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Book Review: Storm Born by Richelle Mead (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck)

March 17, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: Storm Born by Richelle Mead (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck)Summary:
Eugenia Markham is a shaman who spends her time sending the fae back to their own world.  She hates the fae both for trespassing into our world and for kidnapping women into their own.  When fae start referring to her by her given name, rather than her working name, she becomes concerned something is awry.  What she discovers is a prophecy that will change everything.

Review:
I picked this up because I love Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series (review) so much.  I wish any of the summaries I read of the book had even hinted at one of the big plot points, as I think how a reader responds to that plot point will dictate how much they enjoy the series overall.

Without revealing too much, early on in the book, fae start showing up and attempting to rape Eugenie.  She finds out that there is a prophecy that her child will be the one to bring about large changes in the land of the fae.  (This is not particularly a spoiler, it is revealed early on and there are even more plot twists later on to complicate this).  What this means for the reader is that our main character must repeatedly physically fight off would-be rapists.  If I had realized this was such a key plot point, I would not have personally picked up this book, and I think there are probably quite a few other readers who would be similarly bothered by this repeated scene of our heroine trying to fight off rapists.  To be clear, this is not one single solitary incident.  It is one of the main repeated problems for this character.  Fae keep trying to rape her.

Another plot line is that the fae are known for kidnapping and raping young (this is specified, young, as in early to mid teens) human women.  Because the fae have fertility problems.  In fact, the case that Eugenie takes on early in the book is trying to save a teenaged girl who has been kidnapped by the fae.  Eugenie normally doesn’t go into the land of the fae in a corporeal form (she does send her spirit via astral projection), but she agrees to in this case because she is so bothered by the knowledge that this teenage girl is facing a lifetime of rape.

These are just two non-spoiler examples of the rape plots, and there is at least one more that I won’t reveal as it’s a big spoiler.  Readers who for whatever reason do not want to read either about rapes occurring off-screen or about the threat of rape or about a woman repeatedly having to physically fight off rapists should not pick this book up.  These are key and frequent plot points in this book.

Having said this, I do not judge the book for including these plot points.  Rape is a part of some fae mythology, and the author has every right to include it in an urban fantasy book based in fae mythology.  I also think the author handles the inclusion of the rape and threatened rape well.  Rape is never excused, rapists are denounced, and there are some fae characters who state they would never have sex with a human female who hasn’t consented.  The author has a valid reason for including the rape plots, and she handles them well.  I simply wish that it was clearer from the official book blurb what a large role rape plays in this book, and thus, in my review, I am being certain to be clear for potential readers the extent of rape plot points in this book.

So what about the rest of the book?  Eugenie is mostly what one expects from an urban fantasy heroine.  She is strong, talented, wears her hair short and hates dresses.  She has a questionable roommate and a cover story of being some sort of private investigator.  What makes Eugenie unique in urban fantasy is that she is a shaman trained by her step-father, and the only really supernatural humanoids in her world are the fae and some mythological shapeshifters from other cultures (think of Japanese myth’s shifters).  Don’t come to this series looking for vampires and werewolves.  You won’t find them.  The fantastical world of this book is simply that there is another world of fae, and sometimes they cross over into ours.

The prophecy at the center of the book has more to it than it originally seems, and the plot twists are surprising and exciting.  Yes, many urban fantasy books revolve around a prophecy that has our heroine at the center, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that’s more about the heroine’s child than the heroine herself.

As is to be expected, Eugenie has two potential love interests, a half kitsune (shape shifting fox) half human man and a fae.  Personally, I didn’t like either of her love interests.  One is too bourgeois/royal, and the other is too macho for my taste.  But I can see how other readers would enjoy one or the other or both of them and appreciate Eugenie’s difficulty in deciding who has her heart.

The audiobook narration by Jennifer Van Dyck starts out a bit awkward and gets better with time.  For the first half or so of the book, her narration can sometimes be a bit stilted. She almost sounds like she’s reading lists.  She pauses at odd times.  Also, her voice sometimes comes across as elderly, which doesn’t suit the tone of the book.  For the most part, though, the narration doesn’t detract too much from the book, it simply doesn’t elevate it either.

Overall, this is an entry in the urban fantasy genre that sticks closely to the well-loved trope of a strong, non-girly woman battling supernatural forces while also adding on some unique elements, such as a prophecy about her future child and sticking to the fae of mythology.  Readers should be aware that attempted rape and rapes occurring off-screen feature frequently in the book.  The plot itself is twisting and exciting, with enough unique elements to keep regular readers of urban fantasy engaged.  Recommended to urban fantasy fans looking for a universe that sticks more closely to the traditional mythical depiction of the fae world and who don’t mind the inclusion of rape and attempted rape in the plot of the book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Ticker by Lisa MantchevSummary:
Penny Farthing, member of the wealthy elite, is full of tons of energy she mostly uses to ride her motorized high wheel bicycle and collect robotic butterflies.  Unfortunately, her clockwork heart doesn’t always entirely keep up with her. Plus she has to wind it.  Much more troubling to her, though, is the fact that the creator of her clockwork heart, Calvin Warwick, is now on trial for murdering dozens of people he abducted from the street to practice on before giving her her new heart.  When there is an explosion at her family’s factory and Warwick escapes prison immediately after being found guilty of murder (oh, and her parents disappear), Penny and her twin brother and two of their closest friends embark on a journey of intrigue to bring her parents home and Warwick to justice.

Review:
I rarely am actually interested in anything in the Kindle First email (a once-monthly email that informs Kindle owners as to four books they can access ahead of publication for free).  I am also not often into most steampunk books.  It’s an idea I love, but I often find isn’t executed as well as it should be.  When this one popped up, though, I was intrigued for its transhumanist explorations.  The book definitely explores the concept of transhumanism via the steampunk idea of augmentation, but it mostly is a story about a young girl’s first love and a bit of a mystery/thriller search for a murderer.

The basic premise that a teenager finds out that the medical device that saved her life was the result of the brutal torture and murder of dozens of people is awesome.  This is a more extreme version of the types of realizations that young adults often have.  (For instance, I will never forget the first time I realized that sometimes scientists must experiment on innocent animals in the pursuit of cures and the ethical quandary that resulted for me).  It works quite well because it is set in an alternate universe.  This allows the reader to have some distance to view the ethical issue through but the alternate universe is still similar enough to our own that it is relatable.  Penny is always firmly against any unwilling human experimentation (as she should be) but she is left wondering how much responsibility and guilt she should feel for the tortures and murders when she herself was indirectly responsible.  She is so grateful to be not only alive but able to function better than she could before.  But she is also traumatized at the thought of how she got there.  This is the book’s real strength, and I am glad it is out there for the YA audience to read.  That said, there are other elements of the book that just don’t quite work for me.

First, the level of steampunk is sometimes a bit ridiculous and isn’t explained well enough.  For instance, the world seems to have only robotic butterflies and horses.  Why is that?  For that matter, it’s deeply confusing to me why this culture would develop a robotic horse and carriage, particularly when they also have motorized bicycles (I won’t call them motorcycles, because they definitely are not nearly so eloquent nor sexy as motorcycles).  It’s not a far leap to car from there.  The reasons behind the steampunk features are simply never explored.  They just are.  This may be fine to some readers, but I found it dissatisfying.  I particularly really needed to know why the animals are robots.

Second, the society Penny lives in is clearly meant to be a parallel to the British Empire in its heyday.  It is highly stratified, classist, regal, and feels oppressive (except for Penny and her family of course *eye-roll*).  I have no problem with a book containing this type of society but it is not only never questioned it seems to be held up as an excellent way of living.  It’s great that the military just jumps right on in and solves everyone’s problems (including abducting civilians up to their sky fort).  It’s oh so wonderful that Penny’s family has all this wealth.  It’s tragic for Penny’s family that they lose some product in the factory explosion but the workers and their injuries and lives are barely touched upon.  It ends up feeling like whenever any of the elite people in the book (and most of the main and secondary characters are elite, with the exception of one young girl who is saved from her poor destitute life by the military) discusses anything bad about being the lower class, they do so in a “See, I’m a good person because I care about them” tone but not out of any sincerity.  None of them have any desire to actually change or fix anything.  Indeed, one of the main characters excitedly jumps right in when they are asked to become an honorary member of the military.  The book has the tone that the only thing wrong with this alternate universe is the fact that Warwick is a very bad man who experiments on people he snatched from the street.  Everything else is fine!  When it clearly is not.

Finally, I just don’t particularly care for the main character, Penny Farthing.  First there’s her name, which is exactly the same as the name of the style of bicycle she rides (only motorized) (info on the penny farthing).  That’s just a bit too cutesy for me.  Second, she is a person who is oblivious to her privilege of wealth and access to medical care, even when it is smacking her in the face.  She never learns, changes, or grows (beyond falling in love).  She briefly realizes “hey, maybe things have been rough on my twin brother too,” but she glosses over that quite quickly.  She also eats incessantly in a way that reminds me very much of The Gilmore Girls (here is a great article that talks about why this trope is annoying as hell).  Basically, she eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants, primarily junk food, and everyone finds it “oh so adorable” that she is constantly hungry.  Oh that Penny Farthing!  And she does this all while staying the classic western media ideal of what is attractive!  Without working out! So basically she never does that annoying thing women can sometimes do which is to eat a salad and never eat a burger because she’s watching her figure (which men find annoying) but she also is definitely not fat (which men also find annoying).  She is the best of both worlds.  In Penny’s case, this mystery is explained as the fact that she needs to eat to keep her clockwork heart going.  The “science” of that drives me absolutely batty, by the way.  My best guess is that the author was possibly going for the idea of how some people, such as people with diabetes, need to eat at evenly spaced times to keep their blood sugar even.  However, no one would tell a person with diabetes to eat primarily sugary baked goods at those intervals, which is what Penny mostly eats.  Also, diabetes does not equal heart disease so…..the “science” of this makes very little sense.  It reads as an excuse to use the Gilmore Girls junk food trope.  Finally, it really bothers me that she collects the robotic butterflies.  Yes, I know people do this in the real world with real butterflies, but it has always struck me as cruel, and I think it says a lot about her character that she seems so cool with trapping what in her world are perceived of as essentially living creatures for her own amusement and collection.

All of that said, the plot and mystery of Warwick, his escape, and finding Penny’s parents is fast-paced and unpredictable without ever verging into the land of plots that make no sense.  It’s an interesting world with an engaging plot built around a cool premise.  Where it is weak is primarily in the elements that were either not sufficiently well thought-out, explored, or explained, such as the robotic animals, the functioning of Penny’s heart, etc…

Overall, this has an interesting premise and an engaging plot.  It unfortunately doesn’t explore the workings of the society or the steampunk it has created enough, and the main character can be a bit annoying and hard to root for at times.  However, those who love steampunk with a dash of mystery and romance will likely enjoy adding it to their repertoire, provided they are ok with the issues outlined above.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon Kindle First (Free copy of the book provided by Amazon to those with kindles who request it.  Requesters are under no obligation to provide a review).

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Book Review: Livin’ Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #2)

March 7, 2015 1 comment

Book Review: Livin' Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #2)Summary:
It’s Halloween, and Pali Moon, Maui’s wedding planner, is happy to be back to planning a normal wedding after her adventures earlier in the year.  Even if she’s being sent out on Halloween night to Lahaina to look for a bridesmaid who’s gone missing.  Pali expects to find her drunk and lost, but what she finds instead is her ponytail in the backseat of her car.  Cut off.  Pali is very worried about the missing bridesmaid, but no one else–not the bride, groom, or even the police–seem to care.  When she starts getting threatening messages, Pali decides it’s up to her to figure out just how much danger the bridesmaid is in.

Review:
This second entry in this near cozy-style mystery series finds the reader again following a wedding Pali is planning gone criminal.

Perhaps some would expect every entry in a mystery series about a wedding planner to involve some wedding going haywire.  I suppose that’s fair, although personally I would prefer the source of the mystery to be a bit more shaken up.  Something like maybe Pali’s neighbor in the business district going missing, and Pali having to still manage to plan a big wedding while investigating the missing neighbor.  However, I can see how some readers would enjoy the predictability of “wedding gone awry” as a mystery plot.  In fact, it’s probably a mystery niche I was previously unaware of.  Potential readers should know, though, to expect the “wedding gone awry” plot from this series.

Even if readers are ok with the “wedding gone awry” idea being brought back in the second entry, how it goes awry could perhaps be executed a bit more uniquely.  In the first book, a groom is missing.  In the second book, a bridesmaid is missing.  The mystery would read quite differently if, for instance, the bridesmaid winds up dead at the bachelorette party, and Pali has to help clear the bride’s name in time for her wedding.  That at least wouldn’t be a missing person all over again.

That said, the reason behind the missing bridesmaid, and the plot that goes along with it is quite different from the first book.  Once the reader gets past the first 1/3 of the book or so, things definitely do start to develop differently.  The plot particularly surprised me at the end, again, in a way that seemed plausible and logical.  I just wish the beginning had been more unique.

Pali’s characterization continues along the same way as the first book.  If you liked her in the first, you’ll like her here.  If you didn’t, you won’t.

The romance plot is also quite similar to the first book.  Pali is still waffling between two men and doing a rather bad job of handling it in an adult-like manner.  Again, if you enjoyed the romance in the first book, you’ll enjoy it here.  If you didn’t, you won’t.

The setting is still as lovely as in the first book.  Hawaii and its culture are beautifully depicted.  It’s easy to feel swept away to Hawaii when reading this book.

Overall, this mystery has a plot that starts quite similar to the plot in the first book but that is saved by a drastically different ending and reasons behind the missing person.  The main character and romance continue to be a bit ho-hum, but if readers enjoyed them in the first book, they will enjoy them here.  Recommended primarily to those who greatly liked the first book in the series.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Maui Widow Waltz, review

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)

March 3, 2015 7 comments

Book Review: Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #1)Summary:
Maui wedding planner Pali Moon wouldn’t normally accept a last-minute request to plan a wedding when the groom is lost at sea, but the client wants to pay cash, and she is in debt up to her ears.  Plus, the bride assures Pali that the groom’s best friend will stand in as his proxy if the groom hasn’t been found by the wedding date.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, when a body washes up on shore….it turns out, a lot.

Review:
This would be a cozy mystery if it offered any type of recipes or patterns in the back, as it is, think of it as a light-hearted mystery with very little blood and some steamy kissing scenes.  The story transports the reader to Hawaii with lovely described settings and keeps the reader there with an intriguing plot.

A wedding planner in Hawaii is just an interesting job to begin with.  Plus, Pali has a bit of mystery to her.  She admits from the very beginning that Pali isn’t her name, but the reader never finds out (in this entry in the series anyway) what her real name is.  Why is she keeping it a secret?  Plus, Pali’s friends (and enemies) are an interesting bunch.  Her Native best friend who also runs the general store and officiates weddings is a breath of fresh air to the story. Her gay roommate may feel a bit expected at this point, but the author keeps him from verging too far into stereotype and gives of a hint of the three dimensions he could have in future installments.  The bad guys may veer a bit toward caricature sometimes, but that lends the book part of its humor and lack of tension that is key to this type of mystery.

The mystery and plot consist of two main points of conflict.  First, Pali is at risk of losing her business.  Second, the missing groom and the bride’s family may not be precisely what they appear.  This lends some realness to the character.  She has more going on than this mystery that fell in her lap.  It also gives her a reason for accepting a client who has a clear iffy feeling about them.  That said, the will she or won’t she hold onto her business lacks some real tension, as it’s fairly clear that Pali will figure a way out of losing her business.  With the missing groom conflict, while we know Pali will probably be safe, since she’s the main character, the rest of the characters are basically up for grabs for danger.  This gives it just enough tension to stay interesting but not be stressful.  Similarly, this plot was more well-written, with some unexpected yet believable twists.  It also takes into consideration the local laws of Hawaii, so events stayed grounded in the real world.

The romance consists of two potential love interests.  I am always a bit turned off when a main character has two people interested in them.  It will never not feel a bit fake to me.  However, the two potential love interests are handled in a balanced and modern way.  Neither is the clear “right choice,” and readers could easily prefer one over the other while still liking the main character with either.

I also would like to mention that there is a good minor plot involving characters revealing that they are alcoholics who have been in recovery for a while.  It’s good to see people with a mental illness that they have worked on and are actively managing in a positive way.  I appreciate this diversity being included in this book.

Given all of these positives, why is it only an average read for me?  There was nothing unexpected for this type of mystery. It is very similar to others I have read in the genre.  Additionally, the main character can kind of rub me the wrong way sometimes.  How she handles her love interests is not as up-front as it should be.  It is also unclear as to how she managed to get herself into so much debt.  It seems she might just be bad at balancing books but all for taking favors from friends.  Similarly, she’s a white woman, albeit raised in Hawaii, but she goes by a Native name and never explains why, beyond the fact that she doesn’t like her own name.  Add to this the fact that the romance didn’t really work for me, and this is why I consider this a rather average read.  It may be more than average for you, if these factors I have named are not an issue for you.

Overall, this is a light-hearted mystery that transports the reader to the tropical island of Maui.  Some readers may be a bit turned off by the main character or the romance secondary plot.  Those who enjoy a non-tense mystery set in a tropical locale will most likely enjoy the read, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)

February 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)Summary:
Captain Kirk and his nemesis from the mirror universe, Tiberius Kirk, pair up to hunt down the preservers, orbs left by some more intelligent race.  Kirk is teaming up with Tiberius because Tiberius holds the key to saving his wife’s and unborn son’s lives.  Their quest will reveal hidden secrets about the universe.

Review:
This is the second audiobook my fiancé and I listened to on our road trip to and from Michigan.  We listened to the previous book in the series, Dark Victory (review), on the drive out.  We listened to this one on the drive back.  (Each direction is a 13 hour drive).  Whereas the previous book kept us entertained and awake for our road trip, this one left us confused and concerned we might actually be drifting off into sleep periodically, because it made so little sense.  (For the record, we were not drifting off into sleep. This book just makes very little sense).

All of the audiobook qualities that were great about the previous book stay great here.  Shatner’s narration alternates between hilariously good and hilariously bad but mostly is just hilariously Shatner.  The sound effects continue to be stellar and one of my favorite parts of the book.  It continues to feel like listening to a Star Trek movie as a radio show, and that it was kept me going through it.

The plot, however, just makes very little sense and seems to fall apart.  Whereas in the previous book a continuing plot point is Shatner’s ruined hands, in this one it’s Shatner’s unborn (and then born) son who is all kinds of genetically messed up thanks to the poison in his mother’s system from the cloned children of Tiberius.  (Are you confused yet?)  This could possibly make for an interesting plot, but it’s dropped frequently to pursue the other plot about the preserver orb things.  We read this book and both fiancé and I are still unclear as to precisely what the orbs mean.  We’re not even sure if they’re good or bad.  This is how confusing the plot is, I can’t even properly sum it up for you folks.  In spite of the plot being really confusing, there are still some fun scenes, such as when Kirk meets his son for the first time.  It’s a short audiobook, so I’m not unhappy I listened to it, even if I mostly only understood the Kirk’s son plot.

Overall, while this provides very little clear closure to the plot point set up earlier in the trilogy, it does feature the birth of Kirk’s son and all the fun of listening to a radio show version of a Star Trek movie.  If you liked the previous books in the trilogy and don’t mind a confusing plot, you’ll enjoy finishing up the trilogy.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Spectre
Dark Victory, review

Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

February 3, 2015 4 comments

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen AbbottSummary:
Abbott looks at the little discussed role of women in the Civil War by highlighting the lives of four different women spies, two with loyalties to the South and two to the North.  By following their lives through the Civil War, Abbott demonstrates the critical role women played in the Civil War that is too often silenced.

Review:
Doing Dewey’s review of this book landed it on my wishlist, and I was really pleased to receive it for Christmas.  It was everything I’d expected it to be.  A look at the Civil War through a women’s history perspective and told in an easy to follow style with lots of respect for the historical source material.

Abbott notes at the beginning of the book that she only uses quotation marks around information she is directly quoting from source material.  I knew from that second forward I was going to enjoy this work of nonfiction, because too often authors stray either too far toward hearsay and imagining how people felt or too far toward distancing themselves from anything other than the driest facts.  Abbott beautifully switches among the four different women, following the timeline of the Civil War and telling their stories simultaneously.  This lends a clearer perspective on the Civil War than I had before.  It puts a humanizing eye on real events.

So who are the four women highlighted in this book?  On the side of the North, there’s Emma Edmonds, who had already been living as a man to escape a marriage being forced upon her by her family.  Emma enlisted as a Union soldier and soon wound up spying for them — pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman to cross the lines.  There’s also Elizabeth Van Lew and her freed slave Mary Bowser in Richmond who worked together to spy on the Confederate president.  On the side of the South there’s Rose O’Neale Greenhow, a socialite in DC who used her affairs with Northern politicians to spy.  There is also Belle Boyd, a boisterous woman at first more interested in notoriety than in helping any cause but whose loyalty to the South became ever more strong.

This book makes it clear that women made ideal spies thanks to sexism.  The men of the North and South both viewed women as the “delicate sex” that would never actually participate in anything so soiled as war, so when they attempted to cross the lines, they would be let through without being searched.  The more high class a woman, the more protection she was afforded, so even though women were under suspicion, they were always treated better than men under the same suspicion.  For instance, Belle Boyd was caught red-handed as a spy once.  The penalty for a man would be death, but she was sent to prison and then later paroled and sent back to the South, basically with a slap on the wrist and demand she not do that again.  Another example, in the case of Elizabeth Van Lew,

For now, at least, her social position and gender served as her most convincing disguise. No one would believe that a frail, pampered spinster was capable of plotting treasonous acts, let alone carrying them out right under the government’s nose. (page 47)

Abbott does a good job of presenting the reality of these women’s lives and their politics matter-of-factly with little judgment from the future.  The women are allowed to basically speak for themselves, and the reader can ultimately decide how they feel about them.  Abbott maintains the historic feel by referring to African-Americans as “Negroes.”  This may bother some readers, and they should be aware to expect it.

The only element of the book that disappointed me was how the author handled Mary Bowser.  First, this woman is not one of the four featured in the book description or the title, and yet she served as a spy inside the Confederacy presidential household.  Mary Bowser was freed from slavery at a young age by Van Lew’s family.  The Van Lew’s sent her North to be educated and kept her on in the household as a free servant.  When Elizabeth heard that Confederate President Davis’s household needed more servants, she talked to Mary about her serving there.  This educated and highly intelligent woman (she was rumored to have a photographic memory) proceeded to pretend to be the stupid, subservient person the Davises were expecting through their racism, and thus was able to do things like dust President Davis’s desk and memorize upcoming troop movements to report later.  It was thanks to her work in conjunction with Elizabeth, who organized how to get the information out of the South to the North, that the Union was able to know so many of the Confederacy moves ahead of time.  Yet, she is not featured as one of the four main women in the book.  She is not listed as one of the women spies. The end of her life after the Civil War is not mentioned, not even to say whether or not Abbott was able to find any information about her.  For a book highlighting the lives of those often erased from history, writing Mary as Elizabeth’s sidekick was quite disappointing.

The book ends by telling the reader what ultimately happened in these women’s lives after the Civil War.  It’s a bit of a sad note, particularly for the Union women who fought for freedom and yet wound up with little of it themselves.

At last Elizabeth retreated, withdrawing entirely from public life. She had no target for her ferocious will. Her one political act was to attach a note of “solemn protest” to her annual tax payment, declaring it unjust to tax someone who was denied the vote. (page 426)

Overall, this book covers the history of the Civil War from the unique women’s history perspective of women spies.  Those looking for an engaging alternate way to learn about Civil War history will enjoy this book and learning about the women who had an impact on history.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! by Jillian Michaels and Mariska Van Aalst

January 17, 2015 Leave a comment

cover_masterSummary:
Jillian Michaels became famous for being a personal trainer on The Biggest Loser, a show she has since left.  In addition to being a personal trainer, she is also a woman with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), an illness that messes with hormones and often makes the sufferer gain weight due to these hormonal problems.  Jillian, with the help of her doctor, takes her years of experience both dealing with her own hormonal issues and training others with them and offers up advice on how to adjust your diet and lifestyle to optimize your hormonal balance for easier health and weight loss.

Review:
Despite its title, this book primarily focuses on achieving health through making permanent changes to your lifestyle, advocating a gradual overhaul with the focus on improving health, with weight loss as a side bonus.

The book opens with an introduction from Dr. Christine Darwin.  It then moves to Jillian giving a brief introduction to her own health journey.  It was fascinating to learn about how she became a trainer in her late teens, got her job on The Biggest Loser, and was diagnosed with PCOS.  This lends a personal touch to the entire book.  Jillian isn’t “naturally fit.” She works hard at it and has an illness that actually makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.  This book is honest about the fact that achieving fitness is varying levels of difficult for people, but also takes a no-nonsense, if you want health you’ll fight for it, attitude.  That attitude may rub some readers the wrong way, but I appreciate it.

The book next tackles explaining how your biochemistry impacts your health and weight and why it’s therefore important to keep them balanced.  Readers who enjoy knowing the why’s behind certain bits of health advice (such as keeping your stress levels low, getting enough sleep, not eating after 9pm) will particularly enjoy this section, as it explains the biochemistry behind this advice.  Readers who prefer to just get the advice without knowing the why’s can easily skip this bit and just partake of the advice if they so choose.  My favorite part of this section is how kind Jillian is about how people may have beat up their bodies so far in life.  She’s very encouraging that what’s in the past is in the past, and every body can be improved.

No matter how you’ve abused your body up until now–and I’m willing to bet you have, even if you didn’t mean to–you can make it better. (loc 583)

The next section talks about how various chemicals and hormones in our environments contribute to messed up hormones.  Jillian is quite passionate about how things like BPA in cans and hormones in non-organic dairy can pile up to mess up human hormones.  Jillian makes a point of saying that even changing one of these things (for instance, buying organic dairy) can help your body, because every little bit helps.  However, she is also so passionate about these hormonal and chemical pollutants that it can sometimes seem as if she is telling the reader to change everything all at once, and that can be a bit overwhelming.

Next the recommended diet is tackled, and it’s actually fairly straight-forward.  Limit processed foods (and all the HFCS and artificial sweeteners and preservatives that come with it).  Focus on eating only things that grew in the ground or had a mother. Limit starchy root vegetables (less than 2 servings a day), alcohol (1 drink per day), caffeine (stick to green tea), soy (2 servings per week), full fat dairy and fatty meats, and canned food (to avoid BPA).  She encourages including power nutrients, such as: legumes, alliums, berries, meat and eggs, colorful and cruciferous fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, organic dairy, and whole grains.  Perhaps the most difficult part of the diet, besides cutting out processed food, is the timing of eating she recommends.  Eat within an hour of waking up. Eat three more times in the day, once every four hours.  Eat until you’re full but not stuffed. Don’t eat after 9pm.  The explanation for the timing issue is to help balance your hormones.  She also states that you must have fat, protein, and carbs at every meal, but to aim for higher protein, particularly in the evening meal and as you age.  The reasoning behind this is you feel more satisfied with all three macros and also are more likely to not lack in any particular nutrient.  Two other reasons are that protein increases your metabolism and as people age they need more protein to retain muscles.  This is not a particularly challenging diet, nor is it far off from what is generally recommended by doctors and nutritionists as a healthy diet.  Again, the most challenging part is the timing issue.  Not everyone’s life lets them perfectly space out their meals.

For those readers who are new to eating a whole foods, unprocessed diet, the book includes a sample menu (I believe it covers two weeks, but can’t double-check as it was a library copy).  The recipes are perfect for beginner cooks with nothing too complex and not too much time required.  Jillian teamed up with a professional for the recipes, and is straight-forward about that.

The book next tackles the six most common hormonal disorders, including PMS, hypothyroid, metabolic syndrome, and PCOS.  These hormonal issues require special recommendations and guidelines, and Jillian explains them quickly and clearly.

Finally the book ends with some tips on how to live out the recommended lifestyle, including how to afford and/or find organic food, how to clean your house without chemicals, etc…  Just as earlier, Jillian is so passionate about this that it’s possible for the reader to feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing everything, even though Jillian does make a point to state that changing even one thing, or one thing at a time, will help.  Perhaps it would help if the book ended with a checklist of the most important changes or how to adapt gradually or something like that to make it feel less overwhelming for the reader.

Besides the fact that sometimes the book can make the lifestyle feel a bit overwhelming, my only other issue with the book was when Jillian recommends that women stop taking hormonal birth control pills and use condoms instead.  Condoms are nowhere near as good a form of birth control as hormonal methods, and randomly recommending everyone stop using hormonal birth control is more than just a bit irresponsible.  It would have been far more responsible to do something such as suggest that if the reader is concerned about the level of hormones in her birth control to speak to her doctor about lower level hormone options, such as the mini-pill or the IUD, and see if those may work for her.  Just flat-out saying everyone use condoms is not helpful.  Plus, there is a risk/reward calculation that every individual must make for themselves.

Overall, this book mostly recommends diet and lifestyle changes that would also be recommended by most doctors and nutritionists.  The timing of eating is something that is up for debate, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt the reader to try it.  Jillian sometimes gets so passionate about all of the lifestyle and diet changes that it can feel overwhelming to the reader.  Recommended to those interested in the science behind generally recommended lifestyle changes.  Just remember that you don’t have to do everything at once and take the advice with a piece of salt. Do your own research and talk to your doctor before dropping medication/birth control.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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