On Edge by Andrea Petersen (Review)

IMG_0001A courageous and engaging mix of personal account, scientific information, and historical background about anxiety and related disorders.

As someone who has experienced an anxiety disorder first hand, I found this book highly accurate, relatable, and encouraging

Although the author’s journey with anxiety is much more extreme than mine has been, it was vindicating to read about this condition from such a reliable and respectable source (The author is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal covering neuroscience and mental health).

This book resonated with me because much of the author’s experience lined up with my own, and because it ultimately has a positive and encouraging message.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or who is close to a person experiencing this struggle.

[I received my copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an honest review.]

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child [review]

29069989The Cursed Child is probably a really amazing stage production, doesn’t really deserve to be called “the 8th Harry Potter” story, especially as it is not truly written by JKR.

Potter fans should still check it out, because it’s a quick read (being a play) and has some fun and memorable parts; however, if it languishes on the TBR shelf for eternity, you aren’t missing too much.

The book’s shortcomings have already been carefully dissected by many articles and reviews in detail, but the main issue I had with it was simply that the plot seemed too contrived. It reminded me of a type of corny TV episode from the ’80s and ’90s. Using something like flashbacks, a show would rehash all the important moments from the past so the viewer would really get why what was happening was important. These episodes were typically boring, and somewhat insulting to the viewer’s intelligence.

That’s what if felt like the plot was doing: remixing important moments from the book series in a sort of blendy of Potter nostalgia and trying to recreate the excitement of the originals by presenting it through the point of view of a new character (Harry’s son).

It’s definitely not the Harry Potter book we were hoping for, but in the age of the great reboot maybe it’s the Harry Potter book we deserve.

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson (book review)

Image result for tell me how this ends well david samuel levinsonOverview: In 2022, increasing antisemitism threatens American Jews. The disturbingly plausible vision of the near future features dystopian shades while remaining uncomfortably familiar. The book’s descriptions of driving highway 101 in LA, for example, will be recognizable to anyone who has experienced it, except for the addition of the suicide bombings that have become common, and the wet weather brought on by the effects of climate change.

Against this backdrop, the drama of the Jacobson family unfolds. The three Jacobson children – Mo, Edith, and Jacob – have come together to decide what they can do to help their ailing mother, who they fear is being driven to an early grave by their controlling father, who by all accounts is a terrible person. Their solution is patricide.

Complicating the plan to off their dad is the fact that the family has been the subject of a reality TV show, and the family gathering coincides with the filming of a reunion special.

Analysis: This novel fits a lot into its 400 pages. Each of the three younger Jacobson’s stories are intimate and relatable, the world is both familiar and terrifying in its plausibility, and the plot engages the reader to ask questions. For example, is the father truly as bad as he seems, or does he have his own story to tell? In all, an enjoyable, memorable novel that will appeal to fans of family dramas, humorous novels, and light speculative fiction.

Hardcover, published by Hogarth, New York. 2017.

I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an  honest review.

Speed of Life by Carol Weston (book review)

Brief Summary

Was thirteen the worst possible age to lose your mother? Maybe. Then again, there was no good age.

Speed of Life tells the story of Sophia Wolfe’s fourteenth year. Sophia lives with her dad in New York City, and her typical growing pains are complicated and colored by her mom’s sudden death the previous year.

Image result for speed of life carol westonIt seems like people — her friends, teachers, maybe even her dad — are beginning to expect Sophia to have healed from the pain of loss, but she hasn’t. In fact, she can’t imagine what it would be like to “get over” her mother’s death, or even wanting to do so.

Yet the speed of life slows for no one, and Sophia discovers that really living means being in the moment, whether time seems to be racing by or to be frozen. On top of this, she has to deal with issues like kissing boys, changing schools, and the fact that her dad may be ready to start dating again.

Speed of Life is a bittersweet story of loss, love, and growing up that will appeal to fans of thoughtful realistic fiction with an introspective and likeable female main character.

Thoughts

I enjoyed this book for the most part. I liked the characters and could sympathize with their feelings and struggles. I found the writing to be quite excellent, and the treatment of the subject sensitive and insightful.

Ratings

  • Plot: A- (Made sense; progressed logically; not overly predictable)
  • Characters: A- (Mostly dynamic, complex, and believable)
  • Realism: B (Overall believable characters and events)
  • Cover art: A (Cute and eye-catching)
  • Pace: B+ (Seemed slow at times, but mostly good)
  • Style & Tone: A- (Fit the character’s age and personality)
  • Overall: A-

Details

  • Title: Speed of Life
  • Author: Carol Weston
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (April 4, 2017)
  • Length: 329 pages

More Info

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown (Review)

Review

Most people in states along the old emigrant trails across the U.S. have at least heard of The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by [Brown, Daniel James]the Donner Party and the unfortunate events that befell them. In The Indifferent Stars
Above, 
Daniel James Brown retells the tale with a focus on a particular individual – Sarah Graves – and her family, who threw their lot in with the Donners and Reeds to tragic effect.

Brown’s style is intimate, novelistic, and readable, with an effective mix of historical detail, dramatic narrative, and science-fact analysis. For example, after relaying a captivating scene depicting the seemingly abnormal severity of the Sierran weather in 1846-47, Brown breaks to briefly explain what we know about the weather that year and how we know it.

While the author’s ability to mix a stirring historical account with informative detail is one of the book’s main strengths, the author’s tendency to also interject personal thoughts, conjecture, feelings, and opinions may be counted among its two primary weaknesses. However, these instances are rare enough to be overlooked in most cases, and some readers will recognize them as an effort to further humanize the people and the story, and to make them more immediately relatable. As the author points out, historical figures and events often seem so distant and removed from familiar experience that they are reduced to the names and faded daguerreotypes that have come to represent them, and it takes a special effort of imagination to restore them to full humanity.

The book’s second major weakness is its lack of supplemental materials. Besides a few photos of the primary characters and locations, there are none. Most glaringly,
there are no maps, and no index. Readers interested in photos, maps, and other historical artefacts will need a second source*.

Overall, The Indifferent Stars Above is an example of excellent narrative nonfiction, and is recommended for readers who enjoy this genre. The subject should appeal to a wide audience, but especially to those whose knowledge of the Donner Party is in the “none to moderate” range.

Personal Note

Growing up in Northern California, the Donner Party was always part of the fabric of regional history and folklore. In grade school I went on field trips to the Donner Memorial State Park, and drove over Donner Pass frequently on the way to camping trips near Lake Tahoe. That said, the story was never something I paid particular attention to. I knew the general outline of the history, but few details.

For my current job, I drive over the Sierras at Donner Pass three times a week and, when I think about it, it makes me wonder at the privilege we enjoy in modern technology and travel (especially in winter). Yet even today the Sierras in winter are still formidable. I’ve been stranded by snow storms on the wrong side of the pass on three separate occasions in the past two years, and although I weathered the inconvenience comfortably in a hotel room, the experience instilled a respect for the power of nature and the mountains in me nonetheless.

Reading this book brought home to me the stunning fortitude, effort, energy, faith, and hope it took just to embark on a journey such that undertaken by the emigrants of the 1840s, and the depth of the tragedy that befell the Donner/Reed party in the mountains. It is, as the subtitle declares, a harrowing tale, but well worth the read for anyone with an interest in American history. For me, it was particularly intriguing given my familiarity and acquaintance with so many of the places and regions in which the story unfolds.

Ratings

  • Style: A (narrative; novelistic)
  • Tone: B+ (engaging; interesting; not sensational; somewhat personal)
  • Pace: A (steady; maintains interest; narrative flows nicely)
  • Format: A (very readable; chapters broken into segments and scenes)
  • Supplementals: C (no maps!?)
  • Appeal: A
  • Overall: A-

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party / by Daniel James Brown; published by Harper Perennial, c2009; paperback, 337 pages.

*For a source of pictures and maps, I recommend The Donner Party chronicles: A day by day account of a doomed wagon train, 1846-47 by Frank Mullen, Jr.

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard [Review]

Pretty Little Liars by [Shepard, Sara]Details:
Title: Pretty little liars
Series: Pretty little liars, bk 1
Author: Sara Shepard
Published: HarperCollins, 2006
Blurb:
[From the author’s website, saracshepard.com]

“I’M STILL HERE, BITCHES. AND I KNOW EVERYTHING. —A

Everyone has something to hide—especially high school juniors Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Emily Fields, and Hanna Marin.
Spencer covets her sister’s boyfriend. Aria’s fantasizing about her English teacher. Emily’s crushing on the new girl at school. Hanna uses some ugly tricks to stay beautiful.
But they’ve all kept an even bigger secret since their friend Alison vanished. How do I know? Because I know everything about the bad girls they were, the naughty girls they are, and all the dirty secrets they’ve kept. And guess what? I’m telling.”

Review:
I was completely prejudiced against this book before I started reading it. I thought it was a trashy novel, a waste of time, vacuous, vapid, stupid, trivial, and probably a bad influence. After reading it, my prejudices were both challenged and confirmed, and I discovered something else. While the book was all the things listed above, it was also at least one other thing. Fun.

Sure, the characters are all horrible examples of people — or perhaps good examples of horrible people — but as messed up, amoral, and unlikeable as they are, they are also fascinating and human. Also, I was relieved to see at least one character exhibit signs of emotional maturity by the end of the book, which shows that the characters can learn and grow. The thing that really redeemed the story in my eyes, though, and helped to explain the series’ continuing popularity (not to mention adaptation into a tv show), was the writing.

Critically the writing is not especially good; but then neither is James Patterson’s in my opinion, yet that does nothing to dampen his enormous popularity. Like JP, Shepard writes well because her writing suits her purpose well, which is to tell an entertaining story. The language is simply a bare-bones structure designed to give the story a place to exist and to move the action along, and as such it works very well. I was not distracted by glaring errors or by bad composition. In effect, the writing was good.

It took a while for my opinion about this book to change. At a quarter of the way through I noted that my impressions were largely negative, mostly because I disliked the characters as people. Even at the end of the book, the thing I find most troubling is that there is very little to admire in any of the characters – the same problem I have with adult literature of the same type (Gone Girl, for example). However, I also noted that the story was quite evocative of a certain type of tween/teen girl experience. Although my own experience was vastly different from anything in the book, the story still brought up old memories and feelings from middle school and high school, which I wondered at and appreciated.

Verdict
Yes, it’s trashy, and yes, it’s stupid, and yes, it showcases the worst of teenage girl behavior. But it’s also fun and entertaining and escapist. I don’t see any problem with indulging in reading something like this from time to time. After all, just because you read National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and the NEJM, doesn’t mean you can’t sneak a peek at the National Enquirer or Vogue once in awhile. So here’s the breakdown of my ratings:

Intellectual value: F
Entertainment value: A
Characters: C+
Plot: B
Writing: A
Overall: B

For more info:
Author website: saracshepard.com
Series info: wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Little_Liars_(book_series)
Amazon page: Pretty Little Liars

Originally published by me on http://yablrb.blogspot.com/

March Reading Recap & Review

Happy April First! I can’t believe it’s already April! I don’t have any funny April Fool’s jokes in store, but I thought some of the ones showcased by TIME were pretty funny (http://time.com/4720892/april-fools-day-pranks-jokes-2017/).

This past month I got some good news – I landed my first professional job after finishing my degree! I’m now officially a librarian.

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My position is in youth services, so I will be selecting materials and designing programs and services for tweens, teens, and young adults. I’m very excited, and I will be reading and reviewing more YA literature from now on!

This month I didn’t get around to reading a book published before I was born, but I did manage to read my fiction, nonfiction, and other format titles.

Other Format or GenreSkin Trade by George R. R. Martin, adapted by Daniel Abraham and illustrated by Mike Wolfer. Graphic novel; 2014; My rating ★★★☆☆

The Vampire Gift 1: Wards of Night by [Knight, E.M.]FictionThe Vampire Gift 1: Wards of Night by E. M. Knight. YA fiction; e-book; 2016; My rating ★★☆☆☆

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by [Brown, Daniel James]NonfictionThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown; paperback; 2009; My rating ★★★★☆ (I will post a review soon)

FavoriteThe Indifferent Stars Above.