Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dog On It

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 27.

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

Summary:
The first book in the mystery series featuring the partnership of Bernie, a private investigator, and Chet, his dog.  The interesting twist is that Chet is the narrator of the book.  The mystery in this book centers on a missing teenage girl and their efforts to find her.

My opinion:
What an original concept to have the dog as the narrator.  Chet isn't an unusually bright dog either; he just describes what is happening around him even though he doesn't quite understand its significance.  He gets distracted easily and has a tendency to nap during long conversations, which prolongs the mystery and keeps the reader from solving it too quickly (if Chet doesn't see or hear it, the reader doesn't know it).
Quick, light read.  I enjoyed it enough to add the series to my never-ending "to-read" list (time will tell if the novelty wears off in future books), but not enough to bump it to the front of the line.

Quote from the Book:
"Stakeouts:  I've sat through a million.  Okay, possibly not a million.  Truth is I'm not too sure about a million, what it means, exactly - or any other number, for that matter - but I get the drift from Bernie" ~ Chet the dog

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What My Mother Gave Me

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 26.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.  The expected publication date for this book is April 2, 2013.

What My Mother Gave Me by Elizabeth Benedict

Summary:
31 women contributed original pieces about a gift they received from their mother and what it meant to them.

My opinion:
First, a little backstory.  I've spent the past week packing up my childhood home (thankfully, this transition was due to downsizing and not death), giving my mom and I many opportunities to talk about the items she saved and the stories behind them.  These conversations in turn inspired me to come home and share stories and long-forgotten treasures with my kids.

Needless to say, when I saw this book on NetGalley, I felt as if it had been written for me.  It would be impossible not to read a book like this without considering the legacy your mother left you, or the legacy you are leaving your children, so I settled in to read this book and feel the feelings I anticipated would soon follow.

Then...nothing happened.  As with all books that have more than one contributor, there will be some hits and misses.  In this case, the majority of the stories were average, one or two truly shone, and none were complete misses.  Some may say my expectations were too high, but I disagree.  The state of mind I was in while reading this book could not have placed me more squarely in the target audience - I was primed to be inspired and possibly shed a tear, and I just wasn't moved.

I'm neutral about my recommendation.  I certainly wouldn't discourage someone from reading it, but I'm not going out of my way to recommend it either.

Quote from the Book:
"We give our children the best of ourselves so that they can find the best of what is in them" ~ Ann Hood (from her contribution titled "White Christmas")



 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Little Princes

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 25.

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

Summary (copied from the book jacket):
In search of adventure, Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal.  But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu.  For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from - a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.

My opinion:
Hopeful.  Inspiring.  I know those aren't the first words that come to mind after reading the description, but it's how I felt after reading this book.  This was a book club selection that I probably wouldn't have picked for myself, but I'm glad I read it.
There are beautiful photos in the middle of the book and I looked at them first as I always do; I like to put faces with the names as I'm reading.  The captions on the photos were spoilers since they revealed which missions were successful - I didn't mind at all but I mention it as something to be aware of.
Some may say the bleak moments and challenges were glossed over or downplayed, or that the success rate of the missions seem too good to be true, and I would agree (the experience of a volunteer being held captive by Maoists for three days was summed up in 6 paragraphs).  However, I think the author wrote honestly, especially about himself (it was nice that he didn't paint himself as a saint), and I was able to feel the desperation and frustration he felt at times, even though he didn't dwell on it.

Quote of the Blog:
"It's a place where one person, if it's the right person, changes us all." ~ High School Musical 3 (yes, really...I know it's trite but this quote kept popping into my mind as I was reading this book, so I'm going with it).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 24.

Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why we can't look away by Eric G. Wilson

Summary (copied from Goodreads):
 In Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, the scholar Eric G. Wilson sets out to discover the source of our attraction to the gruesome, drawing on the findings of biologists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians, and artists. A professor of English literature and a lifelong student of the macabre, Wilson believes there’s something nourishing in darkness. “To repress death is to lose the feeling of life,” he writes. “A closeness to death discloses our most fertile energies.”

My opinion:
This book was beyond disappointing.  I was expecting the author to examine the research and actually attempt to answer the question posed in his title (why can't we look away?), which would have been incredibly interesting to me - I have a psychology degree and was a bit of a morbid child myself (listening to "Seasons in the Sun" over and over while reading the obituaries; I grew out of my morbid phase and can no longer stomach scary movies, although I do still read the obituaries).  That didn't happen.  Instead, the author presented a new theory or a personal story every few pages, with no particular order or pattern, leaving no room for depth or interpretation.  This book was trying too hard to be too many things - textbook, personal narrative, social commentary - and didn't succeed at any of them.  In my entire life, there has only been one book I didn't finish.  This almost became the second. 

Not recommended.  At all.   

Quote from the Book:
"I think horror makes us human, because it reminds us of our imperfections." ~ Guillermo del Toro

Change the World Before Bedtime

Although I normally don't review the books I read with my kids, I am making an exception for this book to show my appreciation to NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. for the opportunity to read it.
I have two kids that fit in the recommended audience (Pre-K - 2nd grade), and my review will include opinions from each of them as well.

Change the World Before Bedtime by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good

Summary: 
An educational children's book that shows that you are never too small to do something that makes the world a better place (some suggestions include kind words, recycling, and volunteering).

Megan's opinion (she is a 6 year old 1st grader):
  "This book was nice.  It was good because kids helped people.  My favorite part was when they sold lemonade and cookies."

Brian's opinion (he is a 7 year old 2nd grader):
   "This book was nice, a pretty good book.  My favorite part was when he was dreaming of things he could be."

My opinion:
This was a cute book.  I like the look of the book; there weren't many words per page, and the illustrations gave them things to look at without overstimulating or taking away from the story.  I like the message as well and thought it included practical suggestions on how kids can be good citizens.

Recommended for teachers looking for a quick read to tie in with lessons on Earth Day, citizenship, etc.  or for parents if they see it at the library.  I only recommend purchasing books if they will be read over and over, and that would not be the case for this book in our house; they liked it but didn't love it.

Quote from the Book:
"Start small and think big and you'll make dreams come true".

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Replacement Child

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 23.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Seal Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Replacement Child by Judy Mandel

Summary:
In 1952, a plane crashes into the home of the Mandel family, killing 7 year old Donna and leaving 2 year old Linda with burns over 80% of her body.  Two years later their parents attempt to heal their grief by having a "replacement child", Judy (the author of this memoir).  In 2006, after both of her parents have died, Judy dives into researching the accident (through newspaper clippings, notes from her parents, and interviews with Linda), hoping to understand her family and the lasting impact it has had on her relationships and self-esteem.

My opinion:
This book was incredibly interesting.  Judy obviously loves her parents and has done a lot of research (and probably some therapy as well) to understand their actions and justify some of their decisions.  For example, Judy describes how hurt she was as a child when her father didn't compliment her appearance, but then went on to reason that her father didn't want to emphasize physical beauty in front of Linda (who was left horribly scarred from the accident).  Her parents thought they were shielding her by not talking about the accident or Donna (Judy didn't even know Donna's birthday until she was researching this book), but she actually felt isolated because this huge tragedy was something that her parents shared with her sister but not with her (a point of view I had never considered before).  This book was emotional but not whiny, and analytical but not dry.
The main reason I will not rate this book higher is because it was a little hard to follow.  Jumping between present and past was used in this book very effectively, but I think the past could have been presented in something a little closer to chronological order.

Recommended if you're interested in psychology, family dynamics, and the lasting impact parents can have on their children.

Quote from the Book:
"Reading the news stories, I recognize the familiar feeling of being separate from my family, like I have always been pressing my nose up against the glass trying to get inside."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Fault In Our Stars

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 22.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Summary (copied from Goodreads): 
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now. 

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
 
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

My opinion:
The relationship between Hazel and Augustus was achingly vulnerable and the story developed very naturally (there was no manufactured or manipulated emotion).  Even though I cried as I read the last 25% of the book, I was also smiling and grateful for these beautifully written characters.  Despite the tears and the subject matter, I wouldn't classify this as a "sad book"; the overwhelming feeling I was left with after I closed this book was hope.     


Highly recommended.

Quote from the Book:
"Some infinities are bigger than other infinities." 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Comfort of Lies

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 21.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Atria Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers
Summary:  This fiction novel is told from the alternating viewpoints of Tia, Juliette, and Caroline as they deal with the surprising and upsetting way they are connected.  It is not a spoiler to say that the connection is a 5 year old child - Tia is the biological mother, Juliette's husband had an affair with Tia and is the biological father, and Caroline is the adoptive mother.  

I have never read a book with this approach to infidelity before.  Each woman was faced with an imperfect situation (to say the least) with far-reaching consequences and had to make individual choices about how much of themselves they were willing to sacrifice for their family's happiness.  It was easy to become absorbed because the characters felt so real, and it says a lot about the author's ability to make each character multi-dimensional that I didn't hate Tia even though she knowingly slept with a married man.  Although there would not be a perfect resolution that would leave them all completely happy (except for a time machine, but this isn't that kind of book), I read the book hoping that they would each find peace.  Yes, even Tia.

Recommended.

Quote of the Blog:
"Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.