Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Divergent (Book Review)

Author: Veronica Roth
Year: 2011
Genre: Dystopian
Reading Level: Young Adult

Series: First in the Divergent series (followed by Insurgent)

Literary Awards: 
Goodreads Choice Award for Favorite Book of 2011 and for Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2011), ALA Teens' Top Ten Nominee (2012), Children's Choice Book Award Nominee for Teen Choice Book of the Year (2012), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2014), DABWAHA (Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hella Authors) for Best Young Adult Romance (2012) 

Plot Summary: Beatrice has lived her life in the Abnegation factions--a life devoted to selflessness and simplicity.  But with her sixteenth year comes a test to determine which of five factions she'll spend the rest of her life with.  When her test results come back with the dangerous and secretive conclusion of 'divergent' Beatrice will have to choose her future very carefully.  Etc. etc.

Red Flags: Violence, some mild teenage lustiness

My Rating: B-
First let me say that despite my issues with this book, I don't think it's a terrible book not worth reading.  It didn't offend me, like some books have been known to do.  While I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to many people, I also wouldn't say it's a horrible waste of time either.  If you especially enjoy dystopian novels, there's a good chance you'll enjoy this one.  Glowing, right?

On the plus side, I thought there was a nice level of content for a YA book.  There was blood, but not too in your face.  There was some making out, but nothing extreme.  There were only a few mild swears, if any (I don't remember).  So, there's that.  I also think there are some germs of potential here (wheat germ, if you prefer) in the ideas and the story.  Unfortunately I can't think of any good books that stopped at potential.  My problems with this book primarily fall into two camps: 1) the writing 2) the story.  Let's examine!  

1) Overall, the writing was distractingly amateurish.  It tried so hard to be dramatic, with its single-sentence paragraphs, but several times I laughed at those sentences because, well, they were laughably dramatic.  Also, there were many instances of the same distinct word being used two pages in a row, or even in the same paragraph or sentence--words like "tender", "loose" and "sick to my stomach."  I know I tend to zero in on repetition but it's just one of those things you should catch if you read your material enough times--or at least catch more often than this.  There were also a lot of times where sentences were awkwardly assembled or concerned with irrelevant details.  And, really, I just don't think Veronica Roth has the writing chops (yet) to pull off first person present tense.  

2) I didn't believe anything in this book.  I didn't believe the world, I didn't believe the factions, I didn't believe their society.  I definitely didn't believe Beatrice had any brains.  They mention God a few times and I didn't believe a society like that would allow any kind of religion.  I just didn't buy it.  

I also didn't get any sense of tension, no matter how many one-sentence paragraphs there were.  Nothing.  And one cannot rely on first person present tense alone to create tension.

Anyway.  It was all right, but it's just not that great either.  Also I laughed out loud when Four's real name came out.  Surely you can guess who I pictured from then on

Some choice lines:
"He slips his hands over my neck and presses his thumbs under my chin, tilting my head back so his forehead meets mine."  (I had Drew help me reenact this, just to see if it was a weird as it was in my head...yes, it was.)

"She grins so wide I can see her back row of teeth." (Is she a shark?)

"I am kinder than I seemed in training."  (...)

Thursday, February 21, 2013


...I'm reading Divergent and it's all dystopian and dramatic and what have you.  So far, there are these three teenage main characters, but I don't think my mental pictures of them are *quite* what the author had in mind.

For instance, Beatrice, the main character.  She comes from a simpler society and wears her hair in a braid, with loose clothing.  This is what I've got in my head:

And then there's Al (Al? Really?).  If you wanted to be cliche about it, you'd call him a gentle giant.  Big and broad but he cries into his pillow at night.  You know, someone like this:

Lastly, Christina.  She's a bit mouthy (or honest, if you prefer) and knows how to use eyeliner.  And she's got chin-length black hair, "pinned back with silver clips."  You know where I'm going with this:

So far, reading Divergent feels a little bit like reading this:
There's even a make over involved!  And of course you know how I'm picturing Four, the angsty dreamboat (staple of the YA novel):

Get it?  Get it, guys??  Because he IS Number Four!  Oh ho, my wit.  

Just kidding.  This is really how I picture Four:

(Is this all a sign that I've watched the same fifteen minutes of Mean Girls on TV too often?) 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bringing Up Bebe : One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (Book Review)

Author: Pamela Druckerman
Year: 2012
Genre: Non-fiction/parenting

Synopsis: Pamela Druckerman, a newly retired American journalist, moves to Paris, marries and has her first child.  She soon starts to notice some rather remarkable behavioral differences between French and American children.  Determined to learn the reasons for these differences, she begins investigating the philosophies of French parenting (easier said than done). 

Red Flags: One instance of a very naughty word. 

My Rating: A-
I originally planned to pick my way through this book, stopping wherever something sounded interesting, but it quickly pulled me in and I read it cover to cover.  (This is notable since I almost never read non-fiction.)  Aside from the parenting topics, this was a really interesting look at French culture, and that alone makes it worth reading, regardless of one's parental status.  It was very readable and informative without being stodgy, though I did get tired of the phrases "of course..." and "it's not just..."

As for the actual parenting philosophies, of course I didn't agree with everything, but on the whole, I think this book offers a lot really practical and thoughtful ideas.  I particularly enjoyed the chapters on sleeping, eating and probably some other stuff I've already forgot.  But like I said, even though I don't agree with all the French philosophies, it was interesting to read about.  I also liked that the whole approach was more relaxed than a lot of American parenting books, and makes me think that maybe babies aren't as complicated as I thought.  Maybe!

Side note: this book would probably be best enjoyed with a baguette and some good cheese.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Who Could That Be at This Hour?" (Book Review)

Author: Lemony Snicket
Year: 2012
Genre: Mystery
Reading Level: Intermediate

Series: First (of four) in the All the Wrong Questions series

Plot Summary: Young Lemony Snicket's day begins in a tea shop, but soon he's swept off to a mostly abandoned town by a totally abandoned sea.  He and his associate are tasked with solving the mystery of a stolen statue, but the discovery that the statue was never stolen in the first place raises a lot of questions (wrong and otherwise).  Adventures, attempted capers and ambivalence ensue.

Red Flags: None.

My Rating: A- 
There were some things I didn't love about this book, mainly that I wasn't really sure where it was going and what the point of the mystery was.  That sounds like a big problem, but since Lemony Snicket doesn't seem to know either, it kind of works.  Aside from that, I thought it was a fun and creative.  I liked that though it's the same world (and narrator) as Series of Unfortunate Events, this was a different kind of story with totally different types of characters.  

Speaking of the characters, they were one of my favorite parts.  They were all so unique, memorable and intriguing, with their own mysteries and purposes in the story.  My other favorite thing was the Clusterous Forest.  I LOVED the Clusterous Forest, even though it doesn't do anything except be awesome.  As I was reading I would periodically pause and think "Remember how cool the Clusterous Forest is?"  I am really into this Forest. 

If you liked SOUE, there's no reason to not read this book.  If you didn't like SOUE, you might want to read this still, since it's a) a much shorter commitment b) not so dreary and c) a completely different story.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Speckier and Speckier

I should say Speckiless and Speckiless, since the Speck is constantly becoming less of a Speck and more of a regular-sized tiny person.  He is almost 2 pounds!  Which means he accounts for a very, very small percentage of the extra padding I have these days...

ANYway, lately I have been thinking that I've hardly documented any part of this experience thus far, and maybe in the future I would regret that.  Maybe one day the Speck will read this blog and say, "You blogged about Gatorade flavors and not me??" and I will say, "Ah, the self-centeredness of youth."  I digress. Here are some recent happs:

--We bought a crib!  This was one of the easiest things to pick out and basically went like this: I found one I liked.  Drew objected to its lack of "masculinity."  I found one a little more manly.  Then we ordered it.  (We don't actually HAVE it yet)  I wound up ordering a white one because, since we aren't buying a set, it's a lot easier to match white furniture with white furniture, rather than all the shades of "espresso."  I look forward to cleaning fingerprints off it all the time.

--We (almost) bought a car seat and stroller!  This one involved a lot more mental agonizing and wringing of hands.  But in the end, we just test drove a couple at Babies r Us and there was a clear winner.  We'll order them both as the time gets closer since strollers are not nearly as cute as cribs when they're sitting around your house useless for months. 

--The Speck thumps me all day long.  I think he is systematically checking for weaknesses.  (He remembers...)

--As for me, I haven't been sick in weeks (hurray!), though just about every morning at 10:00 I feel horrible.  Sometimes it lasts ten minutes, sometimes a half hour and rarely it will last for longer.  I don't know why this happens. 

--I'm still always hungry.  I generally only feel gross if I haven't eaten for a while.

--In the morning, I feel like I have a soccer ball under my shirt.  By the time I go to bed it feels like a beach ball.  

--I try to exercise to even out the whole "always hungry" thing, and while it doesn't seem to help that at ALL, it does feel nice anyway.  It's too cold to do anything outside, but I do my Pilates for 20 minutes, four days a week (Monday is always a bust).  I am constantly amazed at how bendy the instructor is, and I am constantly amused at how she mixes up her words but goes for it anyway ("long string long"?).  I also use this little portable biking contraption a couple times a week.

--In general, I feel pretty much fine most of the time.  I'm still waiting to experience some of that supposed increased energy of the second trimester, but I suppose going to bed at 10:30 instead of 9:00 is an improvement.  Maybe my karma finally kicked in because so far I seem to have avoided a lot of the more annoying symptoms.  I don't want to say what they are because there's no wood to knock on...

--I DO still have my stuffy nose and I DO sneeze bloody snot all over myself at least once a day.  If I'm really lucky, I sneeze all over my clothes too.

--Speaking of clothes, I could live in these pants, and from about 5:30 on, I DO live in these pants.  Except when I wear these pants instead.  They are great pants, whether you are growing a human or not.  To sum up: pants.

--Speaking of pants, I finally bought some maternity jeans.  They are precious to me.

--Last point: I should give Drewbles some public credit for being such a nice fellow.  He spent several months eating (and making) mac and cheese for dinner and never getting to go anywhere except for Saturday mornings.  He doesn't complain no matter how many House Hunters episodes we watch or that I make him rub my feet all the time.  Basically, he never complains about anything and instead does whatever I whine about tell him.  I mean, he is always like that, but these days there's more he COULD complain about and I tell him to do a lot more things.  If I had a time machine I would go back to my teenage years when I would occasionally make one of those silly "qualities I want in a husband" lists and say "Hey, you dumb teenager, add willingness to that dumb list and stop being dumb."  Luckily it all worked out okay since he IS willing.  Nice husband.

So there you have it, Speck.  Your life right now consists of rolling around and hitting me, while mine consists of sneezing and turning into a butterball and your once and future papa dotes upon us both (and still sometimes makes mac and cheese).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

In Which I Begin the Reverse Bucket List

I have never made a bucket list.  You would think, loving list-making as I do, that I would have jumped all over that bandwagon, but there are two things that stop me: 

1) Everything on my list would be completely impractical, never-going-to-happen stuff like "touch Mary McDonnell's hair" and "yell 'So say we all!' at Edward James Olmos" and other (non-Battlestar) things.  

2) Since Drewbles and I got married, I'm pretty sure I have cried more about not accomplishing "enough" than any other issue.  This is why I stopped making daily to-do lists, and we are both better off for it.  

Don't get me wrong, I like making goals. I make a list of those for every year, but that's a teaspoon list.  Why would I want to set myself up for disappointment at the end of my life (and stress all through it) by making a list full of stuff I never had a chance of achieving? 

BUT.  I had a realization.  Why make a bucket list of things I WANT to do when I could make a bucket list of things I HAVE done?  Wouldn't that be so satisfying to look back on, at any point in my life?  (Plus it is a good remedy for those times when I insist on crying over not doing "enough")

So I'm going to start my Reverse Bucket List now and I'll add to it as things of note happen.  This list isn't meant to be braggy at ALL, by the way, and if it makes you feel jealous at all, for whatever reason, make your own RBL!  I am only friends with accomplished people so I know you can all make great ones.  And of course you have the rest of your lives to add to it. 

Countries I've been to: England, France, Spain, Italy

States I've been to*: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Washington D.C., New York, Florida, Virginia

States I've lived in: California, Alabama, Missouri, Indiana, Utah.

Landmark cities I've been to: Chicago, Seattle, New York, St. Louis, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, Florence, Naples, San Francisco.

Iconic things I've seen: The Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon (from an airplane), Old Faithful/Yellowstone, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Platform 9 3/4, Muir Woods/Redwoods, Alcatraz

Iconic buildings/structures I've seen: the Gateway Arch, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, the White House, the U.S. Capitol Building, the Colosseummmmm, the Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus, the Vatican, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the Globe Theater, Golden Gate Bridge

LDS church sites I've been to: Nauvoo (pre- and post-temple), Carthage Jail, Far West, Temple Square (duh), Sacramento, Nauvoo, St. Louis, Mt. Timp., SLC, Provo and Logan temples

Tall buildings I've been up: Sears Tower, Empire State Building, Gateway Arch, Space Needle

Significant bodies of water I've been in: Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean Sea

Cakes I've made: chocolate mayonnaise, red velvet (x3), chocolate peanut butter (x3), strawberry (x3), lime cream and strawberry (x2), summer strawberry (x3), Southern coconut, chocolate quake (x2), orange chocolate chunk bundt, chocolate fudge coconut, ginger chiffon cake with lime curd and lime buttercream

Concerts I've seen: Snow Patrol, Keane, Harry and the Potters (yep, that's it)

Shows I've seen: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (x1000), Cats, Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera (x2), Love Never Dies, Les Miserables, Wicked, Scarlet Pimpernel (x3), Jekyll & Hyde, Beauty and the Beast (x3), The Lion King, Mary Poppins, 42nd Street, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, The Wizard of Oz, Urinetown (x2), Seussical, Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd (x2), Civil War

The Mousetrap (x2), Twelfth Night, A Comedy of Errors, As You Like It.

Celebrities I've seen and/or met: Simon Pegg (LAX), Frank Langella (Monte Carlo), Bill Nighy (London), Ken Page (St. Louis)

Authors I've seen/met: Brian Jacques, Shannon Hale, Stephanie Perkins, Margaret Stohl

Misc. things that are cool to me: ridden the train, ridden ferries, touched a ray, touched a (little) shark, gone fishing, hiked the Y, done a 10K, got a Bachelors and a Masters, seen Alfie Boe live, gone jet skiing, got married, had a gerbil, heard Mandy Patinkin say "Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die." in person, had surgery, had a baby

Okay okay, just for fun, here are few things I hope to see in my lifetime: a whale in the wild, the California redwoods, Maine, Alaska, the Northern Lights.  Maybe I'll run into Mary McDonnell in one of those places...

*"been to" requires at least having used a bathroom in that state

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Lightning Thief (Book Review)

Author: Rick Riordan
Year: 2005
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Reading Level: Intermediate

Series: First in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (followed by The Sea of Monsters)

Plot Summary: Percy Jackson never meant to vaporize his math teacher.  But all the things Percy Jackson never means to do make a lot more sense when he learns he's the son of a Greek god.  Once he's sent off on a quest to reclaim Zeus's stolen lightning bolt, he'll have to battle both gods and monsters to prevent war and save his family. 

Award/s: American Library Assocation (ALA) Notable Book (2005), School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2005), New York Times Notable Book (2005), Young Readers' Choice Award (2008), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award (2009) Askews Torchlight Award (UK) Winner, South Carolina Book Award for Junior Book Award (2008), Grand Canyon Reader Award for Tween Book (2008), Nene Award (2008), Massachusetts Children's Book Award (2008), Sunshine State Young Readers Award for Grades 6-8 (2007), Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader's Choice Award for Intermediate (2008), Iowa Teen Award (2009), American Library Association Notable Book Award, Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2009), Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books List

Red Flags: Some scary mythological creatures and fantasy violence.  Unpleasant tween bullies.  Lots of illegitimate children.

-The fact that these half-blood kids are illegitimate and have at least one indifferent parent could be a sticky issue for some readers and their parents.  It's basically glossed over and maybe kids wouldn't think about it too much, but parents should probably bear that in mind.

My Rating: B+
I had a few thoughts going into this book: 1) I've heard both good and so-so reviews from friends 2) the movie was SO BORING 3) I've been wanting to read this for years.  Keeping all that in mind, I really tried to be unbiased as I read it.

And what do you know, I actually quite enjoyed it.  Yes, the Harry Potter parallels are absurdly obvious and frequent.  Someone really should have suggested some tweaks, just to set them apart a little more.  The Greek mythology idea is quite fun and creative, but so many HP similarities takes away from that a bit.  

But as I said, I enjoyed this book.  It's not a perfect book by any means--sometimes I got lost in the action scenes, sometimes the characters were conveniently dumb, sometimes the modern twists to mythological things didn't jive (like the metal detector-type machines in the Underworld).  But I've always liked Greek mythology and so that was a big plus for me.  I liked the characters overall, even if they didn't amaze me.  It was a fun read, with some fun elements and I'd like to keep reading the series to see what happens. 

Now I've done that thing again where I say I like something and then go on to point all the things that aren't particularly great about it.  Well.  It wasn't an amazing book, but it was a fun book and I liked it more as I went along.  I liked that the content level matched the reading level.  I liked that Percy Jackson loves his mama.  I can imagine younger boy readers loving this book (girls too of course, but boys in particular).  It has a nice mix of adventure, mystery and mythology.

Two SPOILER caveats about the content:
-I thought it was kind of extreme for Percy's character to kill off Crusty, even if he'll just reappear again in the future.  Heat of the moment self-defense is one thing--this was calculated.

-I thought it was even more extreme for Percy's mother (who never gets angry and is the nicest woman ever) to use Medusa's head on her husband, terrible though he is.  That left a bad taste in my mouth.