Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Uganda Be Kidding Me

by Chelsea Handler

      Honestly, I've always thought that Chelsea Handler's humor is best appreciated when delivered in limited doses... but her latest book of travel essays fits the bill! The first half of the book follows Chelsea and her motley crew on their wild, slightly over the top adventures, on safari through several countries in Africa. Let me also call attention to the fact that I didn't know that alcohol and marijuana were so readily available out on the plains and wilds of Africa. But Chelsea and her friends managed to find plenty, build inappropriate friendships with their tour guides, ride on elephants, and also express a true appreciation for the beauty of nature. Even though they approached their journey in a different way than I imagine most people do, the trip really seemed to have a profound impact on Chelsea. And along the way, they had me LITERALLY laughing out loud. The second half of the book is a more separate collection of travel essays, including Switzerland and even her experience being "trapped" in Beverly Hills. One of her tales from the Bahamas had me shocked and giggling. I'll just tell you that it involves some graphic bathroom humor and a kayak sitting on a public beach. She also includes ridiculous extremely helpful travel tips, such as: "It is possible to chip your tooth while eating gummy bears when a plane is landing", and "Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to be topless for emergency dental work when abroad" (p. 254).
Winning.
     One thing I admire about her writing is that Chelsea uses her own escapades for most of her material. In one section, she even admits that she had never learned the difference between the sun and the moon... that our planet actually rotates around the sun. At the same time, her writing reflects a level of high intelligence as she's incredibly versed in current events. Her self-deprecating humor draws you in and allows you to laugh freely, as she's never purposefully cruel to others in her storytelling efforts. I was also struck by her spirit of generosity and kindness towards others. While she plays it off, she is always trying to leave items behind for the people in the villages that they visit on their journeys. Her relationship with her sister, their emotional ties and support, also helps to make Chelsea more relatable than the drunk, Xanax-popping celebrity that we may perceive her as (from her own admissions). And she even bought houses for two different people in her life! HOUSES. I can't even imagine.
     In the end, Chelsea actually reminds me of one of my great friends. Slightly socially inappropriate (okay, maybe very inappropriate), lacks a verbal filter, no sense of physical modesty.... but in the end she has a good heart and can always manage to make you laugh. Don't we all know someone like that? While Chelsea may take it to the extreme at times, reading her stories makes you feel as though you're sitting down with a girlfriend to catch up on her recent travel escapades. It's written in a conversational tone that makes the reader feel as if you are just one more member of her group. This collection of essays was a welcome way to pass the time! Her last travel tip is one that I take to heart, and pass along to you - "And last but not least, go for it. Go wherever you can afford to go with whomever you can get to go with you" (p.255).

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Husband's Secret

by Liane Moriarty

     First off, let me tell you that I was initially attracted to this book just because of the pearlescent quality of the cover. Gorgeous. (Admission. Yes, I do judge books by their cover. Honestly, who doesn't? Superficial? Maybe. But I find it's an important aesthetic piece of the reading experience.) And once I started the first couple of pages, I was instantly drawn in by the language and masterful storytelling of Moriarty. She weaves a story that follows the paths of three women... and in various points of time.
     Cecilia Fitzpatrick opens the story: the stereotypical "soccer mom" who sells Tupperware and makes a fortune at it, finds a letter written by her husband.... to be opened ONLY UPON HIS DEATH!!!! Although she tries to resist (I admire the woman who actually could), the contents of that letter change her life. As someone who sees things in only black and white, she is suddenly forced into a world of gray and must shift her classic understanding of good and evil, right and wrong. The parallel story focuses on Tess, who is returning to her old hometown after a stunning betrayal in her marriage. She returns home with her young son to work through the situation, analyze her dependency in social situations, and decide what is worth fighting for. The third plot line centers on Rachel, an older woman working at the local school... whose teenage daughter was brutally murdered years ago. Struggling in her relationships with her only remaining child & his wife, she cannot forget the daughter who was so beloved. She is constantly plagued by thoughts of what her daughter's life would be like if she had lived, and has never stopped the search for the person responsible for that loss. We also have the opportunity to see events through her daughter's eyes on the day of her death.
     Although all of these stories seem disconnected at the beginning, it soon becomes clear that there is more overlap between them than any of the characters could ever realize. Their stories are wound together masterfully, coming to a conclusion that I could not have predicted. Moriarty writes her characters with great depth, and you can see the character developing and changing as events unfold. The work forces readers to ask themselves challenging questions: How well do you, or should  you, know the people you love? Do mistakes from someone's past influence how you see them now? When do you let go of the things that have torn your life apart? At the heart of this work though, is the tenant that some secrets are better left untold. The author concludes with these words: "None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have and maybe should have taken. It's probably just as well. Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever. Just ask Pandora" (p. 394).
   

Welcome Back!

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Back after a long hiatus... and better than ever!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Allegiant

by Veronica Roth

The Divergent series by Veronica Roth is easily on par with the Hunger Games for me. I almost peed my pants I was so excited could NOT wait to get my hands on the final installment of the series and pre-ordered it from Amazon. Yes, I succumbed to virtual book shopping so that I could have this little gem in my hands ASAP. The book continues to fall Tris and Tobias (AKA Four, man of my dreams) on their quest for freedom and truth in the dystopian society they live in. For a quick recap, you can see my reviews of the first two books here: http://breadofbooks.blogspot.com/2011/06/divergent.html and http://breadofbooks.blogspot.com/2012/05/insurgent.html.

In Allegiant, the factions have been dissolved, but the citizens of Chicago now find themselves slaves to a new tyrant who enforces their "freedom", Tobias' own mother Evelyn. Tobias, Tris, and their friends make their way out of the city to find a surprising new world where they finally learn a truth that will change everything they believe.

So what do I love so much about this book? So many things. Seriously.
1. Tris and Tobias. There is no love triangle in this series. Praise God. They have a solid relationship that faces challenges other than a third person getting in the way.... Instead they have to deal with lying, trust issues, and forgiveness. A lot of this stems from Tris' previous errors in the relationship. "Remember when I teamed up with your abusive father to basically end the world as we know it?" You know, the usual.  However, Tobias brings his own challenges in this book which makes it clear that they have an equal and truly loving relationship.

2. The point of view.  Unlike the first two books which were told solely from Tris' perspective, Allegiant alternates between Tris and Tobias. This switch adds another dimension to the story-telling, and makes the resolution much more poignant.

3. Action.  There are some great action scenes that do not drag on or distract from the story line... instead they add to the storytelling and allow us to see the true nature of our heroes.

4. SPOILER. BIGGEST SPOILER EVER. DO NOT READ THIS SECTION. DANGER, DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!!!
Are you still reading? Take a breath. Tris dies. YES. I really admire Roth's bravery in killing off the main hero that we have rooted for over the course of three books. Honestly, it seemed like the only fitting ending. Tris finds in herself the courage to face death, even when she has so much to live for, to protect all the people that she loves. Even those that may not deserve it. She is innately good, despite the society that has tried to turn her into something else.  It turns out that she has more Abnegation in her than she maybe even thought. The last several chapters are told only from Tobias' viewpoint, which is especially touching.

Overall, Allegiant is a beautiful, fast reading story of friendship, love, and redemption.... with a little dystopian drama thrown in for good measure. If you're into the Hunger Games or other dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this series. And make sure you start reading the first book before the movie comes out!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Week to be Wicked

by Tessa Dare

This is one of the best romance novels I've read in quite some time! Seriously. The story follows Minerva, and Lord Pain (ahem, Payne) on a slightly ridiculous adventure. Minerva is a true science "nerd" with her head in a book, while Colin (Payne) is a handsome, devilishly charming gentleman that all the girls chase. They band together to reach a scientific conference in Scotland where Minerva hopes to present her discovery of a fossilized giant lizard footprint. Despite all odds, a passionate relationship develops between the two as they face robbers, a shortage of funds, and other trials on their journey. How can you not love a good romance novel where the rake falls in love with a woman who is less typically beautiful, but has a kind nature and strong personality?? Finally. Colin is humorous and brings a lightness to Minerva's scientific pursuits as well. Even though they constantly aggravate one another, they both blossom in their relationship and bring out the best in each other as well. This book had me literally laughing out loud, and is easily my favorite Tessa Dare book to date! Two thumbs up.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

by Tracy Kidder

A serious review for a serious work. Let's start by saying that the author is a Pulitzer-prize award winner. He's a journalist who writes the most impressive works of non-fiction. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that Mountains Beyond Mountains fits this description. Tracy spent years following the works of Dr. Paul Farmer, focusing on his work in Haiti and the development of Partners in Health. This man has dedicated his entire life, so far, to serving the poor and medically underserved. Despite the consequences that his work has caused in his personal life and the lack of sleep he gets, he gives unreservedly to others. Although Kidder often portrays him as a "saint", he ensures that the reader is also aware of Farmer's flaws. However, these flaws often spur him on to do even more for others. Farmer's organization now operates in Boston, Siberia, Peru, Haiti, and countless other sites to treat TB and help people obtain basic necessities like food, shelter, and clean water. His work is truly inspiring!

Have you ever read a book that changed your perspective? I've been talking about this book to everyone I meet, even people I've only known for hours, since I read it. This work reminded me that we do not exist in a vacuum, that we have a responsibility to help others, with the resources we have been blessed with. Farmer talks a great deal about liberation theology, the prevalent belief system in Haiti. This is based on the idea that God sees all suffering, and will set His people free... and that we all have an obligation to serve those in need. This belief is very evident in Dr. Farmer's practices as he strives to accomplish goal after goal to better the health and well-being of others. Mountains Beyond Mountains is a great read that flows well and takes the reader around the world to places where people struggle to obtain the simple necessities of life.... reminding us that there is much work to be done in terms of equality and health world-wide.

"Beyond mountains there are mountains." - Haitian proverb

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rush

by Maya Banks

Dear Reader,

I read this book so that you don't have to. You're welcome.

Seriously... I am very disturbed by the current trends in "romance novels". I'm going to get on my soap box here, so feel free to ignore the following post if you choose. When did it become romantic for a man to stalk a woman, give her unknown drugs because she should trust him, force her to eat, hide their relationship from everyone they love & care about, give her away to other men, and make her sign a contract that he has total control over her? This is not just about this book by Maya Banks.... which on its own may have been passable. But just because Christian Grey's character had success in 50 Shades of Grey, that does not mean that every author should pursue the same storyline. I love romance novels. I'm not against a dominating male personality. But typically, they are balanced by equally strong female characters, who insist on a balanced partnership in their relationship. Not mousy little girls who lose every aspect of themselves in the relationship. Spoiler alert: in the end, the guy does finally come around. But it took long enough. And honestly, I DON'T KNOW WHY IN THE WORLD she believes herself in love with him for the whole first 9/10 of the book. Is she crazy?! This man is clearly unhinged. He tells her repeatedly that she should leave him, that he doesn't want her to let him change who she is. But... he does.

I know that Maya Banks is a fairly well-reputed romance author, so I'm going to just pretend I never read this book. The other characters in the book do seem interesting, with the lead females "brothers" taking up the lead roles in the rest of the series. Maybe one of them will salvage the series for me.