, a human. I didn't find myself changed by this book really, but it was definitely a good book. You keep waiting to find out how in the world this kid managed to survive. And it's written in such a way that the author makes you believe it's actually a true story (which it is not).

I can't wait to see the movie now. Although I suspect they will change some key moments in the book, just to make everything more dramatic.

Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become

Author: Barbara L. Fredrickson, PH.D.
Pages: 195
Rating: G

Summary:We all know love matters, but in this groundbreaking book positive emotions expert Barbara Fredrickson shows us how much. Even more than happiness and optimism, love holds the key to improving our mental and physical health as well as lengthening our lives.

Using research from her own lab, Fredrickson redefines love not as a stable behemoth, but as micro-moments of connection between people—even strangers. She demonstrates that our capacity for experiencing love can be measured and strengthened in ways that improve our health and longevity. Finally, she introduces us to informal and formal practices to unlock love in our lives, generate compassion, and even self-soothe.

Rare in its scope and ambitious in its message, Love 2.0 will reinvent how you look at and experience our most powerful emotion.

My Thoughts: I highly recommend this one, especially if you see yourself as an anti-social person, or you just have difficulty connecting with others (like I do). As the summary stated, Frerickson redefines love as small moments of connection that you experience with random people you interact with throughout the day. The more positive connections you have each day, the healthier you will become, physically and mentally.

I found this to be a fascinating premise, especially because it really links to everything you learn through religion, that focusing on others and their needs, wishing them well, and hoping for the best, being compassionate to others in their times of distress, will actually bring you greater peace and happiness. Fredrickson also tackles the idea of self-love, but not in a narcissistic or "self-esteem" type of way. Her definition of self-love is just being able to accept yourself for who you are and where you are currently at in your personal development. It just means accepting yourself and being ok with however life is going for you at the moment. It's not beating yourself up for not living up to your expectations, but it also doesn't gloss over your imperfections and puff you up with prideful thoughts. I really liked it.

The book has two parts. The first part is the scientific explanation and proof for all of this, which I found sort of difficult to get through. The language is not quite as easy to understand as I would have liked. I found myself a bit lost quite often. However, if you don't really care about all that stuff, part two of the book is where you should start. In part two, the author delves into practical day to day activities that you can start using that will help you experience more loving moments every day. This is what I love about the book. Instead of just telling us to do it, and telling us why having these positive moments work, Fredrickson actually gives us a manual of HOW to make this happen in your life.

I actually have to return the book to the library because it is overdue, but I plan to reserve it again so I can start working on some of her ideas that were outlined in part two. I highly recommend this book! (By the way, all the exercises are very simple and don't take a lot of time out of your day.) Also...there is a website, www.positivityresonance.com and it has some guided meditations on it, if you want to go the meditation route. There are supposed to be other tools that will help you as well, but this part of the website is not up yet.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Love, Stargirl

Author: Jerry Spinelli
Pages: 274
Rating: G

Summary:
Love, Stargirl picks up a year after Stargirl ends and reveals the new life of the beloved character who moved away so suddenly at the end of Stargirl. The novel takes the form of "the world's longest letter," in diary form, going from date to date through a little more than a year's time. In her writing, Stargirl mixes memories of her bittersweet time in Mica, Arizona, with involvements with new people in her life.

In Love, Stargirl, we hear the voice of Stargirl herself as she reflects on time, life, Leo, andof courselove.

My Thoughts: I didn't like this book as much as I enjoyed Stargirl. It's nice to know that Stargirl is actually real and that she lives on in another place, still thinking of Leo all the time, but the book just didn't really do it for me. She seems so much more mystical in the first book, so much more vibrant and exciting and different. This book normalizes her. There are some pretty interesting characters, such as the little girl, Dootsie, who becomes Stargirl's best friend (she is pretty hilarious) and a lady named Betty Lou, who is afraid to leave her house. It was a cute book, but not lifechanging for sure. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Son

Author: Lois Lowry
Pages: 393
Rating: G

Summary:
They called her Water Claire. When she washed up on their shore, no one knew that she came from a society where emotions and colors didn’t exist. That she had become a Vessel at age thirteen. That she had carried a Product at age fourteen. That it had been carved from her body. Stolen. Claire had had a son. But what became of him she never knew. What was his name? Was he even alive?  She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. when he was taken from their community, she knew she had to follow. And so her journey began.

But here in this wind-battered village Claire is welcomed as one of their own. In the security of her new home, she is free and loved. She grows stronger. As tempted as she is by the warmth of more human kindness than she has ever known, she cannot stay. her son is our there; a young boy now. Claire will stop at nothing to find her child....even if it means trading her own life.

Son thrusts readers once again into the chilling world of the Newbery Medal winning book, The Giver, as well as Gathering Blue and Messenger where a new hero emerges. In this thrilling series finale, the startling and long-awaited conclusion to Lois Lowry’s epic tale culminates in a final clash between good and evil.

My Thoughts: I have to say that The Giver  is still my favorite of the four books, but this one definitely tied up some loose ends. In the end of The Giver Jonas runs away with Gabe, but the book leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger. You never find out if Jonas and Gabe actually make it anywhere safe or what exactly happens to them. There are hints at their whereabouts in Gathering Blue and Messenger but Son makes it all clear. Jonas and Gabe eventually came to a village full of other cast-offs and runaways, a sanctuary of sorts. They remain there, but Gabe is very curious about his past, where he came from, and especially who he came from. He has it in his head that he is going to go back and find his mother, even though Jonas told him that he was a manufactured product and his mother probably doesn't care about him. (In the community where they come from, people took pills to keep them from feeling any emotions, such as love, compassion, etc).

Little does Gabe know that his mother, Claire, is out there desperately searching for him as well. She never took the pills, and so was not like the other Birthmothers. As soon as she had Gabe, she felt an intense longing to be with him. She even visits him several times in the nursery without anyone knowing her true identity. As soon as she hears that Jonas has left the community with her son, Claire leaves too, in search of him.

I do have to say that some of the ideas of this book were a little far-fetched and also....very fairy-tale-ish. Also, I wish there had been some kind of explanation about the general government of the land they live in. There's a lot of communities, all with different lifestyles and technologies and systems of control, but they don't seem to be connected in any way, and there's no explanation as to how life got that way. For example, the community Claire comes from has figured out how to control the weather so that it is always perfect, and they have advanced medical procedures, electricity, and medications. The society Jonas brings Gabe to is somewhat early 1800's. People don't ever really visit other communities, and the only movement seems to be people escaping from their communities into the sanctuary Jonas found. I just feel like Lowry could have gone a lot further with that.

However, the book still holds a lot of value to me since it wraps up everything you ever wondered about when you finished reading The Giver and Gathering Blue. 

By the way....if you haven't read the other books in this series, don't worry, this one can stand on its own pretty well, but I would still recommend reading The Giver. It won awards for a good reason. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Author: Paul Tough
Pages: 197
Rating: G

Summary:
The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.

But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.

How Children Succeed introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty.

Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children’s lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, as Tough’s extraordinary reporting makes clear, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things.

This provocative and profoundly hopeful book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net. It will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.

My Thoughts: I found this book completely fascinating. I was seriously hooked from beginning to end. The only thing I have against the book is that there are a lot of explanations of WHY kids sometimes don't succeed, or detailed explanations of certain programs that work, but not a lot of information about how to help the kids in your own personal life succeed. There are a few tips about that, but not too many. However, I still found the entire thing fascinating. It gave me a better understanding of the disadvantages that kids in poverty deal with  and that seem impossible to overcome.

The book also argues something that I have been feeling for a long time. No matter how much we reform schools, there's really only so much the school system can do. We need to have parents involved, and really try to improve the quality of each of these kids' lives.

On a personal level, there's a lot in the book about the types of character strengths kids need in order to succeed. These strengths turn out to be better predictors of success than IQ or (surprise surprise) standardized test scores! Basically, kids need to learn when they are young how to properly manage stressful situations, and how to learn from their failures and move on. In order to do this, we have to ALLOW them to fail at some things. So, parents should be sure not to hover, but to be there when stressful situations arise, to comfort, talk through, and help the children deal with the disappointment or failure, or hurt.

I would definitely recommend this. It's written by a talented journalist, so it reads easy, even though there is a lot of research shoved in there. It never becomes dry or overly statistical. I recommend this one.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Artichoke's Heart

Author: Suzanne Supplee
Pages: 276
Rating: PG

Summary:It's not so easy being Rosemary Goode and tipping the scales at almost two hundred pounds, especially when your mother runs the most successful (and gossipiest!) beauty shop in town. After a spectacularly disastrous Christmas break when the scale reaches an all-time high, Rosemary realizes that things need to change. (A certain basketball player, Kyle Cox, might have something to do with it.) So begins a powerful year of transformation and a journey toward self-discovery that surprisingly has little to do with the physical, and more to do with an honest look at how Rosemary feels about herself.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. Rosemary is a character that is easy to identify with, at least in some way. She has extremely low self-esteem because of her weight, and seems to think that everyone in her life is just disgusted by how fat she is. She also has this idea that if you are skinny and beautiful, your life must be easy and perfect.

After Rosemary finally decides to start losing some weight, she begins to make friends, and even gains the attention of Kyle Cox, the cute new basketball player. What she doesn't seem to understand is that her new friends and Kyle don't care at all how much she weighs. They're interested in her because of who she is, and that's a nice, funny, and caring person.

This is definitely a fantastic teen read, because it really teaches a lot about how to have your self-esteem come from just being who you are, instead of thinking you have to be like someone else in order to be accepted. I would totally recommend this one.