Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seedfolks by Paul Fleishman

Seedfolks (Joanna Colter Books)
This book is a series of vignettes - 13 short stories told by a variety of people that all tell one tale - that of a once trashy empty lot turned into a community garden by people of all ages, races, nationalities and languages and how it turned the people themselves into a community.  This short book covers a lot of ground and many concepts.  I think it is as interesting to adults as it is to children.  It presents a diversity of people, ideas and concepts.  I enjoyed it and understand why it is read in school classes. I checked it out from the library because my son, who is in 6th grade, will read it in class later this year. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rashi's Daughters Book III: Rachel by Maggie Anton

Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France

This third book is about Rachel, Rashi's youngest daughter.  She is the most beautiful of his daughters and his favorite.  Her story has many unexpected twists and turns as her husband travels and other men are attracted to her beauty.  She becomes a successful business woman on her own. Once again, I appreciate the research that the author put into this book from the history of the region, to how wool was prepared to the rather gruesome description of the crusades.  I was a bit suprised at all of the superstition but I suppose that was a big part of the beliefs in that time period.  I enjoyed the endnote that included that most Jews of European descent may be descendants of Rashi.  My family traces back to France and other European countries so I could be included in that group. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rashi's Daughters, Book II: Miriam by Maggie Anton

Rashi's Daughters, Book II: Miriam

This second book follows Miriam, Rashi's second daughter.  Although it is fiction, the author seems to have done good research and it is rich in historical detail which I enjoyed very much.  Miriam's betrothed dies in a tragic accident and she marries Judah, who lusts after other men.  I could have done without those details.  However, it is still a good book and I enjoyed it very much.  I am now reading the third book.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Warlock (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) by Michael Scott

The Warlock (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel)

This is the 5th book in this series.  In these books, Sophie and Josh have learned that they are the "twins of legend" " spoken of in the prophesy "The two that are one must become the one that is all.  One to save the world, one to destroy it." Now that they know some magic and can use their powerful auras, they have been separated - Josh with Dee and Virginia Dare, and Sophie with the Flamels.  Which side is better, and which is worse?  Which twin is the one who will destroy the world, and which will save it?  And which world is referred to in the prohesy?  In this book they fight battles and travel in time along with immortals who include Billy the Kid and Shakespeare, Elders and others.  They fight monsters, ride in flying saucers and learn to use their magic even more. 
If you have not read the other books in this series, I highly recommend them.
I look forward to the last book which will be out next summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

A Mango-Shaped Space
13 year old Mia has a secret that she has kept from everyone ever since 3rd grade when she realized that everyone else did not see numbers and letters in colors and sounds in colors and shapes.  Now, in 8th grade, this is causing her problems in school and she finally tells her parents about it so she can get help with it and stop failing math and Spanish.  After seeing doctors they find out that what she has is called synesthesia and she learns ways to do better in school.  Along with the synesthesia, the plot of the book revolves around her cat named Mango - not because he is orange - he is a grey cat, but because the sound of his purrs and meows is mango colored to Mia. 
I really enjoyed this book and it brought me to tears at the end. 
Luckily, I read the end of the book with 5 kittens in my lap.
I have also read the book "11 Birthdays" by Wendy Mass and so did my 9 year old daughter and we both enjoyed it very much. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide, #1)

So, I managed to get through life up until now without ever having read these books.  I had heard of them, but just never knew anything about them and had not read them.  Now I will have to read the rest of the books.  This is a cute, imaginative story staring Arthur Dent, who has just found out that his house is about to be destroyed only to find out that the earth is about to be destroyed too, and so he goes hitchhiking through the universe with his friend Ford Prefect, who is really from a planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and is writing the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.  And so, in this rather bizarre and decidedly British book, we follow their trials, trevails and travels and learn the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything.  You probably know it.  My 12 year old son knew it the moment he saw the cover of the book even though he has not yet read it.  I give this book the appropriate thumbs up.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink, Ph.D

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

First of all, the title of this book bothers me.  Not the "Mindless Eating" part, but the "Why We Eat More Than We Think" part.  It should be stated "Why we eat more than we think we do" or Why we eat more than we think we eat" to be accurate, because as it is stated it could sound like we are thinking less than we are eating and I am pretty sure than unless we are goldfish or paramecium or something, we usually think a lot more than we eat. 
My husband said he would never have thought about the title that way though, so, perhaps it only bothers me.
The book "Mindless Eating" is about the psychology of food. It contains interesteing and fascinating research that shows that even the most informed and educated of us still tend to underestimate how much we eat when we eat larger portions.  Therefore we are better off using tall thin glasses and smaller plates.  We eat more when we eat with other people and when we are distracted and when we have more to grab right in front of us.  Most of us don't stop eating when we "feel full", but rather when we clean our plate or when the time is up.  If the name or description of a food sounds tastier/fancier, we believe it and it tastes better to us. 
The book identifies 5 types of overeaters - The Meal Stuffer, The Snack Grazer, The Party Binger, The Restaruant Indulger and The Desktop Diner (or Dashboard Diner).  The book gives suggestions for each type of overeating habit that cuts out calories in a way that we don't feel deprived, yet cuts enough calories to make a big difference in our caloric intake over time leading us to healthier leaner lives.
I learned a lot from this book and I highly recommend it to others.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not Afraid of Life: my journey so far by Bristol Palin with Nancy French

Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far
We all make mistakes when we are teenagers and often it seems to us like the whole world knows about our mistakes.  For Bristol Palin, the whole world did find out about her mistakes when her life was thrust into the spotlight when her mother, Sarah Palin, was announced as nominee for Vice President of the United States. 
Very quickly, everyone knew she was an unwed and pregnant teenager.
In this well-written, easy to read book, Bristol tells about growing up in Alaska, how her parent's careers affected her life, her son's father, Levi, and her experience being on Dancing With the Stars.
She makes Levi and his family out to be the bad guys and her family to be wonderful and the press to be horribly intrusive and I am sure that there is truth in all of that.
I found the book to be very interesting and I read it in one day. 
I think that Bristol seems like a spunky young mom who is getting her life together and doing her best to raise her son well.
I wish her luck in life. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Going Bovine

Camron is a 16 year old pot smoker who likes to listen to a Portuguese musician called the Great Tremolo who sings in an absurdly high voice. He is reading the book Don Quixote in his Spanglish class at school, and that forms a loose basis for the rest of this book.  When he begins seeing visions of wings and fire and has a seizure, they find out he is suffering from Mad Cow Disease.  In the hospital, he finds that he is roommates with Gonzo, a dwarf who he met in the pot smoker's bathroom at high school.  After being visited by a punk rocker angel named Dulcie, Camron and Gonzo leave the hospital and go on a road trip to find the mysterious Dr. X who has the cure to Camron's Mad Cow Disease and by finding him, they will also save the world.  From then on, Camron dreams about being in the hospital, but lives in his road trip with Gonzo as they go through many absurd adventures accompanied by a lawn gnome who is really Balder, the Son of Odin, a Norse God. 
This book is bizarre, nonsensical and philosophical all at the same time.  I enjoyed it and recommend it for high school age and up.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance by John Trent, Ph.D. and Gary Smalley

The Blessing

I got this book for free to review from Booksneeze.  I was excited to read it, but as soon as I began it, I knew I would have trouble getting through it.  It has taken me over a month to read this book, because I had a hard time getting into it and did not really enjoy reading it.  But, I needed to read it to review it, and I was hoping that I would get something out of it, so I would periodically pick it back up and read a bit more.
This revised and updated edition of the book has links to a website with some videos to watch that go with the book.  I watched the first one and part of the second one.
Although this is a "Christian" book, I see it more in the realm of self-help and psychology than that of religion.
The authors have a concept that they call "The Blessing" and they loosely base this concept on verses from the Bible that talk about people being blessed or blessing their children.
"The Blessing" as defined in this book is a way to bless others and make them feel valuable and give them a sense of worth.  We should bless our children and we often can bless others in our lives in this way.
"The Blessing" has 5 elements:
1.  Meaningful touch
2.  A spoken (or written) message
3. Attaching high value
4.  Picturing a special future
5.  An active commitment
To me, the book gets a bit too touchy/feel/self-help/psyschology like when it talks about "did you receive 'the blessing' from your parents?" and when it talkes about people who "did not receive 'the blessing' " in their lives so because of that they became over achievers or drug addicts or had some other problem because they did not "receive 'the blessing'".  That just seems like whiney excuse making to me.

Some of the psychology is very interesting, it is just not necessarily "Christian".  For instance, I was intrigued by the part about how meaningful touch affects our relationships and the studies that were done with a doctor who spent the same amount of time w/ his patients, but he touched some of them on the hand briefly and the others he did not touch and the ones he touched thought he had been with them longer than the untouched patients.  There were also other examples given where a brief touch made customers feel more positive about different people and experiences.  That part struck me because I had been substitute teaching and one thing I had noticed is that when I walk around the classrooms while the students are working and touch the students on the shoulder, they behave better.  Especially if a student is talking too much or doing something else they should not, I just quietly walk over and touch their shoulder and quietly say something to them about getting back on task and it is very effective. 

I thought that some of the Bible verses that were used did not really relate in the way that the authors said they did and felt that they were tossing in Bible verses to make this self-help/psychology book seem "Christian". 
I did find some parts of the book interesting and I learned some things from it.  For the most part though, reading it was a struggle for me.  If I had checked it out from the library, I would have returned it quickly unfinished.

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing

Raised in a dysfunctional Jehovah's Witness family, Kyria grew up believing that Jehovah's Witnesses was the one and only true religion and only they would survive Armageddon during which all non JW's would die, and then the JW's would live in The New System of Things, a perfect world populated only by JWs where they would play with tigers, the sun would always shine and life would be perfect and they could perhaps move into a nicer house that had been left behind by a non-JW. She believed that items bought from garage sales were demon posessed, birthday parties were evil, and she was afraid to eat pudding because it might be "blood pudding" and JWs were to "abstain from blood", including blood transfusions, which is why they carried a "No Blood" card in case they wound up in the hospital because it was much better to die and be roused in paradise than to sin by getting a blood transfusion and then die in Armageddon and never go to paradise.
Kyria is funny and tells about her childhood in a fun to read way, but once her story gets to her high school years, it is not so humerous even though she tries to make it sound that way.  She skipped a lot of school, was OCD, cut herself a lot, married a guy she did not care about just to get out of her house, became an alcoholic, did drugs, and eventually fell in with a group of poets and ran off with one of them to get away from her husband, get disfellowshipped from the JWs and go on with her life. That part of the story is very "R" rated and pitiful and just leaves you hoping that she finally got her act together. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Because life is too short to waste on boring books, I am giving up on this one and returning it to the library unfinished.  I got to page 92. This will not count on my list of books read since I didn't finish the whole book.  I got the book because I saw that it was popular, however I should know that does not always mean that I will think it is good, and a year of magical reading sounded interesting.  When I started reading it and saw that the author had a goal of reading a book a day for a year I was impressed!  I read a lot, but not a book a day. 
This book, however, is not as interesting as I thought it would be.
Nina really is a good writer and she writes with lovely descriptiveness and quite well. 
The reason she decided to read a book a day for a year was to do it as grief therapy for herself to help get over the death of her sister to cancer.  So, the book is mostly about Nina's life and memories of her sister. She talks about some of the books that she read some especially if it relates to her sister. It is much more about her and her life and her sister than it is about the books that she read.
And, um - yeah - that seems to be it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation

Eboo Patel is very smart and is a former Rhodes scholar.  He has doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford and is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, "an organization that unites young people of different religions to perform community service and explore their common values. "
He tells two stories in this book. 

He tells his own personal story, one of growing up Muslim in America, being bullied by other kids because he was brown and Muslim, and his rejection of and later return to the Muslim religion that he was raised in. 

The other story that he tells is how impressionable teenagers are brought into extremist youth groups because their religions have failed to engage them in positive ways.  He gives examples of Christian, Jewish and Hindu extremist groups as well as those that are Muslim.

Eboo's personal story is interesting and I learned more about the Muslim religion that I did not know.  He is an Ismaili Musilim, part of the Shia group that follows an Imam who is a supreme leader to them rather like the Pope is to the Catholics.  Their current Imam is known as the Aga Kahn.  Eboo's parents wanted him to learn service and charity to others and so they made him participate in a YMCA youth service group, which he feels helped to give him identity and kept him from possibly falling prey to extremist Muslim groups.

Eboo feels that extremist groups are more political than religious and that none of them really represent their religions as their religions are meant to be practiced.  He recognizes that extremist groups give huge amounts of money to create youth indoctrination groups, which certainly is true of the Muslim extremist groups. He tells about the school that Osama Bin Laden went to and decribes some of their teachings and methods.  He also gives examples of White Supremacy groups posing as Christian Youth educational groups and of a small Jewish extremist group in the 1960s.  He also tells of the Hindu extemist group called the National Volunteer Corps or RSS whose goal is "a pure Hindu nation" and while initally attracting youth w/ Hindu ideology, this group has been responsible for the murders of thousands of Muslims.

Eboo feels that the solution to extremist groups is to unite the youth of the various religions together to serve for a common purpose so that they will know and understand one another as similar human beings.  His group, the IFYC strives to do that. I think that is a nice idea.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Deuce lives in a post apocalyptic world underneath the streets of the city in an enclave where no one lives much past the age of 20.  She has never been topside and has been taught that it is uninhabitable and certain death.  She has trained her whole life - all 15 years - to be a huntress, to go out in the tunnels and collect animals from the traps for their meat, and to fight off the Freaks, semi-human beings with fangs and claws who eat carrion and anyone who is not one of them and each other when they are dying or dead.  When she gains the rank of huntress, she is partnered with Fade, a boy who is not from the enclave and who is rumored to have survived in the tunnels, but no one really knows his story.  Together they learn that the Freaks have changed and are now more intelligent and dangerous than they were before. 
Then they are exiled and go topside (you will have to read the book to find out why).  In this world where Fade came from, there are dangerouse gangs and Deuce and Fade decide to go north where his father had told him there was a better life outside of the city.  They fight a gang and add two gang members- Stalker (male) and Tegan (female) to their group and travel across the city and countryside fighting off the ever-present Freaks.  We see the beginning of a love triangle arise - and why not since that seems to be the most popular concept in YA fiction right now? 
The book is well written and has lots of action and I am sure it will go over well with young adults.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Seventh Tower Book 6: The Violet Keystone

The Violet Keystone (The Seventh Tower, Book 6)
Tal and Milla both grow in strength and power in their new roles and gain more control over their halves of the Violet Keystone.  Milla battles the shadows and Uncle Ebbitt helps her, Malen and some others to get to the Seventh Tower in his own unique way.  Tal and Crow also reach the Seventh Tower through more mundane and disgusting pathways.  Together, Tal and Milla and the Stormshadows fight the final battle against Sharrakor, the evil shadow who had inhabited Sushin and tried to take down the Veil.

Each of these 6 books is full of action and ends in a cliffhanger.  Together, they all tell one story.  I felt it could have all been done in fewer books.  I found the ending a bit lacking in substance as well, but still would recommend it as a fun series to read.  My son is reading them now and I may update my review with his reaction to the books as well later.

The Seventh Tower Book 5: Into Battle

Into Battle (The Seventh Tower, Book 5)
Milla leads the Icecarls as the enter the castle trying to take it over.  She is accompanied by Crone Malen, the youngest of the Crones, Odris, the former Storm Shepherd, who is her Spirit Shadow, and wears the Talon of Danir on one hand. Tal, and Adras, the other former Storm Shepherd go to Aenir the land of spirit and magic to tell the Empress what is going on and get her help.  They battle fierce beasts and find that the Empress is not what he thought she would be.  He learns that his Sunstone is half of the Violet Keystone and finds his mother in yet another cliffhanger ending.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Seventh Tower Book 4: Above The Veil by Garth Nix

Above the Veil (The Seventh Tower, Book 4)
In this story, Tal and Milla are fleeing from Sushin and his followers and while escaping, run into Crow and the Freefolk - Underfolk who wish to be free from their slave-like existence.  The Freefolk are less than friendly, but eventually, Tal and Milla survive and find Tal's Great Uncle Ebbitt with the Freefolk and Tal and Milla go their separate ways.  Tal and Crow attempt to find a way to rescue Tal's Father and the other missing sunstone Guardians and Milla goes back to the ice to warn the Crones about what is going on in the Castle.  Many more adventures ensue in this fast paced adventure.