Friday, May 31, 2013

From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story - Ron Tanner


Summary:  Ten years ago, Ron and his then-girlfriend, Jill, did the impossible. They bought condemned property -- a big Baltimore Victorian brownstone ­ and vowed to bring it back to its original glory.  The house had been home to Baltimore's most notorious fraternity for a decade and now, wrecked and abandoned, it was filled with garbage. As if that weren't daunting enough: Ron and Jill had been dating for only six months and they knew nothing about fixing up old houses. Friends, family, and concerned onlookers told them not to do it ­ they would surely lose their shirts and their love in the bargain. But Jill wanted the house and Ron wanted Jill. So Ron bought the house. (Image and summary taken from goodreads.com)

*I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:  Talk about a gutsy move to impress your girlfriend - buy her a 3500+ square foot Queen Anne and restore it to its former glory!  Ron Tanner's journey through mostly self-taught home improvement had me biting my nails.  HGTV is one of my favorite channels, I just love watching people restore something that's been unappreciated.  Had Reality TV been as big of a deal ten years ago, I have no doubt that Tanner's journey could have been a series!  From learning the idiosyncrasies of the restoration game, to contractors who disappear, to every possible imaginable problem that could arise, this was such a fun journey.  I found myself groaning along with Tanner and his girlfriend, cringing at rookie mistakes (I'm no reno-guru, but I can swing a hammer, and I'm definitely more at home in Home Depot than in a scrapbooking store!), cheering when things went their way, gasping at the health risks they were exposed to, and wishing I could sit at their hearth at Christmas.

This pair would have had their work cut out for them in any case, but the prior owner of this gigantic house was a wild fraternity.  Let's be honest.  We know what boys are like when they get together.  Add to that accounting alcohol-infused decisions and you can imagine the state the home was in.  

Ron learns a lot about himself and about the choices he's prone to make during the process of restoring the Queen Anne.  It's heartwarming to see his personal growth and how that growth affects his relationship with Jill.  While this is a "love story", Ron and Jill's relationship is definitely protected in the book.  This love story is the story of Ron, Jill, and the Queen Anne.  Through working together, I definitely felt them grow closer and could appreciate the qualities they both brought to the restoration.

One of my favorite features of the book was the collection of historical facts about homes built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that Tanner doles out throughout the narrative.  I loved hearing about the purposes of these quirky features and then seeing him succeed in restoring them.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The premise of the book is clean, but there are a lot of "f" words.  Also, there are some disgusting leftovers from the frat boys that Ron and Jill have to clean out. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Every Cowgirl Loves a Rodeo - Rebecca Janni

Summary:  Nellie Sue is back and she's taking her cowgirl flair to the county fair. There are games to play, animals to pet, and rides to go on. But of course, Nellie Sue is really looking forward to the Bike Rodeo. She hopes that practicing will make her and her two-wheeled horse good enough to win against the reigning champion and her friend, A. J. Pickett. When a nearby goat gets loose and threatens to ruin A.J.'s ride, Nellie Sue knows that it's her job as an honest cowgirl to step in--even if it means coming in second place.


My Review:  How could we not revisit Nellie Sue and her faithful "steed" Beauty?  This story was even more loved than our first Nellie Sue adventure, and I loved the lesson my little cowgirl learned from our current favorite cowgirl.  Nellie Sue is determined to win the Blue Ribbon at the Bike Rodeo, but ends up winning the respect and admiration of her friends - and a prize no one saw coming!

I know that a book is a keeper when my kids fight my returning it to the library.  When we have to check it out multiple times, AND still have tears at parting?  It's one I need to hunt down for good.

My Rating:  Five stars.  Easily.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Inspector Rumblepants and the Case of the Golden Haggis - Mike Blyth


Summary:  Inspector Rumplepants and Sergeant Widebottom from New Scotland Yard's Special and Confusing Crime Division are called in (as Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson are away on an Austrian skiing holiday) to solve the mysterious theft of the Golden Haggis, the symbol of Scottish royalty. Battling against time, a dastardly thief and his band of cutthroat gypsies, a mysterious weapon that causes uncontrollable farting, and an evil Scottish prince, they must find the Golden Haggis before the Scottish clans unite to invade England (again) and then take over the world. Helped by Agent Amber, a pretty but lethal secret agent from MI six-and-a-half, the overenthusiastic Inspector Nailhard from the crack police Fast Armed Response Team (FART), and a part-time Scottish secret agent (whose day job is a butcher), they must overcome overwhelming odds and unravel confusing clues in order to solve the case and save the world.  (Summary from goodreads.com.  Image from inspectorrumblepants.com)

Disclaimer:  I was given a free ARC of Inspector Rumblepants for my review.  All opinions are my own.

My Review:  The first installment in the Inspector Rumblepants series introduces us to Mike Blyth’s Sherlock Holmes counterpart and his sidekick.  Unfortunately, the Inspector and his team seem to be more Lestrade than Sherlock, facing down the humiliation of leaving a massive search for a stolen Big Ben (which turned out to not be stolen in the first place).  They team up with a mysterious young individual, Agent Amber, to investigate a stolen statue – one that enables the holder (as long as he is of royal Scottish blood) to rule Scotland. 

There was a lot I liked about this book, and some that may need a little tweaking.  To start, I love Agent Amber.  Love her!  I want more characters like her: smart, strong, dedicated, driven, and feminine.  She’s the brain (and the brawn) behind the outfit.  Second, at the back of the book, there’s a list of “Hidden Anachronisms” (supposed and real) hidden throughout the book that Blyth has planted to ignite the reader’s sleuthing skills – including a reference to ready-made clothes, crocodiles in America, and more.  It was fun to read what I had missed and sharpen my skills.

There were some plot points that felt extremely rushed – mainly things that happened out of sight of the reader and were crammed in a little too quickly for my liking.  But I had to keep reminding myself that this book was written for kids, not for Christie fans like me.

All in all, this was a fun book and one that I look forward to using to introduce my kids to the mystery genre.

My Rating: Three and a half stars.

For the Sensitive Reader:  As you can tell from the title, there’s a fair amount of latent potty humor scattered throughout the book.  Significantly less than the Captain Underpants series, but I don’t like the word “fart”, and it’s used quite a bit.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Monday Mornings - Dr. Sanjay Gupta, M.D.


Summary:  Every time surgeons operate, they're betting their skills are better than the brain tumor, the faulty heart valve, the fractured femur. Sometimes, they're wrong. At Chelsea General, surgeons answer for bad outcomes at the Morbidity and Mortality conference, known as M & M. This extraordinary peek behind the curtain into what is considered the most secretive meeting in all of medicine is the back drop for the entire book.

Monday Mornings, by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, follows the lives of five surgeons at Chelsea General as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings, often in front of their peers at M & M. It is on Monday mornings that reflection and introspection occurs, usually in private. It is Monday Mornings that provides a unique look at the real method in which surgeons learn - through their mistakes. It is Monday Mornings when, if you're lucky, you have a chance at redemption.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Wow.  Ha!  You may recall that I posted a sentence (His back was as straight as a dead man's EKG?  I know!!) on our FB page with the question:  Do I quit?  I didn’t quit.  (I probably should have quit.)  Let’s just get the mean part out of the way.  Dr. Gupta may be an amazing doctor who really knows his stuff, but he can’t write worth beans.  The narrative was all over the place, the amount of descriptions he packed into each sentence was reminiscent of reading my own short stories circa seventh grade (back when I was under the misguided impression that the more detail an author packed in, the better the story), and apparently, a requirement of understanding about a third of this book is the completion of two years of surgical residency. 

But I persevered.  I heard Dr. Gupta talk about the book on a morning show, about how doctors are held accountable when things go wrong and how this book offers a peek into those meetings.  I figured if I could stomach my way past the ugly fa├žade, the bones of the book would make up for it.  I find medical proceedings fascinating, and hearing him talk about these meetings with such reverence piqued my curiosity.

To my dismay, those meetings were only briefly mentioned, and even then, the writing felt harried and disorganized.  It was supremely disappointing—somewhat akin to tuning into a documentary on a fascinating civilization and finding a Telenovela in its place.  I’ve learned my lesson.  If I want good medical advice, I’ll go to Sanjay Gupta.  For good reads, I’ll go…anywhere else.

My Rating:  Half a star

For the Sensitive Reader:  Multiple swear words, domestic violence, lechery, adultery, drinking, a few racial slurs … steer clear.  You’re not missing anything.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst

Summary:  Alexander knew it was going to be a terrible day when he woke up with gum in this hair.
And it got worse...

His best friend deserted him. There was no dessert in his lunch bag. And, on top of all that, there were lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV!

This handsome new edition of Judith Viorst's classic picture book is sure to charm readers of all ages.  (Summary from Amazon.com and image from  http://www.aceshowbiz.com)

My Review:  I was asked to do a presentation to Head Start parents on early childhood literacy.  While preparing I wanted to draw on the audience's experiences and positive feelings about books.  Helping parents see the importance of reading to their children at an early age is the start of a literate life.  Thus, the question I asked was: What is your favorite book--it can be a children's book, picture book, novel, coffee table book, etc.  I believe all people, if exposed to quality children's literature, have a favorite children's book.  I can't honestly say this is my favorite children's book (that's like saying you have a favorite child, right?!), but it's right up there in the Top 10.  And, because I wanted to lead by example, I shared the story of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Because this is such a classic, and figuring you all had read it before, I had not reviewed it.  It got me thinking though.  What if this was a children's book that somehow slipped your childhood?  If so, I do hope you pick it up and read it.  Regardless of your age, this is a story that appeals to all.

Alexander experiences what we all experience: Hard Days.  Days that just don't go our way.  Days that seem to never end. Days where our good intentions are drowned in the reality of life.  Days where we just want to move away and leave it all behind.  And this is the reason this book speaks to so many people.  It has such a universal theme.  It doesn't matter what your background is, where you live, or even if you've had all the same experiences as Alexander.  We've all been there in one form or another.  Life has disappointments, and despite Australia tempting us all to move away from our current problems, we get through it.  

I LOVE this book!

Here are a couple images from the book for your viewing pleasure:


For the sensitive reader:  Squeaky clean.

Rating: 5 Stars

Sum it up: We've all had these kind of days--and sadly it starts way too young!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer


Summary:  The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Oh, my goodness, I’m so enjoying this series! Retelling fairy tales is always tricky, especially when they’re well-known (and well-rehashed), and it takes a master to breathe new life into a tale without making it feel stale. 

Meyer did it again! 

Not only did she take on the well-known “Red Riding Hood”, she seamlessly entwined the story with the already-established mythology she created in Cinder.  Scarlet is faced with a passive police force, a missing grandmother, and her only ally is a street fighter called Wolf.  Cinder, on the other hand, is also searching for Scarlet’s grandmother … trying to validate what she learned the last time we saw her.  Meanwhile, the treacherous Queen Levana has started to enact her plans, putting the entire Earth at risk.

I’ve been immersed in some serious reading lately, and Scarlet was my reward, and it was exactly the release I needed.  I love the way that Meyer is weaving these fairy tales together, and her fresh take on them is a welcome change.  This installation was darker than I remembered Cinder, but that’s typical as characters move through the series.  The only issue I take is that these books aren’t coming fast enough!

My Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is a “fade-to-black” scene, and there are some pretty gruesome fight sequences. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Green Beans & Ice Cream - Bill Sims Jr.


Summary: Bill Sims Jr. has released his first book titled “Green Beans & Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement.”

The highly anticipated book is based on Bill’s successful behavior change workshop, which is often featured at safety conventions across the world.
Summary and cover art from billsims.com, Book given free in exchange for an honest review

My Review:  Positive reinforcement is an amazingly powerful tool. "We cherish feedback confirming that our contributions matter and that we have made a difference in the world around us." In a brief 130 pages Sims is able to detail the many ways positive reinforcement can alter behavior.  Sims also dives into difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how positive reinforcement can help in building intrinsic motivation. While the concept of positive reinforcement is not new, the manner in which it is being used may not be as effective as one would think. Sims touches on just what will work and what won't and backs his advice up with research.

There are a great many positive elements regarding this title. The chapters are short but concise  Each presents an unique idea and leaves the reader contemplating. Perfectly placed metaphors drive home several of the points made by Sims.One of the greatest strengths of this book lies in the extras sporadically placed throughout that can be accessed through the provided QR Codes or by the html address. These short articles and videos add greater depth to the advice presented in the book.  This is a title I would highly recommend to anyone in a leadership role, whether that be a paid or volunteer position. Parents and teachers could also take a great deal away from this quick read. I have used some of these tips with my own children this week and have already noticed great changes in both their attitudes and my own.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To Sum it up: A quick and motivating read full of advice that once employed will lead to fantastic results.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Girl Unmoored - Jennifer Gooch Hummer

Summary:  Apron Bramhall has come unmoored.  It's 1985 and her mom has passed away, her evil stepmother is pregnant, and her best friend has traded her for a newer model.  Fortunately, she's about to be saved by Jesus.  Not that Jesus--the actor who plays him in "Jesus Christ, Superstar."  Apron is desperate to avoid the look-alike Mike (no one should look that much like Jesus unless they can perform a miracle or two), but suddenly he's everywhere.  Until one day, she's stuck in church with him--of all places.  And then something happens; Apron's broken teenage heart blinks on for the first time since she's been adrift.

Mike and his grumpy boyfriend, Chad, offer her a summer job in their flower shop, and Apron's world seems to calm.  But when she uncovers Chad's secret, coming of age becomes almost too much to bear.  She's forced to see things the adults around her fail to--like what love really means and who is paying too much for it.  (Summary from back of the book, image from www.goodreads.com, book sent free for review.)

My Review:  It took me a bit to get into this book, but after 50, the pages started flying.  The writing can be a bit choppy at times, and there are places that as an adult reader I still had to go back and re-read to make sure I understood the sentence.  Some of these re-readings are because Hummer used a clever way of describing something.  Other times it was because the sentence was worded a bit rough.

Apron is about as awkward as her name.  She's extremely klutzy and socially oblivious, but she's spot on for a 7th grade girl, especially one who has just lost her mother.  Her life is in complete upheaval, and just when she needs her the most, she loses her best friend due to unpopularity.  Life is cruel and Apron's is living proof.  By twist of fate, she comes in contact with Mike, her very own life-ring to the world.  Mike is suffering just as Apron is, but it takes time before Apron realizes this.  Through the experience of watching real prejudice and violence against gays and watching Mike's boyfriend, Chad, suffer through AIDS, Apron is able to see outside herself.  She learns that she is not alone and that although life is hard, we all carry on.  She learns that she has purpose and that through love and compassion she can make a difference in the world.

There are some interesting father-daughter dynamics throughout the story as her father finds himself in a difficult place: married to a younger woman, pregnant with his second child, and still grieving his beloved wife.  His depiction shows just how sticky and tricky life can be.  I wish the communication between father and daughter were stronger, but it reality, I'm sure this is fairly true to form.  In fact, I can only imagine it being worse.

The themes and messages are beautiful.  The growth and trials are real and raw.  Apron is a girl grown up too fast through the cruelty that life can offer.  What comes out clear is how through these experiences Apron is molded into a beautiful, compassionate, loving person.  She learns our experiences are not without lessons. 

For the sensitive reader:  A handful of swear words thrown in real life difficult experiences.  A portrayal of a gay couple and their struggle as one is dying from AIDS.  For many conservative parents, this may be a controversial read.  I recommend reading it first before handing it to your child if you have any reservations of someone teaching your child about gay or lesbian lifestyle.

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up:  A book on love, loss, paradox, prejudice, and same-sex issues from the perspective of a teenage girl.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems - William Shakespeare

Summary:  THE WORLD'S LEADING CENTER FOR SHAKESPEARE STUDIES

This edition includes: 

Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on the page facing each sonnet and poem A brief introduction to each sonnet and poem, providing insight and context Introductions to reading Shakespeare's language in the sonnets and in the poems Essays by leading Shakespeare scholars who provide modern perspectives on the sonnets and on the poems Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

Essays by Lynne Magnusson and Catherine Belsey

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visitwww.folger.edu. (Image and summary come from goodreads.com)

My Review:  April was National Poetry Month, and I couldn't think of a better challenge book than a collection from the Master Poet himself.  I challenged myself to just read the sonnets, and need to disclose that I didn't read the poems in this copy.  (My library didn't just have a collection of his sonnets.  They had Sonnets for Dummies, Shakespeare's Sonnets broken down into unrecognizable chunks, a plethora of books regarding his sonnets, but this was the only copy [The. ONLY. COPY.] in the system that had the sonnets  My word!)

I nearly majored in English in college, and I had a few phenomenal English teachers in high school that had us study a selection of the Sonnets piece by piece.  I loved them.  Shakespeare is unrivaled when it comes to putting words together into a melody - and immersing myself in the sonnets from that standpoint was so beautiful. He is truly the master of the English language, and a master wordsmith.

However.


I've only been exposed to the sonnets in small doses, never straight through as they were published.  This collection was so helpful in that there were essays detailing the speculations behind the sonnets, filling in some background, and a "translation" guide for words and phrases no longer used (or even decipherable without a clue) in the sonnets.    It was so helpful to have a guide to understand the meanings, but in a large dose, I found myself not enjoying the experience as much as I had hoped.  The sonnets in sequence, and read in large doses, show a poet who obsesses over his loves, clearly details joy, despair, anger, jealousy, obsession ... all emotions that coincide with affairs of the heart, but in such a large dose and in such lyrical perfection, it was a little much for me.  I almost felt like it elicited too much emotion!

I was reminded how much I loved reading Shakespeare, and there were a few sonnets that were unrecognized that I fell in love with.  My mom made a good point, though.  Sonnets are best read slowly, individually, and appreciated as such.  Plowing through them as I did lessened my pleasure of Shakespeare's genius.

My Rating:  Three stars.  Individually, there are some sonnets I'd give six stars to.  I'd also like to disclaim that the three star rating is my fault - I don't think I'll read his sonnets like that again.  Will I revisit the ones I love the most?  Absolutely!!


For the Sensitive Reader:  Some of Shakespeare's sonnets detail affairs, cheating, despair, grief, and were a little more racy than I had been previously exposed to.  If you want a list of my favorites, leave a comment and I'll compile one!

* * *
Whew!  April's nonfic/classic challenge is completed!  Onto May - again, suggestions in the comments are always welcome!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kingdom Keepers - Disney after Dark - Ridley Pearson


Summary:  In this fantastical novel, Disney's Magic Kingdom suddenly becomes a bit eerie. Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains. (Summary and image taken from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I was hesitant to start this series, and I really don’t know why.  Ridley Pearson is a great author, light, enchanting, but suspenseful enough to keep my interest piqued.  This novel didn’t disappoint.

I’m not a huge Disney aficionado ... I’ve only been to Disneyland once and Epcot once, so the whole geography of the park is a little foreign to me.  However, while I feared it would diminish the book, it didn’t.  Pearson described the park so well, my remedial knowledge was plenty sufficient.

This is a fun premise for a series as well.  We all know the Disney movies, but what if our wishes and love of them somehow brought them to life?  We all know there’s something magical about the Magic Kingdom, what if this is it?  Real magic?  And who wouldn’t want to run amok in the Happiest Place on Earth?

This was a very quick read.  I was able to finish it in an evening, and it was hard to put down when necessary.  Not only was this a book I could enjoy, it’s one I can pass to my kids without feeling apprehensive that they’ll either not enjoy it or that it’s too mature – something that in this house, is always a plus!

My Rating:  Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is no language or promiscuity; however, there are a few instances where it gets a little intense (but enough that a mature seven year old could handle it).  The only thing that gave me pause is that the girls in the book weren’t exactly modestly dressed.  More than once, Pearson mentions that three different characters wore shirts that exposed their stomachs – it’s a brief mention, but I found it unnecessary. 

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