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Book Review: Lean, Long & Strong The 6-week Strength-training, Fat-burning Program for Women by Wini Linguvic

October 13, 2011 3 comments

Strong woman standing with hands akimbo.Summary:
In this book Linguvic seeks to lay out multiple strength training routines for women that can be done within your own home with minimal equipment.  The routines are divided into core, lower body, and upper body.  Each of these have beginner, intermediate, and advanced options.  The routines are designed to be combined in various ways to either fat-blast or target core, lower body, or upper body.  The book includes a nutrition guide.

Review:
This is one of those times where I really wish I hadn’t trusted the reviews on Amazon and instead borrowed the book from the library.  Granted, I got it for only $3 from Better World Books, but it proved to be utterly useless for me.

Linguvic is definitely a strong woman in all of her pictures, but there is NO WAY she got that strong doing these wimpy routines.  I’d been strength training for nine months prior to getting this book hoping to expand my routine, and they were all simply way too easy for me.  There is nothing intermediate or advanced about this book.  It is beginner all the way.

Almost all of the moves include using an exercise ball and a towel and maybe a set of hand-weights.  Personally I find exercise balls to be more trouble than they’re worth you can just bench press or use a Roman chair.  They’re rolly and annoying.  However, I suppose if you’re the timid type wanting to start to work out and not join a gym just yet, it could work for you.

That said, a solid half of the moves are stretches.  Stretching is not going to give you muscles, so I have no idea why she dedicates so much space to them.

The nutrition section is disappointing, but that’s not surprising given that I’m veg, and she’s an omnivore.  It gives good basic tips, but they’re ones you could get on the internet for free, (such as eat breakfast, don’t eat processed food, etc…)

I think this book suffers a bit from false marketing.  It is not a book that will work for any woman at any strength training level.  It is clearly a book designed for women who are going from doing nothing physical to attempting to begin building some muscle.  It is a beginner’s book.   Even as a beginner’s book, though, it is lacking in variety and truly challenging moves.

Overall, there is some value in this book in that it consists of non-threatening, quick routines that women who have never exercised before may find simple enough to stick with.  If it will get them off the couch, then it has done something.  If you have any experience with strength training at all, though, don’t waste your time with it.

2 out of 5 stars

Source:  Better World Books

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Book Review: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge

October 12, 2011 5 comments

Evil jack-o-lantern.Summary:
Every year the people of the town lock their boys aged sixteen to nineteen in their bedrooms for five days without food then let them loose on the night of Halloween for the Run.  The October Boy, a living, breathing scarecrow stuffed with candy and topped by a jack-o-lantern head, will try to make it to the church by midnight.  Whatever teenage boy stops him is the winner and is allowed past the Line to escape from town.  Pete is determined to win this year, but not everything about the Run is as it at first appears.

Review:
This short book reads like a campfire story.  I kept finding myself wishing I was huddled up around a campfire reading it out loud to my friends.  The narration style is decidedly written that style.  The style of a whispered urban legend or a campfire ghost story.

I don’t know what possessed Partridge to name this book Dark Harvest, when while I was reading it I definitely thought of it as The October Boy.  Plus, Dark Harvest is a common name whereas The October Boy is not.  The title is definitely one of the weakest points of the book.

Basically this story is an allegory for every teenager who ever felt trapped in a small town.

You remember how it feels, don’t you? All that desire scorching you straight through. Feeling like you’re penned up in a small-town cage, jailed by cornstalk bars. Knowing, just knowing, that you’ll be stuck in that quiet little town forever if you don’t take a chance.  (page 41)

That desire and drive as a teenager to get the heck out of dodge is palpable in the book.  Similarly, the disillusionment as you realize as a teenager that adults are not perfect and do not know it all and maybe even lied to you.  It’s a nice allegory for both of those emotions, but it is not a perfect one.

I felt too many questions were left unanswered at the end of the book.  Perhaps that wouldn’t bother some readers, but it bothered me.  There’s this huge mystery of The October Boy, but while we get some answers, we are left with some questions hanging.  I was hoping for more from this book.

Overall, this is a fun, quick horror story told in an intimate, urban legend style.  Due to its themes, it will work best for teenagers, but adults who vividly remember those emotions will probably enjoy it as well.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Book Review: The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (The Real Help Reading Project)

October 8, 2011 5 comments

Painting of a black woman.Summary:
This is the story of Lilith. A mulatto with green eyes born on a plantation in Jamaica to a mama who was raped at 14 by the overseer as punishment to her brother.  Raised by a whore and a crazy man, all Lilith has ever wanted was to improve her status on the plantation. And maybe to understand why her green eyes seem to freak out slave and master alike.  Assigned to be a house slave, Lilith finds herself in direct contact with the most powerful slave on the plantation–Homer, who is in charge of the household.  Homer brings her into a secret meeting of the night women in a cave on the grounds and attempts to bring Lilith into a rebellion plot, insisting upon the darkness innate in Lilith’s soul.  But Lilith isn’t really sure what exactly will get her what she truly wants–to feel safe and be with the man she cares for.

Discussion:
This is the third book and second fictional work for The Real Help reading project I’m co-hosting with Amy, and it totally blew me away.  A reading experience like this is what makes reading projects/challenges such a pleasure to participate in.  I never would have picked up this book off the shelf by myself, but having it on the list for the project had me seek it out and determined to read it within a set length of time.  Reading the blurb, there’s no way I would imagine identifying with the protagonist so strongly, but I did, and that’s what made for such a powerful experience for me.  The more I read literature set in a variety of times and places, the more I see what we as people have in common, instead of our differences.

There is so much subtle commentary within this book to ponder that I’m finding it difficult to unpack and lay out for you all.  Part of me wants to just say, “Go read this book. Just trust me on this one,” but then I wouldn’t be doing my job as a book blogger, would I?

Depicted much more clearly here than in any of our reads so far is how detrimental a society based upon racism is for all involved.  There is not a single happy story contained here. Everyone’s lives are ruined from the master all the way down to the smallest slave girl.  It is a circle of misery begetting misery begetting misery.

Homer was the mistress’ personal slave and many of the evil things that happen to her was because the mistress was so miserable that she make it her mission to make everybody round her miserable as well. (page 415)

Nobody is happy.  Everyone lives in misery and fear.  The whites are afraid of a black revolt.  The blacks are afraid of being whipped or hung.  Everyone is afraid of Obeah (an evil witchcraft similar to voodoo).  People start to lash out at each other in an attempt to better themselves.  For instance, the Johnny-jumpers are male slaves who are pseudo-overseers given power over the other slaves to beat them.  It is simply a system exploiting everyone and for what?  From the book it appears to be to maintain Britain’s position of power in the world.  The system is evil, and it does not simply beget misery, but despair as well.  It brings out the worst in everyone.

A strong theme in this book is that of race being a construct rather than an innate true difference in people.  Since Lilith is bi-racial, she has trouble simply aligning herself with one side or the other.  Although at first she hates white people, she comes to deeply care for a white man.  She comes to see people as individuals and not their race, but alas that thought process is far too advanced for the time she is living in, and she senses this.

She not black, she mulatto. Mulatto, mulatto, mulatto. Maybe she be family to both and to hurt white man just as bad as hurting black man…..Maybe if she start to think that she not black or white, then she won’t have to care about neither man’s affairs. Maybe if she don’t care what other people think she be and start think about what she think she be, maybe she can rise over backra and nigger business, since neither ever mean her any good. Since the blood that run through her both black and white, maybe she be her own thing. But what thing she be? (page 277-8)

It’s impossible not to have your heart break for Lilith, a woman whose whole life revolves around race when all she ever wants is to feel happy and safe, an impossible dream represented for her by a picture from a child’s book that her foster slave father let her take from him.  The picture is of a sleeping princess with a prince near her, and Lilith’s obsession with this image follows her throughout her life, until she finally tells herself:

She not no fool, Lilith tell herself. She not a sleeping princess and Robert Quinn is not no king or prince. He just a man with broad shoulders and black hair who call her lovey and she like that more than her own name. She don’t want the man to deliver her, she just want to climb in the bed and feel he wrap himself around her. (page 335)

I found myself wishing I could scoop Lilith and Robert up and place them on an island where they could just be together and raise their mixed race babies and just be happy, but that’s not what happened then, and that’s the dream we must keep fighting for, isn’t it?  A world where people can just love each other and be happy and not be forced into misery for economic gain of a person or a business or a nation.

I know it sounds like wishful thinking, but that’s really what I got out of this book.  If we don’t want to live in a world that dark, we must embrace love in all its forms.  Love begets love, but hate begets hate.  Don’t like corporate greed or nationalism overtake your capacity to see the humanity in everyone–the capability for powerful good or powerful evil present in us all.  Perhaps this is a bit off-topic for The Real Help Reading Project, but that is the old passion from a youthful me in undergraduate classes that this book reignited, and that is what makes me want everyone to read it.

Source: Public Library

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Please head over to Amy’s post to discuss this book!

Friday Fun! (Restaurant Work, Updates)

October 7, 2011 3 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  It’s been a crazy week on the blog with everything from the Nigerian Lit Reading/Reviewing Project to white trash zombies to a smack-down with a rude author. Phew!  And that was just one tiny part of my life, lol.

This was my first full week working my new part-time job at the restaurant.  Due to the new schedule, I can only do the gym 3 days a week instead of 5. I was worried this would lead to me losing ground on my get fit challenge, but that is clearly not to be the case.  My restaurant shifts involve running around like a chicken with my head cut off for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, and if anything I’ve seen my metabolism increase from more expended energy.  And that’s just the regular shifts!  I’ve also had shifts involving “guerilla marketing” or what my co-worker calls “menu bombing.”  If you live in a city, you know what this entails.  Running around residential neighborhoods leaving menus in mailboxes, on porches, and on cars.  I had no idea how many steps are on Boston porches until I climbed them for two hours. Holy shit, Batman!  It was like getting paid to do the stairmaster.  (If you can’t tell, I’m happy about this).  I love my part-time job!  Plus they feed me dinner most shifts.  Since it’s a healthy restaurant, that means free healthy food, yay!

The classic fall New England weather is here, which means crisp air and frosty mornings.  Halloween decorations are up all over the city, and I clearly need to start work on figuring out my Halloween costume.  My co-worker last night suggested I could pull off being Lara Croft, and I absolutely LOVE the idea, so I’m thinking that may be it.  But shhh, don’t tell!

I’m really hoping to finish up the first draft of Tova Gallagher 2 this weekend, so I can get to editing my zombie book!  I can’t wait to get more of my writing out to you guys.  Be sure to check in tomorrow for the discussion of the next book in The Real Help Reading Project (it’s my favorite that we’ve read so far).

Tonight I’m doing yoga and hopefully seeing some friends.  Happy weekends all!

Hey Authors! Don’t Do This!

October 6, 2011 8 comments

You all know that I’m not only a reviewer, but I’m also an author.  My years of reviewing have taught me how to take every review seriously, yet with a grain of salt.  Even a negative review can teach you something as an author, and it’s always best to thank the reviewer for taking the time and energy to read and review your book.  It really is true that even bad press is good press.  I’ve had followers go out and read books I’ve panned on this blog purely because what I didn’t like they thought they would like.  It happens.  Even if that were not the case, however, writing is a craft and an art-form.  It is always able to be improved.  For instance, I’m working on the second Tova Gallagher book right now and am taking all of the critiques I got on the first one to heart when writing it.  If you think you are perfect, your writing will never improve.  Even the famous writers like King and Palahniuk have received bad reviews.

So, what’s the one thing you shouldn’t do when you receive a bad review from a reviewer?  Oh how about send them an email in which you look like a pretentious twit, such as this email sent to me by Adam Pepper who wrote Symphony of Blood that got 2 out of 5 stars from me yesterday (only edited to leave out the hi and bye):

I really appreciate the time and care you gave to my book.  Wow.  It was rather scathing.  I accept that you don’t like the story structure and that you found the characters unlikeable.  However, your lack of editing comments I think were unfair.  Yager is hardly a capital offense and rippled wasn’t an error at all.  Most importantly, the only present tense that appears in the book is an intentional style choice that reflects the conversational voice of the narrator.  That may not have worked for you but it does not reflect some bumbling ineptness of the author to understand the proper use of tense, as you portray it in your review.

 

Again, thanks for the review.  I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you.

Let me translate this.  “Ok, I’m going to say thanks but OMG YOU ARE WRONG MY BOOK IS AWESOME YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND ME.”

I don’t know about you all, but I do know that when I’m reading a published book I expect it not to have spelling errors as obvious as Jaeger spelled wrong. I’M JUST SAYING.  “Hardly a capital offense”? Ok. I suppose you’d say the same thing to your accountant if he put the decimal point in the wrong place.

THIS IS YOUR CRAFT.  You should be taking pride in it, not excusing your mistakes as “not a capital offense.”

But no.  You’d rather be a defensive child.  Ok. Good luck with that.


Categories: Uncategorized

Book Review: Symphony of Blood by Adam Pepper

October 5, 2011 1 comment

Bald man with red eyes.Summary:
Hank Mondale wanted to be a cop but his gambling, alcohol, and drug addictions ruined his record.  Instead, he is now a private detective barely scraping by, so when a wealthy and famous man named Blake hires him to figure out where the monster pursuing his daughter is hiding out, he takes the case in spite of the odd sound of it.  Particularly since Blake and his daughter insist that this is a literal, shape-changing, lizard-like monster after her.

Review:
This is a book that suffers from bad structure, a plethora of unlikable characters, and a serious lack of editing.

I don’t need to go into too much detail about the lack of editing.  Suffice to say it’s a combination of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.  For instance, Jaeger is spelled “Yager” at one point (when being spoken about by an alcoholic character, no less).  Also, although most of the book is told in past tense, periodically present tense shows up.  Similarly, other errors show up that simply jar the reader, such as calling a character “rippled,” when the author meant “ripped.”

These are all editing problems, though, so I always try to look beyond them to see if they were fixed, would the story be a quality one?  Alas, the case in this instance is simply no.  The first half of the book is told entirely from the detective’s point of view, only to abruptly switch and have the next 25% or so back-track and tell what occurred from the monster’s perspective.  Then the last bit of the book reverts back to the detective’s perspective.  This gives the book an incredibly odd structure and simultaneously removes most of the mystery and suspense.  Where before the creature was an enigma, we now understand it intimately.  Similarly, whereas the section told from the creature’s point of view could be an interesting story in its own right, it is instead smushed between two ho-hum detective sections.  Either choose to be investigating the monster or be the monster or alternate more quickly between the two to maintain some mystery.  This structure simply feels like two different books willy-nilly slammed together.

There’s also the problem of the characters.  The only sympathetic one is the monster, which would work if the story was told entirely from the monster’s perspective, yet it is not.  Plus the monster itself just doesn’t make much sense.  It’s hard to picture or imagine how it operates.  It seems the author used the excuse of it being a monster to let it bend all rules whenever it was convenient to the storyline.  Beyond the monster, the detective, his friends, Blake, and the daughter are all completely unsympathetic.  They are the kind of people you’d move away from on the subway or roll your eyes at behind their backs.  Readers, particularly in a mystery, need at least one character they can relate to.

All that said, Pepper does have some writing abilities.  He clearly has a creative mind and is capable of telling a story one can follow.  This would be a good draft, but not a final published work.  He needs to decide if he wants to tell the monster’s story of the detective’s, then rewrite entirely from that point of view and also invest in an editor.  If these steps are followed, Pepper could have a solid book here.  As it stands now, though, I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone, even staunch horror fans.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Copy from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

October 3, 2011 9 comments

Punk girl with blood and guts hanging out of her mouth.Summary:
Angel wakes up in the hospital to discover she was found naked and overdosed on drugs on the the side of the road in her small town after a fight with her boyfriend, Randy.  Someone mysteriously drops off medicinal energy drinks along with a note that she must work loyally for at least a month at a job newly acquired for her at the city morgue.  A high school drop-out living with her alcoholic and periodically abusive father, Angel decides that she should seize this opportunity.  It certainly helps that pills and alcohol no longer seem to do anything for her.  As her oddly gloppy energy drinks start to run out, though, Angel finds herself having cravings for something found in the morgue–brains.

Review:
I bought the kindle edition of this book the instant it came out as a birthday present to myself for two reasons.  First, the title is amazing.  Second, look at that cover!  Yeah, the whole thing just screamed my named.  My instincts were right, too.

It’s been a long time since I read a book that hits all the elements I love in literature like this one–urban fantasy style horror, a setting that rings familiar to me, a completely relatable main character, and a fun love interest.  It’s a world that’s simultaneously familiar and special, which is what makes urban fantasy fun.  Angel’s world of trailers, beer cans, and nothing to do reminds me a lot of my childhood growing up in Vermont.  On the other hand, Angel has cravings for brains.  And she somehow manages to keep this a secret in a small town, certainly a monumental task.

Angel’s problems are a combination or fantastical ones (must find brains to survive) and completely real world ones (a history of an abusive mother and an alcoholic father).  Angel has a lot to overcome even before she gets zombified, but the zombification adds an element of distance that allows tough things to be talked about without that dragging down dullness often found in literary fiction.

Rowland reworks the zombie trope without completely removing the essentials of a zombie.  Angel can function in day to day life as long as she has brains once every two days or so.  If she doesn’t have them though, her senses slowly dull and she gradually turns into the lurching monster simply desiring brains that we all know from the classic zombie movies.  This really works, because it allows Angel to be a part of society, yet still be the monster we’ve all grown to know and love.

That said, I will say that I am getting a bit tired of the monsters surviving by working in a morgue trope.  I wish Rowland had come up with something a bit more creative for how Angel gets her hands on brains than that.  It’s starting to seem like the staff of the morgues in all of urban fantasy consist entirely of monsters and sociopaths.  Thinking more outside the box would have made me love the book instead of really liking it.

Overall, this zombie book gave me thrills, chills, and laughs galore, but it also brought me close to tears.  It’s genre fiction with a heart, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to see zombies (or white trash) in a whole new light.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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