Monthly Archives: April 2011

Book Review: Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley

Cannonball read: 20

I don’t even know how to describe Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. I received a galley of it to read and review from Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab program and normally, I think its description wouldn’t sound like something I was interested in. But it was a really, really good read with very few faults.

Here’s how I can describe it in a nutshell: Cullen is a 17-year-old optimist with a very active imagination, living in a tiny little town in Arkansas. Benton is a teenager experiencing a crisis of faith. There’s a crazy man who’s come to town, proclaiming that a rare, believed-to-be-extinct bird is living in the Arkansas city. Cullen’s younger brother disappears one day, and how he is or isn’t found is told when Cullen and Benton’s stories merge.

Honestly, this is a very weird book. Cullen and his classmates/friends are strange kids, and in some ways I’m not sure how real I find them to be. But here’s the thing: I didn’t mind that. I really was able to suspend my disbelief for this book and appreciate the characters as they were. If you’re one for quirky characters, a dash of mystery, and a funky plot, this is a great, fun book for you. (And I mean really, it’s good. I just started reading it this morning, and I am not a particularly fast reader!)

Also, if you’re looking for similar books, it reminded me a lot of Special Topics in Calamity Physics thanks to its quirkiness.

Rating: 9.5/10

(I received this book for free from GalleyGrab for this review. I was asked to review this book fairly based on my own opinions and not asked to make a positive review in return for receiving the book, but an honest one.)

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Where do I get my books?

One of my real-life friends asked me on facebook last night where I get all of the books I read and review. The answer is a lot of places! Some are free, some are cheap, and some are not. Here’s my breakdown:

First and foremost, I do purchase most of my books. Typically I buy them through Barnes and Noble because I have a membership with them (it’s $25 a year and you save at least 10% on most items) and I get free 2 – 3 day shipping (normally $3.99). I do bargain shop, though, because sometimes I can get better deals through Amazon, even with shipping factored in. Also, I know the authors I like and I tend to read all of their new books when they come out in hardcover. This can get pretty expensive, considering several authors I like all release their books in March and April, so I almost always preorder them. The price is usually really good, around that of a trade paperback, so it ends up being about 50% off. The only bummer is that I don’t usually get the books on the day they’re released; rather, I get them a few days later. That’s all right, though. I know I need to finish whatever I’m reading on release day to make way for the newbies.

If I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of money on books, I try to either pick something at home I haven’t read yet or I’ll buy something to read on the nook/my iPad nook app. These ebooks usually run around ten bucks and while it’s not the same as reading a real book, it does declutter my apartment and save me a little bit of money.

I love using sites like Goodreads Swap. All I do is pay the cost of media mail shipping, which is usually $4 or under — it depends on the size and weight of the book and the distance it travels. You are allowed to have a certain number of requests at any time (I believe the max is 15). If you request a lot but don’t send to others, then the amount you can request drops, which is fine with me. The system only works if you swap your books, too! Every ten books you send and others receive earns your one free shipping credit. There’s a lot of incentive there to share! I’ve read some books I really wanted to read this way and also gotten rid of some books I really didn’t like/didn’t want anymore.

Every few months I try to hit up Friends of the Library sales in my city. It’s amazing the books you can find here! I’ve found a lot of best sellers and fairly new releases for super-cheap prices, usually ranging from 50 cents to $3. I always try to give them a little more money because some of my best childhood memories took place in libraries in the town where I grew up (which is where I live now). Along the same lines, I’m not a big yard-saler (who wants to get up that early?!) but if I happen to drive by one and see they’ve got books, and I have a few bucks in my pocket, I get out and check it out. You can find some great books there!

One thing that I think benefits me a lot is that I have friends who are also readers. My mom is, too, so even if I read every single unread book that is on a bookshelf in my house right now, I would be able to borrow their books. We love to share!

I do get some free books. I’ve listed the sites I use on the right, in the links section. You can do a search for blogging for books or free galleys. A lot of galleys are done online now, so you have to be willing to read on a computer. Not an iPad or an ereader, but an actual computer. And the two companies I blog for that send me real books are Christian companies. In all of these instances, there may or may not be a wide selection, and there may or may not be books I like. But if it’s free, I’ll try it — it’s nice to be able to read something outside of what I might normally read!

You’re probably surprised I didn’t mention checking books out of the library. I wish I did this because I’d save a lot more money, but I am a terrible library patron. I forget to return books all the time and I rack up fees like crazy! It’s just easier for me to buy the book and own it outright sometimes. But I am a huge fan of local libraries!

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Book Review: Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

Cannonball Read: 19

My mom, sister and I went to see the movie Soul Surfer on Sunday and as soon as it was over, we went to Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Bethany’s book (upon which the movie is based) called (originally!) Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. It was a really fast read — my mom read it in just a few hours, and I started in yesterday, spent about an hour reading, and finished it with another hour or so tonight.

It’s clear that this book is aimed primarily at younger audiences, but nonetheless I thought it was pretty inspiring (despite the fact that Bethany says several times she doesn’t want to be seen as an inspiration but a vessel to guide people to Christ, which is inspiring in its own right!). Very briefly does she detail the actual attack, noting that she doesn’t like to talk about it and that it actually happened so quickly and unexpectedly (she didn’t even see the shark coming) that she doesn’t really remember that much of it. I can’t say I blame her! Instead, she focuses on what motivated her to get back in the water: her family and her faith — not to mention love and passion for what she does!

One thing I love is that she talks about her faith throughout the book, but I found it to be totally non-judgmental or preachy. She just explained why it was so important to her, and stressed that she wouldn’t push her faith on anyone else, that it’s a personal decision. You’ve gotta respect a teenager who is willing to do that!

I don’t really have too much to say about this book except I thought it was a pretty inspiring read. She seems like a really cool kid (who’s now 21, so not a kid anymore!) with a great head on her shoulders and a great heart. I would be really interested to read a book she wrote now, now that it’s been eight years since the attack happened. It would be really intriguing to see how her perspective has or hasn’t changed since she was 13 years old (I can only imagine it would be even more positive!). That was one complaint I read from others online, that the book wasn’t in-depth enough, and while I can understand the fact that they wanted more, not every story like this one needs to be that deep. Besides, she was 14 or 15 when she wrote it — give the girl a break!

Also, if you’re interested, Bethany’s mom also wrote a book and it comes out on July 15th of this year. It’s called Raising A Soul Surfer: One Family’s Epic Tale. I know I’ll be preordering it!

Rating: 8.5/10

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Book Review: Bridge of Peace by Cindy Woodsmall

Cannonball Read: 18

In The Bridge of Peace, we find Lena Kauffman, a young Amish schoolteacher, was born with a very visible birthmark. Despite people’s stares and the discomfort of being, literally, branded, Lena has learned to ignore the stares and move through life. Her community adheres strictly to the “old ways” of the Amish, and she butts heads when she needs the rules to be bent slightly for a troubled student. When she turns to an Englischer (a non-Amish) friend for help, she alienates the school board — except for her old friend Grey, who’s going through troubles of his own, including problems with his marriage and struggles with his son. In the midst of all of this pain and struggle, there is a terrible accident, and then Lena and Grey are left to rebuild, quite literally, a bridge of peace, between themselves and the other Amish.

I didn’t realize when I got this book that it was the second book in the series (the first is called The Hope of Refuge). I think having read the first book would have helped me a little in knowing the characters, especially Lena, but overall I was able to read and enjoy it without having read the first book in the series. (Also, there’s a glossary of who’s who, which helped me in the beginning and throughout the book.) This is the second book by Woodsmall I’ve read (the first is When the Heart Cries) and I really enjoyed it. I think a lot of my comments about these two books are the same: while this book has a firm foundation of faith (it’s about the Amish, after all!), it’s not an overtly religious book, and it’s not a deeply literary novel, either. As far as Amish books go, it’s not especially original, but that didn’t bother me because my expectations were appropriately met based on the other Woodsmall book I’ve read. I liked the characters, I thought the plot was plausible enough, and I was left intrigued enough to want to read both the first and third books in the series.

My biggest problem with these books is that the covers depict all of these Amish women being beautiful. I think that’s a little off-kilter for books that are supposed to be geared at a woman’s insides, not her physical beauty.

Overall, I would rank this book as average (I’ve read much better but I’ve also read much, much, much worse!), and in this case, average is good enough.

Rating: 7/10

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was asked to review this book fairly based on my own opinions and not asked to make a positive review in return for receiving the book, but an honest one.)

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Book Review: Reshaping It All, Candace Cameron Bure

Cannonball Read: 17

I follow Candace Cameron Bure on twitter because what girl in her late 20s didn’t love Full House when it was on? Friday and then Tuesday nights were my favorite nights of the week. Candace was known as the chubby-cheeked girl on the show, and that label really stayed with her and bothered her. Candace talks a lot these days about how she lost about 25 pounds by some positive changes in her life, and I thought, “She does look great on Make It or Break It” (her new show), so why not give her new book a read? It’s one of the first books I bought for my nook and I just finished reading it this weekend.

I’m very torn about Reshaping It All. Here’s my one sentence summary: it’s alright, but if you aren’t a religious person (particularly of the Christian faith), you are not going to like this book very much. I’m a Christian and I thought it was pretty meh the entire way through.

But first, the good. I do think the fundamentals of weight loss that Bure shares are good. For instance, she says repeatedly that for her, weight loss isn’t about cutting out certain foods entirely, it’s about moderation of those “certain foods.” Have a small slice of cake every now and then. Enjoy creamy pasta dishes, but get a smaller portion and only eat it every once in a while. Be aware of what you’ve had for breakfast and lunch and use that to guide your dinner. Her attitudes toward food in general are pretty healthy and she strives to find the medium of balance. For her, food is not an enemy because it’s all about our self-control. I think this is a really practical approach to take to eating food.

I also like a lot of the stories she told – pieces of her childhood and Full House memories.

But there were things that made me shake my head. First of all, there are some parts of this book that make me wonder if an editor was even involved. In the beginning, Bure talks about how as the youngest, she was always in the kitchen, taste-testing her mom’s cooking, and that things like peas appeared regularly on her plate. But a few pages later, it’s her dad who eats healthy food that tastes like cardboard and her mom takes her to get McDonalds before auditions. Later on, she says she wasn’t allowed to eat fast food all the time, and that her mom served healthy meals – despite the fact that in the early chapters, her mom was the one who struggled with letting her kids eat healthy. I was so confused as to what her mom did in regards to her eating habits, because she says she both encouraged and didn’t encourage junky eating.

It seems to me that she oversimplifies how easy it is to gain self-control over eating habits. For some people, it is, but for many, it is not, and her “Just give it to God!” attitude makes me nervous. That might sound terrible coming from someone who identifies as a Christian, so please don’t misunderstand me. I think giving it to God is a big thing — the biggest. But it takes a lot of work to even get to that place to begin with, and this book makes it seem like that is just about the easiest thing to do ever.

Also, this is an aesthetic thing, but I hated how each chapter ended with the same four little segments (with identical headings so you knew): a summary of the chapter, an “inspiring” quote, a recap of the Bible verses used, a practical hint, and a recipe. I thought this was just a waste of space. I liked the recipe. The rest of it was just repetitive and irksome to me as a reader. Get to the next chapter already!

Overall, I think I’m most bothered by the sloppy editing of this book. It’s very repetitive, and in some places could really stand some more explanation. For instance,  Bure has admitted to struggling with bulimia. I think her willingness to discuss it is amazing, but in this book it’s boiled down to “I had some struggles with making myself purge, I realized I was trying to be in control, and God made it better.” Um, that is not enough. Even if God made it better, we as readers need MORE than a few brief paragraphs explaining how you got through it!

If you’re looking for a Christian diet book, you will probably like this. If you’re looking for a Full House biography, buyer beware.

Rating: 6/10

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Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

I have a hard time reading books that other people think are funny. Take David Sedairs, for instance. Multiple people RAVED about this man and his books, and when I read Me Talk Pretty One Day, I was more offended than amused. It’s not that I have a weird sense of humor. I think I just don’t like being told by a lot of other people that I’m going to think whatever it is that I’m reading is “So funny you’ll laugh your head off.” I get wary. Being told something is funny reminds me of this kid in my college creative writing classes who always said he was going to write stories about his funny cats and the stories would be so funny, but then when he did write them they weren’t funny. They were terrible. I resented him telling me that I should think his stuff was funny, and I resented having to tell him the truth. Plus, I sometimes have a hard time liking books that EVERYONE IN THE FREE WORLD raves about (hated The Lovely Bones. Sorry, Alice Sebold. It’s sad but true.).

Which is a little ironic because I’m going to be upfront in telling you that Bossypants is pretty much the funniest thing I’ve ever read. In my life. And I’ve read a lot of books in my (barely) 28 years. So you should read it because YOU’RE GOING TO LAUGH YOUR HEAD OFF. At least you will if you’re me. Or if you’re Tina Fey or maybe Amy Pohler or Kristen Wiig. I hope they laughed at this book (especially Tina, since she wrote it). Amy, too, because she got some serious props from Tina (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis).

Seriously, though, I really love Tina Fey. Always have, always will. I am a product of the Saturday Night Live generation that began when awesome women like Tina started on the show (“Weekend Update” FTW). Plus I have a handful of friends who are funny in the same way with her, so basically I feel like Tina Fey and I are already best friends. So I was expecting this book to make me laugh, but I didn’t read it at first because I was nervous that it wouldn’t be funny after all and then I’d just be disappointed that my beloved failed me. But that all changed after one of my friends who reminds me of Tina Fey told me that she loved the book. I bought it that night on my iPad and read it slowly. (I say slowly because War and Peace this is not [sorry, best friend Tina Fey, but I think you won’t be offended], and it’s not really a “slow” read — I just took my good, sweet time.) Honestly, I just didn’t want it to end. I laughed every time I picked it up. It was like your favorite tv show, and you know that eventually the good times will be over, but you hope it goes on forever. That’s kind of how I felt about it.

The funny thing is, my original friend recommended this book to a bunch of her friends and it’s spread like wildfire. (Props to you, Hillary. You go, girl.) And now I just like to post the funniest lines of the book on her wall on facebook. Yeah, it’s that kind of book. I’d quote them here for you, but I’d basically quote the entire book and I’m not sure how Tina Fey, her royalty checks, and her publishers and their lawyers would feel about that. I have to say that my two favorite parts are the introduction and the chapter she spends talking about being Sarah Palin. I laughed out loud once or twice or every five seconds.

One minor complaint I’ve heard from others is that it’s a series of shortish vignettes, not a true story with a straight-forward plot. I would agree with them, but I would not complain about that. I’m okay with that because that’s what I expected. Plus, it’s kind of like a book version of SNL — lots of funny shorts. It’s what I think of when I think of Tina Fey.

So go read this because it’s funny, and you’ll laugh. And if you don’t please don’t tell me you won’t because my birthday was two days ago and your honesty will kill my birthday high.

Rating: 10/10

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Book Review: Acceptance, Susan Coll

Cannonball Read: 15

I have a masters degree in higher education with an emphasis in counseling and I am continually drawn to books dealing with college admissions, both fiction and non-fiction. (Some of the ones I’ve read recently: The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College [non-fiction] and Admission [fiction].) I just think that area of higher education is so fascinating and I would love to spend a year or two as an admissions counselor. Mostly I just want to read the essays. Anyhow.

Susan Coll’s Acceptance is the story of several kids in an affluent community as they attempt to get into college during their senior year of high school. It’s broken down in a month-by-month format, with one chapter representative of one month, which I thought was a really awesome structural decision by Coll. I remember in high school being given a month-by-month breakdown of what I should be doing in terms of the college application process (and my mom, who teaches 12th grade English, still gives something like that out to her seniors each year), so the structure of the novel pleased me because of that. The chapters alternate, not regularly, between the students and their parents, and between the Interim Dean of Admissions at Yates, a woman named Oliva.

Truthfully, there wasn’t really anything terribly original about this novel. Kids getting into college… Yeah, it’s been done. But I liked those kids, and I could relate to a lot of them and the pressure they felt. Some, like AP Harry, I found more annoying and condescending than others, like Taylor, who I really, really liked. I’ve read a few reviews recently that said the book the reviewer was reviewing was easily forgettable, and that’s the case with this one, I think. Because it’s your run-of-the-mill book about college acceptance, it’s not going to stick in people’s minds, but it’s fun to read while it’s happening (mostly because I wanted to see where the assorted students got in and went to college).

There were two things that kind of irritated me. First of all, Oliva’s sections. Well, actually, that’s not true. I thought the inclusion of the Dean of Admissions was a valid one. What I thought was absurd, however, was all the garbage about her having an affair with one of her coworkers. I kept asking myself what the point was and what it added to the book. The answer: it didn’t. I just got distracted during those parts. So irritating. The other think I found mildly irritating (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) is how very briefly Taylor’s self-mutilation is mentioned. That’s a pretty serious thing to bring up, and then to barely mention it for the rest of the book? In my opinion, Coll did a major disservice to kids who are dealing with that issue because she makes it seem trite, and it’s not.

Overall impression? Don’t read it if you’re a parent whose kid is about to apply to college, and don’t read it if you’re that kid. Otherwise, take a gander. Maybe you’ll like it.

Rating: 7/10

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