Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On This, Your Third Birthday

Dear Girl Child,

I have no idea how you turned three years old today.  I could have sworn you were born just a few months ago and that we were still very far away from you getting any older.  

And now you're a sweet little person.

You love books (yay!), Team Umizoomi, and Mommy snuggles.  You love trains, balls, and running around the house.  You're not a big fan of hair bows and you HATE having your hair brushed.

But you do love cutting your own hair.
Silly beast.

Happy birthday, sweet girl.  I love you very much.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan

Barnes & Noble

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. 

Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters,
The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature.

My previous knowledge of the Dust Bowl was limited to the short-lived HBO series Carnivàle.

(I loved that show and am still irked that it was canceled.)

(Seriously.  After "I am the Omega" HBO thought they could just deny us more?)

(Yes, I am bitter.)

So I was excited to read Egan's book and learn more about that period of time, what caused it, and how people were able to recover.  I should have added "how people survived" to my original query.

Because WOW.  I'm still amazed that anybody made it out alive.  I just can't even imagine.  Can't. Even. Imagine.

Not only were the dust storms destructive, but they hit at the same time as the Great Depression.

This was a fantastic look into an era that most people have never studied.  I loved following the stories of the individuals portrayed by Egan; he did a wonderful job bringing them (back) to life.

From inhaling and coughing up dust, to shoveling out dirt and debris from their houses.

From eating thistle to survive, to the death of children.

To the utter destruction of a quarter of the United States.

Horrifying, my friends.  Absolutely horrifying.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

Barnes & Noble

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under--maybe for the last time. 

In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational--as accessible an experience as going to the movies. 

A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

Sylvia Plath knows all of my secrets.

I've suffered from depression since I was eight years old. I've been suicidal since the age of ten. And I've never understood why people care whether or not someone kills herself. Yes, I would be heartbroken if someone I loved committed suicide, but I would understand. Unlike most people who read Plath and wonder WHY, I get it. And she gets me. And I love that.

Did you know that The Bell Jar is actually quite a funny novel? Esther Greenwood is a quick-witted young woman who may have lost hope for the future, but hasn't lost her edge. I chuckled at the dark humor surrounding her suicide options: guns could be unpredictable; it was hard to find a place to hang herself; it took forever to build up a stash of pills; etc.

Despite the morbid theme and the knowledge of Path's own suicide, I was really happy with this book.  It's something I've been meaning to read for a long time, and it's likely something I will read again.

(And no, I'm not suicidal right now.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult

Barnes & Noble

Fourteen-year-old Trixie Stone is in love for the first time. She's also the light of her father, Daniel's life -- a straight-A student; a pretty, popular freshman in high school; a girl who's always seen her father as a hero. That is, until her world is turned upside down with a single act of violence. Suddenly everything Trixie has believed about her family -- and herself -- seems to be a lie. Could the boyfriend who once made Trixie wild with happiness have been the one to end her childhood forever? She says that he is, and that is all it takes to make Daniel, a seemingly mild-mannered comic book artist with a secret tumultuous past he has hidden even from his family, venture to hell and back to protect his daughter.

***Trigger warning: this review contains information about sexual assault that may be upsetting to survivors***

I love Jodi Picoult, but I don't always love her books. The Tenth Circle started out strong, so I was surprised that many of my friends gave it only one or two stars in their reviews.

There were a handful of small things that irked me.  Locks of Love, for example, does not make wigs for children with Cancer. They make them for children with Alopecia. It's a common misconception, and one that is easily verified on their website.  The fact that it's wrong in the book is just sloppy research.

But even so, it was still a good book.  I kept thinking that this was such an important book. In the wake of Steubenville and the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, we need authors who aren't afraid to write about (date) rape.  Who can portray how harrowing it is to return to some semblance of normal.  Who are honest about the pain that it causes for not only the survivor, but her friends and family.

And then I came to the end.  And I figured out why my friends didn't like it.

Spoilers after the jump.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lover At Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood #11), by J.R. Ward

Barnes & Noble

Qhuinn, son of no one, is used to being on his own. Disavowed from his bloodline, shunned by the aristocracy, he has finally found an identity as one of the most brutal fighters in the war against the Lessening Society. But his life is not complete. Even as the prospect of having a family of his own seems to be within reach, he is empty on the inside, his heart given to another....

Blay, after years of unrequited love, has moved on from his feelings for Qhuinn. And it’s about time: The male has found his perfect match in a Chosen female, and they are going to have a young—just as Qhuinn has always wanted for himself. It’s hard to see the new couple together, but building your life around a pipe dream is just a heartbreak waiting to happen. As he’s learned firsthand.

Fate seems to have taken these vampire soldiers in different directions... but as the battle over the race’s throne intensifies, and new players on the scene in Caldwell create mortal danger for the Brotherhood, Qhuinn finally learns the true definition of courage, and two hearts who are meant to be together... finally become one.

Lover At Last is definitely the most appropriate title for this book.  How long has it taken for Blay and Qhuinn to finally get together?  Too long, my friends.  Too long.

When they finally come (*snicker*) together, it's HOT.

The male took three strides forward, reached up . . . and kissed the ever-loving crap out of Blay.
My only complaint about their relationship?  Not enough lovin'.  Who cares about other story lines?  It should have been 591 pages of smexy times.  (Though I do admit to loving the Xcor-Layla 'ship.)

So why am I only giving the book 3.5 stars?  You know, besides the fact that Ward deigned to discuss other characters...  The end was so incredibly cheesy and overdone that it nearly ruined the whole book for me.  That part really should have been saved for the next book; it happened too fast to be true to the BDB world, no matter how long the two males were in love with each other.

I leave you with one more Qhuay image.  Sweet dreams!


Is it hot in here?

Waiting on Wednesday #1: Always Watching

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that highlights soon-to-be-published books.  This week's selection is...

Always Watching, by Chevy Stevens
Publication date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Barnes & Noble

She helps people put their demons to rest.

But she has a few of her own…

In the lockdown ward of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Nadine Lavoie is in her element. She has the tools to help people, and she has the desire—healing broken families is what she lives for. But Nadine doesn’t want to look too closely at her own past because there are whole chunks of her life that are black holes. It takes all her willpower to tamp down her recurrent claustrophobia, and her daughter, Lisa, is a runaway who has been on the streets for seven years.

When a distraught woman, Heather Simeon, is brought into the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit after a suicide attempt, Nadine gently coaxes her story out of her—and learns of some troubling parallels with her own life. Digging deeper, Nadine is forced to confront her traumatic childhood, and the damage that began when she and her brother were brought by their mother to a remote commune on Vancouver Island. What happened to Nadine? Why was their family destroyed? And why does the name Aaron Quinn, the group’s leader, bring complex feelings of terror to Nadine even today?

And then, the unthinkable happens, and Nadine realizes that danger is closer to home than she ever imagined. She has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most…and fight back.

Sometimes you can leave the past, but you can never escape.

What are you waiting on?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Open Letter to Candy Crush

Dear Candy Crush,

I was perfectly fine.  I was spending time with Boy and Girl Children.  I was reading.  I was completing projects at home that have been going on for months.

And then you came along.

You and your shiny, colorful, exploding candy.

You and your have-to-wait-30-minutes to get a new life unless you sell your childrens' souls (which one do you want?).

I love you.  And I hate you.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Barnes & Noble

Two Pulitzer Prize winners expose the most pervasive human rights violation of our era—the oppression of women in the developing world—and tell us what we can do about it.

An old Chinese proverb says “Women hold up half the sky.” Then why do the women of Africa and Asia persistently suffer human rights abuses? Continuing their focus on humanitarian issues, journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn take us to Africa and Asia, where many women live in profoundly dire circumstances—and some succeed against all odds.

A Cambodian teenager is sold into sex slavery; a formerly illiterate woman becomes a surgeon in Addis Ababa. An Ethiopian woman is left for dead after a difficult birth; a gang rape victim galvanizes the international community and creates schools in Pakistan. An Afghan wife is beaten by her husband and mother-in-law; a former Peace Corps volunteer founds an organization that educates and campaigns for women’s rights in Senegal.

Through their powerful true stories, the authors show that the key to progress lies in unleashing women’s potential, that change is possible, and that each of us can play a role in making it happen.

***Trigger warning: this review contains information about sexual assault that may be upsetting to survivors***

I finished this book a few days ago, and it's taking me longer than expected to gather all of my thoughts and feelings.

First and foremost: Holy. Smokes.

I thought I'd dealt with some pretty crappy events in my life, but nothing compares to what hundreds of millions of women endure: sex trafficking; forced prostitution; government-sanctioned gang rape; female genital mutilation; maternal health and mortality; and brutal attacks. All based on gender. All because they are women.

As horrifying as the stories and statistics show, there also some incredible sources of inspiration: Mukhtar Mai, the young Pakistani woman who was gang raped as a form of "honor revenge" on the orders of a tribal council. Rather than commit suicide, as was expected of her, she pressed charges. Though her life was in jeopardy and the courts were less than helpful, she carried on. Even when then-President Pervez Musharraf threatened her, took away her passport, and put her under house arrest, she continued to fight.

The book is filled with such stories. And my sensitive self cried during most of them.

The book also lists different ways that individuals can help! The first thing I did when I finished listening to the audiobook? I set up a Kiva account. I am now the proud lender of four differing projects in four areas of the developing world. I can't change the whole world, but I can help individuals improve their own lives.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Barnes & Noble

What happens when happily ever after…isn’t?

Delilah is a bit of a loner who prefers spending her time in the school library with her head in a book—one book in particular.
Between the Lines may be a fairy tale, but it feels real. Prince Oliver is brave, adventurous, and loving. He really speaks to Delilah.

And then one day Oliver actually speaks to her. Turns out, Oliver is more than a one-dimensional storybook prince. He’s a restless teen who feels trapped by his literary existence and hates that his entire life is predetermined. He’s sure there’s more for him out there in the real world, and Delilah might just be his key to freedom.

Delilah and Oliver work together to attempt to get Oliver out of his book, a challenging task that forces them to examine their perceptions of fate, the world, and their places in it. And as their attraction to each other grows along the way, a romance blossoms that is anything but a fairy tale.

What I liked about this book:
  1. The premise: a character in a novel who is real? Score! It's not something I've seen before, so I was immediately intrigued. 
  2. The author: I love Jodi Picoult. I think it's fantastic that her daughter is following in her footsteps.
  3. The audio: all three of the voice artists embodied their characters. Whomever did the casting picked the right people.
  4. The ending: totally cracked me up! Definitely the funniest part of the story.

What I didn't like:

  1. It felt like the story dragged on until approximately 80% of the way through. I don't know if it's just because the pacing in the audiobook was a bit slower than I'm used to, but I wanted to cut out about an hour of listening time. It felt much longer than the seven CDs. This was enough of an annoyance that I knocked a whole star off of this review.

I usually listen to Jodi Picoult's novels, but I will likely read the print versions of anything that she and her daughter publish in the future. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

Barnes & Noble

January 24th - After you've had it, there isn't even life without drugs...

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life. 

Read her diary.   
Enter her world.
You will never forget her.

For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.

I knew going in that "Anonymous" didn't actually write the diary entries; that Beatrice Sparks misrepresented herself and the book's origin.  So I read it as a fictional novel.

There is NO way that a teenager speaks this way.  Even if I hadn't known that this wasn't a true story, that would have been a dead giveaway.

Maybe it was controversial and shocking for its time, but there are much better books published now.  If you want to read a compelling novel about drug abuse, try Ellen Hopkins' Crank trilogy, a fictionalized account of her daughter's experience.

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), by Kody Keplinger

Barnes & Noble

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. 

In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him. 

Until it all goes horribly awry. 

It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Jennie from Life is Short. Read Fast. and I just completed a Buddy Read of The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend.  Originally, I was going to give this book four stars, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. So five stars it is!

Wow, you guys. I am in so much love with this book.

To start, I wish that I'd had a high-school-age nightclub in my town when I was a student. What a fantastic idea! It seems so much safer than house parties. Remind me to figure out how to start this up when my kids are older. And yeah, I giggled at the name of the club: The Nest. Fitting, since that's where my book forum resides.
The awesome Ellen Page as Bianca

Bianca Piper is your average high school student: two best friends; a fantastically snarky personality; good grades; and a massive crush on a cute boy (but it's not who you think!).  She has a crappy car, and a ton of sh*t going on at home, and desperately needs an escape.  That escape comes in the form of Wesley Rush.

Wesley is your typical high school manwhore: a long list of conquests; smoking hot body; a cocky attitude; and a fantastic kisser (among other things!). He's also a complete and total douchecanoe.

At 40% in to the book, I wondered how on earth Keplinger was going to transform Wesley -- someone I hated from the very start -- into the "hero" of the story.  I was very impressed with how she wrote him without completely changing his personality or making him ashamed of his past. 

The same can be said for Bianca: over the few weeks that the two of them were sleeping together, she subtly grew up.  There were "aha" moments, but it wasn't like the huge revelations you see in most YA novels.  An amazing feat for a book that is only 300 pages long!

As an adult, I was slightly uncomfortable with teenagers having sex.  Yes, I know it happens; it always has and always will.  But as a mother of two young kids, it petrifies me that they will one day become sexual beings.

:: shudder ::

Hypocrite that I am, I confess that the smexy times between Bianca and Wesley did get me all hot and bothered.

I am adding Kody Keplinger to my growing list of favorite authors.  I have just placed A Midsummer's Nightmare on hold at my local library.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Prisoner B-3087, by Alan Gratz

Barnes & Noble

Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It's something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story.

I feel awful rating a person's memoirs so low, but not as bad as I'd feel if Jack Gruener -- the protagonist -- had written it himself.  Especially since this is actually historical fiction, NOT what happened to him.

The book reads like an oral retelling of events: this happened, then this, then the next thing. While that works for a speech, it doesn't come across well as written text. I'm usually an emotional basketcase when reading accounts from WWII, but I only teared up once during this book. Were I listening to Mr. Gruener personally recount his years in the concentration camps, I'm sure I'd be a blubbering mess.

I'm glad that I read this book; I just wish it had evoked some stirring of emotion other than "eh."

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Awkward, by Marni Bates

Barnes & Noble

I'm Mackenzie Wellesley, and I've spent my life avoiding the spotlight. But that was four million hits ago...

Blame it on that grade school ballet recital, when I tripped and pulled the curtain down, only to reveal my father kissing my dance instructor. At Smith High, I'm doing a pretty good job of being the awkward freshman people only notice when they need help with homework. Until I send a burly football player flying with my massive backpack, and make a disastrous--not to mention unwelcome--attempt at CPR. Just when I think it's time for home schooling, the whole fiasco explodes on Youtube. And then the strangest thing happens. Suddenly, I'm the latest sensation, sucked into a whirlwind of rock stars, paparazzi, and free designer clothes. I even catch the eye of the most popular guy at school. That's when life gets really interesting...

So cute!

I've been in a total reading slump the past few days and stumbled upon this book on my Kindle.  I don't remember getting it (and it wasn't on my TBR), but I figured that I'd give it a shot.  Since nothing was interesting me, I wouldn't be let down by reading a book on my "I can't wait to read this!" list.

This was an excellent find!  Mackenzie is adorkable and totally someone I would have been friends with in high school.  It's fun watching what she does when she becomes famous after an embarrassing encounter is uploaded to youtube.

This was a really fun book that I read in a few short hours.  It's a good choice if you're looking for a light YA read.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013