Thursday, September 30, 2010

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume

Summary:  Margaret Simon, almost twelve, likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink.  She's just moved from New York City to the suburbs, and she's anxious to fit in with her new friends, so when they form a secret club to talk about boys, bras, and getting their first periods, Margaret is happy to belong.  But none of them can believe Margaret doesn't have a religion.  And Margaret can't tell them the truth: that she can talk to God anyway, about everything that's on her mind--including Philip Leroy, the best-looking boy in the sixth grade.

Margaret is funny and real.  So are her most personal thoughts and feelings.  (Summary from back of the book and image from  http://www.personal.psu.edu/rmc5071/blogs/)

My Review:  After reading this quick novel, I'm not surprised it made the Banned Book list.  In the very first chapters there is mention of Playboy, kissing boys, having a period, and some examples of teenage attitude towards authority figures.  Considering the protagonist is a twelve year old girl and the audience for the book would be the same, it fits that parents would take issue with some of the subject matter.  I'm not sure at twelve I would have been ready for some of what this book addresses.  But, I also know I was quite sheltered--something I have no issue with, I might add.  I'm sure at that age I would have breezed over the part with Playboy, thinking I'd figure it out later while most likely forgetting to check up on it.

But, that's not all I can see parents taking issue with.  The simple fact that Margaret talks to God throughout the story is enough for some parents to grow leery.  Margaret even gets testy with God towards the end of the story and again, I can see parents being concerned with her attitude.

Here's my overall feeling on the book: while I don't agree with some of the messages, it really isn't a horrible book teaching girls awful things.  For many American homes I think this behavior and confusion about religion for a teenage girl would be authentic and therefore meaningful reading.  If my daughter chose to read this book I know I'd make sure to have some discussions about Margaret's experience and her struggles.  I'd also hope to be able to have meaningful conversations about kindness and compassion, which are topics brought up briefly and could be more thoroughly explored.  Margaret is a good girl with a conscience truly trying to understand the world around her and fit in.  Her experience being new at school, I can only imagine, would validate many girls struggling through the same experience.  It could even make your child more aware of how easily she is swayed by the desire to fit in rather than do what they know is the right thing to do.

The writing is very basic and therefore not challenging, but is accessible to the lower YA grades where this book is probably most applicable.  I'm not sure I'd steer my students in the direction of reading this book, but I also wouldn't tell them not to read it.  I think it could be the right fit for the right student.

Rating:  3.5 Stars

Sum it up:  A pre-adolescent girl's struggle to adjust to and reach her teenage years.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs

Summary: In a convoluted and disturbing string of events, a drug addict flees from the police. His journeys take him across the United States and down into Mexico and beyond. On his travels, he meets up with various members of the underground drug and homosexual cultures. Alongside the twisted narrative runs a counter story about the uses of mind control by governments and psychiatrists to manipulate, destroy and direct the masses. Told in lurid detail that disturbs and disgusts many readers, the novel presents a glimpse into the emerging counter cultures of the 1950s and gives interesting insights into how these forces effect the ongoing development of modern society. (Summary from bookrags.com; cover image from powells.com)

My Review: Many of the books that end up on challenged and banned book lists leave people scratching their heads; few can find anything offensive enough about Harry Potter to comprehend banning it. Not so with Naked Lunch, perhaps the only masterpiece of modern literature ever to be banned from shipment through the U.S. Post Office. It has been burned. It has been banned in cities like Boston and Los Angeles and was the subject of a Massachussets Supreme Court obscenity case. Even today, it’s hard to imagine a school district even considering it for inclusion in a library long enough for parents challenge it.

What does a book have to do to get this sort of reaction? That’s the easy part. Naked Lunch has enough visceral violence, sex, sexual violence, general depravity, and drug use to make even the most jaded reader blanch. But Burrough’s masterpeice isn’t out for cheap shock value. Rather, the disturbing, surreal images serve to underscore the book’s cry for freedom from the invisible prisons of a culture that treats people as merely means to an end. It’s the revelation of our own everyday inhumanity, reflected back to us in grotesque and larger-than-life form, that makes this book hit home.

Naked Lunch is a great book. Not just a Great Book, but actually a fascinating, disturbing, mind-opening and gut-wrenching read. Naked Lunch is also a hard read. Much of it is written in Burrough’s signature “cut-up” style--the literary equivalent of impressionism, if Van Gogh were to paint his worst nightmares, tear the canvases to shreds, and glue them back together at random. Trying to trace the thin threads of theme and motif tying together words, sentences, and scenes quickly leaves the reader bewildered, mentally exhausted, and open to the full impact of the text’s delicate and dangerous poetry.

Star Rating: 5. Caution: This book doesn’t play nice; expect to be appalled.

Sum it up: If ever a novel begged to be banned by the powers that be, this is it. Strike a blow for your own freedom, and pick up a copy today! (Incidentally, the movie adaptation is no more understandable, but other than that it has little in common with the book. Give it a pass unless you're a fan of cinematic surrealism--in which case, you've probably already seen it.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Summary: Aldous Huxley's tour de force, Brave New World is a darkly satiric vision of a "utopian" future—where humans are genetically bred and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively serve a ruling order. A powerful work of speculative fiction that has enthralled and terrified readers for generations, it remains remarkably relevant to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as thought-provoking, satisfying entertainment.
summary and book cover from indiebound.org

My Review: In Brave New World, Huxley has created a society with the sole objective of keeping people happy. This new population is given jobs, food and happiness drugs to ensure peace. No longer are people born they are engineered, developed within bottles and then decantered. Natural selection is gone as the controllers decide not only how many babies are produced but also where each will fit on the social ladder.

Brave New World was written in the 30's about a futuristic world. I am floored that this book is not dated and seems to be even more relevant today. It is interesting to see how close we have come to some of the things Huxley touches on in his fiction novel. The growth of babies in tubes with choice on their genetic make-up is no longer so far-fetched. The idea of keeping our bodies young by eliminating the sagging and wrinkles of aging is progressing more all the time. Society has already lost many of the morals when it comes to sexuality and while promiscuous behavior is not exactly socially acceptable current views sure do differ from the 30's.

I had read this book back in high school and have since forgotten about the role sexuality has in the plot. These characters are encouraged to be promiscuous from toddlers and monogamy is unheard of. Sex is no longer used for reproduction but is purely social. As an adult I can now see why some would object to the ideas presented within this book. Though there is no detail in the recreational sex the subject is a major focus of the book. There were spots where I was a bit uncomfortable. Yet I feel that the issues the book brings to the surface outweigh the negative effects of addressing this taboo matter. Subjects such as overpopulation, over organization, subconscious and chemical persuasion, loss of individuality, brainwashing and true happiness are all important for us to ponder.

This book is still very relevant in today's classrooms. Young minds will thrive on the thought-provoking material brought to light within these pages. It would also make an enticing book club read with a deep discussion to follow.

**This book has been challenged for themes dealing with sexuality, drugs and suicide.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Summary: An intellectually stimulating classic

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cut - Patricia McCormick

Cut broaches the sensitive topic of self-mutilation and is a very controversial book for many parents, teachers, librarians, and therefore schools.  Many parents are worried that their children will start cutting themselves as a result of reading this book or cite Cut as the reason their children began cutting. 
As adults, parents, teachers, or even friends we should be aware of the people around us and what they are struggling with.  If your child picks up a book like Cut, it may not be because she wants to cut herself.  She may be trying to educate herself on a friend's behavior or even just understand the world around her.  What is important is that as a parent (or whatever your role may be) you talk about what she is reading, try to understand her reasoning for being interested in such dark subject matter, and make sure all her questions are answered.  Just because we hide the information does not mean our children won't get their hands on it somehow.  We need to show children we trust them and think they are intelligent beings while also guiding and teaching them healthy habits and behavior.

Click here to read why many teachers believe that dark young adult novels should not be banned.

Summary:  Callie cuts herself.  Never too deep, never enough to die.  But enough to feel the pain.  Enough to feel the scream inside.  Now she's at Sea Pines, a "residential treatment facility" filled with girls struggling with problems of their own.  Callie doesn't want to have anything to do with them.  She doesn't even want to have anything to do with anyone.  She won't even speak.  But Callie can only stay silent for so long...  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.bookhills.com/)

My Review:  As a part of Banned Books Week, I wasn't surprised to see this Young Adult novel on the list.  Not because I think it should be banned, but because of the serious issues it raises.  Many girls are emotionally vulnerable during their adolescent years.  Parents worry that their child will be influenced by what they read, and that I can agree with.  What I cannot agree with is shielding your children to the point where they don't know about the world around them.  Things like cutting just happen.  Not because the child sees her parents cutting, but because it is a way to alleviate the pain she is feeling.  While it isn't healthy, it is a way of coping.  Parents, as well as teens, would benefit from reading a book like Cut.  It opens your eyes to why people may cut, to not give up when it may seem a lost cause, and how the cutting is just a cover for deeper pain.  I truly feel having your child's eyes opened to this kind of thing is better than sheltering her.  It's seems obvious to me that knowing your child is reading this book would mean having a conversation to clear up any misconceptions or concerns and answer any questions.  You never know if by reading this book your child may be able to help a friend.

Cal's story hit a chord with me.  Many friends of mine and a close family member dealt with issues brought up in this book--anorexia, bulimia, cutting.  Her stubborn resistance to healing and then her eventual recovery was very realistically portrayed.  So much of mental illnesses that exhibit themselves in a tangible way, such as cutting, are a cover for needing control and trying to find a way to deal with emotional pain.  Cal's struggle through her inner battle of wanting to heal and  her inner conflict of not wanting to give up something of herself by 'giving in' to healing rang true.  The depiction of how other girls hurting themselves then affect each other was also portrayed well.  Often it isn't until the person dealing with the illness realizes how much she is hurting others does she make any real progress of realizing the need to get better.

I highly recommend this book.  It's not a cake walk, but it is well written and well researched.  It is not an in-depth look into the world of mental illness (from depression to cutting), but it is a snap shot. 

Rating: 5 stars

Sum it up:  Subtle and moving, it opens your eyes to a world that can seem so incomprehensible.  A world where someone cuts herself to block out emotional pain.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

I think it only fitting that we begin Banned Books Week by reviewing one of the most popular books ever written about censorship. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA Library in the spring of 1950. He paid just under ten dollars or so in dimes to rent the typewriter and it took him nine days to write the first draft. Since that day, over 4.5 million copies have been printed, devoured, and revered by book lovers around the world. In quite possibly one of the world’s most ironic objections, Fahrenheit 451 was challenged because of its’ use of some biblical swearing (of the H and D variety) and because, at one point, a German bible is defaced.

To this I can only respond: Seriously people? Seriously!?
_______________________________

Summary: Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires…The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning…along with the houses in which they were hidden. Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames…never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think…and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do! (Summary from book – Image from amazon.com)

My Review: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books to the point of distraction. There is something about the great ones -- the world they create and emotions they evoke that hold me transfixed until well past any decent sort of bedtime. In particular, books speak to me in a way that only Ray Bradbury could explain:

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’ll find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a piece of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. “
This book has pores. It is alive.  Put it under the microscope and you'll see.  On the surface, this book tells the story of a man who didn’t even know he wasn't happy -- didn’t even know anything was wrong, until something happened to open his eyes. Take the time to focus and you’ll find an insightful commentary on society’s obsession with electronic media, the instant gratification it offers, and the subsequent effect on individual expression and intellectual thought. Bradbury’s novel encourages contemplation of the world,  while theorizing about the dangers, impossibility, and ultimate stupidity of trying to make everyone in society happy with the realities of life. If that sounds boring to you, don’t worry, it wasn’t. Montag’s frantic search for what has been lost is as riveting and emotionally compelling as it is relevant.

This book didn't make me comfortable. It didn’t make me particularly happy either, but it demanded and willingly received my full and active participation. In short, Fahrenheit 451 made my brain sizzle, and in such a good way that I want to shout it from the roof tops. READ. THIS. BOOK. Now. Go get it*. I’ll wait. Let me know what you think.

My Rating: 5 completely un-edited Stars.  For the sensitive reader: Some instances of biblical swearing (of the H & D variety) and one part where someone tears a page or two off a Bible. Honestly, I didn’t think it was that big a deal.

Sum it up: As unsettling as it is predictive, Fahrenheit 451 will knock your socks off.

*Get the edition with the afterword and coda. The first gives further insight into Fire Chief Beatty’s character and history, and the second speaks more to the issues of censorship. Both were like party gift bags—not essential, but desirable nonetheless.

A final word from the author:In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger choppings, or the lung-deflations that you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.” (Coda)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

RFS 1st Annual BANNED BOOKS WEEK

"There is more than one way to burn a book.  And the world is full of people running about with lit matches."           -Ray Bradbury, bestselling author
Here at Reading For Sanity, we may not like everything we read,
but we respect an author's constitutional right to write
whatever they choose and to not have it edited
by others without their express consent. 
The banning and censorship of books is an incredibly slippery slope
and one that we would do well to avoid at all costs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers"

If you agree, please join us in our celebration of
"Banned Books Week"
From September 25th to October 2nd
we will celebrate freedom of the press by reading and reviewing
just a few of this nation's banned and challenged books.

Here are some lists to get you started:

Banned or Challenged Classics (found here)
Of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, forty-six have been the target of ban attempts (they are highlighted).  For more information on why these books were challenged, click here.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell
10. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
13. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
23. Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
37. The World According to Garp by John Irving
38. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
39. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
40. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
41. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
44. Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce
45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
48. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
51. My Antonia by Willa Cather
52. Howards End by E. M. Forster
53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
57. Sophie's Choice by William Styron
58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
59. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
61. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
64. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
66. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
68. Light in August by William Faulkner
69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
72. A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
85. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
87. The Bostonians by Henry James
88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
93. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster
99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
100. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books: 2000-2009 (found here)

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Meyers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainboy Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by Frank, E.R.

ALA Yearly List of Challenged and/or Banned Books (and why)

2009-2010 (PDF)
2008-2009 (PDF)
2007-2008 (PDF)
2006-2007 (PDF)
2005-2006 (PDF)
2004-2005 (PDF)

*Mindy's Sidenote: The banning or challenging of books tends to be a very local decision - often started by a single parent.  As parents, one of our many jobs is to know what our kids are reading and to set, or not set, parameters as we see fit.  There are some books that I question my child's emotional readiness to read.  That is not banning or censorship--it is simply parenting.  However, when a parent demands the removal of a book from the public sphere, especially a state funded one like a public library or school, or  from state approved curriculum, the lines blur.  They must be careful not to jeopardize the underlying principle of the First Ammendment that guarantees the goverment cannot prohibit the expression of any idea simply because someone might find it offensive.  There is a distinct difference between banning a book and simply refusing to read it.  One is simply a choice. The other removes all choice. 

If you are faced with some seemingly inappropriate reading material at your child's school, my first suggestion would be to read, or at the very least, skim the book you are concerned about.  It might not be as bad as you've heard.  If you still object, you are now able to have a well-informed conversation with your child's teacher.  Express your concerns and find out what they are trying to teach and offer an alternative reading suggestion for your child.  If that fails, try reading the book with your child to ensure that you are there to  have a conversations about what you are reading or answer any questions they might have.  Finally, if you still object to the reading material -- don't read it and see if your child can do any make-up work or extra projects to bump up their grade. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener - Ruth Lively

Summary: Rising food prices, the slow food movement, and the green movement have revived interest in finding delicious food close to home. The backyard vegetable garden is making a comeback even in urban areas. Why grow grass (that you have to mow) when you can pick the best tasting tomatoes right outside your door? Taunton's Kitchen Gardener magazine was ahead of its time in trying to raise the bar on food prepared with home-grown food.

The recipes collected here are innovative and tasty, and most are relatively simple to prepare. Not only do they help home gardeners find ways to make use of abundance, they show how to do it with style and expertise. The recipes apply equally to good seasonal buys in the supermarket or farmer's market as to produce from a home garden.
Summary from book, cover photo from Taunton Store, Digital Galley received free for review

My Review: I received a free digital galley of Cooking from the Garden last month for review and it couldn't have come at a better time. As my own garden began to ripen I was anxious for new ideas to put my produce abundance to use. This cookbook did not fail, with everything from sauces to appetizers, main dishes to desserts and even a section on canning. Soon I had depleted my own harvest and headed to farmer's market in search of additional cheap produce.

Many of main dishes weren't to the taste of my children, (it's difficult to convince them to eat risotto with leeks and peas or cornbread sandwiches with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes). The side dishes, however, were spot on. These easy recipes will leave you looking like a pro regardless of your cooking level. I adored the simple canning recipes that will allow us to enjoy our reaping throughout the year. I also liked the idea of the seasonal menus, though I am rarely ambitious enough to serve more than one course. The tips dispersed throughout on everything from drying herbs to preserving lemons were helpful as well.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To Sum it up: A good resource full of new ideas for seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers - Michael Newton

Summary:  The phenomenon of serial murder has often been considered both the most macabre and most fascinating branch of modern crime and criminology.  Only recently have law enforcement authorities, psychologists, and scientists pierced its shroud of mystery to uncover the secrets, motives, and dangers of serial killers previously hidden in the dark.  The groundbreaking Encyclopedia of Serial Killers offers an unprecedented view of serial killing from ancient Rome to the present day, providing the most comprehensive resource available on the topic and shattering many of the popular myths about this most terrifying breed of criminal.  (Summary from back of book, Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  My husband, who rarely reads anything outside the realm of World War II accounts, recommended this book to me*. He read it cover to cover in a matter of days while I struggled for months to finish it.  This book is, as the title clearly indicates, an encyclopedia – a comprehensive reference on the subject of serial killers. It is fascinating, but emotionally detached and strictly focused on the facts of the situation -- the killer’s background, mode of operations, victims, and eventual capture, escape, or death. I think that someone who was truly interested in the subject, and in possession of a stunning ability to compartmentalize, would find a wealth of information in this book.  It is a meticulously researched and unbiased look at a terrifying criminal phenomenon.

What I found most interesting was the high incidence of similarities between the killers’ childhoods. Often the absence of a parent (most often a father), or the presence of an abusive parent or guardian played a negative role in their social development. Many of the male serial killers (and there are a surprising amount of females) were made to dress up in girls’ clothing as a form of punishment. It definitely made me think twice about how vital the presence of strong, loving, and scrupulous role models is in a child’s life.

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking, even attempting to read this book.  As morbidly interesting as it was, I kept having to put it down and take a step (or twelve) back from what I can only describe as the face of genuine evil, a staggering body count, and a callous disregard for the sanctity of human life. I’ve gone back to it a couple of times in an effort to finish, but I couldn’t stop imagining the real life monsters that committed these horrible crimes and the innocent men, women, and children that suffered through them. I made it to the H's. If this book were written by a survivor or had some type of emotional appeal to it, then I might have kept reading in an effort to somehow give the author or victims a voice.  It wasn’t. Overall, I wish I could have finished this book, but I got to the point where I just had to stop. I now know things that I will never be able to forget, no matter how hard I might try, and there are just some things I don’t want in my head.

The Man's mini-review: I thought this book gave a brief but accurate synopsis of the individual killers (though you could probably write a book on each one) and the only reason I would give it less than four stars is because it is a little dated.

My Rating: 3 Stars (but just barely), For the sensitive reader: Thankfully, this encyclopedia only has two pictures of deceased victims (in the skeletal stage), but it is matter-of-fact in its discussion of truly horrific crimes. If I couldn’t handle it, you probably won’t be able to either.

Sum it up: A hard to stomach but fascinating and comprehensive catalog if serial killers throughout history.

*I feel the need to state my husband's occupation (a detective in our city's special assault division) so you don’t think I’m married to a complete psychopath.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Perfect One-Dish Dinners - Pam Anderson

Summary: In Perfect One-Dish Dinners, the New York Times best-selling author Pam Anderson shares her secret for having people over without breaking stride: Make just one dish. Instead of a parade of offerings, she focuses attention on a single main course—a rustic tart, paella, grilled platter, or homey stew. Perfect One-Dish Dinners showcases about forty such meals, perfect for every season and occasion, all designed to wow guests, calm the cook, and relieve the dishwasher at the end of the night. (Summary from publisher - Image from amazon.com - Digital copy of book, loaned for review)

My Review: Whether you are a cooking connoisseur or just a talentless hack like me, you’ll find a lot to love about Perfect One-Dish Dinners.

I don’t know about you, but in our house Mommy is the line cook and Daddy is the chef. It’s not that I don’t know my way around a kitchen. I measure. I pour. I stir. But, try as I might, I cannot get all the different dishes to finish at the same time; I usually end up with a piping hot entrée, lukewarm bread, and stone cold soup. I am the Goldilocks of the culinary world and it’s giving me fits.

Perfect One-Dish Dinners feels like it was written with my needs in mind. It claims to have the ability to “wow the family and guests, calm the cook, and at the end of the night, impress the dishwasher”. Sold. Where do I pay?

I have been slicing and dicing my way through this cookbook so fast, you’d think it is a bestselling novel. Despite the fact that some of the meals titles look intimidating, closer examination reveals a cookbook that is gloriously simple with inspiring photos, helpful directions, and easy to follow recipes using readily available ingredients. Each entrée recipe comes with appetizer, salad, and dessert recipes that complement the meal, just in case you are trying to be fancy or feeding a crowd. The author also provides instant alternatives, quick substitutions, and make ahead ideas for meals if you are running short on time or ingredients.

Not only were these meals healthy and gorgeous, they were huge hits with my family, which means I don’t have to listen to a rousing chorus of “I don’t like this!” while I pick at a mediocre meal. Among many others, I have made the Carnita Style Beef with Roasted Peppers and Onions (my family devoured it), Spicy Chicken Enchiladas Verde with Sour Cream and Cilantro (my personal favorite), the Tandoori Platter (a delicious dish with just the right amount of heat), and the Salsa Verde Chicken with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings (impressively beautiful and tasty, to boot). My husband actually asked me to leave the latter on the table so that he could eat another helping after he got back from a meeting. What few dishes I had were licked clean and the leftovers weren’t left over for long. I was stunned. Is this what Paula Deen feels like? A girl could get used to this.

If you'd like to try out some recipes and see some of the food in action and made by Pam herself, check out this post by The Pioneer Woman.

Sidenote: My only complaint was that there were a few lamb dishes. For me, even one is too many. I don't like lamb. Baby sheep are too cute to eat. Period.

My Rating: 5 Stars.

Sum it up: Simple, delicious recipes and inspirational photos --a must for a reluctant, less-than-skilled cook like me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover - Ally Carter

This is the third book in the Gallagher Girls Series.  Read our reviews of I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (#1) and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy (#2).

Summary: When Cammie "The Chameleon" Morgan visits her roommate Macey in Boston, she thinks she's in for an exciting end to her summer break.  After all, she's there to watch Macey's father accept the nomination for vice president of the United States.  But when you go to the world's best school (for spies), "exciting" and "deadly" are never far apart.  Cammie and Macey soon find themselves trapped in a kidnappers' plot, with only their espionage skills to save them. 

As her junior year begins, Cammie can't shake the memory of what happened in Boston, and even the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women  doesn't feel like the safe haven it once did.  Shocking secrets and old flames seem to lurk around every one of the mansion's corners as Cammie and her friends struggle to answer the questions Who is after Macey? And how can the Gallagher Girls keep her safe?

Soon Cammie is joining Bex and Liz as Macey's private security team on the campaign trail.  The girls must use their spy training at every turn as the stakes are raised, and Cammie gets closer and closer to the shocking truth...  (Summary from the book cover - Image from www.allycarter.com )

My Review:   Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover is an charming afternoon read. It doesn’t require much thought and and is youthful and sassy without being provocative. As the series matures, so do all the spies students at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women.  Cammie and her friends are getting wiser and nosier as they deal with the increasingly dangerous situations, emotional turmoil, and the intense training that comes with a higher security clearance. As always, their seemingly chronic aversion to following the rules lands the girls in a heap of trouble, and this time it is the life and death kind.

While still as funny as ever, this book felt a bit sloppier than the others--probably because the storyline became more complex and left more room for error-- but I enjoyed it nonetheless. A slightly predictable plot twist served to make this book more of a bridge between one story and the next, rather than a complete story in and of itself, but I think that fans of the series will still be entertained enough to want to read the next one (Only the Good Spy Young).  Our library doesn’t have a single print copy. Looks like I’m going to have to hack their server and order it for them*.

*Just kidding. I can’t do that.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars  For the sensitive reader: This book is a little more mature than its predecessors, but still stays fully within the young adult genre.

Sum it up: Not quite as good as the previous two, but still humorous, exciting, and essential reading if you plan to complete the series.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"One in a Million" TWO Book Giveaway

Today is your lucky day!
Today you can choose
to live your life abundantly
by accepting all that He has for you.

(and on a still cool but slightly less monumental level)

Today is also the day you can enter to win
your very own shiny new copy of 
One in a Million by Priscilla Shirer

The lovely Sabin Hogue has graciously offered
to give away a copy of One in a Million
 to TWO winners!


To Enter to Win (and you're going to love this):

  • Simply comment and leave your contact info so you can be reached.  If you'd like to share when you came to know God, feel free but it is not required. 
Because we'd like as many people to hear about this book as possible you can...


Earn Extra Entries (please comment separately):
  • Post about this book and link to the giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Post about this book and link to the giveaway on your blog 

This giveaway is open to US/Canada Residents only (Sorry, Int'l folks.  Shipping is a beast.)  and will end at 11:59PM on 10/16/10.  Winners will be chosen randomly, posted publicly, and contacted swiftly to arrange shipment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One in a Million : Journey to Your Promised Land - Priscilla Shirer

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This review comes to us today from the unbelievably amazing Sabin Hogue.  If you know her, you love her and if you don't, you are missing out!  Sabin is one of the most giving, caring, spiritually-centered people that I know and I have learned so much from her selfless example and close personal relationship with our Father in Heaven.  Oh, and she also hates it when people pick their nose.  Like, honk-at-them-while-they-dig-for-gold-at-a-stoplight hates it.  So don't do it.  Because she might be watching.
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Summary:  What if life on Monday was as powerful as church on Sunday? 

When you meet someone who lives, eats, and breathes Christian faith, you want what they've got more than anything--their seamless intimacy with God, their prayer power, their spiritual stamina, their passionate sense of expectation, the kind that doesn't shrink into despair at the first sign of setback.

But how badly do you want it? Enough to toss anything from your life that keeps you from being 100 percent His?  Enough to allow God's Spirit to bring radical spiritual change that might just scare you right out of your comfort zone?  Enough to wait on God long and hard and invite whatever He requires to get you ready for what's next?

That's how one-in-a-millions do it.

When approximately two million adult pilgrims of ancient Israel left behind their slavery in Egypt, wandering in the wilderness for an entire generation, only two made it safely to the Promised Land.  That's One in a Million who were brave enough to put abundant life to work no matter where they were, no matter how easy it became to just blend in and be average.

And the next one-in-a-million could be you--the minute you decide you've had your fill of halfway faith, the moment you realize that a week is a long time to put off what God has promised you can put on: the deep, daily experience of His ever-abiding presence. 

Get over being average.  Break out of the box.  Don't just want it.  Live it.  Today and everyday.  (Summary from amazon.com - Image from www.bhpublishinggroup.com )

My Review:  Have you ever wondered if there was more to your spiritual walk than what you have? Have you ever wondered if you were created for greater things? Have you ever wondered what God's original design for you was? Then I have an amazing book for you.

In One in a Million you will discover God's purpose for your life is Abundant Living. Just as the Israelites were His chosen people, so are you as a follower of Christ. One in a Million parallels our current day faith walks with the hardships of the Israelites on their Exodus. God never said it would be easy, He just promised it would be worth every step of the way!

My husband and I dreamt of having more children and then one day the heavenly whispering of a Father to His child began, "Do you trust Me?"and "Are you willing to submit to My will even if your dream isn't part of it?" Over and over again I heard these questions asked of me, and over and over again I responded with anger and fear, "If You love me so much WHERE IS MY BABY???" Hot tears streamed down my face most days. Indignation that He wasn't "fair" clouded my view. I was so close to the situation I couldn't see straight, I couldn't hear, or perhaps I wasn't willing to listen.

I knew this was a time to test my faith. My friend brought me her copy of One in a Million just at the right time. A time the Lord knew my heart would listen. A time when He knew I would need it most.

I choose Him. I choose His perfect Will, perfect knowledge, perfect guidance, perfect love, and perfect desire to create me into His perfect image. It will be a journey, with great highs and great lows, but He will be there with us the entire way. Be bold, step out on faith, and open the pages of One in a Million to a whole new life of ABUNDANCE!

My Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up: In One in a Million you will discover God's purpose for your life is Abundant Living. Just as the Israelites were His chosen people, so are you as a follower of Christ. One in a Million parallels our current day faith walks with the hardships of the Israelites on their Exodus. God never said it would be easy, He just promised it would be worth every step of the way!
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Sound good?!  Click here for TWO chances to win your very own copy!

Also, click here to read Living My Life on Purpose with One in a Million (Part One)  (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Just Let Me Lie Down - Kristin van Ogtrop

Summary:  Finally!  A charming, hilarious antidote to the madness of working motherhood, from the editor of Real Simple magazine.

Kristin van Ogtrop has a nice career, a dependable husband, and three healthy kids who occasionally make their beds.  You could say she is average, but lucky.  You could also say that she is half-insane--but just try to name one working mom who isn't.  Like all of us, van Ogtrop needs a bit of guidance from time to time.  Yet when she searched the bookshelves for something to help put a little order into her average/lucky/chaotic life, she came up short.  And so she had an idea.

In Just Let Me Lie Down, van Ogtrop provides a new lexicon for the half-insane working mom.  Using experiences and insights from her life, she presents terms and concepts to illustrate the highs (children who know where their soccer cleats are, coworkers who never hit "Reply to All," dogs who helpfully eat whatever falls from the table) and the lows (getting out of the house in the morning, getting along with everyone at work, getting dinner made before everyone starves, getting willful kids into bed) of trying to combine work and family in the same life.

Fill with essays, lists, poignant observations, and more than a few embarrassing stories, Just Let Me Lie Down shows that if you can't laugh at the nonsense that is daily life for the working mom, then you might need to reconsider your entire existence, or at least take a nap.  (Image from http://c100instudio.blogspot.com/ and summary from book jacket.)

My Review:  Overall, Just Let Me Lie Down was an enjoyable read.  van Ogtrop is a witty and likable person, therefore her take on working-motherhood is also endearing.  The aspects to this book that slowed me down and made me drop the rating was the format.  I don't mind lists.  I write them everyday.  Reading a book that is semi-list format is annoying.  At times I was reading little vignettes.  Other times I was reading only a sentence or two under a heading.  I enjoyed figuring out van Ogtrop's headings and why she labeled things as such, but the disjointedness of the writing really slowed me down and the constantly changing gears made me less interested.  I forced myself to finish quickly because I knew as I went through the alphabetical categories I'd have lost serious interest by X, Y, and Z.

All that said, there were a couple headings and the following insights I found hilarious, relatable, or clever in her thinking.  One of those was Decision Saturation.  I know I can relate to feeling burnt out by the end of the day when it comes to disciplining my children.  I've just spent eight hours disciplining 8th graders and now I've got another 4 hours disciplining my two children.  I can relate to the feeling that "if I have to make one more judgment call on whether or not to fight this battle or let it slide I'll go into a coma" she talks about.  I can also relate to Midconversation Screen Saver.  By the end of the day...wait.  I need to retract that.  Depending on who I am speaking with, I inadvertently go into screen saver mode while I'm 'supposed' to be listening.  I can't help myself.  Either I'm so tired, worn out, preoccupied with things that actually matter, or simply don't like the person I'm talking with, that I completely zone out what they're saying and start thinking about something I find important.  It's a daily occurrence with 8th graders and their excuses.  The last that I'll elaborate on is the title of the book: Just Let Me Lie Down.  There have been so many times I've just wished, craved, hoped, and prayed for a couch or bed somewhere nearby that had my name on it in the middle of my work day.  Life would be so much better if everyone had a decent nights sleep.

There are two others I found hilarious, which I fear mentioning because I know how it makes me look.  One is the Dudley Do-Everything section and the other is Women Not On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.  I'm going to leave that hanging so that you'll have to read the book in order to judge me (and enjoy my folly) or enjoy a laugh at yourself.

I can't say this is a fast, devour-able read, but it is a good one.  I enjoyed her insights and can relate to much of what she writes.  If you're a working mom, stressed out of your gourd and barely making it from day to day on time, this is an enjoyable read.

My Rating:  3.75 Stars

Sum it up: A very disjointed book, despite its easily understood organization, about the crazy that is a working mom's life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On This Day

September 11, 2001

In memory of those who lost their lives and loved ones.
We will never forget you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy - Ally Carter

Summary:  After staking out, obtaining, and then being forced to give up her first boyfriend, Josh, all Cammie Morgan wants is a peaceful semester.  But that's easier said than done when you're a CIA legacy and go to the Gallagher Academy, the premier school in the world...for spies.

Despite Cammie's best intentions to be a normal student, danger seems to follow her.  She and her friends learn that their school is going to play host to some mysterious guests--code name: Blackthorne.  Then she's blamed for a security breach that leaves the school's top secret status at risk.

Soon Cammie and her friends are crawling through walls and surveilling the school to learn the truth about Blackthorne and clear Cammie's name.  Even though they have confidence in their spy skills, this time the targets are tougher (and hotter), and the stakes for Cammie's heart--and her beloved school--are higher than ever.  (Summary from book -  Image from http://www.allycarter.com/)

My Review:  Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy continues the story of Cammie Morgan, spy in training at the oh-so-covert Gallagher Academy for Girls.  The author uses the same stylistic commentary that I grew to love in I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and while the first few chapters were spent less than subtly summarizing the previous story, it didn't take long before the author shook things up with the addition of a few head-turning characters.  This book provides more than enough sass, humor,  mystery, and teenage dramatics to keep things light and interesting (like Cammie's strapless bra incident or a historic CODE BLACK). 

While I'd call the antics of Cammie and her friends, "fun" and "cute" right now, I know that I would have adored them as a teenager and stood in line to buy the next book in the series, Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover.  Above all, I love that this book is both wholesome and entertaining, proving that you don't have to copy Gossip Girl to sell books.

My Rating: 4 Stars  (probably higher for a YA).  For the sensitive reader:  Besides a vague reference to swearing in Farsi and a slight wardrobe malfunction, the coast is clear.  Read on.

Sum it up:  An entertaining continuation to a promising YA series.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Outliers : The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell

Summary:  Why do some people succeed far more than others?

There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition.  In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell argues that the true story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them--at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date.  The story of their success is more complex--and a lot more interesting--than it initially appears.

Outliers explains what the Beatles and Bill Gates have in common, the extraordinary success of Asians at math, the hidden advantages of star athletes, why all top New York lawyers have the same resume, and the reason you've never heard of the world's smartest man--all in terms of generation, family, culture, and class.  It matters what year you were born if you want to be a Silicon Valley billionaire, Gladwell argues, and it matters where you were born if you want to be a successful pilot.  The lives of outliers--those people whose achievements fall outside normal experience--follow a peculiar and unexpected logic, and in making that logic plain Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential.    (Image from http://tomorrowsreflection.com/ and summary from book jacket.)

My Review:  I devoured this book.  Literally I ate up every last sentence; I found it that intriguing.  Interestingly, it's not my normal read, just as Freakonomics wasn't my normal read and I devoured that book as well.  This was a book club pick and I should admit I was a bit reticent going into reading it.  I was afraid it would be dry or hard to follow.

Gladwell's writing is the exact opposite.  Outliers is completely engaging and brings up many aspects to the history of success that we typically do not consider when evaluating successful people.  Some of my long-time hunches were proved correct.  I learned some facts about sports I doubt I would have learned in any other way.  My favorite section is the one on IQ.  Common sense (although the longer I live the more I realize isn't very common) hints at the findings Gladwells speaks of and his book just confirms them.  I most appreciated his vast research of various studies and the evidence of his sources through citations.  The footnotes, despite some of their lengths, are just as interesting as the rest of the chapters.

I think everyone should read this book.  It puts success into perspective.  It gives a face to the true requirements for achievement.  (10,000 hours!)  I know I'll be recommending it to the principal of my school and co-workers, but friends and family as well.  I will also be quoting information to my students!

Rating: 5 Stars.

Sum it up:  At look at successful people with the right lens.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Anatomy of Stretching - Brad Walker

Summary:  Books on stretching are common, but The Anatomy of Stretching takes a more fundamental approach than the others, taking the reader inside the body to show exactly what is happening during the stretch.  At the heart of the book are 200 full-color illustrations arranged by body area that show the primary and secondary muscles worked in 114 key stretches.

Author Brad Walker brings years of expertise--he works with elite-level and world-champion athletes, and lectures on injury prevention--to this how-to guide.  He looks at stretching from every angle, including physiology and flexibility; the benefits of stretching; the different types of stretching;  rules for safe stretching; and how to stretch properly.  Aimed at fitness enthusiasts of any level, as well as fitness pros, The Anatomy of Stretching also focuses on which stretches are useful for the alleviation or rehabilitation of specific sports injuries.  (Image from http://www.bookapex.com/ and summary from back of the book.  This book was given to me free for review.)


My Review:  I loved this book!  Mind you, I'm a runner, was in ballet for years, therefore I feel strongly that stretching is important.  The beginning of the book goes over the basics of anatomy, key terms, types of stretching techniques, and the benefits from proper and regular stretching.  I learned a lot from the first three chapters--I've done most of the stretches before or have seen them done, but had not known their names or the reasons to use each type.  The next part of the book is broken into color-coded sections by zone of the body.  It gives every possible stretch for that area, how to do the stretch correctly, complimentary stretches to do with it, and the type of athlete who benefits most from the stretch.  My favorite part is the illustrations: they're black and white except for the muscle that's being stretched. There's even a glossary in the back of medical terms.

If you're interested in stretching, improving your range of motion, improving your athletic ability by improving your body's muscles in repairing themselves, or simply to understand what each stretch does for your body, I highly recommend picking up this book.

Rating: 5 stars.

Sum it up:  A comprehensive look at the benefits, proper technique, and contains anatomical drawings for the muscles being used in each stretch.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wildthorn - Jane Eagland

Summary: They strip her naked, of everything-undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen-still Louisa Cosgrove, isn't she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love . . . (Summary from netgalley.com - Image from woozles.com - Digital copy lent for review)

My Review: I did not pick up this book expecting to read a lesbian romance (mystery or not) and, thus, was quite surprised when that is exactly what it turned out to be. Did I miss something? Yes, yes I did. Perhaps I should have read the summary a bit more closely, with an eye for its' underlying meaning. To be perfectly honest, had the book’s summary given a clearer indication of the subject matter, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to review it. I’ll try to be as unbiased as possible in my review while still being honest about my personal opinion of the book.

The fact of the matter is, if this book were about a guy and a girl, I would probably give it 3.5 stars. I liked the story itself and the horrors of the asylum contrasted with Louisa’s childhood memories. Eagland does a good job conveying Louisa’s sense of frustration at the injustice of being a woman during an era where women were considered inferior to men and the property of their husbands.

Because Wildthorn is not a traditional YA romance, I didn’t feel the same connection to the characters as I ordinarily might have and can’t actually claim to have enjoyed the book in its entirety. While the simplified writing style and easy conflict resolution fall perfectly into place in the young adult genre, its placement in that category makes me uncomfortable because I know that many a twelve-year-old will pick up this book, like I did, naively expecting one thing and getting another entirely.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars. For the sensitive reader: There are some mild scenes of lesbian romance and a brief moment of profanity.

Sum it up: Not quite what I was hoping for.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

This is the third book in The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Summary:  My name is Katniss Everdeen.  Why am I not dead?  I should be dead.

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed.  Gale has escaped.  Katniss's family is safe.  Peeta has been captured by the Capitol.  District 13 really does exist.  There are rebels.  There are new leaders.  A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it.  District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol.  Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans -- except Katniss. 

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem.  To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust.  She must become the rebels' Mockingjay--no matter what the personal cost.  (Summary from book - Image from www.suzannecollinsbooks.com)
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Mindy's Review: If you’ve read The Hunger Games, and Catching Fire, nothing short of giant tsunami is going to keep you from reading Mockingjay. As with the first two, the final book in this series is a firestorm of human emotion, disturbing twists, and heart-stopping action. Its exploration of humanity and the horrors of physical and psychological warfare are stunning (both literally and figuratively).  I felt equally captivated and repelled by Suzanne Collin’s brilliant but brutal storyline and her fearless decimation of characters. It was almost physically impossible to stop reading. At 2 am, I’d think, I’ll stop at the next chapter and get some sleep. And I would (stop), for about .23 seconds, but before I knew it my eyes were halfway down the next page, and I wasn’t in the least bit tired.

As for the ending, without spoiling it, I can tell you that a) I didn’t see it coming b) I think that it was the only way it could have ended and c) it felt right. Sorry, anything else and I’d be getting hate mail for spoiling it. That’s all you get.

Her Rating: 4.75 Stars    For the sensitive readerMockingjay, is much more violent than its predecessors as catastrophic violence reaches into the general population. I’m not sure that I would recommend this book as a younger “YA” read (or indeed the series, knowing how it ends) without reading it first myself.

Sum it up: The perfect end to a disturbingly wonderful series.
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Heather's Review:  Mockingjay didn't immediately grab me as the first two books in The Hunger Games Trilogy had. The characters had hardened, which, while in sync with the storyline, created a bit of disconnect. It took a quarter of the book for the hook to completely take hold. From that point on the novel was impossible to disengage from. Though this book was more gruesome than the others it as hopelessly addicting as the previous two. The last hundred pages were read with my stomach in knots. I was sure that Collins was going to botch the ending, in turn ruining the entire series. Yet her brilliant imagination came through as one surprise after another popped up. While the story didn't end happily ever after(thankfully) it was utterly perfect. I was able to close the cover completely satisfied, yet with a desire to read the entire trilogy over again. Way to go Suzanne Collins!

Her Rating: 4.75, not as good as the first but darn close

Sum it up: A strong ending to a creative and gripping trilogy.
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Kari's Review:  Mockingjay was a painful read. I kept forcing myself to read faster in hopes the story would evolve to a more similar feel of the first two. I realize it is realistic and that Collins had a strong message she wanted to send: no one wins in war. Even knowing that it doesn't change my reaction. The ending is something that would actually happen therefore this book deserves a higher rating than 3 stars. But, in connection with the previous two books, because it was so rooted in reality, the story was just so, so painful. If it had been historical fiction, I may have felt differently being based on real life events. With all the war in the world right now it makes sense why Collins would write such a poignant and moving story and yes, even to end it this way. I just wish there was more of the old feel from the first two.

I cried in the last chapter, and not just a brief tear to the eye cry. It was a full, chest-aching, heart-wrenching kind of cry. I think that shows what a brilliant writer Collins is and what she can evoke from the reader--these are not real events, nor are they real people, but I cried like they were. Am I glad I read them? Yes. Will I re-read the first two? Definitely yes. Probably not the last though, unless to clarify the speed reading I did to know the answers during the first read.

Her Rating: 3.5 stars--I just wish it had more of what the first two books did so well.

Sum it up:  A raw look into what war really does to a people and more intimately the individual.
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Kim's Review:  When I read The Hunger Games I was a newbie to the YA world. It is one of the novels that opened up that genre to me. Catching Fire was eagerly anticipated, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as well. I feared that Mockingjay would leave me wanting, as so many 3rds in trilogies do. This was not the case.

Collins absolute passion for this story shines through the pages of the third novel. Her intimate knowledge of her main character, Katniss, brings her character even more vividly to life than the previous two books. I felt that the author was enjoying this story as much as her fans and wanted to taste the twists and turns just as we did. The "love triangle" thing, or whatever you choose to call it, brought a emotionally resonating tone to the whole book. It was an undercurrent, but strong enough to pull you into the feelings and desperation of this very YOUNG girl. It is truly hard to remember sometimes that this girl is 17, that her competitors were, at times, much younger. The capacity that Collins creates for these characters echo much more adult feelings and emotions. At 17, I was not worrying about such things as starvation, competing for my life, and saving the entire futuristic world.....but hey, perhaps that is just me.

Her Rating: 5 stars. And the genre as a whole gets 5 SHOOTING stars, for giving the young adult readers something to obsess about besides vampires.

Sum it up: Hello, my name is Kim, and I am a Hunger Games junkie.
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Average Rating: 4.5 Stars
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