Monthly Archives: January 2015

‘Girl Online’ by Zoe Sugg [ REVIEW ]

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One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!

‘Girl Online’ is the debut novel by Youtuber and blogger Zoe Sugg. As I enjoy watching her videos I expected to be entertained by the book, but wasn’t holding out for a great literary work because of Sugg’s inexperience. This is actually the second time I’ve read ‘Girl Online’ and I was just as impressed the second time around. Yes, the writing could be improved, but that will come in time- (because I hope she will write more!) What Sugg has presented is a classic teenage love story- with the added benefit of very real pertinent issues in our time.

Penny Porter is just a regular teenager living in Brighton, England. She – like many teenagers has pimples, feels pressure to ‘be cool,’ and has a crush on that popular guy. She’s dealing with anxiety brought on by a car accident she was in with her family. In order to get all of her feelings out she starts a blog under the name of ‘Girl Online’ and chronicles events from her life anonymously. There she is able to talk about her anxiety, clumsiness, embarrassments, as well as her feelings as she grows apart from her best (girl) friend. Her best (guy) friend Elliot, (who happens to be gay) helps her with her anxiety and is her rock until it becomes to much to hide. He is her ally at school where it seems anything embarrassing that could happen does- plus some!

Penny’s parents run a wedding shop in town and they are hired to organize a wedding in New York over Christmas. In New York, Penny meets Noah, the grandson of Sadie Lee who is the caterer for the wedding. Penny and Noah instantly click. By the end of the next day they are falling for each other. It’s fast yes- but this is a YA novel. All is normal. Penny’s parents are hired for another event closer to New Year’s so they are all to stay on. Penny is ecstatic as she will be able to spend more time (and Christmas!) with Noah, but Elliot has to go back home. Issues surrounding this plus Penny’s blog post about Noah before she could talk to Elliot put a strain on their relationship. Penny spends a wonderful extra week with Noah – by this time she knows he accepts her for who she is. He doesn’t judge her or laugh at her like some of the kids at school. He shares his fears and can cry in front of her. They are forming a connection, and although it is SO fast, Sugg makes it believable. When Penny and her parents have to head back home they ‘like each other so much it might even be love.’

Penny and Elliot make up when she gets home, and things are looking up until her old crush (the popular guy) comes by and says he finally likes her too. As she’s getting rid of him he recognizes a picture of Noah that Penny has taken and then it all comes out that Noah is actually a new, fairly well-known singer and supposedly has a superstar girlfriend. Penny is inevitably crushed. How could Noah have lied to her? What happens next is my favorite part of the book. *Somehow* it comes out that Penny has been seeing Noah and her blog and identity are exposed. Sugg details how the internet blows up and how the hate that Penny receives effects her. An embarrassing video of Penny surfaces, gossip mags want to pay her money for her 15 seconds of fame, and worst of all she has disappointed the fans of her blog. It’s a very real look at the dirty underbelly of the internet shown by someone who has seen it all. Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, currently has over seven million subscribers on her YouTube channel alone.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, but it wraps up in what I consider to be a pretty perfect way. We have closure, Penny has a new found confidence and she hears Noah’s side of the story. Although the writing is amateurish, it does not distract from the book at all. I actually think it adds to the story. Penny’s growth over the course of the book is very inspiring to read- I imagine especially for young girls. She goes from being wracked with anxiety and fear to being comfortable in her own skin, and happy with her looks because it is what makes her special. This book manages to tackle so many issues like anxiety, loss of friendship, bullying,  homosexuality, teenage love, and the bad side of the internet with grace and understanding. In the end I’m entertained, inspired, and I want to know what happens next. I for one hope Sugg writes a sequel because we all need to hear the rest of Penny and Noah’s story. She should be proud of her first novel, it is a brilliant debut.

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Click here to see my goals for 2015

You can also see my goals for 2014, 2013, 2012 and my bucket list!

 

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‘The Bone Season’ by Samantha Shannon [ REVIEW ]

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One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!

I first found out about “The Bone Season” by Samantha Shannon in a recommended list of books which proclaimed it to be the “next Harry Potter.” A tall order, but if any book is supposedly similar to my favorite book series I’m sold! After reading it I don’t get the resemblance to ‘Harry Potter’ but I do think the book has some similarities with “The Hunger Games,” (another good series).

“The Bone Season” is set in London in the year 2059, 200 years after a totalitarian government has taken over.  The government Scion exists to root out clairvoyants from the streets of London and surrounding areas (like Ireland) that they have taken over. “Voyants” are outlawed: imprisoned, executed, or bound to serve for thirty years on a police force, tracking their own kind before being euthanized. The book’s main character, Paige Mahoney, works as a “mollisher,” she is a protegee of Jaxon, the leader (‘mime lord’) of the Seven Seals criminal gang. “I was a hacker of sorts,” she says of herself. “Not a mind reader, exactly; more a mind radar …” Paige is arrested for a murder she accidentally committed with her mind (she is a dreamwalker, the highest order of the clairvoyants), and is taken to a penal colony. It is called Sheol 1 and is located at Oxford University, (where Shannon graduated from in 2013). The government is secretly run by a supernatural race called the Rephaim who have their base at Sheol 1. The Rephs- as Paige calls them, take the most promising human voyant slaves to Sheol 1 in once-a-decade harvests they call “bone seasons.” Paige happens to be picked up the night of the harvest.

At Sheol 1, Paige is claimed for training by a Reph she calls Warden. He is to prepare her to pass tests in order to become a red-jacket, part of a battalion risking death and mutilation to defend Oxford – and consequently London- against the terrifying Emim — “mindless, bestial creatures with a taste for human flesh” — who live outside Oxford’s walls. Once she moves into Warden’s quarters at Magdalen, she discovers he has a clandestine life, and a mysterious kind streak. Paige is quickly recognized for her abilities as a dreamwalker, but also for her physical abilites. She is scrappy, a fighter, and much more resilient than her fellow prisoners. Nashira, the Blood-sovereign of the Rephaim has a special interest in Paige- she wants to kill her and claim her powers for her own.

At first jumping into this book is terribly confusing- the world with all of its details that Shannon has created is so different it mentally takes some catching up to. But if you go with it and keep digging you get hooked. The book is terrific—intelligent, inventive, dark, and engrossing enough to keep me up late to finish. Shannon has a remarkable talent for world-building and character relationships. But her most sublime creation is the complex, ever evolving, scrappy and touching Paige Mahoney. Shannon illuminates Paige’s growing awareness of the new world she inhabits and the moral choices she faces with great empathy. She emphasizes Paige’s endearing unwillingness to submit, which draws her into danger time and again. Paige struggles to understand her gift which seems most powerful when she is defending herself to the death. She dreams and plans of escape. She fights bravely to survive. She protects her friends, the weak and even her trainer Warden. Paige is a credible hero. I want her to win. I want to read the next book in the seven book series. And with that, Shannon has me hooked.

four_half-stars_0

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Click here to see my goals for 2015

You can also see my goals for 2014, 2013, 2012 and my bucket list!

 

Happy National Pie Day!

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The Upper Crust in downtown Overland Park, Kansas is the perfect place to head to on National Pie Day. But really, who needs an excuse to get pie? Any day is a good day for pie. The only problem is deciding which flavor to eat!! The Upper Crust is homey, smells like pie heaven, and sells pie merch along with full and mini pies and cookies! They have tables for dining in and cute little boxes to take your pie to go.

Today felt like a peach pie day to me. Trust me, it is TO. DIE. FOR.

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‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell Review

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One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!

‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell (what a name by the way!) is a novel about a teenage relationship between the title characters. It is August of 1986 in Omaha, NE, and we see the progression of their relationship and their characters over the course of the school year. They are both misfits- Eleanor being the new girl, overweight and with her unruly bright red hair. Park, although he grew up with the popular kids is still very different in choice of music, dress and the fact that he is Korean. Eleanor has a very strained and awful home life. She has returned to live with her mother and step father and four siblings after she was kicked out of the house by her stepfather (who was not yet her stepfather at the time). The stepfather is abusive physically to her mother and mentally to the children. Park has a much more ‘normal’ home life. His father met his mother while serving in the Korean war, and Park feels as though he will never live up to his father’s expectations for him. Each one of the characters we see in the book has real flaws.  Rowell creates two characters that, if not relatable, the reader is at least sympathetic for.

This is a YA novel, which is often criticized or looked down upon for what is at the very core of it- the need for recognizing and validating the dramatic ebbs and flows of adolescence. There is no shortage of adolesence angst in ‘Eleanor & Park’, but it went deeper than that. There was a feeling that they understood that young love usually does not last, but they wanted to move beyond what their lack of experience could support. They were finding love in the midst of very real adult conditions – especially in the area of Eleanor’s home life. They were brave and desperate enough to try to make their relationship last. Both Eleanor and Park felt like misfits in all aspects of their lives, but together they made each other feel worthy of affection, even though they could never get to a point where they understood why the other cared for them.

‘Eleanor & Park’ is February’s book of the month for my online book club. For all of its good qualities- the writing itself certainly being one of them- it fell short of where I wanted it to go or maybe just what I wanted it to be. It was sweet in places, had some hilarious 80’s cultural references, and had several good themes, but most were not fulfilled to my satisfaction. For example, the bullying that Eleanor endures is only partially addressed in the end. Topics of teenage drinking, drug usage, and sexual orientation is not addressed by the author. Also, the issues that come with Eleanor’s step father and her home life are never truly examined or dealt with. Another problem I had with the book was that I couldn’t help but compare it to ‘Twilight’. It was fairly distracting- however I could see why they were similar. They are all misfits, meet in a similar fashion, go through angst in not wanting to be close/being overly interested, becoming slightly obsessed with one another, etc, etc. Some might cry fowl- ‘but that’s what makes it a YA book!’ – perhaps that is true. They just seemed overtly similar… minus the glimmering vampire boyfriend and werewolf best friend.

In the end, I recognize the merit of this book, and why it was a New York Times Bestseller. I just wish there was a little more ‘meat on the bone.’

3-stars-out-of-5

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Click here to see my goals for 2015

You can also see my goals for 2014, 2013, 2012 and my bucket list!

 

‘Gifted Hands’ by Ben Carson, M.D. Review

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!

One of my friends found ‘Gifted Hands’ by Ben Carson, M.D. on an airplane, and after reading it then and there loved it and mentioned how great it was. I purchased it for my grandmother for Christmas, and she told me she couldn’t put it down. That was it, I had to read it too. Let me just say- this book is so good. Not only could I also not put it down, but it was an easy, quick and very entertaining read. The best part is Ben’s story. He chronicles his childhood growing up in inner-city Detroit up to his position as director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institutions at age thirty-three. He tells of how hard he worked, his drive to be the best he could be, how supportive his mother was, and his deep faith that drove him in everything.

I have taken several things away after reading ‘Gifted Hands’. One thing I will detail here stems from how Ben’s mother would only let him and his brother watch three television programs a week, and how they had to read two books a week. The knowledge that Ben gained from that push from a loving mother who wanted her sons to accomplish all they could resonates with me. This is something I would like to implement in my future home with my future children. At the same time, this has inspired me to get back to my roots of reading. I actually do read a lot, but when I was young I would leave the library with a stack of books at least twenty strong. I grew up in the library and around literature, and I miss it. I can’t promise that I’ll read two books a week because after all I do have a job and a crazy puppy. However, I did join a book club, dusted off my library card, and collected a pile of books I have purchased and not read yet. So you can expect many more book reviews!

I was surprised to flip to the front of the book as I often do to discover that the original copyright is dated from 1990! I then looked up Ben Carson to see what he has been up to in the 15 years since the book was published. Big shocker (not)- he is now running for President of the United States! This book was inspirational, and has given me a renewed drive in different aspects of my life. That may sound dramatic and sentamental, but it is true. Please, pick up this book – you will not regret it! five-stars-624x145

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Click here to see my goals for 2015

You can also see my goals for 2014, 2013, 2012 and my bucket list!

 

30 by 30: Trip to #26 Nevada

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One of my goals for 2015 is to visit 30 states by the time I turn 30.  It all started as an idea from a friend. The purpose is mainly just getting out there, making memories, and experiencing more of what  America has to offer. I have until September 9th, 2015 to complete this goal, so I better get traveling!! Pack your road trip gear and come along for the ride!

I had two layovers in the Las Vegas, Nevada airport on January 12th. While I spent my time only at the airport, the 30 by 30 ruling committee (me) says that it still counts as a new state to check off my list. Once you’ve eaten their food, shopped in their stores and used their facilities, you are in the system. The most incredible experience there came as we were leaving from our first layover. As we were taking off I was seated in the perfect spot to get a birds-eye-view of the strip. It was amazing to soar right around and the over it. The pictures don’t do it justice, you have to see it yourself!

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On the second layover, I couldn’t leave Vegas without gambling for the first time. I went in with $1, and left with just a smile. No regrets, it was fun!

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There’s something special about Nevada I could sense, I will have to go back and explore beyond just the airport. The lights are calling!

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That’s 26 down, four states to go!

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The states I have now been to are:

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Click here to read about my other 30 by 30 adventures: Indiana,

Click here to see my 2015 manifesto.

You can also check out my 2014, 2013, and 2012 goals- or my bucket list!

Happy New Year/My Goals for 2015!!

Looking back on 2014 it has been a year of growth, new friends and lots of memories! I am looking forward to another year of learning, growing and helping others in 2015. A big thank you for coming along on the ride with me- and a big thank you to those who will be my partners in crime completing some of these goals with me!

2015 Manifesto

Write/Illustrate and (self?) publish a book

Read the Bible all the way through

Get back to my goal weight (aka loose my ‘freshman fifteen’) and get fit!

Go to a museum I’ve never been to before

Conduct an experiment- live one week of my life according to the popular page on Pinterest: clothes, make up, food, crafts, lifestyle, cleaning, etc. etc. etc.

Take part in a flash mob

Explore the ‘tourist traps’ of my home state of Kansas

Have my DNA tested to confirm our knowledge/suspicions of our family genealogy and to help with creating my family tree

Create my family tree

Nurture my green thumb: 1. Make a Harry Potter themed miniature garden, and 2. Make a Lord of the Rings themed miniature garden

Go geocaching

Take a cooking class

Read “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons” before the “Game of Thrones” season 5 premier.

Get a another dog!

Learn how to letter press print

Go ziplining

Make a budget for my finances

Go tubing in the snow

30 before 30- visit 30 of the US states before my 30th birthday on September 9. I have 6 more to visit!

 

Check out my past yearly goals- 2012, 2013, and 2014– and my bucket list!