Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Spirit House by Mark Dapin

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Title: Spirit House
Author: Mark Dapin
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Paperback: 368 pages
Expected Publication Date: 1 Aug 2013
Summary: (taken from The Book Depository)
David is thirteen and confused. His mum has gone off with her lover and sent David to his grandparents to give her new relationship some 'space'. David's grandfather, Jimmy - a Jewish war veteran and survivor of the enforced labour on the Thai-Burma railway - is seventy. Haunted by the ghosts of long-dead comrades, the only person he can confide in is a thirteen-year-old from a different world. Funny, wise and deeply moving, Spirit House is a remarkable story of war and the fall of Singapore, of the bonds of friendship and the bonds of grief, and of a young boy making sense of growing up while old men try to live with their past.

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

While beautifully written and an inherently interesting, moving subject, I think that Spirit House could have been organized more effectively. First, David is supposedly the main character of the novel, but we don't get to spend much time with him. Instead, we have a brief page or two that sums up his thoughts about his current situation of living at his grandparents' home while his parents are figuring themselves off, and then we're back to Jimmy's story about the war. So, don't let the summary confuse you. Despite the fact that David is the "main character" and that this novel is supposed to be about his journey into adulthood, this is really a book about Jimmy.

Now, don't get me wrong, Jimmy's story is great. It's interesting, the dialogue is witty, and the characters are memorable. (The biggest strength of this book is characterization.) Spirit House gives a lot of food for thought. It's full of great ideas that we should think about and discuss. However, the format just didn't cut it for me. I think Jimmy should have been the main character. David's story doesn't add much of interest and not a lot of time is even spent on him. Jimmy, on the other hand, spends most of the novel narrating his story about being a POW in Singapore.

I also prefer novels to be more exposition than dialogue, and that just wasn't the case in this story. It may seem like a small detail, but format is everything to me. Scripts and comics are made for dialogue-heavy storytelling, not novels.

Despite that, the characters are excellent; getting to read about them and learn about them was a pleasure. I especially enjoyed reading about Townsville Jack; he is by far my favorite character of this novel. The story itself is interesting, though it's hard not to get frustrated about the format through which it's introduced. Overall, I think those who simply like a good story will enjoy this novel. For those who are like me and get caught up in format and writing style, you may have some problems with keeping yourself in the story.

*Thank you to The Book Depository for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: The Start of Everything by Emily Winslow

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Title: The Start of Everything
Author: Emily Winslow
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Expected Publication Date: 24 Jun 2013
Summary: (taken from The Book Depository)
Outside the city of Cambridge, the badly decomposed body of a teenage girl is found washed up in the flooded fens. Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner Morris Keene are called in to establish the identity of the victim. They must work quickly to solve the mystery of her death before the press pounces on the salacious story. 
Meanwhile, Mathilde Oliver, the autistic daughter of a Cambridge don, is attempting to trace the writer of a series of letters addressed to 'Katja', a student at Corpus Christi College who doesn't seem to exist. Across the hallowed paths and storied squares of Cambridge University, Frohmann and Keene follow a sparse trail of clues. The nameless body and obscure letters eventually lead them to Deeping House, an imposing country manor. Here they begin to unravel a web of passions and secrets, of long-buried crimes and fresh horrors ...

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Start of Everything begins when the body of a teenage girl is found washed up in the fens. Told from multiple perspectives, the novel follows the two detectives, Chloe and her partner Morris, as they track down the identity of the girl and the person who killed her. Interwoven are stories and flashbacks from people who become involved in the murder, or who were involved in the murder when it took place.

My favorite thing about this book is that it's a smart, complicated mystery that makes you think and takes time to sift through. All too often, mysteries are dumbed down or only about the romance or the drama while the mystery takes place on the side. In The Start of Everything, we get interesting, complex characters and the mystery really takes center-stage. I'm a fan of stories that take the time to show multiple viewpoints within multiple timelines, so for me, this was perfect; however, I can see people getting confused as they adjust to this sort of storytelling.

With all these different viewpoints, Emily Winslow covers a lot of big topics and does it well -- this is a book that makes you think, and I love that. Whether it be the difficulties of living with autism, what it's like to be a woman in a job dominated by men, what it's like to come back after injury in a high-risk job, sibling rivalry, family dynamics, etc. I came into this book thinking it'd be a fun mystery, but I loved how Winslow surprised me by delving into really serious, deep issues. Kudos to her.

The characters are all fantastic. I have to say, Mathilde is my favorite and I'm sad I didn't get to see more from her perspective, but I think Winslow did an excellent job in showing how she experiences the world differently from most people.

However, the ending just didn't really cut it for me. While the mystery gets solved, I still didn't get a good feeling of resolution. Some people like that, but there were a couple of loose ends I was hoping to see a conclusion for. Also, the book is separated into parts and the way the story moves through these parts is a bit jarring. I didn't mind the multiple perspectives, but the timeline was a bit strange to follow and took some getting used to. Again, this isn't a terrible thing, but it did take me out of the story a little bit.

Despite that, there is so much to love about The Start of Everything. The writing is beautiful, funny, and smart, and the mystery itself is just fantastic.

*Thank you to The Book Depository for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest review.*

Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: The Seers - New World Order by M. D. Kaczkowski

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Title: The Seers: New World Order
Author: M.D. Kaczkowski
Publisher: Scilestial Fiction Press
Paperback: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Welcome to a new world where science and spirituality are not separate, but coexist on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Creator M. D. Kaczkowski sheds light on the unseen laws of the universe with a fantastical, page-turning thriller. The Seers introduces a world where good battles evil for the world’s soul. The fate of humanity rests in the hands of the Seers, a handful of humans with the rare ability to see the unseen, who call their Angels into action to do battle with Demons. This captivating, fast-paced story blends two classic genres: part apocalypse and part detective story. Through the characters’ lives, readers are introduced to the prophets of humanity, known as the Seers. Between chapters, Dr. John Alderson, a well-traveled Seer-physician, shares his inside knowledge and encourages readers to delve deeper by guiding them to sections in The Seers’ Handbook, which makes up the final third of the book. Welcome to the universe of The Seers. Your journey has only just begun.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Oh my goodness, this book is great. The writing is outstanding, the storyline is amazing and this book does what no other book has ever done: takes the reader into a different realm. The author, M. D. Kaczkowski, has set the stage for a new dimension of writing that will keep even novice readers entertained.

Kaczkowski uses interactive technology, which spans the barrier between the written word and multimedia to bring an incredible story to life. At the end of each chapter are QR codes. By using your smartphone, you are able to access more information and links that give detailed information, movie clips, music and pictures to enhance the story.

The plot is a creative masterpiece! Bringing spirituality and science to the same level, Kaczkowski shows readers a provocative storyline in the battle of good vs. evil. The main character, Detective John Scarcepho, has long suppressed his ability to see the unseen. Once assigned to a murder case, that looks to be the work of a serial killer, Scarcepho will have to learn that the spirits, he thought were demonic nightmares are fighting for control of the universe. Only a few people known as Seers have the ability to see them.

When I first started reading the book, I wasn’t fond of the QR codes, because I didn’t want to leave the book and focus on the multimedia portion. But as I got further along in the storyline, I decided to check them out. I was surprised at the enormous amount of details that were offered. After I watched the clip of New York in the 50’s, I was hooked. There are times when it’s not convenient to utilize the media information but it does NOT take away from the storyline at all, in fact, it adds a lot to it.

 When I finished the book, I spent a lot of time going back over the multimedia information which again is utterly amazing and a lot of fun to look at. M.D. Kaczkowski brings book reading to a higher level of enjoyment. I can’t wait to read the next installment.

*I received The Seers by M.D. Kaczkowski compliments of Media Connect for my honest review.*

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Translator: Reg Keeland
Publisher: Knopf
Series: Millennium, Book 1
Hardcover: 465 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there's always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo. 
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I admit it, I watched the movie before I read the book. (The Swedish version, NOT the American version. The Swedish version is perfectly good and I don't understand why Hollywood decided they needed to make their own.) Because of that, I actually put off reading the novel for awhile -- I didn't think I would be as captivated as I was with the movie, since I already knew what was going on with the mystery Blomkvist is supposed to solve. But, I felt bad not reading the book first, so I gave it a try and I still really enjoyed it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist who has been convicted of libel. But, because he's such a thorough researcher, a rich man named Vanger hires him to investigate the disappearance of Vanger's niece, Harriet -- a case that's nearly 4 decades old. He ends up meeting an investigator named Lisbeth Salander, a computer genius with some serious issues. Enlisting her help, the two find that it's sometimes dangerous to dig around in cold cases.

My favorite aspect of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the characterization. I love how Stieg Larsson is able to write in Lisbeth's point of view while still keeping the sort of distance that she keeps with other people. Despite reading the story from her close third-person perspective, I still didn't understand very much about her, and I loved that! She's not the type of person to reveal personal information, so I was glad that I was able to connect with her while still feeling the distance that the other characters felt upon interacting with her. For keeping that distance, Larsson is a genius.

Despite that, the writing style of this book kept pulling me out of the story. I think a lot of the background information could have been edited out, especially when there's just an exhaustive info. dump of the history of various companies and such. Obviously, some of this is necessary to set the scene, but these sorts of passages go on for pages, and are a bit boring.

Other than that, this is a good story. I can see why it's so successful and why people love it. It's has mystery, intriguing characters, and it's a fairly fast-paced read. If you  haven't managed to read this yet (No judgment! I was right there with you.), give it a try. Even with knowing what was going to happen, I enjoyed it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

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Title: The Choice
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Warner Books
Hardcover: 272 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Travis Parker has everything a man could want: a good job, loyal friends, even a waterfront home in small-town North Carolina. In full pursuit of the good life -- boating, swimming, and regular barbecues with his good-natured buddies -- he holds the vague conviction that a serious relationship with a woman would only cramp his style. That is, until Gabby Holland moves in next door. Despite his attempts to be neighborly, the appealing redhead seems to have a chip on her shoulder about him...and the presence of her longtime boyfriend doesn't help. Despite himself, Travis can't stop trying to ingratiate himself with his new neighbor, and his persistent efforts lead them both to the doorstep of a journey that neither could have foreseen. Spanning the eventful years of young love, marriage and family, The Choice ultimately confronts us with the most heart-wrenching question of all: how far would you go to keep the hope of love alive?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I enjoy reading Nicholas Sparks's books, and The Choice is no different. It's fast-paced and easy to read, which I appreciate with my busy schedule. Also, I was able to put it down for a week and pick it up again without forgetting or being confused about where I was in the story.

This is a basic Nicholas Sparks book -- Travis is a veterinarian and is perfectly fine with being single until Gabby moves next door and they both can't stop thinking about each other. The Choice follows Sparks's familiar pattern, but it's still enjoyable.

The ending was a twist for me, and I liked that. I am not going to say whether it's tragic or happy, but with everything that goes on in the beginning, I didn't at all expect what happens in the end. That was pleasant, because when I pick up a book by Sparks, I feel like I know exactly what's going to happen. It's nice when he is able to surprise me.

Sparks's stories are about love and hope -- which are always great subjects -- and The Choice is no different. I recommend this one.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review: The Duck Commander Family by Willie and Korie Robertson

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Title: Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty
Authors: Willie and Korie Robertson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Paperback: 272 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Faith. Family. Ducks—in that order. This book gives readers an up-close and personal, behind-the-scenes look at the family in the exploding A&E show—Duck Dynasty. This Louisiana bayou family operates Duck Commander, a booming family business that has made them millions. You’ll hear all about the Robertson clan from Willie and what it was like growing up in the Robertson household. You’ll sample some of Willie’s favorite family recipes from Phil, Kay, and even some of his own concoctions; and you’ll get to know the beautiful Robertson women. You’ll hear from Korie about the joys and hardships of raising a family, running a business, and wrangling the Robertson men while staying fashionable and beautiful inside and out. Discover more about the family dynamics between brothers Willie, Jase, Jep, and parents Phil and Kay. You’ll even meet a fourth brother who isn’t in the show.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

As a new fan of the Duck Dynasty show on television, I was excited to buy a copy of Duck Commander Family because I wanted to know more about the Robertson clan. This book definitely did not disappoint me. It’s well written, honest and very entertaining.

I loved the fact that Duck Commander Family is written from the points of view of both Willie and his wife Korie. There is definitely a difference in the way they were both raised as children, so to get the two perspectives enhances the reality of the book. Willie, a “redneck” country boy, was raised with a lot less money than Korie, who is a self-proclaimed city girl. So when the two get together, it’s fun to see the dynamics of clashing cultures.

The book centers on the Duck Commander business, which has been operating for over forty years. Phil Robertson, who is Willie’s father, started the business in his house. With a lot of hard work and salesmanship, Phil, along with the rest of the family members have made duck calls a multi-million dollar business, with Willie as CEO. This is not just a G-rated story about backwoods country folk who got rich. This is about raising and redefining the meaning of family, to include adoption, foreign exchange members, and friends.

My favorite part of Duck Commander Family is getting to know each character a lot more. Whereas the TV show Duck Dynasty does not reveal each member of the main characters' families, the book does. That depth alone makes it worth buying the book, and adding that it is extremely well written makes it a well deserved best seller!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Once Upon a Curse by Anna Kashina and others

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Title: Once Upon a Curse: Stories and Fairy Tales for Adult Readers
Editor: Anna Kashina
Authors: Peter S. Beagle, Siobhan Carroll, Imogen Howson, Anna Kashina, Nancy Kress, Lucy A. Snyder, Cindy Lynn Speer, Patricia C. Wrede
Publisher: Dragonwell Publishing
Paperback: 250 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Fair maidens, handsome princes, witches, and fairy godmothers all show their dark and dangerous side in this anthology inspired by myths and fairy tales, retold by some of the best authors in this generation and by some upcoming new talents. Each beautifully crafted story brings an unusual twist to the traditional tale, from Cinderella’s story told from the not-so-kind fairy godmother’s point of view, to the Bluebeard tale showing the lure of this dark and dangerous man that drives young girls to rush willingly to their fate.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

It's rare for me to wholeheartedly recommend an anthology, but I am recommending this one. Once Upon a Curse is a collection of amazing fairy tale interpretations from some pretty fantastic authors. With short story collections, I usually only like a couple and am neutral about the rest, but for this one there isn't one story that I didn't like. Most of them, I loved.

There are some things keeping me from giving this book a perfect rating. The last story definitely could have been cut by at least ten pages. While it was interesting to read about all the different cultural retellings of Cinderella, I don't think it was necessary to the main plot and all the stories-within-the-story made it drag. There were also a couple of others where the endings fell a bit flat, but not enough to make me dislike them outright.

There are two Sleeping Beauty stories in here (both excellent), along with Bluebeard, Cinderella, "Diamonds and Toads," among others. Anna Kashina has become my new favorite fantasy author with her story "Solstice Maiden," and I most definitely plan to check out her other works. If you're at all a fan of fantasy, you will find at least one story in this book to love (although, I'm betting that you'll find more). These stories are all entertaining, full of twists, and have interesting characters.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.*

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: On Writing by Stephen King

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Title: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Paperback: 297 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"Long live the King" hailed "Entertainment Weekly" upon the publication of Stephen King's "On Writing." Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 -- and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, "On Writing" will empower and entertain everyone who reads it -- fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Having read quite a few books on writing, I now expect to disagree with some rules that writers put out there -- no joke, Stephen King is quite the master, but I'm not as offended by adverbs as he is. His process of drafting is also vastly different from mine. However, I have found that writing is more of a personal discovery, and it really does differ with each writer.

There is a lot to appreciate in this book, though. I like the fact that King gives a lot of examples to prove his points. I learn so much more from examples than from simple explanations, so I really appreciated that. I also like that when King sets down a rule, he doesn't make it an absolute and even admits to falling victim to sloppy/indulgent writing himself. When he talks about how you shouldn't use adverbs, he straight-out admits that he wishes he used fewer, which is nice. It gives the book a very helpful, conversational feel instead of a "I know everything, so this is what you should do" kind of thing.

The one thing that I really loved about On Writing: you can tell, throughout the entire thing how much King loves to write. He completely lays out the magic, and the utter pleasure of creating a story. I so enjoyed that. Besides giving solid writing advice, he inspires his readers by making them want to write. While reading, I kept thinking to myself, "I want to start on my story right now." Few books have that power.

Anyone interested in writing should read this book. It's a fast-paced, entertaining read -- not at all like the dry reference-type book I think of when I think of "how-to" books. You'll enjoy it, you'll learn some good tips, and you'll be inspired. There's nothing more anyone can ask for.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

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Title: My Sister's Keeper
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria Books
Paperback: 512 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

In My Sister's Keeper, Anna sues her parents for the rights to her own body, because they keep using her as a donor for her older sister, Kate, who has leukemia. There is a lot going on in this book -- Anna and Kate have an older brother named Jess who is the stereotypical "teenage screw-up"; Anna hires a lawyer named Campbell, who shockingly ends up being the ex-boyfriend of the appointed guardian ad litem; Anna's parents are going through marital problems because of all the stress and lack of communication, etc. Really, it's a typical set-up for a book with pretty typical characters.

Despite that, I really enjoyed the first three-quarters of the novel. It was fast-paced, entertaining, and the characters were so dysfunctional that they were kind of fun to read about. There were some moments when I was able to connect with them, which allowed me to continue with the story. I like the way the point of view shifts from character to character -- actually, this was my favorite part of the novel. Picoult shows a very well-rounded view of the situation, which helped to understand the characters' reactions and where they were coming from. If it was just from one person's point of view, this story would have seemed incredibly melodramatic and unrealistic. Also, it's obvious that the Picoult put in the time to research leukemia and the hospital setting. All of the medical stuff rang true to me, which I appreciated.

But my enjoyment of the book ended when things started to wrap up. A lot of people mention hating the ending, and I didn't at all mind the events that happened, but I did mind the changes that took place in the characters. When everything was nearing a close, all the characters underwent some sort of strange epiphany that gave them perspective and made them better people. All at once, they realized the real root of their problems and just decided to be better people, it seems. I would have liked this to happen more gradually, which would have taken away from some of the drama in the middle, but it would have made the transformations so much more believable. And it happened so quickly that I was just left frustrated and wondering why they all couldn't have realized that two hundred pages ago when their transformations actually could have been helpful.

Also, I HATE when the only reason a couple isn't together is because of some stupid misunderstanding or lack of communication. It's annoying enough (though believable) when this is short-term, but Campbell and Julie spend years in that limbo of lack of communication (and of course, after all those years of heartbreak and what-ifs they still "love" each other). It's just not the most interesting choice to make in terms of relationship issues.

Anyway, I think some people will be able to forgive the ending and get real enjoyment out of reading this story. It's good, but I think the characters and the ending could have been so much more interesting in this type of situation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ramblings on Being a TV Addict

I spend a good portion of my life in the world of TV shows.
Thanks to http://kristal.screeninvasion.com for the gif!
I know that I watch too many – the result of a cable subscription, DVR, Amazon Prime, and a Netflix instant streaming account. Of course, that means I’m always partially living in a fictional world. While doing real-life things like going to class and working, I’m also thinking about the books I’m reading or the shows I’m watching – or both. With books, it’s nice, because if I need to visit those characters or places right away, I can put real-life on hold for another hour and continue reading. TV is different, though. I’m at the mercy of the TV scheduling gods. The ones that have somehow decided to put 5 of my favorite shows on Thursday nights and hardly any over the course of the week. Regardless, I still love them, and there is nothing better than sitting back with some food and a drink on a Thursday night to catch up with my favorite shows. But when these weekly updates of these fictional places and people are taken away from me, I become frustrated.

I’m not the only one. On Facebook, Twitter, the half a dozen other social media sites, I see my feelings echoed among my friends and family:

Thanks to http://xgiuls.tumblr.com for the gif!

As if we truly have nothing better to do than to spend 1 hour watching 45 minutes of a show and 15 minutes of too-loud, over-colorful commercials.

With Netflix, it’s different, and it’s strange to compare watching a show live-time to watching a show on Netflix, where all the seasons and episodes are at least a year old and are all posted; no chance of interrupted storytelling, just hours and hours of TV bliss. Twenty-two 45 min. episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Sounds like my kind of weekend.

Thanks http://myhausismessy.tumblr.com for the gif!

But then, I think about people who watched it when it was running on TV. Buffy was popular and had a huge fan base. More than likely, the fans ranted and raved over all-too frequent interruptions in programming. But there are only 22 episodes in a year-long season. Out of an entire year, only 22 weeks contained one new 40 min. episode of Buffy. That means that for 30 weeks of our year, we’re not even watching new episodes of our beloved TV shows (though we may be thinking of what could happen next, and watching reruns).

My question is: How do these TV people do it?! For less than half the year, we watch these shows. But personally, I can get really attached to the people and the world contained within them. They are my friends; I think about them constantly. I think about what they would do in certain situations, and laugh at things they would find funny. Some people look down on TV as superficial, trashy, waste-of-time, unintellectual, or whatever. But I think it’s an art-form that takes an incredible amount of skill, creativity, and ingenuity (and yes, luck). The people who make good TV shows (I’m talking about ALL that are involved – cast, crew, writers, etc.) that others fall in love with are, quite frankly, geniuses. To be able to create such realistic and intriguing situations, and to create characters that I feel like are real people – I hope they don’t use their superpowers for evil.

I write this as I wait for my shows to come back so I can enjoy the last few episodes before the boredom of summer TV re-runs hits. Although, I am taking suggestions for shows I can watch on Netflix. ;) All I can say is that I’m glad for fantastic summer shows like Doctor Who (even though waiting for this last half of the season was TORTUOUS) to take me away during summer.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-Up World by Christine Fonseca

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Title: The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-Up World
Author: Christine Fonseca
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Expected Publication Date: 1 May 2013
Paperback: 175 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Finding your unique voice in a noisy world can be hard—very hard. But not if you have a great guide! The Girl Guide: Finding Your Place in a Mixed-Up World is a must-read for girls in grades 6–8 as they enter the tumultuous world of adolescence. Packed with fun worksheets and quizzes, as well as stories from older girls and women, The Girl Guide covers everything a teenage girl needs to know on the journey toward her own identity. Proven strategies for dealing with stress management, confronting relational aggression, being safe online, navigating the changing mother-daughter relationship, and more make this the ultimate guide for any girl to get through the teen years and discover her unique point of view in the world.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Christine Fonseca wrote a must have book for raising tweens and teens. As a mother of six children, five girls and one boy, I’m always looking for ways to help my girls navigate this internet savvy, computer-dependent world all the while being true to themselves. The Girl Guide is one of those books that every young lady should be required to read.

I absolutely loved this guide. Let me start with the cover: it’s catchy and relevant, most young ladies will be able to identify with the amazing graphic design. Who wouldn’t like a cool picture with the caption, “I Love Me”?

The Girl Guide is an easy-to-read, profound book that allows teenagers to understand it’s the world that is different, not the teenager. I read the book, then put my thoughts to paper, but I also asked my 13-year-old to read it and give me her opinion. I was not surprised when she finished and said, "Wow, that’s good."

Please understand she was not happy having to write her feelings down, she felt writing her feelings was "homework," but once she started, she really loved looking back to see how she felt at the time. The best part for me was when she said, "We should use this book at our youth group." Yes! I felt validated because I felt our youth group could benefit from reading The Girl Guide.

The pages are fashioned in such a stylish way that it’s easy for young ladies to get more of a diary feel, than that of a book. The creative way the book is displayed is a bonus because my kids don’t really like to read the books I recommend, but this book is “hip” and “trendy” -- more my kids style.

The questions the author poses, sometimes in the form of quizzes, are relevant and written is a non-threatening way so that a young lady will feel as though she is not alone in her thoughts. Each chapter complements the previous one, but also touches on topics pertinent to today’s teenagers ending with the final section, “Putting it into Practice.”

I can’t say enough about this book, except that I highly recommend it. I’m picky about the type of books that I introduce to my kids and I must say, this is one of the superior ones.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.*

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

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Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 507 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Taken from the poverty of her parents' home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny's uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry's attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary's dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords' influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen's most profound works.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Mansfield Park was slow going for me, but I finally got through it! Austen takes awhile to set everything up, and I was frequently frustrated by characters and events in the first half, but the last half of the book makes everything worth it. The characters in this book are fantastic; I love the way Austen is able to contrast them so nicely with each other. Mrs. Norris was probably one of my favorite characters of all time -- very similar to Mrs. Bennett, except more mean-spirited. Her ridiculousness frequently made me laugh out loud (and also enraged me on Fanny's behalf).

Despite that, Fanny Price isn't one of my favorite Austen characters. I get that she's lovely, sweet, and virtuous and all that, and that's great, but sometimes I really wished she would just stand up for herself. She got a lot better at the end when we were finally able to see some determination from her, but I was frustrated with her throughout most of the beginning. But we do see a lot of character development from her, and I love that. My favorite part is when she starts showing her family members just how strong she can be (so fantastic!), and the effect would not have been the same if she hadn't been as timid in the beginning, so I get the need for that. Still didn't make it any less frustrating though.

I enjoyed the last half of the book so much more than I enjoyed the first half. It was slow going, but everything started coming together and I really started to recognize the message Austen was trying to get across with these people who pride themselves on being so great and noble, yet who have no moral integrity whatsoever. I don't think Mansfield Park is nearly as entertaining as Pride and Prejudice, but I do think that it contains a more scathing commentary on morals and high society. And once that starts coming through, the novel becomes so much more interesting.

I'm a huge Austen fan and will always recommend her books to everyone, so read Mansfield Park! But really, this one's worth a read. It tackles corruption, adultery, and even slavery, so for those who like to dive into a book and study the larger issues that surround it, this is great for you! It's also an entertaining story about a girl who comes into her own, so for those who just like to be entertained, Mansfield Park works for you too.