Book Review – Hungry Planet

TITLE: Hungry Planet – What the World Eats
Author: Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio
Format: Hardback
Published: ? (2000-something or other) [NOTE: I seriously cannot find it in the book anywhere… Amazon says 2005]

So, there’s a group of photos that goes around Facebook from time to time that shows a few families and what they eat in a week. Of course, because it’s FB, the pictures don’t have any captions beyond the country, and no further information. Pretty much all it managed to do was make America look bad. Amidst a conversation about what info I wished accompanied them, a friend of mine said “Hey, do you know those are from a book?”
SO I went to the library and got the book.

The setup is pretty simple. There’s a picture of a family, surrounded by all the food they eat in a week’s time. There’s a short feature article about them, age and occupation of all of them, and a list of really important facts like what appliances they had or whether or not they had refrigeration.
Of course they’re going to eat much simpler than Americans when they’re cooking from scratch and can’t store processed crap.

It also talked about how much they spent and where they got everything, and even how they got it home.

I think the most amazing part of this book wasn’t seeing how much more or less somebody consumed, but seeing how differently people eat from one area to another because of societal factors. One person commented once it was weird to buy a week’s worth of food at a time instead of shopping every day. There were discussions of neighborhood markets vs big superstores, of gardening, of schlepping stuff home, of how often they ate meat. Even of eating habits – how many of them were eating on the run vs sitting down for a communal meal in the middle of the afternoon no matter what.
The thing that had most bothered me on FB was the crappy money comparison. “Africa only pays $1 a week to eat, omg!” Except that this book does everyone a solid and shows an amount that wouldn’t count for a stronger currency conversion like that – it showed how much money it would cost to buy the same thing here.

So a picture might tell 1000 words, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, you know?
Let’s take the Aboubakar family from Chad. Mom is 40; the children range from 2-16. They’re refugees with no running water, no refrigeration, just an open cooking fire. Their food budget of $1.23 was for 9 oz. of dried goat meat, 7 oz. of dried fish, pepper and ginger, also both dried, onion and limes, which miraculously weren’t dried, dried red peppers and okra and tomatoes (yes, dried tomatoes)… What the price doesn’t include is 50lbs of rations – sorghum, corn/soy, sugar, salt, oil, pulses (seeds of legumes and the like), and a 77 gallon water ration.

…I think this book was amazing.
A photo, a stat box, a story about the people we’re looking at, statistics about purchasing power parity and the number of McDonalds in the country, and population and alcohol and dozens of other things, photos that make everything seem so rich and vibrant.
But unlike seeing just the photos on social media, such a more interesting and full story. For instance, some photos show more than a week’s worth of stuff if a larger quantity had to be purchased at a time (i.e., a bag of something lasts two weeks), notes about what they provide without cost such as home grown produce. The book also includes favorite recipes from each family. I’m tempted to try one or two.

I think this book is amazing. I think it should be required education in schools and set on everyone’s coffee tables for amazing meaningful discussion.
Definitely a 5 out of 5. I’m going to go buy myself a copy.

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Book Review – Choose Your Own Autobiography

Title: Choose Your Own Autobiography
Author: Neil Patrick Harris
Format: Hardback
Published: 2014

NPH is a trip, and I wish I knew him in real life.  This autobiography totally proves that.

For starters, the book is a throw back to the choose your own adventure books of my childhood (and his, he’s not that much older than me), complete with making you flip back and forth around the book for the whole story.

I gotta say, I was totally into those books as a kid, but I had a knack for *always* picking the fastest route to end the book.  I’d turn maybe two pages and then BOOM! i was dead or something.  And in this book, sure enough, I picked the fastest way out and was done in less than five pages.  I’m awesome like that.

So I read through the second attempt and managed to get a pretty good view of his early life – childhood and early breaks – and a huge chunk of his personal life,  but somehow managed to totally miss everything about HIMYM and movies and everything else.  Oops.  But I’ve found the cocktail recipe multiple times, so I’m probably going to need to try that.

Oh, and if you’re not a fan of the CYOA books, I’m going to have to explain them.  You’d read a section, written in second person, and at the end, it’d give you a choice.  You’d pick one and flip to the corresponding page.  Same here, except instead of “A bear is trying to eat you, what do you do?” You’re getting choices like “to read about the time you appeared on broadway…”

 

It’s a must for a child of the 80s, and a must for any NPH/HIMYM/Doogie fan.

Read this book.  Several times.

5/5.

 

 

Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

Book Review – And Tango Makes Three

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And Tango Makes Three

Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

Illustrations by Henry Cole

Hardback, 2005

In the newer ranks of suddenly banned books, we have “And Tango Makes Three.”  So, of course, back to my ongoing saga of having to read it.

In this book, we are transported to New York City and the zoo.  There, all the penguins are taking mates and doing all the things that mates do together, including building nests, making eggs, and hatching penguin babies.

Except that we don’t follow one of those couples, we follow Roy and Silo, two boy penguins who, as it turns out, are very very happy together.  And they do all the things that a penguin couple do, except lay an egg, even though they actually take a rock to their nest to see what happens.

A zookeeper puts an egg in their nest for them, and they nurture it, just like the other penguin couples, and love it, just like the other penguin couples, and take turns taking care of each other and the egg, just like other penguin couples, until it hatches into little baby Tango.  Thus making three.

So, you know, parents banned this adorably cute book because, *gasp*, Roy and Silo are big, gay penguins, and we can’t have that no matter how fabulous the two of them are.

And the book ends with them lovingly snuggled together.  And then I turned the page and read… “Author’s Note:  All of the events in this story are true.”

*sigh*

So let me get this straight.  (*snicker*) People are trying to ban a true story from being in our libraries?  Again?  Just… *sigh*

I’m sure you know what my opinion on that is.

As for the book, it’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s simple, and again, it’s 100% true.  I love this book.  5/5

Book Review – Objects of Our Affection by Lisa Tracy

Title: Objects of our Affection: Uncovering my family’s past one chair, pistol and pickle fork at a time

Author: Lisa Tracy

Format: Hardback

Published: 2010

 

In this memoir, Lisa and her sister have to consolidate, sell, dispose of, or just generally displace several generations worth of stuff after their mother dies.  In doing so, Lisa starts evaluating her family’s history.

Okay, when I saw this memoir at the library, I jumped at the chance to check it out and immediately pushed it towards the top of my TBR list.  (Heck, I even took it out of my bedroom and into The Rest of the House, where it would be read sooner.)  I mean, we all have weird stuff somewhere in the house that we only keep because it was somebody’s.

Rght now, for instance [note, the review was written in December, I just didn’t run it till now], I’m looking at nesting dolls that my great-aunt-in-law Ginny gave me, ceramic plates featuring artwork from my Aunt Susan’s father, the Santa that my great-grandfather Nazareno gave me when I was two that still plays but no longer rolls or jiggles his arm, and the painting that was behind my grandparents – Ray and Joanne – ‘s piano for the longest time until we took it home and gave it new life.  I’m sitting on hand-me-down furniture that we’ve had for a decade and has been moved with us a couple times, and looking at the Nativity set that we’ve had since childhood – ceramic, Precious Moments, and bought from Avon with my mother’s 45% discount. There are family photos – grandparents, great-grandparents, my Uncle Kenny with his mouth hanging open stupidly when he was something like three.  Just yesterday, I added to it, hanging an enlargement of my Grandmother, myself, and the family dog, Maggie.  She was my Uncle Randy’s dog, but spent time with Gramma and Papa, and we treated her like another cousin.  Maggie’s been gone since spring of 2001, Gramma since thanksgiving of 2009.  I miss them both like crazy.

This is just one room.  We all have our stuff.

 

As I started to read the book, I started to feel a bit of Tracy’s family.  They were the fifth generation of military family, and could trace their roots back about as far as America goes.  The furniture and spoons, Canton China and packing blankets all told something, and as she went through piece by piece she told us some of these.  Life on the frontier, the 1000-lb limit her grandfather’s military position allowed them for their stuff, etc.

And some of it was extremely interesting.  She regularly talks about how almost-famous her family was.  Just one or two people removed from incredible in so many places.  So what we ended up seeing was a portrait of the upper-middle-class through the generations.

Unfortunately, book is a lot disjointed.  We get a secretary desk and then a family story from the Philippines in WWII and then a chair and a family story from the author’s childhood and then back to the china that they talk about a dozen separate times but never give us the full story of, so a partial story then, of the American West in the late 1800s.  We swap around from one person to the other, one side of the family to the other, and there’s no good way to tell them apart.  At least in my family, the Italians belong on one side, the rest on the other, so you know as soon as you see an Ursiti or Fracasso that we’re talking Gramma here.  So when there’s more than one person with the same first name, several people they call Grandma, whatever, you sit there going… erm, who is this again?

 

But what I never really felt in this was, well, feelings.  The catalyst for this memoir was going through the family’s stuff, and Lisa Tracy and her sister planned to auction a lot of stuff off.  So when they’re going through and deciding, we get stories, and then we get “well, this would get money at auction, so I should totally just auction it off, even though I want it and I remember the story and…”  Wait, what?  And there’s a point in the auction where a cousin comes to the auction to buy something.  The guy is named after the relative that used to own whatever it was that he bought, but he had to come to the auction to buy stuff?  Seriously?

Really, what I felt was that these were people that didn’t care about their family history.  People who were only interested in the here and now.  Heck, they didn’t even care that much about the furniture – they had originally put it in climate controlled storage, but when the storage company had to move it, they were fine with it ending up wherever.  Seriously?  You went to the trouble to climate control it in the first place, but didn’t care that stayed that way?

A lot of the research Tracy did was because the auction company said “if this can be traced back to somebody famous…”  so she’d research because, you know, more dollars at auction.

Maybe it’s the difference between the author and myself?  I mean, I can look at Santa and immediately tell you who Naz was, how he was related, where he died, how, stories about that, etc.  But the author of this book didn’t have a clue for a lot of stuff and it was just weird to me.  Behind me is a small secretary desk from my great-grandmother Delores.  She died six years before I was born, but I still know stories about her, how she died, where she was from, etc.  And if Lisa Tracy’s family found it important to pass down a secretary desk for four generations, why did it take trips to archives and old newspaper clippings to know anything about them?  I could have seen a story like “The old desk was big and heavy, but we kept it because it was so useful…”  but there weren’t stories like that.

 

In the end, I’m giving it a three.  If you like the little bits of military and American history you get from this, give it a go.  But if you’re looking for more than a sad comment about how Americans store stuff they never use and we don’t know why, just move on.  There’s better stuff out there.

Writer Wednesday – Andrew Toy

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m Andrew Toy, author of The Man in the Box and blogger at the popular AdoptingJames.wordpress.com, book editor, and writing coach.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a simple guy who was born and raised in Southern California. I was the dork who would rather be writing stories than be impressing the girls with skateboarding and surfing – I mean, I tried that for a stint of time, but didn’t really work out to my advantage. I love ice cream, pizza, bean burritos, my Floridian wife, and our awesome loft in Louisville, KY.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
The Man in the Box is an adventure/fantasy novel. I’m always hesitant to say “fantasy novel,” because it’s really a fictional book that dabs into fantasy every now and then. It’s about and average family man, married with kids, who discovers his imaginary childhood world inside a cardboard box. In this world he faces zombie-like ghosts, runs from dinosaurs, encounters titanic-sized panthers, giant insects… anyway, as you can imagine, he becomes increasingly addicted to life inside this adventurous world and he’d rather not spend time with his comparatively mundane family. So, he’s go to choose what he wants more. And the ending just might throw you for a surprise… Oops. Did I say too much?

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m afraid I’ve told other bloggers and fans that I’m working on an apocalyptic series, but I’m putting that on hold until I get through some more research and possibly find a co-author. But just a couple of days ago, a light went on in my head and I was struck by the inspiration of a young reader’s book which I’m very excited about. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but let’s just say dog-lovers and history buffs both will enjoy this read, no matter what age.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Like reading them or writing them? Reading them, I was the first one in my kindergarten class to read an entire picture book by myself: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. That was a good day, reading it to the whole class as they oohed and awed. My advise to kids, however, don’t accept your 15 minutes of fame too early in life, if they do in fact, only present themselves once in a lifetime. I could have done better, I’m sure. Writing books, however, I wrote a couple in junior high and high school (after I determined skateboarding was getting me nowhere), of which the public will never see.

What are your three favorite books?
Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, and… I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that I really, really like Little Women. It’s a great character study! (It’s actually neck-in-neck with Anne of Green Gables.)

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I read three books at a time: One fiction, one historical/biographical, and one Christian-related. Right now I’m reading Life of Pi (fiction), Elizabeth the Queen (biography), and Adopted into God’s Family (Christian). I can’t put Life of Pi down.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…Feel like a girl. But when I read a few pages while I’m waiting for the dogs to go poop, I’m hoping it doesn’t rain all over me.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I read a lot of really good books. But if by some chance, I come across an exceptional book that I just don’t want to end, that’s when I’ll read it again a year or two later.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Extremely.

What do you look for in a good book?
Depends on the genre. For fiction, I’m looking for that rare moment when storytelling and skilled penmanship meet (it’s rarer than one might think). Life of Pi is once such book. For history or biography, I’m looking for how observant the author is about particulars and facts and tidbits other observers might not pick up on. Give me ALL the juicy details! For my Christian books, I’m looking for creativity and originality in their theological teachings. That’s rare to come by. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis would be the perfect example of that.

Why do you write?
Okay. Here’s my being extremely vulnerable. I write to tell good stories. I tell good stories in hopes that Pixar Studios will want to have me join their storytelling team. That my expectation, anyway. The reality is, I just want to tell good stories and make a living off of it.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A lawyer. For real! There’s a lot of acting and story-spinning involved. The same story can be told a million different ways!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Pixar movies. Loud, upbeat, happy music.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I can (and will be) so much better.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My wife is completely and 100% supportive of it. I can’t ask for anything more.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
No. They’re true. We’re all weird and very socially awkward. I choose to be socially awkward because I want to see how people respond to unexpected circumstances, then I can transfer that to paper.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, itunes… everything is a distraction from writing. That’s why I get most of my writing done on paper.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
This is too embarrassing. Next question.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yeah, that apocalyptic series I hinted at earlier. I can’t wait to get started on it. That, and Pixar’s latest projects.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I love ‘em! I feel I’ve earned their trust and I want to keep it by continuing to tell stories that they will be happy to invest in.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
My fans would be surprised to know that I deliver pizzas to help pay the bills. So keep telling your friends and family about my books so I can have more time to write!

Anything else we should know?
Yes. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, crawl into a cardboard box and close your eyes. And if you do, stay well hidden at night…

Book Review – Without you by Anthony Rapp

Title: Without You: A memoir of love, loss, and the musical Rent
Author: Anthony Rapp
Format: Paperback
Written: 2006
Published: 2006

I have a gay friend (and really, all of us ladies need to have one good, gay friend) who got me hooked on the musical Rent.  I love Rent.  There’s nothing about it that I hate (okay, except for when Angel dies, and the fact that he looks better in a skirt than I ever could hope to), and really, I mean that.  It surpassed Once as #1 in my list of Musicals to Watch.

Phew.  Now that I’ve gushed… I saw this book on the shelf of a discount bookseller at a book festival here in Nashville and I bought it on the spot, breaking my cardinal rule of only buying books at the festival that I could get signed.

When I got around to reading it (you should see the avalanche that is my TBR pile), I realized there was a lot more going on than just talk of the musical.  Anthony Rapp – if you don’t know rent, you may remember him from Adventures in Babysitting (the horror!) – talks about his family, his career, the men he’s dated, his mother’s cancer (cancer is the suck), and, you know, the musical.

Here’s the thing.  Tonio (as his mother calls him) may be phenomenal as an actor and a singer, but he’s not the best writer.  I couldn’t help but feel like he was holding back a little.  Like… it’s one thing to say “oh, this was sad so I cried,” but its another thing to actually show us the crying.  And I felt like there was talk of crying but no hope for need of a tissue. (Disclaimer: I did cry when his mother died, but my Grandmother died of cancer, so it’s personal.  I was crying for Gramma more than anything.)

I did learn a lot about the musical.  But it was interjected with several other things (sometimes a bit poorly), and that was distracting. Like, one minute he’s talking about the musical, then he’s talking about a boyfriend that may or may not have been in his life, his brother, etc.

I think I would have rather read a memoir about just his private life, or a memoir about just his time on Rent.  (Side note, all the talk is about Broadway, they only talk about the movie version for two pages and its glossed over, since it happens right about the time the book got written. Not saying if that’s good or bad, just letting you know.)

The worst thing is that (probably because this is divided so much) I can name a better book about homosexuality or cancer or friendship or just about anything else that this book touches on.  I love Anthony Rapp, I was just a bit underwhelmed with this.

Bottom line – if you seriously like Rent (and not just the movie version), read it. It’s not the best book, but it’s an entertaining read.  Three out of five pages.

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