Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn

If you've been following this blog from the beginning, you're probably having a serious case of deja vu.  Don't worry, you're not crazy.  I've reviewed this book before (circa 2008).   I gave it 5 stars then and I give it 5 stars now, however I did not properly convey my adoration in my first review and have been kicking myself ever since.  I've got a couple of those reviews that just keep nagging at me for a re-write.  ahemschoolofessentialingredientsahem  I've been feeling a bit nostalgic lately, for reasons that will come to light very soon, and so I thought I'd take the opportunity to redo the  review of one of my favorite books. (Click through to read it.)


Monday, February 25, 2013

The Lost Art of Mixing - Erica Bauermeister

Summary:  In this luminous sequel, return to the enchanting world of the national bestseller The School of Essential Ingredients.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together.  There's Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn't learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al's wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp.  And there's Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn't expect...

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes join in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given.  A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind -- links that break -- The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.  (Summary from book - Image from www.ericabauermeister.com )

My Review:  Before I begin, can I just say ditto to the summary above?  Sometimes the blurbs that you find on inside covers of books can be terribly vague or intentionally misleading, but this one was spot on.  Everything as promised.

The Lost Art of Mixing is the breathtaking sequel to one of my favorite food lit novels, The School of Essential Ingredients. I highly recommend that you lose yourself in its pages before picking up this novel. Trust me. It will mean more if you have the whole story.

While The School of Essential Ingredients centers on the participants of a cooking class, The Lost Art of Mixing focuses on the friends, family, and employees of a young chef and restaurateur. New and familiar characters sift together in this intimate and dazzling collection of vignettes.  Each story gives the briefest glimpse into a life: a captured moment, a chance meeting, the frailty of old age, the first blush of love, the bitterness of separation. 

The Lost Art of Mixing is beautiful in its intricacy, using different perspectives, emotions, and histories to create exquisite characters that feel deeply human and relatable; it was impossible not to find fragments of myself tucked inside the pages.  Their lives touch, some lingering while others flit away, one story blending seamlessly into another, to create a compelling narrative of savory cuisine and dazzling authenticity.

I wanted to take read this book slowly – to savor it chapter by chapter – but I just could not stop reading.  It was over far too soon and I can only hope that the author takes pity on me and writes another one. 

My Rating:  4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some brief language and sexual dialogue.

Sum it up:  A breathtakingly evocative sequel.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Twice Upon a Time: Sleeping Beauty, The One Who Took the Really Long Nap - Wendy Mass

Sleeping Beauty, The One Who Took the Really Long Nap (Twice Upon a Time, #2)Summary: The girl's been asleep for a hundred years.  The boy's got issues of his own.  There are two sides to every story....

It's not easy being Princess Rose.  Especially when a fairy curses you and you find yourself avoiding all sharp objects...and then end up pricking your finger anyway, causing you to slumber for a hundred years.

And it's not easy being The Prince.  Especially when your mother has some ogre blood and tends to chow down at the most unfortunate moments.  A walk in the woods would help, you think.  Until you find a certain hidden castle...and a certain sleeping princess.  Happily ever after?  Not until the prince helps the princess awaken...and brings her home to Mother.

Journey back to the days when fairy tales were true with this fun and fresh spin on a timeless tale.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads)

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My Review:  I've been sitting here for the past five minutes with my fingers poised over my laptop keys, trying to think of something to say about this book. I am really tired.  If I start misspelling things or manage to use commas correctly for the first time in my life, please forgive me.

 Like the first book in the Twice Upon a Time series, Sleeping Beauty, The One Who Took the Really Long Nap is an adorable retelling of a classic fairy tale told from the perspective of a damsel in distress -- in this case a beautiful princess -- and her handsome prince.  

Their tale starts out kind of like The Time Traveler's Wife, with two stories being told in tandem, but 100 years apart.   At first, it was a difficult concept for my daughters to wrap their little brains around, but once Princess Rose pricked her finger on a spindle and woke up 100 years later, the two stories intertwined and they were able to sit back and enjoy the story.

As an adult, I didn't get much out of this book besides an odd chuckle here and there, but my girls loved it and giggled hysterically at even the slightest hint of romance or silliness.  I did love that the chapters were fairly short, so it was easy to read "just one more" chapter and still get them to bed on time.  However, I did not like the ending.  In fact, I might even go so far as to say I loathed it.  Up until the end of the book, the Prince was nameless, when he chooses a name that would make feminists spontaneously combust if the gender roles were reversed.

The next book, Beauty and the Beast, The Only One Who Didn't Run Away, came out in 2012 and is still only out in hardback.  If I were really invested in the series I would buy it right now, but as it stands I think I'll wait till it comes out in paperback and only read it if my kid's express an interest..

Kaisa, age nine, says:  I thought it was a good book.  I liked it better than the Rapunzel one.  I thought it was more better.  My favorite part was when she cuts her hair and smears mud all over her face.  I didn't like the ogre part.

Sophie, age seven, says:  I thought that it was funny when she says, "Who is he and does he have a brother?"  Also, I liked it (it was Kaisa's favorite part too) when she smeared mud all over her face and cut her hair.  It was funny.  It was a good book and funny and it was scary when the mean fairy said she was going to cast a spell on Rose.

My Rating:  3 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  A very little very light romance.

Sum it up:  Meh.  My girls really liked it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

Summary:  Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that 'The Devil in the White City' is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. (Summary and image taken from goodreads.com)

My ReviewThe Devil in the White City was my January challenge to myself – part of my new goal to read one classic or nonfiction book a month. 

What a way to start out!

I love living in (okay, occasionally visiting) Chicago, and my favorite part is the architectural awesomeness of the city.  It’s so diverse, so beautiful, that even though I’m not artistically gifted, I can get lost in appreciating it. Given the chance to read about the nearly insurmountable task of building the World’s Colombian Expo in Chicago, knowing that two of those buildings still stand, was amazing.  Throw in a madman, AND a serial killer to boot, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why it took me two and a half weeks to finish the book!

The descriptions Larson offers of the fair, of the planning, planting, and building that were so rushed but that worked so well made me forget that the fair wasn’t still going on.  More than once in the last couple of days (when I’ve finally had time to read), I’ve nearly picked up the phone to ask my husband if we could attend the fair this weekend.  Never mind that the fair took place over 120 years ago, I want to go!

My Rating:  Four stars.  Definitely.  If I can forget which century I’m living in, the author’s done a good job!

Sum it Up:  A detailed account of three separate fates; those of the World’s Fair and Chicago; of Dr. Holmes, the charming serial killer; and of madman Pendergrast and how the three intertwined to create a memorable, almost-larger-than-life tale.  Read it, and then come find out why we’re the “Windy City”!

For the Sensitive Reader:
The descriptions of what investigators found in Holmes’ Castle and of his other “homes” are disquieting, but would offer the only qualm I’d have to recommend this to anyone.

All right readers, what's my February "Challenge"?  Do I go nonfiction or classic?  Suggestions, please!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Heaven is Here (Again)


Heaven is Here comes out in paperback tomorrow.


In case you've been living under a rock, 
you might have missed me raving about this book 
when it came out in hardback a while back. 
It's probably one of the most wonderfully 
uplifting memoirs I have ever read.

If I didn't already have a copy, 
I'd be doing a happy dance right now.

I don't care what you have to do
 (barring the actual commission of a felony), 
-- get your hands on this book. 
Then read it.

Stephanie's story will change your life.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fake It: More Than 100 Shortcuts Every Woman Needs to Know - Jennifer Byrne

Summary:  No one is perfect -- but everyone can fake it.

Let's get real.  At one point or another, every woman has had to fake it -- how else would we get everything done in a mere twenty-four hours?  Fake It makes all those time-sucking tasks -- such as doing the laundry, baking a homemade dessert for a school fundraiser, and maintaining a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene -- seem effortless.  With more than 100 shortcuts and wonderfully constructed white lies, you'll be able to fake it all, including:

  • An immaculate bathroom when unexpected guests arrive
  • Flawless skin for that big night out
  • Liking a crappy dinner at a friend's house
  • A tidy car on carpool day
  • Knowing the answer to your client's question
  • And yes, of course, faking an orgasm
So, whether you're asked for your opinion about a stomach-turning outfit, really not feeling it in bed, or just too tired to clean the house, Fake It will give you the fool proof advice you need to get through all of life's situations.  (Summary from book - Image from www.nj.com - Review copy given free for an honest review)

My Review:   My husband would like me to go on the record and say that I do not need this book -- that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever in Fake It that I could ever find even remotely useful.   Especially page 118.  There.  I think I've placated enough fragile male ego for today.  We can move on.

Before I started to read this book for review, I sat down with a few friends and flipped through it to see what was what.  It wasn't long before we had tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard and I was gasping for breath as I tried to read sections aloud -- like how to fake not ever using the bathroom (with your new crush) or how to fake sleep when you're just not feeling frisky.  I thought I was going to die it was so funny and couldn't wait to start reading it in earnest.

Fast forward to today:  I have to take a break.  That's right, I haven't finished it yet.  At first, it was just as hilarious as I expected, but not long into the first section, I began to be weary of the author's unrelenting snark, sarcasm, wisecrack-ery and wit.  I was shocked!  I didn't think it was possible!  Ordinarily, I love that kind of humor, but when I sat down to really read this book, it quickly became too much.  I was expecting a serious book with moments of silliness and instead got a silly book with a few brief moments of seriousness.   The genuinely useful advice, like how to compliment your friend's ugly baby, was buried beneath utterly outlandish recommendations, like getting plastic surgery when you don't think you can pull off bangs.

Whether you love or hate Fake It will depend entirely on the reason you want to read it.  If you're looking for useful advice and a book you can read from start to finish, look elsewhere.  The humor gets old if taken in large doses and, from what I've read so far (about 2/3 of the book), the book is 95% humor and 5% actual shortcuts.   However, if you're looking for a book to pick up now and again that will leave you busting a gut with your best gal friends, then look no further.  You might want to invest in Depends though, in case you wet your pants.

My Rating:  3 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Some profanity and sexual content.

Sum it up:  You'll either love it or hate it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reading For Sanity's Romantic Reading Recommendations

(Boy, howdy!  That's a lot of alliteration, isn't it?!)

Ah, love!  It's in the air.  I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day tomorrow.  If you're looking for a little something to commemorate the day and get you in a romantic mood, then you might want to pick up one of these swoon-worthy books.  They aren't all 100% romantic, but they are 100% fun!

Adult Fiction
(listed in no particular order)

The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
(and might I add, duh)

Edenbrooke - Julianne Donaldson

Rhapsody (and series) - Elizabeth Haydon

Archangel (and series) - Sharon Shinn

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

The Wedding - Nicholas Sparks

Young Adult Fiction
(in no particular order) 

Hourglass - Myra McEntire

Delirium (and series) - Lauren Oliver

Divergent  (and series) - Veronica Roth

Enclave - Ann Aguirre

The Season - Sarah MacLean

(um...kinda sorta gruesome and kinda sorta romantic)
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)

A Countess Below Stairs

Graceling - Kristin Cashore
Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Biggest Sandwich Ever - Rita Golden Gelman

Summary:  Two little children and one creepy old man make and consume the biggest sandwich ever.  (Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  The Biggest Sandwich Ever is probably one of my top ten favorite children's books, but it really shouldn't be anywhere near that list.  It's about two children who are having a picnic in the park when a creepy old man approaches them and asks if he can join them for lunch.  The two children are thrilled  and indicate that they would love to have him stay, even offering him a carrot. Ack!  The old man declines their offer, indicating that he's brought his own lunch, and precedes to build the biggest sandwich ever with the children's help.  When they are finished making the sandwich, they spend all day and all night polishing it off, eventually finishing around noon the next day.  The children start to say goodbye, but the old man refuses to let them leave and, with a twisted gleam in his eye, brings in a giant pie.

Excuse me, what?! Kids eating in the park by themselves?  Talking to strangers!  Offering them food?!  Spending the night indulging in gluttony!!!!?   Why do I like this book?  Because it is awesome, that's why! Dump trucks deliver tuna.  Planes dropping pickles! Mountains of cheese!  Ketchup squirted on with a fire hose!  The illustrations are just the thing to inspire a child's imagination and text is rhythmic and engaging.   Here's my favorite part, just to show you what I mean:
...the little man jumped.  He banged on his pot.  And twenty-two bakers came in at a trot.  Then came the butter.  The little man said, "Put it all over.  All over the bread. It's time for the tuna.  Be careful.  Don't bump it.  Back up just a little.  OK.  You can dump it."  Then Tammy and I said, "This sandwich is great!""This sandwich is nothing," he said.  "You just wait. I have hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken, and lamb.  Salami, pastrami, potatoes, and ham. I have all kinds of cheeses.  Watch out for the cranes!  And plenty of pickles.  Just look at those planes.  Then the little man banged on his pot and he said,  "Come in with the ketchup, you people in red. And now," said the man, "please lower the bread."  Then he banged on his pot and he shouted, "I'm through!  My sandwich is ready.  I love it.  I do!  And we shouted right back at him, "We love it too.  
While the circumstances surrounding The Biggest Sandwich Ever are rather suspect, the sandwich itself is the stuff of little kid's dreams.    You might have to have a little talk about "stranger danger," but it will be totally worth it.

My Rating:  5 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  Kidnapping, child endangerment, stupidity, and gluttony.  But seriously, read it anyway.

Sum it up:  The most disturbing, wonderful, magical book I have ever read to my kids.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Looking Glass Wars - Frank Beddor

Summary:
The Myth
Alice Liddel was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook.

The Truth  
Wonderland is real.  Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss's parents.  To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears.  But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated.  Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author, to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life.  Yet he gets the story all wrong.  Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Red for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.  (Summary from book - image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  A friend of mine, and kindred spirit when it comes to books, told me about this series with gushing praise.  I will admit that it took me a while to read through it, since every time I sat down to read I fell asleep within a chapter. This is NOT because it was boring.  It wasn't. On the contrary, it was deliciously creative and magical.  I'm just exhausted.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Taking care of four kids is kicking my butt.  

Now, before we start I have to confess something:  I've never read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or the sequel, Through the Looking Glass.  Until now, my only experience with his story comes from a Disney cartoon that I only watched once before I decided it was too creepy.  The cartoon obliterated any desire I ever had to read the original books.  I don't think I'm alone in this either.  Show of hands?  That's what I thought.  Thus, any comparisons I draw in this review will be based on my limited experience with the movie version.

The Looking Glass Wars is a re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's famous Wonderland, full of the clever, creative, fantastic and absurd but with a more focused plot and fleshed out setting than Disney ever thought up.  In this book, Alyss/Alice actually came to our world and told Lewis Carroll her story, only to have him water it down and twist it into his own nonsensical tale -- a lovely tweak that made me feel like I was getting "the real story" I'd been missing all these years.  The characters in the story are ever so much more than their cartoon counterparts:  Alyss Heart, displaced but legitimate heir to the Wonderland throne;  Aunt Redd, a power-hungry and iniquitous imposter with a propensity for decapitation;  Hatter Madigan, loyal bodyguard to the true Queen; Dodge Anders, Alice's childhood friend turned vengeful soldier; The Cat, Redd's lethal feline assassin; Bibwit Harte, mentor to the young princess; and General Doppleganger, a rebel leader with the tendency to split in two...literally.  These characters come together in Wonderland, where Imagination is a power that can be used for good or evil.  Redd wields the Black Imagination with frightening force.  Alyss's only hope to defeat her rests in the Looking Glass maze and the power of her own White Imagination.

Readers don't have to be well-versed in Wonderland to understand and enjoy this book, but it wouldn't hurt either.  It was easy to pick up on the more obvious parallels within the two stories, but I was somewhat plagued by the niggling suspicion that I was missing some of the more subtle references to the original novel that would be caught by a true Carroll connoisseur. I was almost tempted to read the original novel, just so I could get the full experience, but opted for sloth, settled in for the story, and did just fine.  In a book with endless imagination, the plot wasn't bound by such piddly notions as "reality" or "logic," so I let go of both and enjoyed the ride. Even though it took several weeks to finish, I'm glad I read The Looking Glass Wars and I have plans to read the next book in the series, Seeing Redd.  It just might take until 2014.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some fantasy violence.

Sum it up:  A fascinating re-imagining of a classic tale.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Son - Lois Lowry

Summary:  "They called her Water Claire."

When the young girl washed up on their shore, no one knew she had been a Vessel.  That she had carried a Product.  That it had been carved from her belly.  Stolen.

Claire had had a son.  She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible.  When he was taken from their community, she knew she had to follow.

And so her journey began.

But here in this wind-battered village Claire is welcomed as one of their own.  In the security of her new home, she is free and loved.  She grows stronger.

As tempted as she is by the warmth of more human kindness than she has ever known, she cannot stay.  Her son is out there; a young boy by now.

Claire will stop at nothing to find her child...even if it means trading her own life.

With Son, the two-time Newbery Medal-winning Lois Lowry has spun another mesmerizing tale in this thrilling and long-awaited conclusion to The Giver.  (Summary from book jacket cover and image from http://www.bostonglobe.com)

My Review: Lois Lowry did it right.  What a blessed relief to read a final book that concludes a series (companion books, if you will) well!  If you liked The Giver, and read the other companion books, Gathering Blue and The Messenger, do NOT miss this book.  It wraps the series up so cleanly, adds new characters that are endearing and rich, and has a message that is beautiful and moving.  I hoped I wouldn't be disappointed, but I should not have doubted Lowry.  She hasn't disappointed me yet, so why would she with this one? 

Son is about Gabriel's mother, Claire.  Claire is an eloquently written character with depth and heart.  Her persistence in understanding herself, her past, and trying to find Gabriel touches the heart of any mother, and I would hope, any reader.  I don't know how a mother could read this book and not relate to the love Lowry describes Claire has for her new baby.  It fits so perfectly with how I feel about my own daughters the minute they are born.

What makes this book so wonderful is how Lowry weaves all the books together.  She explores a different perspectives of The Giver.  The exploration of what happens to Claire, Gabe, Jonas' father, and other birth mothers satiated some of my own curious thoughts about the strange world created in The Giver.  She explains and explores characters from Gathering Blue and The Messenger.  I loved being able to see what happens to Jonas and Kira. Finally, she creates an entirely new community and group of flawed characters to grow attached to. This section of the book explores some of the questions we should have about our own communities and judging others.

An interesting aspect to Lowry's writing is how she craftily deals with heavy topics.  She talks about abuse, hate, evil, and yet it doesn't come across in a way that I would be offended with my girls reading it.  She somehow manages to write about them, and if the reader is young enough, he or she won't pick up on the nuances of what Lowry is implying.  For a more seasoned reader, it is easy to pick out her implications, but again, it's not offensive--it simply states an evil that existed and portrayed it for what is was.  Lowry has a way of making real, heavy, hard aspects of life something you could talk to your children about.  This, I believe, is a gift.

My favorite aspect of this book is her depiction of evil.  Her explanations of what it is, how it grows, and how it feeds upon itself were simplistic yet spot on.  To take it further, she explains how to rid yourself of evil.  While this is a fictional book, and you really cannot rid the world of evil so simply as she describes here, it is accurate of how to rid yourself of evil inside yourself.  (That was wordy...I know.  I don't know how else to explain it.  I hate spoilers, so this is my vague way of explaining it.)

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone.  Young, old, readers of The Giver, or not.  This is a beautifully written book with a wonderful plot and message.  Don't miss this one!

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing to offend.  It's wonderfully clean!

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up:  A wonderful conclusion that ties all the loose ends of The Giver saga together.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finished Being Fat: An Accidental Adventure in Losing Weight and Learning How to Finish - Betsy Schow

Summary:  Not everyone can win the race, but everyone can finish it.  

It all started the morning Betsy Schow woke up ten pounds heavier than the mouth before, surrounded by the clutter of halfhearted projects and discarded hobbies.  She decided she'd had enough.

In her quest to wish away the extra seventy-five pounds around her middle, she accidentally changed her life for good.  Using her Philosophy of Finishing, Betsy snowballed her efforts from weight loss into a bucket list of seemingly impossible dreams.  Now she's here to share the simple secret of her incredible success.

Whether your goal is losing weight, running a marathon, cleaning out the basement, or all of the above, this book will teach you how to achieve more than you ever thought possible without sacrificing your sanity or your sense of humor.  (Summary from book - Image from www.betsyschow.com - Review copy given free for an honest review)
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My Review:  What I’m about to say might shock you, especially if you know me personally.  (I will get to the review, eventually, but be patient.  There’s some soul-bearing going on here.)

You are fat.  

No.  Not you.

Those are the words I hear in my head nearly every time I look in the mirror, and they are usually followed by something like: You are disgusting.  Look at all that jiggle!  Blech! Why don’t you work out?  Because you suck at it!  That’s why!  No hope for you.  Better cover up with some stretchy pants and a sweatshirt so no one can see that ‘muffin top.’  …

And so on.   

My inner critic is not very nice, it would seem, and it’s been taunting me since middle school with a veritable cornucopia of insecurities, preying on my fears and weaknesses, distorting the truth until I can’t see my real self through the lies.  Some sliver of me knows that it's lying.  It knows I’m just an average woman, a little on the tall side, who is having trouble losing the weight that came with her fourth child and stayed around, due in large part to an aversion to exercise and junk food cravings.  However, that little voice is a sadist and when it speaks reality doesn't seem to matter much.   

You see, even in reality I come from a family of generally fit people.  My three brothers regularly run mountains.   My younger sister is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and my older one is a former cross-country runner who weighs less than my left shoe.  My Dad has hiked Table Mountain forty-two times. My mother, a grandmother of eight, takes Krav Maga, for Pete's sake!  Meanwhile, I can’t jog a quarter-mile without wheezing and keeling over.  Regardless of how thin I may or may not be, in my family I am the fat one -- the one who gets left behind on family hikes and can never seem to catch up.  But do you want to know a secret?  I desperately want to be athletic.  I want to be healthy, fit, and strong.  I want to be a runner.  Up until now, that stupid voice in my head has been rather insistent, and I've been hesitant to start, afraid I’d fail miserably and likely do so with some sort of audience.

What I really needed when I picked up Finished Being Fat was a different perspective – on losing weight and on myself – and a swift kick in the pants complete with a set of negativity earmuffs.  I needed to hear, “You can do it!  You are awesome!” and I needed to believe it.  This book did just that.  

Finished Being Fat is not about how to lose weight; it’s about how to body check that voice in your head that tells you to stop, that you might as well quit, that you’ll never be good enough, that you’ll never succeed.  It is one woman’s account of how she gave up on quitting and became a finisher.   Although the author, Betsy Schow, does discuss the details of her seventy-five pound weight loss, she also focuses on how she changed her habits, buoyed her self-esteem, and altered her perspective so that she was able finish being fat (for good) and find amazing success in other areas in her life, like finally organizing her garage, climbing a mountain, and completing a marathon.

This book was such an easy read, and not just because of it’s slim 129-page length.  I felt instantly at home in the author’s voice and was laughing by the second page.  In another four pages, I couldn't believe she knew me so well.  As a fellow stay-at-home mom, her story felt particularly relevant to my life and her self-effacing humor made her more approachable and human than your average weight loss guru.   Betsy Schow’s personal Philosophy of Finishing encourages readers to reach for the stars, work hard, engage in positive inner dialogue, and celebrate their victories – no matter how small.

Is Finished Being Fat the one-stop solution for all your health and wellness needs?   Probably not.  But, if you are looking for a change and hesitant to do anything for fear of failure, or if you’re like me and so afraid to fail that you won’t even start,  I highly recommend this book.  It might be just what you need to kick start your goals, conquer those fears, and become a finisher. 

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Read on.

Sum it up:  A humorous, well-delivered, and motivational kick in the pants.

If you're interested in purchasing Finished Being Fat, please visit your local independent bookstore or order online at  Powells, AbeBooks, Books & Things, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.  Be patient.  It might be on backorder because the first printing has entirely sold out and they are printing more.

If you would like to know more about Betsy and her journey from quitter to finisher, visit her website and read her blog.  You can even take advantage of her free offer: a free calorie budget and yoga routine.

Friday, February 1, 2013

All But My Life: A Memoir – Gerda Weissmann Klein


SummaryAll But My Life is the unforgettable story of Gerda Weissmann Klein's six-year ordeal as a victim of Nazi cruelty. From her comfortable home in Bielitz (present-day Bielsko) in Poland to her miraculous survival and her liberation by American troops--including the man who was to become her husband--in Volary, Czechoslovakia, in 1945, Gerda takes the reader on a terrifying journey.

Gerda's serene and idyllic childhood is shattered when Nazis march into Poland on September 3, 1939. Although the Weissmanns were permitted to live for a while in the basement of their home, they were eventually separated and sent to German labor camps. Over the next few years Gerda experienced the slow, inexorable stripping away of "all but her life." By the end of the war she had lost her parents, brother, home, possessions, and community; even the dear friends she made in the labor camps, with whom she had shared so many hardships, were dead.

Despite her horrifying experiences, Klein conveys great strength of spirit and faith in humanity. In the darkness of the camps, Gerda and her young friends manage to create a community of friendship and love. Although stripped of the essence of life, they were able to survive the barbarity of their captors. Gerda's beautifully written story gives an invaluable message to everyone. It introduces them to last century's terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet offers them hope that the effects of hatred can be overcome.  (Image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Klein has written a wonderful memoir of her time during World War II.  Compared to most, she was quite lucky, having the opportunity to work in a factory with kind and sympathetic supervisors until near the end of the war.  It was wonderful to read about her experiences: her willingness to fight for her happiness, her searching for humor, and her desire to continue living.  She was forthright and honest about those she came into contact with, and it was so nice to read about those good-doers she came into contact with. 

This IS a Holocaust memoir, and Klein had her share of suffering, of starvation, and of watching her friends and loved ones perish at the hands of the Nazis, but it has a happy ending.  She talks about her life after liberation, of how she found ways to overcome what she endured and how she was able to find purpose.  I have an overwhelming love for the German people, and it was so heartening to know that many of the Germans that Klein knew were as wonderful and as kind to her as I knew them to be, despite the risks of showing kindness to the Jewish prisoners.

My Rating:  4 stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  It is a Holocaust novel.  She recounts witnessing massacres, beatings, and the ever-present starvation.

Sum it Up:  A Holocaust memoir detailing one teenager’s fight for survival through the horrors of German-occupied Poland.


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