Sunday, March 15, 2015

An eclectic mix of books

I've read or listened to a variety of books recently. Many of them pretty good.

Because I Said So by Ken Jennings
In this book, by the former Jeopardy champion, we learn whether any of the advice and warnings our parents told us as kids is actually true. These include, whether walking around barefoot will give you worms (not in this country), whether walking around sucking on a lollipop is dangerous (probably not), dangers of adulterated Halloween candy (no actual documented cases), and many, many others. This was a fun book, read by Jennings. I enjoyed it, and probably learned a few things.

Inhuman by Kat Falls
This is a young adult dystopian novel. I hadn't read any for a while, and I like other books by Kat Falls, so I thought I’d give it a try. A biological disaster involving combinations of animal DNA causes many people either to die or become part animal or Feral. A giant wall is built around the one part of the country where the people are still safe. Lane finds out she has possibly been exposed to the virus because a family member has traveled to the Feral Zone. To save him, and herself, she’ll have to go there and complete a mission for a desperate government official.

This was a clever book, and well done. Violent and gross and sad, sometimes. The biggest problem I had with it was that the person who caused the biological disaster is still the most powerful person in the country. It seems like somebody would have thrown her in jail. I enjoy this sort of book because ordinary people have to find out if they can be heroic.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett
This book was great. One night, in Queen Victoria’s London, a tosher (someone who wanders the sewers looking for valuables that have been washed down the drain) named Dodger saves a girl who is being beaten as she tries to escape a carriage. While trying to help this girl, and avoid an international incident, Dodger meets a lot of famous characters, both real and imaginary, including Charlie Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. Pratchett called this book historical fantasy, because he took some liberties with the lives of some of his historical figures to fit the plot. The book is dedicated to Mayhew who spent time interviewing the poor people of London in an effort to bring attention to their plight and show their humanity. It was well written, and enjoyable, if occasionally a little far-fetched. This was a Printz Honor Book, and I would highly recommend it.

The House at World’s End by Monica Dickens
This is a sweet book about a family and their ever-growing collection of animals written by Charles Dickens’ great granddaughter. The children of an eccentric family get sent to live with an uncle, who doesn't like them very much, after the family home burns down and their mom breaks her back trying to save one of them from the fire. After building a boat in the kitchen, their father is on a sailing trip around the world, so he can’t look after them. The uncle has an old broken down inn that someone gave him as payment for some plumbing work. The children love it, and decide to fix it up and live there. I don’t think anyone would have really let a group of children live in a house by themselves, but other than that, it was a nice story and the first in a series of four books.

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes
I recently listened to this book, and it took a long time. It was about 29 hours, at least a 500-page book. So it’s really not something you can sit and read in a day. At times it was difficult, because I don’t have a background in nutritional science or medicine, and it was not dumbed-down to make it one of the many popular food and diet books you see covering the shelves.

Taubes spent five years researching and writing this book. He reviews about a century’s worth of nutrition research to show just how we got to our current nutritional dogma that fat is bad and causes heart disease and obesity, and carbohydrates are good. Initially, I found this book a little depressing, because a lot of what we now consider nutritional truth is based on biased, bad, or misinterpreted experiments and bullying. The bullying came in when leaders in the field worked to discredit those whose findings disagreed with current theories. The book got easier the further I went as I got used to the vocabulary and gained knowledge of the subject. I liked this book so much and was so convinced by the argument it laid out, that I've actually begun to change the way I eat. I also bought his sequel, which lays out the same information in a shorter-easier format.

Cave of Wonders by Matthew J. Kirby and Behind Enemy Lines by Jennifer A. Nielsen
These are a couple of installments in the middle-grade Infinity Ring series. I listened to them. They’re fun kids’ books that incorporate history, adventure and time travel. What’s not to like about that?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What I Read in February (Laurie)

I am still reading a lot of kid literature, but I also managed a couple YA books and a grown-up read last month.  Here's what I read in February:

Middle-Grade Books

Double-Dog Dare, by Lisa Graff  (300 p.)
This was a cute book about a dare war between a boy and girl who both want to win the position of newscaster for their media club.  In the process, they learn a lot about empathy and friendship.

All The Answers, by Kate Messner (257 p.)
A girl is surprised to find that a pencil she found in the kitchen drawer has the ability to answer factual questions.  All she has to do is write the question down and a voice tells her the answer.  The pencil helps calm her anxiety and her build her confidence, but she also finds it gives her more information than she really wants.

Young Adult Book

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley(322 pages)
This is a very sweet story about a brother and sister who go to live in the country during the evacuation of London in World War II.  Nine-year-old Ada is happy to have escaped her abusive mother, who hates her because of her club foot.  She and her younger brother move in with Susan Smith, a woman who initially seems not to want them, but with whom they develop a close bond.

The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda (309 p.)
Ash is on vacation in India with his aunt and uncle and gets himself involved in a dangerous battle again evil Rakshashas (demons) who hope to reclaim their power.  This a fantasy adventure with some gory descriptions and details, but it's a great read for those who like that sort of thing.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (353 p,)
This book has won a number of awards, and after I read it, I understood why.  Woodson has such a beautiful gift for capturing life in words.  The book is her memoir told in verse.  

Grown-up Book

Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers, by Alexander McCall Smith
This book is the latest in the 44 Scotland Street series.  It's a fun series revolving around various characters whose lives occasionally intersect based on connections from their building at 44 Scotland Street.  Bertie is a young boy whose mother is determined to raise him gender neutral, yet who is desperate to do all the boyish things his mother abhors.  He's an endearing, lovable character around whom the series seems to revolve, though there are many storylines going on.  I love this series and always look forward to the next installment.


One Small Hitch (2015)
Sometimes I just get in the mood for a good romantic comedy, so I decided to give this one a try.  It was a cute story about a guy who convinces his best friend's younger sister to act as his fiancee to make his dying father happy.  It had a very predictable ending, but the happy ending is what we want in a romantic comedy, right?

Mockingjay part 1 (2014)
I enjoyed the Hunger Games series, so I've been watching the movies as they come out.  I think they do a pretty good job sticking to the books when they make the films.  I enjoyed this one and look forward to the next.

X-Men, Days of Future Past (2014)
My son and I were both home with colds this week, so we watched this. We also watched Big Hero 6, and we liked that too.  Sometimes watching movies is good medicine.

What are you reading?  Would love to hear your recommendations!