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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review - Notes Left Behind by Brooke and Keith Desserich


 









Title: Notes Left Behind
Author: Brooke and Keith Desserich
Year: 2009
Page: 272
Genre: Non-fiction - Memoir

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Maybe
Tearjerker? Yes (especially towards the end of the book)
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from amazon.com):
A Cincinnati couple bravely and lovingly recorded the last months of their six-year-old daughter's life after she was handed the devastating prognosis of terminal brain cancer. A trip to the doctor's office to treat Elena's strep throat resulted in an MRI that revealed a large tumor lodged within the walls of Elena's brain stem—in the worst place with one of the worst tumors out there. The kindergartener, who also had a younger sister, Grace, was given three to six months to live. A miracle was what the family hoped for, traveling to Memphis for six weeks of an experimental treatment involving intensive radiation, chemotherapy and tests; already Elena's speech, mobility and ability to eat had been affected, symptoms of the tumor's progression that would recede and recur over the next several months. The parents kept this diary from November 29, the beginning of their daughter's treatment, until her death August 11, Day 256, written in alternating POVs (mostly Keith's; Brooke's is rendered in italics), even recording some of Elena's own musings, such as that all she wanted was to be normal. The parents remained resolute in her treatment, even upbeat despite the anger Keith felt at the unfairness of this disease. Instead of planning their daughter's future, the Desseriches sadly found themselves counting [her] days. This heartbreakingly forthright journal helped the authors push back that second-worst day—when the memory of their daughter would be forgotten.

First Sentence:
It began early.

Why did I pick this book?
Saw it on the library's new book list, read the reviews on amazon which were almost all 4 and 5 stars.

My thoughts:
  • I thought originally (from the title) that the book was a journal of 6 year old Elena, but it was actually her parents' (mostly dad's) journal instaed (I think it may have been a blog). The parents wanted to write it so their younger daughter Gracie won't forget about Elena

  • It is very difficult to rate this book - I mean, this is definitely a very, very sad story and yes, I cried my eyes out especially towards the end of the book (I found the August 4 entry about the dance was the most heart-wrenching), but at the same time, it is a story I'd had read of before - articles about other similarly brave kids who courageously fought their terrible diseases - so the lessons learned, "treasure your time with your kids", "spend time with your family" etc isn't really new, but still a good reminder

  • The beginning of the book was a bit flat (I'd have been more scared and lost!), and sometimes the content got a bit repetitive - but I suppose, since this was a journal/blog, it was understandable that some of their feelings/thoughts kept recurring. It was probably not something that noticeable if you just read an entry a day (i.e. if you follow their blog), but I pretty much read the book in 2 settings (before I slept, and after I woke up the next day) so the repetitiveness was more pronounced. I also have to remember that the parents aren't professional writers, but you do get to see their honesty

  • I think what got to me more was the pictures rather than the text that they included in the book. Elena was an adorable girl but you could see how the medication/steroid and cancer took a toll on her and it was very devastating to see. The photos were black and white only, and not the best quality since they were a bit grainy, but I suppose it would have been expansive to include color glossy pictures in books. Though I appreciate that they had the pictures through out the books, rather than having them all in the centerfold as most books do - so you really do see the progression as you read the text

  • While this was not the most inspirational book I'd read (to me), I was still glad I read it. Most importantly though, I hope the younger daughter, Gracie, would read it one day and understood the important role she had played in her sister's life, and why her parents had to neglect her a little sometimes to take care of Elena. Since I have 2 younger sisters, I think the sisterly-love described in the book was quite touching, especially when they were both so young

Quote:


I learned more about my daughter in eighteen days than I'd learned about her in five years, eleven months and twenty-six days. (p34)

For despair forces you to live in the present while your mind races to the future. (p95)

"Never look at a day and think it is a bad day, because this may be better than tomorrow, so just thank God that you have the day at all." (p177)



Since we're all book lovers here, and so was Elena, I thought it was interesting to read about story time with her parents before bed:



To read a book with Elena is a methodical journey. First, you must do away with the book jacket if it has one. After all, in order to experience the majesty that is bedtime reading you must not only view the pages but feel the cover as well. But be careful to place the jacket back on the shelf -- you will need to re-cover it as soon as you finish the book. Next, always remember to mention the author's name, present the cover to the audience and then prompt them to tell you what they think the book is about. never mind that the audience may only be Mom, Gracie and me. Third, open the book tot he first page and review the copyright and the illustrator if different than the author. Now, we must pause at the copyright and discuss Elena's age at the point of original publication. Finally, you are ready to read, but make sure to discuss the quality of the illustrations and how the author conveys movement with the pictures. Faraway pictures that become close-ups indicate that the subject is traveling. It is also important to understand the illustrator's use of color. Bright colors convey happy feelings, while dark colors convey sadness. Once you have made your way through the book, close it, set it on your lap and ask the audience to "Discuss the book" with you. Then and only then have you truly enjoyed your bedtime reading. Now you know why it also takes us an hour or more to read three children's books every night. (p100-101)


Rating:


You may also like these books I'd read:


The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch & Jeffrey Zaslow



Josie's Story: A Mother's Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe by Sorrel King



Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
I'll link your review here if you wish!


Challenges:
100+ Reading
Memorable Memoir

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review - Genetic Rounds: A Doctor's Encounters in the Field that Revolutionized Medicine by Robert Marion MD


 















Title: Genetic Rounds: A Doctor's Encounters in the Field that Revolutionized Medicine 
Author: Robert Marion MD
Year: 2009
Page: 304
Genre: Non-fiction - medical, memoir

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Yes
Tearjerker? A little misty eyes with some stories
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from amazon.com):
Although he's often uncomfortable about it, as a clinical geneticist, Marion (The Intern Blues) examines his patients' genetic secrets—information they sometimes don't reveal even to close relatives—in order to help them make family planning decisions . His ability to solve medical mysteries can be a blessing: after a mother is accused of child abuse, Marion is able to use genetic analysis to diagnose brittle bone disease in the baby and to help return the infant to her mother. But his diagnostic skills become a curse when he tells his former college roommate that his toddler isn't just a slow starter but likely has Bardet-Biedl syndrome: the enraged friend never speaks to Marion again. In a headline-making case, he tries to explain why a pair of twins joined at the head lack speech. Although his short pieces lack the depth and finesse of essays by other physician-writers like Oliver Sachs, and Marion's case studies would frighten even the steeliest of would-be parents, Marion, director of clinical genetics at Montefiore Medical Center and Blythedale Children's Hospital in New York State, is a sympathetic advocate for his patients who lucidly interprets complex medical conditions for lay readers.

First Sentence:
One role of medical geneticists is to serve as patient advocates.

Why did I pick this book?
Saw it on the library's new book list online. Decided to reserve it because I am interested in medical related books (as long as it's not too scientific or written with a lot of technical terms/jargon). I had wanted to major in genetics when I was in college (bio-chemistry hated me) so I was particularly interested in a book about medical genetics.

My thoughts:
  • I really enjoyed this book - it was a fast read and he'd explain the medical terms/conditions in layperson terms so it was easy to understand

  • Each chapter was about a patient's stories (mostly pediatric patients) and some were quite touching. There were usually some ethical dilemma involved as well which really made you think what you'd do if you were in the doctor's position? Or if you were the parents? Or if you were the patient?

  • I guess since I like forensic science (TV shows like CSI, Bones, etc), I enjoyed that this field was trying to solve a puzzle (see quote below for a description of geneticist). Before reading this book, I have some idea what geneticists do, but this book really opened my eye about the role they play in medicine

  • Some stories could have been told better if  he didn't give away the ending first before explaining what actually happened, as it took the suspense away - but I suppose he wasn't writing a thriller/suspense novel...

  • I couldn't quite decide if I wanted to give this a 4 or 4.5 stars (4.25 would've been perfect!) - since I'm quite harsh with my rating (5 stars are hard to come by!) I think I'll leave it as a 4 stars for now. If I were going into this career field, I'd give it a 4.5 as I'd probably keep it as a reference book

  • A note of caution though - if you are pregnant or have young kids, you may not enjoy the book as much as I did (we don't have any kids) - you know, it's like you think you have all the symptoms when you read about different diseases online or watch some medical shows? There is no "graphic" description in the book but sometimes reality is more terrifying... it's definitely educational. Just thought I'd mention it - because I know sometimes when I read books (fictional or non-fiction), they effect me differently than those who have kids, since I can't quite put myself into the parents' position so those books don't affect me as much

Quote:

What do clinical geneticists do?

Often called on to solve mysteries, we play the role of medical detective, noticing subtle symptoms and signs and assembling them into a cohesive diagnosis. One of the heroes of modern clinical geneticists is Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's amazing detective. It was in Doyle's story "A Case of Identity" that Holmes says, "It is my business to know things. Perhaps I have taught myself to see what others overlook." THis is exactly the mantra of the clinical geneticist. (p27)


    Insights into doctor/patient relationship:

    "In practicing medicine (and clinical genetics in particular), providing for the emotional needs of the family both at the time of the initial encounter and then on an ongoing basis, can be as important (if not more important) than the provision of physical care. This may be the biggest epiphany I've experienced during the years I've been in practice." (p70)

    "It's as if I really have two patients: the child with the disease and his or her family. My role in looking after the child is usually fairly straight-forward; my role with the other patient, however is less so." (p137)


    A 4 year old patient's story:

    "She (4 year old daughter) handed it (her milk bottle) to me and said, "Here, Mommy. For you." "What's this for?' I asked her. "You crying, Mommy,' she replied, and in her own way, using a few words she had, she let me know that when she'd been little and cried, I always gave her a bottle of milk and that made her feel better. Because I was crying, she figured that giving me a bottle would make me feel better." (p146)


    Rating: 4 Stars


    You may also like these books I had read:







    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading
    Memorable Memoir
    Science Books 

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    My 2010 Book List - Now Rank In Order!

    Sam from Book Chase has a great idea on organizing his Best of 2010 List - read his post here.

    So I have reorganized my Books Read in 2010 post - now it's ranked by how much I liked the book, rather than in chronological order. At the end of 2010, I could easily see what my top 10 books are for both fiction and non-fiction!

    Gotta love being efficient :)

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Cool Bookmarks!

    This is a blog I followed that I love - Inspire Me Now - and saw some really cool bookmarks!

    The following is posted originally from Icoeye - aren't they creative! Love Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, The Little Prince and Alice in Wonderland!










    Even with a bookmark, I always forget exactly where I stopped if it's not at a natural break like a new chapter. Would this be very useful!




















    What do you usually use as bookmarks? I am still old-fashioned and read books, and don't own a kindle or other e-reader... guess that won't be a problem then. I usually just use some scrap paper - preferably thicker paper like card stock as they hold up better, and with space that I can write down notes or page numbers of the quotes or interesting insights I want to use in the review. How about you?

    Book Review - The Hate List: A Novel by Jennifer Brown



    Title:
    The Hate List: A Novel
    Author: Jennifer Brown
    Year: 2009
    Page: 416
    Genre: Fiction - Young Adult

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Yes
    Tearjerker? A littlel misty eye near the end
    Where did it take place? US
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets. Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

    First Sentence:
    The scene in the Garvin High School cafeteria, known as the Commons, is being described as "grim" by investigators who are working to identify the victims of a shooting spree that erupted Friday morning.

    Why did I pick this book?
    Read a few good reviews from other bloggers. Since I am doing a YA Challenge, need to read at least 12 this year! I read the non-fiction book about school shooting (for adults) last yer, Columbine by David Cullen, and liked it, so I thought it'd be interesting to read about the topic from a YA novel perspective.

    My thoughts:
    • Even though it is over 400 pages, it is a fast read. Jennifer Brown's writing style is straight forward which I appreciate

    • Since I'd read Columbine by David Cullen, which talked about the Columbine High School shooting, it was easy to imagine that this YA novel was real. I suppose since we don't have any kids, this book may not have as much impact on me as it would on others who have children

    • While the plot seemed realistic, I think there were a lot of characters that didn't quite get the attention or that they should be further developed - Bea, Jeremy, Duce, Stacy... characters that you think would play a much bigger role but didn't, thus become more of a distraction (I won't go into details who these characters were, so I won't give out any spoilers)

    • I don't really know if I get a full sense of who Valerie really was (perhaps, like a lot of teenagers, she doesn't really know herself either); and I don't know if it's the author's intention, but I actually ended up liking Nick's character (minus the shooting of cousre)? You couldn't help but feel sorry for him, but I think there is something missing between the sad Nick and the angry Nick

    • I gave this book 3.5 stars for my own personal "enjoyment" (if you could call it that) but it is probably a good book for teenagers, and their parents to read - perhaps together and discuss. The book did touch on a bit on the parents' roles - trust, and how parents affect the children when they don't even know it. Coincidentally, I saw a touching post titled "Be The Change" over at The Betty and Boos Chronicles about school bullying and what her second cousin Joey decided to do about it - he's only 15, and it's heart-wrenching what kids go through. Go to her blog about it please!

    • A couple of quotes from the book, conversations between Nick and Val:




      He turned to face me, propping himself up on an elbow. "It's good that we have each other," he said. "It's like, you know, even if the whole world hates you, you still have someone to rely on. Just the two of you against the whole world. Just us." (p50)

      He leaned over me, close to my face. "It's okay for someone to let you win sometimes, you know, " he said, getting all serious. "We don't always have to be the losers, Valerie. They may want to make us feel that way, but we're not. Sometimes we get to win, too." (p91)




    Rating:



    You may also like these books:




    Columbine by David Cullen (Non-fiction for adults)




    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading
    Young Adult

    Book Review - Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli



    Title:
    Stargirl
    Author: Jerry Spinelli
    Year: 2004
    Page: 208
    Genre: Fiction - Young Adult

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Maybe
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? US
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    Part fairy godmother, part outcast, part dream-come-true, the star of Spinelli's novel shares many of the mythical qualities as the protagonist of his Maniac Magee. Spinelli poses searching questions about loyalty to one's friends and oneself and leaves readers to form their own answers, said PW in our Best Books citation. Ages 12-up.

    First Sentence:
    When I was little, my uncle Pete had a necktie with a porcupine painted on it.

    Why did I pick this book?
    I saw some other blogger mentioned it, the premise sounds intriguing. Plus I love its simplistic cover and its colors (the cover I have has a blue background, with a yellow star and green matchstick girl with a triangle skirt).


    My thoughts:
    • I actually don't quite know how I feel about this book. I like the concept of it (accept others who are different, be proud of your own individuality, conformity / being like everybody else isn't always the best), but somehow the story fell a bit short, like something is missing, and I couldn't quite explain why.

    • I think perhaps Stargirl is a bit too unrealistic? That she is too naive? I am not sure if I like the protagonist, Leo, that much either. I suppose since now I'm an adult, "whose opinions do you value more" and popularity isn't as big of a deal as it was during teenage years

    • I do like the character Archie - it'd be cool to have someone like that around

    • I found out there is a sequel, Love, Stargirl, not sure if I'll read it. I don't hate this book but don't love it either. There are a few quotes I like that described Stargirl:








      "On the contrary, she is one of us. Most decidedly. She is us more than we are us. She is, I think, who we we really are. Or were." (p32)

      "An act? No. If anybody is acting, it's us." (p33)

      "You'll know her more by your questions than by her answers." (p35)

      Throughout the day Stargirl had been dropping money. She was the Johnny Appleseed of loose change: a penny here, a nickel there. Tossed to the sidewalk, laid on a shelf or bench. Even quarters.
      "I hate change," she said. "It's so... jangly."
      "Do you realize how much you must throw away in a year?" I said.
      "Did you ever see a little kid's face when he spots a penny on a sidewalk?" she said. (p117-118)

      I pointed to it (a tiny wagon about the size of a fist.) "You collecting stones, or what?"
      "It's my happy wagon," she said. "Actually, it could just as well be called an unhappy wagon, but I prefer happy."
      "So what's it all about?"
      "It's about how I feel. When something makes me happy, I put a pebble in the wagon. If I'm unhappy, I take a pebble out. There are twenty pebbles in all."(p121)







    Rating:


    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!



    Challenges:
    100+ Reading
    Young Adult

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Book Review - The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition by John DeLucie



    Title:
    The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition
    Author: John DeLucie
    Year: 2009
    Page: 256
    Genre: Non Fiction - Memoir, food

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? No
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? NY
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary(from amazon.com):
    With a cooking class and a Dean & Deluca's prep gig under his belt, DeLucie left behind a comfortable finance career for the cutthroat culinary industry of 1990s New York City. Eventually, he'd become a celebrity chef with his own destination restaurant co-owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Beyond talent and drive, DeLucie had the requisite outsized ego to make it in the NYC culinary scene, persevering despite the staggering number of failures (some almost immediately, and sometimes on the word of a single reviewer) he helps open. Readers may find DeLucie's self-important prologue hard to stomach, but if they're willing to humor him they'll find a genuinely good story as well as a survey of celebrity eating habits, drawn from his popular Greenwich Village restaurant The Waverly Inn (after his visit, Karl Lagerfeld sent out for "just our roasted carrots...every day for a week"). When he puts aside his ego, DeLucie provides an excellent balance of personal details and authentic backstage culinary tales. For all the name-dropping, DeLucie's is a satisfying triumph of hard work and sticktoitness.

    First Sentence:
    It's another magical night at The Waverly Inn.

    Why did I pick this book?
    I love reading food memoir, so when I saw this on our library's new book list, I decided to borrow it - especially since he didn't start his "chef life" until 30 - never too late to have a career change!

    My thoughts:
    • Disappointed. The whole book was pretty much about "I worked at this restaurant, then that restaurant, then this other restaurant, then..." and all the famous people and gorgeous girls he met. I thought it would be more inspirational, especially since he used to work as a recruiter, and then decided at age 30 to do something different

    • The chapters jumped between what restaurants he used to work at, and the "final"/latest restaurant he part-owned (The Waverly Inn). Since I don't live in NY, I haven't heard of this restaurant before, but I guess it's exclusive, and lots of celebrities go there or something. So sometimes it is a bit confusing going back and forth. I tried to see if there was a reason he decided to write it this way - perhaps to contrast the old and the new, or what mistakes he made back in the days and then applied the lessons learned nowadays. Well if that was the case, then it wasn't very clear

    • The part I liked the most was what the hotel/restaurant did on the day of 9/11 and shortly after, that was about the only part I felt the story wasn't flat

    • The crispy pan-roast chicken he cooked did sound delicious though (p155):
    • 3.5 lb chicken, butcher it, leaving the wing and thigh bones intact
    • Preheat a saute pan on high heat and add canola oil, just a scant amount, enough to coat the pan
    • When the oil starts to smoke, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper
    • Place it in the pan, skin side down
    • Next, take a brick, wrap it in foil, and place it on the chicken, allowing no air space between the skin and the surface of the blazing pan
    • Hoist the whole heavy mess and throw in the oven on as high a temperature as it will go
    • Blast it for 12 minutes or so until it is cooked
    • I did like his description between cooking and baking (p165):





      Baking is an exacting scientific endeavor. No "a pinch of this and a splash of that." Baking is classical music compared to savory cooking's jazz.





    • While I was reading this book, it very much reminded me of another book I read late last year - Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta by Pino Luongo and Andrew Friedman - both of them were of Italian heritage, both started from the bottom and worked hard to own their successful restaurants, both were from NY, both worked at the Hamptons during summer seasons... but the similarity ended there book-wise. I enjoyed Dirty Dishes a lot more (4 stars) as it really is inspirational and you can see Pino's visions. Now, I haven't eaten any of their restaurants, so I don't know how their food compared, this is purely comparing their books. Interesting, author John DeLucie mentioned Pino in his book on p181, "The partners also poached a fabulous pastry chef, Patty Jackson, who had cut her teeth with the legendary restaurateur and entrepreneur Pino Luongo, whose restaurants Le Madri, Coco Pazzo, and Tuscan Square are responsible in large part of bringing a Tuscan sensibility to New York City."

    • If you want to read food memoir, there are others I'd recommend (see below.) This is just an okay read... I almost abandoned it, but didn't, hoping it'd get better. Well, at least I was glad I read the part about 9/11 (p191-194).

    Rating:


    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!




    Other food memoir I like:




    Dirty Dishes: A Restaurateur's Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta by Pino Luongo and Andrew Friedman



    Out of the Frying Pan: A Chef's Memoir of Hot Kitchens, Single Motherhood, and the Family Meal by Gillian Clark













    Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain



    Challenges:
    100+ Reading
    Memorable Memoir

    How Much Did Your Reading Cost in 2009

    I came across this post: How Much Did Your Reading Cost in 2009 on Books We Read.

    I thought it may be rather interesting to see how much it cost me last year for all the books I read and books I started but couldn't finish.

    $1732.73

    Wow. But, in reality, I only spent $16.50 because I only read one book I bought, and another book I owned was given to me by work. (Now, I did buy more books than that, just that I haven't read them yet so I didn't count them.)

    The other 102 books I finished were borrowed from the library ($1421.71).

    And the 19 books I couldn't finish cost $243.52 (also borrowed from the library.)


    Note - I am using current prices on amazon.com, so some book prices may have changed since their release. If a book has a hardcover or a paper copy on amazon.com, I'd choose whichever one I had from the library. Of course, you could've bought the books cheaper used, but I used the new books price.

    I am going to track for 2010 too... just to see!

    How about you? How much did your reading cost you?

    Or how much did it save you because you borrowed from the library? I saved $1716.23 :)

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Book Review - Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy by Jonni McCoy



    Title:
    Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy
    Author: Jonni McCoy
    Year: 2009
    Page: 297
    Genre: Non-fiction - Lifestyle

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Maybe, depending on topics
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? US
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    With gas and food prices soaring, there's more need than ever before for Jonni McCoy's Miserly Moms. Jonni shares the money-saving strategies that allowed her family to transition from two incomes to one. These practical, proven strategies, tips, and recipes will help anyone live frugally without feeling deprived. Real-life examples show how anyone can learn to live more carefully and reach their financial goals. Now in its fourth edition, Miserly Moms is packed with even more ways to reduce a family's expenses and expose hidden living costs.


    First Sentence:
    When I first wrote this book, our family lived in one of the most expensive parts of America -- the San Francisco Bay Area.


    Why did I pick this book?
    While I am not a mum, it doesn't mean I don't want to see how my husband and I can save just for the two of us!


    My thoughts:
    • I have never heard of the author before, but her writing is quite clear and straight forward. The book, while not for entertainment, was not boring to read

    • It is full of good, practical tips, however, we're already doing a lot of what she said... but it is nice to have it all in one book, especially for those who need the extra help

    • I wish in the introduction she would leave out the religious reference (note, I am agnostic, and believe in everyone can believe in whatever they want to believe in as long as it's not harmful to others or themselves) - only because mentioning "I began to feel God tugging at my heart to stay home to raise our family", "Trying to interpret what God was saying to me" and "Once it became clear that the part-time arrangement was not God's plan" all in one paragraph (p13) does not really add to the value of the book and may put off some of the audience (which would be a shame as everyone can learn something from this book!) She could easily have just said she wanted to be a stay-at-home mum. I don't recall more religious references after that which I appreciate. Just that this was at the very beginning of the book which could have set the wrong tone

    • She includes a lot of references and statistics (e.g. comparing home-made food costs and convenience-food costs) - which is wonderful and very useful - though I wonder if this is an editorial mistake? On page 14, she wrote, "I read that some financial experts had calculated the cost of working as nine to twenty-five dollars per hour", then on p194, "Financial experts have calculated the cost of working at anywhere from nine to thirty-five dollars per hour". Which is it, $9-$25 or $9-$35? It is very interesting to know the figures as we haven't really thought about it, but just wish it is clearer (yes I know - we have to calculated for ourselves what it costs US to work, depending on where we live etc, but still, there is a big difference between $25 and $35 for us who don't make a lot of money!)

    • She also includes some recipes in the book, so good for those who want some ideas. I haven't tried any of them though so can't speak to how they are.

    • She focuses on grocery the most (where you can really cut your expenses) but she also talks about other expanses you could reduce, such as utility, insurance, car etc

    • I like that she wants to be frugal (=value) but not cheap/stingy (=lowest price always)

    • The section I found the most useful (and new) to me was the section on whole grains, especially if we were to reduce meat intake as I doubt we'll become vegetarians (p99-100) - "Make sure your family is getting the complete protein they need from a meatless dish. A complete protein is the end result of two incomplete amino acids combining to form a complete protein. E.g. Brown rice is an incomplete protein, and beans are an incomplete protein, but when combined, they make a complete protein (p99)" and "most experts say complementary proteins don't have to consumed in the same meal but can be eaten within a few hours of each other on the same day." (p101)

      Compete Protein Combination (p100)


      • whole grains + legumes
      • whole grains + dairy
      • legumes + nuts or seeds
      • legumes + dairy
      • vegetables + legumes

      Legumes = plants that have pods with rows of seeds inside (e.g. chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, alfalfa and beans such as kidney, lima, garbanzo

      Whole Grains = amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, rice, rye, oats, wheat, barley, spelt, corn

      Nuts and grains do not form a complete protein, and peanuts are legumes not nuts




    • So all-in-all, not a bad book for those who wants some tips, and a good reminder for us to keep on doing what works for us

    Rating:




    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading

    Book Review - And Then There Were None (Ten Little Indians) by Agatha Christie


    Title:
    And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians)
    Author: Agatha Christie
    Year: 1939
    Page: 272
    Genre: Fiction - Murder / Mystery / Thriller

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Yes
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? England: Indian Island (fictional)
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    Considered the best mystery novel ever written by many readers, And Then There Were None is the story of 10 strangers, each lured to Indian Island by a mysterious host. Once his guests have arrived, the host accuses each person of murder. Unable to leave the island, the guests begin to share their darkest secrets--until they begin to die.

    First Sentence:
    In the corner of a first-class somking carriage, Mr Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in the Times.

    Why did I pick this book?
    I am thinking of joining the local library book club, and this is the book they are reading for February. I thought I should read the book before going, and then decide whether to join or not.

    My thoughts:
    • Even though I said Agatha Christie is a "new to me" author - it is not entirely true. I have read one of her books about 18 years ago, but since I don't remember anything about it (not even the title!), I decided that she is more like a new to me author. I have definitely heard about her even before blogging became popular. I love reading murder/mystery books, though 99.9% they are contemporary. So this is a good opportunity for me to read something considered to be "classic"

    • I like that her writing is quite straight forward (I don't like overly descriptive or "flowery" books... why describe what something looks like over 3 pages when you could have done so in one sentence?) Some expressions used though seemed a bit dated, but this is to be expected, and I guess add onto the charm
    • I also like that at the end of the story everything was wrap-up - it is frustrating to read a murder/mystery with unsolved puzzles (especially if the author made a big deal out of it, like it's a big secret, but never explained what it meant in the end, or its relevancy)

    • I enjoyed reading it - I didn't guess who did it; but at the same time, I didn't feel like WOW WHAT A GREAT ENDING! like I had with Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (that book started off a bit slow, and the writing wasn't something I particularly preferred, but I love a book with a good twist!)

    • It does make me want to read more of her books - especially about Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot -- which is just as well since I am doing the Marple-Holmes-Poirot challenge :)

    • It also helps that the version I read has a list of characters in the beginning of the book so it is easier to remember who-is-who

    • What I didn't quite like was - perhaps it was something I missed / didn't pay enough attention - Vera's story was a bit unclear (her motivation). But thanks to the internet, I could easily google more about it and had found my answer

    • I won't comment on the cover art since the version I had was different... plus there were so many versions out there (maybe interesting to do a post about that to see the differences! I always wonder why the UK and US versions are different, sometimes including the title)

    • Speaking of which, I found a couple of great sources that analyze the book (you may want to go to these sites AFTER you have read the book, as they may contain some spoilers: Sparknotes and Bookrags)



    Quote:
    Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
    One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

    Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
    One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

    Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
    One said he'd stay there and then there were Seven.

    Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
    One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

    Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
    A bumblebee stung one and then there were Five.

    Five little Indian boys going in for law;
    One got into Chancery and then there were Four.

    Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
    A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

    Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;
    A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

    Two little Indian boys were out in the sun;
    One got all frizzled up and then there was One.

    One little Indian boy left all alone;
    He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.


    Rating:



    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!

    Challenges:
    100+ Reading

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Another Blog for Food / Cooking

    I have decided to have another blog to talk about food, and my attempt to cook, and leave this site for books instead. I think I'll post cookbooks on the food blog, since I am not really reviewing them like I do for the books I really read.

    Here's the new blog:

    Mental Foodie Tries to Cook

    http://mentalfoodiecook.blogspot.com/

    Welcome any cooking tips and good food recommendation! :)

    Quiz - What Room Are You Most At Home In?



    You Are Most at Home in the Bedroom





    You're the type of person who finds sanctuary in your home. Your home is your private space.

    While you may be a social person outside the home, it's very rare that you invite people into your home.



    There's nothing like spending time alone in your bedroom - relaxing and reflecting about your day.

    You truly treasure your time by yourself. You need to be able to recharge every so often in order to thrive.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Book Review - 31 Hours: A Novel by Masha Hamilton



    Title:
    31 Hours: A Novel
    Author: Masha Hamilton
    Year: 2009
    Page: 240
    Genre: Fiction: NOT thriller

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Not sure...
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? New York
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    Hamilton's gorgeous and complex fourth novel tracks the 31 hours before Jonas, a sensitive young man raised by idealistic parents (now divorced), straps on a vest of explosives and enters the New York City subway system to martyr himself. The novel begins with Jonas's mother, Carol, knowing, with a mother's instinct, that something is very wrong with her son. Thus begins an odyssey that takes her back to her ex-husband, Jake; to Jonas's girlfriend, Vic; and, finally to the authorities. Hamilton touches on many perspectives, including that of Vic, a dancer who is shocked that her longtime friendship with Jonas recently turned to love; Vic's younger sister, Mara, who tries to fix their parents' failing marriage; Sonny Hirt, an especially perceptive homeless man who senses something is very wrong on the subway where he's panhandling. Through all of this, Jonas ritually prepares for this final act of his life, but without the single-minded fanaticism one expects. It's a very tense narrative, vividly imagined and eerily plausible.

    First Sentence:
    A wolf's howl.

    Why did I pick this book?
    Read many good reviews on other blogs, and it sounds like it'd be a fast-pace, gripping story!

    My thoughts:
    • The book started out a bit slow, then it got a bit faster... then I'm down to the last couple of pages and the story was still going, and I thought to myself, wow, you really won't know the ending until the very end, would you?

    • Well, I can't talk to much about this book without giving spoilers... let's just say I was very disappointed. I guess I should have noticed it said "A Novel" in the title, instead of "A Thriller" - I assume by "A Novel" it just meant it wasn't non-fiction. I think another blogger (sorry, forgot who it was!) said this was more of a character study, rather than an action book, I think that's probably a good way to describe it. Hey, even the cover made it look like an action/thriller with the motion blur! I think I got deceived by the cover yet again...

    • I didn't connect with any of the characters, and kept wondering where the side stories were going... I didn't feel the characters have much depth, and the reasons given for the Jonas' ("the martyr") actions were too superficial, it didn't really go deep with his struggle

    • I didn't feel like I learn anything new from the book... I can see why the author chose to end the book the way it did, and many people loved how it ended... but I suppose it just didn't match my expectation... like I said, it's hard to explain in details why I don't like the book without giving the story away

    • Probably not many will give this book a low rating, but that's okay, this is my review :) This book in some way reminded me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which many loved, but I found boring - I didn't feel what others felt: depressed, hopeful... I thought since I read 31 Hours after the recent failed bombing attack, I'd be more emotional or tense about it, but nope... (and yes I do cry when I read sad books...) 

    • Not for me, but given all the other good ratings out there, I think you'll have to judge for yourself



    Rating:



    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading

    Booksneeze - free books to bloggers in exchange for review

    I just came across this site, Booksneeze, today, where bloggers can get free books in exchange for a 200-word review. Anyone used it before?

    I am kinda busy with a bunch of books to read right now... maybe later this year I'll sign up?

    You can read here why it is called Booksneeze!

    I HAVE gotten an advance reading copy of Edison's Concrete Piano from Shelf Monkey (click on the monkey with glasses graphic on the left column) before... just haven't had a chance to read it yet... so many books, so little times!

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Book Review - The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship (A Novel) by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel



    Title:
    The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship (A Novel)
    Author: Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
    Year: 2009
    Page: 368
    Genre: Fiction: Chick-lit / Women

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? No
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? New York, Boston
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind. These are the ingredients of The Recipe Club, a "novel cookbook" that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than 80 delicious recipes.

    Lilly and Val are lifelong friends, united as much by their differences as by their similarities. Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her beautiful, wayward mother and craves the attention of her distant, disapproving father. Val, shy and idealistic—and surprisingly ambitious— struggles with her desire to break free from her demanding housebound mother and a father whose dreams never seem to come true.

    In childhood, "LillyPad" and "ValPal" form an exclusive two-person club, writing intimate letters in which they share hopes, fears, deepest secrets—and recipes, from Lilly's "Lovelorn Lasagna" to Valerie's "Forgiveness Tapenade." Readers can cook along as the friends travel through time facing the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love, and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality, and goals deferred.

    The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val's bond through the decades, regardless of what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart . . . until the fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal.

    Now, years later, while trying to recapture the trust they've lost, Lilly and Val reunite once more—only to uncover a shocking secret. Will it destroy their friendship, or bring them ever closer?

    First Sentence:
    Dear Lilly, I have started a letter just like this about a thousand times.

    Why did I pick this book?
    I first saw it under New Books in my library online catalog - I love the title (I love food remember? Even though I can't really cook but am learning how to) and there were some good reviews online. Even though it's not a genre I'd normally pick, I thought I'd give it a try.

    My thoughts:
    • I love the cover - if you remove the text, I'd hang the picture on my wall at home - serenity, was the first word that came to mind

    • I love the format of the book - emails and letters (and recipes!) between two close friends. They also include some drawing and colors on the recipes page which made it look fun

    • Unfortunately, that's about the only things I like about the book :( I could not relate to the 2 main characters (Val and Lilly) or their families. Granted, Val and Lilly are older than I am, so we are at a different stage of life... but their big argument is so... trivial... I mean, really? You were such close friends that you broke up your friendship over that (at college age - not even high school)? And even after 26 years of not talking to each year, you still couldn't get over it?

    • I also think the two voices aren't distinctive enough - I couldn't tell who wrote the letters without seeing who signed it. Also, I don't think the characters matured over the years...

    • The letters / emails dialog seemed kinda forced... do people really talk like that? Maybe I am the weird one because my friends and I don't... "Look, I know I'm high-strung and a bit of a diva, but there's something I need to get off my 36DD chest -- the one you've always wished you had." (p37)

    • Some other reviews said you will laugh and cry with the girls... I got bored instead. It was an easy read that I did finish it, and kept hoping that the big secret would make the book better... but it was predictable

    • I think the content of the book also does not go with the cover art - I was expecting a book that explores friendship in a deeper manner (the cover art makes the book looks serious, while the content is more "fun")

    • I have to say though, I don't read chick-lit much. I tried... but I usually got bored and know how the ending will turn out. I wanted to understand why they are so popular but I just don't relate to the characters. I tried reading some that has a bit of mystery/murder elements in them since I prefer those books - so I read One for the Money by Janet Evanovich and The Spellman Files by Liz Lutz. The latter was just okay to me, while the Stephanie Plum book was... really not my cup of tea - I guess not enough twists and turns. So with that in mind - that's why I gave this book a low rating. However, if you generally like chick-lit, I think you will enjoy it.

    Rating:




    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading

    Saturday, January 9, 2010

    Book Review - Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital by Eric Dregni


    Title:
    Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital
    Author: Eric Dregni
    Year: 2009
    Page: 240
    Genre: Non-fiction: Travel, Memoir

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Maybe
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? Modena, Italy
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    I simply want to live in the place with the best food in the world. This dream led Eric Dregni to Italy, first to Milan and eventually to a small, fog-covered town to the north: Modena, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, Ferrari, and Luciano Pavarotti. Never Trust a Thin Cook is a classic American abroad tale, brimming with adventures both expected and unexpected, awkward social moments, and most important, very good food.

    First Sentence:
    I simply want to live in the place with the best food in the world.

    Why did I pick this book?
    I was browsing the New Books on the library online catalog. The title caught my attention and I love food and would love to go to Italy one day.

    My thoughts:
    • It was a fun read, and I felt I learned more about the Italian culture, food (especially pigs and balsamic vinegar), people, superstitions, festivals, driving behavior, rivalry between small towns, government / bureaucracy after this book. It was also interesting to read about Italian's perception of American

    • Each chapter is on a particular topic so it is a pretty easy read since each chapter is fairly short. By the same token though, it is not a book I stayed up late for because I didn't have the urge to keep reading to find out what happened next

    • I want to visit Italy! I don't know if I'd be ready to live there for 2 years like Eric did with his girlfriend Katy - especially since I don't know any Italian. But the food... oh the food...

    • I rated the 3.5 stars - it's pretty rare for me to give a book 5 stars. Books with 4 stars mean I am quite inspired - I felt this book is better than okay (3 stars) but not quite "great!" (4 stars) compared to others I have read
    Rating:



    Books similar to this book that I like:
    • I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany by Mark Greenside 
    • The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz


    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
    I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading
    Memorable Memoir

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    To Be Read - TBD: Others

    As I read other bloggers' book reviews, thought I'd link their post that sparked my interest here for future reference.

    Audio Books:


    Graphic Novel:

    Poetry:

      To Be Read - TBD: Fiction

      As I read other bloggers' book reviews, thought I'd link their post that sparked my interest here for future reference. (books highlighted are the ones I want to read soon!)


      Fiction:

      Short Story: