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Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review - Incarceron by Catherine Fisher


















Title: Incarceron  

Author: Catherine Fisher 

Year: 2010 

Page: 448 

Genre: Fiction - Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopian

New to me author? Yes 

Read this author again? Probably not 

Tearjerker? No 

Where did it take place? UK
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from amazon.com):
The vast prison Incarceron, made of metal and cutting-edge technology, was designed as a grand experiment: all undesirables would be sealed inside and given everything for a model utopia. But the experiment failed as Incarceron grew self-aware and tyrannical, resources dwindled, and prisoners divided into factions. Centuries later, prisoners exist under Incarceron’s watchful eyes with one belief: no one from Outside enters, no one from Inside escapes. Finn, however, believes he’s from Outside, and after he finds a crystal key that opens any door, he embarks on a journey to escape. Outside Incarceron, Claudia, the warden’s daughter, is also looking for escape, from an arranged marriage and from her role in a plot to end Protocol, which forces inhabitants to live according to seventeenth-century norms. When she too finds a crystal key, she comes into communication with Finn, who she believes is the true prince of the Realm. This gripping futuristic fantasy has breathless pacing, an intelligent story line, and superb detail in rendering both of the stagnating environments. Fisher’s characters are emotionally resonant, flawed, determined, and plagued by metaphysical questions. With some well-timed shocking twists and a killer ending, this is a must-have.


First Sentence:
Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.  

Why did I pick this book?
Learned about this book from Mel's Books and Info (check out her review!) and she gave it 5 stars! The storyline sounds original and interesting. Plus on amazon.com some reviews said those who like the Hunger Games will like this too - so how could I resist?

My thoughts:
  • I was almost ready to give up after 2 (short) chapters... but decided to read a little more since it had so many great reviews... about 1/3 way through, I gave up. It was confusing, it was slow. And I didn't really care about the characters...
  • I saw a trailer of the book and it looked wonderful - I think if this was ever made into a movie, I'd have liked it better. Like The Lord of the Rings, I guess - I tried reading the first page of the book and stopped... but LOVED the movies.
  • I do LOVE the cover though. The title and the key are holograms. It is creepy.



     
    Rating: 0 Star - Did Not Finish



     
    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!

    Sunday, May 30, 2010

    Book Review - Moloka'i by Alan Brennert




















    Title: Moloka'i
    Author: Alan Brennert
    Year: 2004 
    Page: 400 
    Genre: Fiction - Historical

    New to me author? Yes 
    Read this author again? Probably not 
    Tearjerker? No 
    Where did it take place? US
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from amazon.com):
    Compellingly original in its conceit, Brennert's sweeping debut novel tracks the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890s and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa. Rachel Kalama is the plucky, seven-year-old heroine whose family is devastated when first her uncle Pono and then she develop leprous sores and are quarantined with the disease. While Rachel's symptoms remain mild during her youth, she watches others her age dying from the disease in near total isolation from family and friends. Rachel finds happiness when she meets Kenji Utagawa, a fellow leprosy victim whose illness brings shame on his Japanese family. After a tender courtship, Rachel and Kenji marry and have a daughter, but the birth of their healthy baby brings as much grief as joy, when they must give her up for adoption to prevent infection. The couple cope with the loss of their daughter and settle into a productive working life until Kenji tries to stop a quarantined U.S. soldier from beating up his girlfriend and is tragically killed in the subsequent fight. The poignant concluding chapters portray Rachel's final years after sulfa drugs are discovered as a cure, leaving her free to abandon Moloka'i and seek out her family and daughter. Brennert's compassion makes Rachel a memorable character, and his smooth storytelling vividly brings early 20th-century Hawaii to life. Leprosy may seem a macabre subject, but Brennert transforms the material into a touching, lovely account of a woman's journey as she rises above the limitations of a devastating illness.


    First Sentence:
    Later, when memory was all she had to sustain her, she would come to cherish it: Old Honolulu as it was then, as it would never be again.   

    Why did I pick this book?
    Heard about it from an online forum and quite a few people recommended it. As I tried to widen the genre I read, I decided to read this, plus I want to visit Hawaii!


    My thoughts:
    • I had such high hope for this book, and sadly it didn't quite live up to my expectations. I found the premise interesting - I don't know a whole lot about leprosy and the history of Molokai, so I definitely learned something. However, what potentially could have been a heart wrenching story (family separation, fear from those who were "clean", deteriorating health...), was a rather boring story to me... the pace was rather slow, and the writing was flat. More importantly, I don't feel emotionally attached to the characters. I don't dislike them, but I don't love them - when I read a good book, I couldn't wait to find out what happened to the characters; I'd be thinking about them when I couldn't read. But not this time... I didn't cry with them, I didn't laugh with them. I was more just an observer, rather than living their tales.
    • The book really was about Rachel's life, from when she was a young child up until her death - I suppose some would argue that 400 pages isn't too long for one's life story... but everything seemed to just tied up too neatly. 
    • I did find something I like - Keo - the name of one of the minor characters
    •  All in all, I felt like the book presented more fact, than stories; but not enough to call it a non-fiction book.

      Quote:

      "There's only one disadvantage, really, to having two mothers," Ruth admitted. "You know twice the love... but you grieve twice as much." (p382)

       
      Rating: 3 Stars



       
      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
      Global

      "No TV? What do you do then?"

      Yes, it is true, we have no TV.

      Well, we have a TV set, just that because of where we live, we have very bad reception of the local channels (even rabbit ears won't help). For budget reasons, I told my husband we won't get cable TV (I wish they'd let us subscribe to the channels we want only for a lower price... I don't need 200 channels!). Sometimes I do miss watching shows on HGTV or the Food Network... but I usually just borrow free DVDs from the library and they have a pretty good selection (Project Runway, Boston Legal, The Unit, America's Test Kitchen, Lost... and various movies) - and no ads! Sure, there's usually a long wait, but I can wait. Plus I like watching a whole season of shows over the weekend, so I don't have to wait week after week!

      When people found out we have no TV, their first question usually is, 'What? What do you do then?"

      Ummm... I read? (Plus I can get the latest news/weather forecast and what not from the internet...)

      Book Blogger Hop!

















      Crazy For Books hosted "Book Blogger Hop" every Friday-Sunday. This sounds like fun! AND a great way to find new blogs with similar interests!

      This is what she said about the Hop:

      ABOUT THE HOP:
      In the spirit of the Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!

      The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!

      Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.

      If you start following someone through the Hop, leave a comment on their blog to let them know!  Stop back during the week to see other blogs that are added!  And, most importantly, the idea is to HAVE FUN!!

      Two new blogs I found this week are:

      Join this week's hop by click here!

      If you're visiting from the hop, please say G'day! :)

      Friday, May 28, 2010

      Book Review - Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath





















      Title: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
      Author: Chip Heath and Dan Heath  
      Year: 2010 
      Page: 320 
      Genre: Non-Fiction - Human Behavior

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

      Summary (from amazon.com):
      The Heath brothers (coauthors of Made to Stick) address motivating employees, family members, and ourselves in their analysis of why we too often fear change. Change is not inherently frightening, but our ability to alter our habits can be complicated by the disjunction between our rational and irrational minds: the self that wants to be swimsuit-season ready and the self that acquiesces to another slice of cake anyway. The trick is to find the balance between our powerful drives and our reason. The authors' lessons are backed up by anecdotes that deal with such things as new methods used to reform abusive parents, the revitalization of a dying South Dakota town, and the rebranding of megastore Target. Through these lively examples, the Heaths speak energetically and encouragingly on how to modify our behaviors and businesses. This clever discussion is an entertaining and educational must-read for executives and for ordinary citizens looking to get out of a rut.

      First Sentence:
      One Saturday in 2000, some unsuspecting moviegoers showed up at a suburban theater in Chicago to catch a 1:05pm matinee of Mel Gibson's action flick Payback.  


      Why did I pick this book?
      I had read the authors' first book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, and really enjoyed it. It was very helpful, especially for my job. So I was excited that they had a new book came out this year, which is even more relevant to my job (we deal with change management a lot.)

      My thoughts:
      • I found some useful tips in this book, but I still like Made to Stick better in terms of content. I think Made to Stick was clearer, and I knew which part of "SUCCES" we were at (SUCCESS = Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories). In Switch, I like the Elephant and Rider analogy used (more of that later in the quote), but sometimes I got confused because some examples were mentioned in different parts of the books, so it seemed like we were talking in circles
      • Nevertheless, this is a pretty easy read as the writing was simple and clear, there are lots of examples (some of which I had known before, from college - I was a psych major - or from other books). It is NOT a self-help book though. The authors gave us the framework, and gave us some case studies, but you have to apply the principles to your own situation accordingly. So how much you get out of this book will depend on how well you can transfer the knowledge.  
      • Their website has more info: http://heathbrothers.com/switch/
      • What looks like a people problem is often a situational challenge
      • "See, Feel, Change" works much better than "Analysis, Think, Change" 

        Quote:

        Direct the Rider (our logical, rational side)
        •     Follow the Bright Spots -- learn from what is working
        •     Script the Critical Moves -- give clear directions
        •     Point to the Destination -- what is the ideal state?

        Motivate the Elephant (our emotional side)
        •     Find the feeling -- what moves us?
        •     Shrink the change -- make the change look smaller than it is, take that first little step
        •     Grow your people -- we have room for growth

        Shape the Path (the surrounding environment in which change will be made)
        •     Tweak the environment -- make it easy to change!
        •     Build habits -- we are creatures of habits
        •     Rally the herd --people tend to do what the majority does
        (Here is a good summary with examples from a blogger Timothy Zaun)


         
        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
        Non-Fiction Five

        Book Review - Poison Study by Maria V Snyder




















        Title: Poison Study
        Author: Maria V Snyder 
        Year: 2008x  
        Page: 416x  
        Genre: Fiction - Fantasy

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

        Summary (from amazon.com):
        Shivers, obsession, sleepless nights—these are the results not of one of the milder poisons that novice food-taster Yelena must learn during her harrowing job training but of newcomer Snyder's riveting fantasy that unites the intelligent political focus of George R.R. Martin with a subtle yet potent romance. Through a stroke of luck, Yelena escapes execution in exchange for tasting the food of the Commander, ruler of Ixia. Though confined to a dank prison cell and doomed to a painful death, Yelena slowly blooms again, caught up in castle politics. But some people are too impatient to wait for poison to finish off Yelena. With the help of Valek, her steely-nerved, cool-eyed boss and the Commander's head of security, she soon discovers that she has a starring role to play in Ixia's future—a role that could lead to her being put to death as a budding magician even if she hits each cue perfectly. The first in a series, this is one of those rare books that will keep readers dreaming long after they've read it.

        First Sentence:
        Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.
         
        Why did I pick this book?
        I haven't heard of Maria V Snyder before. Saw a review on om The Library of a Distracted Musician about this book and it sounds like it has an interesting premise! 

        My thoughts:
        • I quite enjoyed it! Not quite as much as I like The Hunger Games, but I thought it was a fun book, and I went to book #2 (Magic Study) and #3 (Fire Study) after I finished this book!
        • I wish though that it talks a little bit more about poison and poison testing
        • While this book is classified as Fantasy in my library, it isn't like the typical fantasy book at all - I don't really read fantasy - my last effort was probably back in high school, of David Eddings' The Diamond Throne series (don't really remember the story now). I like this type of fantasy books :) 
        • I like the characters as well - Yelena, Valek, Ari, Janco, Commander Ambrose...  can't wait to find out what happen to them... though reviews of #2 isn't as good as #1, and #3 is even worse... we'll see...

          Quote:

          I felt like the unlucky cockroach that got caught by the light. Always scrambling to stay one step ahead while the shadow of a boot crept closer. (p64)
           
          Rating: 4 Stars



           
          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 - The Red Tree by Shaun Tan



















          Title: The Red Tree 
          Author: Shaun Tan 
          Year: 2008 
          Page: 32 
          Genre: Graphic novel

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

          Summary (from amazon.com):
          An astonishing fable in picture-book format. A girl moving through landscapes of hopelessness and isolation encounters an image of hope on the book's final page. Through the weight of her sorrow, readers conclude, on both intellectual and emotional levels, that living in despair is waiting for hope. Tan's sophisticated mixed-media illustrations include fantasy and dream elements, and subtle symbolism packed together with an array of art techniques ranging from complicated cut-paper collages to Drescher-like paintings, but serious. These complex pictures send visual impressions powerful enough to cause readers to gasp as a new page is revealed. The simple, direct text ("darkness overcomes you" or "sometimes you just don't know what you are supposed to do"), often poetic ("the world is a deaf machine"), serves both as an entryway into the complicated illustrations, and as an enhancement to them. Perhaps too sophisticated in its point of view for some youngsters, this is nonetheless a book of amazing beauty, high quality, and distinguished artistry.


          First Sentence:
          Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to...
           
          Why did I pick this book?
          After reading the Arrival by Shaun Tan, I can't wait to read his other books! I have also borrowed Tales From Outer Suburbia and The Lost Thing.

          My thoughts:
          • This book has a bit more words than The Arrival, which is wordless :) 
          • The story is rather simple, but on-so-true...
          • While the drawing is not as detailed or realistic as that of The Arrival, but I really, really love the drawings (or are they paintings?) of this book - it is simple but beautiful. I am very, very tempted to buy the book just to frame the pages up. (need to finish painting the rooms before I can decide where I could hang up art... so not buying the book yet)
          • I think I like the Red Tree just a tad better than the Arrival just because of its whimsical quality
          • Shaun Tan is no doubt very talented! I will probably read The Lost Thing (a little more words yet!) before Tales From Outer Suburbia which has a lot more words (short story format)! So it'll be interesting to see the balance of words and drawings.
          • No Quote (I'll probably end up quoting the whole book!) but I'll leave you some pictures!


















             













            Rating: 5 Stars



             
            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 - Catching Fire (#2 of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins






















            Title: Catching Fire (#2 of the Hunger Games)
            Author: Suzanne Collins
            Year: 2009 
            Page: 400
            Genre: Fiction - Young Adult, Dystopian

            New to me author? No 
            Read this author again? Yes!!! Can't wait to read the last book in the series!!!
            Tearjerker? No 
            Where did it take place? US
            FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

            Summary (from amazon.com):
            xReviewers were happy to report that the Hunger Games trilogy is alive and well, and all looked forward to the third book in the series after this one's stunning conclusion. But they disagreed over whether Catching Fire was as good as the original book Hunger Games or should be viewed as somewhat of a "sophomore slump." Several critics who remained unconvinced by Katniss's romantic dilemma made unfavorable comparisons to the human-vampire-werewolf love triangle in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. But most reviewers felt that Catching Fire was still a thrill because Collins replicated her initial success at balancing action, violence, and heroism in a way that will enthrall young readers without giving them (too many) nightmares.

            First Sentence:
            I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.
             
            Why did I pick this book?
            Read The Hunger Games and loved it, so have to read #2! (Yes I'd definitely read #1 before #2!)

            My thoughts:
            • I had such high expectation of this book, given how much I loved The Hunger Games. I knew from other blog reviews that #2 is pretty good (though I didn't really read them thoroughly as I didn't want any spoilers), but you just never know... and I'm so glad to say that I was not disappointed!
            • I don't know if I like #1 or #2 better - maybe #1 just slightly just because it totally surprised me (not just the storyline, but Collin's writing was so engaging!) - though with #1 you can kinda predict how it'd end, and with #2, I had no idea what to expect - I mean, Collins can't recycle the storyline can she?! But I thought #1 was a little bit more touching with Rue, though I loved the scene in District 11 in Book #2 (well "loved" might not be the right word given the context... but it was unexpected).
            •  I really hope they make it into a movie - I can't wait to see the scene with all the food, and especially Katniss' dress that Cinna designed (plus all the wedding dresses!)
            • I think the front cover design is very clever - you won't understand its significance until you read the book
            •  I have to admit I forgot who Seneca Crane was (the name was briefly mentioned in this book), had to google to find out who that was and I wasn't alone!
            • Team G or Team P - I was leaning toward G after #1, but now I think I may like P better - but that could be because G didn't have much "screen time"? But P definitely has some very desirable qualities (especially his gesture to District 11).
            • Can't wait till #3!! I wonder how Collins is doing - I mean, if #3 is any less of a book, so many people will be disappointed after #1 and #2!! Oh the pressure!!!!

              Quote:

              "It's not necessary. My nightmares are usually about losing you," he (Peeta) says. "I'm okay once I realize you're here." (p86)

               
              Rating: 4.5 Stars

               
              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 - Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan



















              Title: Loving Frank
              Author: Nancy Horan    
              Year: 2008  
              Page: 400  
              Genre: Fiction - Historical    

              New to me author? Yes    
              Read this author again? Not sure
              Tearjerker? No
              Where did it take place? Yes  
              FTC Disclosure: Library bookclub bag  

              Summary (from amazon.com):
              Horan's ambitious first novel is a fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, best known as the woman who wrecked Frank Lloyd Wright's first marriage. Despite the title, this is not a romance, but a portrayal of an independent, educated woman at odds with the restrictions of the early 20th century. Frank and Mamah, both married and with children, met when Mamah's husband, Edwin, commissioned Frank to design a house. Their affair became the stuff of headlines when they left their families to live and travel together, going first to Germany, where Mamah found rewarding work doing scholarly translations of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books. Frank and Mamah eventually settled in Wisconsin, where they were hounded by a scandal-hungry press, with tragic repercussions. Horan puts considerable effort into recreating Frank's vibrant, overwhelming personality, but her primary interest is in Mamah, who pursued her intellectual interests and love for Frank at great personal cost. As is often the case when a life story is novelized, historical fact inconveniently intrudes: Mamah's life is cut short in the most unexpected and violent of ways, leaving the narrative to crawl toward a startlingly quiet conclusion. Nevertheless, this spirited novel brings Mamah the attention she deserves as an intellectual and feminist.

              First Sentence:  
              It was Edwin who wanted to build a new house.

              Why did I pick this book?    

              April book club pick. While it is not a book I'd have picked on my own, I was looking forward to it as I love Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture (not that I know a lot about it, but just remember I like what I saw in pictures.)


              My thoughts:
              • It is hard for me to rate this book, so in the end I just gave it a 2.5 stars /  just okay / meh to me
              • Before I forget, the main female lead (FLW's mistress)'s name is Mamah - pronounced May-mah. I kept thinking it's ma-ma.
              • The reason I was conflicted on how to rate this book - on one hand, I like that the author took little pieces of history (that wasn't a lot about Mamah) and created a plausible story out of it, and I totally didn't see the ending coming (a historically true event, but I just didn't know about it - so if you plan to read this book, don't read about FLW on wikipedia!). The writing is a little slow though and I think the book could have been shorter (probably didn't help that the font was VERY SMALL - I wear glasses and in my early 30's but man, why couldn't they use a bigger font so people would at least won't be put off by it! That seriously was my first reaction when I opened the book). Anyway, on the other hand, I did NOT like the main characters, namely FLW and Mamah, AT ALL. While I am still amazed by FLW's artistic vision, I wouldn't want to live with him - he thought silverware was cluttered on a set table at meal time, until he was ready to use them! As for Mamah, there were decisions she made regarding her children that I just do not agree, and I don't even have children. Some may think she was a pioneer feminist, but I thought she was just selfish and self-centered. At the book club discussion, some mentioned that they made a good pair and deserved each other!
              • So it wasn't quite the epic love story I was hoping to be... not that I think a story on adultery should have been about this great love, but at least it would have made it easier to understand why she did what she did...   
              • I like the "conversation with Nancy Horan" section at the end - to learn why she decided to write the book. And I did learn a little more about FLW from this book
              •  After reading it, I want to tour his houses!!! There are 3 of them in my town, though they are not vacant I don't think... supposedly you can see 2 of them just from driving past, but I want to see the inside! May have to pay a visit to Taliesin house in Spring Green WI (the place where the book ended.) There are some other houses of his that can be rented out too for the night - might be something fun to do in the future!
              Quote:

              "Tell her happiness is just practice," he (Edwin) said. "If only she acted happy, she would be happy." (p5)

              "The measure of a man's culture is the measure of his appreciation," he (Frank) said. "We are ourselves what we appreciate and no more."

              He (Frank) gestured out toward the horizon, where a clear sky bordered prairie grasses as far as the eye could see. "Eventually, I fell under the spell of the line out there. It was so simple: a huge block of blue on top of a block of gold prairie, and the quiet line between heaven and earth stretching endlessly. It felt like freedom itself to look at the horizon. I had been drunk on forms since I was a boy, and here was this simple line that expressed so much about this land." (p21)

              To fare on -- fusing the self that wakes... and the self that dreams. (p88)


                Rating:   2.5 Stars





                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 

                Sunday, May 23, 2010

                Updates

                Work and life has been keeping me busy this past couple of weeks. While I have time to read, I haven't time to blog or visit other blogs much - sorry!

                Here are a few reviews coming up when I find the time!
                • Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
                • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
                • The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
                • Poison Study by Maria Snyder
                Not finished yet - I started A Purse of Your Own: An Easy Guide to Financial Security by Deborah Owens and Brenda Lane Richardson. I am on p98 (of 290), and decided that I want to buy a copy of this book, as there were many resources I want to highlight and keep a copy handy. I will review once I finish the book, but so far I'm liking it a lot - I don't know a lot about finances apart from not spending more than what we have (well, excluding student loan and mortgage) and feel like we really need to learn a little more about money and investing for the future.

                Next read is Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I have read the authors' first book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and really enjoyed it (and learned from it) so can't wait to read the 2nd book! Bumping this book up as I need to return it by Friday 5/28.

                Then after that will probably read Moloka'i by Alan Brennert as I need to return it by 6/1 - but if I can renew it then it may not be the next one yet (there are 2 copies out, both due by 6/1, and there is a hold on it. So if the other borrower returns it sooner than I do, then I will be able to renew!)

                Happy reading!!

                Book Review - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot













                Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  
                Author: Rebecca Skloot  
                Year: 2010
                Page: 384  
                Genre: Non-Fiction - Science  

                New to me author? Yes    
                Read this author again? Yes!
                Tearjerker? A little teary eyed  
                Where did it take place? US  
                FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library at work  

                Summary (from amazon.com):  
                Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about faith, science, journalism, and grace. It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women—Skloot and Deborah Lacks—sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah's mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta's death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot's portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society's most vulnerable people.

                First Sentence:
                There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.

                Why did I pick this book?
                I first heard about this book on a online forum. It sounded interesting enough that I put it on my TBR. Thought I'd read it sometime later as I have a big piles of books to read yet. However, I saw that my workplace was going to have a book discussion about it - I work in a pretty big healthcare company so I thought it'd be interesting to talk about this book with others from the same field. So I bumped this up to be read first so I can participate in the discussion.   

                My thoughts:
                • As I mentioned in an earlier post, if you are just going to read one non-fiction book this year, read this book! To sum it up in one word - FASCINATING! I didn't quite know what to expect, I thought it may be a little dry since it's about science and cells and cells research... but it is a lot more than that. It is about ethics, patient rights, race, family and love as well. One of the participants in the book discussion put it quite well together - this book is a bridge - it helps non-scientists understand a bit of science (and make us more aware of our rights as patients too) but at the same time it helps scientists to understand the human side of the story. There were definitely parts of that books that made me ached, amused and cried. Skloot's writing made this a very easy to read book.
                • I learned a lot from this book - I guess that's why I like reading non-fiction because I get to learn about things I normally won't. While I was in school, I read fiction to escape, but now that I am not in school, I read non-fiction to keep on learning. I was not disappointed with this book. I didn't know about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, The Hospital for The Negro Insane, that scientists inject cancer cells in patients to see if the cancer will spread, that the cells are named after the patient it comes from - with the first two letters from the first name and the first two letters from the last name -- e.g. Henrietta Lacks' cells are known as HeLa.
                • I didn't quite like the cover when I first saw it - it certainly didn't make me want to pick it up to take a looksy. But now that I have read the book, I understand the photo and the orangy background.
                • Skloot took over 10 years to put the book together, and it required a lot of persistence, bravery, patience and courage. The book did go back and forth a little in terms of time line - to tell both Henrietta's story and Henrietta's daughter's story (her name was Deborah, nicknamed Dale). Henrietta died when Dale was one I liked that it had a timeline at the top of each chapter to let you know which year this chapter was set at.
                • Wired magazine has a timeline of what HeLa cells were used for throughout the years - all the different vaccine and research on genetics and space biology and others
                • The story also made me a little sad - poverty, lack of education, lack of access to medical needs... One of the main individual in the story died the day after Mother's Day in 2009. I finished reading this book the day after Mother's Day in 2010. What a coincidence. 
                • The most touching scene for me involved Henrietta's son Joe/Zakariyya and Christoph Lengauer and Rebecca Skloot, after seeing his mother's cells for the first time, and after Christopher explaining what a cell and DNA and chromosome is. And how HeLa helped cell research. It is hard to explain why it was touching without giving the story away. But it provided some closure for him and he showed his appreciation in a way that I didn't expect. His sister, Dale, said to Skloot afterward, "Girl, you just witnessed a miracle." (p267)
                • The "afterword" was quite long and a little dry - I'm glad the rest of the book wasn't written in the same manner! Since I had to return the book the next day, I didn't really read every word here...
                • There were 10 pages of acknowledgement! It also includes an extensive list of sources that Skloot cited.
                • I am going to include A LOT OF quotes -  Some of the quotes may be SPOILERS - so be aware if you don't want to find out what happened. I am including them as a reminder to myself of the different things I learned in the book.
                • I'd rate this book as a 4.5. Why not a 5? Only because I haven't decided if I need to go buy this book and own it yet. And I don't know if I'd re-read.

                Quote:

                Henrietta's Immortality

                "Henrietta's cells have now been living outside her body for longer than they ever lived inside it," Defler said. If we went to almost any cell culture lab in the world and opened its freezers, he told us, we'd probably find millions - if not billions - of Henrietta's cells in small vials on ice. (p4)

                "It sounds strange," he said, "but her cells done lived goner than her memory." (p118)

                Race

                Years later I'd understand how a young boy could know why I was calling just from the sound of my voice: the only time white people called Day was when they wanted something having to do with HeLa cells. But at the time I was confused. (p54)

                A few minutes later, seemingly out of nowhere, he pointed to the dirt and said, "You know, white folks and black folds all buried over top of each other in here. I guess old white granddaddy and his brothers was buried in here too. Really no tellin who in this ground now." Only thing he knew for sure, he said, was that there was something beautiful about the idea of slave-owning white Lackses being buried under their black kin. "They spending eternity in the same place," he told me, laughing. "They must've worked out their problems by now!" (p122)

                When I arrived in Clover (in VA in 1999), race was still ever-present. Roseland was "The nice colored fellow" who ran Rosie's before it shut down; Bobcat was "the white man" who ran the mini-mart; Henrietta went to St. Matthew's, "the colored church." One of the first things Cootie said when I met him was, "You don't act strange around me cause I'm black. You're not from around here." (p124)

                    Ruby (and Carlton Lacks, the oldest white Lackses in Clover, in 1999) was in her late eighties too, with a sharp mind that seemed decades younger than her frail body. She talked right over Carlton, telling me about their grandfather who'd farmed the Lacks Plantation, and their relation to Ben and Albert Lacks. When I mentioned that Henrietta came from Lacks Town, Ruby straightened in her chair. "Well, that was colored!" she snapped.
                    "I don't know what you talking bout. You're not talking about coloreds are you?"
                    I told her I wanted to learn about both the white and black Lackses.
                    "Well, we never did know each other," she said. "the white and the black didn't mix then, not like they do now, which I can't say I like because I don't think it's for the best." She paused and shook her head. "Mixing them like that, during school and church and everything, they end up white and black get together and marry and all... I just can't see the sense in it." (p125)


                Ethics

                The Tuskegee syphilis study - they recruited hundreds of African-American men with syphilis, then watched them die slow, painful, and preventable deaths, even after they realized penicillin could cure them. The research subjects didn't ask questions. They were poor and uneducated, and the researchers offered incentives: free physical exams, hot meals, and rides into town on clinic days, plus fifty-dollar burial stipends for their families when the men died (p50)

                    In February 1954, Southam loaded a syringe with saline solution mixed with HeLa. He slid the needle into the forearm of a woman who'd recently been hospitalized for leukemia, then pushed the plunger, injecting about 5 million of Henriettta's cells into her arm. Using a second needle, Southam tattooed a tiny speck of India ink next to the small bump that formed at the HeLa injection site. That way, he'd know where to look when he reexamined the woman days, weeks, and months later, to see if Henrietta's cancer was growing on her arm. He repeated this process with about a dozen other cancer patients. He told them he was testing their immune systems; he said nothing about injecting them with someone else's malignant cells.
                   Within hours, the patients' forearms grew red and swollen. Five to ten days later, hard nodules began growing at the injection sites. Southam removed some of the nodules to verify that they were cancerous, but he left several to see if the patients' immune systems would reject them or the cancer would spread. Within two weeks, some of the nodules had grown to 2 cm -- about the size of Henrietta's rumor when she went in for her radium treatments.
                    Southam eventually removed most of the HeLa tumors, and those he didn't remove vanished on their own in a few months. But in four patients, the nodules grew back. he removed them, but they returned again and again. In one patient, Henrietta's cancer cells metastasized to her lymph nodes.
                    Since those patients all had cancer to begin with, Southam wanted to see how healthy people reacted to the injections, for comparison's sake. (p128)

                    Southam began injecting prisoners in June 1956 using HeLa cells that his colleague, Alice Moore, carried from new York to Ohio in a handbag. Sixty0five prisoners -- murderers, embezzlers, robbers, and forgers -- lined up on wooden benches for their injections. Some wore white hospital garb; other came off work gangs wearing blue dungarees.
                    Some tumors grew on the prisoners' arms just as they'd grown in the cancer patients. The press ran story after story about the brave men at the Ohio Penitentiary, praising them as "the first healthy human beings ever to agree to such rigorous cancer experiments." They quoted one man saying, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried. You lie there on your bunk knowing you've got cancer in your arm... Boy, what you think about!"
                    Again and again reporters asked, "Why did you volunteer for this test?"
                    The prisoners' replies were like a refrain: "I done a girl a great injustice, and I think it'll pay back a little bit what I did to her."
                   "I believe the wrong that I have done, in the eyes of society, this might make a right on it."
                   Southam gave multiple cancer cell injections to each prisoner, and unlike the terminally ill patients, those men fought off the cancer completely. And with each new injection, their bodies responded faster, which seemed to indicate that the cells were increasing the inmates' immunity to cancer. When Southam reported his results, the press hailed them as a tremendous breakthrough that could someday lead to a cancer vaccine. (p129)

                And though the American medical Association had issued rules protecting laboratory animals in 1910, no such rules existed for humans until Nuremberg (in 1947, a ten-point code of ethics now know has the Nuremberg Code.) (p131)

                The Hospital for The Negro Insane

                The Crownsville that Elsie died in was far worse than anythign Deborah had imagined. Patients arrived from a nearby institution packed in a train car. In 1955, the year Elsie died, the population of Crownsville was at a record high of more than 2,700 patients, nearly 800 over maximum capacity. In 1948, the only year figures were available, Cronwsville averaged 1 dor for every 225 patients, and tis death rate was far higher than its discharge rate. Patients were locked in poorly ventilated cell blocks with drains on the floors instaed of toilets. Black men, women, and children suffering with everything from dementia and TB to "nervousness," "lack of self-confidence," and epilepsy were packed into every conceivable space, including windowless basement rooms and barred-in porches. When they had beds, they usually slept two or more on a twin mattress, lying head to foot, forced to crawl across a sea of sleeping bodies to reach their beds. Inmates weren't separated by age or sex, and often included sex offenders. There were riots and homemade weapons. Unruly patients were tied to their beds or secluded in locked rooms. (p275)

                I later learned that while Elsie was at Crownsville, scientists often conducted research on patients there without consent, including one study titled "Pneumoencephalographic and skull X-ray studies in 100 epileptics." Pneumoencephalography was a technique developed in 1919 for taking images of the brain, which floats in a sea of fluid. That fluid protects the brain from damage, but makes it very difficult to X-ray, since images taken through fluid are cloudy. Pneumoencephalography involved drilling holes into the skulls of research subjects, draining the fluid surrounding their brains, and pumping air or helium into the skull in place of the fluid to allow crisp X-rays of the brain through the skull. The side effects -- crippling headaches, dizziness, seizures, vomiting -- lasted until they body naturally refilled the skull with spinal fluid, which usually took 2 to 3 months. Because pneumoencephalography could cause permanent brain damage and paralysis, it was abandoned in the 1970s. (p276)


                Love for a mother

                Christoph (Lengauer, a Ph.D. student who'd used HeLa to help develop something called fluorescence in situ hybridization, otherwise known as FISH, a technique for painting chromosomes with multicolored fluorescent dyes that shine bright under ultraviolet light. Tot he trained eye, FISH can uncover detailed information about a person's DNA. To the untrained eye, it simply creates a beautiful mosaic of colored chromosomes.
                    Christoph had framed a 14x20" print of Henrietta's chromosomes that he'd "paitned" using FISH. It looked like a photograph of a night sky filled with multicolored fireflies glowing red, blue, yellow, green, purple and turquoise.
                    "I want to tell them a little what HeLa means to me as a young cancer researcher, and how grateful I am for their donation years ago," he wrote. "I do not represent Hopkins, but I am part of it. In a way I might even want to apologize."
                   Deborah threw her black canvas tote bag onto the floor, tore the wrapping paper from the photo, then held the frame at arm's length in front of her. She said nothing, just ran through a set of French doors onto a small patio to see the picture in the setting sunlight.
                    "They're beautiful!" she yelled from the porch. "I never knew they were so pretty!" She walked back inside clutching the picture, her cheeks flushed. "You know what's weird? The world got more pictures of my other cells than it do of her. I guess that's why nobody knows who she is. Only thing left of her is them cells." (p235)

                    Christoph kept talking about cell divison, but Deborah wasn't listening. She stood mesmerized, watching one of her mother's cells divide in two, just as they'd done when Henrietta was an embryo in her mother's womb.
                    Deborah and Zakariyya stared at the screen like they'd gone into a trance, mouths open, cheeks sagging. It was the closest they'd come to seeing their mother alive since they were babies. (p265)

                Then she knelt on the ground, next to the sunken strips of earth where she imagined her mother and sister were buried. "Take one of me and my sister by her and my mother grave," she said. "It'll be the only picture in the world with the three of us almost together." (p287)

                "I often visit her hair in the Bible," Deborah said into the camera. "When I think about this hair, I'm not as lonely. I imagine, what would it be like to have a mother to go to, to laugh, cry, hug." (p309).


                Wisdom


                Lurz sat in his chair, legs crossed, looking at the photo of Elsie. "You have to be prepared," he told Deborah, his voice gentle. "Sometimes learning can be just as painfula s not knowing." (p271)

                As we left Crownsville, Deborah thanked Lurz for the information, saying, "I've been waiting for this a long, long time, Doc." When he asked if she was okay, her eyes welled with tears and she said, "Like I'm always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different." (p276)

                "Man brought nothing into this world and he'll carry nothing out. Sometime we care about stuff too much. We worry when there's nothing to worry about." (p289)

                  Rating:  4.5 Stars 





                  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
                  Science Books 
                  Non-Fiction

                  Sunday, May 16, 2010

                  Reading Habits - Meme

                  I don't usually do meme... I don't have the discipline to do them regularly. But this one about reading habits from Helen's Book Blog seems like fun! :)

                  Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack:
                  During the week, I usually read while having lunch (so not really snack) or riding the bus (no food allowed). Trying to loose weight too so usually don't have snack at home. But when I could snack, I love to read and eat cookies! But don't you hate cookie crumbs getting trapped in the binder of t he book...

                  What is your favourite drink while reading?
                  I am trying to drink more water, so usually water! But I like refreshing juice or smoothie too.

                  Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
                  Since most of my books are from the library, I can't mark the books! For those I own - I don't usually mark fiction, but if it's non-fiction and I want to go back later for reference, I do high-light or underline or scribble on the side or on the front page or back page. When I bought second hand book, it's kinda fun to read what the previous owner(s) have written :) Though I have seen some books I borrowed from the library (seemed like mostly books written in Chinese) where people would correct the typo!

                  How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
                  Again, since I borrow from the library, I don't want to dog-ears books. In fact, I yelled at my sister for doing so :) Nowadays since I blog my reviews, I will usually have a blank piece of thick paper as my bookmark, where I can jot down the page number for quotes and thoughts.

                  Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
                  Both. Last couple of years were 70% non-fiction. This year I'm expanding my fiction genre. So I'm thinking it'd be 50-50. So far I've read 12 non-fiction and 23 fiction (excluding 3 graphic novels, as I have no idea if they should fall under fiction or non-fiction).

                  Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

                  While I read at lunch, I tend to finish a chapter. During the bus ride, pretty much just anywhere at the end of a paragraph (easier to find the spot again) - though I try to stop at the spot where it has a big physical printing gap in the paragraphs if possible, since it makes it even easier to pick off where I left it. I'd been falling asleep lately while reading in bed before sleep... so wherever my eyes involuntarily closed (I wish I could stay up late to read every night.)

                  Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
                  I do it mentally. But, I respect the books I borrow from the library so I don't do that. For the books I bought, I'm too stingy to destroy a book I paid for!

                  If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
                  When I first moved to Australia as a teenager, with English not being my first language, I'd do that. But I found it really take the fun out of reading (and disrupting) as I had to stop way too often! Nowadays, I only look it up if it's something critical to understand the story. Most of the time I could guess (though I suppose if I guess wrong I wouldn't know it!)

                  What are you currently reading?
                  Almost finish with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan - April book club read. Need to get it read by Tuesday! Too many to choose from for the next book... I wish I can read faster!

                  What is the last book you bought?
                  A bunch of books from the library book sale before my vacation to Hong Kong and Guam - thought I'd take them with me on the trip. Some of them are: Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia Axline, Is There No Place On Earth for Me? by Susan Sheehan, Miracles Happen by Mary Kay Ash, To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski and Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times by James Finn Garner.

                  Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?
                  Mostly one book at a time. Every so often may have two going on - e.g. if I'm about to finish one, I'll bring a new book to work the next day instead so I won't run out of books to read!

                  Do you have a favourite time/place to read?

                  I pretty much always have a book with me. But if I have a choice - on a comfy couch, next to the window, with the gentle sun shinning through the sheer curtain creating a soft-box effect (soft lighting.) With a refreshing drink and cookies nearby :) No interruption please! Oh and some comfy cushions and a blankkie.

                  Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
                  Don't really have a preference. Probably read more stand alones. Some long series I'd been reading had gone done hill (looking at you, Ms. Patricia Cornwell... I'd loved Dr Kay Scarpetta so much - that I could really identify with her (though I'm not quite as smart and don't have a medical degree) - but now, she and her friends disappoint me... and the storyline became too Hollywood-like.

                  Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
                  Since I kinda have a different reading taste to others (tend to prefer non-fiction and not many people like it), I tend to recommend fiction only, such as The Help and Still Alice and The Hunger Games. Books that took me by surprise and affect me personally. If people want to start reading non-fiction, I typically recommend starting with memoir (sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction) like The Glass Castle and Running with Scissors.

                  How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)

                  My own books are still in boxes and not unpacked (long story...). For the large number of library books I borrow, I organize them into piles of fiction, non-fiction, YA and others. Then for each stack, I organize it by the ones I want to read the most on top. Then if I find out I need to return certain book sooner (i.e. can't renew), then I put them on the very top. I don't always read them in order, as I choose the next read based on my mood.


                  How about you? Would love to know about your reading habits too! Post a link! :)

                  Tuesday, May 11, 2010

                  If you only read one non-fiction book this year...

                  I'd highly recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

                  Wow. What a story. I learned so much from this book. Will do proper review on the weekend - will have lots of quotes!

                  Thank you Rebecca Skloot for writing this book. THANK YOU to Henrietta Lacks for her contribution to science (and our health) and her family for letting Rebecca wrote this book!

                  Sunday, May 9, 2010

                  Updates

                  It's been over a month since we got back from our vacation (though I felt like we need a vacation after our vacation... since the was a very packed 3 weeks.) Work had gotten busy, house and car stuff that needed taken care of, and Husband J's 92 year old grandma gotten sick... and eventually passed away 3 weeks ago. While it was very sad, but she is not suffering anymore. It was so hard to see her in pain.

                  Throughout all that, I still found time to read. Reading is definitely a good escape. This past week had been a bit slow in reading due to work, but I am determined to finish The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (non-fiction) by Tuesday, as I need to return it then. I am about half way through and it is fascinating so I don't think it'd be a problem to finish it! I have this on my TBR but didn't think I'll read it so soon - but I found that a group of people (I don't know who they are!) at my (big) company is hosting a book discussion about this book on 5/18, and I want to join in! Since I work in healthcare, this will be an interesting discussion as it involves ethics and research and race and history and science... This is shaping up to be one of my favorite books this year!

                  On the same night (5/18) is also my local book club discussion on Loving Frank. I haven't read it yet (when I read it too soon, I tend to forget the details! So I decide from now on I'll start reading the book about a week before our meeting). So this will be up next. I don't know a lot about Frank Lloyd Wright apart from liking his architecture style (but not an expert on architecture!) so I'm looking forward to reading it. This month we'll also find out what books the group has chosen for July 2010 to June 2010. We received a list of 40 or so book suggestions back in March (we could submit choices), and gave our 15-20 picks to the librarian last month. So we'll find out in a week or so! I can't wait!! The June choice is The Accidental Tourist which I haven't heard of.

                  And I have 37 library books waiting for me to read too... they're screaming Pick Me! Pick Me! on the floor.  I wish I could be a full time reader! I wish I could read faster! There are some I want to read more than others. But hopefully I could get to most of them before they are due. Some of them are (not in any order):

                  Fiction:
                  • Molokai: A Novel
                  • The Maze Runner
                  • The Handmaid's Tale
                  • The last will of Moira Leahy 
                  • Flowers for Algernon 
                  • The housekeeper and the professor 
                  • Kindred
                  • Poison study 
                  • Ender's game 

                  Non-Fiction:

                  • The autobiography of an execution 
                  • Danger to self : on the front line with an ER psychiatrist 
                  • Hannah's gift : lessons from a life fully lived 
                  • House lust : America's obsession with our homes 
                  • A purse of your own : an easy guide to financial security 
                  • Building a meal : from molecular gastronomy to culinary constructivism 
                  • Gumbo tales : finding my place at the New Orleans table 
                  • Nature's secret messages : hidden in plain sight 
                  • Cookoff : recipe fever in America 
                  • What Einstein told his cook : kitchen science explained

                  Have you read any of them? Any must-read? I know I know, it's subjective :)

                  Saturday, May 8, 2010

                  Book Reviews by Author (Graphic Novel)

                  A

                  B

                  C

                  D

                  E

                  F

                  G

                  H



                  I


                  J


                  K

                  L



                  M
                  N

                  O

                  P
                  Q

                  R


                  S
                  T


                  U

                  V

                  W

                  X


                  Y
                  Z

                  Book Review - We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson



















                  Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle    
                  Author: Shriley Jackson  
                  Year: 1962  
                  Page: 160  
                  Genre: Fiction - Horror 

                  New to me author? Yes
                  Read this author again? Not sure
                  Tearjerker? No
                  Where did it take place? US?
                  FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library (thanks to inter-library loan!)

                  Summary (from amazon.com):
                  Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.

                  First Sentence:  
                  My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.

                  Why did I pick this book?
                  After I read Liar by Justine Larbalestier, other people asked on the author's website if there are similar books. Since I thought Liar has such potential (and spoiled by the ending, in my opinion), I thought I'd give this book a try as others have said this is a similar type of book. The author has also said she loved this book.

                  My thoughts:
                  • I think my expectation was way to high and I was very disappointed by this book! I can see why the readers said this is a similar type of book as Liar (I don't want to explain as it'd spoil it), but it is just not my cup of tea. Many reviews said this is creepy, horrifying, scary, disturbing, haunting, strange... I thought it was boring and could guess the twist 1/3 way of the book (and it's a pretty thin book!) I wasn't scared or creep out or disturbed or haunted at all (unlike after watching IT the TV movie in 8th grade... I almost didn't want to turn on the faucet to wash my hands!)
                  • As I was reading the story (would have given it up had I not wanted to find out what was so great about this book), I kept thinking, how old is Mary Katherine the protagonist? It was very hard to guess her age by her voice/behavior. When I read some amazon reviews, some reviewers mentioned she was 18 and I was wondering how they came up with that age. When I looked back at the first page of the book to write out what the first sentence was - the 2nd sentence said, "I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance." Duh! But really, I'd already forgotten about that fact as I read the book...
                  • I still don't get why this book is so popular... have you read it? Could you share your thoughts please?? I didn't even find a quote I liked in the book...
                  • The only thing I like about it is this - the protagonist, Mary Katherine, is called Merricat, by her sister. I thought that was cute. 

                    Rating:    1 Star



                    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 - American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang




















                    Title: American Born Chinese
                    Author: Gene Luen Yang  
                    Year: 2008
                    Page: 240    
                    Genre: Graphic Novel, Young Adult  

                    New to me author? Yes
                    Read this author again? Possibly 

                    Tearjerker? No
                    Where did it take place? US
                    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

                    Summary (from amazon.com):
                    As alienated kids go, Jin Wang is fairly run-of-the-mill: he eats lunch by himself in a corner of the schoolyard, gets picked on by bullies and jocks and develops a sweat-inducing crush on a pretty classmate. And, oh, yes, his parents are from Taiwan. This much-anticipated, affecting story about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it's a fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape. The fable is filtered through some very specific cultural icons: the much-beloved Monkey King, a figure familiar to Chinese kids the world over, and a buck-toothed amalgamation of racist stereotypes named Chin-Kee. Jin's hopes and humiliations might be mirrored in Chin-Kee's destructive glee or the Monkey King's struggle to come to terms with himself, but each character's expressions and actions are always perfectly familiar. True to its origin as a Web comic, this story's clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he's depicting need no translation. Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you'll already have reached out to others.



                    Why did I pick this book?
                    Heard about this from Bibliofreakblog. Since I am Asian, I am interested in reading books on Asian-American. I wasn't born here though, so I am not quite an ABC (American Born Chinese), but still.

                    My thoughts:
                    • This is aimed for young adults, and I thought it was done quite well. I think I probably would have enjoyed it more had I read it as a young adult, when I was still searching for my identity (my family moved to Australia when I was a teenager), whereas now I think I've figured out who I am... so the message isn't quite as powerful to me
                    • There were 3 stories intertwining in the book - I was a bit bored at first by the opening story which involved the Magic Monkey (a famous Chinese fable), but in the end I could see why it was included. I also felt that for those who have some Chinese background would appreciate the story more - apart from Magic Monkey, there were a few other Chinese sayings in the book that just seems to make more sense if you know about them -- while this book can be enjoyed by anybody, but it probably would be appreciated by ABC more (or people like me who grew up in a different culture). I could relate to the characters
                    • While I like Shaun Tan's drawings better, I think the author's style fit well with this story. 
                      Rating:    3.5 Stars


                      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 - Labor Day: A Novel by Joyce Maynard





















                      Title: Labor Day: A Novel
                      Author: Joyce Maynard   
                      Year: 2009
                      Page: 256  
                      Genre: Fiction 

                      New to me author? Yes  
                      Read this author again? Maybe 

                      Tearjerker? No
                      Where did it take place? US
                      FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library (Thank you inter-library loan! My library doesn't have it)

                      Summary (from amazon.com):  
                      In her sixth novel, Maynard (To Die For) tells the story of a long weekend and its repercussions through the eyes of a then 13-year-old boy, Henry, who lives with his divorced mother, Adele. On Labor Day weekend, Henry manages to coax his mother, who rarely goes out, into a trip to PriceMart, where they run into Frank, who intimidates them into giving him a ride. Frank, it turns out, is an escaped convict looking for a place to hide. He holds Adele and Henry hostage in their home, an experience that changes all of them forever, whether it's Frank tying Adele to the kitchen chair with her silk scarves and lovingly feeding her or teaching the awkward, unathletic Henry how to throw a baseball. The bizarre situation encompasses Henry's budding adolescence, the awakening of his sexuality and his fear of being abandoned by his mother and Frank, who are falling in love and planning to run away together. Maynard's prose is beautiful and her characters winningly complicated, with no neat tie-ups in the end. A sometimes painful tale, but captivating and surprisingly moving.



                      First Sentence:  
                      It was just the two of us, my mother and me, after my father left.

                      Why did I pick this book?
                      Tales of Whimsy said "this book hurts but it hurts good." - I love a sad story, so how can I resist? Btw, if you haven't been over to her blog, you should pay a visit! I love her reviewing format :)

                      My thoughts:
                      • I really like the cover of the book. I think it portrayed the story really well. 
                      • The book wasn't as sad as I thought it'd be and the plot was a bit simplistic and predictable for me. I have to remember this is "Labor Day: A Novel" (and not a thriller...) so it's more about the characters than plot (to me anyway). For some reasons, it reminds me of T-Bag from Prison Break but I think T-Bag was a more complex / multi-dimentional character, and also sadder... 
                      • The book is told from a teenage boy's perspective. Since I don't have a son or any brothers, I still think his voice was quite authentic
                      •  Cooking was mentioned a bit in this book - it may be my favorite part :)
                      • The author also has a different writing style - for all dialog, there is no quotation mark, and took a little getting used to (see 2nd and 3rd quote for examples - I didn't quote them for this reason. I just liked the insights given)

                      Quotes:

                      Some people make all these explanations first when they give you the answer to a question that might not reflect so well on them (a question like, where do you work, and the answer is McDonald's, only first they say something like I'm really an action or I'm actually applying to medical school soon. (p20)

                      What makes you think that person you never even met is any worse off than us? I asked her.
                      Because I have you, she said. Marie doesn't. (p46)

                      One thing he would tell me, though, he said, had to do with babies. Not that he was any kind of expert, but for a brief while, long ago, he had cared for his son, and that experience more than any other had taught him the importance of following your instincts. Tuning in to the situation with all your five senses, and your body, not your brain. A baby cries in the night, and you go pick him up. Maybe he's screaming so hard his face is the color of a radish, or he's gasping for breath, he's got himself so worked up. What are you going to do, take a book off the shelf, and read what some expert has to say? p66




                      Rating:  3 Stars



                      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 

                      Monday, May 3, 2010

                      Book Review - The Arrival by Shaun Tan



















                      Title: The Arrival
                      Author: Shaun Tan  
                      Year: 2007
                      Page: 128  
                      Genre: Graphic Novel

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

                      Summary (from amazon.com):  
                      Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel. It depicts the journey of one man, threatened by dark shapes that cast shadows on his family's life, to a new country. The only writing is in an invented alphabet, which creates the sensation immigrants must feel when they encounter a strange new language and way of life. A wide variety of ethnicities is represented in Tan's hyper-realistic style, and the sense of warmth and caring for others, regardless of race, age, or background, is present on nearly every page. Young readers will be fascinated by the strange new world the artist creates, complete with floating elevators and unusual creatures, but may not realize the depth of meaning or understand what the man's journey symbolizes. More sophisticated readers, however, will grasp the sense of strangeness and find themselves participating in the man's experiences. They will linger over the details in the beautiful sepia pictures and will likely pick up the book to pore over it again and again.
                       

                      First Sentence:  
                      n/a - it's wordless.

                       
                      Why did I pick this book?
                      Read many GREAT reviews of this book. Wasn't sure if I was going to pick it up after trying some graphic novels earlier and didn't like them. But saw some other drawings done by this author and really liked it, so thought I'd give it a chance   

                       
                      My thoughts:
                      • Wow. I LOVE his drawings - very detailed, amazingly realistic, and full of emotion. 
                      • Calling this a graphic novel almost seems a bit insulting. His drawings are definitely a work of art. Something you can tear out from the book and frame it and hang it on the wall.
                      • When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, you can definitely use this phrase to describe this book - and there are many pictures in this book, and without any words! I can't imagine the time and effort the author put into it (not to say that it doesn't take an author a lot of time and effort to WRITE a book... but typing something out seems easier than drawing something out!)
                      • I could definitely relate to the story, having been a migrant TWICE. No where near the same experience as the story in the book, but the emotions you feel when leaving your family behind is the same nonetheless. 
                      • 4.5 Stars instead of 5 - only because I haven't felt the need to buy this book for keep... (yet?) Told you it's hard for me to give out a 5!
                        Rating:   4.5 Stars




































                        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