Hello my lovely readers!
I hope you enjoyed the variety of genres reviewed here in May.
The book of the month for June will be:
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein
First reviewed in June 2013
“I strongly recommend this book to everyone, really, but especially anyone with an interest in GLBTQ history/theory/studies or an interest in the first few decades of Scientology.”
How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?
May books read: 5 (2 nonfiction, 3 fantasy)
May reviews: 5
Other May posts: 1 response to current events
Most popular post in May written in May: On Josh and Anna Duggar and the Fundamentalist Christian Culture of Forgiving Molesters and Abusers
Most popular post in May written at any time: Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)
May writing: This was a rough writing month for me. It was an incredibly busy month, including a business trip that meant I wound up working twelve days in a row. I also this month really felt the stress of planning my wedding more so than other months. So that meant a lot of evenings (when I usually write) I was too stressed out to get into the zone. I hope that this month I can handle my stress better so I can get back into the groove. I would like to finish the first draft of my current project by the end of June.
Coming up in June: I have three fantasy reads for Once Upon a Time IX to post reviews for. I also have a review of a nonfiction book I got through NetGalley to post. I also participated in the book blogger interview swap for Juneterviews over on Book Bloggers International, so be keeping an eye out for a link to that.
Happy June and happy reading!
Every year, I wrap up the old year and start the new one here on the blog with a look back at my reading stats. You can see my stats for the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 by clicking on the years.
Total books read: 66
Average books read per month: 5.5
Month most read: September with 9
Month least read: Tie between August, June, and April with 4 each
Longest book read: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King with 531 pages
Fiction: 57 (86%)
Nonfiction: 9 (14%) (I read slightly less nonfiction this year.)
Series: 32 (48%)
Standalone: 34 (52%) (This was an exact flip-flop from last year.)
–traditional print: 17 (26%) (Most of these were Bottom of the TBR Pile books.)
–ebook: 34 (52%) (This went up again.)
–graphic novel: 0 (0%) (I really need to read the 3 graphic novels I have sitting on my shelf.)
–audiobook: 15 (22%)
–Fantasy: 23 (I was shocked by this win after 5 years in a row of scifi winning. I can only say that urban fantasy and non-medieval fantasy works for me, and I’m glad I’ve found the type of fantasy that does.)
–Scifi: 22 (A close second!)
–Urban fantasy: 8
–Historic fiction: 6
–Time travel: 5
–Contemporary fiction: 4
–Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge: 4
–Nonfiction history: 4
–Nonfiction lifestyle: 3
–Nonfiction diet: 2
–Nonfiction fitness: 2
–Nonfiction food: 2
–Nonfiction psych: 2
–American classics: 1
–Chinese lit: 1
–Middle grade: 1
–Nonfiction memoir: 1
–Nonfiction relationships: 1
–Paranormal romance: 1
–Short story collection: 1
Aliens vs. Demons vs. Vampires vs. Zombies
–demons: 8 (A tie between demons and aliens! Not really a surprise given that fantasy and scifi were numbers one and two in the genres I read.)
Number of stars:
–5 star reads: 6 (9%)
–4 star reads: 28 (42%)
–3 star reads: 23 (35%)
–2 star reads: 9 (14%)
–1 star reads: 0 (0%)
Glancing at my stats, I am happy to say I succeeded at my goal of getting to at least the lowest level of my Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge. I read four books for the challenge, which puts me at the Acquainted level. I am sorry to say that I totally failed to read a graphic novel again this year, which I find baffling since I have three of them on my bookshelf at the moment.
I am sad to see so few 5 star reads this year. They went down by 8%. Thankfully, my one star reads didn’t increase at all, but my 2 star reads went up by 9%. Looking at it, I can see that most of my 2 star reads were either ARCs or Bottom of the TBR Pile reads that disappointed me. I was working quite hard on getting through both of those piles, and while it’s sad to me that a number disappointed me, I’m still glad I got the piles smaller. By the middle of last year I had set up a cycle of reading one ARC, one Bottom of TBR Pile Book, then one book just for fun. I plan to continue this cycle, as I really need to get through my piles. My piles are smaller each year, thanks to purchasing and requesting fewer books, and I’m hopeful that by next year I will be back to mostly reading just for fun.
As for the genres, I’m glad I still had a wide variety, although I would like to see my nonfiction reads increase to 12 (one per month). Maybe I should enter nonfiction into the official rotation. ;-)
Other than my reading cycle, I have a couple areas of interest I would like to read more on. I’m going to keep these areas a secret for now so you can be surprised by the new genres and information working their way in. Suffice to say, it might have something to do with history and science.
Happy 2015 everyone! I hope you have found fun reading goals for yourself. Remember it doesn’t matter how much or what you read, just that you do!
Book Review: The Alkaline Cure: Lose Weight, Gain Energy, Feel Young and Stay Healthy for the Rest of Your Life by Stephan Domenig
The introduction to the Alkaline Diet in the first half of the book is wonderfully written and easy to understand. The 14 day meal plan and lifestyle guide falters, however, with dull, complex to make meals and a shortage of exercise tips.
For those who don’t know, the Alkaline Diet basically is the idea that our bodies function best with a pH balance between 7.3 and 7.5, but modern lifestyles wreak havoc with this balance, making us too acidic. What impacts our pH balance is our food and lifestyle. Each food can be either acidic or alkaline. Stress is acidic. Meditation is alkaline. Etc… Whether or not this idea that the body should be at a certain pH balance is valid is rather irrelevant, honestly. The tips offered for creating this balance are all good, healthy ones. The book never veers into extremism, indeed cautioning that acidic foods, such as meat and processed items, do not need to be cut out of the diet entirely in order for the reader to be healthy. It encourages a 2:1 ratio. Two parts alkaline food and activities for every one part acidic food and activities. Essentially, the idea that health is not all or nothing. It is a balancing act. Indeed, balance is a theme of the book.
Your body doesn’t want extremes–it wants balance. (loc 480)
The two parts alkaline it encourages are basically fresh produce, time for self-care, and low-stress exercise. So basically, eat whole foods, stress less, and move more. Fairly common fitness and health advice. The acidic parts include processed food, meat, dairy, stress, and high-stress exercise. Again, the reader is not told to stop enjoying any of these things, but simply to find a balance. The only thing I really disagree with is I think the book underemphasizes the importance of exercise for health. In fact, the book seems a bit concerned with not doing too much “high-stress” cardio or weight lifting. It seems to be more inclined toward the lower-impact, more moderate exercises. I don’t think this is an idea that could claim to have much science behind it. Indeed, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is written about in over 200 articles on PubMed (a free biomedical database), and most of these articles are talking about the positive effects of HIIT on abilities and cardiovascular health. (List of articles) So essentially the food and lifestyle advice is mostly good but take the exercise advice with a grain of salt. Advising moderate walking and stretching every other day or so is really only appropriate for the most beginner levels of fitness.
After introducing these ideas, the book next offers a 14 day meal plan and lifestyle plan for the person new to Alkaline. The first week is basically a cleanse, and the second week is supposed to be a model of what the non-cleanse Alkaline lifestyle is like. This is the part where I became disappointed. The recipes, including the ones for the non-cleanse week, come across as bland, dull, and labor-intensive, and this is coming from a person who does an awful lot of cooking to minimize the amount of processed foods in her diet. I usually spend at least two hours prepping food for the workweek and cook a minimum of 4 meals at home a week. This plan seemed like an overwhelming amount of work to me. I can only imagine how it might seem to a reader who normally cooks processed meals or picks up fast food most days of the week. Many of the recipes were also not particularly simple. For both of these reasons, I feel the meal plan isn’t particularly appropriate for a beginner, which is odd given that the rest of the book is toned as for a beginner. I would expect an easier, more approachable meal plan from this book.
Each day also has beauty, exercise, and lifestyle suggestions. I particularly enjoyed the beauty suggestions, as they were mostly things that are easy to do at home and seemed enjoyable, such as an alkalizing foot bath or a hair mask. The lifestyle suggestions were good for beginners who maybe are new to the ideas of meditation and stress relief. The exercise sections suffered from the same issue I went into in-depth earlier.
What the book lacks is a clear idea of who its audience is. Is it a person completely new to fitness and healthy eating who is currently a beginner in every way? Is it meant for every person wherever they are on their journey to health? Is it meant for intermediates, looking to amp up their fitness and health regime? Because it lacks a focus, the content veers around between these three options, suggesting extremely beginner level exercises but rather advanced cooking and preparation ideas. For this reason, it would probably frustrate a beginner who finds the first half of the book do-able and understandable but then finds an overwhelming amount to do for an introductory 14 day plan. It would also frustrate someone who is not new to fitness and health who wants more details on how to amp up their regime and who may be a bit insulted at the idea that they will be fine if they just go for walks every few days. Recommended to those interested in a quick introduction to the ideas behind the Alkaline Diet to tweak their diet on their own but who is not so invested in using a 14 day introductory plan.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman
In 1889, the world was obsessed with Jules Verne’s fictional work Around the World in 80 Days. So when Nellie Bly, a human rights crusading female reporter in New York City, suggested taking a shp to Europe in first class then coming back in steerage, she was surprised to get a counter-offer: try to beat the fictional Fogg’s record for traveling around the world. When The Cosmopolitan magazine heard about it, they sent their own female reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, on a trip trying to beat her. Only she left a day later and would go the opposite direction. Bly would travel east to west (Europe first), Bisland would travel west to east (continental US first). The women weren’t just taking different routes around the world, they had quite different backgrounds and personalities. Bly overcame a northern, working-class background to break into newspapers and crusaded for the less-fortunate whenever the paper would allow her to. Bisland was the daughter of a plantation owner. Raised in southern gentility and with an intense interest in everything British. She wrote a literary column for The Cosmopolitan. One of these women would win the race, but would either beat the fictional Phineas Fogg?
With my interest in women’s history, I was surprised when I saw this title on Netgalley that I had never heard of this race around the world, although I had heard of Nellie Bly, due to her investigative report into Bellevue Hospital (a mental institution). I knew I had to request it, and I’m quite glad I got a review copy. Goodman tells not just the story of these two women but also immerses the reader into the newly global world of the late 1890s, both the good and the bad.
Goodman starts the book by introducing us to the two women who will race around the world. He does an excellent job using primary source materials to give us both how others saw these women and how they saw themselves. For instance, in describing Elizabeth Bisland, Goodman writes:
One of her admirers, the writer Lafcadio Hearn, whom she had befriended in New Orleans, called her “a sort of goddess” and likened her conversation to hashish, leaving him disoriented for hours afterward. Another said, about talking with her, that he felt as if he were playing with “a beautiful dangerous leopard,” which he loved for not biting him. (loc 241)
While introducing the women, Goodman also talks at length about the role of women in journalism in the late 1800s and how hard it was for them to break into real reporting. Jumping off from Bisland and Bly, describes how women were blocked from many journalism positions with excuses such as that the newsroom needed to be free to swear and not worry about a lady’s sensibilities. Women were often barred to what was deemed the ladylike journalism of the society pages. The hardest part of being a hardhitting female journalist at the time wasn’t the actual reporting but instead the reception of women in the newsroom.
The successful female journalist, McDonald suggested, should be composed of “one part nerve and two parts India rubber.” (loc 465)
Bisland and Bly and their race came at the beginning of having women journalists do some form of stunt journalism, which is how they started to break into hardhitting journalism. Editors and owners discovered that readers enjoyed reading about women in stunt situations, such as learning how to stunt ride a horse, so this was their way in. Thus, even if the reader dislikes the personalities of either or both of the racers, they come away with some level of respect for them both breaking into the business.
From here, Goodman starts following the women on their race around the world. He takes the different legs of their journeys as a jumping-off point to discuss something historically relevant to that portion of the journey. For instance, during Bly’s trip on the ocean liner to Europe, he discusses how the steamships worked, from the technical aspects of the steam to the class aspects of first class down to steerage. During Bisland’s railroad trip across the United States, he discusses the railroad barons and the building of the transcontinental railroad. Thus, the reader is getting both the story of the race and historical context. It’s a wonderful way to learn, as the historical explanations flesh out the settings around and expectations of the women, and the women lend a sense of realness to the historical situations and settings being described.
After the completion of the trip (and, no, I won’t tell you who won), Goodman explores the impact of the trip on the women’s lives and follows the rest of their lives to their deaths. This part may feel a bit long and irrelevant to some readers, however often when people become famous for doing something, no one talks about the long-lasting impact of that fame or what the rest of their lives are like. Seeing how both women reacted to the trip, their careers, and others puts them in a more complete light, giving the reader a complete picture of what the race did in their lives. This complete picture of both of their lives is something I really appreciated and that also demonstrated that one shouldn’t judge people too fast. They and their lives may turn out differently than you expect at first.
What would have made me love the book is if I had come away feeling like I could respect or look up to either woman. Unfortunately, by the time I heard the full story of both of their lives, I found them both to be so deeply flawed that I couldn’t do that. I respect them for breaking into the newspaper business, and perhaps if I was a journalist myself that would be enough to make me look up to them. But each had a fatal flaw that made this not be a book about two role models but instead a book about two women. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does keep it from being a book I would return to over and over again.
Overall, Goodman does an excellent job using the true story of two female journalists’ race around the world in 1889 to 1890 to build a solid picture of the increasingly global world of that time. The reader will come away both with having learned an incredible true story and details about the 1800s they might not have known before, told in a delightfully compelling manner. Some readers might be a bit bothered by how flawed the two women journalists are or by the fact that the book goes on past the race to tell about the end of their lives in detail. However, these are minor things that do not distract too much from the literary qualities of this historical nonfiction. Recommended to those interested in an easy-to-read, engaging historical nonfiction book focusing in on women’s history. Particularly recommended to modern, women journalists.
4 out of 5 stars