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Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review - Where She Went (If I Stay #2) by Gayle Forman















Title: Where She Went (If I Stay #2) 
Author: Gayle Forman
Year: 2011
Page: 264
Genre: Fiction - Young Adult

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.


Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future–and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.


First Sentence:
Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It's just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I really enjoyed the first book, If I Stayed, told from Mia's perspective. I cried my eyes out. I read it back in 2009 though and before I stayed to blog... I wish I had!
First thought:
  • Disappointed.
Cover Art:
  • Pretty. But not how I pictured Mia to be. Also, the photographer in me said, "don't shoot up people's nose! It's not flattering!"  But I loved the messy hair.
Title:
  • Clever - summed up the story and matched the style of the first book title
Writing:
  • Still easy to read. 
Plot:
  • I felt like it dragged on... I understood that the author didn't want to explain everything until later so that all the secrets weren't revealed on the first page
Characters:
  • I could identify with Mia in the first book, and really liked her, Adam and Mia's family. In this book, I didn't like either Mia or Adam. Mia - she reasoning just didn't quite make sense to me (again, maybe because I am not a teenager anymore... and I supposed I haven't gone through what she had). Adam - while his destructive behavior was explained, it didn't mean I had to like it. I thought he was better than that.
Ending:
  • Okay I supposed. At least I didn't feel like throwing the book across the room after I was done.
Emotion:
  • I think the reason I liked the first book so much was because I felt so emotional about it. I hardly felt anything when I read this one.
What I Learned:
  • How to get 5 stars from me when reviewing a book? Make me emotional (cry, laugh, whatever)
PS:
  • Lots of people still enjoyed this second book, so don't let my negative (or rather, "lukewarm or neutral") review stopped you from finding it out yourself. I'd definitely recommend reading the first book first.
Read this Author again?
  • Depends... I'm getting picky about YA books now... 

Quote:
"She said it was because one day I was going to have to go through a metamorphosis like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly and that scared me, so butterflies scared me." 

Overall Rating:
3 Stars. Just okay for me.






All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
















Title: The Girl Who Chased the Moon 
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Year: 2010
Page: 269
Genre: Fiction - Magical Realsim

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the world…no matter how out of place they feel.

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. For instance, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? Why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew—a reclusive, real-life gentle giant—she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life.

Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.
Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson’s cakes. She offers them to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth and in the hope of bringing back the love she fears she’s lost forever. In Julia, Emily may have found a link to her mother’s past. But why is everyone trying to discourage Emily’s growing relationship with the handsome and mysterious son of Mullaby’s most prominent family? Emily came to Mullaby to get answers, but all she’s found so far are more questions.

Is there really a ghost dancing in her backyard? Can a cake really bring back a lost love? In this town of lovable misfits, maybe the right answer is the one that just feels…different.


First Sentence:
It took a moment for Emily to realize the car had come to a stop.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • After I read The Sugar Queen (read my review here), I just wanted to read everything else but the author! I was still waiting to see if Garden Spells (the first book) would end up being a book club read, so I thought I'd try this one instead.
First thought:
  • Not as good as The Sugar Queen...
Cover Art:
  • It is okay... it goes with the story but not very inspiring. I like this version better.
Title:
  • Fitting. Made you wonder why she'd chase the moon?
Writing:
  • Still an easy read.
Plot:
  • While still a magical realism story, it seemed a bit more far fetched and didn't quite did it for me
  • Made you wonder if the main story is about Emily, or Julia? I kept thinking there would be this big secret but felt a bit left down
Characters:
  • I liked both Emily and Julia fine... but it seemed both didn't get much development
  • I thought Emily's grandfather was a bit of a waste in the story - it seemed like he'd play a bigger role and I wish we got to learn more about him better
Ending:
  • It's okay, if not a bit predictable
Emotion:
  • I kept waiting to be wow-ed.
What I Learned:
  • I think I like magical realism only if it's realistic... kinda ironic, I know... 
PS:
  • While the "magic" was explained, I wish it would go into a bit more details... 
Read this Author again?
  • Yes I'd still keep reading the author's books!

Quote:
Everyone had left him because they'd hadn't been quiet enough to hear him. (p224)

Overall Rating:
2.5 Stars. Could have been better.



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May & Books

May has been a pretty bad reading month so far. Usually I read 8-10 books a month, and so far I'd only read 5 this month (one was read aloud with hubby), and had 3 DNF. Granted, we still have over a week left yet and who knows, maybe I could squeeze a couple more books in - that's probably when YA books come in handy :) But I have to remember, quality, not quantity... I think with YA I'll mostly stick to dystopian only since it seems to be the YA genre I like best. Since I pretty much had been reading every day (some day more pages than others), I guess about this time of the year that I may feel a little burn out and slow down a little.

Work is still keeping me busy... will prob be so for a while... it's a blessing really that we still have relatively stable jobs.

It hasn't been a week of good news though for people we know... my in-laws had to put their dog down due to cancer, I found out a relative has cancer, and another relative may have some damage to their house/car because of the tornado this weekend...The bit of good news this week was that we took our 2 cats (out of 3) to the vet for their first annual check up, and they both passed with flying colors. Made me feel better being a first time pet mum.

Hope everyone are having a better week, reading or otherwise! :)

PS:

This week I finished Addition by Toni Jordan, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Did not finish The Good Patient by Kristin Waterfield Duisberg.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Review - A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby












Title: A Long Way Down 
Author: Nick Hornb
Year: 2006
Page: 352
Genre: Fiction

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
New Year's Eve at Toppers' House, North London's most popular suicide spot. And four strangers are about to discover that doing away with yourself isn't quite the private act they'd each expected.

Perma-tanned Martin Sharp's a disgraced breakfast TV presenter who had it all - the kids, the wife, the pad, the great career - and wasted it away. Killing himself is Martin's logical and appropriate response to an unliveable life. "Maureen has to do it tonight, because of Matty being in the home. He was never able to do any of the normal things kids do - like walk or talk - and loving-mum Maureen can't cope any more. Dutiful Catholic that she is, she's ready to commit the "biggest sin of all"

Half-crazed with heartbreak, loneliness, adolescent angst, seven Bacardi Breezers and two Special Brews, Jess's ready to jump, to fly off the roof. Finally, there's JJ - tall, cool, American, looks like a rock-star, sometimes thinks he plays his guitar like one - who's weighted down with a heap of problems, and pizza.

Four strangers, who moments before were convinced that they were alone and going to end it all that way, share out the pizza and begin to talk ... Only to find that they have even less in common than first suspected." Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down is a novel that asks some of the big questions: about life and death, strangers and friendship, love and pain, and whether a group of losers, and pizza, can really see you through a long, dark night of the soul.


First Sentence:
Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block?

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • April book club pick
First thought:
  • Not my cup of tea... couldn't finish it
Cover Art:
  • Guess it is relevant to the book and is a little quirky
Title:
  • Since I couldn't finish the book, difficult for me to say whether it described the book
Writing:
  • The writing was actually quite easy to read. It was the plot and characters that made me stopped reading...
Plot:
  • To me, nothing much happened in 77 pages, and I got bored...
  • Funny enough, one of the book club members said LOTS happened in the book lol. 
Characters:
  • I didn't really care about the 4 main characters. I didn't care whether they lived or died (the book started off with all 4 of them wanting to jump off the building). 
  • It was interesting to hear what the other book clubs members said about the 4 characters. Even though I couldn't participate much in the discussion, I liked to listen to learn what others thought of the book
Ending:
  • I cheated and googled what happened. I probably would have ended the book a bit differently 
Emotion:
  • Bored... 
What I Learned:
  • That's right, I still don't like character-driven books!!! 
PS:
  • Funny enough, I was the only one who couldn't finish the book. One person didn't really like it, everyone else quite liked it! (there were about 12-15 of us?) I found I have quite a different reading taste from most of them though so that might not have been surprising. Joining this book club is like doing one of the blog book challenges - trying to push my limit :) I am glad I joined though, as I otherwise wouldn't read some of the books.
Read this Author again?
  • This was my first time reading this author. I had heard of him before but never really felt like I needed to read his book (or watch the movies based on his books). I am guessing I probably won't read him again... no in the near future anyway

Overall Rating:
0 Star. Did Not Finish.



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff














Title: Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
Author: Mitchell Zuckoffx 
Year: 2011
Page: 400
Genre: Non-Fiction - History

FTC Disclosure: Free ARC from HarperCollins in x

Summary (from goodreads.com):
On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over Shangri-La, a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton's bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. 


Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend's shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside--a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor's diary, a rescuer's journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio--dehydrated, sick, and in pain--traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives; remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.


First Sentence:
On a rainy day in May 1945, a Western Union messenger made his rounds through the quiet village of Owego, in upstate New York.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • While history books aren't usually my genre, this one promised to read like a fast-paced adventure fiction. Besides, my husband would really enjoy this one since he loves reading about wars, so I thought this would be a good contender for our "read aloud" together (me reading it out loud to him as he prefers audio and I prefer prints)
First thought:
  • I am just glad I wasn't on that plane...
Cover Art:
  • I have an ARC so my cover was actually the second picture posted (the green one). I actually prefer this version over the one that got released (the more orange one) because of the jungle. I still think the cover could be a bit more attractive - maybe an actual picture of Shagnri-La / Baliem Valley and/or the natives?
Title:
  • Fitting, interesting and concise
Writing:
  • Easy to read, with a subtle sense of humor (when appropriate). 
Plot:
  • The author had conducted extensive research for this book and it showed - not just the event, but the different characters mentioned in the book too. Because of that, sometimes it got side-tracked a bit (e.g. by providing the background of a non-key-but-not-too-minor characters). We read this book together over a couple of months due to our schedule, and sometimes I had to think back about what happened or whom that person was.
  • The story was engaging though as we really wanted to find out what happened - did they beat the odds? If so, how? 
Characters:
  • We really got a sense of whom the main characters were - especially since we got read some of their diary entries. 
  • It was really interesting to read about the natives, and the perceptions and/or assumptions from both sides. I had always been fascinated by cultural differences so I really enjoyed reading this part. I am a little sadden about how they turned out as reported in the epilogue. 
  • There were quite a lot of people mentioned in the book - some played a bigger part than others. I guessed the author just wanted to acknowledge them, and documented their role in the story. I was particularly glad he played special tributes to the paratroopers, especially the medics  - they deserved the kudos.
  • It wasn't until we finished the book that I found a list of all characters at the end of the book! Would have been better if the list was placed in the beginning of the book so I knew it was there to start with! Typically I tried not to flip to the back of any books in case I read the ending by accident...
Ending:
  • I was pleased the author included an epilogue.
Emotion:
  • I couldn't imagine having to go through what the main 3 characters went through. There definitely were some touching moments, especially when it came to McCollom - he was so young and yet so mature
What I Learned:
  • I didn't know about Dutch New Guinea and its involvement in WWII. Definitely learned quite a few new things in this book!
PS:
  • The husband enjoyed this book as I predicted. I asked him how he'd rate out of 5 stars. He wouldn't give me an answer as he hates rating things (and I ask him to rate things a lot lol)
Read this Author again?
  • Yes!

Quote:
Margaret described a lesson she carried with her from the valley. "Fear is something I don't think you experience unless you have a choice. If you have a choice, then you're liable to be afraid. But without a choice, what is there to be afraid of?You just go along doing what has to be done." (p316)

Overall Rating:
4 Stars.









All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

3 Did Not Finish this month so far?!?! And Interesting Book Cover

This May alone, I already gave up on 3 books (The Lens and The Looker, So Much Pretty and The Good Patient). Almost 300 pages of wasted reading. Could've finished another book by now!

Saw this book, Bella Maura, on the library shelf the other day. What an intriguing design! I didn't end up borrowing the book because I want to finish what I have already borrowed first... Seen any interesting book covers lately?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Book Review - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley














Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) 
Author: Alan Bradley  
Year: 2009
Page: 374
Genre: Fiction - Murder / Mystery / Thriller / Suspense

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”


First Sentence:
It was as black in the closet as old blood.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I have read lots of good reviews about this book, but for some reasons it never really called out to me. However, Tea Time with Marce's review convinced me to give it a try! We may not always have the same taste in books (e.g. I really like the Hunger Games, and she doesn't) but I trust her honest reviews.
First thought:
  • How adorable is Flavia!
Cover Art:
  • It's okay, not something that'd attract me on the shelf. I found the international covers (see this link) and I think my favorite is the Russian cover, followed by the Germany one. My least favorite is the UK paperback version. How boring!!
Title:
  • For some reasons this title reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Maybe because they both had "pie" in the title?! This book has a slightly better title though - at least I can remember the full title (sometime).
Writing:
  • It took a bit of getting used to the writing style. What happened in the first chapter confused me a little, but I am glad I read past it to finish the book!
Plot:
  • The mystery plot was a little weak, compared to the other books in the same genre. I don't know if that's because the main protagonist is a child, so that the plot can't be too complicated?
  • Parts of the story was a little slow...
Characters:
  • That's where the book really shone - Flavia was definitely a memorable characters! It reminded me a bit of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series - I thought the plot was just okay (I read the first bookonly, watched all 3 movies), but Lisbeth, like Flavia, is not your run of the mill characters.
  • Flavia also reminded me of myself a little - I liked science, I just wish I was good at it like Flavia was! And of course I liked the solving mystery part too, I remember enjoyed reading this genre even when I was a kid. Well, I think I treat my sisters a bit better than Flavia did with hers :)
  • All the other minor characters had their own personalities too.
Ending:
  • It was okay. I don't remember much but I remember not hating it.
Emotion:
  • It was fun to read about a fun character!
What I Learned:
  • I need a good balance of good characters and good plot! I think that's why I like Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhythm's series so much - you get a sense of whom Lincoln is, and yet he has brilliant twists and turns. I like that he providers the more technical and scientific details of forensic science (some people find it boring, but I like to learn such stuff! I wanted to be a CSI, except I suck at chemistry and biology and well, biochemistry!) Another thing I like about this book is its chemistry reference - I like learning about such elements even though I don't remember any of it. I am a nerd who can't remember the nerdy details :)
PS:
  • I am glad I read this even though I don't quite know what to expect of it!
Read this Author again?
  • While I am not running out to borrow the rest of the series right away (due to its weaker plots), I think this is a series I'd turn to when I want a lighter read, or when I want something to get me out of reading funk - something familiar, something I'd enjoy (at least Flavia and her little quirks) while it's something I haven't read before and can be surprised. 
  • Have you read the rest of the series? What do you think? Is it worth going out to read now, instead of later "when I feel like it?"
Quote: 
Once I had taught myself to make sense of the chemical equations... the universe was laid open before me. It was like having stumbled upon a recipe book that had once belonged to the witch in the wood. (p9-10)

Mediocrity, I discovered, was the great camouflage, the great protective coloring. (p180)

Silence is sometimes the most costly of commodities. (p219)


Overall Rating:
3.5 Stars.



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
















Title: The Sugar Queen 
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Year: 2008
Page: 276
Genre: Fiction - Magical Realism

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):

In this irresistible follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, author Sarah Addison Allen tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother…

Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life—because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding.

Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and—most amazing of all—has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush.

As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time—even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place—and what Chloe has to do with it all—is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.


First Sentence:
When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • We are choosing our books for our book club for Aug 2011-July 2012. The librarian hosting the book club gave us a list of choices (some of them are our suggestions... okay a lot of them are MY suggestions :p). One book that caught my eye was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. I have never heard of her before, but that book sounded intriguing even though it's not my usual type of books. I did a little more research, and found all her books have great reviews. I decided to try The Sugar Queen out instead (so if the book club ends up choosing Garden Spells, I would read it then along with the book club members)
First thought:
  • I think I may have found a new favorite author, even though this is not my usual genre!
Cover Art:
  • I like it but I don't love it. I wish I have a window view like that though!
Title:
  • Sugar? Queen? Sounds like a winning combo! (Though admittedly, I am not really into the whole princessy, royalty thing. It gets your attention though, especially since I have a sweet tooth!)
Writing:
  • Easy to read. No complaints here. Probably not literature standard but hey that's why I am reading this since I am not into literature!
Plot:
  • A bit predictable, but I really like how everything tied together and that took me by surprise.
  • My only other experience with magical realism was The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahren (my review here) and I didn't like it very much because the magic seemed out of place - it was more of a convenience than an integral part of the story. It wasn't explained very well either (okay, maybe you can't really explain magic, but my logical mind needs some type of a resolution or explanation!) So when I read The Sugar Queen, I wasn't quite sure how I'd like the whole magical realism theme but I am glad I gave it a try. Is it plausible? It depends on your belief, but at least the author helped explained how the story went from Point A to Point B.
Characters:
  • The characters are likeable. While I was reading the book, I kept thinking about I wish I could try all the candies that Josie had! It wasn't until later I found out the author had put a list of all the candies in the book on her website here :)
Ending:
  • It was a satisfying ending! Finishing this book was like eating some candies you love :) Just a sweet story. Maybe a bit bittersweet.
Emotion:
  • Good thing we usually don't have much snacks at home or I'd be indulging on candies the whole way through!
What I Learned:
  • Chick-lit is not my genre, but when it is done right like this book, I do enjoy it (okay I don't really know if this book should be classified as chick-lit or not, but it is closer to chick-lit than other genre I read)
PS:
Read this Author again?
  • Yes!

Quote:
"Books can be possessive, can't they? You're walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention. Sometimes what's inside will change your life, but sometimes you don't even have to read it. Sometimes it's a comfort just to have a book around. May of these books haven't even had their spines cracked. 'Why do you buy books you don't even read?' our daughter asks us. That's like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat. For company, of course." (p180)

Overall Rating:
4 Stars. Would have been a bit higher if a bit less predictable.



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

The Heart Knows

My mum lives in a different country, so I haven't been able to celebrate mother's day with her in person in the past 7 years. Of course, you don't just appreciate your mum on this particular day only, but it also doesn't seem right to not celebrate it either (especially when all the other mums get acknowledged!)

I did call her already though since the time zone she lives in is half a day ahead of us. Now, I know I should call more often... I just never really like talking on the phone - if you call me, I'd happy to talk to you, but I hardly ever initiate a call because I don't like to intrude. My mum doesn't email or uses the internet, which is my preferred communication tool, so that lives the phone. Well I suppose I could write her the traditional pen-and-paper letter, or fax, or have the pigeon passes on the message. Yeah, excuses.

I know that she knows that I think about her though. We have a good relationship (not like a tiger mum!) so I do feel guilty being so far away. Since I left for the US 7 years ago, I only got to see my mum (and the rest of my immediate family) last year when my youngest sister got married. It's just a long and expansive trip to travel half the way around the world... modern technology definitely helps some, but still, it's not quite the same.

My mum's mum died when she was only 19 years old. I am very lucky I still have her. I miss her cooking. I miss her sewing (she's a great seamstress and made a lot of our clothes, or alternated them. Now - if my pants are too long? Wear high heels! If the length is just right? Wear flats!). I just miss her period.

I need to tell her that more often. Being a product of eastern and western cultures, I'm so Chinese in that way - not expressing our feelings. There is a Chinese saying, "the heart knows." I probably take it too heart a bit too closely.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. Maybe one day I will understand what it means to be a mother, and would appreciate what my mum does for me even more.

I love you mum.






(I took this picture of my mum probably about 10 years ago now, not long after I got my first SLR camera. FILM camera, remember those?)

PS - I guess I get a dose of what it is like to be a mum when it comes to our 3 cats, I mean, I even speak "Catonese" with them (Cantonese is my first language) - all in their own 3 different dialects too mind you since they all meow differently! I never thought I'd carry on a conversation with my cats. They don't even meow to each other (apart from the occasional hiss)! I hope when I meow I am not promising them something I can't keep!

Book Review - The Lens and the Looker (The Verona Trilogy #1) by Lory S. Kaufman















Title: The Lens and the Looker (The Verona Trilogy #1)   
Author: Lory S. Kaufman
Year: 2011
Page: 336
Genre: Fiction - Young Adult, Dystopian

FTC Disclosure: Tracee, PR Specialist and Virtual Book Tour Coordinator, from Pump Up Your Book contacted me to see if I was interested in reviewing this book for the author's virtual book tour. The author sent me a copy of the book. I was not paid for the unbiased review.

Summary (from goodreads.com):
It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s) have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. But not everything goes to plan.

In this first of a trilogy, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. Hansum almost 17, is good looking and athletic. Shamira, 15, is sassy, independent and an artistic genius. Lincoln, 14, is the smart-aleck. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find his insecurities.

These three “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach. But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices; adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history.


First Sentence:
One of Hansum's earliest memories was of his mother telling him he was just like his name sounded in the old English, handsome. 

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I enjoy reading YA dystopian. I also enjoy some time travel stories. I thought the concept of this book sounds promising since it seems to be a combination of both.
First thought:
  • Not quite what I thought it'd be... I read about 1/3 of the book and gave up...
Cover Art:
  • Not something I'd choose, but I am not really the target audience
Title:
  •  Since I didn't finish the book, I couldn't really comment on it. Though it did make me wonder what it meant by The Lens and The Looker.
Writing:
  • It was a bit choppy for me. Now that I think about it, most YA I read are written by female writers, so may be I am not used to male YA authors' style? I looked back at the books I'd read, I think this book is most similar to Miracle Myx by David Diotalevi (as opposed to say, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher). Miracle Myx didn't really work for me either. 
Plot:
  • The book started off interesting, and I actually enjoyed reading it to find out what happened. That is, up until the part the three main characters got taken to a secondary place. Not a lot happened in 2347, but you got a glimpse of  what the perfect future world looked like (perhaps more will be about the future in the future books since this is a trilogy?). The idea of the History Camp ("learn the lessons so history won't repeat itself") was also quite fascinating, and we learned a bit about making glasses and shopping in the market. However, right after that when the scenery changed, it just didn't hold my interest anymore... to the point I couldn't concentrate on the different characters and such.
Characters:
  • Of the 110+ pages or so I'd read, I didn't get to know the characters much. Sure, you got a sense of their attitude, but it only showed you what they were like "now", not how they came to be they way they were. Perhaps there were more character developments in the rest of the book? Can't say I really liked any of the main characters though until this point. In fact, both Hansum and Lincoln were rather annoying. Shamira was at least a bit more intriguing since it was harder to tell why she was sent to History Camp. 
  • I am guessing the target audience for this book is teenage boys. I think they would identify with the characters more than I do - they way the think, they way they act, the way they talk etc. I don't have much contact with teenagers, so it is difficult for me to put myself into their mindset
Ending:
  • Obviously I don't know...
Emotion:
  • Ah, once again, I'm feeling old when reading this YA (even though I'm in my early-mid thirties... I'd like to think I'm not THAT old yet... though sometimes my body tells me otherwise ha!)
What I Learned:
  • While I prefer plot-driven story than character-driven ones, I still need some good characters. I think the Hunger Games is a good example - the plot is exciting, but I care about the characters too.
PS:
  • There are many good reviews out there about this book, so don't let my "did not finish" status deter you from reading it yourself! I mainly read adult books, with a few YA here and there, so I am probably not the best judge for YA books. I definitely read YA books from an adult's perspective, as opposed to say, I read YA books to see if it's suitable to put into the high school library, or evaluating its suitableness my (non-existent) teenage children.
Read this Author again?
  • Depends... but won't be reading this trilogy.



Overall Rating:
0 Star. Did Not Finish. (Probably just me)



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Updates

  • Am about to watch the last Stieg Larsson's movie - The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (haven't read the book). 
  • Has anyone watched Water for Elephant? Is it better than the book? I don't know if I agree with the casting, but will reserve my judgment until I watch it (probably will wait for the DVD though - just like reading, I hardly re-watch movie, and I like that DVD has special features!) 
  • Have you heard about the controversy about Three Cup of Tea? I am still trying to process the info (reading Three Cup of Deceits). I have to admit my initial reaction is disappointment... but I will wait to write about it until I can make up my mind. 
  • Work is still keeping me busy... and it better warms up here soon! We had a couple of nice days with sun shining in April, but the rest of the month had been chilly (and snowed in one day?!) Makes such a difference when you wake up to a sunny day. It holds such promises. 
  • Can't believe it's May already! So many books I want to read (just got a bunch of much anticipated books from the library, like 13 rue Therese, I am not a Serial Killer, Two Kisses for Maddy, The Weird Sisters and So Much Pretty - why do all the reserved books have to come in at the same time?) and so many other things I want to do (editing my personal photos from the last 5 years! cleaning up the house, decorate the house, going on day trips in small towns nearby when the weather is nicer...) and so many things I need to do (get 8 hours sleep, exercise, eat healthier and learn to cook so I can better control what we eat...) Okay I need to stop depressing myself! :)

    Book Review - The Shepherd by Ethan Cross














    Title: The Shepherd 
    Author: Ethan Cross 
    Year: 2011
    Page: 326
    Genre: Fiction - Murder / Mystery / Thriller / Suspense

    FTC Disclosure:
    Tracee, PR Specialist and Virtual Book Tour Coordinator, from Pump Up Your Book contacted me to see if I was interested in reviewing this book for the author's virtual book tour. The author sent me an autographed copy of the book. I was not paid for the unbiased review.

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Marcus, a former New York City homicide detective, uses his abilities to protect others, while Ackerman uses his gifts to inflict pain and suffering. When both men become unwilling pawns in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of our government, Marcus finds himself in a deadly game of cat and mouse trapped between a twisted psychopath and a vigilante with seemingly unlimited resources. Aided by a rogue FBI agent and the vigilante's beautiful daughter--a woman with whom he's quickly falling in love--Marcus must expose the deadly political conspiracy and confront his past while hunting down one of the most cunning and ruthless killers in the world.

    First Sentence:
    Jim Morgan watched as reflections of the patrol car's flashing lights danced across the front window of the remote gas station.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • The premise sounded like another book I had read - Edge by Jeffery Deaver which I really enjoyed. I wanted to see how this book would compare to Edge since I like cat-and-mouse psychological thrillers, and "shepherd" was a term used in Edge also.
    First thought:
    • Not bad for a first time author! Though the concept is really nothing like Edge.
    Cover Art:
    • It is too busy for my liking. I guess it conveyed that it is an action-packed book.
    Title:
    • Fitting
    Writing:
    • It is a pretty fast read, which I appreciate in a thriller
    • The transition between chapters (or within the chapters sometime) could be a bit smoother, at times it was a little awkward. For example, a chapter may have ended "here", but the next chapter would start "10 minutes" before where the last chapter ended (well, okay maybe not exactly 10 minutes, but I hope it made sense).
    Plot:
    • Full of plot twits and I liked that I didn't see the ending coming which is great! If you read this genre a lot, plots can get predictable. 
    • As I was reading, I had some questions about the relationship between certain characters, and I am glad those were all answered except one. But the unanswered one was mentioned in a dialog between another two characters - I have a feeling that this is the first book of a series, so this question may be answered in a future story.
    Characters:
    • The two main protagonists are quite interesting with their inner struggle between good and evil. I wish Ackerman's past was elaborated a bit more as it was a fascinating concept. Perhaps another book?
       
    • There were quite a lot of other characters which could get a bit confusing. I almost forgot whom one of the minor characters was when she/he appeared near the end since she/he first was introduced in the early chapter.
    Ending:

    • I liked how it ended, but it definitely set up for a second book. At least it wasn't a cliffhanger like the final episode of a TV series!
    Emotion:
    • Even though I thought this book would be similar to that of Edge, the two stories were not alike at all. Edge has more strategies which I really liked, it almost was a "step by step" to show how to catch the killer. This book explored more the concept of what made a person good or evil (but is not a character-driven book)
    What I Learned:
    •  I still like plots with lots of twists that I can't guess :)
    PS:
    • Perhaps it is not fair to compare a first time author to a veteran like Jeffery Deaver. I did like Edge a bit more because of the strategic development (I like the "technical" explanations Deaver usually has in his books). I gave Edge 4 Stars, so I will give this book 3.5 Stars (might be 3.75 if the chapter transition was a bit smoother). I am a critical scorer though - only a really life-changing book would get a 5 Stars and it is very rare. Even if it's just inspiring but not life-changing because I didn't take any action, it is still not 5 Stars for me.
    Read this Author again?
    • If there is a sequel, probably would read to find out what happens next.

    Quote: x

    Overall Rating:
    3.5 Stars



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

    Book Review - Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua














    Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother 
    Author: Amy Chua
    Year: 2011
    Page: 237
    Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir, Family

    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua's iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way-the Chinese way-and the remarkable results her choice inspires.

    Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:
    • have a playdate
    • be in a school play
    • complain about not being in a school play
    • not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
    • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
    • not play the piano or violin

    The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin.

    Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:

    "According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:

    1. Oh my God, you're just getting worse and worse.
    2. I'm going to count to three, then I want musicality.
    3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!"

    But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices-the exacting attention spent studying her daughters' performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons-the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting- and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.


    First Sentence:
    A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • Like most people, I first became aware of this book because of the Wall Street Journal article. I think one of my friends posted it on facebook. And then, my husband emailed me about it. I thought, hey it would be a great "read aloud" choice for us (I will read the book aloud to my husband since I prefer print and he prefers audio, even though I am no where near a professional reader). I was hoping there will be more understanding between us because I am Chinese, and he is not.
    First thought:
    • I think the title of the WSJ article is a bit misleading, but it definitely attracted a lot of attention (what, almost 8800 comments on that article alone, let along elsewhere online!)
    Cover Art:
    • The red square looked like a Chinese Stone Chop / Stamp (see examples on google) so I think it is fitting. At least they didn't try to dry a tiger with the author's face on it or something
    Title:
    • The "Tiger Mother" part is catchy (though I keep forgetting the "Battle Hymn" part when I mentioned this book). The downside is, if I now do anything remotely like the tiger mum (being strict and stick to the principles or things, or that "the Chinese way is better"), my husband would call me tiger wife instead... sigh.
    Writing:
    • The writing is engaging. Even though it takes me longer to read the book out loud than I would have just read it silently, we finished the book in 3 settings.
    • Her writing is not perfect, and she used "for example... firstly... secondly..." a lot throughout the book. I didn't know if it's because I read it aloud that I became more aware of word choices, but she seemed to used some words repeatedly like infuriate, exasperation and virtuous
    Plot:
    • The books is full of different examples. The stories flowed smoothly
    • While the chapters about the author's younger sister were touching, but I wasn't sure how they fitted into the book exactly? It is almost as though she included them just to pay tribute to her sister. If she wanted to show that her own parents brought up their 4 daughters the Chinese way just fine, then why not included more about the other two sisters
    Characters:
    • Let's just say I am glad I am not the author's daughter :) While I don't agree with a lot of what she did, I don't hate her. At times I wonder if what she chose to do is really in her daughters' best interest, or for her own pride. But I guess since I am Chinese, I can see where she is coming from. While my Chinese parents aren't anywhere near as strict (my dad more so than my mum), there are definitely some similar parenting elements. If that was the way the author was brought up, and being a perfectionist that she seems to be, it is easy to see why she continues this parenting style to the extreme. 
    • I really would like to hear what her husband had to say. Too bad that they took out the parts about him (I think he asked to have the parts removed)
    • I definitely identified with Sophia, but I wish I could be more like Lulu! Interesting, Sophia wrote an article about her mum, after all the controversies arose. I wonder what Lulu had to say. It would be interesting to see what parenting style Sophia and Lulu would choose if they have children in the future
    • The author reminded me somewhat of Andre Agassi's dad (as mentioned in his memoir, Open)
    • Sometimes I wonder, why the author didn't learn to play the piano or the violin herself? :)

    Ending:
    • I liked how it ended. I don't want to give spoilers, but it tied up a few loose ends.
    Emotion:
    • I started learning the piano when I was about 4 or 5. Made me wonder if I could have been a better pianist if my parents had pushed me harder. But I remember not liking practicing and wishing my parents wouldn't push so hard already (even though they weren't anywhere as strict as the author). I guess it is true that sometimes it is not until you are older, you start to see why your parents did what they did. 
    What I Learned:
    • My parents really aren't that strict :) Well, not for everything anyway! 
    • I think since I'd been living in a western country since I was a teenager, I could see the best and bad sides of both cultures. I guess if I ever become a parent, I just have to choose the best practice :)
    PS:
    • I think it helped my husband understood where I am coming from sometimes. Though I I did tell him if I ever become like the author (that extreme), stop me! The book definitely sparked some interesting conversations between us, so that's a bonus.
    Read this Author again?
    • Yes

    Quote:

    "Be modest, be humble, be simple," my mother used to chide. "The last shall come first." What she really meant of course was, "Make sure you come in first so that you have something to be humble about." (p24)

    What Chinese parents understand is the nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. . . . Once a child starts to excel at something... he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. (p29)

    My goal as a parent is to prepare you for the future -- not to make you like me. (p49)

    But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't. (p62)

    Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away. (p63)

    Overall Rating:
    4 Stars.



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

    Book Review - Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott













    Title: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year 
    Author: Anne Lamott 
    Year: 2005
    Page: 251
    Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir, Family

    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    It’s not like she’s the only woman to ever have a baby. At thirty-five. On her own. But Anne Lamott makes it all fresh in her now-classic account of how she and her son and numerous friends and neighbors and some strangers survived and thrived in that all important first year. From finding out that her baby is a boy (and getting used to the idea) to finding out that her best friend and greatest supporter Pam will die of cancer (and not getting used to that idea), with a generous amount of wit and faith (but very little piousness), Lamott narrates the great and small events that make up a woman’s life.

    First Sentence:
    I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • I read Caroline Bookbinder's review and thought it sounded fantastic. Some of you might remember we don't have any children. We're still deciding whether we want any. I thought I'd read some motherhood books to learn more - it is probably the biggest decision one has to make and I want to make sure we make an informed decision (the last thing I'd want is to bring a child into this world and find out I hate being a mum or that I am unfitted to be one)
    First thought:
    • Fast read, but I can't finish it!
    Cover Art:
    • Could have been cuter (the design, not the photos)
    Title:
    • Clear enough what it is about
    Writing:
    • It is a small book, and before I knew it, I was about half way through. BUT the writing didn't engage me and even though it probably wouldn't take me long to finish, I just was not interested enough to finish it (stopped at p131)
    • It wasn't until afterward I realized that she also wrote Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (okay, on the cover of this book it did say Bird by Bird on it, but somehow I failed to see it). I read that a few years back before blogging days. And guess what? I couldn't finish that one either. That was just something about the voice that I didn't like. And I think the same could be said about this book. Her books have A LOT of good reviews, but I guess her writing voice and my reading style just don't mash. I gave her a second chance unknowingly, and so I think I am not biased.
    Plot:
    • The book started off interesting enough, but then it got too whiny, it talked more about hating a certain political party (and I am apolitical so it is not like she's offending my political party), lack of a husband...
       
    • Even though human have a tendency to get nosy about other people's life (we probably all have a degree of voyeurism - hey that's what gossips are for right? And look at all the reality TV shows!), and I like books in diary format, I just don't care about what happened in this book
    Characters:
    • I don't remember much about her son at all and the author just came off as bitter
    • Some reviews said the author is funny, but I guess we have different sense of humor (though I always thought I have a weird sense of humor so it's probably just me) 
    Ending:
    • Since I didn't finish it I can't tell you!
    Emotion:
    • Isn't it ironic, I am whinging about not liking a whiny book
    What I Learned:
    • Despite A LOT of people enjoy this author's work (this book or others), I just don't like what I don't like
    PS:
    • I have to say, the quote I mentioned below, is something I'd said similarly about our youngest cat Sesame. If he isn't so cute, it's hard to get over all the naught stuff he does (yeah I know, it sounds so superficial but it's the truth. Hard to stay mad at him when he crooks his head to the side and looks down as though he is apologetic)
    Read this Author again?
    • I doubt it.

    Quote:
    I've decided the reason Sam's so gorgeous is that God know that I wouldn't have been able to fall in love with this shitting and colicky little bundle if he looked like one of those ET/Don Rickles babies. p20

    Overall Rating:
    0 Star. Did Not Finish



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.