Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All My Friends Are Dead - Avery Monsen & Jory John

Today's review comes from my delinquent brother, Matthew Irving.   He fights fires seasonally, takes amazing pictures, and travels the world for the sole purpose of making me exceedingly jealous.  He's very good at all of it.   However, when he contacted me the other day about a book that he wanted to review, I was hesitant.  I mean, I've read his blog and so my conscience forced me to give him a few guidelines. 1) Punctuate and capitalize.  2) Do not use any form of the word "effing".  If any of our readers gravitate toward the sporadically punctuated, intentionally un-capitalized, effing-laden prose, then feel free to head on over to Matt's Blog of Negativity where sarcasm reigns supreme, snickering is second-nature, and you can read his thoughts on such diverse topics as Sarah Palin's new reality show, Sun chips, and sperm shoes, just to name a few. 
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Summary:  If you're a dinosaur, all of your friends are dead. If you're a pirate, all of your friends have scurvy. If you're a tree, all of your friends are end tables. Each page of this laugh-out-loud illustrated humor book showcases the downside of being everything from a clown to a cassette tape to a zombie. Cute and dark all at once, this hilarious children's book for adults teaches valuable lessons about life while exploring each cartoon character's unique grievance and wide-eyed predicament. From the sock whose only friends have gone missing to the houseplant whose friends are being slowly killed by irresponsible plant owners (like you), All My Friends Are Dead presents a delightful primer for laughing at the inevitable.  (Summary and Image from borders.com)

My Review: All My Friends are Dead is a pseudo-children's book that is incredibly difficult to summarize, but apparently Borders (see above) did a pretty good job of it. Unfortunately, I'm a busy man (not really) and I'm sure the person who summarized the book spent hours wracking their brain in order to come up with it (they probably didn't). This awesome book is a book about life, death and other things dying, but its overlying aim is to make you laugh, more than anything. What makes it so funny is its blatant sarcasm, as well as its illustrations. For some reason, they hit the funny nerve right where it needs to be hit. It uses the illustrations in order to create an atmosphere of awkward pauses. It is very much my type of sarcasm and the awkward pauses are priceless.

All My Friends Are Dead is definitely a book worth owning and a steal at $10.00, but if you're too cheap or you have different priorities, like children, driving to the library to rent it would be a worthwhile trip.  On that note, it's $10.00!  Don't eat at McDonald's for lunch -- buy the book instead.  Or sell plasma.  Do what you have to in order to get your mitts on this book. Here's another book review that probably does a better job of describing it, or you can visit the book website where you can read the first few pages of the book.  Hopefully, you'll see why it's nearly impossible to describe.
 
My Rating:  I'd give it 5 Stars, but know that my sense of humor is probably a little morbid, so maybe a 4.5 for "normal" people.
 
Sum it up: If you love sarcastic humor and awkward pauses as well as a few dozen excellently illustrated characters, you'll love this book. Because it's so short, it can be used as a coffee table book and I'd encourage it. If everyone in the world could read this book once, it would make my day.
 
PS.  To read what Matt really thinks of this book, click here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Princess Academy - Shannon Hale

Summary:  High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri's family pounds a living from the stone of the mountain itself.  But Miri's life will change forever when word comes that her small village is the home of the future princess.  All eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life.  At the school, Miri finds herself confronting bitter competition among the girls and her own conflicted desires to be chosen.  Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri, named for a tiny mountain flower, who must find a way to save her classmates--and the future of their beloved village.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://3.bp.blogspot.com)

My Review:  I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  Princess books usually don't call to me because the plot is so predictable and most of the story line for Princess Academy felt fairly predictable. The bandits section was where Hale broke from the typical girly-fairytale routine--and it definitely added some adventure and suspense.  It brings a levity to the otherwise trite storyline.  Girls today need to be wary of strangers, and putting themselves in situations where they could get hurt.  This story, in a way, introduces that subject to younger readers.  I believe this book is aimed at a 5th,  6th or 7th grade girl.  I do think my 8th grade girls could enjoy it--I just know they are starting to get into more adult topics at my school by 8th grade.

The overall message and ending felt right, and not just for a fairytale. It felt right for real life. Sometimes the dream really isn't what you want or need. Sometimes you have to realize that what you have it better than the grass on the other side of the fence. I loved the message of learning and how it broadens your horizon and breaks boundaries, perceived or not. I liked the empowerment for women this book promotes. It didn't do it in a way that belittles men and for that I admire Hale's writing all the more. I think this is a great book for younger readers in the YA group. I will definitely be recommending it to my students.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars--for YA books.  For an adult it's more like 3.5 stars.

Sum it up:  A fun twist on fairytales.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Cookbook Collector - Allegra Goodman

Summary: Heralded as “a modern day Jane Austen” by USA Today, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has compelled and delighted hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, in her most ambitious work yet, Goodman weaves together the worlds of Silicon Valley and rare book collecting in a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and fulfillment.

Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Passionate, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, The Cookbook Collector is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

My Review: I waited weeks on the reserve list at the library to get my hands on this book. A new fictional culinary novel sounded, well, delicious to me. I dug into this book almost immediately only to find that it was far from what I had anticipated.

This story centers on two sisters living very different lives. The elder sister, Emily, is the CEO of a successful tech start-up. She is smart, savvy and determined. The younger sister, Jess, is an environmental activist who navigates life with her heart rather than her head. Intermingled within these pages is an odd collection of side characters; George, the rich owner of a collectors bookstore; Jonathan, Emily's finance who has his own tech start-up across the country; a couple of Jonathan's employees; the girls' father and his second wife and small children; two Jewish Rabbis and their families; and the list goes on.

Just as the characters are an odd mix so are their separate tales. The novel is composed of several stories that touch one another but never quite intertwine. Themes of secrets kept, love passed over, money gained and lost, and religion all play into this story. While all these ingredients are tasty on their own, the mix is not so appetizing (sorry, since this book lacked culinary rhetoric I couldn't resist adding my own). In case you are wondering there is a cookbook collector that makes an appearance about halfway through the book but he drops out of the story a short time later without adding much flavor.

While the author's writing is engaging and at times beautiful, it lacks balance. It seems she is either overdoing the story with frivolous details or leaving out parts that would have made the book click. Most of my time inside this novel was consumed with the wait for a story to really begin and in the end I found that what I was looking for never really takes place.

My Rating: 2 stars

To Sum it Up: This book is the equivalent to preparing a dish with a poor combination of mouth-watering ingredients and then under-cooking it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Room - Emma Donoghue

Also reviewed by Heather.

Summary:  To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose on Jack’s imagination—the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen—for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation—and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Told in the poignant and funny voice of Jack, Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. It is a shocking, exhilarating, and riveting novel—but always deeply human and always moving. Room is a place you will never forget.  ( Summary from book - Image from indiebound.org )

My Review: The man said his dog was sick. She only wanted to help. Seven years later she is trapped, imprisoned in an inescapable shed with her five year old son. Her story would be a frightening thing, but Room is not her story. It is the story of her son, Jack, fathered by a rapist and born into horrid captivity.

I realized, after only a few sentences, that Room wouldn’t be like most books I have read, because Room is narrated by five-year-old Jack.  His observations of the world inside Room are at times funny, insightful, or troubling. He tells of the spider that lives under Table, his love for Dora the Explorer on TV, the unruly Tooth that bothers Ma and makes her take killers, and his paralyzing fear of the ogre, Old Nick, who comes in the night while he is tucked away in Wardrobe. This unique voice and creative literary style makes it easy to slip into Jack’s world and see Room, and eventually Outside, through his eyes.

“We stand beside Table and look up, there’s the most hugest round silver face of God. So bright, shining all of Room the faucets and Mirror and the pots and Door and Ma’s cheeks even. “You know,” she whispers, “sometimes the moon is a semicircle, and sometimes a crescent, and sometimes just a little curve like a fingernail clipping.” “Nah.” Only in TV.
Jack’s relationship with his mother is central to the story. She tries to protect him—to make life as normal as possible in such an insular setting—and through it all, Jack maintains all the innocence, curiosity, and stubbornness common in children his age. It is this innocence perspective, which allows the reader to see and understand some of the darker aspects of this book, such as Old Nick’s nightly visits, even when Jack does not.

I appreciated the author’s ability to say very little, through Jack, and still speak volumes. A simple word or phrase let me not only feel his emotions, but to see and understand those of his mother. As Jack describes the clench of his mother’s jaw, the extra painkiller, or a particularly vacant expression, I could easily perceive her feelings and motivations without hearing from her directly.

As Jack’s curiosity grows and Old Nick’s behavior becomes increasingly volatile, his mother knows they must somehow escape. Her plan is extremely perilous and the repercussions are far-reaching. Room is her prison, but it is Jack’s home. It is all that he has ever known and the prospect of life on the outside is daunting, to say the least. Soon, Jack is torn between love for his mother, fear of the Outside, and a desire to be in a place he feels safe.

The only downside to Donoghue’s childlike narration was that it is the literal equivalent of having a five-year-old chattering in your ears while you read. I already have several young children, and it was mentally exhausting to have to live in Jack’s mind while the book was open, and experience theirs when it closed.

When this book finally comes full circle, I was brought to tears by an ending that offered tender, yet bittersweet, closure. Donoghue’s depiction of escape and recovery from a truly harrowing experience may not be your traditional suspense novel, but it simmers with tension, nonetheless, and the result is an unforgettable experience.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars   For the sensitive reader: While this book did contain some darker subject matter, Jack’s point of view remained fairly innocent. I appreciated that the author found a way to be shocking and emotionally evocative without being graphic or vulgar.

Sum it up: Room is everything it promises to be (shocking, exhilarating, riveting) and so much more. It is a beautifully written, achingly innocent view of a ferocious love, a Room that should never exist, and the possibility of life on the Outside.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Young Readers Book Swag Giveaway

I think we can all agree that reading is important. 
At Reading For Sanity, we're a bit fanatic about it.

(If you hadn't noticed)

We start teaching our kids about the importance of reading
at a very young age. 

Like, in utero.

While they might not have the latest in
bookish fashion for the growing embryo,
we'd like to bring you the next best thing,
courtesy of the awesome staff at Cafe Press

Enter to win YOUR CHOICE of the following
Young Reader Book Swag

   For Your Baby ($59.50 value)
- Choose from this or this organic baby onesie design (w/ size and color options)
- A "Some Baby" onesie (w/ color options)
- An "I Like Big Books" Bib (w/ color options)
-An "I Love Books" Beanie (with color options)

For Your Kid ($59.50 value)

-Choose from this or this baseball jersey shirt design (w/ size and color options)

For your teen ($59.50 value) 
-Choose from this or this long sleeve t-shirt design (w/ color, size, & style options)
_____________________________



Oh, and a gigantic thank you to CafePress for sponsoring another great giveaway.  I try to keep it strictly books or book-ish on this site, but if you are in the market, CafePress now offers custom iPhone cases along with millions of unique Christmas gifts and 2011 calendars!



This giveaway is open internationally and ends Sunday, December 12th (2010) at 11:59 PM.  The winner will be chosen randomly, posted publicly, and contacted swiftly to arrange shipment BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!

To enter to win you MUST:
-  Be (or quickly become) a follower of this blog through Blogged or GFC Google Reader (see sidebar)
-  Leave your contact information so that we can reach you if you win!

For extra entries (please post comments separately if you would like separate entries):
-Post about this giveaway on a social networking site or blog (separate comments for each)
-Head on over to CafePress and comment back here with your favorite baby, kid, or teen(ish) items
-Add us to your blog roll
-Add our button to your sidebar
-Tell us what book from your childhood has always stuck with you and why.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lucky 73 - Aldona Sendzikas

This review comes to us from Curt Oja, a man I know quite well (as we've been hitched for about 10 years now).  As a WWII aficionado, he is far more qualified to review a book like this than I will ever be (and ever so good looking).
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Summary: Today the USS Pampanito (SS-383) is a tourist destination. During WWII the submarine earned six battle stars. She sank six Japanese ships, damaged four others, and rescued seventy-three British and Australian prisoners of war from the South China Sea. This astonishing rescue happened three days after the wolf pack to which Pampanito was assigned, spotted and attacked a Japanese convoy near Hainan. Unfortunately, two of the ships in this convoy that were sunk in the attack were carrying more than 2,000 Allied POWs.

The chain of events that led to this rescue is truly amazing. Captured in 1942, forced to spend fifteen months constructing the Burma-Thai Railroad (later made famous by The Bridge on the River Kwai), then loaded onto floating concentration camps—“hellships,” as they were called—the prisoners were in the wrong place at the wrong time when Pampanito and her wolf pack attacked the Japanese convoy. Returning to the coordinates a few days later, the crew was astonished to discover survivors in the water, and rescued as many as the submarine could carry.

The rescue of these men is celebrated by the number 73 embroidered on Pampanito’s battle flag. Perhaps even more remarkable than this unlikely rescue is the fact that the submarine’s officers and crew thought, before delivering these men to an army hospital in Saipan, to ask them to record their thoughts and experiences while the events were still fresh in their minds. These extraordinary documents lay forgotten and unseen for years until Aldona Sendzikas, while working as curator for Pampanito, discovered these fascinating first person accounts of both the POWs and the submariners who rescued them. Realizing this was a story that needed to be shared with a broader audience, she embarked upon an odyssey to document the events surrounding the rescue and to interview the living survivors. Lucky 73 reveals one of the most incredible tales of the Pacific war—primarily in the words of the men who lived it.  (Summary from book - Image from eurospanbookstore.com - Book given free for review)

My Review: Lucky 73 is the story of a little known and all but forgotten event during World War II. It details one of the great tragedies of the war, and shows the compassion and perseverance of the human spirit in some of the most difficult circumstances. Aldona Sendzikas relied heavily on memoirs, journals, personal accounts and military records to bring this story to life. Told from the perspectives of the submarine crew that accidentally sent so many Allied prisoners into the water, and from the accounts of many of the survivors who were fortunate to be rescued, this book gives a detailed account of the experiences of many of the survivors and crew, illustrating how the events changed their lives.

There are many harrowing accounts of selflessness and courage throughout this book. It was heartwarming to hear the accounts of the sailors jumping into the water to tow exhausted, oil covered prisoners back to the safety of the submarine-- of the sailors giving up their bunks and a captain filling his sub well beyond its capacity. It was difficult, at times, to read of the travesties inflicted on the prisoners by the Japanese, and to read of their torture and deprivations while imprisoned by the Japanese Empire. The greatest horror was in knowing that over a thousand other prisoners were not rescued and perished in the South China Sea, and that their loved ones back at home never knew their fate.

This book was very captivating and drew me in immediately. Any history fan will become quickly absorbed in the stories and accounts it contains. Sedzikas brings in essential elements and writes the book so the reader can get a sense of order and the individuals involved. Although I would consider this an easy and quick read, the story is something that I will not soon forget.

Sidenote: I read this book while on business in Hawaii and had the opportunity to visit the USS Bowfin in Pearl Harbor (a similar model as the USS Pampanito). After touring the submarine, and standing in the forward torpedo room, I found it unfathomable that 73 rescued prisoners were held in such cramped conditions when the normal crew for an entire WWII submarine was 70 to 80 sailors and about ten officers.

My Rating: 4 Stars    For the sensitive reader: Be prepared for horrific descriptions of the deprivations inflicted on the Allied POWs.

Sum it up: A great read for any history buff, or anyone who is interested in WWII.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Extra-Ordinary Princess - Carolyn Q. Ebbitt

Summary:  All seemed well in the beautiful and peaceful land of Gossling.  For Amelia, born the fourth daughter in a line of princesses, life under her parents rule was filled with the happiness of a lucky childhood.  With her imperfect schoolwork and unruly red hair, she never imagined that she--who seemed so ordinary compared to her talented and beautiful sisters--would be called upon to lead her country.

But when a plague sweeps the land, taking her parents' lives and leaving the sisters and the country under the rule of their terrifying uncle, Count Raven, only Amelia escapes.  And as Raven closes the schools, punishes the citizens, and lays waste to the fields, only Amelia, with the help of her friends and their trust in the goodness of their land, can lead the people and inspire them to overthrow Raven's forces.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: I knew, from the very first chapter, that I would like Carolyn Q. Ebbit’s first novel. I settled right into the story, with a contented sigh, and fully enjoyed the time I spent reading. The Extra-Ordinary Princess reminded me of Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson, and Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and not just in its propensity towards feathered friends as characters. If you like fairytale retellings, you will know what I mean when I say this book has the same fairytale feel to it as they do. It was full prophecies and magic, terrible evil and courageous deeds all wrapped up with a strong heroine (or several) who learns to trust her own instincts.

Amelia’s journey to save her kingdom from the evil Count Raven serves both to entertain and to teach a wonderful lesson to young girls ages 9 through 12. Amelia felt that she was just an ordinary princess and that there was nothing special about her in a family of such gifted sisters. So many girls feel that way--I know I did--and it was particularly satisfying to read a story where the heroine isn’t stunningly attractive or especially gifted, but learns her true value throughout the course of the book .

In The Extra-Ordinary Princess, Carolyn Q. Ebbit manages to tell a beautiful, uplifting story of courage and loyalty, with just the right mix of fantasy, suspense, and adventure, that will leave both young and old readers equally delighted. I look forward to reading it to my daughters when they are a little bit older and have longer attention spans.

My Rating: 4 Stars, perfect for any age.

Sum it up: An extraordinary fairytale adventure.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Perfection : A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal - Julie Metz

Summary:  Julie Metz had seemingly the perfect life--an adoring husband, a happy, spirited daughter, a lovely old house in a quaint suburban town--but it was all a lie.  Julie['s]...life changed forever on one ordinary January afternoon when her husband, Henry, collapsed on the kitchen floor and died in her arms.  Suddenly this mother of a six-year-old became the young widow in her bucolic small little town.  But that was only the begininng.  Seven months after Henry's death, just when Julie though she was emerging from the worst of it, came the rest of it.  Henry had hidden another life from her.

Perfection is the story of rebuilding both a life and an identity after betrayal and widowhood.  It is a story of rebirth and happiness--if not perfection.  (Summary from book - Image from http://www.amazon.ca/    - Book given free for review)

My Review:  Perfection is a novel that, like the grieving process, manifests in stages. At turns lyrical, raw, and profoundly emotional, Julie Metz begins with Fog, the story of her marriage to her enigmatic husband, Henry, and life with their precocious daughter, Liza. I was enthralled by Julie’s romantic writing style, Henry’s extravagant dinner parties, and their shared love for Liza. Yes, her life seemed nearly perfect, until the day it all fell apart.

When Henry dies suddenly, Julie’s grief is overwhelming and made worse when she inadvertently uncovers the secret that Henry managed to conceal throughout their marriage. Like Julie, I didn’t realize or anticipate the depth of Henry’s betrayal and was horrified on her behalf.

In Storm, the contrast in Metz’s writing style and emotional state is immediate and arresting. When Julie finds out what Henry has done, it shatters her rose-colored world and she retreats into a dark abyss of blinding sorrow and torrential rage. This section of the book contains graphic profanity and occasional stream-of-consciousness ranting, which, though distinctly unpleasant, accurately portrays the depth of Julie’s fury. If this were a fiction book, I would probably say that the profanity was unnecessary. However, Perfection is a memoir, and Julie is not a fictional character. While I found this section of the book difficult to read, I cannot fault Julie’s chosen form of expression. I would probably use several of those words myself, and with liberal application, if put in the same situation.

I will admit to being intensely relieved when Julie emerges from Storm into Wind. In my mind, wind has always signified change and, as Julie regains some of her former sanity, we see a new assertiveness emerge. Julie examines the past, cataloging all the missed signs and attempting to differentiate between the lies and the genuine moments of her life with Henry. Through a series of life changes and some dating trial-and-error, she begins to look toward the future – toward Daylight.

As the title might imply, the primary theme of this book is the idea of perfection -- what it meant to Julie, what it meant to Henry, why we struggle to capture it, and how we lose it. Through brief reference to the Japanese culinary concept of umami, or a savory perfection, Julie’s overall message seems to be that while life may not be perfect, we can each appreciate the individual moments of umami in our personal lives.

Perfection is a brutally honest portrayal of a life broken and rebuilt. However, I have read stories of maddening grief that raked me across the coals, emotionally. This one did not. I felt her pain, but not my own. While I wanted to love this novel, I could not convince myself to do more than sincerely admire the author’s writing style, her ability to convey emotion, and her willingness to share such an achingly personal experience.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars   For the sensitive reader: This book will likely offend those sensitive to profanity or somewhat graphic sexual descriptions and situations.

Sum it up: A poignant and savory novel that is more than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Darcy Vs. Edward Gift Bag Giveaway WINNER

Well.  I can't put it off any longer.

Edward has won the battle.
The winner chose him

Darcy has won the war
For sheer number of votes
  I'm estimating.  Come on, it's 12:38am.

and

VELVET HUBLER

has won this

Congratulations my dear!!  We will be contacting you shortly to arrange shipping. 

A gigantic thankyou to CafePress for sponsoring this fabulous book-ish giveaway.  I've had fun reading all your responses and hopefully we'll do something like this again, very soon. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe - Marylee Daniel Mitcham

Summary:   It's 1973 when Rosalie Wolfe and her daughter Meadow leave Cincinnati and head to rural Kenucky where Rosalie hopes to "find" the God she feels abandoned by.  Both mother and daugter are excited by their God-seeking adventure in different ways and romanticize being poor like the "poor people" God is known to love.  Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe is a first novel more complex in design than its simple, religious plot would suggest.  Don't beware, but be aware!  The novel's name on the book's cover is Mitcham's name for HER novel, while a similar title on the Contents page is the character Rosalie's name for HER novel about someone she calls Hannah Wolfe; a voice within a voice within Mitcham's voice.  On the final page, Mark Twain checks in from the Dead with an AFterword; will wonders never cease?  (Summary from the book - Image from www.anaccidentalmonk.blogspot.com - Book given free for review) 

My Review: Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe is not for the dimwitted or lackadaisical reader. It took me a while to wrap my head around the concept of a book within a book (Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song within Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe)—a story written by someone written by someone else. Add to that the foreword written by a character in the novella, a memoir (Counting Down) written by an entirely different character, and a postscript written by Mark Twain and I guarantee that you have never read a book like this one.

The story of Hannah Wolfe is, at turns, disturbing and poignant as she and her young daughter, Meadow, attempt to carve out a new life in a tumbledown cabin in the Kentucky backwoods. As she develops a relationship with a drifter that is a mixture of attraction, violence, and mental instability, Hannah is both plagued and uplifted by his nearness, as well as the prying of an officious neighbor, and a nay saying figment of her imagination, known only as The Cowboy.

I expected Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song to focus on Hannah’s spiritual transformation and found that it was more quirky than introspective and not as earth shattering as I hoped. As it was, Hannah came, she lived in a cabin, and she somehow lost her inner Cowboy (thank heavens), but I’m not certain how it came about or the precise catalyst for The Cowboy’s dismissal. Despite all this, there were moments between Hannah and Meadow, mother and daughter, that were breathlessly written, and I could relate to the closeness that can come of that particular familial relationship. I instantly loved Meadow; her youthful curiosity and joie de vivre were endearing and, even when things took a momentarily darker turn, she still stuck fast to my heart.

With so many characters turned authors in this book, I am extremely curious as to which parts, if any, contain hints of the real author, Marylee Daniel Mitcham. How much of her is Rosalie? How much of her children is Meadow? Or vice versa? How much of her characters’ hopes and realizations, are, in fact, her own?

In Counting Down: A Memoir, written by a character named Rosalie, Mitcham fleshes out the story of Hannah and Meadow. It is in this section that Rosalie talks about her and Meadow’s conversion to the LDS church. I enjoyed the ideas she conveyed about Mormonism, theology in general, and the importance of having a personal relationship with God, and a sense of spiritual awareness. Counting Down seemed more contemplative than Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song and, because it dipped its toes in the font of Mormonism, I understood it. It spoke my language.

I love Mitcham’s distinctive use of language and the way she can wring new thoughts from me with a simple phrase. She also has a rare talent for perceiving the divine in the everyday—of noticing the sacred hidden within the secular—which I truly appreciated in her non-fiction book, An Accidental Monk and the Counting Down portion of Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe.

Side note: I would actually recommend reading the novella Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song first, then reading the foreword, followed by Counting Down: A Memoir of Rosalie Wolfe. I found reading them in that order made it easier to work things out in my head.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars   For the sensitive reader: The spiritual themes of Counting Down: A Memoir ran in stark contrast to some of the sexual scenes and language found in Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song. They are there, and though not entirely shocking, still bothered me a bit in the context of the book.

Sum it up: A thoughtful, but quirky, work of fiction that pokes, prods, and compels you to engage in spiritual reflection.

Click here to read Amazon reviews.
If you’d like to learn more about (or purchase) Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe, or read An Accidental Monk online (reviewed here), then visit Mitcham’s blog http://www.anaccidentalmonk.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - Rhoda Janzen

Summary:  Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down.  It was bad enough that her husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on Gay.com, but that same week a car accident left her seriously injured.  Needing a place to rest and pick up the pieces of her life, Rhoda packed her bags, crossed the country, and returned to her quirky Mennonite family's home, where she was welcomed back with open arms and offbeat advice.  (Rhoda's good-natured mother suggested she get over her heartbreak by dating her first cousin--he owned a tractor, see.)

Written with wry humor and huge personality--and tackling faith, love, family, and aging--Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is an immensely moving memoir of healing, certain to touch anyone who has ever had to look homeward in order to move ahead.  (Summary from back of the book, book free for review, and image from  http://peacoat.typepad.com/)

My Review:  I'm sorry to say I was disappointed by this book. I wanted it to be funny. The title and the cover were very eye catching. The story wasn't that engaging, nor was the humor. I did feel empathy for her, her chain of events that led to her sad return to her hometown. That didn't change the fact that I felt she attacked her own family heartlessly and the very people who raised her. I realize she rejected her upbringing, but to so blatantly bash them in such a public way seemed cruel. 

There were other aspects to the book that I didn't enjoy, specifically the blindness to her husband's verbal abuse and cruelty, her stuck-up attitude about her education and how it implied that people who are religious couldn't be educated as well because the two don't coincide (in her eyes), and those are just to name a few. Her organization was all over the place too. You'd be following her story and then a random anecdote would be thrown in...because the author wanted to share some funny-to-her story? I'm not totally sure the purpose of some of her side tangents. The last few chapters seemed to be redeeming, but then the very last chapter dashed that effort. It was a doozey. I couldn't get past the fact that her mother so openly welcomed her daughter home again (and had done so many times over) only to be openly mocked and ridiculed in a nationally ranked and read book. I can't say I'd recommend the book to my friends, but I also wouldn't discourage it. 

Rating: 2 Stars  For the sensitive reader: there are a couple sections with some serious swearing and a definite swear word that most would find highly offensive.

Sum it up: Critical and crass, this book left me disappointed and not enlightened about Mennonite life.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Heir Apparent - Vivian Vande Velde

Summary:  In the virtual reality game, Heir Apparent, there are way too many ways to get killed--and Giannine seems to be finding them all.  Unless she can:
get the magic ring,
find the stolen treasure,
answer the dwarf's dumb riddles,
impress the head-chopping statue,
charm the army of ghosts,
fend off the barbarians,
and defeat the man-eating dragon,
she'll never win.  And if she doesn't win, she will die--for real this time.  (Summary from amazon.com - Image from goodreads.com )

My Review:  My aunt recommended this book and I picked it up in the hopes of escaping from all the depressing books I’ve been forcing myself to read lately. I loved the idea of a virtual reality adventure game, primarily because I have a secret passion for PC adventure games like King’s Quest, and a virtual reality one would be amazing. Yes, I am a geek. Are you just figuring that out?

When Giannine gets a gift certificate from her father (well, his secretary anyway) to enjoy Rasmussem enterprises virtual gaming experience, she decides to make the best of a less than thoughtful birthday gift and cash it in. When a serious malfunction occurs mid-level, Giannine finds herself stuck in the game with only her wits to save her. Heir to a coveted throne, unwelcome by her siblings, and trapped in hostile territory, she must figure out whom to trust and whom to use in order to successfully complete the game, before time runs out and her real life ends.

Heir Apparent has a Groundhog Day feel to it, as Giannine must repeat the entire game with each fatal misstep. I enjoyed this particular quirk and the variations it created in the story, but it did start to wear thin towards the end. I was glad when the author began to skip certain parts so that I didn’t have to relive each detail every time Giannine had to start over. Regardless, I think that most kids would be amused by her flippant attitude, some humorous twists, the concept of virtual reality gaming, and the chance to imagine themselves in Giannine’s place.

The ending of this book flopped for me. Apparently, there is a secret way to win the game that I thought was a cop out, and the games mysterious maker was very young-adult-cliché. None of Giannine’s family issues were resolved and the story just stopped. I swear, one minute they were wrapping things up and the next minute.

(Yeah, like that. Kind of annoying, isn’t it?!)

While I enjoyed this book's creativity and think it will fare well as a fun children’s fiction novel (ages 10 and up) I was more than a little disappointed at what I felt was a lackluster finish.

My Rating: 3 Stars (for an adult). For the sensitive reader – One instance of biblical swearing and quite a bit of vague-ish head lopping.

Sum it up: An interesting premise, with humorous delivery, but lacking an adequate conclusion.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff

This review comes to us from the lovely Jeannette Katzir, author of Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila, a memoir about the enduring effects of war.  As she writes about  her parent's harrowing experiences during the Holocaust to her own personal battles, she exposes the maladies of heart and mind, that those broken by war inevitably and unintentionally pass down to the generations that follow.  Read our review here.  Thanks, Jeannette, for your review!

You can also read another review from one of our LDS (Mormon) guest reviewers.
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Summary:  Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain.

Sweeping and lyrical, spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense.

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.  (Summary and Image from http://www.ebershoff.com/ )

My Review:  The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, is a book about multiple marriages, a faction of Mormonism and murder. I have to admit that the idea of one man with many wives has always caused me reason to wonder WHY? Sure, it's great for the man, but what about the women?

The 19th Wife escorts you into this world. The murder is a vehicle that takes you through the book. The murder, which is being pinned on the 19th Wife, and the reintroduction of a THROWN AWAY son is a very quiet, back story. The main plot, the thrust of the story, and the reason I could not put it down, is because of the Mormonism.

The book explains the creation and evolution of Mormonism. It explained the premise behind one man/many women. I understand that mainstream Mormons do not practice this marriage arrangement, but as a fan of the television show; Big Love, I found the book fascinating.

My Rating: 4 stars.

Sum it up: I would say it is an intriguing book, well written and very interesting, and the story behind the murder is great also.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson

Summary: Part blistering espionage thriller, part riveting police procedural, and part piercing expose' on social injustice, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a masterful, endlessly satisfying novel.

Mikael Blomkvist, crusading publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation. On the eve of its publication, two people are brutally murdered and the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to his friend, the troubled genius hacker Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, conviced of Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation. Meanwhile, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous game of cat and mouse, which forces her to face her dark past.
Summary from book, cover photo from barnesandnoble.com

My Review: After reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I was anxious to discover what Larsson had in store for his readers in this next trilogy installation. This book is every bit as suspenseful and intriguing as the first. The story is well-paced, interesting throughout with the last hundred pages impossible to tear away from.

Quite fitting, this novel addresses the one mystery that was left open ended in the first book. It deals primarily with the secrets of the lead female character, Lizabeth Salander, also known as the girl who played with fire. There was more depth brought to all the characters in this book, allowing the reader to develop more intimate relationships. New characters, some evil and some good, are also introduced.

While I enjoyed this book immensely, I do have one complaint. The author addresses his characters by their last name the majority of the time and these are Swedish names, many with the same beginning sounds, that I am unfamiliar with. Thus I had a difficult time keeping the secondary faces straight. Just when I thought I had it figured out a first name would pop up leaving me guessing all over again. Really this is a mild complaint considering the brilliance of this novel overall and by the end, when it really mattered, I had it all figured out.

This book closed a bit more open ended than I would have preferred but the main mystery came full circle and was brilliant. Stieg Larsson was one of those writers with creative energy to spare. Both books contain intricately woven plots packed full of drama and betrayal, power abuse and deceit. I am excited to pick up the final book in this trilogy, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and can only imagine where we will be lead to next.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars, not a book for sensitive readers- sex, violence, language

To Sum it up: A well-written sequel full of mystery and intrigue with compelling characters who will worm their way into you head every waking moment and occasionally into your dreams.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Hourglass Door - Lisa Mangum

Summary:  Abby's senior year of high school is going according to plan:  good friends, cute boyfriend, and college applications in the mail.  But when Dante Alexander, foreign-exchange student from Italy, steps into her life, he turns it upside down.  He's mysterious, and interesting and unlike anyone she's ever met before.  Abby can't deny the growing attraction she feels for him.  Nor can she deny the unusual things that seem to happen when Dante is around.  Soon Abby finds herself drawn into a mystery whose roots reach into sixteenth-century Florence, and she uncovers a dangerous truth that threatens not only her future but the lives of those she loves.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Lately, I’ve needed to read something brainlessly romantic. It’s a sanity thing. I do hope you understand. I loved Lisa Mangum’s first book, The Secret Journal of Brett Colton, and had heard a lot about her newest novel, The Hourglass Door, in a move-over-Edward, kind of way, and figured it would fit the bill nicely.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of The Hourglass Door. I was so engaged that I wanted to physically yank Abby away from oh-so-boring Jason and throw her bodily at Dante, an exchange student who, among other things, made me add Italian accents to my list of thing I find irresistible (alongside chocolate and Elizabeth Berg novels). Unfortunately, this book follows the same path as Fallen or Evermore; I was interested until I was bored. My transition from one emotion to the other linked directly to finding out Dante’s Big Fat Secret. (SPOILER HERE) He travels through time. Frankly, it was all a bit weird and the whole river/bank setting felt a whole lot like a whitewashed Summerland. (SPOILER ENDS). I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting that and I didn’t particularly care for it.

While the story starts strong, its conclusion felt entirely set up. The location of a certain key object was obvious from the second it became an issue and a variety of other plot twists were easily predictable. I appreciate that Lisa Mangum was able to create romantic tension between her characters without tossing them headlong into the bedroom, but there were times when I actually rolled my eyes at their syrupy, overly dramatic dialogue. When it comes down to it, I can turn my back on both this book and its characters, and not feel even remotely distressed. I think that it might find more of a following with younger readers who are so blinded by Dante-lust they can’t see straight through the book.

My Rating: 3 Stars. (4 stars for a YA, 2 for an Adult) For the sensitive reader: As far as I can remember, you’re in the clear.

Sum it up: A promising paranormal romance that fails to make its mark.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Green for Life - Victoria Boutenko

Summary:  People everywhere know that they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but rarely approach even the minimum FDA-recommended five servings.  An overlooked powerhouse of nutrition in this equation are greens, which contain a remarkable bounty of minerals and nutrients.  Green for Life includes information on the abundance of protein in greens, the benefits of fiber, the role of greens in homeostasis, the significance of stomach acid, how greens make the body more alkaline, the healing power of chlorophyll, and more.

Bestselling author and raw food expert Victoria Boutenko provides an easy solution for how to consume greens in sufficient quantities: the green smoothie.  This simple and delicious drink benefits everyone, regardless of lifestyle, diet, or environment.  Green smoothies eliminate toxins, correct nutritional deficiencies, and are delicious, too.  Green for Life includes the results of a pilot study that demonstrate the effectiveness of drinking just one quart of green smoothies a day without any other changes to dietary intake.  New green smoothies testimonials and additional recipes in this updated edition give readers even more confidence and inspiration to explore green smoothies for themselves.  (Summary from back of the book, book free for review, and image from publisher)

My Review:  This was more the book I thought I was getting when I opened Boutenko's book The Green Smoothie Revolution.  It offered more information, background, logistics, health information, facts, and even a short study with people trying out the smoothie lifestyle. I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

I need to admit I was very leery of this whole green smoothie idea.  After reading The Green Smoothie Revolution, trying a few smoothies myself (I'm at 3 different smoothies now (6 different servings), and now reading this book I'm afraid I might be converted.  I noticed a difference in myself after only one day drinking the smoothies.  That shocked me.  I felt so betrayed by my own desires of wanting 'regular' food.  I felt more energized, didn't need as much sleep the night afterward, and could tell my digestion was better.  Ugh.  To be wrong is sometimes painful.  But I'm glad to be wrong.  I'm glad to know there's an easy way to add greens and fruits to my diet without much work or effort on my part.  I was also skeptical that the process of preparing the food for the blender would take too much time.  It didn't and again I had to swallow my pride and accept that this was easy enough for me to do.  I made one in the evening, drank half of it and saved the other half for breakfast.  I had no problems foregoing a typically heavy dinner and drinking the smoothie--and I was surprised yet again.  I had plenty of energy the next day and wasn't hungry until lunch.  I'm as surprised as you probably are reading this.  I think I'm going to have to incorporate this into my lifestyle.

The only aspect I felt the book was lacking is more information on how to make soil healthy.  Boutenko talks about the importance of healthy soil to produce nutrient-rich greens.  While I agree, I need some help in that area as I like growing my own produce and I'm sure other readers do too.  I need to know what to add to my soil to make sure it is healthy and what I can do to plant my greens for the best possible yield.  That is my only gripe about this book.  Everything else is so helpful and informative.

I'm converted.

Rating:  4.5 Stars--for information purposes.

Sum it up:  A more thorough look at how the green smoothie can benefit your life.

Green Smoothie Revolution - Victoria Boutenko

Summary:  Raw food pioneer Victoria Boutenko takes the chore out of eating your greens with this simple and powerful solution to the ongoing struggle for proper nutrition.

Thanks to consuming processed and fast foods, being overworked, and feeling stressed while eating on the fly, few of us in the modern rat race eat anywhere near a balanced diet.  Even if we are not obviously sick, we may suffer from lack of focus, insomnia, sluggishness, or any host of symptoms caused by nutritional deficiency.  Green Smoothie Revolution takes aim at this silent epidemic by restoring balance to out-of-whack diets.

Boutenko's answer is the mouth-watering and nutrition-packed green smoothie.  Requiring little prep time, the green smoothie is the easy way to introduce long-neglected fruits, vegetables, and greens back into our diet.  Featuring 200 recipes, Green Smoothie Revolution offers simplicity, enough variety to keep taste buds happy, and raw food ingredients that give us the nutrition our bodies crave and need.   (Summary from inside book cover.  Image from  http://blogs.kcls.org/librarytalk/.  Book given free for review.)

My Review:  I kept hearing about a smoothie revolution and wanted to know more about it.  I think I got more than I bargained for when I picked up this book.  I'd never made a successful smoothie--meaning one I'd want to drink and one I felt tasted good.  After reading this book I'm thinking that taste isn't always the point.  Over time, according to the book, your taste buds acclimatize to the new flavors.  While I'd like to pretend this would be the case for me, I'm not sure it will.  I'm afraid I'd need to throw in some sugar to make some of these smoothies palatable.  That's not to say you will though.  This is more a reflection of me (and all my picky-ness) than about this book.

Rather interesting, but very random assertion of the book:  green smoothies are good for pets as well.  I'm not a pet-person, so I wouldn't know if this is surprising or not.  Still, it's interesting to be making smoothies for your cat or dog.

I did try four of the recipes.  The first one was off the Smoothies for Kids menu.  I know: I wimped out.  Still, I wanted to give it a try and not disgust myself from trying any others.  My smoothie consisted of one pear, two bananas, three large sticks of celery, two cups of strawberries, and a cup of water.  It was...ok.  It wasn't green in color, so it wasn't hard to drink.  The flavor is what, at times, was difficult.  That, and the frothy foam on top.  I could taste the celery.  While I like celery, I prefer my strawberry banana smoothies to be only those flavors.  I think next time I'm going to make the smoothie the same but instead of blending the celery, I'm going to eat the three sticks while I drink my fruit smoothie.

The second smoothie I tried was a smoothie for beginners.  I decided to modify it a bit because my pear wasn't quite ripe.  I put in this smoothie one cup of blueberries, one cup of strawberries, two bananas, a handful of ice cubes, a cup of spinach, and (this is where I improvised) a single serving Tillamook Vanilla Bean yogurt.  This smoothie was fantastic!  I had no problems drinking the entire thing and it wasn't hardly frothy.  I could do this kind of smoothie again and again.

My third smoothie included two cups strawberries, one banana, one cup blueberries, one pear, water, and two cups spinach. This one was great.  I think I actually prefer it without the yogurt.  It was too thick with the yogurt, whereas this one was much more palatable.  I think I could keep up this smoothie regimen if I continue with fruit as the base. 

The fourth smoothie contained one pear, one banana, 2 cups of strawberries, and 2 cups of kale.   Bad idea with that much kale.  It has a very bitter taste.  I should have worked my way up to that much kale.  It was SUPER bitter and very hard to swallow.  I was very tempted to put some sugar in it to make it palatable.  I'm still working on finishing up the last of that batch.  Perfecting the green smoothie for a picky eater might be a long process for me!

I do want to keep trying to incorporate more greens, becoming more adventurous in my ingredients, making this a more regular part of my diet.  I can't say I'm going to go hard core and I don't think I'll ever try a super green smoothie or green pudding (that just sounds so gross to me), but I do want to try and eat more fruits and greens.  This might actually work.

Rating: 3.5 stars--I'm not sure how realistic this would be for everyone.  It asks for a lot of change.

Sum it up:  A earthy, health enthusiast, informational collection of eating your veggies, greens, and fruits through smoothies.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Summary:  Wolves and panthers and bears roamed the deep Wisconsin woods in the 1860's.  But Pa Ingalls preferred to live miles from his nearest neighbors.  Pa built a snug log cabin for Ma and his three daughters, Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie.  He hunted and trapped and farmed.  Ma knew how to make her own cheese and sugar.  At night the wind moaned lonesomely, but Pa played his fiddle and sang to his little girls.  (Summary from book - Image from sfgate.com)

My Review:  The Little House in the Big Woods (and the rest of the series) are historical fiction books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The characters and events of the first book in the series are based on her memories of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, but the books themselves aren't completely autobiographical.  Regardless of their authenticity, I find these books as fascinating now as I did when I was little, and my mother read them to me. 

Little House in the Big Woods isn't particularly plot driven but prefers to dwell on the everyday tasks of rural living in the late 1860s.   The story is told by a young girl, Laura, and is primarily about two sisters within a close knit family.  Consequently, my girls could easily identify with both of the girls' interests, emotions, and concerns.  Each chapters shares new details of life in the woods, so that their young minds were constantly being tickled with interesting, and previously unheard of, experiences.  From slaughtering pigs to churning butter, making maple syrup, and smoking venison, Laura describes life in her small cabin in the woods with both curiosity and innocence. Pa's stories about panthers, bears, and spooky noises, embedded within several of the chapters, only served to heighten my children's interest in the story.

Above all, I found this book to be both easy to read and wonderfully descriptive.  It is a perfect read aloud book and has simple, carefully drawn illustrations every few pages that serve to spark the imagination and pull a wandering mind back into the story (this is very helpful if you're reading to a four year old).  I love these books.  Granted, I have a sentimental attachment to them because they were an integral part of my childhood, but I can't adequately describe the satisfaction I feel, watching my children's eyes glow with the excitement of a new world discovered and the thrill of imagining a time so different from our own. 

My Rating:  5 Stars

Sum it up:  If you have young girls, you simply must read these books with them.

Read our review of Little House on the Prairie, the second book in the Little House series.

Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Read our review of Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in the Little House Series.

Summary:  The Big Woods was getting too crowded.  So Pa sold the little log house and built a covered wagon.  They were moving to Indian country!  They traveled all the way from Wisconsin to Oklahoma, and there Pa built the little house on the prairie. 

All year long Ma, Pa, Mary, and Laura sank their spirits into their land and their safe little house.  But their land belonged to the Indians, and in the end the Government made them move on again.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Little House on the Prairie is the second book in the Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It tells the story of the Ingalls family after they depart their small home in the woods of Wisconsin. They travel by covered wagon, to a place just inside Indian territory that has been rumored to be open to white settlers. There the Ingalls family builds a quaint but comfortable log home and Pa begins to till the land, while the family enjoys the freedom and beauty of living on the prairie. However, their time in Kansas isn’t without its troubles as the family is plagued by wolves, Indians, wildfire, and sickness.

I have always loved the Little House series, but it has been a while since I’ve read Little House on the Prairie. My children were enchanted by the descriptions of how to build a log home, fight a wildfire, and of the surprise birth of a young colt named Bunny.

Because the Ingalls planted their little house smack in the middle of tribal land, tensions run high, with disastrously racist results.  Many times Indians were portrayed as stinking, violent men who scalped, robbed, and otherwise persecuted the poor innocent white man. As an adult, I completely understand that the author was writing from her perspective at such a young age, and that she was merely repeating commonly held beliefs of the time. I did my best to try to explain to my children the basics of the Indians vs. Settlers conflict, that it was mostly over land, and that neither side cared much for nor truly understood the other. Still, was difficult to explain away the phrase “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and the constant usages of descriptive terms like savage, fierce, and wild.

For their part, I don’t think my girls noticed (much), but because this book could perpetuate negative stereotypes, it would be wise to have a conversation with any young readers about the historical context of the story. If nothing else, it provides the opportunity to teach your children about the role of perspective within a story and how something can be presented as fact, without being factual.

I still maintain that this is an excellent series, despite its tendency towards the politically incorrect. The stories have just the right amount of description to hold a young readers attention and my children are always clamoring to see the pictures. We read through this book in a few short weeks and as soon as we finished, my girls ran downstairs to get the next one (we’re skipping Farmer Boy for the time being) and we immediately began On the Banks of Plum Creek.

My Rating: 4 Stars    For the sensitive reader: This book does contain some negative racial stereotypes, but nothing that can’t be surmounted with a bit of artful conversation.

Sum it Up: They came, they built, they got kicked out. LHOTP is an interesting, but not essential, part of the Little House Series.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Misconception - Avner Hershlag

Summary: When Dr. Anya Krim, the First Lady's fertility specialist, delivers a grossly deformed baby of undetermined sex, she tries to figure out how the child was conceived. But, before she is able to determine the baby's origin, she diagnoses a pregnancy in Megan, a Senator's daughter, who has been in a coma for two years. The question of who has impregnated Megan leads to a shocking suspicion based upon the FBI's DNA fingerprinting results. At the same time, the First Lady's last-ditch attempt to have a child runs amok when the safety of her embryos is threatened. Anya not only has to secure the embryos she created. She must now prove that no one has altered them genetically. (summary from book cover, book given free for review)

My Review: I, like the author of this book, am a fertility expert...give or take the medical degree, or any medical schooling whatsoever. Nevertheless, as the mother of two children conceived via IVF, I was the obvious choice for reviewing this book. And yes, I did neglect those sweet little tow-heads whilst I frantically read to find out the ending of the story. Sadly, it wasn't worth it. The concept behind the book is compelling, but the writing is mediocre, the plot a bit too action packed to be believable, and the details behind the fertility and cloning verging on salacious. So, as you can see in my rating I subtracted one star for each of those flaws.

Why was the writing mediocre? I've passed the book on (used book swap) so I can't quote it exactly but the author actually used the phrase "he had no problem raising a flag for her" in reference to the love interest being attracted to the main character. Seriously. Gag me. There were other cliche phrases, poor descriptions, and generally unpolished prose.

My Rating: 2 stars

Sum it up: This page turner could have used a few more revisions.

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