Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Haul (16)

A Book Haul post is long overdue, seeing as my last one was Christmas-themed and I've had a birthday since then.  And it was an absolutely glorious birthday!  We had my favorite meal at my parents' house with my siblings and sibling-in-law and then watched Sherlock.  Sugar Bear and Buddy both surprised me with book-themed gifts, although I forgot to take a picture of the Les Miserables necklace Buddy got for me.  

Sugar Bear got me this amazing library-themed tote that I've been carrying my library books around in.

AND, she got me three signed books by Lurlene McDaniel, who she knows through a work acquaintance.  That's right, my sister has connections to amazing places and she used them to get me three books about dead and dying teenagers.  


And then, as the icing on the cake of signed books, I won a signed copy of Tenth of December from Terra Elan McVoy.

Also, my friend Jennie at We Still Read sent me two books for my birthday from my wishlist: The Flight of Gemma Hardy and Bring Up The Bodies.  My friends are the best.

And of course, no month (or two in this case) would be complete without a trip to McKays, where I picked up Wolf Hall and Boundaries in Marriage.

I've tried really hard to cut back on review copies, so I only have five so far this year, and this is all I have scheduled through May.

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley (TLC Tour)
Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke (Unsolicited)

Vintage by Susan Gloss (TLC Tour)
The Lobster Kings (Unsolicited)

This Is Not An Accident by April Wilder (Viking)

And of course, I have some library books on the shelf, too.

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog
History Decoded: The Ten Greatest Conspiracies of All Time

What's new on your shelf this month?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag...And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr

From Goodreads:
Life is filled with spills, odors, and those oh-so embarrassing stains you just can’t tell your parents about. And let’s be honest: no one is going to ask Martha Stewart what to do when your boyfriend barfs in your handbag.

Thankfully, Jolie Kerr has both staggering cleaning knowledge and a sense of humor. With signature sass and straight talk, Jolie takes on questions ranging from the basic—how do I use a mop? —to the esoteric—what should I do when bottles of homebrewed ginger beer explode in my kitchen? My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag proves that even the most nightmarish cleaning conundrums can be solved with a smile, the right supplies, and a little music.
I'm sticking to a single review of this one instead of a two part review.  The book is funny and about cleaning.  I don't have much differentiation in those two categories for writing and entertainment value.  I actually enjoyed a book about cleaning things, so in my opinion the book succeeded in both categories equally.

I really liked Kerr's sense of humor.  I think she takes something that is a bit of a boring subject (no offense to those of you who like to read cleaning descriptions - if you exist, comment and let me know) and makes it delightful to read.  Obviously it's informative too, and I thought she covered cleaning disasters that I might actually encounter.  Confession: I don't spend my weekends cleaning my blinds or dusting the top of my fridge.  But I HAVE had a giant bottle of sticky juice spill all over my kitchen and no idea how to clean it up. This book solves that problem in a lighthearted way.  The author also addresses other, rather intimate cleaning situations that no one ever teaches, so props to her for going there.  I learned things.

Basically, I'm going to need to pick up a copy of this one to keep on my shelf for reference, but you can also sit down and read through it enjoyably.  I definitely recommend it.  Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: The Troop by Nick Cutter

So many things to love about this book!  First, the cover is amazing, right?  It is perfectly eerie and dark, but beautiful at the same time.  The Troop is about a boy scout troop taking their annual wilderness excursion to an uninhabited island off the coast of their small town in Prince Edward Island.  Unexpectedly, a strange man stumbles out of the woods begging for food before collapsing and, eventually dying.  Unfortunately for the scout troop, he spreads his infection before dying.  As the infection (infestation?) spreads through the troop, they realize that they must survive on their own, abandoned on the island by the military in an attempt to contain the contagion.  And one little boy is quite the little creeper himself...

Impressive.  I loved the multiple points of view, the characterization, and especially the setting.  I'm not typically a horror reader, but the tone of this (sinister/suspenseful) really appealed to me.  I have no complaints or criticisms as far as writing is concerned.

Entertainment Value
A contagion, an evil little boy, and a survival story?  Yes, please!  It appealed to me on so many fronts and totally delivered.  I was sucked into the story almost immediately and couldn't get enough.  I read most of it at a cabin on a girls' weekend with the Nesties and totally got into the whole "deserted island" feel of it.  It reminded me in a lot of ways of It by Stephen King, with the focus on coming of age/loss of childhood in the face of evil.

I recommend it for fans of horror, contagion-type stories, and anyone looking for a good scare.

A word of caution: This book is dark and gory.  There are graphic descriptions of experiments on animals and people, as well as descriptions of violent acts against humans and animals.  It's not for those with weak stomachs.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Review: The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

From Goodreads:
Jen’s still a little rough around the edges. Suffice it to say, she’s no Martha Stewart. And that is exactly why Jen is going to Martha up and live her life according to the advice of America’s overachieving older sister—the woman who turns lemons into lavender-infused lemonade. 
By immersing herself in Martha’s media empire, Jen will embark on a yearlong quest to take herself, her house, her husband (and maybe even her pets) to the next level—from closet organization to craft making, from party planning to kitchen prep.
Maybe Jen can go four days without giving herself food poisoning if she follows Martha’s dictates on proper storage....Maybe she can grow closer to her girlfriends by taking up their boring-ass hobbies like knitting and sewing.…Maybe she can finally rid her workout clothes of meatball stains by using Martha’s laundry tips.… Maybe she can create a more meaningful anniversary celebration than just getting drunk in the pool with her husband....again. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll discover that the key to happiness does, in fact, lie in Martha’s perfectly arranged cupboards and artfully displayed charcuterie platters.
I'm a huge fan of Lancaster's early memoirs, but her last few books have left me less satisfied.  Unfortunately, this one can be added to my list of less-than-satisfying Lancaster reads.  I really felt like she was reaching hard for material for a book.  It doesn't read as natural the way her earlier memoirs do.  Instead of feeling like she had a really funny/unique experience and then wrote about it in a creative way, I felt like she was trying to come up with something funny/unique so she could write about it.  That stretch for material really showed for me in the writing.

The portions of the book I enjoyed the most were the ones in which Lancaster is just living her life, not reaching for a topic to write on.  She describes the illness and then loss of her dog, Maisy, and that part really rang true for me.  I wished that the rest of the book felt as authentic as those moments.

Entertainment Value
Despite the issues I had with the writing, I still enjoyed much of my reading of the book.  Lancaster is funny, although not as funny as I found her to be in previous books.  It reads quickly and wasn't dull or boring.  I can't say I disliked the book, and I'll certainly keep reading whatever Lancaster publishes, but this one just wasn't as appealing to me as her first three memoirs.

If you're a fan of the author's, you'll probably want to read it.  It's a decent diversion and an easy read, but if you haven't read Lancaster before, I don't think this is the one to start with.  Definitely start with Bitter Is The New Black or Bright Lights, Big Ass.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

You may have noticed, Reader Friends, that I seem to be in a bit of a blogging slump right now.  I'm reading plenty, I just can't seem to motivate myself to post as much.  In an attempt to get things jump started, I'm going to go back to using Goodreads summaries instead of trying to come up with my own.

From Goodreads:
A new American cuisine is forming. Animals never before considered or long since forgotten are emerging as delicacies. Parts that used to be for scrap are centerpieces. Ash and hay are fashionable ingredients, and you pay handsomely to breathe flavored air. Going out to a nice dinner now often precipitates a confrontation with a fundamental question: Is that food?

Dana Goodyear’s anticipated debut, Anything That Moves, is simultaneously a humorous adventure, a behind-the-scenes look at, and an attempt to understand the implications of the way we eat. This is a universe populated by insect-eaters and blood drinkers, avant-garde chefs who make food out of roadside leaves and wood, and others who serve endangered species and Schedule I drugs—a cast of characters, in other words, who flirt with danger, taboo, and disgust in pursuit of the sublime.
Perfection.  Goodyear is a staff writer for the New Yorker, and has published a few collections of poetry, but this is her debut work of non-fiction.  Despite it being her first book, you can tell that she has quite a bit of experience as a journalist.  I also loved how willing she was to get into the spirit of her book - she didn't just report on the world of adventurous eating, she participated (where she could - during parts of the book she was pregnant and unable to eat some of the unregulated or unsafe items she describes).

Entertainment Value
Again, I loved it.  I thought it was the perfect mixture of humor, research, and anecdotes from Goodyear's tour of unusual cuisine.  I'm not typically a reader of food books (I have some Bourdain but haven't read him yet), but I do enjoy the occasional episode of Andrew Zimern's Bizarre Foods.  This reminded me a lot of that show, although the focus here is on food in America.  I'm not in the least squeamish, but I can imagine that some of these food descriptions may bother those with more delicate stomachs.

I really enjoyed this book and the author's style and sense of humor.  She reminded me of a Mary Roach for the foodie world.  I'll be watching for her next book.  If you are a foodie, if you like the idea of crazy foods, or if you're a fan of Mary Roach, this is a great choice for you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman

American teenager K.C. hates school, especially reading and writing.  So when her mother gives her the gift of participating in Save the Girls, an organization that pairs American donors with recipients in Darfur.  They will spend a year exchanging letters and the American partner donates money towards teaching the women in Darfur a trade.  K.C isn't thrilled at the idea of spending her free time doing something that seems so much like schoolwork, but as the letters begin to arrive from her partner, Nawra, K.C. finds herself moved by the suffering Nawra has experienced.  The more K.C. learns about Darfur, the more active she becomes at her school, raising awareness and forming a club devoted to activism.

I was mostly unimpressed with the writing.  I felt like I wasn't really sure who the intended audience for this book was.  K.C. is a young teen, and she reads as such.  She's immature, self-centered, and just your typical high school freshman.  Nawra on the other hand, has experienced all kinds of horrors.  The book doesn't shy away from very difficult topics - genocide, rape, female genital mutilation.  The way these topics are dealt with would push me towards an older teenage audience, but K.C.'s immaturity and youth make the American portions of the novel seem more appropriate for a younger audience.

Entertainment Value
This was just an ok read for me in terms of entertainment.  I loved Nawra's story and was completely captivated by her portions of the book.  I couldn't bear K.C. and, despite the fact that she becomes marginally more interested in the world outside of herself, I didn't see much character development from her.  The portions featuring her and her very first-world struggles bored and irritated me.

Again, I'm just really not sure who the intended audience for this book is.  I applaud the author for taking on a hard topic and attempting to bring some of the issues facing women and teens in other countries, particularly war-torn countries, to the attention of younger readers in America.  But I didn't think the book was particularly well-written and I found K.C. to be obnoxious.  At the same time, I can't come up with another title that I'd recommend for young teens to read.

For older teens, or adults, those whose can handle the harsh realities faced by the people of African genocides, I'd recommend the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback, or the books The Enough Moment (John Pendergrast), A Long Way Gone (Ishmael Beah), Tears of the Desert (Halima Bashir) and They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky (Benjamin Ajak).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Documentary Mini-Reviews: Blackfish, First Position, Jig, and Bronies

I mentioned in my What's Making Me Happy This Week post last Saturday that I'd had the chance to watch some amazing documentaries while at home due to snow.  I'm a huge documentary fan and can't resist the opportunity to plug these four (and hopefully more soon).  For the record, all of these are currently available on Netflix Instant, should you want to watch.

Of all the documentaries I watched recently, this one was the hardest to see, but also the one that fascinated me the most.  In fact, I watched it twice, the second time with Luke.  It's about the use of killer whales in captivity, specifically places like Sea World, where they are displayed for the public and perform in shows.  In particular, this documentary focuses on a killer whale named Tilikum, who has killed three people during his time in captivity and led to the ongoing legal battle between Sea World and OSHA.  We're given the history of the capture and breeding of orcas in captivity, as well as Tilikum's own history and the history of similar attacks on trainers.

I found the whole thing to be horrific and it definitely shaped and changed my views on keeping such large mammals in captivity.   The documentary itself is, admittedly, one-sided, although this is apparently due to Sea World's refusal to participate or give any sort of statement.  Sea World has released a rebuttal to the documentary (click here to read it).  I found some parts of it interesting but many other parts to be pretty weak.  I did bring it up to two good friends who work at the Tennessee Aquarium and whose opinions I greatly trust. While neither of them have seen it, they both said that general opinion among other aquarium workers is that the film is sensationalized.  My personal opinion is that my money definitely won't be going to Sea World.  If any of you have seen it and have thoughts, please let me know - it's a movie I absolutely can't get off my mind and would love to discuss more.

I have no shame in admitting that I am a huge fan of the tv show Dance Moms.  I just like it.  I think it's definitely staged, but I just love those little girls.  This movie, however, totally puts Dance Moms to shame.  It follows six young ballet dancers who are training to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix.  The level of talent is mind-blowing.  I didn't know bodies could move that way.  There's none of the behind the scenes mom-fighting that takes away from the fun part of Dance Moms either.  It's all about the kids and dancing, although it does highlight how the kids and their families have had to dedicate their entire lives to ballet.

So this is basically the same thing as First Position, but substitute Irish dancing (think Lord of the Dance/Riverdance) for ballet.  I particularly enjoyed this one because, for a brief time during high school, I was a competitive Irish dancer.  I'll pause a moment to let that sink in.  Yes, it was hilarious, yes I had the shoes, no I did not have a wig, and I borrowed a costume.  Pictures of it may or may not exist.  And yes, I can still jig.  This follows dancers preparing for the World Championships.  Irish dancing is, obviously, super cool and, like ballet, takes an incredible amount of flexibility and energy.  The dedication is, at times, astonishing and the dancing is so fun to watch.

Ok, before I even start, I need to qualify my review by saying that I am well aware that there is a contingent of this fan base that is NOT AT ALL cute and dorky and harmless.  I am SURE that if I googled Bronies I could very easily uncover many things that I'd never be able to unsee.  In fact, I recently heard about Brony-themed porn, which is just gross.  HOWEVER, this documentary only examines the fun-loving, based-only-on-the-show fandom, that has sprung up around the children's show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Surprisingly this fan base is largely adult and male.  There are just a ton of teenage and grownup people who love this show.  

The documentary is to the Brony culture what Trekkies is to the Star Trek fanbase.  We get to meet and follow a few major characters are they participate in various Brony cons and fan activities: a teenage boy who is afraid to tell his conservative father that he likes My Little Ponies, an autistic teen who has found in the Pony fandom a place where he can forge human connections, a couple who met through MLP, and an Israeli fan who has achieved pop star status among the Bronies.

So as I mentioned, I'm sure there are very adult iterations of Bronies that I definitely do not want to know about and BY NO MEANS wish to see links to or pictures of.  Seriously, don't do that.  I mean it.  This movie, and henceforth my opinion of Bronies, is that it's just about the most adorable little thing I've ever seen.  In a very weird way.  The autistic boy who goes to a Brony con and makes friends?  Dead.  The little boy whose father finally goes to a con with him and grudgingly accepts his Broniness?  More dead.  

I'm not now and for the foreseeable future will not be a Brony myself (fun fact from the documentary: girls are bronies too), but I am obsessed with fandoms and the culture that comes with them.  I love seeing, watching, reading about cosplay and fan cultures and how they emerge and evolve.  So this was a natural documentary for me to watch and love.  And, as always with various fandoms, I love how accepting they are of people with differences.  No one is a "geek" within a fandom.  It's heartwarming to see people who really can't fit in anywhere else find their tribe.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: The Red Market by Scott Carney

This book came to my attention through one of my favorite podcasts - NPR's RadioLab.  Back in July they aired an episode that was all about blood (click here to listen).  The author, Scott Carney, focuses on ways the human body, its organs, its blood, even its hair, are bought and sold around the world.  He spent five years conducting research and travelling around the world, looking into the "red market" trade.  The stories range from the selling of organs for cash in third world countries to blood farms, including one where farmers were held against their will while their blood was harvested and sold, to children being kidnapped and sold to orphanages for American adoptions.

I was predisposed to trust the author because I trust RadioLab, but I found his writing and journalism skills to be nothing less than what I'd expect.  He has obviously done his research and put an enormous amount of time into investigating various claims from around the world.  I was highly impressed.  The writing is down to earth and easy to understand.  I'd consider it to be more accessible than academic, although that shouldn't be interpreted as in any way discounting the author's obvious care in researching and reporting on the subject.  It just means I found it a pleasure to read.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above this is a fairly easy read, and, I thought, fascinating.  I feel like I learned something new from every chapter - from the Indian trade in hair to modern day body snatchers.  The "red market" as a concept was completely new to me, but I feel like I learned so much from reading this, which to me, makes for a very successful book.

If you're into popular science, if you like Mary Roach, if you're a fan of the RadioLab podcast, or if you just want to learn some shocking truths about the purchase of bodies and body parts, this is a great book for you to read.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Happy Book Birthday to Alienated by Melissa Landers!

There aren't enough squees in the world to express my excitement about the release of this book!  Because I KNOW MELISSA!  AND I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this one and it is unbelievably awesome.  I won't do my typical review since this author is a friend and fellow Nestie (the first of THREE to be published this year!) but I am obviously going to rave about it as much as humanly possible.

The story is set two years after an alien race known as the L'eihrs has made first contact with Earth.  The race is genetically very similar to the human race, but, obviously, is equipped with superior technology, knowledge, and amazing good looks.  They have proposed an exchange program between three of their teens and three Earth teens to bolster relations between the races.

Our protagonist, Cara is one of the lucky three.  She's disappointed to discover that despite his amazing good looks, Aelyx, the exchange student who will be living with her and her family and who will host her on his planet, seems cold and distant.  She's also disappointed in the paranoia and anti-L'eihr sentiment from her hometown.  As the threats increase, Cara and Aelyx finally seem to connect, but Aelyx is hiding a secret that could cause the town to erupt into violence.

YA isn't my go-to genre, but this has everything I look for in any book.  It's smart and funny and, most importantly to me, does something new.  I loved the science fiction aspects and the world building is exquisite.  It's a home run for me all around!  Congratulations, Melissa, on doing something unique and new and best wishes that it rises to the top of the best seller lists!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Club Field Trip!

First of all, I must start this post by thanking Alaina and everyone else at William Morrow who made this our best (and first) book club field trip ever!  Last week I posted about our experience discussing the book and this week we were sent to see the movie.  I, once again, totally failed at taking pictures of the event, but this time I blame my sister, who was running late.  Because of her, we didn't get in the theater until the previews had started, at which point anyone taking pictures would deserve to be shanked.  So let it be known, my lack of pictures is 100% Sugar Bear's fault (except the part where I could have taken pictures after but forgot) and, as an older sister, I am legally required to shame her publicly.  

Anyway, the movie.  Like the book, we came away with mixed feelings.  Except about this scene, which we all agreed was a bit creepy.  All the sexual tension with the little boy's hands mixed in was just awkward.

Some of us liked it (the same some who enjoyed the book the most) and some of us didn't (the same some who didn't love the book).  What we all agreed on, while having dessert and drinks after the movie, was that the experience was a blast.  And our discussion was actually really great.  The mixed reactions provided really good conversation.  Personally, I started off on the "not so great" team but was then somewhat persuaded by the "it was awesome" team.  I love when good conversation can change the way you experience a book or a movie.

Big time thank you again to Alaina and William Morrow for making this experience an absolute blast!  I think we're going to need more book club field trips in the future.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week (11)

So you've probably all seen that the South was put completely out of commission by a winter storm this week.  I was home from work Tuesday through Thursday, which was a blessing and curse.  By the time I left the house yesterday to go to Starbucks and a church dinner with Sugar Bear, I was losing my mind.  I don't know how you Northerners stand being cooped up.  And I didn't even have kids to entertain!  Bless you all.

You should also know that I used my time at home to do almost nothing productive.  I worked on getting my etsy shop ready to officially open a bit, and I did some needed cleaning, but the majority of my time was spent lazing around.  The good news is, all of my lazing gave me good What's Making Me Happy This Week ideas!

Oh man.  I had a documentary BINGE.  I'm going to do full (or at least mini) reviews of everything I watched, because I thought all of them were extraordinary.  But the one that I can't get off my mind is Blackfish.  In fact, I'm making Luke watch it with me again tonight.  It was absolutely horrifying.  Just looking at the pictures gives me chills.

Parks and Recreation
In order to give my brain a little break from all the documentaries I was consuming, I also gave Parks and Rec a second try, as I'd heard that it gets better after the first season.  And everyone who told me that wins a hundred friend points, because YES!  It gets so much better.  So I'm going back and forth between Parks and Rec binges and documentary binges.  It feels right.

How about you, Reader Friends?  What's making you happy this week?