Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Five Love Languages of Children - Gary Chapman, Ph.D and Ross Campbell, M.D.

Summary: Want to know the secret to making sure your child feels loved?

Kids desperately need to know how much you love them. But if you don’t know their special “love languages” you might as well be speaking gibberish. Every child (like every adult) expresses and receives love best through one of five communication styles. Find out which one of these your child speaks:

QUALITY TIME, WORDS OF AFFIRMATION, GIFTS, ACTS OF SERVICE, PHYSICAL TOUCH

If your love language is different from your children’s, you’d better learn to translate—fast. Or you could miss your chance to meet their deepest emotional needs. Discover how to express unconditional feelings of respect, affection and commitment that will resonate in their souls— and inspire them for the rest of their lives. (Summary from amazon.com - image from coverbrowser.com)

My Review: I personally liked the first book Gary Chapman wrote, The Five Love Languages, better than this book. It just seemed to read faster and more enjoyably. Maybe I'd feel differently if I'd read this one first; then this opinion would be reversed and apply to the first book.

Just like the The Five Love Languages, this book gives explanations for the five different love languages with real life examples. Then he moves into case studies and more detailed explanations of how to apply these to your individual experiences, your child(ren).

The difference I noticed was that this book seemed to have more parenting opinions thrown in. While I agreed with much of his advice, I'm not sure that's what this book should be proffering. Unless it specifically related to how to express love in the five different ways, it didn't quite sit right with me to give advice outside of that. Conversely, it is written by a Ph.D. and an M.D. Those are just some of my thoughts while reading. It obviously distracted me enough while reading to mention it. Take it or leave it.

That said, I felt all the advice on how to show your children you love them, in as many of the love languages as possible, was great. It does say that you cannot determine your child's love language until he or she is 5 years old, making my reading a bit premature. I will at least be prepared to look for signs indicating which language to focus on when the time comes. I'd definitely give this book a read regardless of your child's age because it may defuse many volatile reactions that seem unavoidable with parenting. Many rough years where children act up are their way of communicating their need for your love.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Sum it up: A mix of parenting advice and information on how children (really, humans in general) feel love.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Your Pregnancy Week By Week (4th ed) - Glade B. Curtis, M.D., and Judith Schuler, M.S.

Summary: New life is growing inside you and your body is changing. With this fact-filled book and your doctor's prenatal care, you can follow your baby's progress and confirm what's happening in your own body.

This book provides the answers to your questions about all stages of pregnancy. Whether you are just planning your pregnancy or are already pregnant, you'll find advice for taking care of yourself and having a healthy baby.

Each week you will learn about:
  • Your baby's growth and development
  • How your activities and actions affect your baby
  • Medicines and medical tests
  • Health precautions and illnesses
  • Special considerations

Illustrations show clearly how you and your developing baby change and grow week by week. A delightful new feature offers a tip-of-the-week to new as well as experienced dads. Plus nutrition hints every week!

The most medically up-to-date book available, Your Pregnancy Week by Week is written by a leading obstetrician and fertility specialist. (Summary from book - Image from healthpress.com)

My review: During my first pregnancy, I read every book under the sun in my quest to be the perfect incubator. Seriously. I worked at a bookstore. I had access.

About midway through my second pregnancy, I went back and flipped through many of the books that I owned, stopping in certain chapters to review or look up certain questions. There were a few that I re-read, just to refresh, but for the most part I skimmed.

Here I am in the final throws of my third pregnancy and this book is the only one I tore my house apart to find. It’s also the only book I haven’t donated to Goodwill.

My reasons for this were two fold:

First, Your Pregnancy Week by Week is informative but easy to read, with short sections and concise answers to problems you might be facing in pregnancy. Because the book is broken up into weeks, I never felt pressured to read a ton in one sitting. This is especially helpful if you’re occupied with something – like two other kids, a migraine, or the pressing need to worship the porcelain god.

Second, I knew my girls (ages six and four) would love it. It has great illustrations of the baby as well as the uterus, placenta, etc., if you’re looking to explain some things about fetal development and human anatomy. I felt comfortable enough with its’ contents to be able to hand it to my six-year-old to look at by herself when she wanted to, with a “let me know if you have any questions.” In the earlier weeks of pregnancy, the illustrations offer actual size comparisons and later relate the size of the baby to fruit and other common objects so you can really visualize its’ size. My kids had fun calling the baby “bean” one week and “olive” the next.

I also made frequent use of the fairly thorough index, glossary of common pregnancy terms, and found lots of helpful tips for both parents to make pregnancy and childbirth run more smoothly. Overall, I’ve found this book to be a very useful pregnancy resource and the only one that I actually look forward to reading when I see those double lines.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up: My go-to-guide for pregnancy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fablehaven : Grip of the Shadow Plague - Brandon Mull

Summary: Very strange things are afoot at Fablehaven. Someone or something has released a plague that transforms beings of light into creatures of darkness. Seth discovers the problem early, but as the infectious disease spreads, it becomes clear that the preserve cannot hold out for long. In dire need of help, the Sorensons question where to turn. The Sphinx has always given sound advice--but is he a traitor? Inside the Quiet Box, Vanessa might have information that could lead to a cure--but can she be trusted?

Meanwhile, Kendra and members of the Knights of the Dawn must journey to a distant preserve and retrieve another hidden artifact. Will the Society of the Evening Star recover it first? Will the plague eclipse all light at Fablehaven? (Summary from back of the book and image from Amazon.com)

My Review: I'm thoroughly enjoying the Fablehaven series. This is #3, so if you're interested in reading them, I recommend starting back at the first (review here) before reading further.

I'm a bit surprised how much I'm enjoying the Fablehaven series because I've never been much of a fantasy reader. Kendra and Seth grow up a bit in this part of the saga. Fablehaven comes closer to the brink of collapse in this book than the previous two, which equates to lots more suspense and drama. You also get to meet a famous character spoken of in the first two books that is most intriguing.

Seth shows some potential in this book. His impulsiveness in the past almost makes his character obnoxious. But, like I said, he grows up a bit in this book and you get a glimpse into what his character may be capable of achieving. Kendra also grows up but more in the typical teenage girl way. I like that Mull stretches the characters, giving them more depth. I look forward to how he plays with the maturation process in the fourth book.

I hate giving away too much of books in a series because it takes all the fun out of reading them. You should give the Fablehaven books a chance if you haven't done so already. They're definitely worth the read. There is betrayal, magic, true love, foreshadowing of the next book and more.

Rating: 4.25 stars

Sum it up: Another intense journey with Seth and Kendra protecting magical creatures.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

Summary: Audrey Niffenegger's spectacularly compelling second novel opens with a letter that alters the fate of every character. Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the subeditor of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Eddie, their mother.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons, and Karl Marx are buries. Julia and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. s the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover much is still alive in Highgate, including - perhaps- their aunt.

Author of one of the most beloved first novels in recent years, Niffenegger returns with an unnerving, unforgettable and enchanting ghost story, a novel about love and identity, secrets and sisterhood and the tenacity of live - even after death.
Summary from book, cover photo from of amazon.com

My Review: This novel begins as a haunting ghost story with well developed, likable characters. The setting is easy to become immersed in as it is so beautifully described. Full of mysterious secrets the first half of the novel had me hooked. It was a little far fetched, possibly even more so than Niffenegger's first novel, yet I was so caught up in the plot that it didn't even matter.

Then the story took an unexpected turn. Actually it was a complete detour and a bad one at that. Niffenegger neglected to set up enough conflict in the beginning of the story for the plot to handle this turn of events. I saw exactly how the story was going to play out yet couldn't turn away from it because I had grown attached to the characters. I kept hoping that this was just a minor brain fart on the author's part and she would come around. No such luck.

Even though I found this novel to be a disappointment I haven't given up on Niffenegger, as she is a very talented writer. If she would have just put an additional 50 pages or so into this book leading up to the climax the story would have worked. It's a downright shame. I would definitely recommend picking up The Time Travelers Wife but skip this one and wait for her next.

*For those sensitive readers- this one did have some of the language and intimacy issues that Time Traveler's Wife had, though I felt that for the most part they were appropriate for the setting of the story.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars, how unfortunate as bulk of this book was 4 stars!

To Sum it up: Audrey Niffengger please check your desk drawers, I believe you left a few chapters behind!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beguiled - Deeanne Gist and J. Mark Bertrand

Summary: Rylee Monroe, a dogwalker in Charleston’s wealthiest neighborhood, never feared the streets at night. But now a thief is terrorizing the area and worse, someone seems to be targeting her.

Reporter Logan Woods is following the break-ins with the hope of publishing his coverage as a true-crime book. The more he digs, the more he realized this beguiling dogwalker seems to be at the center of everything.

As danger draws ever closed, Logan must choose: Chase the girl, the story, or plunge into the shadows after the villain who threatens everything? (Image from christianretailing.com - Summary from book)

My Review: While browsing through the Christian fiction section of my local book store I found this new book by an author I have read before—Deeanne Gist. She has written 5 other historical fiction/romance books and I loved everyone of them so I was intrigued. Her partner in writing the book, J. Mark Bertrand, is someone whose writing I have not read before but he writes suspense—romance/suspense, a combination I couldn’t pass up.

Just reading the first 2 pages of Beguiled was enough to capture my attention. From then on it was hard to put the book down (which I had to, of course, because real life always moves on whether we want it to or not). The authors did a great job of creating 4 main characters that were very believable. You knew the kind of people they were early on in the book, with one exception—Karl. He was a puzzle to the very end. Each character was vital to the story line of the book and you either loved them or hated them, which is what is supposed to happen in a good book. The story was never boring, only slowing down a couple of times to allow you to breathe. I was not disappointed in this book at all, in fact, I will recommend it to anyone who wants to listen and even those who don’t want to listen. I would love to see these two authors write another book together. It was a great book and will absolutely go in my reread category.

My rating: 5 stars

Sum it up: Things aren’t always the way they appear to be.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Can't AFFORD to Break Up - Stacey Nelkin & Paul Schienberg, Ph.D.

This review was co-written by my wife, Becca Nighting, a secretary and freelance advisor. Nobody should have to suffer through this book alone.

Summary:
The tough economic times can affect even the most stable relationships. Breaking up isn't the only answer; it can be rough both emotionally and financially. But by taking stock of your relationship with your partner and a little work, you can stay together and be happy. In this self-help book, actress Stacey Nelkin and therapist Paul Schienberg collaborate to offer ideas to help you jump-start your love life.

Filled with relevant real-life illustrations and stories, You Can't AFFORD to Break Up offers insightful and thought-provoking tips for saving relationships. ... Geared toward couples in all stages of a relationship, You Can't AFFORD to Break Up encourages you to be proactive and use your imagination to be sexy and have fun. You can't afford to break up; save your relationship and save money. All you need is an empty wallet and a dirty mind. (Summary from book - image from www.iuniverse.com. We received this book for review.)

Our Review: Now that the sweet romantic glow of Valentine's is past, you may be facing the harsh realities of a relationship plagued by financial trouble. Perhaps you might find You Can't AFFORD to Break Up in a bookstore, and wonder, "Could this book help me salvage my relationship?" To help you answer this question, we have put together a brief questionnaire in the spirit of the book itself. Pencils ready?
  1. Do you believe that Cosmo-style questionnaires can reveal deep insights into "Almost Everything That Matters"?

  2. Do you believe that a night of great sex can solve any and all relationship problems, from crushes on the barista to unemployment-related depression?

  3. Do you believe that actresses know how to save your marriage because "no one knows about love and sex better than the folks in Hollywood"?

  4. Does drinking beer "take you back to the good ol' lustful days of high school"?

  5. Does your short attention span keep you from noticing inconsistencies, contradictions, and poor logic?

  6. Does your idea of an empty wallet involve cash for sex toys, hotel rooms, dance classes, "soft, sensuous, sexy sheets," and new outfits every few months?

  7. Do you find that mocking your partner's sexual abilities tends to get them in the mood for love?
We won't patronize you by offering to interpret your answers--you've probably got the picture. This book impressed us with its ability to turn deep, complex issues into folksy soundbites. Our favorite parts were the case studies, which seemed like they were taken from rejected soap opera scripts. They would probably be more useful than the fluffily incoherent advice in helping a stressed relationship, because they at least are good for a laugh.

Our Rating: 1 star. Caution: This book is likely to be offensive to anyone who dislikes the word "fondle," who doesn't think of themselves as having a dirty mind, or whose relationship has more depth than a TV sitcom marriage.

Sum it up: Cliched, haphazard pop-psychology relationship advice desperately trying to gain relevance by capitalizing on the current recession.

"The Last Surgeon" Giveaway WINNER


Emily - aka "The Ladybug Lady"

You have won
an autographed copy of Michael Palmer's
newest medical thriller
"The Last Surgeon"!!

Thanks so much to Michael Palmer and his team for sponsoring this giveaway!
Emily, we'll be contacting you soon to arrange shipment!
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

So You Want to See a Movie?

We've reviewed several of the books, whose movies are currently on the big screen, or recently released on DVD. You might have missed them! Here they are, in case you'd like read the book reviews before (or after) you head to the theaters or your local video store...



Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - Judi Barrett

(all images courtesy of comingsoon.net)

Last Day to Enter the "Last Surgeon" Giveaway

Hey all, just a friendly reminder that
today is the last day to enter our
It is releasing TODAY!

I'll announce the winner sometime in the wee hours of the morning (most likely), so you can run out and get your own copy if you aren't lucky enough to win one here.

Good luck!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Swimming Inside the Sun - David Zweig

Summary: On the verge of success, struggling New York City musician Daniel Green has his life’s dream snatched from him. Despondent, Dan seeks solace and answers from the comforts of women, great thinkers from Marx to Kierkegaard, and the security of rice milk. Suffering from a darkly comical state of extreme self-consciousness, Dan begins to lose his grip on reality, and in a meta-fictional twist, the narrative shifts from first to third-person as his depersonalization peaks. All the while, the signs of his existential dilemma become, literally, the writing on the wall, as his studio apartment is increasingly taken over by The Notes he can’t seem to stop writing. Battling loneliness and a mind that can no longer discern between fiction and real life, Dan’s only hope may be the redemptive force of music. In a culture obsessed with tales of winners’ ascensions to the top, Dan Green’s story, defiantly, irreverently, is about what happens when you fail and the roads you take to figure out what next?

My Review:
I received a copy of David Zweig's book for review. It is Dan Green's story, a musician who puts all his heart and soul into making an album. Yet his obsessive type A personalty makes him unable to compromise with the recording company, thus the album never released. After this downfall he can no longer pick up his guitar and make music. He finds himself in a depressed downward spiral. Still artistic and needing an outlet to express himself, Dan begins to write all that passes through his mind on post-it notes and before he knows it has wallpapered his apartment in these small, yellow random thoughts. Several of these thoughts are shared throughout the book in true post-it note form.

This book is written quite realistically, leaving the reader pondering the points when the fiction Dan overlaps with the nonfiction of David. While the character's pitiful, stubborn self-loathing is enough to make the reader want to kick him in the teeth, one can not help but feel empathy. As the book switches from 1st to 3rd person the reader experiences the point in which Dan's depression has swelled to losing grip with reality. During this phase I actually had to walk away from the story for several days, as Dan's self-destruction was presented so realistically that I felt I was embarking on the journey with him. I felt a bit insane reading all the thoughts that passed through his Dan's mind. It was a great relief when he was pulled himself out of this funk.

When the tale came to a close, I felt slightly sad to have say goodbye to Dan. Though I despised him through much of the book, Dan somehow managed to wiggle his way into my heart. At many points the emotions, though extreme, were easy to relate to. His sense of sarcastic humor is portrayed throughout the book in the form of amusing footnotes. While I enjoyed the writing style, I would not wish to rejoin Dan on this excursion.

**Sensitive readers - this one is not for you, due to excessive cursing and a couple intimate situations.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars, I wanted to give this one a 4 as it was quite well-written, yet I can't think of many people I would recommend it to.

To Sum it up: A journey into manic depression, borderline insanity, and then out again.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Purged By Darkness - Michael Estepa

Summary: In the gang lifestyle, honour and loyalty is what is expected of you. Fear, death and betrayal is what often follows. In this world, no one wins and all those involved, often find themselves in too deep to ever get out. The story revolves around six friends, as it follows their journey inside the organised crime syndicate, known as the Triads. With their love for each other and their loyalties not far behind, it is this same quality that will push their friendship beyond all limits. For this group of friends, it is all they have. Love is what keeps them together, but will it be enough to survive in a world where bullets speak louder than words and death awaits them at every turn? (Image and summary from amazon.com)

My Review: The basis of this story is fairly simple--tell the truth about life in a gang, not the glorified, Hollywood-ized version. It is not all cool and sexy like "Training Day" or the like. So, when I received this book for review I was anxious to see what it had to offer.

The story focuses on a group of six friends. However, as the back of the book summary states "friendship is not always enough". Throughout you discover how it all works, the hierarchy and the pawns, the games and the truths. It is at once captivating and horrifying, to see what these people subject themselves to and seem to believe is ok and normal. It is kind of like the old train wreck syndrome.

As the story progresses you get to know each character, and also get to see into their motivations, at least to a degree. But, what I found trying was that I could not really connect and begin to care about the characters the way I would have liked to. I cannot say if it was the writing or the just the characters themselves.

That being said, this book was an ok read. I still enjoyed it and found it fairly enlightening. I just wish that I could say I was more moved by it, but it did not provide that depth for me. If you are looking for that "a day in the life" view, then I would definitely recommend this novel. But, for me personally, it did not provide key elements that I enjoy in my reading.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up: A saddening novel about the power of friendship.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fire - Kristen Cashore

This book is a sequel to Kristin Cashore's best-selling YA novel, Graceling. You can read our reviews of the first book here and here.

Summary: It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she has the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City. The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there's more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren't afraid of becoming the monster her father was. (Image from Powells.com and summary from back of the book.)

Kari's Review: Fire is a fascinating character. Being described as a monster--half human and half monster--the mix of being drawn to something so horrible and yet so beautiful is an interesting theme in itself. I'm sure you could have many conversations regarding the reality of human nature's desire for external beauty and being willing to compromise for the beauty despite a demon within. She has a way of loving characters who are difficult to want to love, a gentleness that endears her to everyone, including the reader.

There were so many aspects to this book that could stimulate great discussion. Love, internal struggle, vice, fidelity vs. adultery, using your talents and gifts for good, needing to do something terrible to accomplish a greater good, the problem of men self-indulging to the point of hurting others, abuse--specifically sexual abuse, gender roles and inequalities, the list goes on and on. For these aspects, the fluid writing style, and the entrancing world Cashore creates, I couldn't put the book down.

Sometimes I'm amazed what they categorize as Young Adult literature though. This falls in that category for me, because I wouldn't want my child reading this until she or he is an adult. Casual sex isn't something I want my kids thinking I condone at their age. It does talk about the repercussions of sex, and while realistic, I still don't know if it portrays the message I'd want my child hearing.

That aside, I truly enjoy Cashore's writing style. It's devour-able. She creates the most fascinating worlds with believable characters. I enjoy the themes and food for thought about human flaws. A couple points in time Fire seemed a bit too helpless or pitiful--I guess it's realistic, but was a little annoying. At times Fire's internal struggles to understand her world, her place in it, and the flaws of the people she loves, paralyze her. It almost--just almost--felt overdone.

I'd have given it five stars if it didn't have the promiscuous sexual message.

Her Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: Delicious reading that follows the same vein Cashore's first book started dealing with humanity's vices.
______________________________________________

Kim's Review: I read Graceling and Fire back to back. I really enjoyed Graceling.....but I absolutely LOVED Fire. Romance, war, beautiful creatures, evil children, flesh eating Raptors, where do you begin? The adventure through the eyes of Fire was at times heartbreaking, but invigorating as well.

I still cannot completely understand what about this book held me so captive, but I found the 'monsters' concept so beautiful. As with Graceling, I liked the time period Cashore chose, which fit the characters perfectly. I loved the colors that brought all the monsters to life, the good and the bad. You'll have to pick it up to understand...but I won't ruin such a great book with any spoilers.

So much more I want to write, but every thing I want to put down would be better enjoyed by the reader getting it straight from the source. I don't want to give away any of the intricacies of the plot...

However, there is one final thing I have to add. This book is sold as young adult fiction. I would say that I MIGHT let my 16 year old read it. There are a lot of adult themes in the book, a lot of promiscuity, mild language, a lot of talk about female....things. That is, not to mention, a good amount of violence. So, just a fair warning.

Her Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up: It is always great when an authors second novel blows the first out of the water.
______________________________________________

Average Rating : 4.5 Stars

______________________________________________

Friday, February 12, 2010

Breath of Scandal - Sandra Brown

Summary: On a rainy southern night, Jade Sperry endured a young woman's worst nightmare at the hands of three local hell-raisers. Robbed of her youthful ideals and at the center of scandal and tragedy, Jane ran as far and as fast as she could. But she never forgot the sleepy "company town" where every man, woman, and child was dependant on one wealthy family. And she never forgot their spoiled son, who with his two friends changed her life forever. Someday, somehow, she'd return...exacting a just revenge, freeing herself from her enemies' grasp and, perhaps, fulfilling a lost promise of love. (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.ca)

My Review: I know... another Sandra Brown novel. I am a insatiable fan. This was a second time read for me, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time.

Jade Sperry is a young girl growing up in a small southern town. She is pretty, and has the eye of some of the wealthiest boys in town. However, Jade only has eyes for Gary Parker, a poor farmers son and she and Gary begin planning a future together, much to the displeasure of her mother. But, Jade is a strong confident girl who know what she wants and won't be swayed by her Mom's ideals. Just when everything seems to fall into place for the young couple, a brutal attack by three of the town's local hotshots throws Jade's life into turmoil.

What they cannot know, is that their choice to violate Jade that night will haunt them forever. Jade faces the scorn of a mother, who takes the "you were asking for it" approach, and an entire town that is under the thumb of her attacker's father. She leaves town determined to make something of her life and spends the next ten years plotting her revenge, her justice against the three men that walked away laughing, leaving her for dead a decade before.

I loved this book, as I do most of Brown's novels. I liked the unexpected moments that you realize something that you missed is unfolding, some part of the main characters plan for vengeance that you could never have predicted. As always, the romantic sideline was very steamy without being over the top. A dark man in a hard hat and wranglers......that's not over the top is it?

My Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver

Summary: In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo--Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place. (Summary from book; image from www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com)
My Review: There are some books that are hard to review because they are hideous literary messes, and one doesn't know where to begin panning them. There are others books that are hard to review because they push one's buttons, making a fair appraisal of them difficult. And there are some books that are hard to review because they are too carefully constructed, too subtly and delicately worded, too grand in insight and application, for one possibly to do them justice.

Italo Calvino's masterful Invisible Cities is one of the last sort of books. I could discuss the intricate, dream-like structure of the short episodes and reveries that build the book like the bricks of one of its cities; the jewel-like clarity and poetry of the language; and above all the way the author, like a skillful magician, peels back the veils of our prosaic reality to reveal something far more beautiful, dangerous, and alive--I can tell you about these things, but I'd rather shut up and let the book speak for itself.

My Rating: 5 stars. It's a mercy this book was originally in Italian, lest it be dragged through the muck of every English Literature course and ruined for everyone.

Sum it up: Poignant yet playful, and ripe with insight. Short enough to read in a night--but do yourself the favor of reading it slowly!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Also reviewed by Mindy and Kari.

Summary: In a world where people born with an extreme skill--called a Grace--are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she meets Prince Po, who is graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace--or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone. (Summary from back of book - image from specusphere.com)

My Review: I started this book a few months ago and was not able to get into it. I am not sure why, but it was not a good time. Finally I picked it up again and...wow, I am glad I gave it a second chance.

Katsa is a young girl who has been cursed with a "Grace". Where some people have a Grace for mind reading, sewing, or healing, she is Graced with killing. Katsa is used by her Uncle Randa, King of Randa City, as a tool for deal making and his own personal form of law enforcement.

One evening, rescuing a old old man from a neighboring kingdom, will set in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever. When she comes into contact and, later, friendship with a Lenid Prince, she learns to strengthen herself against the kings vile ways, but faces exile and a wonderfully exciting journey ensues.

This book is billed as young adult. I would say that, due to some violence and mature topics, it would only be appropriate for ages 15 plus. There is some talk about marriage that I have heard a lot of people find offensive. I thought that is was a key part of the story and tastefully done. A large part of the book is Katsa finding herself, who she is as a person and a woman, not as a slave to her uncle's whims. For reasons explained in the book she has some very valid concerns about committing herself to marriage. I feel that it adds depth and character to the story, without belittling the concept of traditional marriage.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: A great adventure romance, with a twist of sci-fi......FUN!



Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reader Resources

If I read less blogs, I'd do more book reviews...

Or more housework...or get more hours at my part-time job...more of something.

But I do like those blogs...and I've found a few posts that I thought might be of interest you some of you, particularly if you have younger readers (or not) in your life.

Steady Mom - How to Choose Books for Your Boys

Simple Kids - Help for Reluctant Readers (You were prepared for potty-training, sending them off to kindergarten and the questions about birds and bees - but not this - anything but this!)

Dawning of a Brighter Day - What's Up with YA Literature? (Written by a Mormon for a Mormon audience...but still applicable to any mother of young girls.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Little Red Book - Rachel Kauder Nalebuff

Summary: My Little Red Book is an anthology of stories about first periods, collected from women of all ages from around the world. The accounts range from lighthearted (the editor got hers while waterskiing in a yellow bathing suit) to heart-stopping (a first period discovered just as one girl was about to be strip-searched by the Nazis). The contirbutors include well-known women writers (Meg Cabot, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Cecily von Ziegesar), alongside today's teens.

Ultimately, My Little Red Book is more than a collection of stories. It is a call for a chang ein attitude. By revealing what if feesl like to undergo this experience firsthand and giving women the change to explain their feelings in their own words, My Little Red Book aims to provide support, entertainment, and a starting point for discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere. (Image from twelvebooks.com - Summary from back of book)

My review: The Unwelcome Visitor. The Curse. The Crimson Wave. The Rag. Aunt Flo.

Call it what you will, this book is about periods.

My Little Red Book is a rather unique compilation of essays that, through a series “first period” accounts, stresses the lack of communication as women and between women about our bodies. Women, in general, have always tended to shy away from discussing topics like sexual development-- which has led to a wealth of misinformation among younger generations as they hit puberty. These first-period narratives come in a variety of forms, from poetry to rant to the purposely fictionalized. Many of the experiences are tragic, some mortifying, and others riotously funny. The further I read, the more I began to embrace its' message and feel comfortable delving in to another woman’s life on such a personal level. Each narrative was deeply moving in its’ own way and offered a meaningful connection through the page—from me to them—and a sense of solidarity among all women with a similar experience.

Overall, I thought that My Little Red Book was interesting. Note the italics. Perhaps it’s greatest gift was the opportunity for introspection. It was thought-provoking and insightful. It made me reflect on society’s tendency to keep things quiet, to make perfectly natural things seem shameful. I ached for the girls who thought they were dying, or that they couldn’t tell anyone or perhaps worse still, when they did, received little support during this changing time in their lives. Finally, it made me dig through my own memories and reflect on how I would like to broach this topic with my own daughters. How open do I want to be? Answer: Very. However, I promise here and now not to announce it at the dinner table.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone (hence the rating). But I would recommend it to most women and mothers with young daughters in an effort encourage openness and communication about this important rite of passage. I also feel that My Little Red Book would make for an interesting book club pick as well (and it comes with a reading group guide).

My Rating: 3.9 Stars. For the sensitive reader: As you might imagine, this book is entirely open about periods and the female body, but was tactful and informative without being vulgar.

Sum it up: A thoroughly unique and insightful book. Period. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Agent in Old Lace - Tristi Pinkston

Summary: Shannon Tanner has it all, a perfect family, perfect job, perfect boyfriend—or so she thinks. What Shannon doesn’t know is that her boyfriend, Mark, is stealing money from her father and making millions doing it. When Shannon learns Mark’s secret, he turns on her, and Shannon’s life abruptly goes from perfect to perilous.

In an effort to protect Shannon, the FBI assigns their only female agent to go undercover as her personal bodyguard. But when the agent gets injured the day before the assignment, they turn to the next best thing: their top agent, Rick Holden—in a dress.

Life seems safe again for Shannon with Rick by her side and Mark apparently gone for good. Then Shannon gets word that her best friend has been kidnapped, and it becomes clear that Mark isn’t going to stop any time soon. Shannon realizes the only way to save herself and her friend—and stop Mark once and for all—is by sending Rick, her only source of protection, away. Can Rick save Shannon before it’s too late?
(Summary from book - image from deseretbook.com)

My review: I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination (which you can probably tell when you read any of my reviews) but I am a reader, and I know when a book I’ve read is a good read or not. This book, Agent in Old Lace, was a good read. It was a short book, only 182 pages, but those 182 pages were filled with action, suspense, mystery, romance (every book needs just a little romance) and even a fair amount of humor. Some authors try to make their books longer by adding what I would term as “filler”. Agent in Old Lace did not have any filler in it whatsoever. Every word in the book was important—it said what needed to be said to keep you wanting more. This book will definitely be in my “books to be read again” category. Thank you Tristi for a fun and entertaining read.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Sum it up: A great book to read when you need a break from everyday life (and everything that comes with it).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Eat My Globe : One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything - Simon Majumdar

Summary: When Simon Majumdar hit forty, he realized there had to be more to life than his stable but uninspiring desk job. As he wondered how to escape his career, he rediscovered a list of goals he had scrawled out years before, the last of which said: Go everywhere, eat everything. With that, he had found his mission--a yearlong search for the delicious, and curious, and the curiously delicious, which he names Eat My Globe and memorably chronicles in these pages.

In Majumdar's world, food is everything. Like every member of his family, he has a savant's memory for meals, with instant recall of dishes eaten decades before. Simon's unstoppable wit and passion for all things edible (especially those things that once had eyes, and a face, and a mom and pop) makes this an armchair traveler's and foodie's delight--Majumdar does all the heavy lifting, eats the heavy foods (and suffers the weighty consequences), so you don't have to. He jets to thirty countries in just over twelve months, diving mouth-first into local cuisines and cultures...

The meat of the story...is the friends that Simon makes as he eats. They are as passionate about food as he is and are eager to welcome him into their homes and tables, share their choicest meals, and reveal their local secrets. (Summary from book jacket - Image from eatmyglobe.blogspot.com )

My review: At 40 years old, Simon Majumdar was faced with a lack luster job and, to his abject horror, a declining ability to move urinal cakes. Can you say “impending mid-life crisis”? Eat My Globe is the expression of one man’s desire to eat truly amazing food as it was meant to be prepared -- pad thai in Thailand, Texan barbecue, Japanese sushi, Argentine steaks, and countless other less-famous-but-local fare from around the world.

Eat My Globe was an impressive combination of my three favorite things to do - read, eat, and travel. The first two I do well enough on my own, but for the last few weeks I have opted to travel vicariously along with Simon as he flew, walked, and ate his way around the globe. Flat out obsessed with all things culinary, Simon enjoys the pleasures of a well-prepared meal and thinks nothing of licking his fingers or, indeed, his entire plate in the middle of a crowded restaurant. I couldn’t help but love Simon for his tactless and unapologetic way of expressing his opinions to anyone within earshot. His self-deprecating sense of humor and clever phrasing provided not only an entertaining read, but also a fascinating account of the meals he ate in gluttonous hobbit-style.

I was both horrified and delighted by the food that Simon willingly consumed. It would have been much easier for him to say he was going to eat only the world’s best food, but instead he chose to eat everything, devouring lamb’s head, tripe, and tongue dumplings with relish. While our taste in food might not always align (I will always prefer pizza to veal brains for the simple reason that I will never ever try veal brains), I can’t help but admire his spirit and sheer nerve.

If I could describe books as well as Simon describes food, then I would be a world-class reviewer and a kazillionaire. His imagery had me chuckling, salivating, or near retching on practically every page. I almost hurled reading about his encounters with stir fried rat, rotten shark meat, and cod sperm sushi and actually hurt myself laughing at his account of the discovery of a breaded, deep fried banana. Seriously, I think I pulled a muscle.

While Eat My Globe, doesn’t really have a deep plot or existential message to share, I adored my time with it. The chapters aren’t very long (though there are many), which makes it conveniently easy to put the book down, fix something to tasty to eat, and then come back to it without feeling disconnected from the story. I’m not entirely certain that Simon learned a great deal from his journey across the globe, however, what I experienced was an often humorous, occasionally gross, but mostly delicious account of his exotic tastes and travels.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars. For the sensitive reader, there are occasional moments of crassness and profanity. Also, if you have a problem with gluttony this book probably is not your bag.

Sum it up: A sarcastic, savory travelogue that leaves you hungry for more…and willing to eat almost anything. Sure to be a hit with the food lit crowd.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"The Last Surgeon" Giveaway

We are so excited to announce a new giveaway of
Michael Palmer's newest medical thriller,
The Last Surgeon
(releasing 2/16/10). Michael Palmer has graciously offered to send an autographed hardcover copy to ONE lucky winner! If you haven't heard about it yet, you can read our review here.
This giveaway is open to US/Canada residents only.

To enter to win you MUST:
1. Become a follower (or already BE one) and leave a comment telling us the title of your favorite thriller/mystery/crime novel . Don't forget to include your contact information.

For extra entries (and I can't stress how important it is to leave a separate comment for each)**:

1. Post/Tweet/Blog/or otherwise promote this giveaway on the social networking site of your choice.
2. Look through our past reviews and tell us which book we've reviewed you are most likely to read next.
3. Tell us what book you've been meaning to read forever that you keep putting off.
**Seriously people. If you leave one comment. You get one entry. If you follow the rules you get more.

This giveaway will end on 11:59PM on February 16th, 2010. The winner will be notified via email to arrange shipment.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Last Surgeon - Michael Palmer

Check back tomorrow to enter "The Last Surgeon" Giveaway!!!

Summary: Michael Palmer’s latest novel (releasing 2/16/10) pits a flawed doctor against a ruthless psychopath, who has made murder his art form. Dr. Nick Garrity, a vet suffering from PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder—spends his days and nights dispensing medical treatment from a mobile clinic to the homeless and disenfranchised in D.C. and Baltimore. In addition, he is constantly on the lookout for his war buddy Umberto Vasquez, who was plucked from the streets by the military four years ago for a secret mission and has not been seen since.

Psych nurse Jillian Coates wants to find her sister’s killer. She does not believe that Belle Coates, an ICU nurse, took her own life, even though every bit of evidence indicates that she did—every bit save one. Belle has left Jillian a subtle clue that connects her with Nick Garrity.

Together, Nick and Jillian determine that one-by-one, each of those in the operating room for a fatally botched case is dying. Their discoveries pit them against genius Franz Koller–the highly-paid master of the “non-kill”—the art of murder that does not look like murder. As Doctor and nurse move closer to finding the terrifying secret behind these killings, Koller has been given a new directive: his mission will not be complete until Jillian Coates and Garrity, the last surgeon, are dead. (Summary and image from michaelpalmerbooks.com)
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Kim's Review: I have read quite a few Palmer novels over the years, so I was thrilled to hear that he wanted us to review his newest thriller. I have found that unlike many authors in the mystery/thriller genre, Palmer maintains surprise and comes up with exciting NEW plots for each of his tales. I feel that some authors in the genre tend to recycle the same plot with different characters and sidelines. In The Last Surgeon Palmer proves me right again.

The opening chapter of this book left me breathless with horror. Without spoiling anything for all you potential readers out there, it is such a unique and terrible scene that I was instantly captivated with the "bad guy", as well as the hints that were given about the remainder of the plot. Sarin gas, sleeping pills, hidden cameras, bath tubs..... name your poison. (I think for some readers there are scenes that would be difficult, but I found that it all fit in nicely with the storyline.)

On the flip side, the romantic sideline is great. Come on, a doctor and a nurse falling in love over murder...what could be better right? But it is tastefully done with emotional upheaval playing nicely into both sides of the relationship.

Because of the photo on the cover I knew that the military was coming into play at some point in the book. I was pleased to find that Palmer handles the subject of PTSD with tact and grace. He managed to expose some very real issues and show the general population what these men and women go through to gain benefits and medical help at a time when they need it most.

I finished this book in two days and wished there were more to enjoy:)

Her Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: Another hit! I also loved his other novels, I would recommend them to anyone looking for a "stay-up-all-night" read.

Thank you, Mr. Palmer, for all the excitement!
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Mindy's Review: I’m not a frequent reader of this particular genre, so when Michael Palmer gave me his latest novel to review, I was unsure of what to expect. Part crime thriller and part medical mystery, The Last Surgeon moved along at a brisk, thrilling pace and provided enough plot twists to keep my attention. To be clear, this book is brutal. Palmer wastes no time diving into an eerily psychotic murder and does not shy away from gory descriptions of subsequent murders or the sexual depravity of his clearly sociopathic killer. I could have done with a little (and occasionally a LOT) less description in certain places. Because of the levels of violence, I would ordinarily cast this book into the “guy genre,” except for the fact that I (your typical SAHM) really enjoyed reading it. It is full of suspense and action without being stereotypical and chauvinistic like, let’s face it, a great many Clive Cussler novels (sorry Clive, it’s true and you know it).

It’s hard to use the word entertaining when you’re reading about horrific murders – even fictional ones – but I was, nonetheless, captivated by Palmer’s storyline and characters. Franz Koller, is unnervingly methodical and business-like with his own motivation and warped sense of honor. He is intriguing in his savagery and quite possibly one of the more interesting characters in the book. Protagonists, Nick and Jillian were too physically perfect for my taste, but not irritatingly so and other emotional issues leveled off their characters (especially Nick’s) and made them more genuine. The girl in me enjoyed the touch of romance between these two characters, which helped lighten the pages of this otherwise dark novel. Ultimately, I liked The Last Surgeon enough that I kept making time to read just one more chapter and finally had to just sit down until I finished. I even passed this book on to my husband, an virtual non-reader, and he is having quite a hard time putting it down.

Sidenote: I appreciated the how Palmer addressed the struggles of post-war vets suffering from PTSD who are being denied or having difficulty obtaining disability benefits. He brought up this important issue without being preachy about it.

Her Rating: 4 Stars. For the sensitive reader – This book contains fairly graphic subject matter and occasional profanity. Read at your own risk.

Sum it up: A gripping read -- now I think I need to go read a book about cute little bunnies or something.
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Average Rating: 4 Stars
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Evernight Giveaway Winner


JOLANTA

You are the winner of
a nearly new hardcover copy of
Evernight by Claudia Gray!!!

Are you excited?!? I hope so.
We'll be contacting you soon to arrange for delivery!

Didn't win? Don't worry!
We're announcing a new giveaway tomorrow, February 2nd!

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