Wednesday, April 30, 2014

52:120 The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

A crazy little play about two men, neither of whom are named Earnest, who fall in love (at lightening speed in one case) with women who believe them to be named Earnest and swear that they wouldn't be able to love, let alone marry, someone of a different name.  This leads them to going to great lengths to make the name change and life change necessary to procure the love of the women they pursue.

I found it somewhat cute but also utterly preposterous.  Maybe it's something about the time it was written that doesn't translate well to current times but the whole "I just met you, let's get married" thing bugs me and then especially how if the man isn't named Earnest than forget it, can't happen.  I get that it's supposed to be a comedy and poking fun at the societal issues of the day but seeing women portrayed in that kind of foolish light really rubs me the wrong way.

Page count: 58p/12,313p ytd/193,351p lifetime

51:120 The Ancient Roman World by Ronald Mellor and Marni McGee

Covering from the legends regarding the founding of Rome to the fall of the Roman Empire.  There were some famous people like Archimedes that didn't get mentioned so won't be heard of at all in this entire series which I find to be a shame (time to pull out some other books and rectify that) but on the whole a good installment for this series and for middle-school history in general.  It is very difficult reading this one while at the same time reading the "a-g approved" high school Glencoe as it makes Glencoe look absolutely horrid for all the glaring omissions.  This series is just so much richer and goes so much deeper than what is given to our high school kids.  Just continues to go to my point that we should stop worrying about quantity and worry more about quality because what they are being taught in high school really isn't worth anything when it's so shallow the bottom of your shoe barely gets wet if you step in that puddle.

Here's my review from a few years ago:
Part of "The World in Ancient Times" history series for middle school by Oxford.  I learned a lot with this one starting from the beginning as they had more than one version of the founding of Rome.  Weird since all I had ever heard about previously was the story of Romulus and Remus.  There was also a fair amount on the emperors that came after Augustus, how they were chosen, how they ruled, etc.  There was a chapter on the Jews and their history as well as a chapter on how Christianity started and spread.  In all, I felt it was a good well-rounded history book that presented a lot more than just what seems to be typically known and explained the findings that told us these things.

Page count: 190p/12,255p ytd/193,293p lifetime

Friday, April 25, 2014

50:120 The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

Naoki Higashida wrote this when he was 13yrs old in an attempt to explain his thoughts and behaviors as someone with autism.  It's written as a Q&A session and offers interesting and unique insights into the mind of an autistic person.  Many of the questions focus on why he does certain things or doesn't do other things and he tries hard to explain the compulsions he is under and how he must battle his mind and body to do what he wants to do, to be the kind of person he sees around him, to not be a bother to others, to not be so lonely.  Some of what he has to say is heartbreaking to read as you can hear the longing in his "voice" to be accepted, to not make others angry or upset with him.

Here is my one only real criticism of the book.  Naoki tries to speak for everyone with autism and I think that is noble but at the same time, people with autism are still people.  They are individuals and what one thinks or feels is just that, the thoughts and feelings of one person.  They are absolutely of value and hopefully it will bring about more acceptance and help for those on the spectrum but at the same time, I would hate for someone to read this book and think they have everyone with autism figured out.  My oldest son has atypical autism with many problems with social cognitive behavior, theory of mind, and executive planning skills.  Some of what Naoki said I could absolutely see coming out of my son's mouth and I'm hoping to have him read this book and get his feedback on it.  Other things seem completely the opposite for my oldest.  In other places, the things Naoki talks about are more like things I deal with my younger two who are not autistic but have vestibular and other problems that they are getting occupational therapy for.  As we have found already, many of these things can go hand in hand but just because they have one does not mean they have the other.  I had one doctor convinced that my youngest was autistic because of verbal issues at the age of 18mos only to have it properly diagnosed as apraxia of speech which while common in autistic children can also be independent of it.  The same with vestibular issues and a whole host of other things, some of which Naoki seems to be dealing with as well.  Does this negate anything in the book for me?  No but it does lead me to put the caution on those who read it to understand that this is one person's thoughts and feelings.  Very valid thoughts and feelings and yes, I do think that many autistics would find several places where they agree wholeheartedly with Naoki but I'm not sure how many you would find that agree 100% with everything.

The biggest thing that everyone should take away is his constant plea "Don't give up on us!"  These are real people and need to be treated with all the dignity and respect we should show everyone in our lives.  They are NOT less!   They struggle in ways that we cannot understand and deserve our support and our help and most of all our love.  And not only them but also their caregivers.  It can be a lonely and thankless job even when it's your child and you love them beyond reason.

The last thing I want to mention is that there are several page long writings of Naoki and a short story that he wrote in the back that are simply amazing.  It certainly shows what a lie it is that autistics don't have the same feelings we do.  They feel so very much.

Page count: 176p/12,065p ytd/193,103p lifetime

49:120 The Demon You Know by Julie Kenner

A short story set in the Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom universe, between books 4 and 5.  Allie has started training to be a demon hunter like her mom and considering her bad choice in dates lately, Kate has agreed.  They are having the normal teenage head-butting thing going as well so it's been a challenge but Kate is trying to loosen up so let's Allie off to the mall with her friends and from there she has a sleepover planned at another friend's house.  Little does she know that Allie's friends have plans to sneak off to a major party at a local playboy's mansion and little do they know just why they have been invited to this party....

Apparently a 6th book is being released this year after several years hiatus so this is a tease to get people back in the universe.  It's a simple story and if you don't know the backstory it's a little hard to get into so definitely not a good introduction to the series but since I read all the books a few years ago, it was nice to dip back into that world.  I'm very curious as to where it's going to go after the last book when it appeared that Kate and her husband were heading for splitsville.  The stories are bubblegum, fun without a lot of substance but as a soccer mom, there are so many ways I can relate to Kate (except the whole demon thing, that just happens when the youngest hasn't eaten lately).  I'm looking forward to the new installment.

Page count: 22p/11,889p ytd/192,927p lifetime (numbers shifted as I went through and found some errors)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

48:120 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Ok, for those who have not read this here's the brief synopsis.  Pip is orphaned and living with his sister and her husband who is a blacksmith.  He meets a girl and dreams of being something more to have a chance of becoming worthy of her.  He gets a surprise benefactor who thrusts upon him "great expectations".  He turns into a jerk.  Girl doesn't care about him being a jerk or his "great expectations" and marries someone else.  The benefactor is not whom he had been assuming it was for years.  His life gets turned upside down and nothing went as he expected it.  The End.

There are a few more twists and turns (almost all of which are completely predictable) but those are the salient points.  It was a 490 page book.  It slogged and dragged.  I understand that some people get really into his language but I personally find it pedantic and lethargic.  It doesn't move, it doesn't paint a picture for me, it's dull and plodding.  My son had to read this for his book club and he didn't finish on time even with a month.  I am of the opinion even though I don't run that book club that I will read what he does for it so I read this around my own book club reads.  It's finally over and I'm glad it's over and I don't really care that I can now say I've read it.  I think the story itself might have been interesting if I'd ever actually cared about any of the characters but the narrator turned into a complete a$$ once he got into money, his friend wasn't fleshed out enough (although he was probably one of the more interesting characters), the one assistant lawyer again was sort of interesting but was more a ploy to get information to the character than a full-fleshed character himself.  I get that the story was supposed to teach a lesson about virtues and decisions and all that but I was hoping that Pip had hung with Magwitch for aiding and abetting because he was just so unlikable.  Maybe if Pip had been likable to any extent, or the book was half as long so it moved at a decent pace but as written....Blech!

Page count: 490p/11,885p ytd/192,877p lifetime

47:120 Oh Myyy: There Goes the Internet by George Takei

Being a card-carrying geek since long before they gave out cards for such a thing, I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know who George Takei was once I was old enough to know such things.  A child of the 70s, I grew up watching Star Trek reruns and looked forward to them.  My mother made me a tiny Uhura costume and there is a picture out there of me around 3yrs old sitting in her chair on a set someone brought to a convention.  That's when I wasn't dressed up as Princess Leia.  So yeah, I'm a geek and proud of it.  So of course, being a geek, I've been following George on FB for as long as I knew he was on there which has been a few years now.  I enjoy the humorous posts he throws out there as well as his commentary on them and I tend to align well politically with him so any of those types of posts, I appreciate as opening my eyes to something I may want to research further.  When I saw this book for cheap on Amazon for the kindle, I jumped on the chance to grab it.

Is it amazingly awesome? No.  It's a pretty quiet sketch of his foray into social media, what he has found that works for him, what hasn't, how he has evolved in his usage of it.  This isn't an autobiography of his whole life, just a specific snapshot in time focusing on a specific topic.  An enjoyable and quick read and for the price I paid, a fun read but I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it.

Page count: 246p/11,395p ytd/192,387p lifetime

Thursday, April 17, 2014

46:120 Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life by Arianna Huffington

I'm passingly familiar with Arianna Huffington which means I've seen her on The Daily Show/Colbert Report and I read articles that my friends post on FB that link over to the Huffington Post and I knew this was her baby.  This book was chosen as our book club book this month and I thought it looked interesting and I looked forward to reading it.

Let me sum up the book simply for you.  Sleep more, unplug from devices, slow down, meditate, listen to your intuition.

That was the main message in the book and the rest was just cherry-picking from reports experts have written or sayings of her mom to illustrate these points.  None of the points are new or amazing or anything else.  There were some good quotes that I bookmarked to remind myself of things but it's no more than you would get on a quote of the day calendar.  What surprised me the most was that the book ended at 69% with the next 6% being a list of apps to help you unplug, set timers for your social media use, or even do nothing so you can meditate.  Seriously?  The point of the majority of your book is to tell everyone to unplug and then the next thing you do is give a list of apps?!?!?  I'm sorry but I unplug by putting my phone down and leaving it in another room.  Going outside without it or a computer is another one.  I don't need an app for that and I think it completely contradicts the whole point especially having an app to meditate.  The last 25% of the book was notes on everyone she quoted from so in reality, it's a short book (remember, there are a LOT of quotes and sayings throughout) that is not outstanding or filled with anything that experts haven't been telling us for several years now.  For all that, I'd give it 3/5 stars because if you hadn't been paying attention before this and she helps you hear it than that is a good thing.

Page count: 352p/11,149p ytd/192,141p lifetime

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

45:120 Doctor Who: The Silurian Gift by Mike Tucker

Quick Read, 11th Doctor, no companions.  The Doctor has discovered a corporation about to bring out a new source of fuel that they discovered in the Antartic and decides to go check things out.  Turns out, Pelcorp did not discover it but was given it by the Silurians, a race of homo reptilia, that ruled the Earth when man was just a primitive ape.  Pelcorp has forced their cooperation and not all the Silurians are happy about the way their "relationship" with the humans is going and are now bent on using their fuel to destroy the Earth for human habitation.  Can the Doctor convince them to stop?

This is a Quick Read so only 112 pages and lives up to the name.  Simpler language and assumes you know the universe and main characters (I do).  My younger kiddo really enjoys these books and then bugs me to read them as well.  It was short and simple and nothing super exciting but it was a fun little Doctor adventure.

Page count: 112p/10,797p ytd/191,789p lifetime

44:120 God, No! by Penn Jillette

Otherwise titled "Signs you may already be an atheist and other magical tales".  I bought this for my husband who really enjoys Penn & Teller and happens to be an atheist.  He read it and enjoyed it and I figured I'd read it too.  After seeing Penn & Teller in Vegas a few weeks ago, this seemed an appropriate time.

There was nothing new and earth shattering in the book  There were some stories of people whom have come out of the atheist closet due to listening to Penn talk about it and some of his thoughts on atheism and God and such.  There were also a lot of stories just thrown in there of things that he has done and lived through that really don't have much to do with atheism at all but are just things he wanted to tell about.  That's fine and some of them were interesting and some were less so.

I wanted to like this book more than I did.  I felt like things didn't flow well into each other and had little connections to each other except that they all happened to one man and very few of them had much to do with atheism or religion.  Also, I have zero problems with cussing and I get that he wrote this as he would tell each of the stories but it's not being told, it's being read and that much cussing just gets boring when it's read.  It stops lending emphasis and starts reminding me of Dickens and makes me wonder if he was being paid by the word.  Maybe that's because I've been reading Dickens (and oh my dear lord is that man wordy!) but a lot of it felt almost forced in there for shock value and it ruined the flow for me more than anything else.  My husband has a mouth on him and his uncle is a stand-up comedian so there wasn't anything in the book I hadn't heard before and seriously, how many times must "mother f***er" be in one book???  It's not needed.  If you really want to include that much profanity, please be a little more creative at least.

Page count: 231p/10,685p ytd/191,677p lifetime

Friday, April 11, 2014

43:120 Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

The 8th book in the Mercy Thompson series.   When Adam's ex-wife calls and says she is in serious trouble, Mercy is worried that it will blow up in all their faces but even she couldn't predict how right she would be.  Turns out Christy has attracted the attention of something much more supernatural than a mere werewolf pack and he is not about to give up what he feels belongs to him without a fight.  Adam will not leave Christy defenseless even to save himself or the pack but can anyone figure out just how to get a volcano god to back off?  If anyone can, it might just be Coyote but at what cost to Mercy?

I absolutely love this series and my biggest complaint is that it's a year between books which seem so short and I read in just a day or two because they are too good to put down and this one was no exception.  I didn't like how manipulative Christy was (which was totally the point) but I admired Mercy's self-restraint.  I did feel like Adam could have done a better job of handling the situation but at the same time, you can also see why he struggles balancing things.  In all, a great installment to the series and I am now saddened that I have to wait another year (or more, please don't let it be more!) until the next one.

Page count: 341p/10,454p ytd/191,446p lifetime

Thursday, April 10, 2014

42:120 Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Ok, this is a simple story.  Macbeth is told by three witches that he will be king but Banquo's children will be kings for generations.  Macbeth isn't even king yet but hey, a few well placed daggers takes care of that problem.  Hey, kind of worried about Banquo and his kids so hire some murderers to take him and his kid out except they miss the kid.  Hire those same murderers to take out Macduff and his family only they let him escape and only take out his wife and kids which is enough to piss anyone off so of course, he gets some friends and their armies and kill Macbeth.  Self-fulfilled prophecy done.

I think this is definitely one of those plays that works better in a stage setting because reading it was boring and predictable.  I have a couple of different theatrical productions that I now just need to find time to watch.  I will grant that there are definitely some great lines from it even if the plot was tired.

Page count: 132p/10,113p ytd/191,105p lifetime

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

41:120 Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

The third book in the Incryptid series told from Alex Price's POV.  Alex is in Ohio as a visiting herpetologist. from San Francisco.  In reality, he is there to try and breed a pair of basilisks and check on the local fricken population as well as help with his cousin's recovery from saving his sister Verity.  It was supposed to be a quiet assignment until people started dying at the zoo where he works by petrification.  Since people turning to stone is not a normal way for them to die and it's happening very close to him, his assignment has just had a major change of scope.  To make matters more interesting, his girlfriend who is a visiting big cat specialist from Australia is more than what she appears as well.

Lots of twists and turns, some predictable and some not.  Lots of fun little throw away things that caused me to snigger.  I enjoyed Alex but my one complaint was that I got the fact that he was normally a researcher after the first time it was said and I get putting it in a second time in case people weren't paying attention but it just seemed like we were constantly being reminded of that fact and I found it a bit repetitive.  Otherwise tho, a fun fast read which was a true pleasure after reading nothing but school stuff for several weeks.

Page count: 356p/9,981p ytd/190,973p lifetime

40:120 The Ancient Greek World by Jennifer T. Roberts & Tracy Barrett

A look at history from the earliest civilizations that we have records for and how those civilizations eventually came to be called Greek through cultural similarities, language, and religious beliefs but how the lack of true community and nation forming eventually led to it's downfall.  Again, a rich look at the culture not just the bare bones history and mythology.

Here's what I said when I read it a few years ago:
 I felt this did a very good job of going through ancient Greek history.  It didn't focus over much on religion and mythology as I've seen so many others do.  It focused more on how people lived and how their lives developed.  Lots on the wars since that was, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence but also on the development of the poleis (Greek city-states).  They told of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans against Xeres of Persia (the basis for the recent movie 300).  Lots on the inventors and philosophers as well.  Overall, very pleased with this series for middle school history.

Page count: 192p/9,625p ytd/190,617p lifetime

39:120 Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Winnie has been leading a sheltered life all of her ten years with people admonishing her constantly to stay cool, stay clean, be polite, etc.  She decides one day that she will run away and goes off for a walk in the woods next to her house.  There she meets Jesse, a 17-year-old boy, who is pleasant until she tries to drink from the little pool of water next to him.  They argue until Jesse's mother finds them and not knowing what to do takes Winnie home with her to try and explain why she must never drink from that spring.  The Tuck family drank from it years and years ago and now no longer age and they can't be killed.  When Winnie was taken however, a man who had heard the stories sees her and strikes a deal with her family to bring her back in exchange for the woods the spring lies in.  Will the secret of the spring get blown open to the whole world or will the Tucks' figure out how to stop this secret from getting out?

A charming little story about how living forever may not be as great as it seems and how that responsibility can be heavier than you would ever imagine but also about friendship and trust and making grown-up decisions even when you are young.

Page count: 140p/9,433p ytd/190,425p lifetime

Friday, April 4, 2014

38:120 The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster

Second time reading this one, this time with the youngest who is 8.  Here's my previous review:

Milo is bored.  School is boring, home is boring, his toys are boring, everything is boring...even that mysterious box that shows up in his bedroom with a strange tollbooth in it.  But what he finds on the other side of that tollbooth is anything but boring.  A whole new world opens up before him: one where you eat your own words,  can collect sounds in a bottle, a symphony colors the world, and a little boy must rescue Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason from the Castle in the Air with the help of a watchdog named Tock and a Humbug.

One of those timeless children's classics that I somehow never got around to reading when I was actually a child.  I decided to rectify that by doing a novel study with Jon.  He was reluctant at first but after the first few chapters, we were both hooked.  A lovely book that takes so much of what we say figuratively and literally turns it upon itself but in the end you learn that so many things are possible so long as you don't know they are impossible.

Since this was an assigned read, Nick just went along with it and he was a bit bored by the beginning but within a few chapters he was talking to me about what was happening and it was never an issue when I told him it was time to do his reading.  Many times, he would read the next day's chapter as well to see what would happen next.  It truly is a lovely book with some wonderful words of wisdom scattered throughout.

Page count: 256p/9,293p ytd/190,285p lifetime