Thursday, July 31, 2014

Audiobook Review: Beyond Belief: My Secret Life in Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

From Goodreads:
Jenna Miscavige Hill was raised to obey. As the niece of the Church of Scientology's leader David Miscavige, she grew up at the center of this highly controversial and powerful organization. But at twenty-one, Jenna made a daring break, risking everything she had ever known and loved to leave Scientology once and for all. Now she speaks out about her life, the Church, and her dramatic escape, going deep inside a religion that, for decades, has been the subject of fierce debate and speculation worldwide.
Writing
Well done.  I don't have much to say either positively or negatively about the quality of the writing.  I think the real appeal of the book lies in Hill's story, and it's told well, but without anything extra in terms of style or device.

Entertainment Value
Absolutely fascinating.  After reading and enjoying Going Clear last year, I was really interested in the subject of Scientology and excited to see this memoir by someone who actually grew up inside the cult.  Jenna Miscavige Hill was not only a member of Scientology, but closely related to high-level Scientology leaders, including her uncle, David Miscavige.

Hill's story is heartbreaking.  She describes being separated from her parents from a very young age, being raised in a communal group with other children, and being forced to perform physically demanding labor and harsh punishments.  We follow her as she becomes a teenager and young adult and begins to question some of the rules and restrictions placed on members of the Sea Org, the elite group of church members who devote their lives to the practice of Scientology.  It's a story that is difficult to hear and chilling at times, when you realize that these abuses are happening in the country we live in at this moment in time.

Narration
Well done.  As with the writing, I have no strong feelings either way.  The author doesn't narrate the book and that always feels a little bit weird to me when listening to a memoir, but I still enjoyed the experience.

Overall
I highly recommend it to fans of memoir, those interested in contemporary cults, or who are interested in Scientology specifically.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

From Goodreads: 
A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee.
Writing
Incredibly well done.  I have absolutely no complaints in terms of the writing.  I felt like the author took a setting I'm unfamiliar with (high school music festival) and made it something immensely relatable, through characters that I had nothing in common with.  If that sounds like a feat, it's because it is.  My high school experience and myself as a high-schooler was so far removed from these teens, but they are written in such a way that I found myself  connecting with them regardless of our differences.  I particularly fell in love with Rabbit, one of a set of twins.  While his sister is the outgoing star of the show, Rabbit is more serious and reserved.  I loved that the twins roles are reversed right away and the way that their character dynamics shift when Rabbit is suddenly the popular twin.

Entertainment Value
Yes, yes, yes!  Such a fun story to read!  Things move along at a fast pace, the characters are compelling, and I loved the plot twists and turns.  Several delightfully unexpected events occur that left me particularly stunned/moved/thrilled.  It was definitely a pleasure to read and something that I had a hard time putting down.

The one negative in terms of entertainment value for me is a bit of a spoiler - nothing major, but I'm going to type it in white to avoid spoiling anyone who wants a totally pure reading experience.  Highlight from here to see the spoiler: Two characters engage in a "happy" affair, which is one of my pet peeves in books.  I don't like affairs that we're supposed to root for, that are "romantic", or that don't show any of the devastating consequences.  So that took away a bit from my ability to enjoy.

Overall
I highly recommend giving this one a try.  The coming of age aspects reminded me a lot of Tell The Wolves I'm Home, so I'd recommend it to fans of that one for sure.  I also think anyone who participated in vocal or instrumental music will love it, as will fans of twisty, delightfully dark and funny mysteries.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

From Goodreads: 
Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. 
Writing
The writing in this book is absolutely stunning.  It's a book that you can enjoy reading just for the beauty of the words.  The setting (Iceland) is so perfectly drawn that I felt like I was there.  The way the author uses her words mimics the landscape itself - sparse, but full of life and beauty.  And the characterization is just stunning.

Entertainment Value
This is definitely a character-driven novel.  Plot-wise, nothing moves very quickly.  It's more about getting to know each character, but Agnes in particular, than it is about fast pacing or shocking revelations.  The truth about the murder Agnes is to be executed for is revealed slowly and without salacious detail.  The real draw to the story is in exploring Agnes as a character and in seeing her prepare for death.  Her guilt or innocence are secondary to her development as a character.

Overall
It's an absolute must-read for fans of character-driven literary fiction.  It's got a stunning setting, but the biggest thing for me was in really grasping who Agnes is and how she's coping with the knowledge that she will be executed.  As I mentioned above, it's not fast-paced and there are no jaw-dropping revelations, so if you're looking for a mystery or a thriller, this probably isn't the right choice.  But it's beautifully written and was exactly what I was looking for in a character-driven novel.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: One More Thing: Stories and More Stories by B.J. Novak

From Goodreads:
B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut collection that signals the arrival of a welcome new voice in American fiction.

Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, Novak's assured prose and expansive imagination introduce readers to people, places, and premises that are hilarious, insightful, provocative, and moving-often at the same time.
Since these are supposed to be humorous short stories and vignettes, I'm reviewing the writing and entertainment value together, as I typically do for humorous books or essay collections.

Unfortunately, this was a flop for me.  I found a few of the stories ("Julie and the Warlord") to be entertaining and original, but for the most part I was bored.  I kept thinking surely the next story would be better, but it just never got there.  I don't think I laughed out loud at any of the stories, and most of them were less than entertaining.

I've heard from others that this is a great collection to listen to, so maybe on audio, hearing Novak's voice and the voices of the various celebrities who join him in the reading, I would have enjoyed the stories more.  As it was they just fell flat.  As one of my fellow book club members pointed out, they felt like the ideas for stories, but not like completed products.  My personal opinion is that it isn't worth the time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finding Time to Listen to Audiobooks

Photo Courtesy of LibAmanda

I posted recently about listening to bookish and non-bookish podcasts during my commute each day, but I didn't really mention the amount of time I spend listening throughout my day.  When people ask how I read so many books, I'm always sure to mention what a big role audiobooks play for me.  I listen to at least one, sometimes two or three, each month.  If you're looking for a way to incorporate more reading into your life, here are a few of my favorite ways to make time to listen.

1.  While Commuting
Whether you ride a train, drive yourself, or walk to work, this is prime audiobook listening time.  Even if your commute is short, you can work in a book over the course of a month or so.  And if you include time spent running errands, it adds up quickly, at least for me.

2.  While Doing Housework
If anything can ease the drudgery of housework, it's an audio book.  Here's my favorite trick for listening to audiobooks while cleaning, especially if you're using a phone as your listening device: Stick your phone in an empty juice glass.  It makes the perfect speaker system and you can carry it around with you as you work.  You could always just use earbuds and an armband or your pocket, but I hate earbuds and prefer to have more freedom to move when I'm cleaning.

3.  While I Sew/Craft
I don't like to sit still.  And I'm a huge fan of multi-tasking.  So while I'd never sit down and do nothing but listen to an audio book, I love being able to feel like I'm accomplishing something while I'm being entertained.  Since I like to sew and craft, the two are a perfect fit.  I use my juice cup trick again for easy listening.

4.  While Doing Lady Things
Nothing ultra personal here, don't worry.  But as a lady, I spend an hour or so a day on hygiene/beauty tasks.  Things that don't require 100% of my attention, and lend themselves to listening, like shaving my legs, putting on/taking off makeup, doing my eyebrows, painting my nails, etc are the perfect time for getting in some chapters.

And as a bonus, I'll give you a few more ways to work in listening time that don't work for me, but might for you:

  • Exercising: I swim, so it won't happen till I get a waterproof MP3 player (hint, hint - Christmas gift) but it's a great time for listening if you're on a treadmill or track
  • Walking the dog: I tried, but I feel guilty for not giving the puppies my attention while walking.  Obviously, they need me to converse with them or their feelings get hurt.
  • Grocery Shopping: I feel weird about having headphones in at the grocery store, but if you don't, go for it!
  • Waiting in line/at the doctor's office: Again, I feel weird about headphone use in public and I'm worried I'll miss something important.  But it would be a good time for listening if it didn't make me feel weird

 How about you, Reader Friends?  When do you listen to audiobooks?  And how do you feel about wearing headphones in public places?  Am I being weird for no reason?


Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

From Goodreads:
Until the moment he receives a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement. They had sold their home and business in London and bid farewell to England, setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.

But with that phone call, everything changes. Your mother's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things-terrible, terrible things. She has had a psychotic breakdown and been committed to a mental hospital.

Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden on the first available flight. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him with even more frightening news: his mother has discharged herself from hospital and he doesn't know where she is. 

Then his mother calls:
"I'm sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police. I'm about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow."

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother's unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.
Writing
I was impressed.  The Nesties have strongly recommended Smith's other books, and I've had an interest in them, but it took this one to get me to break down and give him a try.  We've got an unreliable narrator, the potential for either serious mental illness or a deep conspiracy, and family drama - all my favorite things.  At first I was really put off by the style of the writing.  We have our narrator, Daniel, who tells the story in straightforward fashion.  But his standard narration is broken up by the story being told to him by his mother.  Her portions don't include quotation marks, so it took me a while to catch on to the difference between Daniel's first person narration and his mother's first person  narration to Daniel.  It was tricky for a while distinguishing between the two, but once I was familiar with each voice, I could tell them apart with no problem.

Entertainment Value
In addition to my confusion over the two voices, I also had a hard time getting off the ground with this story.  The first quarter of the book dragged a bit and I wasn't totally into it.  That said, by the end of the first hundred pages I was hooked.  I stayed up way too late the night before a weekend trip to finish it, which is highly unusual for me, but I just HAD to know how it ended.  It's a book where the tension just continuously builds until the reveal at the end.  And I honestly had no idea which direction the story would take.  The ending was a complete shock, and one that made the slow start worthwhile.

Overall
For fans of psychological suspense, this is a must-read.  I'd compare it to books by Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, although maybe not quite as dark.  I'd also say it reads like Until You're Mine, How to Be A Good Wife, and The Silent Wife.  It has some violence, some sex, and some bad language, but nothing that I'd consider extreme.

Thank to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Design Your Life by Ellen and Julia Lupton

From Goodreads:
Design Your Life is a series of irreverent and realistic snapshots about objects and how we interact with them. By leading design thinker Ellen Lupton and her twin sister Julia Lupton, it shows how design is about much more than what’s bought at high-end stores or the modern look at IKEA. Design is critical thinking: a way to look at the world and wonder why things work, and why they don’t.

Illustrated with original paintings of objects both ordinary and odd,Design Your Life casts a sharp eye on everything from roller bags, bras, toilet paper, and stuffed animals to parenting, piles, porches, and potted plants. Using humor and insight Ellen and Julia explore the practical side of everyday design, looking at how it impacts your life in unexpected ways and what you can do about it. Speaking to the popular interest in design as well as people’s desire to make their own way through a mass-produced world, this thoughtful book takes a fresh and humorous approach to make some serious points about the impact of design on our lives.
Writing
Very well done from a writing standpoint.  I found the short chapters to be very readable and understandable, even to someone as ignorant about the world of design as myself.  I feel like both experts and neophytes can get something from this book, though, particularly because it is so cleverly done and so funny.  The author makes her subject, everyday items, interesting and appealing, and presents her design information in a way that's easily accessible to all readers.

Entertainment Value
As you can tell from my assessment of the writing, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I'm interested in design, but have no knowledge, skills, or experience to base that interest on.  I was pleased with how easy it was to read this book and how I was able to grasp the concepts being presented, particularly as they were presented in a manner that was really enjoyable to read.

Overall
I thoroughly enjoyed my read and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in design.  It's definitely not going to appeal to everyone though - it's exactly what it says it is: a book about the design, function, and use of everyday objects.  A great read with very nice illustrations, but will appeal to a limited audience.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: The Truth About Alice

From Goodreads:
Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.
Writing
To be honest, the writing isn't something that I paid particular attention to in this book.  I find that's a common theme for me in reading and reviewing YA novels, particularly in what I'd consider the "Issues" subgenre.  Particularly in a book that's a short as this one, with a clearly defined message to be conveyed, there just isn't room for a lot of the stylistic devices that I'd look for in a longer book that isn't so issue-driven.

That said, there were no flaws in the writing that took me out of the story.  I liked the shifting perspectives and thought all of the characters were believable as teenagers.  It doesn't have the adultified teen speak that some YA novels fall prey to.  Overall, I was satisfied with the writing, even if nothing in particular jumped out at me as exceptional.

Entertainment Value
This is where books that fall into the "Issues" subgenre really shine for me.  It's one of my favorite types of book to read for pleasure.  I devoured this one in one sitting.  It's heartbreaking to see how things become so twisted for Alice, based purely on the small actions of her classmates.  Each characters tells a small untruth or fudges a bit, but Alice pays a huge price for those lies.  I was really moved by how easily this horrible thing happens to Alice, whose mother is too busy with her own problems to realize Alice is drowning.

Overall
Definitely worth reading, particularly for those who are fans of Contemporary YA books that focus on a specific issue.  It's a good look at how easy it is for the small compromises we make can impact people around us - and a great book for teens on the cost to others when you put fitting in or popularity above honestly.

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts



From Goodreads: 
Not every gift is a blessing.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh.

Melanie is a very special girl.

Emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end, The Girl With All the Gifts is the most powerful and affecting thriller you will read this year.
Writing
For some reason the books that I fall in love with are always the hardest to write about.  I want to say things in just the right way that people will know that this is a book that must be read.  The Girl With All the Gifts is one of those books.  I'll try to just hit the highlights and keep the gushing to a minimum.

First of all, you'll notice that the publisher's summary is sparse.  That's because to say anymore would take away from what, for me, was the highlight of the book.  The reader's expectations and assumptions about the world Carey has created are constantly shifting and being torn down.  Just when you think you have a good grasp on where things are headed and how you'd classify the book, something new is revealed.

Secondly, the characters are ridiculously compelling and complex.  As with the plot, you are constantly forced to reevaluate how you see each character.  I am a huge fan of characters you love to hate, and this book has plenty, but there are also characters you think you love to hate, who eventually you just come to love.

I cannot rave enough about the quality of the writing and the way the author uses language to give each character and unique voice, even though we don't have first person points of view for any of them.  I feel like we really get into their heads and learn their motivations so thoroughly, as a result of the choices she makes in expressing each voice.

Entertainment Value
So in addition to being well-written and having compelling characters, the plot itself is downright crazy.  There are so many twists and turns and shocks that you  never see coming.  I was absolutely engrossed from the first pages.  I don't want to say too much plot-wise because I don't want to give away any details, but I thoroughly enjoyed having my world rocked several times over the course of the book, as my assumptions proved false yet again.  It's definitely fast paced and enthralling, but neither the characters nor the writing suffer from the pacing.  I loved it.  So much that I devoured all 400+ pages over the course of two days.  

Overall
Please read this book.  And then call me, text me, message me, send me a smoke signal, whatever you need to do so that we can discuss how amazing it is.  It's definitely earned a spot on my best books of 2014 list and I'll be buying a copy for my shelf ASAP.  The only warnings I have are that there is strong language and violence, verging on gory at times.  But in such an amazing, creepy, keep you up at night way.  Also, it gets bonus points for sciencey stuff.  This is the kind of book that makes me love the genre, even if I refuse to say exactly what genre that is.

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

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

From Goodreads:
Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. As a scientist in a groundbreaking project run by the egocentric and paranoid Erastus Carthage, Kate has brought small creatures -plankton, krill, shrimp - "back to life." Never have the team's methods been attempted on a large life form.

Heedless of the consequences, Carthage orders that the frozen man be brought back to the lab in Boston, and reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was-is-a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906. When news of the Lazarus Project and Jeremiah Rice breaks, it ignites a media firestorm and massive protests by religious fundamentalists.

Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah's new life is slipping away. With Carthage planning to exploit Jeremiah while he can, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.
Writing
Although Kiernan is an accomplished journalist and has published two works of non-fiction, this is his debut novel - not that you could tell from the writing.  I was very impressed with how well done this book was.  I think it could have gone off the rails at several points (particularly when dealing with time travel/reanimation of frozen corpses), but he handles the scientific details nicely.  He doesn't get so involved that the novel drags, but he covers enough details to make the book plausible and keep the reader from second guessing how things happened.  The characters are well-developed and, while not always sympathetic, compelling.  I particularly like that we are given chapters in a second person voice from the villains point of view, placing the reader in his shoes.

Entertainment Value
It's on the long side (close to 500 pages), but I feel like I flew through it.  I just couldn't get enough of the story. Jeremiah's character, in particular, fascinated me.  My favorite scenes were the ones where he experiences modern life for the first time and his interpretation of the changes in the world.  I also enjoyed the authors take on how religious groups, politicians, and society as a whole would react to technological developments that allowed for the reanimation of a man frozen over 100 years ago.

Overall
I definitely recommend giving this one a try.  It's got a great love story, but I think that takes second place to the dynamic characters and the overarching implications of the book - and I appreciated that.  I think readers who enjoy contemporary fiction with a somewhat literary bent will enjoy this one as well.

Thanks to TLC for providing me with a copy to review.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

From Goodreads: 
In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, complete with friendships, investigations, and supernatural dreams along the way. Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi's inner turmoil will challenge Christians and Muslims alike. Engaging and thought-provoking, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells a powerful story of the clash between Islam and Christianity in one man's heart---and of the peace he eventually found in Jesus.
Writing
As far as the content is concerned, I feel like Qureshi does a great job of presenting information in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.  Unfortunately, I felt like he chose the wrong way to present that information stylistically.  The book seems to be a memoir, beginning with Qureshi's early life and progressing to the here and now.  However, most of his early experiences are presented in a way that is a thin veil for explaining Islam.  I'm not complaining about the content.  I'm interested in Islam and loved reading about the beliefs from an Islamic point of view.  But I felt like trying to disguise the factual information that Qureshi needed to present with a somewhat half-hearted storyline was a mistake.  I was not at all intrigued by the mundane happenings of his early life and I felt like they didn't serve much of a purpose.  I'd have preferred to read just the description of the underlying beliefs of Islam without the life story details.

Once Qureshi gets to college, however, the story picks up and becomes more interesting.  I'm not sure exactly how I would have worked his early life into the story, but it seemed to be an afterthought compared to the real meat of the story - Qureshi's conversion experiences.  I very much appreciated the use of Christian and Muslim apologetics throughout the story and the fact that Qureshi provided so many sources to readers for further study.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, I found the subject matter and the depth of exploration of both Islam and Christianity to be very compelling.  I like feeling like I've come away from a book with new knowledge, and I certainly gained that from this one.  I wasn't necessarily a fan of the way the information was presented in the first half of the book, though, and I feel like the disconnect I felt from the story hampered my enjoyment.

Overall
Because the book is so detailed regarding both religions, I came away happy with what I had learned.  I liked Qureshi and I felt like I really identified with his hunger for knowledge.  It's also a great overview of Islam and Christianity from an apologetics view point.  I might have enjoyed it more if it were presented in a different way, but the quality of information earns no complaints.  I'd recommend this to Christians who have a particular interest in Islam or apologetics and to those who are looking to understand the basics of the Islamic faith.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a copy for me to review!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Comics Friday: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers from Goodreads:
China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldierI ls roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers--commoners trained in kung fu--who fight to free China from "foreign devils."

Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of "secondary devils"--Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.
Saints from Goodreads:
China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name by her family when she's born. She finds friendship--and a name, Vibiana--in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. 
But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie...and whether she is willing to die for her faith. 
Writing
Beautifully done.   I love the way we're given a slightly fantastical look at historical events, with the ancient Chinese gods in Boxers and Joan of Arc playing a role in Saints.  Very creatively done and an original take on history.  I feel like the author really did the Chinese setting justice and used history to tell a deeper story. I'd love to read more graphic novels like this in the future.

Entertainment Value
I was totally captivated by the stories.  I really enjoyed having both sides of the conflict represented and felt like Yang did a great job of showing both camps.  I've never known much about the Boxer rebellion, but feel like I got a great overview through these books.  I'm interested to learn more and plan to search out some more academic titles to further my knowledge.  This provided a great jumping off point for that.

Art
I feel so intimidated when I write about art, because I really have no knowledge or expertise to base my opinions on.  That said, I really enjoyed the style of this work.  I felt like the images were a good blend of modern graphic novels and traditional Chinese art.  I loved the colors, particularly in Boxers.

Overall
I highly recommend giving this one a try, particularly if you have an interest in history or Chinese culture.  It would be an excellent set to have in a classroom or school library.  I can't think of a better way to introduce Chinese history to students.  For that matter, it's a great introduction for adults as well.  I think it's definitely got a wide appeal.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Audiobook Review: Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman

From Goodreads: 
For the first time, a historian of science draws evidence from across the world to show how humans and other animals are astonishingly similar when it comes to their feelings and the ways in which they lose their minds.

Charles Darwin developed his evolutionary theories by looking at physical differences in Galapagos finches and fancy pigeons. Alfred Russell Wallace investigated a range of creatures in the Malay Archipelago. Laurel Braitman got her lessons closer to home by watching her dog. Oliver snapped at flies that only he could see, ate Ziploc bags, towels, and cartons of eggs. He suffered debilitating separation anxiety, was prone to aggression, and may even have attempted suicide. Her experience with Oliver forced Laurel to acknowledge a form of continuity between humans and other animals that, first as a biology major and later as a PhD student at MIT, she'd never been taught in school. Nonhuman animals can lose their minds. And when they do, it often looks a lot like human mental illness.

Thankfully, all of us can heal. As Laurel spent three years traveling the world in search of emotionally disturbed animals and the people who care for them, she discovered numerous stories of recovery: parrots that learn how to stop plucking their feathers, dogs that cease licking their tails raw, polar bears that stop swimming in compulsive circles, and great apes that benefit from the help of human psychiatrists. How do these animals recover? The same way we do: with love, with medicine, and above all, with the knowledge that someone understands why we suffer and what can make us feel better.
Writing
Very well done.  I really enjoy listening to non-fiction on audio for some reason.  It's just what I tend to gravitate towards.  The writing in this one was done well - not too much scientific terminology, but enough to let me know the writer knows what she's writing about.  And plenty of great anecdotes from her travels, from history, and from current events.  The only real problem with non-fiction on audio is that you don't get a good idea about the use of references.  No endnotes or citations available on audio, so I can't say for sure how much further research the author allows for.

Entertainment Value
I found this one fascinating.  I loved all of the animal stories Braitman told, although some were hard to hear.  Since seeing Blackfish, I've been particularly interested in animals in captivity, and Braitman spends a good deal of the book dealing with the mental health issues that large animals in captivity face.  She also discusses the mental health issues, particularly anxiety, faced by dogs, cats, and other companion animals, and tells the story of her own dog, Oliver.

Narration
I had no problems with the narrator, but she drove Luke crazy.  She wasn't the best I've ever heard, but nothing that hampered my enjoyment of the book.

Overall
I highly recommend this for those who love nature and animal writing, for those who enjoy pop science and psychology, and for those who are concerned with the welfare of animals kept in captivity and the relationships between animals and humans.  My one word of caution would be that some of the stories told in the book do revolve around the mistreatment and abuse of animals that some readers may find disturbing.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing me with a copy of this on audio!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I Read in June

I'm not even going to lie, Reader Friends, I KILLED it in the reading department this month.  But before I give you the official list of what I read, I'll share a few pictures.  In addition to reading a ton, we had a pretty full month as far as family goes.


Sunday nights are currently devoted to Call the Midwife.  We also spent some time digging through my parents' attic and my sister's old bedroom to make way for my older brother and his family to come visit.

Gorgeous sunsets almost every night



And we started our July stay-cation early with horseback riding.



And here's what I read in June:

A Call to Action by Jimmy Carter

Writing Reviews for Readers' Advisory by Brad Hooper

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

The Friend Who Got Away by Jenny Offill

Bibliocraft by Jessica Pigza

Midsummer by Carole Giangrande

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

If A Stranger Approaches You by Laura Kasischke

Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett

Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman

Chasing the Sun by Natalie Sylvester

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Congratulations, By the Way by George Saunders

Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler

Y: The Last Man, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughn

March, Book One by John Robert Lewis

Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

Love Illuminated: Exploring Life's Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers) by Daniel Jones

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

American Widow by Alissa Torres

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

Total Books Read: 23
Total Pages Read: 5328

What did you read in June?