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.)

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.