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Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Girl Land

This week I picked up Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan after it was reviewed in several publications.  It sounded interesting and I am always interested in an interesting tome.

Girl Land is Flanagan's meditation on the state of girlhood today.  Chapters include examining moral panic and meditating on dating through the decades.  I won't go into too much depth here as I feel that she has a lot of good points in her book and if you are indeed piqued then you should check it out yourself.

I would say that I found this book overall intriguing and worth my time to ponder over.  I appreciated Flanagan's willingness to use common sense when dealing with such issues as panicking over the Rockdale County episode (if you are unfamiliar you should Google it).  She isn't easily swayed by group panic.

The epilogue felt a little too preachy for my taste so I skimmed it (it's all about how to raise good daughters) and there was the occasion where I felt Flanagan's politics came out blazing.  I was able to overlook these flaws though so that I could grasp on to her thesis--that Girl Land is no longer what it used to be.  But really--what is?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Back On Murder

I love a good crime story.  True crime, fake crime, whatever, just make sure someone's done gone went and got himself killed.  So I thoroughly enjoyed J. Mark Bertrand's Back on Murder.  This was an excellent travel book.  (This would also explain my week-long absence--I was traveling and needed a week to recover.)

Back on Murder is a Roland March mystery, meaning that March appears in more than one story by Bertrand.  I am OK with this since March is a flawed character and is kind of cool to boot.  This story starts with March in the doghouse at work--he is the "suicide cop," meaning that he is the first on the scene when a brother in blue offs himself.  However, he gets himself assigned to the missing persons task force of a lovely young church-going girl in Houston (after he is taken off a drug-house murder, possibly related) and he manages to get tangled up in several cases--all somehow related.  I won't give too much away as it's a tangled web of goodness and you must read it to understand it.

I was highly engaged in this mystery and I thoroughly enjoyed the characters.  The relationships were complex yet easy to relate to, and the secondary stories were also interesting and a tiny bit funny.  I appreciated a book set in Houston, seeing as how I just visited there.  This is definitely a pick-up if you love a good mystery and excellent storytelling, or if you just like complicated and flawed characters.  I love both.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Happy Celebrity Memoir Friday!  This week I read Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe, and I sunk my teeth into it.  Yes, faithful readers, he is good looking.  He is fit, handsome, and happily married.  I had a date with Rob Lowe this week.  And it was divine.

Ever wonder where the term "Brat Pack" comes from?  You will find out here.  Do you know Mr. Lowe's connection to 9/11?  You will find out here.  Did you know Mr. Lowe grew up with the Sheens?  You will find out here.  Want to know how he scored a hot wife?  I mean, besides looking at him?  You will find out here.

The bulk of the book focuses on his pre-The West Wing years but it is still interesting and worth a read if you love celebrity memoir/autobiography the way I do.  Of course it is colored by Mr. Lowe's telling his own stories, but it is certainly enjoyable.  The only complaint I have is in Mr. Lowe's desire to keep identities a secret until the end of his story section; for example, he tells a story about meeting a beautiful African-American actress on the set of his first TV show and tells us a story of their interaction.  Finally the woman says something like, "Well, if this doesn't work out I will just go into music like my brothers."  Then Mr. Lowe hits you with the name--Janet Jackson.  If he did this once or twice it would have impact, but by the sixth person/movie/event he does this for you want to say, "Ok, get on with it Rob!"

I enjoyed reading about his experiences on The Outsiders and The West Wing, and I was impressed at his desire to get and stay sober.  As far as Celebrity Memoir Friday goes, I say, "It's a win!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Then They Came For Me

Then They Came For Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival by Maziar Bahari with Aimee Molloy blew my mind.  I wasn't expecting what I ended up getting out of this book, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Bahari is a Newsweek writer as well as a journalist and a documentary filmmaker.  Above all his is an Iranian living in London with his pregnant fiance, Paola, when he chooses to return to Iran to cover the 2009 elections in which Ahmadinejad supposedly rigged the election.  As Bahari moves through Tehran interviewing the participants in the movement to elect Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's opponent, and as he follows up after the election through the riots and the protests, Bahari watches a movement begin in his home country.  Pride and honor swell in his soul.  However, one morning a few days after the election Bahari finds his mother's home raided and himself arrested and sent to Evin prison where he is interrogated and tortured as a supposed American spy for the Western media.

Wow, you are thinking--is this a true story?  You bet your bottom dollar it is.  I was incredibly moved by Bahari's story of his time in prison and his enduring of the three months of constant interrogation and psychological warfare put upon him by his interrogator.  When Bahari finally gets to call Paola, at this time seven months pregnant, I found myself weeping with him.  I felt Bahari's inability to sit comfortably even as the London-bound plane he is on is out of Iranian airspace after his release.

Most of all, though, I have deep and profound respect for this man who refused to name names simply to be released from Evin.  He didn't have names to name in the first place--but his refusal to give in to his captors even when it meant more psychological and physical torture drove into me a lesson in ethics and integrity.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Welcome To Utopia

Welcome To Utopia: Notes From a Small Town by Karen Valby follows the residents of Utopia, Texas over the course of a year or so.  Valby, who writes for Entertainment Weekly of which I am a faithful subscriber, didn't just spend time in this town but lived there, integrating herself into the lives of the men and women who call this place "home."

The bulk of the book follows the same three groups with smaller chapters telling the stories of others in between.  The Wiekamp family watched three of their four sons head off to war, heartbreakingly losing one of them in the process.  Kelli and her family continuously deal with what it means to be a mixed race family--and the only black family--in a small, close knit, and oftentimes racist town.  At the general store, the same group of men have gathered for coffee in the morning for as long as anyone can remember; when they welcome Valby into their circle they learn about themselves as much as Valby learns about them.

I was so excited to finally sit down with this book--I had it out from the library previously and then lost track of time and had to return the book.  So when I was able to zip through it in two days I was a happy camper.  Valby has a knack for finding the soul of people and being able to express that through words for her audience.  I was happy that I was able to spend some time with these families--and it was so nice to know that regardless of how much things change, some things just stay the same.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Seriously... I'm Kidding

It's Celebrity Memoir Friday!  Although Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres is not a memoir, just a collection of essays, I am still going to count it as a candidate for CMF.

As I stated above, this is a bunch of Ellen's humorous stories and less about her actual life.  She brings Portia into the mix several times and talks about her show a good bit, but other than that not much of her world sneaks into this little ditty.

The best chapter in my humble opinion was her take on children.  She tells us that she likes them after they have been fed and changed but other than that, none for her.  I am on the same page, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading my thoughts as written by Ms. Degeneres.  

I have to say I was hoping for more dirt on her life.  I guess I will need to wait until her tell-all comes out.  Dear Ms. Degeneres--pleeeeeease write a tell all because I really want to read it.  Many thanks, Nicole.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

American Dervish

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar was highly touted in the upcoming books of 2012 so I put myself on the waiting list right away.  I am so glad I did--it was a lovely and meaningful novel that touched me.

Hayat is a young Pakistani growing up in 1970's America.  When his mother's best friend Mina comes to live with them, he forms his first crush, he learns the depths of his parent's unhappiness with each other, and he forms his first understanding of his religion.  As this year in his life progresses he grows tremendously and makes mistakes from which he learns that sometimes you can't recover.

I fell in love with the beauty of this book and of Hayat's story.  I wanted to root for this young man even when he was making choices that would eventually lead to dire consequences.  I wanted to wrap my arms around him when he suffered from embarrassment at the hands of ignorant and uncaring elders, and I wanted to assure him that as he continues to grow he will learn that self-forgiveness is what matters most..  Hayat's character was so fully developed that it was hard to not care deeply about his development as both a young man and as a son.  I fell in love with him as if he were my own.

So would I recommend it?  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I would.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Mindful Carnivore

The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegitarian's Hunt for Sustenance by Tovar Cerulli examines what it means to be a mindful eater, not just a mindful carnivore.  How much damage are you truly avoiding in choosing to be a vegetarian--and how can you be a mindful consumer and have respect for everything you ingest?

Cerulli had been a vegetarian for several years after a childhood of fishing and eating meat.  When his doctor suggests he could use more protein in his diet, Cerulli and his soon-to-be wife Cath start investigating ways they can incorporate meat into their diet in a thoughtful and humane way.  After much investigation including gardening themselves, they discover that no amount of care in diet prevents harm to animals, insects, and the environment.  Even in simple gardening you kill worms when you turn the soil.  The conclusion is that care must be taken and respect must be given in every bite you take regardless of the diet you choose to have. 

The last half of the book is Cerulli's journey to understand hunting and to find peace with the process of killing a living being and eating it.  It's quite a detailed account and I found myself having more reverence for the food I eat.  It is a thoughtful account and I appreciate the journey that Cerulli took in his process to understand hunting and to have a reverence for the sacred environment that gave (and still gives) him sustenance.  It was hard for me to read the passage where he finally shot his first buck if only because I also have a hard time knowing that something has given it's life for me to survive.  I do, however, appreciate Cerulli's conclusion that we live in a cycle that feeds each other, and we (animals and humans) need each other.

If you have read this blog then you know that I have a penchant for books that explore the way we eat and how to be mindful eaters.  I think it's vital to our existence and I would strongly encourage a read with this book.  You can read more about Tovar Cerulli here on Open Road Media's website, and you can click on "Buy This Book" on that page and it will send you to your favorite e-book retailer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler is the story of Josh and Emma who, by happenstance, come across Facebook when they log into the internet for the first time.  While not normally odd, it is in this situation--since it's 1996.  They find that the smallest action affects their future, with the ability to change spouses and children with simple and complex decisions in the here and now.  How will they ultimately decide to use this information?

This book has an interesting premise, and overall it was a pretty quick read.  It's YA fiction, but I have come to the conclusion that I hate saying, "But it's good!"  The truth is that YA fiction is just a genre and a good book is a good book regardless of genre--period.  I found the references to present day Facebook as severely interesting, and I appreciated the desire for these two young people to see into the future.

At times the constant reference to all things 1996 was a bit on overload.  There was one sentence early on in the book that referenced three major things and I wanted to be like, "Yeah, I got it.  You are in 1996.  Stop beating it into me."  Maybe I'm just not nostalgic for that time period in my life--I was, after all, the same age as the characters.  I still remember it well.  I wish I could forget my horrible need to wear Timberlands to fit in.  What was I thinking?  I don't hike, nor have I ever.

However, I do feel that the story is worth a go if you enjoy fiction that has a science fiction tinge to it.  The whole future thing is really interesting, and it begs the question, "What will I be in 15 years?"  If you could go back in time, would you have imagined yourself where you are now?  Who really knows, but it's fun to let your mind wander.