Monthly Archives: May 2011

Book Review: Daddy Dates, Greg Wright

Cannonball Read: 33

I have a pretty unique relationship with my dad. I was adopted when I was much, much older — 17 — but truly, my dad is the only dad I have ever known, and he is a pretty spectacular one. He has listened to me crying, my nose running horrible, over a stupid boy. He has bought me motor oil when my car was overheating (once an entire case!). He has jumped my car and moved my crap and listened to me ramble and process the world out loud dozens upon dozens of times. Each of those moments means the world to me, and because of my relationship with him, I know I will marry a man who values me and treats me with respect. (I’ll be one of those girls whose father needs to give permission for me to be married because I value his input so much!) I also have a younger sister — she’s just seven — and watching their relationship really inspires me, too.

I was given the chance to review Daddy Dates: The Road Map for any Dad to Raise A Strong and Confident Daughter and I have to say, at first I thought it was a book about a dad dating another lady who wasn’t the girls’ mother. But no, this is actually a non-fiction book about what motivates one dad to maintain important, deep relationships with his four daughters.

I thought this book was really fantastic. While there are no explicit instructions on how to conduct a Daddy Date, Wright talks about how important it is to get to know your daughters while they are still young, and to carry that relationship on throughout their life. It seems like practical advice, but I know a lot of parents — and dads — who are more or less cut off from their girls, and it makes me sad.

Wright talks about how important these dates are to him and his girls, and while he says how much his girls love them, he also mentions several times that there are times when they butt heads with dear ol’ dad — but that’s totally normal, given the teenage years. He talks a lot about the importance of knowing who your daughter is because that will help you guide her through those years. And something that I really liked is that he talked about the idea of his girls being allowed to date while they are still in high school — and they aren’t. I believe he makes some really valid, good points as to why. My own parents didn’t place those restrictions on me (I was a senior when I was adopted) but I remember one really awkward date when I as 19 where we got in my date’s car and he said, “Um, I don’t mean to be rude but I still feel like they are in the car with us.” Yeah. My parents and Wright would have gotten along fantastically.

It’s kind of hard to be more specific that what I’ve already written: here’s a guide that explains why, when, and how, and it also really encourages dads to know their girls. Simple as that. We shouldn’t need books like this, but we do — so buy this for a new dad or a da of a young daughter for Father’s Day!

This book does come from a religious publisher, but I genuinely believe that any dad (or mom!) could read this book, regardless of religious background. There aren’t any references to Bible verses, and only a small handful of references to God in general.

One thing that I didn’t love about the book is that it can be repetitive, but it’s a book intended for dads, not for daughters, and from my experience (I love you, padre!), dads occasionally need a little, ahem, reinforcement with what they’ve been taught or told. That’s not enough to deter me from recommending this book to others!

Rating: 8.5/10

(I received this book for free from BookSneeze 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: These Things Hidden, Heather Gudenkauf

Cannonball Read: 32

I kept walking past this in Target and finally I bought it for my nook. And then I didn’t have time to read it because TOO MANY BOOKS and FULL TIME JOB and TOO MANY OTHER COMMITMENTS don’t sit well together. I finished it last week, and I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed it. It actually has a lot of flaws, but regardless I was left intrigued.

Plot summary: Allison has just been released from prison after serving five years for a horrific murder. Her younger sister Brynn has been left to deal with the aftermath of Allison’s crime. Claire loves her son Joshua, who was adopted before he was one month, fiercely, and Charm struggles with feelings that she can’t contain regarding Joshua. This book is the intersection of the stories of these four women and how Joshua fits into it all.

I found the various women to be compelling to one degree or another throughout the novel. I especially liked Allison, even at the end of the story. Each of them evoked strong emotion in me. It wasn’t always a warm, fuzzy emotion, but the warm fuzzies aren’t required to make a book good. I also really liked the alternating perspectives. For me, that kind of narrative works very well because it keeps me on my toes. I also thought this novel was a very interesting exploration of unwanted teen pregnancies (which is funny to me, seeing as I just finished Amy Efaw’s After, which also deals with teen pregnancy). It some ways it’s not realistic, or really could be divided into multiple novels, or one longer one.

Some of my criticisms: I thought this book was overly simplistic. I would really classify it as young adult literature, which isn’t a bad thing — I just think its target audience is younger than Gudenkauf may have intended. I also think there are some pretty questionable plot points that are used to move the story along. For instance, Claire lets Allison be alone with Joshua, despite the fact that Claire knows that Allison is an felon. And again, at the end, when she leaves Joshua with Brynn. I also was left wondering what was “wrong” with Joshua throughout the entire novel. After all, he is made to be a very difficult little boy, and it’s left so open-ended. Not knowing doesn’t really work. It would have been better for him to be “normal” or for his story to be explored more fully.

The biggest problem I see is that I saw the ending coming from a mile away, about halfway through the book. That’s not to say I didn’t finish it interesting or satisfying, but nonetheless I was surprised or caught off guard by it, and I love it when the pieces don’t fall clearly into place until the last minute.

Rating: 7/10

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Book Review: The Taker, J.M. Steele

I didn’t take the SAT when I was in high school. I actually took the ACT because I thought it would be easier, and in some ways it was, because it also had a science section, a reading section, and an English section, so I could focus less on math. I scored a 26, which seemed low at the time, but in retrospect that was the 85th percentile and I came from a poor family and I didn’t study at all before the exam. Anyhow, I remembered the stress I felt taking this test, because it kind of felt like it determined which college(s) I applied to. And I knew kids, the AP kids, mostly, who were consumed with getting a high score on the SAT.

So with that said, I thought The Taker by J.M. Steel was a really unique idea. Well. Maybe not super original, but a thought-provoking concept nevertheless. Carly’s college future depends on her SAT scores. Her dad expects her to go to his alma mater. So when her scores come back way, way, way lower than she anticipated, she is totally freaked out. And then she gets a mysterious text from The Taker, who says he will take her SATs again in return for a whatever he wants from her. Although she is scared, she agrees because she needs her scores to be higher. During the few weeks leading up to her retake of the test, Carly’s friend Jen, who works for the school paper, is preparing a big expose on “The Taker,” the mythical person who will take your SAT exam for a price. Cue Carly’s uber-paranoia.

Short summary. Time for review. Honestly, this book just made me irritated. And mad. And it pissed me off. First of all, it’s horribly cliche. Smart, pretty girl with a jock boyfriend. Awesome friends. Dorky kid next door. Pretty girl needs tutoring, dorky kid does it, pretty girl falls for dorky kid. Blah blah blah. And even worse, everything about the cliche was true. For instance, Jock Boyfriend was a man whore who was cheating on Pretty Smart Girl, and when Pretty Girl found out, she immediately fell into the arms of Dorky Kid. Seriously. Come up with something original!

Something that really bothered me, too, is that Carly and two of her friends, Jen and Molly, dub themselves the Sistas of Luv. There used to be a fourth Sista, but she became too popular to hang out with them. I thought this was exceptionally stupid, especially once it was explained that these girls formed the Sistas because they didn’t ever want to become those girls who were catty and talked about other girls behind each other’s backs. Except that is exactly what Carly does, repeatedly, throughout the novel. She talks crap about the kids who she wouldn’t hang out with because they were nerdy/dorky and she was too cool for them. She labels everyone excessively. She defines and divides. She’s no better than Tori, the girl her Jock Boyfriend cheated on her with.

Another thing that drove. me. bananas. was the actual language of the novel. Carly is constantly referring to her parents as the ‘rents, which is funny when I say it to my friends when I am joking but super irritating to read because no one really seriously calls their parents that when they talk about then. Also, I almost lost my mind over how many times she refers to getting a “frappy at ‘bucks.” First of all, frappy? Really? I am a proud holder of a gold card from Starbucks and not once have referred to a frappuccino as a frappy. Second of all, not once in my life have I referred to Starbucks as ‘bucks or a trip there as a ‘bucks run, and I live in Southern California where we are lazy and there is a Starbucks on every other corner. Seriously. There are easily ten in the city I live in, and I have never, ever called it ‘bucks. I guess I really hate books that rely on cultural references because they’re not going to be cultural references ten years down the road. But to hear Carly say them, repeatedly, made me realized that Steele doesn’t have an especially high place for teenagers — he or she must assume they’re all kind of flighty and braindead.

And then there’s the ending! I realized very early on who The Taker was and I was so annoyed by how it came to light. And the fact that Carly’s scores jumped to near-perfect when (close to 400 points)? I find that literally unbelievable. Having taken standardized tests, not to mention having an education in higher education, I am aware that the majority of students who retake tests like the SAT don’t have those kind of phenomenal leap in score like Carly did — their scores may rise, but much more modestly.

Overall, this book was terrible. Predictable plot, poor characterization, incredibly cliche, and it makes it seem like teenagers are all cheaters and dumb.

Rating: 1/10

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Book Review: After, Amy Efaw

Devon is a good kid. No, scratch that. She’s a great kid. A fantastic kid. And that’s the problem. She is great because she is hard on herself.  So is that what drives her to give birth in her bathroom while her mother’s at work, discarding the baby in a bag of trash behind her house? After is the story of what happens to Devon after she makes that most terrible decision.

I was really impressed with this book… right until the end. I’ll get there in a second, though. What really struck me as intriguing while I was reading this book that I really, really liked Devon. Sure, she did this horrible, awful thing (I mean, I have done some pretty crappy stuff in my life, but I have never given birth, cut my baby’s umbilical cord with nail clippers, and shoved the baby in a trashbag to be thrown away in the dump), yet she is inherently likable. I think it’s because you truly feel sorry for her. Efaw has created a character that you just want to hug. Yeah, she screwed up. Big time. Hugely big time. And absolutely, she should be punished. But her baby lived. And while she doesn’t seem sorry, at least not until the end of the book, you just… like her. She’s a driven kid. She has a stellar GPA. She’s a leader in her soccer world. And then she goes and does this terrible thing.

One thing I really liked is Devon’s interactions between assorted people, especially the relationships she has with her mom and Dom, her lawyer. They’re both critical relationships, but really very different. And when you see her interacting with her mom, well, you can kind of understand why she did what she did. Efaw’s portrayal of these relationships was well-done through dialogue, not “telling,” which as a creative writing minor in college I can tell you is the worst writing sin you could possibly commit.

What got bummed me out at the end of the novel (AND YES, THIS IS SPOILER ALERT TIME! REPEAT, SPOILER ALERT!) was how it ended way, way too neatly. Devon has a ephiany, she understands in an instant why she did what she did, and bam, she wants to be punished for it. Um. No thank you. This is fiction, not 7th Heaven, and it’s freaking okay to make your characters’ lives not end perfectly. This really knocked an otherwise compelling book off its awesome pedestal.

Rating: 7.5/10

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Book Review: This Girl Is Different, JJ Johnson

This Girl Is Different is a fantastically awesome young adult novel. There. Can that just be my review? Well. If that’s not enough for you, here is what I think.

Evie, whose real name is terrible enough that you don’t find out what it is until more than halfyway through the novel, is a different kind of kid. Until recently, she’s been homeschooled. Actually, it’s more like she’s been unschooled. She and her mom (no dad) are a little bit eclectic, living in a dome home, moving periodically as her mother’s “fight the man” soul gets tired of retail jobs. Evie decides to spend her final year of high school in, well, high school to see what the fuss is all about — a great social experiment, she says. And she makes two friends, Jacinda and Rajas, and learns about friendship, love, and overthrowing The Man in the process. (That is a really terrible summary for a really excellent book. There’s a great interview with the author here, and it includes a nice summary.)

Anyhow, the number one reason I just loved this novel is because it’s a young adult novel that doesn’t play down to teenagers. I am constantly disappointed by books that “dumb down” their protagonists, or create a way too simple, sugary-sweet plot. I am not anti-love or any-funny. I’m just anti-teenagers-are-dumb. This book proves that you can be funny, and have a love interest, and still be smart. Gasp! Shock!

Evie is smart. She’s well-read, she’s perceptive — mostly — and she’s still a real teenager. (I also cannot stand books where teenagers are portrayed as brilliant geniuses. Sure some of them are, but I think it’s kind of alienating. The total opposite of the sugary-sweet books. But I digress. Evie, in her passion to make a different and give students a voice, starts a proverbial riot and finds out what it’s like to exist in a world where you essentially have no rights, and what it feels like to have everyone turned against her. And all of this? Yeah, it comes across in well-written dialogue. Nicely constructed narratives. A fun structure. It reminds me a lot of the books I loved in high school (but were just a tad outdated, like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and There’s A Bat in Bunk Five). There’s a superb mix of seriousness, smartness, and a touch of funny in all of the right places. I could actually see this being easily incorporated into a high school English curriculum.

This was the kind of book I just wanted to keep reading, and when it ended, I was disappointed. Not because the ending sucked — it didn’t! — but because I wasn’t ready for the book to be over. Cannot say enough good things about this book!

Rating: 10/10

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Book Review: Night Road, Kristin Hannah

Night Road is Kristin Hannah’s newest novel and one that I (yet again) preordered. I was so excited when it came. A lot of Hannah’s novels deal with similar topics, namely close friendships, mother/lack of mothers, and sisters – all of which are topics I love. The one dealt with pretty much each one of these in some form. Night Road is the story of Lexi, a former foster kid, who moves in with her aunt and befriends fellow weirdo Mia. Subsequently, Mia’s family, including twin brother Zach, mom Jude, and dad Miles take Lexi in as their own child, and Zach and Lexi fall in love. Life is great, until one night toward the end of their senior year, when there’s a terrible accident, and everything that the Farraday family and Lexi had built together is shattered.

This has to be one of my favorite Hannah books, and in the last year or so I’ve read several. I think Jude is a little bit obsessive when it comes to mothering, but that’s a very real portrayal. Hello, I work at a college and you’d be amazed by the kinds of things parents call and email me about. Welcome to the term “helicopter parents.” Anyhow, I really like all of the characters – Lexi, of course, is my favorite, as I am a former foster kid. Zach and Mia are fun kids with great personalities. Jude is just a mom who wants to love her kids. These relationships are very real to me – Lexi and the twins, Lexi and Jude, Jude and her kids. They’re not perfect, but that’s what I love about them. Plot aside, the relationships were what made me like this book so much. Even if Jude was slightly overbearing a lot of the time.

It’s not a perfect novel, however, and something that bothered me a little (and other readers, according to Amazon) was how the Farradays accepted zero responsibility for what happened the night of the accident. I don’t want to be more specific than that because I don’t want to be the one to spoiler the plot, but man, poor Lexi. I know Jude was hurting but she came across as the most selfish nut job at times during the middle portion of this book.

I like to liken Kristin Hannah’s books to just under those of Jodi Picoult, but way, way above Danielle Steel. I thought this book was a nice read, a bit sad but with (mostly) good characters, and for those who don’t want a fluffy book but also don’t want serious literature, a perfect pick.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Book Review: The Rest of Her Life, Laura Moriarty

The Rest of Her Lifeis something that kept coming up in my suggested books list on both Barnes and Noble and Amazon, so when I got a nook (I see a trend here… I get a nook to buy cheaper books, and instead just buy more books!) I bought it to finally read. Right up front, I’ve gotta say, the description of the book on its jacket and on various websites is kind of misleading. These places describe it as the story about Kara, who, shortly before her high school graduation, accidentally hits and kills a classmate, and the book supposedly looks at the troubled relationship between Kara and Leigh (her mom).

But that’s not exactly what happens. Instead of being Kara’s story, this is more of Leigh’s story, and Kara’s accident is simply a catalyst to allow readers to see what’s going on, and what has gone on, with Leigh. (Although I wouldn’t really call Kara the catalyst as she ends up highly changed at the end of this book.) Leigh questions everything she knows: her past, who she is, friendships with others, her job, her own role of mother of her children, her children themselves… it’s an endless list. And we get to see her grow as a person, finally processing her entire life up until the point of the accident, and we get to see her figure out where she will go next.

Despite the fact that the book description and the book content don’t quite line up, I thought this was a thoughtful, intelligent novel, and it’s left me interested in reading Moriarty’s other books.

Rating: 9/10

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