Saturday, November 22, 2014

What's Your Poo Telling You? by Josh Richman and Anish Seth - For the Curious or Serious


Pros: Funny and surprisingly informative
Cons: Only if you don't like poo
The Bottom Line: Come on, you know you've always wanted to know about poo.
For some reason my soon to be brother-in-law has a strange fascination with poo. I surmise there’s a long story there, though I’m not even sure where that story starts. Anywho, while doing some book shelving one day, I stumbled upon a tiny hardcover book entitled What’s Your Poo Telling You?. How could I not look at it? Book stores have so many wacky books in them, you might never truly realize it until you spend a day in there, seriously perusing the stacks. Try it sometime.
After informing my sister and telling her I was thinking of getting it for her fiancee for Christmas (to which she replied with an emphatic “Yes!”), I realized there was absolutely no way I could have this book sitting in my room for several weeks without giving it a read through. It’s a very small book, only about 6 x 4.5 inches or so and only 96 pages. It’s a slim little book, one that can be totally innocuous if you weren’t looking too closely at the shelf.
So what is your poo telling you? Depends on what type of poo you happen to have at the time. This book is, in a word, awesome. Hahaha. Really, it goes through all sorts of different poo types, from the perfectly pinched log (or The Clean Sweep as they call it) to Pebble Poo to Performance-enhancing Poo (or as I always called it, Nervous Poo), to numerous others. If there’s a poo type, it’s in here, trust me, complete with some synonyms as well as what Dr. Stool has to say about that particular poo. For example, why some types of poo sink and others float. What causes some poo to come out all snake-like. Why you may have that sense of accomplishment, or Poo-phoria after going. It’s like the pocket encyclopedia to poo!
What’s more, you also get little nuggets of information, random trivia, and tidbits of history that all relate to poo in some way or another. Not to mention some rather amusing illustrations. Reading this review you might think, “Gross” or “Weird” or something along those lines, but this book isn’t necessarily all for laughs. It really does have valuable information and after all, since we all do it, there really isn’t anything wrong with wondering about poo and why oh why a few kernels of corn made it all the way through your digestive tract.
Honestly, this book gets my full support and I see no reason why someone should get offended by this book (unless that person just really, really does not like poo). I’m not saying you should go out and buy this for grandma (as she might give you a weird look that says, “Why on earth did you buy me this?”), but for yourself or someone you know would have a riot with this book, by all means. Even if you’re uptight about poo, try giving it a read. You may feel yourself loosen up a bit. ;)

Notes from the playlist: "Bananaphone" by Raffi

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Breathing In Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher - My Notebook Breathes, Does Yours?

Pros: Very well-written and has plenty of good ideas.
Cons: Nothin'

The Bottom Line: Good ideas worthy of checking out, but see if your library has it first - especially if you already keep a notebook.

In 2010 I owned over 12 notebooks, practically all of them chock full of stuff. Some are random notebooks, other have specific purposes, and a few that were still empty. I don't know how many I have now. But at the time, to my utter delight, I got two free ones while buying my college books my last semester (still don’t know why, but I wasn't going to argue over glorious sheets of white, college-ruled paper). So I decided one of them should be my notebook for my Writing Seminar class.

Breathing In, Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher was the book of choice for the class. It’s 94 pages (the last 5 pages just the bibliography and such). There are 16 short chapters discussing various topics of writing in a notebook. Some of these ideas include:
  • Making lists
  • Writing about the past
  • Your notebook is a place for pieces to sit and “compost” (they hang out until you find ways to use them later if you’re so inclined to)
  • It’s okay to write like crap in your notebook
  • Go ahead and reread stuff
  • Write down little facts, quotes from others, little things that act as triggers
Each of these ideas is unique, contains examples, and explained in a very clear-cut way that anyone can understand, but it’s done well so that it doesn’t sound at all like the author is talking down to the reader; his language use is very pleasant and you want to keep reading. I'm a fan of his metaphors.

Fletcher does a good job putting across exactly what he wants readers to get. He doesn’t push the writer to do anything; he just puts it out there for you to try in your own notebook. Anything to get you writing. If you don’t keep a notebook, or are thinking about getting one, I highly encourage you to do so, it’s really handy and fun, and I do recommend taking a peek at this book because it’s full of nifty tidbits you might never have thought of before.

That was my problem though. It says on the back, “This book is for new writers as well as those who may once have loved to write but have lost the spark along the way.” Um, well, I’m neither one of those. I’ve always had at least one notebook going. That and I do everything he suggests in the book. Ha! So in the end, though it was fun to read and think, “Cool, I already do that,” it wasn’t really of any help to me. But that’s a good thing for people who aren’t like me, haha. It really is a source of goodies for new and lost writers.

Ralph Fletcher also has a kid's version available (as this version is now out of print. Aww.)


Notes from the playlist: "Like a Prayer" by Madonna

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead - I Wonder What It Was...

Pros: Cozy illustrations and a simple, sweet story.
Cons: None

The Bottom Line: Bear is about to go to sleep, but will anyone hear his story first?

I love being the Lead in the kids’ section of the bookstore.  As adults we don’t ever have a reason to wander in there and look at all the cool stuff kids get to look at and read these days.  Like this picture book.

This book is soft, simple, and perfect for putting little ones to bed.  If you have ever read A Sick Day for Amos McGee (a Caldecott winner, by the way), then this book is right up your alley.  That is because it's written and illustrated by the same team.

Bear is about to go to sleep for a long time during winter.  But first he has a story he wants to tell.  He goes to the different animals of the forest to see if they want to hear his story.  Sadly, most of them are too busy getting ready for winter themselves, so Bear does what he can to help and moves on.  Will Bear find someone to listen or will he have to wait until spring to tell his story?

Bear is very sweet and helps out each little animal when necessary, from making a hole for Frog to sleep in to helping Mouse find seeds.  When Bear wakes up readers will wonder what his story is and whether or not everyone will be awake and ready to listen. But I won't spoil that for you.

The illustrations were done by Erin Stead and they are soft and very adorable.  Duck and Mouse and all the other creatures are so little compared to Bear. I love how such simple children's illustrations can convey different things so well.  How gentle bear is when helping mouse.  The colors are perfect for fall and they evoke a sense of slow quietness – especially in the picture when the first snow begins to fall and Bear stands alone under the sky, sleepy and still looking to tell his story.  It takes up both pages and fills you with that unique feeling you get when it’s you standing outside in a wide open space just as snow begins to fall.  It actually made me a bit sad for Bear because no one was able to listen to him. Awwww!

Erin Stead’s illustrations are a skillful combination of watercolor and pencil, and as usual I’m infinitely impressed by anyone who knows how to wield watercolors.  They’re perfect for the overall tone of the story.

If you enjoyed A Sick Day for Amos McGee, have a little one who loves bears, or are in need of a sleepytime or seasonal book, then this is the ideal choice. The ending is an interesting little surprise, but some (like myself) will always wonder just what story it was that bear intended to tell...


Notes from the playlist: "Coventry Carol" by Lifescapes

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs - Freaky Photos Included

Pros: Unique use of bizarre pictures, interesting storyline, loved particular ideas
Cons: Awwww - cliffhanger ending!

The Bottom Line: It's an odd story with odd photos, but well worth your time. Even if you are in a loop.
I'd seen this book on the shelves at work.  I'd even thumbed through it a few times to take a look at some of the, well, peculiar photos in the book.  I knew that the photos were real and the story was built around them.  Nifty idea, I thought.  I didn't expect it to be November pick of the Calico Reaction's book club.  But it was, so I jumped on in.  Besides, it seems like teen books are more fun than adult books these days for some odd (peculiar?) reason.
Jacob loved his grandfather.  He loved his stories too.  Of course all those stories are nonsense.  But when his grandfather is brutally murdered and only Jacob saw the nightmarish creature responsible, he realizes he needs answers.  He has to go to the island where his grandfather grew up away from the monsters.  Where he enjoyed the company of children with peculiar talents.  When Jacob arrives, it looks like there's nothing that will shed any light on his questions.  But appearances can be deceiving...
The author, Ransom Riggs (a peculiar name, if I may say so), has created a very intriguing story surrounding all these bizarre photographs.  I'm such an idiot - I didn't even realize the girl on the front cover wasn't actually standing on the ground until it was mentioned in the story.  There are a small handful of photographs we would consider "normal," like a guy and girl together, or a figure who just happens to be in silhouette.  But there are plenty of "What the...?" pictures in there too.  I'm not sure if Riggs formulated the story around the pictures because they inspired them (most likely), or already had a story ready and spotted the pictures and really wanted to include them.
Whatever the case may be, you'll quickly learn to enjoy the characters.  Though it can seem as times as though the story is taking a bit too long to get anywhere, those moments are few and far between.  And even then they were only when Jacob was trying to find out about the house his grandfather lived in.  But once he meets a few special people, things roll along rather nicely.  I had a good time and I thought all the things Riggs came up with, from time looping to the word "ymbryne" (I love that word, I really do, and without reason), to using all those strange photographs.  There's such a rich history here of events and people that we only get the tip of, it will make you eager to know more.
And quite likely you will.  Why?  Because this book basically ends on a cliffhanger.  In fact, I read this back in 2011, but it wasn't until January 2014 that the sequel, Hollow City came out. So it may be good that you haven't read Miss Peregrine until now...then again, I'm sure Hollow City ends on a cliffhanger, too.

Notes from the playlist: "I Am Here" by System Syn

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien - Before the One Ring There Was the Silmaril

Pros: Wow.
Cons: Whoa, confusing...

The Bottom Line: It's going to take more than one reading to get everything in this book - but it's worth it!

As usual, Tolkien's past work comes alive.

If you ever wanted to know how Middle Earth came to be (as well as it's inhabitants) then The Silmarillion will tell you. In a way, it is almost like the Bible of Middle Earth and Beleriand.

The book is broken down into several different sections. These sections are Ainulindale (The Music of the Ainur), Valaquenta (Account of the Valar), Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) with the appendix of Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) and one final piece, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.

Ainulindale is the very beginning. It begins with Eru, or Iluvatar (to be blunt, he is like God) who makes the Ainur (the Holy Ones), each one being a part of him. They are like lesser gods. Ainulindale deals with the Ainur and Iluvatar and the creation of Ea (the Universe) and Arda (Earth). This is done through the music the Ainur sings, and also visible are the beginnings of conflict between the Ainur and Melkor, one of the Ainur who desires to be like Iluvatar (and resembles Satan further in the future).

Note: Though I refer to Iluvatar here as God and Melkor to Satan, I am in not trying to suggest Tolkien meant this or anything else. I am simply giving you a something familiar to compare these characters to.

Valaquenta is a short section with small subheadings of "Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar, Of the Valar, Of the Maiar" and "Of the Enemies." The first piece is a brief summary of what has just been read, Ainulindale. "Of the Valar" describes the Ainur who entered the Earth, thus their name becoming the Valar. It discusses each of the Valar by name, what they do on Earth, and other tidbits of information. Though Melkor descended onto Earth with them, he is no longer counted among the Valar, and no one speaks of him. "Of the Maiar" deals with gods even lesser than the Valar. The Maiar are the Valar’s servants and helpers. Here brief pieces are written on them. "Of the Enemies" discusses Melkor, who is forever after known as Morgoth through the words of the Elves. He was given great power and knowledge by Iluvatar, but because of his desires to rule and gain power, they were taken for granted. Here is written about his frightening greatness and how Maiar were drawn to him from it, and this is what Sauron is – a Maiar. Blarogs, demons of terror and fire served him also.

Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) is broken up into 24 chapters, each dealing with a specific topic. The events go in chronological order, but sometimes there are so many names of places and people (sometimes multiple names of one person or place) to remember, it can feel as though you’re going in circles. This is the meat of The Silmarillion. Here you will learn about The Beginning of Days, The Coming of the Elves (Elves are also known as the Firstborn because they came before Men), how Dwarves were made, the doings of Morgoth (Melkor), and a long story on the Elf Feanor and how his creations, the Silmarils, jewels that held the beauty and light of the two trees of the Valar, became a curse. These Silmarils are the reason for Elven kinslaying, wars between Elves, Men, and Morgoth, and the reason Dwarves and Elves hate each other. Also included are many other wars dealing with Morgoth and his servants against Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and occasionally the Valar who step in to put down Morgoth. Afterward, you will read how things came to an end…and yet not so.

Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) is a long, detailed explanation on just what the title says – the downfall of the kingdom of Numenor. From its beginning to its end, you will find out why Numenor was created and why it was destroyed.

Finally there is Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This is simply a shortened version (a very shortened version!) of The Lord of the Rings with a little bit of prehistory to explain the reasons for the aforesaid book to have occurred.

After this are various tables and pieces of information. These include Genealogies (four of them), a table of the different forms of Elves (that’s right, they’re not all exactly the same!), Pronunciation lists, an Index of Names, and an appendix of Quenya and Sindarin names (Elvish names). In this book are also two maps for you to look at and perhaps use as you read.

This book contains stories of death, life, rebirth, betrayal, and true love. Most notably (as the title denotes) is the love between Beren and Luthien, found in the Quenta Silmarillion. Their love is many times referred to when it comes to Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. A Human and an Elf coming together against seemingly impossible odds to eventually live happily ever after - whether that be in death or life.

The Silmarillion is so rich in detail and information it is hard to even begin describing how amazing it is to see such worlds and people come to life through Tolkien's hand. It is without much dialogue, and the dialogue that does exist is within the paragraphs and not as a usual story. Though it make take some time to read, and maybe even a few times through, it's worth it. And besides, if you want to know even more information when reading The Lord of the Rings, then this is the only way to get it.

If you want to know a lot more about the third age, to take a gander at my review of The Lord of the Rings, where it all began.


Notes from the playlist: "Feast of Starlight" by Howard Shore

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates - So Cute!

Pros: Excellent illustrations, wonderful inspiration for imagination
Cons: None!
The Bottom Line: If you loved Dog Loves Books, wait until you see this one!
We have a lot of picture books at my store.  Oodles and oodles of them. And today was project day, which meant putting away a truckload of picture books.  While at the bottom shelf dealing with some pigeons, ducklings, and cookies, I spotted Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates.  Her first book, Dog Loves Books, was so adorable I immediately picked up this book and read it.  Sure, I had stuff to do, but how could I wait to find out what Dog does next?
The story begins almost where the last one left off – so to speak.  We learn that Dog loves books and opened up a successful bookstore.  One day his Aunt sent him a book – but it’s blank! His Aunt tells him to use his imagination.  Why, it’s a drawing book!  From there Dog gets out his pencils and brushes and after drawing a door to step through, discovers all the places and friends that he can discover through his imagination.
This book is delightful.  In fact, I made a point to put it on the Storytime list for January.  Louise Yates seems to be all about imagination, which is fantastic because she does such a great job both telling a simple yet fun story as well as illustrating it.  In fact, her illustrations are the best part!  Dog is adorable as usual, but as he draws things they are like what a child might draw so kids can relate to them (and let’s face it adults, most of us can’t draw either so Dog is probably better than us!).  All his drawings come alive and they go on fun adventures.  Think Harold and the Purple Crayon.  The things that Dog draws are bright and colorful and are done in all sorts of mediums, from crayons to colored pencil.
I highly recommend taking a peek at this book.  If it doesn’t make you smile then I don’t know what will.  With sneaky ducks, silly crabs, a stick man, and a cute little Dog, there’s all sorts of fun to be had.  It’s a great way to remind anyone about the power of imagination and maybe even inspire a future artist or two.
Notes from the playlist: "My Dear Frodo" by Howard Shore

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Illustrated Dream Dictionary by Russell Grant - What Does Naked at a Party Mean?


Pros: Kind of cute.
Cons: Some words are hard to find. I'll explain.
The Bottom Line: It's coloful, fun, not very accurate, but amusing to have on hand from time to time.
Ok the very first thing I would like to do is WARN YOU. You see, there is an introduction to this book, which is a very good one by the way, but I read it and then that night had a dream about practically everything the introduction talked about. It was ridiculous. So I’m warning you now – reading the interesting introduction might cause you to have dreams about it that night.
Moving on. In 2004 I got this book as a present on my birthday and thought, “Hey, cool, I needed one of these.”
I hate to seem rude or ungrateful (after all, it is just a dream dictionary), but there are definitely better dream dictionaries out there. Sure it’s illustrated, but man, it’s definitely not organized like a dictionary and it’s really hard to find what you want half the time.
Let’s start with the pictures. They’re very cute and colorful and just fun to look at. Actually the first thing I did with this was look through it and check out all the pictures. Each one depicts a possible dream, and will have the title beneath it in case you can’t figure it out. They look like they could be watercolor or something…
But to the actual dictionary part. I can’t say I know how accurate it is because, well, I don’t – I’m not a dream expert, that’s why I wanted a dictionary (doy). But I will say this. The words you want are hard to find in the first place. Sure the main words are in all capital letters, but everything behind them is in a block paragraph (not indented underneath if it’s long enough) format, which allows the main words to just fade in. That’s okay though, because you can still see them.
The second problem is the grouping of the words, which leads into the third problem of having a fun time trying to find the word you want. If you want to find “snake” you can’t just look up “snake.” You have to go to “Animals” and then look under there somewhere amongst the monkeys and dogs and find it. This poses a problem for other things. If I have something I want to look up and I can’t find it, I then have to either A.) think of a synonym for that word (i.e. I wanted “cup” but now I’ll try “glass”) or B.) try and think of what it could be under and look that up and possibly even find a synonym for that because I can’t remember which words will have more under them. The one I always seem to have problems with is the “Anger/Confrontation” heading because I always forget it’s called that because I just wanna look up what it means when I punch someone in the face – not that it happens all the time or anything…
But in all truth, they are just dreams and it can be just for fun. I’m not going to recommend it because I don’t think it’s impressive or important enough to really bother with. I think it's main problem is that it makes it seem as though your dreams are telling you the future instead of showing you how you feel right now. But hey, at least if you ever get it for a present, now you’ll know what to expect!
P.S. NAKEDNESS - Nakedness in a dream is quite common. If you see yourself naked then things are about to improve. You may even have a stroke of money luck.

Notes from the playlist: "Summertime Sadness" by Within Temptation

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay - Serial Killer Who Kills Killers. Works for Me.

Pros: Who doesn't want to see the bad guys get it?
Cons: Abrupt shift in ending left a few odd questions unanswered.
The Bottom Line: Proof that karma isn't a b*tch - it's a killer
I’d been meaning to pick this one up for quite some time. I’d seen a few episodes of the show and knew it was based off Jeff Lindsey’s novels.  And the books are always better, right?  And what’s not to like about a guy who offs sickos and murderers?
As we open, Dexter has already been doing this for quite some time.  He has a semi-moral code: only kill the bad guys.  He sticks to it and he’s good at what he does.  It helps that he works with the police department – gives him a lead on potential victims.  Except there’s a new guy in town and it’s almost like he could be Dexter’s clone.  In fact, he’s so good at what he does Dexter is in awe of his work.  But of course Dexter shouldn’t be looking to make friends, he’s supposed to be helping his sister the cop find this guy, right?
It’s interesting because it’s hard not to like Dexter yet at the same time it’s obvious he’s so far outside the “norm” of human behavior and thought processes that at some points you start thinking, “Whoa. Not cool.” Remember, this book is written from Dexter’s point of view, so you get some rather special insights into what is going on in his mind.  It’s interesting to see how Dexter ended up the way he is, although you don’t get the full picture until the very end of the story.  Still, it’s amazing what the right influences can do.  There’s an interesting, albeit creepy cat-and-mouse game going on between him and the killer and you’ll never know what exactly is going on until the end.  It is possible to guess although you may be like me and dismiss the thought when it comes into your head with a, “That’s silly.” Apparently it’s not and you’ll quickly learn why.  Some may argue that the end reveal is a bit cliché, but I think Lindsay pulls it off well enough that even if it does at first, it doesn’t stay that way.
My only issues were Dexter’s sister Deborah and the way the end was handled.  Deb seems as though she’s supposed to come off as this hardcore cop when to me she actually looks rather stupid in many cases.  At others when she speaks up in front of superiors, rather than looking confident and acting like she does the rest of the time, she’s meek and stumbles over what she’s wants to say.  Are you a tough cop or aren’t you?  Please pick a side and be consistent.
The other thing was the very abrupt shift in the end.  I know what Lindsey was trying to do, but I ended up with a lot of questions that didn’t get answered – some of which were rather important.  From the fate of the bad guy (er, so to speak), to what Deb’s reaction was to what went down (seems rather important to me), there’s no addressing of these things.  Maybe they get addressed in the second book though, so I’m willing to let that slide for now.
The question now is, will I read the second book?  Perhaps in the future, but I admit – as much as I enjoy seeing Dexter wipe icky people off the map, he’s going to face some equally icky people that the police force will have to catch.  And honestly, I can only read so many books about creepers killing women (because let’s face it, we women are always the targets of these sickos), you know?

Notes from the playlist: "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt – Except the Green One

Pro: A funny and unexpected story – some of which many of us can relate to.
Con: None

The Bottom Line:  What happens when your box of crayons decides to quit? At least they let you know first...
Every crayon has a purpose. Green is used for things like grass. Black makes for great outlines and stormy clouds. Blue is used for oceans – lots and lots of water! Okay, maybe too much water. Yellow is perfect for the sun – or maybe that would be orange? Hmm...
That is the dilemma that Duncan suddenly realizes – while he’s been using his crayons the way he sees fit, his crayons have a different perspective. So one day he opens up his box of crayons all he finds are letters. Each one from a different crayon giving him a reason why it has quit. Blue is exhausted. Yellow and Orange are mad at each other. Green is happy with his position, but he’s tired of listening to Yellow and Orange argue about being the sun. Beige is tired of trying to compete with Brown. The letters go on for each crayon – will Duncan be able to figure out a way to make all of his crayons happy?
It’s a simple storybook that will have kids giggling the whole way through. Illustrated in – what else? – crayon, Oliver Jeffers gives each of them expressions befitting their complaint. Impressive considering they’re crayons. Each page features a letter that is written in the crayons’ respective colors and handwriting, including a few pictures that the crayons are usually used to draw, which just makes it all work even better. Drew Daywalt is the craftsman of this story, and it’s an entertaining one to be sure.
This is the kind of story that kids will want to read over and over – and perhaps even give them some inspiration of their own the next time they open up their box of crayons. If anything, it’s quite likely to make them want to go color something once the story is over. Don’t be surprised if you find a few interesting color choices on their next masterpiece. From beige oceans to pink trees, why not be a little different so all your crayons get a chance to be happy?
Notes from the playlist: "Waiting for the Lights" by Alan Menken

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland - The Perfect Shade of Blue

Pro: The perfect summer read and exactly what I needed (and hoped it would be!)
Con: Nothing, really.
The Bottom Line:  I needed a fun, perky summer book and this one was just what the doctor ordered.
The second I saw this book at work and read the summary, I wanted to read it. I finally managed to crack it open when I had a few days off, the sun was out, and I could sit poolside and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did.
Cricket Thompson is thrilled that she can finally see the beautiful island that is Nantucket when her friend Jules invites her to stay with her family. But when tragedy strikes, the plans go awry, and Cricket ends up on Nantucket alone. Luckily she manages to get a job – it’s not exactly a dream come true, but at least she’s still on the island. Where white sandy beaches stretch out, some surprises await, and she might just fall in love with a boy she never expected to grow close to – and one that she’s really supposed to stay away from.
I liked this book from the start. Cricket is a character that you can really get into. She’s lively on the page, and you get a great feel for the friendship she and Jules have, which is excellent considering that the big tragedy that one usually finds near the middle or in this case maybe even at the end of the book happens right away. I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve read a book where something that big happens at that juncture, and that alone made this book worth reading.
I loved Leila Howland’s writing. I loved her descriptions of Nantucket, from the houses to the scenery. Heck, after reading this book I really wanted to go to Nantucket – or at least the beach. There was plenty going on to keep everything interesting; a few little side stories to run alongside the main conflict kept me reading even when I got to a point where I thought I should stop and save some book for later. Nope. I gobbled this book up in one day. It’s also why I opted for a teen summer read rather than an adult one. While there is some sadness and necessary issues, they don’t overflow off of the pages. Main characters aren’t depressed and love isn’t all that complicated (I tried Kristin Hannah’s On Mystic Lake next – I still haven’t finished it because everyone is always soooo sad or torn about something).
I think my only qualm was I didn’t quite get how old Jules’s brother was from the get-go, so it was hard for me to picture some scenes later on. He was labeled as Jules’s younger brother so I automatically bumped him down to about 14. But that might also be because I’m 29 and not 17 anymore.
I really do recommend this book for one last summer fling. Buy it for a beach read, an escape into summer (during winter), or just for a good story. I know I’m happy to have it on my shelf.


Notes from the playlist: "A Strange New World" by Brian D'oliveira

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Easy Green Living by Reneé Loux - Live Green, Be Happy

Pros: Chock-a-block full of useful information
Cons: None
The Bottom Line: Need a quality book on how to live green? This is it. And yes; it's printed on recycled paper.
I'd considered looking into a few green-related books here and there, but never took the next step and bought any.  So when I got to pick this one up for free, my first thought was, "Sweet."
At the time I'd never been into the whole "live green" thing.  Yes, I recycle.  Yes, I try not to drive too much if I can help it.  Yes, I turn off everything I own when I'm not using it to conserve energy.  I do plenty of things that are considered green, and wanted to do more but didn't because either I didn't know how to where to start, or because it just costs more (let's face it, organic food is more expensive than non-organic food).  Renée Loux's Easy Green Living is a great place to start on gathering information on ways you might make changes, even if they are just baby steps.  Every little bit helps.
It's a nice thick book, and at almost 400 pages it can seem a bit daunting to any first timer, but trust me, it's easy as pie to handle.  This is because Loux doesn't get into technobabble or long-winded lectures or complicated text.  Instead, her writing is very conversational, upbeat, and almost like chatting with a good friend.  She'll end a sentence about a particularly nasty chemical with "Yucky!" or throw in a "Yay!" for good products.  It's fun writing is what it is, and though most of the pages have text in two columns, reading it is nice and speedy.  You'll be surprised at how fast you zing through this book.
Renée Loux has all the right credentials to be writing this book.  Flip to the back and you'll see a huge list of all her references, which range from tidbits from reputable websites to scientific research papers.  She's the host of Fine Living's It's Easy Being Green, and has been living green herself for many years.
Here's a quick contents list and rundown so you know what you'll be getting in this book:
Chapter 1: Green Living Is Easy ~ A short semi-introduction featuring green living tidbits, benefits, and tips.
Chapter 2: Green Cleaning Basics ~ All about cleaning using green methods; no harsh chemicals necessary.
Chapter 3: 5 Steps to a Green Kitchen ~ From appliances to a few extra kitchen cleaning tips, this covers the entire kitchen.
Chapter 4: 4 Steps to a Spic-and-Span Green Bathroom ~ A few more bathroom specific cleaning tips as well as how to save water, find green bathroom-related paper, and eco-friendly towels and such.
Chapter 5: Natural Beauty: The Simple 7 ~ Everything beauty related; makeup, shampoo, and yes ladies, even feminine products can be green.
Chapter 6: 6 Steps to Eco-Fresh Laundry ~ Products that are greener than what you're using now and methods to save energy, whether it means washing less or buying new machines.
Chapter 7: 4 Corners of a Green Bedroom ~ Ways to green your bedroom, mostly dealing with products such as mattresses, linens, and all the materials bedding is and can be made of.
Chapter 8: Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs: Save Energy and Money ~ A brief chapter about lightbulbs and how much switching to those wacky twisty ones can save you.
Chapter 9: Sustainable Ecological Home Furnishings and Materials ~ From floors to paint, there are green alternatives and this chapter has those in spades.
While this book doesn't tell you how about the benefits of installing solar panels or the evils of eating meat (which, by the way, I do, so I'm not knocking non-vegetarians), that's perfectly fine.  This book is more of an inside-the-home green guide.  Similar to the way you could take a feng-shui book and go room by room making changes to better the chi flow, you could take this book and go room by room, making changes to make it greener.
Each chapter is just full of useful information.  I mean oodles of it.  In each one, you'll find lists of chemicals to avoid, such as in makeup, cleaners, or even paint.  It'll make you look a lot closer at these products in the future and their labels and warnings.  For example, I was reading this book while at my sister's house helping her paint.  By that time I was in the paint-related area of the book and went to look at the paint cans, which most of us avoid doing or just don't bother to do.  And sure enough (and disturbingly enough), there were all those gross chemicals Loux discussed, as well as a warning that "This product contains a chemical known in the state of California to cause cancer."  Now I know that most of us think of California as a bit more overzealous in the green living thing than the rest of the states, but that still made me less than excited.  What's more, it makes you wonder if California claims such a thing, why no one is doing anything to prove or disprove that statement - or why that paint company apparently has no issues listing that warning on their cans.  Ew.
While it is a bit disturbing to read about all these potentially nasty chemicals in so many things (and many of these chemicals, though used, are actually still under scrutiny by plenty of scientists) and how they're able to get through because there's just no regulation on makeup or cleaning supplies or mattresses, Loux does make sure to offer readers plenty of healthy green alternatives.  Each section has multiple "Green Thumb Guide" spots that recommend a number of companies that produce eco-friendly items.  And I don't just mean a general overview of stuff - I mean specifics.  Deodorants, pillows, paint thinners, toilet cleaners, dish soap, facial moisturizer, trash bags, and a whole list of other goodies.
The Green Thumb Guides are all really handy because Loux mentions what the company makes, where you can buy their stuff, and how their products are made (organic, natural - yes there's a difference - some preservatives, a few chemicals, recycled packaging, etc.).  I've used her lists several times in my quest to find quality products to replace things I've been using.  So far it includes shampoo, hand soap, drain cleaner, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, and dish soap.  Thus far I've only purchased a handful of small things such as a shampoo by Avalon Organics, and because of this book, I ended up getting some samples of Method's Sea Mineral Hand Wash as well as come coupons I intend to use soon.
This book really does get you excited to go green because it shows you the options you never knew existed.  The idea of buying a kapok pillow is almost like a small dream of mine now, after so many lame polyester/cotton-filled pillows that smoosh and go bleh after a year or two (or less).  I'd love to own a natural latex mattress because it would be so much softer and not be on a mattress made with materials that firefighters dub "solid gasoline" and then treated with a ton of fire retardant chemicals.  I've already discovered the benefits and differences of my shampoo and the hand wash and have been very surprised.  Not that they clean well, but because of the difference in the clean feeling.
Loux also offers up plenty of home recipes, mostly for cleaning, though there are a few beauty treatments thrown in, and the ingredients are all probably already in your kitchen cabinets (vinegar, baking soda, and so forth).  You'll discover that oxygen bleach is, in fact, awesome (yep, that OxyClean stuff actually is for real).  And you'll glean all sorts of tidbits like how much energy we would save if just 100 people switched to "this" green product, or how much money you would save if you turned down your water heater temperature or used less water when washing clothes.
I intend to keep this book around for a long time and take a peek in it every time I want to get something green or how I might wash my windows without using stupid streaky glass cleaner (vinegar + castile soap + water and wipe with a newspaper!  Essential oils optional!).  I'm glad to have this book because not only am I significantly wiser on the whole green living thing, but now I know how to find out how old a toilet is, what plastics I can actually recycle, how much mercury really is in those twisty bulbs (NOT a lot, by the way), and all sorts of other things.
If you're thinking of greening your home, this book is a great place to start. You can chip away at the little things and work your way up from there.  It's easy, affordable, and this book will tell you everything you need to know about how to do it.
**I'd like to add that a few weeks after posting this review on, I purchased a latex pillow (thanks to this book, as I never knew they existed) and it is awesome. I have since replaced my old mattress with a latex one as well and it is equally fabulous.

Notes from the playlist: "All Souls Night" by Loreena McKennitt

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry - Learn About Method's Seven Obsessions

Pros: Excellent introspection, great advice, good motivation
Cons: Not that I can think of.

The Bottom Line: Recommended for entrepreneurs just starting out, big business CEOs that need to re-educate themselves, and people who just love Method (like me!)

When I got the email that Method was putting out a book, I thought, “Cool.”  It wasn’t until I was on a serious Method kick that I saw it on the bookshelf at work and grabbed it.  Mainly I was curious.  How do two random guys just suddenly start making earth-friendly soap?

Well, turns out Eric Ryan worked seven years in advertising and Adam Lowry worked as a climate scientist that included projects like the Kyoto Protocol.  So maybe not so random after all.  But after their initial How We Got Started story, the two discuss the seven obsessions that they have within and surrounding their business.  Their beginning wasn’t easy and they had to learn several of these along the way, but their goal with this book is to help other entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in the world with whatever it is they may want to create.  Frankly, I think a lot of current CEOs and their underlings could benefit from this book as well.

Here’s a really quick rundown of the main chapters (which I normally don’t do but for some reason want to today).

Method’s Seven Obsessions:

Obsession 1 – Create a Culture Club  It’s all about having an amazing work environment without having to work at it – or at least, work too hard.

Obsession 2 – Inspire Advocates  That would be me.  Don’t just get customers – get people who love your products and tell everyone and their grandma about them.

Obsession 3 – Be a Green Giant  Be earth-friendly, be human-friendly, and rock at it.

Obsession 4 – Kick Ass at Fast  It’s not about being the fastest to market, but knowing how and when to be the fastest.

Obsession 5 – Relationship Retail  Make your retailers a part of the process and they’ll be more enthusiastic about selling your goods.

Obsession 6 – Win on Product Experience  If people have used it before, it’s not special.  Give your product an edge by turning it into an entirely new experience.

Obsession 7 – Design Forget about the same old, same old.  Be new, and be stunning in more ways that one.

Those are the obsessions that the Method team lives by in a nutshell.  There are a lot of great things in this book that entrepreneurs will find motivating, engaging, and downright useful.  I just work in a bookstore and I wanted to go out and try something new!  It’s almost as though the enthusiasm of Eric and Adam is put right into the pages.  With the way it’s written, perhaps it is.

As a Method Advocate (yes, I call myself this), I found this book to be highly interesting because I learned so much about the company.  It’s not facts and figures, but instead how they function within their walls, how they learn, how they grow, how they work with their suppliers and retail outlets.  About some of their values, known collectively as their Methodology; “What would MacGyver do?” and “Keep Method weird.”  You see how hard they work to find just the right people to fill positions, keeping a spot empty for months on end until they have someone who is close to perfect for the job.  Discovering all these things made me want to work for Method.  Did you know it took them 8 years to finally be satisfied with their toilet bowl cleaner?  That’s how long they worked on it because they wanted to get it right – not just put out some mediocre product.

Entrepreneurs are likely to be inspired by this book.  The information offered is useful and practical.  Eric and Adam don’t lecture and regurgitate facts about their business.  They point out people who have inspired them, ideas they’ve borrowed from other companies because of their usefulness (like Google and, and things they’ve discovered over the years as their company grew.  They also make sure to point out areas where they have made mistakes, such as expanding too quickly or realizing the faults in one of their Methodology values.  They show how they grew from those mistakes, how they’ve learned from them so they don’t make any repeats in the future.

Other established companies should really take a look at this book too.  Method does many things that most of us regular folk would absolutely love for other companies to do.  Things, in fact, that these other companies truly should do for many very good reasons.  Excellent customer service.  Hiring quality people instead of just anyone off the street to fill the position and provide awful results.  Handling marketing and advertising in smarter, more efficient ways.  Changes that could be made in current, sadly lacking companies would be beneficial to everyone.

My love of Method aside, I really do think this book is an excellent resource.  I hope it does help some people, and I hope those people create some amazing things that change the world for the better.  I know that would make Adam and Eric pleased as punch.

**Fun fact: These two have such faith in their products that when at a UK presentation, a reporter asked Eric that if their toilet bowl cleaner was so nontoxic, why didn’t he drink some?  Eric promptly pour a shot and downed it.  Two others followed his example.  (Not that they or I am saying drink Lil’ Bowl Blu, but geez, tell me that’s not trust in your product or commitment to it?)

Notes from the playlist: "Hey, Soul Sister" by Train

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville - My First Adventure with Unicorns

Pros: A really good unicorn book

Cons: There is the occasional cliché, but can be easily overlooked (most probably won't notice anything)

The Bottom Line: Bruce Coville knows his unicorns, so you won't be disappointed.

For some reason I’ve always been the one to read my little sister’s books before she does. Like all the Harry Potter books – the first one was meant for her, but now it’s mine and I’ve bought all the rest on my own. Heck, I just bought the second book of The Unicorn Chronicles for Christmas and read it in two days – time enough to be done with it so she can have plenty of time to read it and I’ll be off to college.

Ok, enough about how I’m a fan of good fantasy and still read books that are meant for those much younger than me. Into the Land of the Unicorns is(obviously) a book about unicorns with 21 chapters and is 159 pages long. The author is Bruce Coville – a name I’ve come to know quite well upon my travels to every bookstore in search of the second book. Don’t know Bruce Coville? My Teacher Is An Alien? No? He has a dog named Booger you know. Anyway, that’s Bruce Coville.

This is Into the Land of the Unicorns, book one of The Unicorn Chronicles. Meet Cara, a young girl who lives with her grandmother on Earth. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? However, right off the bat Cara and her grandmother find themselves being followed by a strange man, and in the midst of their escape, Cara’s grandmother gives her a strange amulet and tells her to A.) say “Luster, bring me home.” and then B.) jump from the top of a bell tower upon the twelfth chime.

Cara does just that and a moment later finds herself in a strange and beautiful land called Luster. Here she meets Lightfoot, a young (only about a hundred years old) unicorn, the Dimblethum (a man-bear), and the Squijum (a sort of monkey creature that is always rambunctious and hungry). It is with these three that Cara begins her journey to a place called Summerhaven where the Queen of the unicorns dwells so she can return home to her grandmother. On their way they meet Thomas the Tinker (who has a rather remarkable cart he takes with him) and must avoid nasty creatures called delvers, the arch-enemies (aside from the hunters) of the unicorns. They even have a run in with a dragon and someone Cara has not seen for a long, long time.

But why do these hunters seek to kill the unicorns so badly? What is so important about the amulet? What secrets will Cara unveil that will shed some light on her cloudy past? And if Cara is able to return home – will she find her grandmother? These are things that I cannot tell you – you must read The Unicorn Chronicles.

As for me, I enjoyed it. This was the first book I’ve read where unicorns have a big part. ...Actually this was the first book I’ve read with unicorns in it (aside from Harry Potter – but that poor unicorn was dead). It definitely gave me a new perspective on unicorns aside from the perfect and proper way we always think of them. How is that? Well one never thinks of unicorns talking in a, well, casual manner. Or being gruff and possibly unpleasant to be around. Everyone (character wise) develops quite fast but Coville manages it without much problem (trust me, if there was a problem I would have shot it down by now). The story behind the hunters is also quite an interesting tale, something I never would have thought up, and there is a lot of richness in this book despite its size, in the ways of detail that is. And there are tons of great ideas, I might add (such as Cara's run in with the dragon and Thomas's cart), but then I’m a fan of fantasy writing myself so I have a little log in my brain of what creatures are made by what authors to do certain things etc. etc.

As for the cliché thing I mentioned, well, most people won't notice anything in the least. For people who read a lot of fantasy however, I don't know about you, but I get kind of tired of some of the names people come up with. You know, the joining of two everyday words to make a name that occasionally makes me think of Native American names. "Lightfoot." "Skydancer." "Firethroat." The name of the unicorn world is "Luster." And why not? Shiny, beautiful, magical - it's only natural the place should be called Luster I guess. But then that's what everything translates into English I suppose, so I guess it's all right. Except then there are random other names like "Squijum" so it's not exactly consistent. I dunno, that's just me.

Either way, I think this is a great book and I’d let my kids read it if they were into fun fantasy type things. Except I don't have kids. But maybe you do. Oh well, even if you don't you can still read it. Who cares if it's supposed to be for the younger generation? But then, of course, you have to get the second book…

But that is another story.


Notes from the playlist: "My True Love's Eyes/The Cottage" by Jerry Goldsmith

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott – The Shortest Space Between Life and Death
Pro: The kind of book that isn’t afraid to tear deep into grief
Con: A lot of repetition in places; takes some time to get rolling

Bottom Line:  If you’re not looking for something bright and perky, here you go – it’s like a really simplified Jodi Picoult book. 

The cover of this book caught my eye (which is what all authors hope their covers do), and then the inside flap summary pulled me in. It’s certainly not a very long story, and though the concept the story is based on has been proven not to really work, we’ll skip all that and just go with suspension of disbelief.
Emma’s mom is dead. The baby her mother was carrying is not. So for the sake of the baby, her mother’s body is kept functioning until the baby can be born. This isn’t something Emma wanted or asked for – to see her dead mother every day. After all, how can she let go when even her mother isn’t allowed to? She blames a lot of things – especially Dan, her stepfather who made the decision without even asking what Emma thought. But things seem to change a little when the local druggie/badboy Caleb somehow gets into her life. Loss is something he understands more than anyone else around her, and perhaps with his help Emma will learn how to live again.
This is a book that is absolutely full of grief and isn’t afraid to pull any punches about it. It’s kind of like a teen Jodi Picoult or even Kristen Hannah in some ways, where everyone is so sad all the time and so angry about the things that are happening to them. To be honest, I didn’t expect that much depression and grief to be crammed into one teen book – and not even a long one at that.
At the same time, I think because of this book’s length and subject matter, that’s probably why after the first 30-50 pages or so I started to get irritated and a little bored because all we get is Emma being mad about her mom being dead. At one point I actually started to wonder that if I were to use the Ctrl+F function on the book, just how many times would the words “mom’s dead” show up. I kind of feel like a jerk saying this, but it got to the point for a bit there when I wanted Emma to get over it, grow up, communicate with her stepfather Dan, and stop being such a, well, a whiny teen about it. Emma kept assuming throughout the entire book that Dan just wanted the baby and didn’t care one whit about her mother, although through memories Emma brings up it’s very, very clear that Dan cared and still does. But she’s so stuck in her beliefs that she refuses to see it. Frankly, I wanted Dan to finally lose his cool at Emma, but he never does and instead always remains soft and attempts to be helpful to absolutely no avail.
Things did finally start to pick up, though, so the book became interesting again since we weren’t constantly hearing about how much it sucked that mom was dead and Dan only wanted the baby. Caleb coming into play wasn’t as intricate as I thought it might be – you quickly realize what his deal is, why he isn’t so bad, and why he’s the only one that “gets it.” He’s got his own scarred past and his parents certainly don’t help – although I find their actions a bit unrealistic, and what Emma finds in Caleb’s house only adds to the never-ending theme of sadness and anger so dark it’s like a black pit without a bottom.
Characters do sort out most of their issues, grow, and move forward, which was good to see. You also do finally realize Emma has other issues besides just hating on Dan for wanting the baby (although she never does seem to fully acknowledge that Dan is in just as much pain as her, if not more). And I did cry near the end because saying goodbye sucks no matter what. While Emma isn’t back to fully normal, at least she – and maybe Caleb too – are on their way as long as they stick together.
Not a bad book, overall, but it’s not going to become a favorite any time soon. I expected a little less anger and hate (at one point I did think of Yoda and how anger leads to hate and giggled a bit) throughout the book, thinking perhaps it might have more of a focus on Emma and Caleb, but no dice. Still, if this sounds like your kind of book then it’s worth the read. I’m off to go read something with a bit more pep in its step.

 Notes from the playlist: "A Father's Wish" by Randy Edelman

Saturday, April 5, 2014

One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak – If You See God's Finger, RUN
Pros: Probably one of the weirdest ghost stories I’ve read
Cons: Mm, not really.
The Bottom Line: It's a story about a ghost, but it's not a murder mystery. It's a story about dying, but it’s actually about living. It's weird, but in a good way.
While participating in a book club, our host also threw out the occasional "dare" book - a little something extra to read between book club sessions. Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost was one of them. Another month it was Libyrinth by Pearl North. But last month it was this book, One for Sorrow. It sounded quite interesting to me, so I resolved to read it, even if I didn't get to it within the dare time frame.
Adam McCormick is fifteen, his home life isn't that great, and overall things are just "meh." When a boy from school, Jamie Marks, is found murdered, Adam realizes he can see Jamie's ghost. All Jamie needs is a friend. Adam knows what it's like to be unwanted and on your own, so he does what he can for Jamie. But that may mean dying, something Adam isn't at all concerned about. But will that really help Jamie? And is Adam dying for Jamie or for himself?
It's a hard book to summarize, really, though I think the back of the book does a better job than myself. Ha. It's a good story, one that keeps you engaged and one that is really weird in a lot of ways, though all of them good. I didn't want to put the book down, and even when I did, I was always surprised at how far in the book I wasn't. Like I was chugging right along and somehow not making progress. That's not a bad thing, it was just odd. Chalk it up to the subject matter of the book I guess.
Even though Jamie is murdered and his ghost is still lingering around, don't think that this is a murder mystery. This story is about Adam and the things he does. The things he feels, the things he thinks, and what he decides. He's a very interesting character and I was hooked on following him around as he made his way toward dying. There are some questions in this book that you may not have answered (or were they? You might not even be sure about that), such as why it was Adam decided to die or my question, what was it that made him decide to stay? Don't worry, I'm not ruining anything, it's pretty hard to ruin this book in any fashion because it's just so off the wall. It's nothing you'd expect.
And that's another thing that gives this book high marks. The author, Christopher Barzak, comes up with some cool ideas like closets leading into Dead Space, the strange things that linger in that space, and things that they want, and all the little things that Adam's grandmother used to say and do that turn out to be pretty much on the button. A lot of the things that frustrate Adam will frustrate you as well, so you'll be able to sympathize with him in a lot of the things that he does, whereas others you'll just wonder about some of his thought processes and decisions.
There are some odd moments in here where you might wonder, "Is Adam gay?" Indeed, I had that question a few times as well, but I almost want to say no, feeling more like he saw Jamie as a kind of extension of himself which is why certain things were okay. That's not to imply that there's a bunch of homosexuality in this book. Certainly not. Rather, whatever Adam and Jamie experience feels normal, natural. It's just another weird thing about this book that really works. And then of course, there's Grace, the girl that Adam really connects with in more ways than one.
It's strange, almost surreal, but at the same time it all makes perfect sense. It's a great book to read if you're in the mood for a ghost story in spring. At the same time, it's also good for being thankful. It's an odd duck, but I say give it a shot and see where it takes you.

Notes from the playlist: "Waiting Game" by Banks

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...