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Friday, September 16

Fall Into a Good Book

Children's Books

Time for Bed Sleepyhead (Dr. Daniel Amen)
Ten-time New York Times bestselling author and child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen teams up with artist Gail Yerrill to create a book that helps facilitate sleep. Time for Bed, Sleepyhead pairs whimsical illustrations with storytelling techniques to tire your child’s imagination in order to help them settle down at bedtime and fall asleep.  Read aloud the story of little bear and his friends as they have a big day at the beach, then return home to eat dinner, take their baths, and head to bed, falling gently to sleep alongside your little one.
This was a cute book with nice illustrations.  The author has done his research and tells us in the front that this is his method for getting his children ready for bed.  I think, as parents, we all know what works best for our own children.  There is good use of repetition, which is great for calming the kids down before bed, as long as you're using a calming voice. The characters are stuffed animals which take a journey along with the main character, a cute and cuddly polar bear.


Christmas Angel Project (Melody Carlson)
Five women from different walks of life have become close friends through their book club--enjoying one another's company even more than they enjoy the books. So when the leader of the book club unexpectedly passes away on the cusp of the Christmas season, the four remaining friends are stunned. They relied on Abby for inspiration and motivation. She was the glue that held them together, and they're sure that without her the group can't continue.  When the group gathers "one last time" to open a bag Abby's husband gives them, they find Abby had made each of them an angel ornament for Christmas, crafted especially for each woman and accompanied by a sweet and personal note. Inspired by their beloved friend, together Cassidy, Louisa, Grace, and Belinda decide to commit themselves to becoming Christmas Angels to others in need. Each woman will use her life situation and talents to reach out and help others in her own unique way--little knowing that her own life and her relationships will be changed forever.

I love all of Melody's Christmas-themed books, and this one was no exception!  Each of the four 'angels' left with a hole in their life from their own personal angel is looking for a way to fill that void.  They decide to pay it forward and fill the void with love for those around them, rather than wallowing in their grief.  The transformation happens quickly, a little too quickly to be believable, but it works with the story line.  Other than that, it's another flawless Carlson execution, as she prepares your heart to accept, and give forth, the Christmas spirit!
Domino Effect (Davis Bunn)
Esther Larsen, a leading risk analyst at one of the country's largest banking institutions, is becoming more and more convinced that she has uncovered a ticking bomb with the potential to overshadow 2008's market crash. And as her own employer pursues "investment" strategies with ever-increasing levels of risk, she becomes convinced she must do something. Yet what can one person really do?  The markets are edging closer to a tipping point--like the teetering first domino in a standing row that circles the globe. And when Esther does sound the alarm, she wonders if anyone will take her seriously. But as public support grows for her ideas, so does the desperation of those whose conspiracy of greed she seeks to expose. With global markets on the brink, and her own life in danger, Esther is locked in a race with the clock to avert a worldwide financial meltdown. 

The biggest problem I had with this book is that it's difficult to see where fiction stops and reality begins.  The characters are smart and believable, and you can totally see this scenario playing out today.  Greed and a selfish disregard for others is so rampant in our society today that you will find yourself reading this book as though it's currently occurring in the world around you.  It's a fast-paced, high impact novel that you won't want to pick up before bedtime.  Caveat : in this time of financial instability and crisis, you may want to pick up a light comedy or something a little less serious.  If you like mysteries and thrillers, though, and detach easily, this is the book for you.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer (James Rubart)

What if there was a place where everything wrong in your life could be fixed?  Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.  When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.  Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.  But the journey will become more treacherous with each step Jake takes.
The characters were easy to relate to, especially Jake, and you'll find yourself undergoing this journey with him.  The author throws in enough twists and turns that, even if you think you know where the story is going, you'll find yourself surprised.  And you won't predict the ending!  The main themes of the story are to stop hiding your scars and just own them; also that you need to take charge of your own healing.  It's about moving past the things that have held your heart captive for so long.

Victuals : An Appalachian Journey (Ronni Lundy)
Victuals is an exploration of the foodways, people, and places of Appalachia. Written by Ronni Lundy, regarded as the most engaging authority on the region, the book guides us through the surprisingly diverse history--and vibrant present--of food in the Mountain South.  Victuals explores the diverse and complex food scene of the Mountain South through recipes, stories, traditions, and innovations. Each chapter explores a specific defining food or tradition of the region--such as salt, beans, corn (and corn liquor). The essays introduce readers to their rich histories and the farmers, curers, hunters, and chefs who define the region's contemporary landscape. Sitting at a diverse intersection of cuisines, Appalachia offers a wide range of ingredients and products that can be transformed using traditional methods and contemporary applications. Through 80 recipes and stories gathered on her travels in the region, Lundy shares dishes that distill the story and flavors of the Mountain South.

Having grown up in Appalachia (pronounced with a short 'a'), I can tell you that these stories are a true taste of home.  The recipes are an added bonus!  Mountain folk are hard-working, and occasionally hard-scrabble, people who work hard to eke a living out of the hills.  It's the most beautiful place you'll ever visit, and the recipes representing the area in this book are comprised of earthy, nutrient-rich whole foods.  They're not fancy; they're filling.  Just like the people who developed them.  There are several different types of recipes, and even a section on preservation, but it's the photographs that steal the show here!!

I Wish He Came with Instructions (Mike Bechtle)
When a woman begins a relationship with a man, she may think she's found her knight in shining armor. As the relationship continues, that armor can begin to feel like a barricade she just can't get past it. What's he hiding in there, anyway?  Relationship and communication expert Mike Bechtle offers women an insider's guide to the puzzling male brain. Simple and practical, this book provides women with a roadmap for better conversations and improved relationships. Bechtle reminds readers that men and women share many similarities, and by embracing those similarities they can better deal with differences. He explains how men think, act, communicate, and grow in relationships, and even offers tips for communicating in a toxic relationship.  Wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends, and coworkers will find real help within these pages.

I wasn't over the moon for this book.  Maybe it's because I have a background in counseling, and thus none of this was really new information, or maybe it's because most of my best friends have always been male.  The book is divided into sections based on how he thinks, how he acts, how he communicates, and how he grows.  There is also a section on why you should put effort into communicating with your man, instead of trying to change him.  The author makes no bones about the fact that this is a book about men with healthy relationship attitudes, and that if you are in a situation with an abusive or otherwise unhealthy-minded male, you will want to seek professional help.  If you're having trouble in a relationship or with communications in general, it could be a helpful read.  For me, however, there was nothing to be gained here other than some anecdotal incites.

Really Bad Girls of the Bible (Liz Curtis Higgs)

Eight of the Bible’s most notorious females strut across the pages of Really Bad Girls of the Bible with troubles that still hit home in the twenty-first century.   The Medium of En Dor crossed over to the dark side. Jael stood up to a ruthless enemy. TheAdulteress was caught between a rock and a hard place. Athaliah made a bid for power that ended badly. Bathsheba captured the wandering eye of a king. Herodias made a cruel request of her husband. Tamar exchanged her widow’s weeds for a harlot’s garb. And the Bleeding Woman had a serious health issue only a great physician could handle.  Really Bad Girls of the Bible shines a spotlight on God’s sovereignty, demonstrating one life-changing truth: God rules the lives of those He loves with mercy, compassion, and hope.   Includes Discussion Questions and a Study Guide

This is  Christian book, but with a really edgy feel - and it's great!  Not everyone is into 'everything is nice and the world is full of roses,' but are more into tattoos and rambunctiousness - this book is for them!  This book is well-written and very engaging - it will make you laugh out loud, and may even blush, at times.  But the point of the stories is that God's forgiveness overcomes everything.  This is a book for religious and non-religious folk alike.  Though the stories are from the Bible, it will engage anyone who likes a little edginess.

It's Not Fair (Melanie Dale)

Hey, you. Are you debating whether to destroy something with your bare hands or curl up on the couch for a decade or two?  This book will solve all of your problems. (Sheesh, that’s aiming a bit high.)  This book is a cup of hot coffee, a ginormous bar of chocolate, or the magical fairy that comes over and does your dishes while you lie in the fetal position clutching a fluffy pillow.  Sometimes when life falls apart the only acceptable response is hysterical laughter. When things get so far gone, so spectacularly a world away from any plans you made or dreams you dreamed, you feel it bubbling up inside of you and you scream, “It’s not fair!” And it isn’t. Fair is an illusion, and life is weird.  This book will help you laugh at life’s absurd backhands. This book is an empathetic groan of our collective unfairnesses. You might want to throw it across the room, and you might want to hug it like your new best friend. This book is about us sitting down together in our shared mess, taking a deep breath, gripping hands, looking the hard stuff in its beady little eyeballs, and bahahahaaing at it.  Life’s not fair, but we can learn to love this life we didn’t choose.

This is the kind of book that will make you laugh and cry at the same time.  Life _isn’t_ fair, and we’ve all experienced it to some degree…some of us more so than others, it would seem.  I loved this book so much – it’s full of truth, but blanketed with humor.  I review several books each year, but this was probably the most relevant one, and most-loved one, I’ve seen this year.  I loved it so much that I’ve actually passed it on to a friend who desperately could use its message right now.  Life sucks.  How you deal with that suckiness is your choice.  So wallow for a bit, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.  (yes, most of that is from a song…I like music)  I’m not going to spoil the book by telling you everything in it, but if you have scars – and who doesn’t? – then this might just be a good book for healing.

All Under Heaven (Carolyn Phillips)

A comprehensive, contemporary portrait of China's culinary landscape and the geography and history that has shaped it, with more than 300 recipes. Vaulting from ancient taverns near the Yangtze River to banquet halls in modern Taipei,All Under Heaven is the first cookbook in English to examine all 35 cuisines of China. Drawing on centuries' worth of culinary texts, as well as her own years working, eating, and cooking in Taiwan, Carolyn Phillips has written a spirited, symphonic love letter to the flavors and textures of Chinese cuisine. With hundreds of recipes--from simple Fried Green Onion Noodles to Lotus-Wrapped Spicy Rice Crumb Pork--written with clear, step-by-step instructions, All Under Heaven serves as both a handbook for the novice and a source of inspiration for the veteran chef.

At 524 pages, this book is HUGE – to the point of being overwhelming at first.  My biggest gripe with it is the lack of pictures.  There are drawings, but no color photographs, and I want to see what the dish I’m making is supposed to look like in the end.  However, this is more than a cookbook.  It is a cultural expedition, an entire course in Chinese history and culture taught through cooking, if you will.  And if you have trouble finding some (or many) of the ingredients, the author has included a glossary and buying guide – written in both English and Chinese.  This could be helpful when shopping in ethnic stores, as you know what to be looking for on the shelf.  The author creates five long chapters, divided by the five culinary regions of China - the Northeast, Yangtze River, Southeast Coast, Central Highlands, and the Northwest - before going into basic recipes, cooking tips, and shopping advice.  Each of the five regions is covered, with each one broken down into sub-regions, and there are some recipes provided for all of them.  It’s like….an entire collegiate level cultural / cooking course crammed into one book.  It’s overwhelming, with a bit too much information, yet decidedly not enough, all at once.  There is a little bit of everything, but not a lot of any one thing.  Think of this book as a survey course.  If you’re interested in Chinese cuisine, it’s a good jumping off point for you to figure out exactly which region your interests lie in, so that you may find another book and explore further that particular area.

I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own, and as you can see, I won't mince words...

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