Monday, March 31, 2014

A to Z Challenge Starts TOMORROW!

I'm taking part in the A to Z Challenge!

I decided to pour out my love for the Harry Potter series during the month of April with 26 posts.  Join me from A Very Potter Musical to Zonkos, with some Quidditch and Veritaserum in between.

So here's to the next month...Starting tomorrow, one post a day starting with A, skipping Sundays.  Good luck to me and all of my fellow A to Z Challenge participants.

Follow me via GFC for daily Harry Potter fun this month along with my regular posts about various books I've been reading.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

To Review: Nick and Tesla by "Science Bob" Pfugffelder & Steve Hockensmith and "Caught in the Middle" by Regina Jennings

Nick and Tesla books were in the mail today, courtesy of Quirk books.  I will be reviewing Secret Agent Gadget Battle, Robot Army Rampage, and High-Voltage Danger Lab by "Science Bob" Pfugffelder and  Steve Hockensmith.

Also in line to be reviewed is Caught in the Middle, by Regina Jennings from Bethany House.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stephen Tobolowsky on Writing Majors in "The Dangerous Animals Club"

Stephen Tobolowsky's The Dangerous Animals Club marks my second book about an actor whose main works I haven't seen (the other being Tina Fey's Bossypants).  Again, it is the humor and view of life that drew me in to this nonfiction book and again, I was captivated by the result.

Amid a bunch of varied stories from throughout his life, Tobolowksy lays down some hard hitting truths about the struggles his wife was facing in college trying to write plays:
"It was crazy enough to be an acting major in college, but to be a writing major made as much sense as studying to be a rodeo clown.  As college students we knew first hand that nobody read books anymore.  At least we didn't.  For many fine arts majors, graduation is a time for celebration, a short celebration -say, about two days tops. Then comes the realization that they may have to turn to Plan B: desperation." (223)

I can only remember sitting in my capstone writing class, surrounded by graduating seniors.  We were all wondering one thing: where will we go from here?  It wasn't something our professor could ease our minds about, either.  Her advice was to market our skills, because we could learn to do any job.  All jobs involve writing.  She suggested applying to various businesses, perhaps as an office assistant.

There's the dream; the reason we all became writing majors. But seriously, it is incredibly difficult to find the type of job that will allow us to use all of the skills we learned. 

"The fall from your dream into reality is especially hard when you've seen that you can fly" (223).

It'll be a rough road for all of us, but we all have dreams.  We were taught to fly in our classes.  And we will fly again in the working world, eventually.  The road is just a little longer getting there than we imagined. Or perhaps a different road entirely.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

To Review: "Guiltless Living", "The Last Policeman", & "Countdown City"

From Shepherd Press in association with Cross Focused Reviews, I received Guiltless Living by Ginger Hubbard, for which I am part of a Blog Tour April 7-13!

Just in from Quirk Books are The Last Policeman and Countdown City by Ben H. Winters! 

Reviews coming soon!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: "Good-bye, Bumps!" by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer and Saje Dyer

The message of Good-bye, Bumps! by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer and Saje Dyer is crucial and should be heard by all children as they grow up.  The Dyers explain through their own personal story that there are some things in your life you can change and some you can't, but the one thing you can always change is your mind.  You don't have to let something bug you; instead, the book suggests talking to what is bothering you and through that learning to accept it.

My concern with the book is that it might not hold a child's interest, especially if they don't have a direct connection to the message.  If a child has bothersome bumps, is shy, is embarrassed by freckles or anything of the sort, he or she might feel a connection to the child in the book, Saje.  I worry if there isn't some obvious life application at the time of hearing or reading the story, the book might not be captivating enough to make a child want to hear it over and over again.

As a child, illustrations played a huge part in whether or not I liked a book, which is why I think these illustrations might help keep the interest of a child if the storyline doesn't immediately resonate. Stacy Heller Budnick's drawings are colorful and cute.  She adds just enough interest to the pictures, without distracting from the message.  Though not mentioned in the text, the turtle on Saje's bed and the various pictures of the dog throughout were welcome additions that made the experience of reading the book more pleasant.

Overall, I would recommend this book because of it's important message.  Not all lessons are fun to learn, but this one is presented in the most exciting way possible.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Hay House Publishing for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product. 

Happy Birthday to my one year old niece, Leah!  In three years, I will give you this book in hopes that you will never let the little things you can't change bother you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: "How to Ruin Your Life by 30" by Steve Farrar

How to Ruin Your Life by 30 by Steve Farrar contains nine steps; however, only two really stood out to me - one in a positive way, the other in a negative way. For me, all of the other steps seemed obvious and trite, such as if you stop learning or isolate yourself, you will ruin your life by 30.

The section that spoke to me was "Neglect your gifts and strengths when choosing a vocation."  My favoritism could be spawning from the fact that my career is my highest stressor at the moment, but regardless, I found this chapter the most useful.

It began by talking about how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met in a pub to work on their writing, which was relevant to both my ideal career path (publishing/editing) and my interest in both authors.  I found it encouraging when Farrar wrote about how we each have God-given unique talents and skills and we can find a way to apply them to a job that honors Him.  You don't have to be a missionary to serve God - you can serve Him through applying the skills He gave you to your career.  After hearing family and friends often complaining about their jobs, I found an answer in Farrar's words: "If you dread going to work every day, you are probably not using your strengths and gifts that God has given you" (72).  I plan to use this chapter for comfort and guidance when reflecting on my career path and talking with my peers.

The very next chapter, though, was "Disregard what the Bible says about sex and marriage" and I was  disappointed by it.  The manner in which it was written came across as sexist by saying that "hands to yourself" was a ground rule specifically for men whereas "don't act cheap" was only a rule for women (82-86).  Women are just as capable of being tempted by sexual desires and men can dress inappropriately, too.  I found it unnecessary that the book called each one out to a specific gender.  It also says that men have to make the first step towards a relationship: "Don't be passive. Make the call. Take the first step. nothing's going to happen until you do" (98).  Again, it seems that Farrar isolates half his audience when the advice could easily apply to anyone picking up his book.

Another issue I had with the same chapter was the ruling that a Christian should not even consider dating a non-Christian: "Don't give any consideration to the possibility that you might lead them to the Lord.  God doesn't need you to do His work in their life" (87).  God never said to spread His word to everyone, except someone you might want to date.  While I agree that marrying a non-Christian would be challenging, I don't think you can go as far as to say that they can't have the chance to get to know the Lord through you. Obviously it's important that they're not pretending or choosing God just to get a date, but I think that's a call we are able to make.

Farrar first presented this information in a commencement address and, unfortunately, some of the elements of spoken language remained that wouldn't normally end up in a book.  The sentences were repetitive, simplified, and overly informal: "Causes have effects. Actions have reactions. Choices have consequences" (19).  While that string of statements might have been effective in a speech, it was annoying to read.  There were also many paragraphs that were a simple one sentence line that was too conversational.  For example, on page 89 we have a paragraph that is just "Does that not make sense?" and then a later paragraph is simply, "And one more thing."

Perhaps it would have been better formatted as a short work published with other essays about Christian living, practical life, or personal growth.  Though this book seemed sexist at times, was judgmental, and was written informally, I really did enjoy certain parts of it.  I would definitely recommend the vocational chapter to all of my peers.  As for the rest of it, I think it was too hit or miss, with the good stuff sandwiched in a lot of mediocre sections.

The best piece of advice to take away from this book is simply: Is the life you imagine for yourself the natural outcome of the way you are living your life? (18).

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

To Review: "Good-bye, Bumps!" by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer and Saje Dyer

My beautiful niece, Leah, turns one year old one week from today.  To celebrate, I will be reviewing Good-bye, Bumps! by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer and Saje Dyer!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Story Shapes, Re-Inspired by "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"

“this is why we call people exes, I guess - because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating at the end. it's too easy to see an X as a cross-out. it's not, because there's no way to cross out something like that. the X is a diagram of two paths” (277).

Not only does this analogy play out for relationships, as described by the Other Will Grayson in Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, but it also follows the path of the whole story. Two boys named Will Grayson live their lives completely independently of each other, until a chance meeting (midpoint of the two lines in the X) that ends up changing the course of both of their lives.

In my advanced fiction writing class, my professor often had us write a "craft paper" to describe the "shape" of the story we read. There is no "right" or "wrong" answer, just simply a different way of looking at and understanding the story.

For one of those assignments, I described "Zero Conditional" by Caitlin Horrocks as an "X" because of intersection plot points and their changes over the course of the short story.

A substitute teacher arrives at a classroom and has no control over the class at all. As time progresses, she gains more and more control. Her goal is obviously to make her students obey and to help them learn and her success at that is the / part of the X. The other side of the X shows the decline of the classroom pets' health overtime ( \ ). The meeting point is the death of the rat, where the students all actively participate in the burial, showing that the teacher is successful at getting them to work together. At the end of the story, a student shows that he really learned a lesson from the teacher, which is the high point of right side of the X. The low point is the murky, uncared for fish tank in the classroom. Looking at the story as an X can help the reader to notice the complete reversal of those elements of the story.

X as a story shape is helpful for illustrate different types of relationships: the relationship between two characters (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) or the relationship between elements of plot ("Zero Conditional").

Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five) said that all stories could be described in one of eight different graphs.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Feature & Follow: Back-list books!

Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! This is a blog hop that allows bloggers to gain new followers and find some awesome new blogs to follow themselves!

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host has a blog that they feature each week!

So, if you're a blogger, come join in on the fun!

Today's question: Recommend some of your favorite back-list books - books that are at least a few years old (I'm thinking 5-10 years old rather than classics)

I chose one book I read in high school, one I read in college, and one I read this week! 
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stepehen Chobosky (released 1999)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (released 2006)
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (released 2007)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: "Forgiveness" by Iyanla Vanzant

First, right off the bat I want to say something that the description on the back of the book left out.  Forgiveness relies heavily on a "tapping" theory called Pro EFT tapping, which is described by the author as "needless acupuncture" (24).  This hilarious spelling ends up calling the program useless instead of saying that it is "needleless," as I am assuming was intended.  Oops.  Anyway, I had very little interest in that aspect of the book and, to be honest, I found it a little hokey.  From the author's descriptions I could not garner what exactly Pro EFT tapping was, nor what evidence showed that it was beneficial. I was frustrated that instead of explaining, the author directed readers to a website for information on the theory that formed the basis of her book.  For the rest of the review, I will set that aside, as that may not be a scare factor to all readers as it was to me.

The book begins with an introduction to forgiveness, emotional triggers, judgements, and the tapping process.  After that, the book is broken into a 21 day process.   Each day has a prayer introducing the daily topic (taken from A Course in Miracles Workbook), a forgiveness story, a reminder of the forgiveness process, another prayer, journal work, and then the tapping process.  It also comes with a CD, which has the introduction, a few meditations, and the daily prayer.

The journal work is structured around 12 statements, four each in three different categories: I forgive my mind for thinking, I forgive myself for judging, and I forgive myself for believing.  The sections I found most helpful had different starting sentences for each category, such as "I forgive my mind for thinking my job is" and "I forgive my mind for thinking my career is not" (208).  Most difficult for me were the sections that listed "I forgive myself for judging" four times, where the reader has to come up with four separate statements for the category (209).  Once I had thought of one "I forgive myself for judging" statement, I got blocked into only thinking that and was unable to complete the other three.

Around day 10 in the material, I was looking in the mirror and harboring some negative thoughts about a relationship in my life,  Without realizing what I was doing, I stopped myself and thought, "I forgive myself for believing that I'm not worth someone else's time, or that I don't deserve the love I am given."  Even with that proof that the book affected my thinking in a positive way, I still had some misgivings.

Forgiveness seems to waiver back and forth about whether it is religiously based or not.  As I mentioned, there were many prayers, but there were never any Bible verses, which I expected out of a book on forgiveness.  Day 6 of the process is titled "Forgiving God," yet in the forgiveness story, Vanzant says, "For those who recognize and accept that there is a Higher Mind, a Divine Essence, a Spiritual Presence to life, we look to that energy to support, assist, and provide us with the things we need, want, and desire" (127).  I expect a little more consistency on foundational parts of the book, such as religion.  It's weird to have prayers, talk about forgiving God, but then dance around whether or not God exists.  The book needed to choose a Christian audience, or a non-Christian audience instead of alienating both by going back and forth.

There were some structural and grammatical snafus that got in the way of my enjoyment of the book.  Processes were mentioned and then not explained until much later in the book, which left me thinking I had missed something that I was supposed to understand already.  I had to reread sentences such as "This helps to unlock any remain resistance" only to find out that I was tripping over the sentence because of a typo, rather than my own misreading (34).  Due to the lengthy forgiveness process (and tapping) there was a lot of repetition of steps or paragraphs where the exact wording was copied page to page.

My favorite part of the book was the daily forgiveness story.  It is similar to a condensed version of a Chicken Soup For the Soul- type story that talked about someone else's journey through forgiveness on the daily topic.  My only complaint was at some points even these forgiveness stories got very vague and zoomed out to big picture, cliché, statements.  I loved the personal aspect that only appears in those stories, so to switch to paragraphs like "A mother is her children's first teacher" or  "Children need a mother's love, acceptance, and nurturing, particularly when they least deserve it" was a rough transition for me as a reader (93, 95).

I would recommend this book only to someone who was interested in needleless acupuncture, Pro EFT tapping. There is definitely some worthy material other than that in the book, but there is not enough to make it worthwhile if you're not interested in tapping.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Hay House Publishing for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Sunday, March 2, 2014