Tag Archives: book review

“The Serpent King” Book Review

The Serpent KingEvery high school has those kids that don’t fit in. In The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, three teens from Forrestville, a small Tennessee town named after the founder of the Klu Klux Klan, are bound together as misfits and as best friends. Lydia comes from loving and prosperous parents; she’s got a popular fashion blog and is on her way to college in New York City. Travis escapes his father’s drunken beatings in the fantasy world of knights and noble quests. Dillard Early Jr. can’t escape his name: his snake-handling, poison-drinking preacher father was incarcerated for child porn and his grandfather went around wearing snakeskins and killing every snake he could.

Written in third person, this novel alternates among the three characters. The story covers the characters senior year of high school and is filled with poverty in the rural South, enduring friendship, heartbreak, clinging to faith at all costs, fear of the unknown, and learning the courage it takes to survive and to thrive.

While it took me several chapters to get sucked into the story, I ended staying up way too late to finish the novel. The book covers the harsh reality so many outsiders have to live in. And while parts of the novel did showcase that this was a debut, it’s a phenomenal coming-of-age story about hope and courage, of salvation and betterment, of surviving and flourishing when life seems too bleak to continue.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” Book Review

Health at Every Size“Health at Every Size” (HAES) by Linda Bacon, PhD is not a diet book. It’s the philosophy that showcases how well-being and healthy habits are more vital than any number on a scale. HAES’ basic tenets are to:

  • Accept your size. Grow to love and appreciate your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. Self-acceptance empowers you to make positive life changes.
  • Trust yourself. Your body intuitively knows how to keep itself healthy. The problem is that society has taught you to ignore your body’s natural internal regulation systems. Relearn to trust your body’s natural signals of hunger, fullness, and appetite.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Find purpose and meaning in your life. Often you’re eating to fulfill some social, emotional, or spiritual needs, instead of for hunger.
  • Embrace size diversity. Humans didn’t evolve to be one size fits all. We come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Recognize your unique attractiveness.

This book is a must read for anyone who’s ever wished to be thinner. One of this novel’s strengths is how it’s split into two parts. The first half of the book deals with research showing why the traditional diet fails and how society has warped body image and ideals, and research on how the HAES method has been more successful than traditional dieting. The second half of the novel deals with the specifics of the HAES method, and gives you resources to change your life.

Many aspects of this novel are empowering. The research provided a solid argument against dieting, especially focusing on calorie restriction, by showing that dieting doesn’t produce lasting results, the false notion that if you’re overweight you lack control, and demonstrated how the food, pharmaceutical, and dieting industry have manipulated peoples’ senses of hunger and satiety for profit.

Despite all that, I had trouble believing Bacon’s argument that “fat does not cause any of our leading chronic diseases, except for some cancers, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.” While there are overweight and obese people who are healthy, many are not. Bacon doesn’t discuss the ways that obesity can lead to disability. She spends all her time focusing on body acceptance—which is a concept I completely support—and seemingly being a fat activist. I don’t understand why encouraging people to fight obesity, in order to prevent disability, and fighting discrimination about overweight people has to be mutually exclusive.

It’s important to love yourself and your body, to listen to your signals of hunger, to eat fulfilling and healthy foods—limiting processed foods, to have meaning in your life, to realize that much of society’s war on obesity is sponsored by companies that profit from peoples’ fear of fat, to take measurements like the BMI scale with a grain of salt, and to not discriminate against overweight people. I’m just struggling to convince myself that there should be utter fat acceptance. (If you’re not familiar with the FA movement, check out the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance’s website.)

This book’s notion that your weight shouldn’t keep you from enjoying your life is why I recommend you give it a try.

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

A Badass Hidden Gem: “Wool” Book Review

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A breathtakingly creative and horrifyingly disturbing post-apocalyptic novel! Hugh Howey’s “Wool” is one hell of a ride. Starting as a short story, this tale grew into a novel due to popular demand, and then, once it became an online sensation, was picked up by Simon & Schuster and became a New York Times bestseller.

In a twisted futuristic world, where everyone lives underground in a silo because the surface was horribly poisoned hundreds of years ago, and where the levels of the silo are split into different social classes, mistrust breeds rampantly and the worst thing a person can do is ask to go outside. Because, while there’s a sheriff and a mayor, the true power lies with the highly secretive and malicious IT department, and they are more than willing to grant your request.

Howey created a phenomenal aura of dread and desperation. Claustrophobia claws at you, begging you to ask the same forbidden questions those who take a one-way trip outside do. Told from multiple characters, this story is rife with suspense and contains so many plot twists that I couldn’t guess the end!

I can’t say it better than Kathy Reichs, bestselling author of the Temperance Brennan series, “Wool is frightening, fascinating, and addictive.” “Wool” is flooded with a highly detailed and authentic world, realistic and relatable characters, and a terrifyingly believable story. A compulsive read.

(Photo courtesy of Sam Cox.)

When Beauty Destroys the Beast: “Uprooted” Book Review

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Before I began Uprooted by Naomi Novik I had high expectations. With over 50,000 ratings and nearly 9,500 reviews, this young adult novel has over a 4 star rating (out of 5). This book had to be phenomenal! At least, that’s what the overwhelming majority of the reviews indicated.

The first pages—almost the entire first chapter—grabbed my attention. This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, where the Beast is a magician known as the Dragon and Beauty is a village girl about to discover that she has a much larger role to play than she’d ever imagined.

However, after the first pages, I had a difficult time reading the first third of the book. It didn’t seem any different than most of the young adult books out there. The protagonist Agnieszka is a seventeen-year-old brown haired, clumsy girl, whose best friend is beautiful and talented and brave. The Dragon is a one hundred fifty year old guy, who looks like he’s not much older than Agnieszka and is a jerk. (Where have we heard that scenario before?)

In the original Beauty and the Beast, the Beast was also a jerk, but I felt that there was a reason behind it. (He did look like a monster, after all.) The Dragon seemed to be a jerk just for the sake of being a jerk.

I felt like the Dragon being terrible and incredibly rude to Agnieszka for no reason, and she reacting like some exceedingly self-conscious, mumbling, and messy girl, was a story plot I’d seen before. One where the jerk of a guy was going to be the love interest. A story plot I’ve never liked.

But that all changed when I entered the second half of the book. Basically, I liked the book better when the Beauty and the Beast retelling ended and the story took on a life of it’s own.

Agnieszka started growing as a character. She began standing on her own two feet. As the world, characters, and plot built layers and layers on itself, I was pulled back into the story. I ended up not being able to put the book down. Some of the my favorite scenes were when Agnieszka and the Dragon were separated, because then I got to see what Agnieszka could do and what her personality was truly like, without the Dragon’s shadow looming over her.

While the final third of the book made me late a few mornings to work—I ended up reading longer than I should have—there was one scene that chucked me headfirst out of the story. Normally, a scene like this one wouldn’t have bothered me, if it were in an adult novel. However, this scene was in a young adult book that is intended for thirteen to seventeen year olds. This scene is a detailed sex scene between the Dragon and Agnieszka. Detailed enough that I could picture everything that was happening. I wouldn’t have wanted my fifteen-year-old cousin reading this scene. When I was fifteen, I read books that had sexual content, but never anything that I’d describe as soft Harlequin.

Other than that scene, the final section of the novel was extraordinary. The creativity and imagination fueling the rising action, climax, and resolution was brimming with excitement and depth. When the ending finally came, it was satisfying, mature, and realistic. It was a perfect ending to a book that turned out to be an incredible fairy tale.

Have you read any good books lately?

(Photo courtesy of Chris Alcoran.)

“Exit, Pursued by a Bear” Book Review

Happy Holidays, everyone! Hope they were full of cheer, and that you’ve got your New Year’s resolutions in mind. (If not, don’t feel bad, I’m still figuring mine out…)

I’m happy to announce that I completed my Goodreads reading challenge. When I started at the beginning of 2016, I thought reading a book every two weeks wouldn’t be a big deal. Then, life got in the way, and I had some catching up to do. But, a week away from the new year and thirty books later, I’ve accomplished the challenge.

The final book I read was Exit, Pursued by a Bear. The protagonist’s voice was amazing; I got sucked in immediately, so I wanted to share a quick review of the book with you.

3117275267_ec87043835_oA surprisingly fast read exploring the fallout from a traumatic event, Exit, Pursued by a Bear will not let you put it down as you delve into the painful aftermath and resolute strength of seventeen-year-old Hermione.

This novel is about how a teenaged girl survives and overcomes being raped during cheerleading camp. However, this book is not like your typical rape novel. While I cried multiple times, Hermione’s story never fell into traditional rape survivor stories, either pursuing the rapist’s identity and the ensuing trial or how the survivor crumbles after the rape.

In this book, Hermione retakes her power from her rapist. She refuses to be defined by one event, no matter how horrific it was; she will not be a statistic. There are times when Hermione starts falling apart, but she has a phenomenal support system, people who gather around her and feed her their strength, when she can’t stand on her own two feet.

This one night—this one thing—this rape that happened to Hermione united her and those around her in a new and empowering way, as everyone felt the ripple effects of one individual’s horrible actions, as slut-shaming and victim-blaming spread, as the date rape drug left a blank spot in Hermione’s memory, and as Hermione claws her way past her anger, fear, confusion, and powerlessness.

The novel’s inspiring ending was one of hope for now and the future. By having such an amazing support system, Hermione was better able to choose how she reacted to her rape. By having people around her who offered understanding and compassion, instead of blame, Hermione was able to move past a potentially life-damaging moment.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is an empowering, engrossing read. No one deserves to be raped, but everyone—especially those who go through such trauma—deserves a strong support system, and a best friend like Polly.

(Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Moore.)

“The Shadow of the Wind” Book Review

“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”

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The Shadow of the Wind is a compulsive page turner. From the opening pages, I immediately knew that I’d love this old-fashioned book saturated with offbeat characters, passionate storytelling, Gothic twists and turns, and tragic, thrilling rushes. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s book is reminiscent of the great 19th century novels, while maintaining the precarious balance between high-brow literature and commercial fiction.

The novel begins in 1945 in a Barcelona suffering the aftereffects of the Spanish Civil War. Daniel, a 10-year-old boy grieving from his mother’s death, is taken to a secret labyrinth called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father. In this maze, Daniel chooses one book to care for; he selects a novel titled The Shadow of the Wind by an unknown author, Julián Carax. This choice dramatically shapes his life, sending him from childhood into young adulthood on an elaborate quest to discover the mystery behind why some dark, almost demonic figure is hunting down and burning all of Julián Carax’s books.

A novel about resourcefulness, courage, loss of innocence, love, cruelty, cowardice, murder, and redemption, The Shadow of the Wind mesmerizes as it elegantly unfolds mystery upon mystery, before shooting around breathtaking lurches and blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.

(Photo courtesy of Xavi.)

Reading Challenge 2016: Top Book So Far

At the beginning of this year, I joined Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge. In this challenge, you pledge to read a certain amount of books during the year. While some of my friends stated they’d read 50 or even 200 books, I challenged myself to read 30. For me, this is a lot…it’s about a book every two weeks. I’m two books away from my goal, and I’m happy that I’ll complete this goal.

5518988345_9ef6af4df9_oI wanted to share one of my favorite books so far this year:

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

If I could give this book more than five stars, I would.

At first, I was put off by the amount of cursing within the opening chapters (heads up there’s several f-bombs), but I quickly became engrossed with the protagonist Henry’s personality, trauma, and, most importantly, story.

This novel engages readers, and forces them to witness bullying, mental illness, and come to understandings that they would normally otherwise rather not think about. Shaun David Hutchinson uses Henry to send some very important messages to readers: “Remember the past, live the present, write the future” and that we do matter; maybe not to the universe or in the grand scheme of things – all of us will be forgotten in time – but we do matter and because we live the present, we’ll keep on.

After all, we’re the ants. And what do ants do? They keep marching one by one.

There’s a deepness to this story that isn’t initially apparent, but then showcases itself brilliantly through the pain of loss, the presence of new love and the guilt and fear that sometimes accompany that love, and much more.

This novel begins with Henry telling readers about how he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and that they’ve now given him a choice: press the button and save Earth or don’t press the button and on 29 January 2016 the world is going to end. The question remains: will Henry press the button?

Though there is a love story within this book, this novel is so much more complex than a YA romance between Henry and Diego. Henry’s ex-boyfriend Jesse – the love of his life – committed suicide. Henry’s mother is a chain-smoking waitress, who cannot stand her one-time dream of being a chef because that dream reminds her too much of Henry’s dead-beat, door-slamming father, who abandoned them. Henry’s brother is a college dropout. The most popular boy in school alternates between bullying and making out with Henry. Henry’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, and it is dark and amazing and heartfelt, and at times when readers need it most, comical.

Insight abounds in this novel, and what’s more is that the insight is conceivable. Usually in YA books, the protagonist possesses an awareness other characters miss, and often that insight is too deep or advanced for that character. However, in this novel Henry struggles with the big life questions. He asks others for answers, and the answers they provide create a well-rounded and realistic picture, with each of their answers reflecting the events that have occurred in their lives and how those events have impacted them. This story and its characters are believable to the point I imagined it as real life. That’s a big part of what makes this novel so engrossing, and what had me smiling, crying, and feeling all the emotions throughout the tale.

This book left my mind reeling with thoughts long after I closed the back cover. Definitely take the time to read this.

I’ve read some fantastic books this year, others that weren’t so great, and one that I would have been happy never picking up. Currently, I’m reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I’m only 10 chapters in, but so far this novel has impressed. It’s reminiscent of 19th century gothic novels and is a novel rife with subplots and breathtaking twists and turns. I can’t wait to finish it.

What’s your favorite novel of this year?

(Photo courtesy of Sweetie187.)