The Book Blag

Book reviews over anything and everything

Review: A Beggars Purse February 17, 2011

A Beggar's PurseWow. For such a short book, I have a lot to say about A Beggars Purse by Toni Nelson. I won the book through a giveaway hosted by the author on Goodreads. It has been at least two months since I received the book, and I’m sure she has given up on me by now. Never fear–the book just got pushed back on the to-read list, with book club books taking priority. πŸ™‚ A Beggars Purse is a short memoir about a woman and her attitude for the homeless, or what she calls “hobos” when she is a child. The book probably only took me a total of two to three hours to read once I got started.

Let me be honest with you. I am probably the farthest thing from religious you will ever find. I dislike Christian-themed works because I usually feel like they are preaching to me. While I don’t like to argue with people about religion, I would rather not discuss it at all. You can imagine my surprise when I turned my newly received book over and read the synopsis, which made it clear how religious Nelson is. The first page of the book (before the Acknowledgements) displays a Bible verse. Ever the cataloger, I flipped to see the Library of Congress subject headings on the back of the title page, and those were “Religion / Christian Life / Social Issues” and “Religion / Christian Life / Stewardship and Giving.” I let forth the largest internal groan you could imagine. What did I get myself into? I requested to be entered to win this book, so clearly I did not read the description very well.

Let me tell you something else. The religious aspect of this book was not that bad! Nelson portrays religion in a “this is how I see it and how it fits into my life” manner, not a “this is how it should be done, and you should do it too” manner. I did not feel like Nelson was preaching at me, though there was one part that started talking about God that I just had to skim through to get back to the storyline. While the religious nature didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, it still wasn’t really my thing.

A Beggars Purse has an interesting “plot.” Toni Nelson seems to have led an interesting life, and she presents it in a manner-of-fact way. Do you remember sitting with your grandparents or older relatives on a hot summer day and listen to them relay stories about what it was like when they were younger? This book has that feeling to it. I would not call it particularly eloquent, but the stories had a decent flow to them. The book was definitely more about Nelson’s life than the homeless population, but the sections tied together nicely. Nelson held ambivalent views toward the homeless population throughout her life, but she eventually came to the point as an adult where she felt passionately about giving food to the homeless. She acknowledged her own faults, as there was a time when she did think of the homeless as responsible for their own situation.

Toni Nelson herself is a really nice person. When I was one of the people to win her giveaway, she added me as a “friend” on Goodreads and sent me a personal message. The copy of the book she sent to me was personally signed to me by name. One of the neatest things about the giveaway is that she included a brown paper sack with a piece of paper attached to it. The sheet of paper encourages us to do a variety of things with it, like pack a lunch and give it to a homeless person, pack it with food to drop off at a local food bank, or just us it as a “visual reference . . . that you have a roof over your head and a satisfied stomach.” I am somewhat of a bleeding heart myself, and I like the idea of giving food to people who need it. Overall, Nelson’s book is worth the read, particularly because it is such a fast read. I would actually have liked it to be a little longer than it was. I plan to loan this to a coworker I think will most likely appreciate it more than I could. πŸ™‚

My rating:

Where did I get this book? Won in a giveaway on Goodreads.

2010. Mustang, OK (whoa, my home state): Tate Publishing & Enterprises. 105 pages.


Retrospective Review: The Gunslinger February 3, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — Tara @ 10:47 pm
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The GunslingerMy girlfriend gave me the complete set of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for Christmas 2009. I was extremely excited because I had not really read any of the series despite reading a large amount of Stephen King. I am labeling this review “retrospective” because it has been some months since I read it; however, it has been less than 7 months since the book was completed, so I feel my opinions are still valid. πŸ™‚

I first began the first volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, in late high school when someone else urged me to begin the series. However, I got about twenty pages in and just could not continue. I could not “get into” the book, which was unlike my experiences with other Stephen King books. This time around, the book affected me drastically differently. In this book, the gunslinger named Roland, the last of his kind, is tracking “the man in black” across the desert. We hear of the town(s) and people he encounters, including a young boy named Jake who came from current-day New York City (in a different place and time from Roland’s world).

While the book is admittedly a little slow-paced at the beginning, it is riveting. King’s initial dehumanizing language really sets the tone of the gunslinger’s purpose. Roland is only referred to as “the gunslinger” when the book starts; Walter is “the man in black”; Jake is “the boy.” It is clear from the beginning that Roland is emotionally detached and will do anything to accomplish his mission. A shocking occurrence near the end of the book proves this, and the reader feels conflicted about the protagonist. He is strong, determined, and comical, but he can also be cold and seemingly heartless. The Gunslinger was a great start to King’s truly epic series, and I could not wait to begin the next volume.

My rating:

Where did I get this book? Christmas (2009) gift from girlfriend

1982 (2003 revision and expansion). New York: Signet. 300 pages.


Review: Kasey to the Rescue January 22, 2011

Kasey to the RescueIt took me awhile to get through Kasey to the Rescue by Ellen Rogers. Why? I started it over the holidays, then things got hectic. However, the book’s poignant story was strong enough for me to immediately pick it back up and remember what was going on. This sort of tragedy never leaves you. The book’s author, Ellen Rogers, starts the book off in the moment of tragedy as she discovers her son has had a terrible accident. Having always called herself a “tragedy snob” due to many unfortunate events she has weathered in her life, she is thrown into a situation she does not know how to deal with. The book follows her son’s recovery process and the process of integrating a helper monkey–the title character, Kasey–into their home.

Kasey to the Rescue is a book you read for the story. You read it and count your blessings, at the same time acknowledging the good things that have come out of their situation (Kasey, new relationships, emotional strength, etc.). Rogers is great at delivering chaotic moments in a humorous manner, and you feel like you’re actually there. The book made me laugh out loud even as I couldn’t begin to imagine how hopeless they must have felt. Rogers stands out as a great mother who stands strong when many of us would have let our lives crumble around us.

That said, this book is not the sort of book you read for literary value or eloquent writing. The writing style is good in terms of being light and grammatically correct… but it won’t make anyone’s “favorite quotes” section on their Facebook profile, if you know what I mean. The title and prominent picture of the capuchin monkey on the cover of the book leads one to believe the book is all about Kasey, the monkey. This really bothered me at the beginning of the book, when there were chapters where the monkey was not yet present. I think Rogers was aware of this because she added in notes about where Kasey would be at the time (living and working with a trainer), but the transitions were poor and awkward. As I read on, though, it bothered me less. It would have been impossible to separate Kasey’s story from the story of Ned (the son)’s accident and recovery. The story is clearly written from the mother’s point of view, and I like that she didn’t try to speak for her family by representing their opinions in the book. On the other hand, I was curious about what Ned might be feeling/thinking throughout a lot of it. The book does include a short afterword by Ned (and another prominent member of the story), which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Rogers mentions religion a few times in the work, including the assertion that this was a time when faith could be the strongest because they needed the hope. Religion was not a prominent theme by any means, which I sincerely appreciated. I feel this makes the book much more marketable for a mainstream audience.

Kasey to the Rescue is a fast read and tells a truly inspirational story. I am glad to have read it.

My rating: 4 stars

Where did I get this book? ARC won through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

2010. New York: Hyperion. 270 pages.


Review: Perfect Weight by Deepak Chopra December 21, 2010

Filed under: Book Reviews — Carrie @ 12:01 pm
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Are you unhappy with your weight, lacking energy, or experiencing digestive issues? How about sipping on some boiling water throughout your day or doing a liquid fast a couple times per week? These are just a couple of the suggestions made by Deepak Chopra in his book, Perfect Weight:The Complete Mind/Body Program for Achieving and Maintaining Your Ideal Weight, about the Ayurvedic approach to health, wellness, and weight loss.

Ayurveda is a traditional Indian approach to healing. In Ayurveda, a person belongs to one of (or a combination of) three doshas, or categories: vata, pitta, and kapha. Chopra takes you through the characteristics of each of these doshas and tells you what foods to eat and avoid, exercises to do or not do, and so forth, based on your personal body composition.

I really liked this book — and listened the audio version because I am an auditory learner and Chopra’s got a great voice. If you’re not familiar with Chopra, he is a big name in New Age medicine, healing, and spirituality and writes lots of self-help books. I like learning about healing traditions of other cultures (next on my list is a Traditional Chinese Medicine book), so I picked this one up.

Have I implemented some of the tips from Chopra? Actually, I have! Eating slowly and mindfully, drinking warm liquids and eating warm foods (good for my personal dosha), and practicing daily, low-impact exercise (rather than high-intensity exercise less frequently) are some of the beneficial lessons I took away from reading this book.

Is it woo-woo?Β Sure. Do I agree with everything Chopra says? No. But the overall message of listening to your body and treating it well is a good enough reason for me to have read this book. Four stars.

My rating: 4 stars


A Bit of Nostalgia: Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade December 14, 2010

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Tara @ 9:23 pm
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Nothing's Fair in Fifth GradeNothing's Fair in Fifth GradeI posted this entry on my personal friends-only LiveJournal account, and it occurred to me that it might fit here. Carrie encouraged me to post it here, too. So, here are some reflections on a book I read as a child, slightly edited from the version posted on my person LJ.

When I was little, I was the “fat kid.” This probably does not surprise anyone now, since I’m still pretty much the fat kid, but it really did have a big influence on forming my personality as a child. I’ll never forget how it felt to have a group of elementary school children approach you every day at lunchtime in the cafeteria and tell you to put the food down, that you should not be eating lunch at all because you’re so fat. The person I remember doing it the most died a couple of years ago from a drug overdose. Weird.

Anyway, my grandmother used to love garage sales and would pick up kids books whenever she found them to give to me. One year, she brought me a paper sack full of old books including a very used, tattered copy of Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements. I read it several times. I have not thought about this book in years, but lately I have been reminded of it.

Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade is the story of a group of fifth grade girls. A girl named Elsie starts going to their school, and she is the “fat kid.” The cover of the book I had when I was a kid actually showed a girl you could consider overweight (see left cover picture), but the cover on the Amazon book does not (see right cover picture). At least, I hope one of those girls is not supposed to be Elsie. The blond girl maybe has a baggier nightgown and chubby cheeks. What are we teaching our children? Anyway, Elsie is socially awkward and has some weird issues, like her home life isn’t quite right. Elsie’s mother has her on a serious diet. She is hungry. She starts asking other people for food at school, and her new friends don’t know whether to give it to her or not. Unfortunately, her teacher has to take over the role of enforcer for the diet at school. Elsie eventually starts stealing money to buy food and gets in a lot of trouble. Meanwhile, the other girls continue to struggle with normal elementary school troubles.

I am glad my parents did not try to put me on an extreme diet when I was a kid. I think their efforts combined with the nastiness of the kids at school would have given me a TERRIBLE self image. They did encourage physical activity, but yeah. Elsie’s mom in the book was tyrannical.

Having recently lost 40 pounds (but still being the “fat kid”), I am reminded of Elsie because my pants are constantly trying to fall off. In the book, Elsie does lose weight, but no one buys her new clothing. So she is forced to wear these clothes that are too big for her, and her pants fall down in front of other kids. Her friends try to help her with belts and safety pins. The other kids keep making fun of her now for having the clothes that are the wrong size, again affirming the idea that kids will make fun of people for anything.

When I read the book as a child, I thought having clothes that were too big would be a wonderful problem to have. I was jealous of Elsie and thought she was basically just too whiny. I thought she was lucky to be losing weight, no matter how it happened. My adult viewpoint is much different. I read on Amazon that Barthe DeClements wrote two other books featuring Elsie, How Do You Lose Those Ninth Grade Blues? and Seventeen and In-Between. I would be interested in seeing if Elsie continues her struggle with weight as she is older and what emotional effect her childhood experiences had on her. One of the reviews mentioned that Barthe DeClements had worked as a school psychologist, so perhaps she would include some lasting issues instead of making it magically be all better.

I’m glad I am losing weight, but I don’t want to be that person who is talking about it all the time. I am more concerned with how good I feel than I am with how I look. The fact that I can walk up a flight of stairs and not be out of breath is something to cherish. But I do need some new pants.

Another winner from the same sack of used books from my grandmother was Eve Bunting’s Our Sixth-grade Sugar Babies.


Review: The Replacement December 12, 2010

Filed under: Book Reviews — Tara @ 7:26 pm
Tags: , , , ,

The ReplacementThe Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff was a refreshing read after my last young adult read. This book is hard to describe, so I’ll let a quoted description suffice: “Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world. / Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.” — Description from Goodreads.

Brenna Yovanoff has written a fantastic, eerie YA story as her debut novel. The characterization in The Replacement is excellent, and each voice was unique. I often complain that teenagers in YA books written by adults sound younger than the age they are supposed to be, but the teens in this book sound spot on. Although they are exposed to situations that could threaten their lives, their priorities are on crushes and social activities like parties. Alcohol was present at a party Mackie attended, which is realistic for a high school party, and he and one of his romantic interests had a hot-and-heavy make-out scene that included a little more than kissing. There are a few curse words in the book, but they do not seem overpowering and are appropriately placed in emotional scenes.

Gentry, the fictional town where the story takes place, was eerily real to me as I read the book. Yovanoff’s imagery is precise and simple as she creates an almost tangible setting for the reader without boring potential readers with long bouts of prose. Gentry is a terribly gloomy place, and it is so wrapped up in the plot line of the story that it would be inappropriate to place the story in another setting. At the end of the book, potential for change exists in Gentry. I was left wishing for more, to know what happened next, which is what every novel writer should want his or her readers to do at the end of the book.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Where did I get this book? ARC won through Melissa’s Books and Things Halloween giveaway! πŸ™‚

2010. New York: Penguin Group Inc. 343 pages.


An Apology

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Tara @ 6:51 pm
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I wanted to apologize to ALL our readers (all two or three of them. hehe) for my absence from this blog over the last month and a half. I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, a competition to write 50,000 words in a 30-day month. That month is November. Despite being way behind on my word count as I got to the last week, I managed to finish up the 50,000 words! After a short rest, I plan to dedicate my spare time back to this blog. Thank you for being patient. Click the winner badge to the right if you would like to see my NaNoWriMo profile.