Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cinder - Marissa Meyer

Summary:  Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time...

Humans and Androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing.  A deadly plague ravages the population.  From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move.  No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl...

Sixteen-year-old Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.  She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past and is reviled by her step-mother.  But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.  Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future.  Because there is something unusual about Cinder, something that others would kill for.  (Summary from back of the book and image from www.goodreads.com)

My Review:  I needed this book right now.  I've been reading so much nonfiction for work and somehow also for leisure that my mind was craving something fun, fast, and easy.  This hit the spot.

Cinder plays on the Cinderella story, weaving all the components in, with a twist.  Actually, many twists.  I loved seeing how Meyer managed to pull in all the different aspects of the story, but it was still very fresh.  I'd read, previous to reading Cinder, that people figured out the twist in the story early on.  That's a fair statement.  Within 50 pages I too had predicted the twist.  But, that didn't ruin the story for me.  There are enough other fun surprises that knowing the big twist just prodded me to confirm my hypothesis.  Including the updates of technology, mixed with some futuristic ideas, it really made the idea of how life could possibly be in the future seem real.  There was just enough reality mixed with the traditional tale, combined with new ideas that created a satisfying read.

I truly enjoyed seeing Cinder as a character with more attitude as well--a female who was smart, capable, hard-working (duh), and at the same time selfless.  To me it was an empowering portrayal for females while at the same time discussing the topic of sacrifice for the greater good.  Prince Kai was also a solid pairing for Cinder--sometimes a love interest can be far too shallow.  Both displayed strength, intelligence, and depth, but Meyer didn't break away from the reality that they are both teenagers with tempers and emotions.

Another aspect of the book that was enjoyable were all the Asian nuances and details.  It felt very modern, but kept some of the old traditional symbolism and cultural pieces Asian cultures are sometimes known for.  I loved how it displayed the collectedness, the refinement so beautifully.

This is the first book of the series, so don't get your hopes up for a solid resolution to the problems developed in Cinder.  But, it does leave you wanting more and I'm definitely looking forward to reading book #2!

I would recommend this to my students for sure!

For the sensitive reader:  From what I can remember--I read it so fast it's become a blur--there was only one swear word used twice in quick succession--biblical at that and some people don't even bat an eye to it.

Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up: A futuristic twist on the Cinderella story.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain

Summary:  The book that started the quiet revolution.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams.  It is to introverts--Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak--that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so.  She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture.  She also introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions.  Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.  (Summary from back of the book and image from www.amazon.com)

My Review:  I LOVED this book--wrote in the margins, took my time to really digest it, have been talking about it for days, LOVED this book.  I think my husband is sick of me.

I'm from a family of introverts.  While that may seem like the logical reason I liked the book, it's not.  I had never viewed myself as an introvert.  I felt I was the black sheep of the family, the gregarious one, the talker.  And I guess if you compare me to my parents or siblings, I am.  But, that's not saying much really.  What I didn't understand was the concept of anxious introverts, anxious extroverts, confident introverts, and confident extroverts.  In my mind, only two of those categories existed: anxious introverts and confident extroverts.  I always figured I was some sort of extrovert because I am not typically anxious.  And now I know: I am a confident introvert.  So much of my life makes sense now.  So many of my reactions, decisions, disposition as a child and adult, even a baby make sense now.  What's better, I understand my children now.  Truly, this book has made that big of a difference in my life.  I have a child who is an anxious introvert, and a child who is an anxious extrovert.  I couldn't understand my anxious extrovert because, while I understood anxious introverts from my family growing up, I had never been intimately exposed to one.  Now I understand why she needs constant stimulation (playdates, activities, lessons, things to look forward to, etc.).  

I also understand my husband better.  The last part of the book gives examples of couples who are opposites (introvert/extrovert).  It helped me understand how my husband thinks, why he does things the way he does, and how he responds to life. For the longest time I simply couldn't understand why people make certain decisions--because what they did was so illogical.  Now I know the motivating factors in making decisions are different for introverts and extroverts--introverts is fear and extroverts is rewards.  I can now relate better to my husband and child with the decisions they make.  The logic is finally clear!  And (now that I understand) I am much better at communicating and relating to both of them.  For the longest time I just figured they weren't logical thinkers. 

Some of my favorite chapters were on stimulation.  This was the part of the book that made it clear whether I was an introvert or extrovert.  Early in the book how you are rejuvenated is explained and how that defines you.  One of my favorite quotes is: "Over-arousal [re: stimulation] doesn't produce anxiety so much as the sense that you can't think straight--that you've had enough and would like to go home now.  Under-arousal is something like cabin fever.  Not enough is happening; you feel itchy, restless, and sluggish, like you need to get out of the house already." (pg. 123)  Reading this helped me understand how my daughter and husband see the world and why my daughter is bouncing off the walls when we stay home and my husband simply cannot travel enough.  The first part of the quote explains why in certain situations I simply shut down and stop functioning--I never understood why I did this until now.  Cain goes further explaining how stimulant sensitive introverts notice everything, take everything in.  When this occurs they hit over-load need to retreat from it all--I've been there many times.  I may be confident, not scared to present information in front of large groups of people (if I'm able to prepare and know my subject matter well enough), but when it's over I'm drained and just want to be alone--running, reading, writing, or simply sitting and thinking.

Everything just makes so much more sense!  If you can't tell, I'm sold on this book.  Read it.  Read it to understand yourself, your partner, your child, your co-workers, whomever you need to understand.  I only wish I had read it sooner!

Rating: 5 stars--I don't give 5 stars often, so in my mind it's really that good

Sum it up:  Do you want to understand yourself and others better?  Read this book!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So Much Time, So Little Change - Thomas L. Sullivan

Summary: Life is full of strange and awkward events seemingly designed to annoy us. To Thomas Sullivan, these trials and tribulations are actually meant to entertain us. Within these pages you’ll encounter a guy who finds humor in:

•Searching for a cozy, old-school barber in a gentrifying neighborhood, but landing at a frantic corporate salon that smells like a meth lab.

•Running late for a flight, only to find himself on The Terrorist Watch List.

•Watching The People's Court with a stranger in the world’s gloomiest bar.

•Surviving condemnation from the hard-working folks at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

•Fixing up a house when he knows nothing about home improvement.

•And much, much more wonderful absurdity.

Disclaimer:  I was provided a free copy for my honest review.

My Review:  Sullivan has such an easy, engaging writing style!  By the first few stories, I was convinced that the adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" was certainly apt, because, seriously?!  That cover would have seriously dissuaded me from picking this book up!

So Much Time, So Little Change is a collection of short stories chronicling some of Sullivan's experiences.  Often, he's able to find the humor in the mundane, although sometimes that humor wasn't evident to me.   Sullivan's anecdotes are sometimes hit and miss, some being delightful, some sweet, others, unfortunately, making me uncomfortable.  I quite enjoyed the easy pace of the book and found it a nice escape book.

My Rating:  Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Okay, to start, the monkey isn't REALLY being obscene.  Look more closely, it's definitely a shock factor cover!  There were a few anecdotes that had one or two f-words, some that dealt with inappropriate topics, but some were delightful.  Proceed with caution.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian - Josh Hanagarne

An inspiring story of how a Mormon kid with Tourette’s found salvation in books and weight-lifting

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when—while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints—his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability— and navigate his wavering Mormon faith—to find love and create a life worth living.  (Image and summary taken from goodreads.com.)

I was provided a free copy of this book for review.  All opinions are my own.

My Review:  A Salt Lake City Mormon who loves books, weights, and copes with Tourette’s?  I was hooked before I had even received the book!  Josh Hanagarne’s writing style is casual, but the turmoil he feels dealing with his diagnosis and life with Tourette Syndrome is real.  He makes it a personal battle, one that you immediately empathize with.  His constant companion, he nicknames the syndrome Misty, pushes him to challenge himself physically, as he recognizes that challenges hold his tics at bay.

One of my most favorite parts of the book was the obvious and deep love that Josh feels for his parents, his family, and his family-in-law.  He is surrounded by loving, supportive, caring individuals – people who he describes with such joy that I found myself wanting to crawl through the book and join their gatherings.

Another fun aspect of the book is the title heading method Hanagarne employs.  He uses the Dewey Decimal system to categorize what the chapter entails.  As a library geek, I loved it!

My Rating:  Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader:  There were many more f words than I would have expected – six or seven in total.  There are also a few instances of crass language. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, Natalie!


Join us in wishing our resident chef/reviewer Natalie a happy, happy birthday!  Hope your family is cooking you up something special - perhaps some new books?


Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Favorite Reads (& Listens) of Summer 2013

My book reviews may be far and few between yet I have just been devouring books this summer. Below are a few of my favorites from this summer. All of which really deserve a grand lyrical reviews but since this is our summer break all you'll get is a sentence or two. I will spare you the summaries but the titles all link back to IndieBound where you can read more if you wish.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

This one is primarily historic fiction yet contains a touch of fantasy. There is just enough mystery to lure the reader into some late night page turning. I love the protagonist, who is both strong and independent and yet vulnerable. I actually just recommended this to a teen patron who has read through our YA shelves two days ago and she was back today requesting more works by Kearsley. It really is that good!


Upstairs & Downstairs by Sarah Warwick

If you are a fan of Downton Abby, as I am, this is a must read. The title provides deeper insight into affluent households of the early 1900's and those working for them. Loaded with fabulous photographs and illustrations this book covers every last detail. Pure fun!


Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

I adored the first part of this trilogy, Under the Never Sky. Therefore it comes as no surprise that this was one of my favorite summer reads. Many times in a trilogy the second book is the weakest. This doesn't seem to be the case here. Being familiar with the characters and the setting helps but Rossi also has done a tremendous job of incorporating unanticipated conflict throughout this title. I can't wait for the next one!


Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I read this one with my daughter, age 8, this summer and we were both, well, enchanted! The magical world created in this book is captivating and Ella's character, complete with plenty of flaws, is both likable and easy to relate to. I love that various pieces of common fairy tales that are used throughout. This one is truly magical.


The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

In Walls fashion this tale is both complex and yet easily accessible. The fictitious characters inside these pages suffer from the type of neglect we first encountered in The Glass Castle. Yet they do not demand sympathy but admiration as they fight against the odds to make lives worth living. Caution this title demands to be read in just a few sittings! This one would do quite well with YA fans.








Audiobooks

We also took two looooooooong road trips this year. Nothing makes those miles pass quicker than a good audiobook. Here are a couple I highly recommend.

Why We Broke Up by David Handler

This is a long farewell letter written by a teenage girl to her first love. The letter centers around a box of mementos that she is returning to her ex and each memento has it's own story. It will make you recall those teenage relationships when everything felt so vital. It is at once heart-wrenching and hilarious. In the end it is really a cautionary tale of deciphering love and lust.A more perfect narrator could not have been chosen. I liked it so much I had to also check out the physical book which will not disappoint as it contains wonderful illustrations of all the items placed inside the box. P.S. You may know David Handler better by his pen name Lemony Snicket!


Hilarious! Both the kids and the adults in the car were laughing out-loud at Scieszka's account of his childhood. Growing up in a household of four boys there are sure to be some great stories to tell, several of which Scieszka shares in this two hour audiobook.

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

In typical Flinn style this is a modern day fairy tale. The story encompasses several fairly tales such as The Princess and the Frog and The Elves and the Shoemaker. Full of magic, the story contains plenty of humorous moments and opportunities of anticipation.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century - Peter Graham

Summary: On June 22, 1954, in the depth of a southern winter, teenage friends Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a park with Pauline's mother. Half an hour later the girls returned alone. Honorah Parker lay in a sea of blood on a lonely track. She had been savagely murdered.

In this mesmerising book, lawyer and true crime writer Peter Graham tells the whole story for the first time, giving a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial, dramatic revelations about the fate of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker after their release from prison and their strange lives today, and a penetrating insight into the crime using modern psychology.
Summary and cover art from Goodreads.com, book provided free for review

My Review: Where have I been? I had no idea that bestselling novelist Anne Perry, aka Juliet Hulme, was convicted of murder in New Zealand in the 1950's. One cold winter day Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker convinced Pauline's mother, Honora, to take a walk with them in a remote park. It was on this walk that the two teenage girls bludgeoned Honora to death with a brick carefully wrapped in a stocking. Peter Graham carefully details this horrific murder and the events leading up it in Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.

While the subject matter is difficult to read, Graham does a terrific job of remaining unbiased as he unravels the mystery surrounding this murder. A great deal of information on the background of both girls is provided leading up to their peculiar relationship. Many of Pauline's insane journal entries are also included, allowing the reader a more intimate view of Pauline's mental state at the time. There is no doubt that this story has been greatly researched. Some of the information is overload and weighs down the story, but for the most part the book flows nicely. If only one could forget that this is a true story it would be a great read. Knowing these events actually took place left me a little queasy.

Admittedly I have never read an Anne Perry novel. Armed with her background information I am now curious just how much of her past experience makes its way into her mystery stories. If you have read them let me know because I have a feeling I won't be able to stomach her writing after this read.

My Rating: 3 Stars

To Sum it up: Well-written yet difficult to read, this story provides deeper insight into Anne Perry.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Austrian Desserts - Toni Moerwald and Christoph Wagner

Summary: For Austrians, dessert is the culmination of any meal -- the crowning achievement that can transform a culinary experience from dull to extravagant.  In this beautifully photographed cookbook, Austrian pastry master Toni Moerwald and award-winning restaurant critic Christoph Wagner share the secrets to crafting over five hundred perfect Austrian desserts. From Old World traditional dishes such as linzer torte and apfelstrudel, to contemporary and diet-conscious recipes, Austrian Desserts has it all.

Sprinkled between these delicious recipes are tips and tricks from a sweet kitchen connoisseur, suggestions for health-conscious substitutions, and notes on the traditional origins of numerous Austrian dishes. Book given free for review. Summary from book, image from Skyhorse Publishing.

My Review: After spending over a year in Austria as a representative for the LDS Church (as did Elizabeth!), Austria, and all things Austrian are dear to my heart. When I was asked to review this book, I almost fell out of my chair. Those little pastry shops on every corner in Vienna made me a very happy, albeit larger, girl.

The photos in this book are beautiful, and I was impressed at the variety of recipes and baking tips. There are over 500 recipes in this book. There better be variety.

Surprisingly, I had a hard time finding something to whip up as I searched through this book. Many of the recipes either had ingredients I can't get in the US, lots of booze (which I don't use), or required a lot of time. I'm a busy mom of three, and I can't spend hours in the kitchen making desserts. Or anything, really. I did find a simple recipe for Strawberry Pudding Soufflés that seemed manageable.

I had never made soufflés before, and the lack of details in the recipe didn't help any. I had no idea what the texture of the batter should be like, the size of ramekins to bake them in, or visual cues to tell when they're baked through. It was slightly annoying, and if it hadn't been for Google, it may have been really annoying. Luckily they turned out to be sweet, strawberry-flavored clouds, and we all loved them. You can find the recipe over on my recipe blog if you like: Strawberry Pudding Soufflés.

I think this book appeals to me because of nostalgia. I may return to this book if I'm feeling adventurous or need a unique dinner party dessert, but it's not a "my kid needs a birthday cake" or "I should take cookies to my neighbors" kind of cookbook.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Sum it up: Traditional and modern Austrian dessert recipes for the adventurous baker or nostalgic Austrophile.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer Blockbusters for the Literary Mind

Move over, Hollywood, today we're talking book Blockbusters!

Don't get me wrong, I love a good summer blockbuster.  But more than that, I love good summer books I can stash in my bag and lose myself in during the hot summer days.

Here are a few of my summer "Blockbusters" (Disclaimer:  Some of these I've read.  Some I plan on reading.  Some may turn out to be terrible .... or they could become new favorites!)

Admittedly, I didn't love Dan Brown's third installment, but I'm excited to get back to Europe with Professor Langdon and see what else Brown has cooked up!

Have you read Legend?  Why not!?  Get it!  Marie Lu has created an eerily fascinating and realistic future dystopia on the West Coast with a "villain" you can't help but develop a huge crush on!

My first exposure to Warm Bodies was a preview at another film (and I fully reserve the right to keep that film secreted away in the recesses of my guilty pleasures box!).  I didn't know it was based on a book until I watched the commentaries after the DVD, and I knew I had to check it out!

This woman!  She is so inappropriate, the language is truly terrible, but nearly every book I read of hers I laugh so hard I snort!  She's also the authoress of my favorite tweet ever.

In a departure from Carol's typical fare, she tells the story of her daughter Carrie and their battle to overcome the addictions that tore their family apart.  Sadly, Carrie succumbed to cancer when she was 37, and the second part of the book contains a short story she was working on during her last months.  

I have some others on my stack as well -- but I want to hear from you!  What am I missing?!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Doctor - a SciFi icon or Book Champion?

I had a discussion a few months ago that shook me to my core.  The gist was that our grandchildren won't know what books are ... that they're as archaic as camera film.  It surprised me, shocked me, sickened me a bit, and saddened me.  (And I could go on, but I think I ran out of "s" emotions!)  Not surprisingly, this article cheered me quite a bit.

You see, if I'm not reading and seeking entertainment, I'm a total nerd.  Really, it's astounding.  My husband loves that his seemingly normal wife would faint upon meeting Sir Patrick Stewart, and while he doesn't share all of my sci-fi viewing pleasures, some he'll suffer through.  Some, like Doctor Who, he actually enjoys!   So, when Book Riot published the article "Seven Reasons Why Doctor Who is a Literary Hero", I knew I had to indulge.

Dubious?  Here's one of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who:

“You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. 
This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!”

Want to check out the rest of the article?  Really, you know you do ...

Find it here.  And please, tell me.  Who is your unexpected literary hero?   

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