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2021 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (4)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut (1)
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia
- Hawaii (1)
- Idaho
- Illinois (4)
- Indiana
- Iowa
- Kansas
- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine
- Maryland (1)
- Massachusetts (1)
- Michigan (1)
- Minnesota (1)
- Mississippi
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (1)
- New Hampshire (1)
- New Jersey (1)
- New Mexico
- New York (3)
- North Carolina (1)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (6)
- Oklahoma
- Oregon
- Pennsylvania (1)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina (1)
- South Dakota
- Tennessee
- Texas (1)
- Utah (1)
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (3)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin
- Wyoming (1)
- *Washington, D.C.

Australia (2)
Canada (3)
England (6)
France (1)
Ireland (1)
Switzerland (1)
The Philippines (1)
Wales (1)

My Progress:

28 / 51 states. 55% done!

2021 Fall Into Reading Challenge

My Progress:

0 / 24 books. 0% done!

2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
(Hosted by Yours Truly!)

My Progress:

6 / 25 books. 24% done!

2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge

My Progress:

32 / 50 books. 64% done!

Booklist Queen's 2021 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

35 / 52 books. 67% done!

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

2021 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

The 52 Club's 2021 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!
Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't Delay - Sign Up for My Giveaways TODAY

Today is the last day to enter the giveaway for Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison (to see my review and enter the contest, click here). The response has been great for this one. If you haven't entered yet, do so before midnight. I'll draw a name first thing tomorrow morning. I'm so excited to see who gets to take this one home.

You've got a couple more days until the giveaway for Andy Andrews' The Noticer (click here to see my review and enter the contest) ends. Enter by midnight on the 3rd, and I will draw a name on the morning of May 4. Good luck!

Lloyd Watts' Money Guide A Good Place to Start

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With the U.S. economy crumbling around us, it's no wonder everyone has money on the brain. We all want to know how to get it, how to keep it, and how to use it most wisely. Even those with money in the bank are creating budgets, forgoing large purchases and begging their penny-pinching, coupon-clipping, frugal-minded friends for tips We all want to know how to survive, let alone thrive, in this down economy.

Lloyd Watts, PhD, who is the Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Audience, Inc., which he began in 2000, has the answers. Not only does he know how to generate wealth, but he describes the process in simple, straightforward language that even the most financially clueless person (me) can understand. Basically, his philosophy involves keeping living expenses low and using money to invest in things which generate passive income. This way, you no longer have to rely on job income. He suggests spending less than you make; paying a percentage of your salary into an investment account; using funds in the investment account for things that will generate passive income; and delaying instant gratification in favor of long-term financial independence, among other methods. He also advocates cutting up credit cards and getting away from the "Piggy Bank and Allowance" idea, which basically teaches us to save until we have enough for a coveted item, then spend all our money on that product. His idea is that investing in our financial future means that not only can we enjoy a more peaceful existence, but also that we can use our resources to give back to our communities by fulfilling our "higher purpose."

Although Watts says that managing time works much in the same way as managing money, he doesn't spend nearly enough space explaining how. His rushed advice basically boils down to use a planner. So, while I was thrilled with his money advice (which makes so much sense, even to me), I was disappointed with the measly section on time management.

All in all, I found The Flow of Time and Money to be an excellent overview of how to manage money wisely in order to create a stable financial future. For those already versed in the subject, the book may be too simplistic. For me, however, it provided a quick, clear introduction to managing, investing and generating income. I wanted the same kind of advice on time management, but ended up disappointed with Watts' rush-rush treatment of the subject. So, for the most part, I found this book useful, especially because of the clear, easy-to-understand way that Watts presents his material. If the economy has you down, do what Watts suggests and educate yourself - The Flow of Time and Money is a good place to start.

Grade: B

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Keoni's Big Question Fails To Impress

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I don't review a lot of picture books, but when I do, I judge them using two criteria: (1) Will the book interest my kids? and (2) Is it the kind of book I could read to them over and over and over (which is the mark of a good story around here) without going completely nuts? Since re-reads drive me crazy, my favorite picture books are those that make the repetition fun, like Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury; Julian, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes; Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault; and almost anything by Dr. Seuss. My kids aren't quite as picky as I am, but they still want bright, fun illustrations; an interesting storyline; and engaging language. So, I have to ask myself, "Are my kids going to like the book?" and "Is this something I could read over and over again without slitting my wrists?"

While Keoni's Big Question by Patti B. Ogden (illustrated by Mary Manning) is a sweet story, I have to say it failed on both accounts. Usually, when I get a children's book in the mail, my kids fight over who gets to read it first. In this case, my 7-year-old took one look at the book and handed it off to her 4-year-old brother. I later retrieved it from the floor of the car, where he had dropped it. Since my kids didn't beg me to read the book to them, I stuck it on my review pile, and didn't think much about it until a couple of days ago.

Of course, I had to give Keoni's Big Question a fair shot. After all, my kids don't always display the best taste (they're too impatient for I'll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch or The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, which makes me laugh 'til I cry, just like it did when I first read it in 4th Grade). So, I read it. The story features a young boy named Keoni who's plagued by a question. A BIG question. A question for which no one seems to have a straight answer. Not his mother, not his pastor, not his Sunday school teacher. One day, when Keoni is fishing with a family friend he calls Old Fisherman, he realizes he has never posed his question to this wise old man. So, he asks, "Can anyone see God?" After witnessing several of nature's miracles, Keoni finally gets his answer.

Like I said, it's a sweet story, but not terribly exciting or original. The illustrations are soft and muted, with an almost Asian (maybe Chinese?) feel to them. I liked them, but I don't think they're bold enough to catch a child's eye. Ogden's writing is dense, not terribly lyrical and probably not engaging enough to keep a child's attention. My kids were less than thrilled, and sadly, so was I. I mean, it's not a bad story, it's just not that interesting. Keoni's Big Question is not one I'm likely to read again ... to the kids or to myself.

Amazon reviewers, once again, disagree with me. You can see their opinions (and 4 1/2 star rating) here.

Grade: C

Mary Higgins Clark: She's A Hard Habit To Break

You know how they say "Old habits die hard?" That seems like the only explanation for why I keep reading books by Mary Higgins Clark. My dad introduced me to the author when I was in junior high, and I couldn't get enough. I'd stay up late, even though I had school the next day, just to see her mysteries through to their heart-pounding conclusions. I still pick up her new books, but I just don't find them that thrilling anymore. Inevitably, the plots are formulaic, the characters are flat as pancakes, and the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Mary Higgins Clark is one of those authors who can sell a book based on her name alone, which seems to mean she no longer really has to try.

The good news is that Clark writes a nice, clean mystery. Murder and mayhem abound, of course, but it's not graphic. Her books never have sex scenes, excessive profanity or the kind of blood-and-guts descriptions that haunt your nightmares. That's why my dad first recommended her, and that's why I still read her despite the fact that her writing abilities seem to be deteriorating with age (She's 81, after all). Or maybe I'm just (gulp!) growing up.

I do have to give Clark props for changing up her formula a little in her newest mystery, Just Take My Heart. The story involves beautiful assistant prosecutor Emily Wallace, who lands the case of her career: Natalie Raines, a beloved Broadway actress, has been found shot in her home, allegedly at the hand of her husband, Gregg Aldrich, whom she was divorcing. Much of the case is based on hearsay - a career criminal, not exactly a concrete witness, says Aldrich hired him to kill Natalie. When the man chickens out of the job, it's supposed that Aldrich took things into his own hands. Despite a lack of evidence, Natalie believes her jailbird client and works hard to convict Gregg Aldrich. The more immersed she gets in the case, however, the more she begins to wonder if she really has the right suspect. Is there someone else out there who has reason to want Natalie dead and Gregg in jail?

The trial isn't Emily's only worry - there's also her weird next-door-neighbor, who seems oddly interested in her comings and goings. Unbeknownst to her, he's got a dangerous obsession that's spiraling out of control. What, if anything, does he have to do with Natalie's murder? And, why does Emily feel such a kinship with an actress she never knew? The answers come fast and furious as the book zooms toward its exciting (though predictable) end.

Like I mentioned, this book follows a somewhat different format than other Clark mysteries, which might make it a little confusing for longtime fans of the author. It basically follows two different storylines (the trial and Emily's problems with her neighbor), and whether they converge or not is part of the mystery. So, the story's a little confusing; it's also pretty predictable, a little farfetched and a bit stale. Clark's all about telling over showing, which makes the writing weak and dull. Her characters could use some serious rounding, and the dialogue definitely needs some spice. Probably the thing that drove me the craziest, though, was the characters' tendency to use each other's names in every sentence, even when only two people were involved in the conversation! Seriously annoying.

On the plus side, this is a mystery you wouldn't be embarrassed to share with your grandmother (mine is a big Clark fan). There may be a hell or a damn in there, but that's it for language. Some violence is involved, but like I said, it's not graphic at all. As far as mysteries/police procedurals go, this is about as tame as you're going to get. Just Take My Heart is pretty predictable, but it's not a horrible read. It's fast-paced and interesting, just not as well-written as I would have liked. I did like this one better than her last effort, however.

So, despite the fact that The Queen of Suspense seems to be losing her touch, I'll keep reading her. Like any habit, this one would be just way too hard to break.

Grade: C-
Sunday, April 26, 2009

If You're Jones-ing for A New Perspective, Look No Further Than The Noticer (With a Giveaway!)

You may have noticed that I don't love inspirational fiction (if you somehow missed this, check out my review of The Christmas Jars by Jason Wright). If an author wants to inspire people, fine, but I prefer that he/she approach it in one of two ways: either write a straightforward, self-help book or weave the message into a story so compelling that I don't know (or don't care) that it's really a sermon. When my oldest son was younger, I often tried to slip educational facts into his daily activities. I must have been obvious, because he would always say, "Stop teaching me, Mom!" I find myself screaming this same sentiment (in my mind, of course) to authors of inspirational fiction - Stop teaching me! Inspire me, please, but don't be so obvious about it.

Still, considering the dismal state of the U.S. economy, global panic over Mexico's swine flu, and constant unrest in many parts of the world, most of us can use a little inspiration in our lives. "Most of us" includes me. So, I agreed to review The Noticer by Andy Andrews, even though inspirational fiction is not exactly my favorite genre. The story revolves around an old man named Jones ("No 'Mr.' Just plain Jones") who has a knack for showing up when people really need him. Around Orange Beach, Alabama, folks count on the wrinkled drifter and the wisdom he imparts. The unassuming Jones explains himself thus:

I am a noticer. It is my gift. While others may be able to sing well or run fast, I notice things that other people overlook. And you know, most of them are in plain sight ... I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That's what most folks lack - perspective - a broader view. So I give them that broader view ... and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again (6).

Jones' observations help a grieving homeless man; a couple on the brink of divorce; an unscrupulous builder; a widow whose lost hope; and many more. The sage refuses reward, and often disappear before anyone's had the chance to thank him properly. In fact, he's a bit mystical, appearing here and there, always in the perfect place at the perfect time to help someone in need. An angel, perhaps? No one knows - they only know that his encouragement has helped them gain perspective. And that has changed their lives.

Now, obviously, Jones' advice is Andrews' way of helping readers gain perspective in their own lives. By "hiding" his message in a story, the author's sermonizing becomes a little bit more palatable, but it still comes off as preachy. In a genre known for one-dimensional characters and too-good-to-be-true outcomes, The Noticer stands out for one reason - Jones. The character comes off as warm, humble and appealing. While the rest of the story is pretty saccharine, it's not as bad as some (Christmas Jars, for instance). Overall, I found it hopeful and yes, inspiring, albeit in a vague sort of way. I didn't love, love, love it like a lot of readers seemed to, but it's definitely the kind of quick, positive read we can all use from time-to-time. Inspirational fiction's still not my genre, but I survived the read thanks to a magical character called Jones.

Grade: B

Along with the book, Andy Andrews has launched a grassroots campaign to encourage people to "notice" the individuals who have been influential in their lives. The book promotes the idea that since our time on Earth is so short, it should be used wisely and unselfishly. The Noticer Project seeks to identify and thank those who take this adage to heart. It's a powerful idea, especially in turbulent times when we tend to focus on our own problems rather than being grateful for those who constantly help, support and care for us. If you want to get involved, check out the website.

If The Noticer sounds like a book you might be interested in, then lucky you - I have 2 copies to give away. Leave a comment on this post "noticing" one person who has made an impact in your life. I will pick a winner on Sunday, May 3 (I have lots more books to give away, so this contest has a short timeline). This giveaway is open to readers anywhere in the world!

Pardon the Pun, but Twilight Just Plain Sucks

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

This week is going to be a fun one at BBB - I'll be drawing a winner for the Taken By Storm giveaway, announcing more giveaways, and I may even have a review or two. But first, I must rant. Hubs and I watched Twilight last night - oh boy, have I got a few things to say about that! If you adored the movie, you may just want to skip this post. If not, read on ...

So, I know I'm the last woman on Earth to see Twilight. I had plans to see it when it came out, but after hearing friends' mixed reviews, I wasn't sure I wanted to watch it at all, let alone pay astronomical amounts of money for theater tickets. Now that it's out on DVD, though, curiosity got the better of me - hubs brought the movie home last night and we watched. And snickered. And rolled our eyes. And giggled. It was soooo, soooo bad. Honestly, the best part of the movie was the scenery. Of course, I'm Washington born and bred, so I could be a bit biased ...

Perhaps I'm being a bit too critical (Me? Never!), but seriously, the movie was awful. The plot was choppy - I don't know if it would make sense to anyone who hadn't read the books. None of the actors seemed comfortable in their roles - Bella was too serious; Edward too awkward; Jacob too - I don't know - wrong. The relationship between Bella and Edward progressed too fast, and I didn't feel any real chemistry between the two. In fact, all of the actors seemed stiff, cold and melodramatic. The only person in the movie who acted naturally was Stephenie Meyer herself! And as for the dialogue - yikes. Cheese, cheese, cheese.

All you have to do is scroll through this blog to see that I am a Meyer fan. Not a screechy, obsessive, prom dress-wearing, psycho fan, but a fan. I adored Twilight, loved New Moon, and liked Eclipse. True, I haven't quite gotten around to Breaking Dawn (even though it's been sitting on my shelf for months), but I will. Like I said, I'm a fan. Of the books. The movie just didn't capture the drama and passion of the story at all. Not that I'm surprised - in my opinion (be it ever so humble), films rarely do justice to the books on which they're based. There are exceptions, of course (Gone With the Wind comes to mind), but Twilight is soooo not one of them. I did stay awake through the movie, which is saying something since I snoozed through The Dark Knight, Quantum Solace, and every other DVD I've viewed lately, but I think that had a lot more to do with the two glasses of Mountain Dew I drank rather than any magic happening on-screen. Or maybe it was my husband laughing uproariously on the couch next to me. At any rate, I think you get the picture - Twilight (the movie) just plain sucks. And yes, the pun was intended.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Suzy Welch Explains How to Make Your Decision A Perfect 10

If you've read one book about efficiency, chances are it's Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In it, Covey popularized the idea of proactivity - or acting purposefully instead of passively. In 10-10-10, journalist and O Magazine columnist Suzy Welch, introduces a companion idea, a way to think proactively. According to Welch, this simple action can be life-altering.

So, what is 10-10-10 exactly? It's a tool that can help you "forge an intentional life, choice by choice" (29). Okay, how? By using this formula every time you have to make a decision: What consequences will my choice bring in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years? According to Welch, it really doesn't even have to be that literal. Really, "The name of the process is just a totem meant to directionally suggest time frames along the lines of: in the heat of the moment, somewhat later, and when all is said and done" (11). Instead of making snap decisions, Welch suggests thinking them through more carefully. By doing so, we can actually "create who we will become" (49) in the future.

I know, I know - it doesn't seem revolutionary. It's not even terribly original. However, Welch insists that it works and that it has wrought incredible change in people's lives. Don't believe her? She's got examples. Lots of them. Using her own experiences as well as those of friends and clients, she explains how to use 10-10-10 to make proactive decisions in the workplace, in romantic relationships and in parenting situations. The idea encourages action over procrastination, deliberate choice over trusting one's gut, and acting with the future in mind instead of focusing just on the present. In other words, "The process empowers us to override the counterproductive tendencies of our own minds. It helps us help ourselves" (34).

By the last 1/3 of 10-10-10, I felt that Welch had analyzed a simple concept to death. However, because her voice is so appealing, the book never became boring. Her style is conversational, real, and funny. She admits mistakes, laughs at herself and generally makes you feel as if you're chatting with a good friend who happened to stumble on a rather bright idea. I would "10-10-10" with her anytime. If the book had been written by anyone else, I may not have found it so enjoyable. As is, I'm glad I read it - 10-10-10 is quick, enlightening and fun. Revolutionary? No. Enjoyable? Absolutely. You don't need to examine this decision too closely - just read the book already.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Environmentally Irresponsible? Ecologically Clueless? Celebrate Green! Offers Earth-Friendly Tips

(Image from Amazon)

First off, Happy Earth Day! I like the idea of this holiday, even though I'm really a very irresponsible person, environmentally speaking. I mean, I don't buy organic (too expensive); I don't pack my groceries in reusable shopping bags (it would take about 50 to hold food for my family of 6); I drive a gas guzzler (I have 4 kids and a monster stroller to tote around, after all); and I used aerosol hairspray on my son just the other day (in my defense, I think this was my first aerosol use since drenching my hair with Aquanet in junior high). Last summer, I stayed at a lodge owned by a very environmentally-conscious family. The kitchen boasted at least 10 different trash receptacles with a dozen handwritten signs explaining where each piece of garbage needed to go. This stressed me out to the point that I literally froze for 10 minutes before throwing anything away, lest I should mar Mother Earth by placing a plastic bottle in the wrong receptacle. I care about the environment, make no mistake, but it's not my first priority. I simply don't have the time or the energy to stress out about every piece of garbage I toss away. Now, before the lynch mob arrives on my doorstep, I have to say that I do recycle (religiously); I sided with the animal rights people over the whole spotted owl debate (at least until I got spooked by a commercial about Washington hamlets becoming ghost towns without the logging industry); I turn off lights when I'm not using them (saves money); and I eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream (only because it's an environmentally-responsible company - otherwise, you know I wouldn't touch a pint of Cherry Garcia, being a Weight Watchers groupie and all).

Considering all this, it might surprise you that I agreed to review a book about how to "green up" the holidays. It surprised me. And while Celebrate Green! by Corey Colwell-Lipson and Lynn Colwell didn't transform me into a composting, tree hugging, all-out Eco Diva, it did make me think. It also gave me simple ideas that I just might implement. After all, as the authors say, "As long as you're taking some steps, however tiny, you're making a difference" (21).

Penned by a mother-daughter team, Celebrate Green! is a manual packed with ideas on how to make your celebrations greener. When I say packed, I mean it - it's a thick book, densely stuffed with ideas. In fact, there's so much information that it's overwhelming. Thankfully, this isn't the kind of book you have to read cover-to-cover. The authors recommend starting with whatever celebrations interest you and going from there. Conveniently divided into four sections (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), the book gives suggestions for every type of celebration from holidays to weddings to backyard BBQs to family reunions. Each section offers helpful suggestions, recipes, gift ideas, and websites from which the reader can get more information. More environmentally responsible readers may find that they already know this stuff, but I was stunned to learn that Easter eggs can be dyed using vegetables, fruits and spices; some greeting cards can be planted after being enjoyed by the recipient; and using artificial Christmas trees can actually be more harmful for the Earth than real ones.

According to the authors, saving the Earth basically boils down to several key concepts. First, the 3 R's, which every elementary school student can probably recite: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Of these, Reduce is the "Big Man on Campus of the green movement" (94) - reducing means doing less (buying, consuming, wasting) and focusing more on what really matters (health, the people you love, family time, etc.). They also recommend following the 3G's when making decisions: Is it good for people? Is it good for the planet? Is it good for the community? The authors stress that you don't have to do all of them to make a difference. You can start with one and go from there.

For those of you who, like me, tend to shirk your environmental responsibilities, reading Celebrate Green! is going to leave you with some serious guilt. Don't worry - you won't feel guilty about everything, just drinking bottled water; buying gold and diamonds; eating chocolate; enjoying fireworks; hiding gifts inside wrapping paper; watching t.v.; overspending at Chistmas; and eating candy on Halloween (just to name a few). As I've mentioned, the authors emphasize starting small. I think I'll stick with a "moderation in all things" kind of diet, but I can't deny that Celebrate Green! has made me think about all the things I could be doing to care for the Earth. You're not going to see me toting 50 reusable shopping bags to the grocery store or dyeing Easter eggs with spinach, but you just might see me using paper Easter grass or sending more e-cards. After all, as long as I'm taking some steps, however tiny, I'm making a difference.

Grade: A

(For more information, visit Celebrate Green! online.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Crap Economy Got You Down? Find Joy With Sheri Kaye Hoff

Considering current economic woes, I think it's fair to say that people are probably not feeling at their most joyful right now. After all, it's difficult to smile when you're losing your job, your home, and everything else that makes you feel secure. Thus, Keys to Living Joyfully, a new book by life coach Sheri Kaye Hoff comes at an opportune time for anyone who is not feeling exactly joyful right now.

I'm going to be honest with you - you're not going to learn anything you don't already know from Hoff's book. Her methods are familiar - she advocates prayer, meditation, reciting mantras and making gratitude lists among other practices - even cliche. You will find similar techniques in every self-help book ever written. However, as we all know, cliches become cliches because there is truth behind them. So, while the concepts Hoff discusses are not new, it's always good to review them. Hoff does that, infusing the familiar ideas with her own brand of positive, hopeful energy. Her book is especially useful if you want a quick, refresher course and don't have time to commit to big hitters like Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or John C. Maxwell's volumes on leadership.

The one thing from Hoff's book that did make an impact on me is this: "I am responsible for the level of joy that I experience in my life. My circumstances do not create joy, my approach to life and my thoughts about my life contribute to the level or lack of joy in my life" (33). Again, this is not a new concept, but it's such an important thing to remember. I can't tell you how many people I know who look to their spouses, their parents, their possessions or their friends to make them happy. Not surprisingly, these are the least happy people I know. Like Hoff, I believe a person is responsible for their own joy. If they don't have it, she suggests ways to create more "happy" - living in the now, firgiving/forgetting, visualizing a joyful life, and finding your life's passion.

Another thing I thought was really interesting is that Hoff encourages her readers to pay an honest tithe as a step toward acknowledging the abundance they have in their lives, an important key to living more joyfully. This is a concept I often hear recommended from LDS pulpits (and one I wholeheartedly believe in), but I don't think I've ever heard it mentioned in a non-LDS book. Hoff's experience with receiving blessings from paying tithes to her church will ring true for Mormons especially.

All in all, I enjoyed Keys to Living Joyfully. With the exception of tithe-paying, it doesn't really teach anything new, but it does provide a quick, hopeful reminder of ways to cope with the fear and unhappiness that can plague us all. In uncertain times, there is only one thing you can control - you. Sheri Kaye Hoff will remind you how.

Grade: C

Monday, April 20, 2009

Discover Exactly What "Compulsively Readable" Means With Sanderson Epic

(Image from Wikipedia)

In a world where ash falls in constant flurries, soot stains every surface and swirling mists descend nightly, hope has almost ceased to exist. For the kaa people - enslaved to wealthy masters, who beat, rape and kill as often as they feed, clothe and reward - life is especially bleak. As a half-skaa orphan, Vin knows well the life of the downtrodden. Unwilling to submit to a cruel overlord, she has instead chosen a life on the hardscrabble streets of Luthandel. Her unique talents make her useful to the city's criminal bosses. Hardened by her difficult life, Vin is a skittish wraith, who's learnd that everyone has an ulterior motive. In her experience, trust always brings betrayal.

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson introduces us to this frail creature, whose world flips when she encounters a brilliant thief named Kelsier. Vin has known plenty of petty criminals, but Kelsier is different - the scars criss-crossing his arms bear witness to his incarceration in the Pits of Hathsin, a prison from which no one has ever escaped. Until now. There's only one explanation for his survival - Kelsier is a Mistborn, an aristocrat with mystical powers. Only this aristocrat isn't like his comrades. This aristocrat wants to overthrow the Lord Ruler, whose 1,000-year reign has brought his people nothing but misery. Although the terrible ruler has few friends, a rebellion is tantamount to suicide. Rumor has it that the Lord Ruler is immortal. Kelsier's obviously insane, but there's something about him that attracts Vin. Possibly it's only the fact that he offers hope to a world starving for something to believe in; or that he seems like someone on whom she can rely; more likely, it's because he holds powers similar to Vin's own. Joining his crew means Vin might finally be able to understand her own powers. Soon, she has aligned herself with the charismatic leader, for better or worse.

As Vin studies and trains with Kelsier, she's astonished to learn that she, too, is a Mistborn. Like her mentor, she can leap to impossible distances, travel with impressive speed, fight with super strength and more by harnessing the power of Allomancy. Each member of Kelsier's crew is a brilliant allomancer in his own right, but Vin and Kelsier are the only ones with the exceptional powers unique to the Mistborn. Between them and the rest of the crew, battling the Lord Ruler may not be quite the suicide mission they once believed it to be.

The first step of Kelsier's plan involves creating a distraction. To this end, Vin must impersonate a noblewoman to glean insider information. It's a dangerous job - not only must she conceal her powers, but she must also hide her street-sloppy manners beneath layers of jewels and lace. To complicate matters, she's caught the attention of a handsome nobleman and his jealous ex-fiancee. Vin's slow transformation from cowering street urchin to confident Mistborn comes will challenge, frustrate and empower her in ways she never imagined possible.

Despite the Kelsier/Vin Dream Team, overthrowing the Lord Ruler will not be easy. There will be bruises, heartache, despair, even death along the way - can Kelsier & Co. overcome it all and accomplish their mission? Or will the so-called Hero of the Ages lead them all to their deaths? Only a harrowing battle against an impossible evil can decide the outcome.

With vibrant characters, a well-drawn setting, and plenty of action, Mistborn: The Final Empire has it all. It's an epic sci fi/fantasy that will appeal to readers of all stripes. It's a familiar enough quest/coming-of-age story made wholly original by Sanderson's vivid imagination. Although the story starts out a little slow, the characters will make you care enough to stick around; by the 3rd chapter or so, you will have discovered exactly what "compulsively readable" means. I guarantee you'll be flying to your computer to order the other two books in the series. I did. Although Mistborn: The Final Empire lacks the absolute magic of Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, Brandon Sanderson does the genre proud. All hail Mr. Sanderson, a true sci fi/fantasy master.

Grade: A-

Who Ya Gonna Call? How 'bout Teenage Ghostbuster Gilda Joyce?

Jennifer Allison made her way onto my TBR mountain chain (which is actually a color-coded, obsessively-organized Excel file) when I read a review of her first book on Amanda's blog. After one unsuccessful attempt to locate it at my library, I forgot all about the author and her series about Gilda Joyce, a 13-year-old sleuth who uses her psychic abilities to solve mysteries. Then, the librarian at my kids' school asked me to read Allison's sophomore novel and create a test on it for the school's homegrown reading program. Since I hate reading series books out of order, I requested the first book from the library. After a brief wait, I finally had both books in my hands. It took me about a day and a half to speed through them, a half hour to write tests, and a couple minutes to request the next two books from the library. It's always a thrill to find a compelling new series.

That said, I have to warn you that these books are not exactly what they seem. It's a clear case of never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover (or a series by its covers, I guess). That said, I love the cover art on these books - they're whimsical, fun and mysterious in an R.L. Stein, not Stephen King sort of way. Gilda Joyce appears to be a spunky, modern-day Nancy Drew. Based solely on cover art, I thought, "Oooh, good, a new mystery series for my 7-year-old to devour." Um, yeah. After reading a surprising amount of profanity, as well as references to Playboy, antidepressants, infidelity, sadistic hazing rituals, seances, and teenage suicide, I was thanking my lucky stars that I grabbed these books before said 7-year-old found them lying around the house. Considering the subjects covered in YA novels these days, this may sound pretty tame - my problem is that the books are shelved in the children's section, the art makes them look innocent enough for the under 12 set, and promotional materials happily proclaim them to be "For readers of all ages." Now, there's a possibility that I'm being hyper-sensitive and naive (who, me?), but I want to make it clear that I don't recommend the Gilda Joyce series for anyone under 13. Cutesy covers be darned - these books are more sinister than they look.

For us "mature" readers, this is a pretty fun series. Although the stories are not as light-hearted as I anticipated, kooky Gilda provides some serious laughs. She's basically an eccentric combination of Junie B. Jones, Fancy Nancy and Harriet the Spy, which might explain why she seems a bit immature for a 13-year-old. At any rate, Gilda's recently taken up psychic investigation. Whether she realizes it or not, her new fascination with the paranormal has a lot to do with her father, who died of cancer 2 years ago. Now, she spends her time glued to The Master's Psychic's Handbook; donning disguises to spy on suspicious persons; and recording it all on her prized possession - her father's ancient Underwood typewriter. As if chasing ghosts isn't enough of a chore, Gilda's also dealing with an obnoxious older brother; her mother's return to the dating scene; and her best friend's waning interest in all things Gilda. With its quirky narrator, her hilarious hijinks, and even some serious stuff thrown in, this is a series that will appeal to a lot of readers. Just be sure they're old enough to handle it

The series begins with Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator, in which we first come to know (and love) our spunky heroine. Faced with the prospect of another ultra boring summer in ultra boring Michigan, Gilda decides a trip to sunny California is just the thing to up her cool quotient. So, she rattles off a letter to her distant cousin, Lester Splinter, boldly inviting herself to his home even though she has never met the man. Luck is on her side, and she's soon winging her way toward the Pacific Ocean. She's disappointed to spy San Francisco's foggy cloak, but she's thrilled when she sees the Splinters' broody old mansion. Just the sight of it makes her left ear tickle - a sure sign of paranormal activity.

The Splinters - Lester and his teenage daughter, Juliet - are not exactly welcoming. It's from Rosa, the housekeeper, that Gilda first learns about the house ghosts. Most prominent is the ghost of Aunt Melanie, who threw herself out of the fairy tale-like tower that looms behind the mansion. As much as Gilda wants to see the ghost, she can only hear her footsteps as she ascends the tower stairs. Gilda's enthusiasm for ghost busting brings Juliet out of her shell. The lonely girl just wants to be rid of the presence that constantly haunts her.

According to The Master Psychic's Handbook, restless ghosts are usually trying to deliver a message to the living. In this case, Gilda's convinced Aunt Melanie wants the girls to find out what really happened to her. It's her first case, and Gilda's determined to solve the mystery. With outlandish costumes, seances, and superior investigative techniques, she sets about finding the truth.

The sleuth's second escapade, The Ladies of the Lost Lake, takes place closer to home. This time, Gilda's touring a snobby private school, to which she has won a scholarship courtesy of her mother's cheesy new boyfriend. She's not at all sure she wants to abandon her public education until she learns about the ghost. Suddenly, the all girls' school seems a lot more alluring. Never mind the bubble gum-pink uniform, Gilda feels a new psychic investigation coming on!

According to the principal's vampirish assistant, making noise while crossing a campus lake will disturb the ghost of Dolores Lambert, a freshman who drowned in its waters. A tickle in her left ear alerts Gilda that something's not quite right with this tidy little story. Something horrible happened to Dolores, and Gilda won't stop until she figures out exactly what happened.

Once again, Gilda employs her no-fail investigative techniques: colorful costumes for spying; seances for communicating with Dolores; and creeping around places where she really doesn't belong. When she uncovers signs of a disturbing secret among the senior girls, Gilda knows she's getting close to the truth. The more snooping she does, the more danger she senses. Could Dolores' killer be hot on Gilda's trail? And will Gilda's fancy education be in jeopardy when she exposes the school's secrets? How far will she go to pacify the ghost of Dolores Lambert?
My personal favorite is Gilda's third adventure - The Ghost Sonata - since it's a more traditional ghost story. In it, Gilda fanagles a way to hop across the pond with her best friend, Wendy Choy, who has been invited to compete in an international piano competition at Oxford University. While Gilda's happily spending the prize money in her head, Wendy seems less than enthusiastic about the trip. In fact, the normally unflappable Wendy seems downright ... flappable. She doesn't believe in the supernatural the way Gilda does, but she's definitely spooked about nightmares she's been having recently. The creepy feeling hits Gilda, too, when her tarot cards reveal a sinister future for Wendy.
Nevertheless, Gilda can't wait to explore gloomy old England, where she's sure to have ample opportunity for throwing around delicious terms like "park the custard," "gormless," and "knickers." What she doesn't count on is a ghost. A boy her age seems to haunt the piano competiton, revealing his face to Gilda, playing ghostly sonatas at night, and slipping tarot cards with disturbing images under the doors of the pianists staying at creepy Wyntle House.
Wth some help from a cute English pianist and a couple clever disguises, Gilda will get to the bottom of the mystery. It will involve spying on several suspicious persons, traipsing through a graveyard in the rain, and avoiding a constantly-smirking Wyntle House employee. Meanwhile, there's the problem of Wendy Choy - can Gilda solve the mystery quickly enough to shake her friend out of the trance that threatens to destroy any chance of her winning the competition? Clearly, Gilda's "vacation" is going to have this ghostbuster working overtime.
The Dead Drop, Gilda's fourth adventure, comes out on May 14, and guess who's numero uno on the library's waiting list? Yep, that would be me. I'm excited to see where this series will lead. Despite my reservations about its "mature content," I think the series offers fast, appealing mysteries that are surprisingly (and delightfully) spine-tingling. Gilda's colorful personality will appeal to anyone who appreciates fun, spunky characters. Just be aware that the under-12 crowd just might not be ready for the force of nature that is Gilda Joyce, psychic investigator.

Series Grade: B+
All book images are from Jennifer Allison's official website.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Real, Live Author Makes My Day Giveaway

It's not often that I get to meet a real, live author face-to-face, but the other day Angela Morrison showed up on my doorstep. Better yet, she came bearing books - specifically, two brand, spankin' new copies of her first novel, Taken By Storm (if you missed my glowing review, click here). Even though I don't love the cover art, I do love the feel of these glossy hardcovers (ooooh shiny, as Megan would say). One is mine (Thanks for the sweet message, Angela!) and the other is for ... drumroll, please ... one of you!

Before I give you all the details of the contest, let me point out a few things:

- The book is a brand-new hardcover.

- The book is autographed.

- Even though Angela is LDS (Mormon) and one of the novel's main characters is also LDS, this is not an LDS novel. I consider it a clean read, but others might not. You don't have to be LDS to enjoy this one, so don't pass up the chance to own it just because you're not Mormon. Trust me - Taken By Storm is not preachy at all (although it definitely promotes sexual purity, an important element of an LDS lifestyle).

Okay, so here's the nitty gritty: I will draw the name of one winner on April 30. I'm making it easy on you this time - all you have to do is leave a comment on this post to be entered. Blog about it and I'll throw in an extra entry ('cause that's just the kind of nice blogger I am). Good luck!

P.S. The contest is open to all my readers, wherever you are in the world :)

Sisters of Misery A Chaotic Little Creepfest

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

People don't burn witches at the stake anymore, right? Fifteen-year-old Maddie Crane isn't so sure. Ever since her free-spirited aunt and cousin arrived in town, it's like the whole world's gone crazy. Residents of uppity Hawthorne, Massachusetts (just a stone's throw from Salem), resent the California transplants who thumb their noses at propriety by wearing hippie clothes, reading runes and daring to open a magic shop in town. Maddie expects her friends at Hawthorne Academy to embrace her exotic cousin, but her clique takes an instant dislike to Cordelia LeClaire. While her cousin couldn't care less about the girls' rejection, Maddie's perplexed - What do her friends have against Cordelia?

So begins Megan Kelley Hall's Gothic suspense/horror novel, Sisters of Misery. As the story progresses and Cordelia attracts the attention of Hawthorne's menfolk, she's disliked more and more. Maddie's group - a circle of privileged girls who call themselves The Sisters of Misery, because they like to visit Misery Island to party and perform silly rituals - are especially unkind. Kate Endicott, their sadistic leader, makes it clear that Maddie is still welcome in their fold, but her weird cousin is most certainly not. Having seen how cruel her friends can be, Maddie's not even sure she wants to be associated with her so-called Sisters. But, when Kate Endicott beckons, Maddie still comes running. Thus, she and Cordelia find themselves on the island, where a ritual goes horribly wrong. Maddie has only hazy memories of the night, but one thing is for sure - Cordelia has vanished.

The verdict in town is that Cordelia has run away, just like she had before in California. Maddie's unconvinced. She knows something sinister happened out on the island. Wracked with guilt over her (possible) participation in Cordelia's disappearance, Maddie avoids the police and launches her own investigation. What really happened to the ethereal Cordelia? What did she do on all those nights when she claimed to be searching for fairy circles? Most importantly, what really happened that night on Misery Island and why can't Maddie remember? Through flashes of memory and a touch of The Gift that runs in her family, Maddie will piece it all together. The answers she find will be almost as shocking as the questions. And the more she digs up, the more dangerous her little investigation is getting. Will Maddie become the next to disappear?

This Gothic creepfest has all the right elements for a spine-tingling read: an eerie setting, complete with an old Victorian by the sea; ghosts; witchcraft; a secret society; even an old insane asylum. In fact, there are a few too many elements, in my opinion, and the plot has to careen wildly in places to accomodate them all. Speaking of plot: The story lacks originality, but it's still engrossing enough to grab the reader and keep him/her flipping pages. I'll be honest, Hall's writing drove me nuts at times - she does a lot of telling vs. showing, which made for a very one-dimensional story. She says that Maddie and Cordelia grew close, but I never felt a strong bond. She also talked a lot about Maddie and her friends, the Sisters of Misery, but there was no warmth between them to suggest they'd been close since childhood. I don't want to be told something is true, I want to feel that it's true. My big beef with Sisters of Misery is closely tied to this - the story is just so cold. I mean, it's a Gothic mystery/horror story, so it's supposed to be sinister. I get that. But, none of the relationships in the novel had any warmth to them - not those between Maddie and her mother, or Maddie and her friends, or even Maddie and Cordelia. In fact, the majority of the book's characters are mean, selfish people with no redeeming qualities. Maddie's friends, especially, are cruel, self-centered and immoral - the novel gives no explanation as to why in the world she would hang out with them. A lot of the situations Maddie and her friends get into are just downright disturbing - there's lots of profanity, reckless sex, drinking/drug use, apathetic parenting, etc. that I found unsettling. As if this wasn't enough, the book's ending also really annoyed me as it really doesn't resolve anything. Mostly, it just sets things up for a sequel (The Lost Sister, due out in August, which I'm not going to have to add to my TBR pile, darn it). So, there ya go. Plenty of things bugged me about the novel.

On a positive note, I think Hall got the atmosphere right. From Maddie's creaky mansion to the ever moody sea to the town's ghost stories - the setting felt spooky from the beginning. I also thought the use of rune stones/meanings as chapter headings was clever. Although I thought the plot wouldn't surprise me, it actually did. So, despite all my complaints from the last paragraph, I really do think Sisters of Misery has good bones. The story just needs some fleshing out, especially in the characterization department. It's compelling, nonetheless, but I could have put it down at any time. Really. I could have. I swear ...

Grade: B-

Monday, April 13, 2009

Merchant Marine's Tale Not Pretty, But Impactful

The 5th of Alcoholics Anonymous' famous 12 Steps is: Admitt[ing] to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. With The Man Overboard: How A Merchant Marine Officer Survived the Raging Storm of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, I'd say Darryl Hagar has fulfilled that step in a big way. His 604-page memoir recounts in exacting detail just how much harm drugs and alcohol addiction did to him, his family, his career, and everyone around him.

Beginning around the time he entered Marine Maritime Academy, Hagar drank and experimented with drugs. At first, it was to relax, to fit in with his buddies, and to deal with a family crisis. As school became more demanding, however, Hagar turned to cocaine to keep him "up" so he could study as much as he partied. Despite numerous close calls and several demerits, he managed to keep his addictions under enough control to graduate from college. Later, as a Merchant Marine, he was assigned positions on various vessels which took him all over the world. Although work on the ships helped control his urge to drink, offshore trips did the opposite. Furloughs at home were even worse. Hagar managed to accomplish some amazing feats, even while drunk as a skunk or high as a kite, but the idea that resonates most from his book is the deep regret he feels over all that he missed out on and all the damage he caused. The amazing thing is how much didn't happen considering he drove cars, steered boats, hunted and babysat under the influence.

Despite all the ugliness, Hagar's book maintains an upbeat tone. He writes in the honest, straight-forward manner of a child. It's a no-frills, no pretty adjectives, no excuses kind of book. It describes everything - truly, Hagar could have summarized his experiences in half the pages and still gotten the point across. Still, there are some funny scenes (like how he was so drunk he tried to sleep in the trunk of a car during a snowstorm or how he scared the living daylights out of his neighbor when she saw him with a shovel) and some poignant scenes (in which he mourns his father and destroys important relationships), all of which help to create a moving narrative. The words are not pretty - the writing needs a lot of polish and the "colorful language" (to put it mildly) will make you feel as if you are aboard a shipful of rough, lonely men, but The Man Overboard actually manages to be hopeful and inspiring. Most touching of all is Hagar's determination to beat his addictions for his son, Darryl Jr. The Darryls' pact to work on Jr.'s thumb-sucking and Sr.'s addictions at the same time is tender and real. The reason Hagar's book remains positive is because the story has a happy ending - Darryl Hagar has been clean and sober for 5 years (his son has been thumb-free for the same). Now an enthusiastic advocate for sobriety, Darryl Hagar takes his message to schools, prisons, hospitals, etc.

As someone who has never been drunk or stoned, I found The Man Overboard to be equal parts illuminating and disturbing. I was intrigued by the events that transformed a good kid into a hardened, depressed adult. I was disturbed by how easily this happened, and how little Darryl's friends and family seemed to care. To me, his story highlights the need for intervention as well as the importance of not giving up on those whose lives have been taken over by drugs and alcohol. I know from personal experience that it's difficult to forgive and forget when you've been hurt by someone who's so desperate to score that they'll lie, cheat, steal or harm just to get a taste of their particular drug. Even as Hagar's story made me seethe (How could he mistreat and endanger so many people?), it made me ache with compassion. It made me want that compassion when dealing with the Darryls in my life (of which there are, thankfully, few).

The Man Overboard desperately needs some good editing, but its simple, honest style does make an impact. I could have done without the detailed play-by-play of Hagar's every drunken move - still, in the end, it made me think. And it made me hope. Tighter, more focused writing could have improved the read tremendously, but The Man Overboard still touched me. Bravo to Darryl for his courage and determination in sharing his story with the world.

Grade: C

A Note From Promo 101 Virtual Blog Tours: Each time a blog visitor comments on any or all of The Man Overboard blog tour stops, they will be entered in two random drawings. The first is a weekly drawing. Weekly winners have the chance to win one of Darryl Hagar's graphic novels. Commenters who participate on the tour also will be placed in a random drawing to win a copy of Darryl Hagar's The Man Overboard. One copy will be given away midway through the eight-week tour and the second at the conclusion.

Stop by and share your thoughts and comments with author Darryl Hagar. He is passionate about his recovery and committed to helping others find the strength and support needed to reclaim their lives from the insidious affects of addiction. He will check in throughout the day to answer questions. You’ll learn more and have a chance to win a graphic novel or a copy of The Man Overboard (released March 24). To order a copy of his book, click here.

Author Chat: An Interview with Darryl Hagar

Today, I'm chatting with Darryl Hagar, author of The Man Overboard, a memoir about his

experience overcoming drugs and alcohol. Welcome, Darryl!

Me: Why and how did The Man Overboard book come about?

DH: After a 27-year battle with drugs and alcohol, I finally hit my bottom and entered a rehabilitation center in the spring of 2005. After 2 yrs of recovery and going to hundreds of 12-step meetings, attending a group mental health recovery class, and working with a therapist, I decided I had lots more to offer the world than just my recovery.

I decided to share my experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly in my memoir in hopes of showing people recovery is attainable, no matter how low you’ve sunk. I began to write
The Man Overboard, not realizing how difficult a project it would be. It took me 2 years to write this 604-page memoir. I poured my heart and soul into it, giving me horrific lows and elated highs. I finally finished The Man Overboard and knew in my heart I had just written an epic book about drug and alcohol abuse.

Me: Have you had any previous experience with writing? Do you consider yourself a reader? If yes, who/what are your favorite authors/books?

DH: I took college courses in high school on writing and then many different classes at Maine Maritime Academy where writing term papers, articles, etc. were required. When I finally got sober in 2005 I began to journal every single day for a solid year, filling notebook after notebook with thoughts, step work, ideas, and prayers.

I was an avid reader as a kid and read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Chronicles of Narnia. I progressed into J.R.R Tolkien, reading the trilogy and The Hobbit several times. I began to read Stephen King and was an avid fan of his for years. I would take his books out to sea with me and read them on the ship with the wind howling outside and the waves crashing against my porthole. It really added an extra sense of horror. I shared this story about reading in storms to Stephen King one day when I met him at a Boston Red Sox game in Fenway Park.
I moved on to reading Tom Clancy because of the national security and military aspect, which reminded me of my career and working on the ships. I started reading six newspapers a day with a ferocious appetite for current events, sports, and the world. I also became more interested in world history and learning about things that happened in past centuries. Drugs and alcohol had dulled my interest in many things and now I was catching up. J.R.R. Tolkien is my all-time favorite.

Me: How did the writing process go for you? Did you find that the words flowed easily or did it take a lot of effort? Did you stick to a writing schedule or just let the words at their own pace? Did you write outside? Inside? On a computer or longhand? In short, I'm asking, how do you write?

DH: First of all , when I started writing The Man Overboard, I got a big poster board and broke up my life in 2 year blocks from high school on. I wrote down all the major events in my life by date. Then I went to 9 different police departments, 6 or 7 doctor's offices and hospitals to obtain records. I had many police reports, doctor surgeries, therapy paperwork, United States Coast Guard documents, certificates of discharge from every ship I was ever on, which totaled more than fifty. It made the writing easier to first get organized.

After getting organized, the writing went pretty easy for me. I had talked about the events of my life many times to the people closest to me, my fellow alcoholics and drug addict friends. At the time, I thought a lot of these events were funny, rolling over cars while driving drunk, bar fights and medical operations. Stories of running around the globe with ladies of the evening.
The words flowed easily but in sobriety re-living these events took their toll on me. I would have to walk away from my computer totally not believing what had taken place in my life. That slowed the writing process because sharing the stories with the world seemed to suck the energy and enthusiasm out of me. Sometimes I would go a few days without writing and then start writing like a madman possessed.

All my writing was done on a computer both on my desktop in my library and on my laptop outside by the Maine coast. It came out naturally, but because I wanted to really include every aspect of my life to teach the sick and suffering alcoholic and drug addict, it took me 2 years to finish. After completing the book, it was sent to an editor in Los Angeles and was edited. This process was quite long also as we went back and forth cutting the book down, editing some stories out, and finally a completed edited manuscript was sent to the publishers.

Me: Since getting clean and sober, you have "given back" by sharing your experiences at schools, prisons, hospitals, etc.. Tell me about that.

DH: One of the most important ways of staying sober is sharing your experiences with others. In the 12-step program we call it service work. By sharing our experiences with high school students, college students, prisoners, people in rehabs and recovery centers, etc., we give others strength and hope as well as solidifying our own sobriety. It holds us accountable and almost responsible to resist failure so others struggling will not say, “Look, it doesn’t work; he went out drinking and drugging again.” Of course relapse happens with some people, but if one works a good program, they will have the right defense against a drink and drug.

My experiences were varied with each group. Schools and colleges are very inspiring as most of that is preventative. Going into the jails and prisons is a chance to help men and women re-evaluate their lives, but it is much more complicated with each individual’s personal addictions. The jails and prisons were very uplifting in the fact that these men and women had made mistakes and now were seriously considering a change of lifestyle. Prison bars makes one think about their past behaviors.

The recovery and detox centers are very emotional and can be quite unpredictable. People can start crying at any moment, get violent or stand up and walk out. There are also many in the recovery centers so ready to change they listen and learn at every word spoken. It’s a remarkable and scary process going through recovery, but one well worth it. Speaking to others about my past has been instrumental in staying sober and clean and I would encourage others to participate wholeheartedly. I believe when I walk into a school, jail, prison, recovery center or any other place talking about my alcoholism, drug addiction, and recovery, I am doing God’s work.

I aspire to speak at Maine Maritime Academy, the other maritime academies, the other military academies, the alumni of all these academies, and at US Military bases in the USA and overseas. I believe I have an affinity for these organizations and I know in my heart I can make a positive, significant impact on all involved.

Me: What has surprised you most about these speaking engagements? What has it taught you about yourself?

DH: It always surprised me how supportive and forgiving people are no matter how crazy my stories are. People love to hear stories of others overcoming their demons and I always point out how the alcohol and drugs robbed me of 27 years of my life, but when I was ready, I asked God to help me and he did. I always knew there was a good guy in there somewhere and one day I would live the life of the man I always dreamed of being.

Me: Considering that you were drunk and high in dangerous situations (driving a car, hunting, steering a boat, etc.), it's a miracle that you didn't kill yourself or another person. To what or whom do you attribute your good fortune?

DH: As corny as this sounds, I believe God had a plan for me. My lot in life would be to survive my own self-inflicted substance abuse and share my story of recovery. When I was 20 years old and I got my first OUI from drinking and driving, I was mandated to a state alcohol program. It was held during an entire weekend in Augusta, Maine, and there were speakers that came in and told us of their horrific drinking and driving accidents and arrests. While one particular man was speaking, I had a premonition that either I would die of drinking and drugs or I would recover and help millions of people.

I forgot about this event and in the next 20 years had 2 more OUI’s and wiggled out of several more with a good attorney. I had numerous surgeries, domestic violence arrests, bar fights and various problems in my professional and personal life. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and surrendered. You have to surrender to win. I asked God to help me because I couldn’t do it by myself.

I went to hundreds of 12-step meetings and other therapy and my head started to clear. I then got training at various jails, prisons, meetings and started to go out and share my story with others. At one point, my premonition of helping millions of people came back to me. I had forgotten all about it for 20 years and one day a light switch was turned on. Powerful emotions of healing and hope poured into my body. God had brought me full circle and had allowed me to live through all of the madness so that I could go out and help other alcoholics and addicts.

Me: You talk a lot about wanting a drink (or drugs) and needing a drink (or drugs) - at what point did you cross the line from wanting to needing? In other words, at what point did you realize that you were an alcoholic/drug addict? What was your AHA moment?

DH: I was in total denial for the first 10 years of my drinking and drugging. I like to say “I had fun with drugs and alcohol for 10 years and then they had fun with me." For the first ten years I totally believed I didn’t have a problem with drugs and alcohol even though I had been arrested several times, blacked out from drinking many times, and had deteriorating health conditions.

For the second ten years my denial softened to, “Maybe I have a drinking and drug problem, but I can handle it." I believed it was manageable even though it was totally out of control. I dodged bullet after bullet of drunken arrests, medical procedures, black eyes and broken bones. In the end, after 20 years of drinking and drugging, I needed to use. I would get up in the morning and have coffee and then switch to beer, then vodka, then cocaine. I would ask friends to go to the beer store for me because my hands were shaking too much to do it myself. I was in late-stage alcoholism.

My aha moment came after 27 years of self inflicted substance abuse. I was crying on the inside and got on my knees and told God to either save me or take me. I promised I would do everything in my power to help others if he helped me. I knew I would be dead soon if I continued on the same path I had been on for well over two decades.

Me: Alcoholism/drug addiction is a major problem in America. What can we as a society, especially we as parents, do to combat the problem? What, if anything, can the government do

DH: Education is the answer for the younger kids. Have people like me talk at their schools. If they are starting to have problems with substance abuse, attend a 12-step meeting with them to let them hear stories of alcoholism and drug addiction.

College-age kids can be encouraged to read The Man Overboard and go to my website, as they will learn a lot from this site. Don’t lecture, but talk about the dangers of alcoholism and drug addiction. Have people in recovery speak to the kids and adults about substance abuse. Everyone wants to sweep this subject under the rug when just the opposite is the solution. Speak openly about the reality of substance abuse.

I believe the government should promote more people in recovery to go out and visit all segments of the population. Because the 12-step programs are anonymous, the alcoholic and addict has to go to the 12-step program. I believe there has to be more people in the 12-step program reaching out to the alcoholic and addict. Sure, some people in recovery relapse and set a bad example of recovery. But what about the thousands that don’t relapse? They need to have their stories told to help the masses still sick and suffering.

Me: What, in your opinion, is the biggest reason people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the stresses of life? What are the signs that a recreational habit is turning into a dangerous addiction? How can someone avoid the "raging storm" that you experienced?

DH: People turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their worries of a stressful life or traumatic experiences. When my father committed suicide, instead of seeking therapy, I turned to drugs and alcohol. Whenever you or your loved ones have major trauma in life, i.e. loss of a parent or child, rape, incest, murder, drunken driving fatality, etc., seek professional help. I didn’t talk about my dad’s suicide for 23 years, keeping it bottled up inside. It ate me up, little by little, until it turned into that raging storm I write about.

When a person starts drinking every day, whether happy or sad, mourning or celebrating, an alcohol problem is surfacing. The key is that some people can drink socially but the alcoholic can’t. They will get worse and worse until eventually they will have to drink and drug.

Abstinence is the only safe way for the alcoholic and addict and that starts with admitting that we are powerless over drugs and alcohol. When we take a drink or drug, all bets are off. Once we have admitted that to ourselves and others, we then can get a program of recovery i.e. 12 step programs, therapy, journaling, sponsor, support system through sober friends and telephone numbers to call in difficult moments. The alcoholic/addict needs to learn to make that call before taking that drink or drug, not afterwards.

Me: What's next for "The Man Overboard?" Will you be writing another book?

DH: "The Man Overboard" will go out and speak across the country and participate in my own sobriety and program of recovery wholeheartedly and gladly. I love my life in sobriety and I told God if he helped me get sober and clean, I would in turn help others for as long as I lived.
I think there are more books to follow and I hope people will get a copy of The Man Overboard:
How a Merchant Marine Officer Survived the Raging Storm of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
on or from The Man Overboard website. And learn from my past mistakes and copy what I do now to stay sober and clean. You can do it!

Me: Thanks so much, Darryl.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

From Blue Monkeys to Magical Detectives, Farmer Classic Enthralls with Adventure, Originality

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The year: 2194. The place: Zimbabwe. In The Ear, The Eye and The Arm, Nancy Farmer's second novel, the author imagines a futuristic Africa where civil unrest still reigns. As Chief of Security, General Amadeus Matsika has spent a good part of his career dealing with violent gangs - he knows exactly how rough the streets of his city have become. So, he hides his family behind electrified gates, keeping outsiders at bay with alarms, automatic weapons and a computerized Doberman. The Matsika children - Tendai, Rita and Kuda - have never ventured outside the family estate alone. Unlike other children, they have never participated in team sports, attended school, or gone to a movie with friends. Even though the kids know their father only wants their safety, they're getting mighty tired of being cooped up at home all the time. Tendai, especially, longs for an adventure. As a Boy Scout, he has earned all of his merit badges (completed at home, of course), but one - in order to become an Eagle Scout, he needs an explorer's badge. The problem? It requires leaving the Matsika estate. After all, "Exactly how much exploring could you do in a garden?"

Enter the Mellower, a sunny, soothing man whose job is to exert a calming influence on the family. By hypnotizing them with praise, he allows the family, especially General Matsika, to de-stress and begin the day in a peaceful manner. Simple and happy, the Mellower is as exuberant as a child - and as mischevious. It is he who suggests asking for permission and securing the necessary passes while the children's father is under the Mellower's trance. The plan goes off without a hitch, and the trio head outside the gates for the first time without a chaperone.

With no street smarts whatsoever, the sheltered kids are soon kidnapped by a malevolent duo called Knife and Fist, respectively. Dumped in a wasteland inhabited only by the mysterious Vlei people, Tendai and his siblings are put to work digging antiques (like plastic sacks and dishware) out of the landfill. Rumor has it they will soon be sold to a dangerous gang called The Masks. Escape comes from a surprising source. Freed, the kids stumble their way into unfamiliar territory. Not knowing whom to trust, they must find their way home; that journey, however, will not be easy. Tendai, Rita and Kuda will encounter a strange city where staying means they can never leave; a terrifying She Elephant who will stop at nothing to find them; a greedy caretaker who wants only ransom money; and a gang war which could destroy their lives forever. Along the way, they will shed their innocence, band together, and fight for their own survival.

Despite its exotic locale, The Ear, The Eye and The Arm tells a universal story. It's about a son desperate to prove himself to a critical father; it's about a boy whose adventure will test and try him; it's about the man he will become because of his quest. It's a coming-of-age tale at once familiar and unique. Steeped in African mysticism, it's a colorful, consuming, even funny story. What really sets the tale apart, though, is its fascinating characters - from the formiddable General Matsika; to his brave, but naive children; to a sarcastic blue monkey; to a trio of lovable detectives with special powers - who make the plot a constant surprise. Original and absorbing, this is a wild, thrilling ride that will keep even the most reluctant reader thoroughly enthralled.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Book Looks At Parenting From A Child's Perspective

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Recently, my husband bought tickets to a Monster Jam truck race for himself and our two boys. All of them love cars, trucks, Nascar - anything to do with racing. When the big day arrived, off they went. I expected them to be gone for hours, so I was surprised when they came back much earlier than planned. My husband explained that our 4-year-old was super excited about the show until it actually began, at which point he completely freaked out. He tried calming our son down, but to no avail. Frustrated, my husband steered a disappointed 10-year-old and a much-relieved 4-year-old out of the arena, and sped home. After shelling out big bucks for the show - of which he only saw 5 minutes - my husband was understandably upset. None of us could understand our son's behavior.

It took us a little while, but we finally reached an "Aha" moment: our son started panicking when he realized that a monster truck would be rolling over a school bus. His 4-year-old mind seemed to equate that bus with the one that takes him to school, the one captained by a kindly driver and filled with his little friends. No wonder he freaked out at the idea of it being crushed! The experience still frustrates my husband, but at least it taught us to look at things from his perspective. In future, we'll be more sensitive to his tender feelings and buy one less ticket to Monster Jam.

Lightbulb moments like these are what nurse Dyan Eybergen is talking about in her new book Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child's Perspective. She insists that the more we listen to and try to understand our children, the more efficiently we will be able to parent them. She advocates thinking like the child (school bus crushed by monster truck = nightmare, not entertainment) in order to gain understanding and empathy. She also thinks it's vital to note the differences in our kids' personalities and tailor our parenting techniques to suit the child. I think parents naturally do this, but probably not as much as they should.

In the book, Eybergen discusses several childhood milestones and how "Child Perspective Parenting" can make these transitions easier for both parents and children. She discusses techniques for dealing with potty training, finicky eaters, bedtime, and more. All of her ideas reflect her belief in showing respect for the child's emotions and empowering children to think and act independently. While I disagree with a couple of Eybergen's approaches, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of putting ourselves in our childrens' shoes to help us remember the fears and anxiety so common in childhood.

I had to laugh at Eybergen's views on potty training. She insists that children should be taught only when they are developmentally ready (I agree with her there), and that they should not be rewarded or bribed into using the toilet. She believes, "The only reward a child should expect for having learned to use the potty is an intrinsic satisfaction in achieving a developmental milestone" (22). I can't help but snicker when I picture a mother telling her kid, "I know Tommy gets M&M's when he goes potty, but you're getting something better: 'an intrinsic satisfaction in achieving a developmental milestone.'" Yeah - good luck with that. I agree with Eybergen in principle, but practically speaking, it would never work. The other thing that rubbed me the wrong way was this: Eybergen says children should be answered honestly when they ask questions about sex, should be taught to label their body parts correctly, and that little boys (she's talking 3 years old here) should be "told that it was okay for him to touch his own penis - after all, it belonged to him -- but that there was a time and a place for that ... [they] learned that it was acceptable for them to explore their own bodies in private" (73-74). Okay, I'm on board with the first two, but the last - WHAT?? Parents are supposed to tell 3-year-olds that it's okay to touch themselves so they an learn that "their bodies were special and did wonderful things in response to loving touch" (73)? Are you kidding me?

Besides the above issues, I found most of Out of the Mouth of Babes informative, if obvious. The best part of the book, by far, is the chapter on self-esteem. Using the anocronym SELF, she encourages parents to arm their kids with Support, Empowerment, Love and Faith. I wholeheartedly agree with this advice. So, all in all, I think the book carries a valuable message, but it's nothing really new or special. The writing itself is average, the content a bit generic, and overall, I can't find a reason to give it more than a C.

Grade: C

(This review is part of a blog tour hosted by Mother Talk. For more info, click here.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bits and Pieces From A Very Scattered Brain

You know how you sometimes get into book ruts, where nothing really grabs your attention? I'm experiencing the opposite. I don't know what it's called, but I've got so many fun books right now that I'm trying to read 5 at a time just so I can get my nose into them faster! I've got library books, ARCs, and a good stack of novels for giveaways - if only I could get to everything. My baby has decided that sleeping is for the birds, so we've spent a lot of time cuddling on the couch together. I get a lot of reading done this way, but not much else. Needless to say, I'm behind on just about everything. So, this is a quick round-up post of bits and pieces that have been going through my very scattered brain:

Giveaway Books

I regret to inform you that I have not yet made it to the post office. I apologize to all of you who are waiting for mail from me. This includes recent winners of my giveaway, my sister, my grandma, a missionary in Germany, and a sweet kid in Chile whose baby is going to be 5 before he ever gets the cute little sleeper I've been meaning to send. The post office is never my favorite place to go, especially when I have to drag my kids, so I'm hoping to find some time to sneak away this week and mail all the packages that are piling up around my desk. Thanks for everyone's patience.

New Blog Features

You may or may not have noticed that I changed a few things on my layout. First off, I've been wanting a fun, unique blog header, but I didn't want to have to pay an arm and a leg for PhotoShop or pay a designer big bucks to do it for me. So, using a combination of Microsoft Publisher and Gimp, I made my own. I'm pretty proud of myself. I like it, even though it makes my layout look pretty busy. I don't know - what's your opinion? Too much work went into it to change it now, so you're stuck with it regardless, but I thought I'd ask ... I also worked on some of the sidebar and header text that seemed to be a little stale. Hopefully, I've perked things up a little around here. It's Spring, after all. Renewal, new life, and all that.

Oooh! I almost forgot - I'm also trying to figure out how to put tabs onto my layout so I can clean up my sidebars and make navigation a little easier. We'll see what happens.

The other feature is actually not my creation, but that of the genius behind Fyrefly's Book Blog. She made a Google search button that pulls information from over 600 book blogs. If, for instance, you can't believe that I would diss Maeve Binchy's newest, you can type in "Heart and Soul," and see what other reviewers had to say. Try it. It's fab. You can find it on my right sidebar under the giveaway sections. If you've got a book blog, make sure it's listed in the search. You can click here to read all about this awesome project. It's such a good solution for those of us book bloggers who are just too lazy to provide links to other people's reviews :)

Links of Love

I've been woefully negligent in reading and commenting on your blogs. I'm trying to catch up, but my feeder's still gasping under the weight of unread content. I have noted a few fun giveaways and such:

- Ricklibrarian posted a link to a list of "Feel Good Fiction With Substance," in other words, Books That Are NOT Depressing. I, for one, talk a lot about how doomy and gloomy novels seem to be lately. I loved the idea of this list. Check it out here.

- Amanda is hosting all kinds of giveaways on her blog this month. Right now, you can enter to win a copy of First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello. The contest ends at midnight today, so hurry on over there. She's been posting like crazy this month, so keep an eye on A Patchwork of Books for lots of fun.

- Stephanie over at The Written Word is giving away copies of Therese Fowler's books Souvenir and Reunion. This contest ends tomorrow, so click on over there. Interestingly, I got an email to join her virtual tour a few hours ago, so look for reviews here soon.

- One of my favorite book bloggers, Shelley over at Chain Reading, just started another fun blog about giveaways and freebies. We could probably all use a little bit of that in this crap economy. Check it out!

- I'm sure there are lots more giveaways and such out in the vast book blogosphere. Do you have any to share?

Speaking of giveaways, stay tuned, I have several in the works. I have 3 books sitting on my desk RIGHT NOW that I will be giving away in the near future. So, don't be a stranger!

Okay, Her Highness is calling for a cuddle (and some Tylenol - the poor baby's sick again), so I'm off. Since I'm abandoning Inkdeath for now (it was due at the library today, and I can't renew it because some other patron wants it - the nerve!), I'm reading the story of an alcoholic/drug addict who's been sober now for 5 years. I'll be interviewing him soon. Her Majesty is enjoying the read aloud, especially the part about the transvestite night club in Singapore.

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