Saturday, August 13, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird

It hardly seems like 50 years since I picked up this book late one rainy night when it was first published, after my mom had been raving about the book for weeks, trying to get me to read it. Well, what the heck, the late movie was boring that evening and there was nothing else on the TV... next thing I knew, it was two o'clock in the morning and I had just turned the final page on what was the most magical reading experience of my entire life.
From the opening line, "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow..." Lee hooks the reader with a deceptively simple story of a Southern family and a Southern town caught up in a cataclysmic moral crisis, and keeps us enthralled till the very last word. Lee's writing style is that of the storyteller who mesmerizes her audience telling a tale so simple, yet so compelling, that you never want it to end. Her narrator is Scout Finch, a delightfully devilish little tomboy who sees her world through the all-observant eyes of childhood. Scout is one of the most enchanting characters in modern American fiction. She's bright, funny, totally real; there's nothing contrived about her. She's someone we all knew in first or second grade, or wished we'd known. Scout lives with her brother Jem, four years her senior, her lawyer father Atticus, and their housekeeper Calpurnia, in a sleepy Alabama town where everybody knows or is related to everybody else. Lee spends the first half of the book drawing us into the life of the town and the Finch family, Scout's hilarious and problematic adjustment to first grade, and brings us into the mystery surrounding the notorious-yet-never-seen Boo Radley. The second half of the book is about the moral crisis that tears the town apart.
Lee has a way of saying a lot by saying very little, and her laconic statement that the people of Maycomb had recently been told they had nothing to fear but fear itself sets the time squarely in 1933, the depths of the Great Depression. Times were bad for most people in small Southern towns; they were especially bad for poor whites and all blacks. In 1933 the South was rigidly segregated down every possible line, and a white woman's false accusation of rape was enough to get a black man hanged. When Mayella Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of rape, in the eyes of most of the white populace, Tom has been tried, convicted and is awaiting execution. Judge Taylor disagrees, and asks Atticus to take Tom's case.
In Atticus Finch, Lee created what would eventually grow to be the best-loved character in all American fiction. Atticus is a loving but not a doting father, an able lawyer, and an individual of towering integrity. He takes Tom's case because he knows Mayella's accusation is full of holes, and he believes Tom is as deserving of good legal representation as anyone else. Atticus knows better than anyone else how his decision to take the case will affect his children, but as he explains to Scout, who wonders how Atticus can be right if everybody else thinks he's wrong, if he didn't take the case, he could never hold his head up in front of his children again.
Atticus knows he's fighting a losing battle, but deep inside himself he believes he may lose a battle but win a bigger war. The chapters describing Tom Robinson's trial and Atticus's defense are some of the most powerful in American fiction. On of the most moving passages in the book is at the end of the trial when the town's black minister tells Scout to "Stand up. Your father's passin'."
Along with Scout and Atticus Finch, Lee created a host of other memorable characters. Jem is the perfect big brother for Scout, sometimes protective, sometimes antagonistic, always encouraging. Lee only needs to pen a few details about Calpurnia to bring her vividly to life: "She was all angles and bones; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard." Calpurnia isn't the stereotypical Mammy of Tara; she's a no-nonsense maid and housekeeper who dishes out ample amounts of love and old-fashioned discipline in equal doses. And Miss Maudie Atkinson is a delightful creation; funny, ditzy, and wise all at once. Anyone would want her for their next-door neighbor.
The two major villains, Bob Ewell and his daughter Mayella, are compelling characters in their own right. Bob Ewell is quintessential white trash, spending the family's relief money on moonshine while his children go hungry. But poor Mayella is as much victim as villain; we can't help but feel for her, ostracized and isolated, knowing only her father's physical violence and sexual abuse; her attempted seduction of Tom Robinson is a desperate cry for love and affection. But, as Lee reminds us, it's all for naught. Tom Robinson was dead the minute Mayella, caught in the act of attempted seduction by her father, opened her mouth and screamed.
After the highlight of the trial, the book might have slid into anticlimax, but it's Lee's genius that she keeps the tension heightened after the trial and its denouement, through Ewell's drunken, insane attack on Atticus through his children, and their rescue by Boo Radley. And after everything she, her family, and the town have been through, what has Scout learned from all this? Pretty much what Atticus set out to teach her all along: that you can't get to know a person until you put on his shoes and walk around in them.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Outlander, 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU COMPLETELY LOST YOUR HEART TO A BOOK? Well, look no further. Diana Gabaldon has created the ultimate escape in Outlander. Don't let the 850 pages dissuade you. It's the fastest read you'll ever have. The epic tale begins when Claire Randall, a young combat nurse in World War II, moves to Scotland with her beloved husband to reignite their marriage interrupted by the war. Hiking one day, Claire accidentally passes through the stones of an ancient stone circle and wakes up to find herself in 18th century Scotland. Lost, alone, and confused (yet determined), Claire's path crosses, and is inextricably linked to, a young Highland warrior... James Fraser. (The kind of man women want, and men want to BE.) The story that ensues would make Shakespeare proud-- danger, suspense, passion, betrayal, true love and tragedy. Gabaldon is a master storyteller. She shrouds her fantasy in just enough reality as to The time travel element as well as the romance, while unconventional for a "serious" historical novel, are handled brilliantly by Gabaldon. That said, this book is not for the faint of heart as the author tackles themes of a violent and sexual nature. However, the story is so realistic and beautifully told that it doesn't come off as a ploy to shock readers. Well-crafted and meticulously researched, Outlander is historical fiction at its finest... and so much fun! The hero and heroine come alive. You'll find yourself living and breathing in their world, anxiously devouring each chapter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition

An eighth Harry Potter story. At best, this sounds too good to be true. At worst, it sounds like a misbegotten cash-grab. Add to that the fact that the story was to be a play, not a novel or a film, and you have one of the most eyebrow-raising announcements in recent memory. So is "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" a worthy addition to the wizarding canon, or a complete dud? I'd have to say it falls somewhere between those two. I'll stick to mild spoilers only as I explain, but if you're determined to be completely surprised, I advise you to go in blind and form your own opinions. The book/play is definitely worth buying.
First, the bad. I don't really understand what's become of J.K. Rowling in recent years. She transformed the literary and cinematic realms with her Potter books, pioneering fantasy trends that continue to this day. I suppose she's trying to make stage plays more popular now? Not sure if that will take off, and it's kind of unfair for the many fans who can't afford to go see the play themselves. Those people are stuck with reading the script, which requires a lot more imagination to really enjoy. There's very little of Rowling's great descriptive prose on display, mostly just dialogue - and it's unclear how much of that was actually written word-for-word by her personally. It sounds like her style; I'll say that. But reading it definitely pales in comparison to reading an actual book. Frankly, I'm disappointed that Rowling hasn't taken the time to flesh this out into a novel. The same goes for the other Potter-related fiction she's written lately - the pre-Fantastic-Beasts pieces on Pottermore, to be precise. It's like reading pitches she hasn't bothered to turn into real books. Obviously, when you're as famous as Rowling, you can get away with posting your world-building notes online or having somebody else turn a story idea into a script and still have millions reading the stuff...but it smacks of laziness on her part, in my opinion.
Also, if you come to this book hoping for a new era of Harry Potter, you're going to be disappointed. This book is an epilogue to the original series, not the start of a new one. There's nothing ground-breaking. The mythology is not expanded, and the new characters spend most of their time dealing with the legacies of the original cast. I'm gratified that the wizarding world will be built up by the Fantastic Beasts film(s), but there's a lot of untapped potential in the modern Potterverse that isn't even touched in "Cursed Child".
So, basically what you've got is a skeletal "tribute" story that's not quite meaty enough to qualify as an eighth Potter book. What is there left to like, then?
What makes "Cursed Child" work despite all the strikes against it is what it does with the aftermath of the original stories. If "Deathly Hallows" had to have a follow-up in the first place, then this is a surprisingly good one. It's certainly an improvement on the frequently-criticized, rushed epilogue to "Hallows". This is basically an expansion of that last chapter, exploring what it's like for Albus Potter to grow up dealing with his famous dad's legacy. And it's very believable in that respect. True, Albus doesn't come across as likable until near the end of the book, and even Harry shows some striking flaws as a father. But given where both these characters are coming from, these problems make sense. It's not the forced "happily ever after" of the Hallows epilogue; it's complex and realistic. Plus, there's a very sympathetic, funny character in play in the form of Scorpius Malfoy, Draco's son. He ends up stealing the show, and is arguably the hero of the story in his own right. His lines made me laugh out loud more than once, and convinced me that to whatever degree Rowling was involved in writing this story, she's clearly still "got it".
The story, once you get past the awkward format, is gripping - I devoured it in one afternoon. There are quite a few surprises in store for hardcore fans. And on the whole, the tone is very appropriate for those who have "grown up" along with Harry. Fans who are now adults can relate with the themes explored here, even when characters mess up pretty badly. Harry certainly made plenty of his own mistakes over the years, and occasionally acted like a jerk. So I'd argue that it's worth giving Harry's progeny a chance, even if you don't take to him at first. At the very least, read it for Scorpius. I'm not saying you definitely won't be disappointed, but there are far worse ways for a Potter fan to bide the time until Fantastic Beasts gives us a more weighty addition to the Potterverse.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Professional Baking 6e with Professional Baking Method Card Package Set 6th Edition

This is a very thorough and well-written book, which is sponsored by one of the most respected cooking schools in the world: Le Cordon Bleu. Please note that this book is not for the occasional home baker/cook, but rather for the professional or serious amateur.
First off, one of the most important aspects of this book that may surprise people is that most of the recipes measure ingredients by weight (e.g., grams, ounces, pounds, etc.), NOT volume (e.g., cup, teaspoon, tablespoon, etc.). But don't let this turn you off--at least not yet. There is a very good reason for this. In order to make a consistently good product, you need to know that you're putting in the correct amount of an ingredient every time; and measuring by volume is NOT as accurate as measuring by weight. For example, I'm sure that most of us have made chocolate chip cookies at least once in our lifetime and have noticed that the recipe calls for lightly packed brown sugar. But how much do you pack it? I might pack some brown sugar into a measuring cup and think that it is "lightly packed", but another person's definition of "lightly packed" may be different and he/she might pack more brown sugar into the measuring cup. But if we both measured 8 oz. of brown sugar, no matter how we packed it, it would still be 8 oz.--no more, no less. Therefore, potential buyers of this book need to realize that purchasing a scale is almost a necessity in order to get professional results.
If baking is an occasional pastime or if measuring ingredients by weight is just not your cup of tea, then there are PLENTY of great cookbooks out there for the occasional baker that measure ingredients by volume. However, if you have the personality that wants and loves to try to make that absolutely perfect cake or pastry, then this book will help you do that.
Previous reviewers have complained that this book is "smoke and mirrors" and not for the home cook, or that the recipes were faulty and tasteless. To be fair, you have to take the book for what it is. The title is called "PROFESSIONAL Baking", not amateur, not home. It is very clear from the title that this book is not for everyone, especially with the weight/volume issue that I mentioned. As for the "faulty"/"tasteless" claim, my instructor has studied and worked in Hong Kong, France, and Austria. And in each class, she demonstrates each recipe and the results have always been spot on (which is more than I can say for myself and my classmates). Personally, I think that it is too easy to blame someone or something else; rather, I always look to myself first and then elsewhere. But enough of my two-bit philosophy.
One last thing that often confuses people and is probably the cause of many of their mishaps are the instructions regarding what baking pans and times to use. For instance, let's say that a typical recipe will make 5 lb. of dough, batter, whatever. The recipe will give you instructions and baking times for multiple baking pans (because professional bakers will use many different shapes and sizes depending on the job, right?). Therefore, the instructions will say that a 8-inch cake round needs 1 lb. of batter, that a 9x13x2 rectangular pan needs 2 lb. of batter, etc. But didn't the recipe yield 5 lb. of batter??? What the !@#$%??? This is confusing. How much do we make? What pan are we supposed to use? Let me explain: Since professional bakers use many different pans for the same recipe (e.g., a baker may make a chocolate cake in a 9-inch round or a full sheet, right?), they will adjust the recipe to get the exact amount of batter that they need for that particular job. So, if the recipe makes 5 lb. of batter and you only need 1 lb., then just divide all the ingredients by 5 and you'll get a yield of 1 lb. Or, just make the regular-size recipe and just weigh out 1 lb. of batter and make five of them. After you understand this, you'll begin to realize that it all is actually pretty simple and straightforward. I think that most people just don't like to weigh things or do a little math. They're just used to measuring by volume and having recipes designed to produce a single product, rather than multiple. And like I said before, that is perfectly fine and there are tons of great books out there that will suit that purpose.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The House of Hades

I started buying Rick Riordan's books with the intention of using them to read to my son, who was 5 yrs old at the time. My "plan" was to show him just how much fun reading (or having a book read to you) is & how a good book could capture your mind.
It worked. We stated with the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, quickly moved on to The Kane Chronicles & by the time the Lost Heroes of Olympus series was starting my son, now 8, reads them himself. As a child diagnosed with ADHD at age 5, my son loved that all the demigods had ADHD & the reasoning/explanations that came with it.
Normally, as a bibliophile I am 1 of "those people" who has the next installment in a book series in my hands the day it comes out. My work schedule has been hectic so the release date of The House of Hades came & went without my notice.....UNTIL I was wandering through a store & there it was on the shelf. I bought it immediately, all the while kicking myself that I'd forgotten. See, I started buying them for my son, but I quickly came to adore the books as much as him, reading them in quick succession.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS In my opinion, Riordan has done it AGAIN. I gotta tell you, this man is BRILLIANT. I'm always blown away by the fluid nature of his writing, the way Riordan seemingly has endless ideas that pour forth in his books. As a reader, just when you start to think, "there's not really anywhere else he can go", BAM, he pulls a new & terrific storyline out of his hat. Impossibly, it's always more exciting than the last.
I've read on a few blogs & book boards that the next installment in The Lost Heroes of Olympus may be the final tome in the adventures of Percy & friends. If this is true, I'll be deeply saddened & will miss Percy & his cohorts deeply, as will my son. But like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, there comes a point where story lines, even those with beloved characters, must come to a close. Should the 5th book in TLHO series be the final one, I'll be sad, but Percy & his friends have had an epic run, I'm just glad I was able to share in it.
The House of Hades picks up where The Mark of Athena left off, you have Percy & Annabeth endlessly falling (at least to them, it feels that way) to Tartarus. The rest of the crew Leo, Piper, Jason, Frank, Hazel, Nico & Coach Hodge are left to stop the the Greek/Roman war between the camps AND reach the Doors of Death in the Mortal world, helping to rescue Percy & Annabeth while closing the Doors of Death to Gaea forces.
As usual the POV is switched up between characters, with Nico being the only 1 to not have a POV chapter. Sure, Nico is featured many times in others POV, but never his own. We get to know Hazel quite a bit more this time around, learning exactly how important her presence IS to this mission. As not only a child of Pluto/Hades, she also is strongly connected to Hecate & can influence the Mist & magic.
Piper shines in this book as well, this time around she's no longer a "damsel in distress" but a young lady learning her way in the world, seeing her value as a fighter & asset to the quest & not just another pretty face. I'd say that this installment really shows off some girl power, developing Hazel & Piper beautifully. This time the girls don't need rescuing, they're saving themselves, as well as the boys.
Frank finally comes into his own here too. No longer a chubby, awkward kid who can turn into various animals, Frank embraces his true power & transform into his true self. Thus results in a stronger, more certain Frank, a leader, not a follower. Frank also experiences a physical transformation as well, almost like he went through puberty to older teenager in an instant. This occurrence really helps Frank to be more confident & embrace his heritage as a child of Ares.
Leo grows up as well, finally meeting a girl to take his mind off the unattainable Hazel when he's catapulted to Ogygia by Khione & meets Calypso. At first Calypso isn't impressed & due to a magical "defect", the island won't provide a raft to take Leo away from the island. What results is Calypso learning to care for Leo as he falls for her, ending in a raft taking Leo away from Calypso with Leo swearing on the River Styx he will come back to get her, even though according to Calypso, no man finds Ogygia twice. The end result is a more mature, heartsick Leo, still a joker, but obviously more grounded. His focus removed from Hazel, Leo & Frank actually become friends after this.
Jason, well, I feel I know his character the LEAST of all. He has POV chapters & the most impact filled scenes with Nico, but other than that? All I can tell you is that Jason chooses the Greek side, away from his Roman roots, changing his role in a key battle at the end. He's Pipers boyfriend. Other than that, don't really understand his character. I wish he was written in a way that I'd connect to him better.
Percy & Annabeth, oh I LOVE THEM. During their shifting POV monologues, the majority of the time they are struggling together to survive Tartarus to find the Doors of Death. Instead of the headstrong, always has fight in him Percy & the calm, can talk/think her way out of anything Annabeth, we see a much more reserved duo. Several times you think they might be ready to give up, but they always pull it out, in many cases, the nick of time. With the help of former foes, Percy & Annabeth are able to keep fighting to their goal.
Coach Hodge, I really like this over the top saytr. While he doesn't have a POV chapter & is still in the background, he adds much comedy relief to his appearances. We definitely learn more about Coach Hodge & that NO, fighting is not the only thing in the world to him. Something (someone) else means more. !!!!!!!BIG FREAKING DEFINITE SPOILERS!!!!!!! Nico, oh my poor misunderstood Nico. This next part of my review is a BIG hot button topic, one plenty of parents were very upset about. In previous books, we thought Nico was so standoffish to Percy/Annabeth BECAUSE Nico liked Annabeth & was jealous of Percy. Nope. We were wrong. Now flip that. In a POV of Jason Grace, Nico accompanies him to retrieve a scepter & they end up having to see Cupid to get that scepter. A god Nico is terribly afraid of. Because Nico has a crush/thing/love for PERCY. One he has to admit to Cupid, in front of Jason Grace.
Yep, Nico is GAY. Personally, this isn't a deal breaker for me. I have no intention of boycotting or burning my Riordan books. I will still recommend them to friends w/ children my sons age or younger. I think people are getting out of hand being so upset about this. There isn't a graphic fantasy love scene, just the reveal. Many parents are complaining because they have 5, 6, 7 year olds reading the books & didn't want to have "that" conversation yet, b/c at 10, the age Nico developed the crush, parents are saying it's not possible to "know" if you're gay. I can't answer that, but I do know that many studies have shown that it's an inborn thing in the brain. You don't choose it, you just are or aren't. It's just a part of the persons being. As to explaining to your younger kids? I had that conversation when my son started kindergarten. Only because these days, kids are discovering things earlier & I'd rather my son know the truth, not some horribly incorrect version a friend tells him. Because they do THAT TOO. I didn't go into huge detail, but I did explain the difference between hetero & gay. I also asked him what mattered most, the type of person you want to date or the type of person that you ARE. I have several gay friends & they are some of the loveliest people I've ever known. I asked my son, "isn't that more important, that they're good, kind, loving people"? Doesn't that mean more than who they choose to love? He totally agreed & understood the concept, at 6 years old. Parents, you don't have to get into gory details/explanations to make a point or explain something. Simple is best.
You could also use your common sense & think, Percy's adventures have been getting darker as he gets older. The kids who started with the first series are in their teens now so heavier subject matter is to be expected. Plus the reading age is 10+ in the description.
I don't think Riordan is "jumping on the bandwagon", I think he's representing a sampling from all backgrounds. You have Caucasian, African-American, American-Indian, Asian-American, Latino, it's covered. Making Nico gay wasn't to be risqué, it was completing the tapestry of diversity Riordan is so accomplished at creating. I applaud him for it, my hat is off to you sir.
Parents- you need to remember that your children learn SO MUCH from YOU. Most importantly, TOLERANCE. Then understanding. If your afraid of this reveal of a story character being gay, you're telling your children that your afraid of gay people. A group that's done nothing to you. Your teaching your children to be afraid of it, to be un-accepting of it, to have no TOLERANCE or UNDERSTANDING. Not just of gay people either, this lesson could extend so much farther & deeper than you imagine. So don't teach it. Explain to your kids in a short, concise, matter of fact way what being gay IS & leave it at that. Don't teach them it's okay to be afraid of it or to shun people who are. That wrong on so many levels. Besides, wouldn't you rather your kids learn important things like this from YOU? All in all I LOVED THIS BOOK

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Willard and Spackman's Occupational Therapy

Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy, Twelfth Edition, continues in the tradition of excellent coverage of critical concepts and practices that have long made this text the leading resource for Occupational Therapy students. Students using this text will learn how to apply client-centered, occupational, evidence based approach across the full spectrum of practice settings.
Peppered with first-person narratives, which offer a unique perspective on the lives of those living with disease, this new edition has been fully updated with a visually enticing full color design, and even more photos and illustrations. Vital pedagogical features, including case studies, Practice Dilemmas, and Provocative questions, help position students in the real world of occupational therapy practice to help prepare them to react appropriately.
This market leading text provides the most comprehensive and current presentation of occupational therapy concepts and practice. The 12th edition of this classic text invites students with a fresh, four-color design and new photos and illustrations, as well as the fully updated text.
Those of you who are in school, know how terribly expensive most books are. But this one is worth every penny, and is actually much less compared to how extensive it is. I paid more for a flimsy lab manual. The authors could charge a lot more for this book. I bought it for an Intro to Occupational Therapy course. I was told by another student, that this book will be used for the entire Master's Program in some schools. It is well worth the investment. It looks a bit intimidating when you see how thick it is, but most chapters are short and sweet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I Am Number Four Collection: Books 1-6: I Am Number Four, The Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, The Fall of Five, The Revenge of Seven, The Fate of Ten (Lorien Legacies)

I Am Number Four: The book that started it all . . . Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. I am next.
The Power of Six: I've seen him on the news. Followed the stories about what happened in Ohio. There are six of us left. We're hiding, blending in, avoiding contact with one another . . . but our Legacies are developing, and soon we'll be equipped to fight. Is John Number Four, and is his appearance the sign I've been waiting for? And what about Number Five and Six? I am Number Seven. One of six still alive.And I'm ready to fight.
The Rise of Nine: In order to save our world and their own, John and Nine must join forces with Six and Seven who have been battling the Mogadorians in Spain, and who are now trying to locate Number Eight in India.
The Fall of Five: When the Garde receive a sign from Number Five—a crop circle in the shape of a Lorien symbol—they know they are close to being reunited. But could it be a trap? Time is running out, and the only thing they know for certain is that they have to get to Five before it's too late.
The Revenge of Seven: The Garde have suffered an unbearable loss. Number Five has betrayed them. Eight is gone forever. Ella has been kidnapped. The others are now scattered. The Garde are broken and divided once again, but they will not be defeated. As long as one still stands, the battle for Earth's survival is not lost.
The Fate of Ten: The sixth and penultimate book in the series! For years the Garde have fought the Mogadorians in secret. Now all of that has changed. The invasion has begun. The Garde are stretched thin, fighting this war on many fronts. The only chance they have is to take out the Mogadorian leader once and for all—but his fate is now irrevocably tied with Ella's. They can't destroy one without the other. But if the Garde can't find another way to stop the Mogs, humanity will suffer the same fate as the Loric: annihilation.