Friday, November 25, 2016

The Gifts of Imperfection

By Brene Brown

Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, “What if I can’t keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn’t everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?”
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown, PhD, a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she’s learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
In her ten guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough,” and to go to bed thinking, “Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.”

Brene Brown is one of my favorite authors for self-help and research. She just turns things on their heads and helps you see things from a totally different perspective. I loved her book “Daring Greatly” which focused a lot on shame resilience and vulnerability and how it was a good thing. In this book she focuses mostly on Women and how imperfection is truly a gift and how to accept yourself whole-heartedly and live the truth that you are enough and your worth doesn’t depend on how much you get done in a day or what others think of you or even what you believe about yourself. It’s a book about loving yourself and giving yourself a break. I really enjoyed it, but still prefer “Daring Greatly”. Brene Brown does a few TED talks that are definitely worth watching too. like this one: 

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Dory Fantasmagory

By Abby Hanlon

As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention, and more than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she’s not too much of a baby for them, so she’s left to her own devices—including her wild imagination and untiring energy. Her siblings may roll their eyes at her childish games, but Dory has lots of things to do: outsmarting the monsters all over the house, moving into the closet, and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll. And when they really need her, daring Dory will prove her bravery, and finally get exactly what she has been looking for.

This book has been compared to Junie B Jones and for good reason. It’s a transitional book, one that is good for those just starting to read larger chapter books. Dory is a little girl who so badly wants to play with her older siblings but they just find her annoying. It’s a charming story that is made for laughing and remembering what it was to use your imagination for everything and getting into heaps of trouble! I’d say this is a great book for kids aged 6-9 depending on their reading ability. It was cute and fun to read.

I give it a 3 out of 5

The Devil's Storybook

By Natalie Babbitt

Every now and then, the Devil likes to pop up into the world for an adventure. He’s a trickster and a mischief-maker, and just as full of vanity and other human failings. But he’s also a gifted storyteller.

I discovered this little gem after looking up books by Natalie Babbitt, who is probably best known for “Tuck Everlasting”. I’ve read a few of her books and enjoy her storytelling. This book has been banned in many schools and towns simply because it’s a book featuring the Devil. Of course this made me even more curious because I could not see Natalie Babbitt writing anything derogatory for children. This is a book full of short stories about the Devil and how he tries to torture and make people’s lives miserable. It ends up being ironic, instructive at times, and pretty humorous. It is one of those books that as a kid reading it, I would’ve been entertained by the stories, but as an adult I was impressed by the underlying wit of the stories. It was interesting to read. It can be along the same tone as Grimm fairy tales.  

I give it a 3 out of 5

Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper

By Kazu Kibuishi

After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals.
Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.

This is a graphic novel pointed at elementary aged children (6-12 years). I never would have picked this up if I hadn’t repeatedly seen it being checked out at the library where I work. It was so popular it got me curious. It’s a quick read with good illustrations. The story is more adult than I was expecting, dealing with loss, responsibility, and grief along with battling magical and mechanical creatures. It was interesting to me, and had the same kind of feel of a sort of Alice in Wonderland, but darker and without the overt whimsy in it. Emily is a very serious young girl who feels the burden of being the oldest and watching out for her brother and mother now that her Dad is gone. I can understand why it is so popular, and I have a nephew who doesn’t necessarily love reading, and he grabbed onto this series and devoured it and got his friends reading it too, which tickled me pink! It’s a great book to pick up for reluctant readers.

I give it a 3.25 out of 5

The Books of Umber Trilogy

By P.W. Catanese

Twelve-year-old Happenstance awakens in a cave with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there. Soon a mysterious trio arrives to take him away: the explorer Umber, the shy archer Sophie, and Oates, whose strength and honesty are both brutal. Hap and his new acquaintances narrowly escape the cavernous underworld and make their way to Lord Umber’s bustling jewel of a harbor city, Kurahaven.
Once there, Hap learns that Lord Umber is an extraordinary man—he’s a merchant, adventurer, inventor, royal adviser, and chronicler of all things monstrous and magical. But Umber’s accomplishments can’t answer the question closest to the boy’s heart: Who is Happenstance?
Desperate to uncover clues in his new, baffling surroundings, Hap accompanies Umber on dangerous and unusual missions. But Hap soon learns that there are powerful enemies inside the kingdom, and a ruthless assassin is hot on his trail. Faced with many unknowns, Hap knows one thing is certain: There’s a reason Umber has chosen him…if only he could determine it.

I’m reviewing this as the entire trilogy, which I normally don’t do, but I read them in quick succession and felt like it would be better to just review this series as a whole rather than in parts. That being said, I adored the first book and its odd plot and many mysteries. I needed to know who Hap was and why he was different. I was hooked pretty early on in the series, and also enjoyed the cast of characters presented. Umber was the consummate lovable genius with a band of misfits as his friends. I moved on quickly through the second book, which resolved some things and brought up even more questions. I was still hooked and enjoying the world that I was beginning to feel comfortable in. Now, the third book deviates quite jarringly from the first two, so much so that I was left feeling bereft of the character growth that had happened in the first installments. Without divulging any spoilers, I will say that my level of disappointment was crushing. It felt like all the plot, the mystery, and the wants and needs of the protagonist were set up as a neat wholesome meal on a table and then quite deliberately wiped off the table to the ground. Dismayed at this turn of events, I cannot really recommend this book because the end was so unsatisfying, sad, and lackluster. It not only changed in tone and purpose, but felt rushed like the author had gotten tired of writing. I’m incredibly sad about this, and I do understand that decisions were made about the story that I’m sure he felt were right, but it ended up making this avid reader confused and let down.

I give it a 3 out of 5- if not for the ending it would’ve been much higher.  

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

By William Joyce

Before Santa was Santa, he was North, Nicholas St. North—a daredevil swordsman whose prowess with double scimitars was legendary. Like any swashbuckling young warrior, North seeks treasure and adventure, leading him to the fiercely guarded village of Santoff Claussen, said to be home to the greatest treasure in all the East, and to an even greater wizard, Ombric Shalazr. But when North arrives, legends of riches have given way to terror of epic proportions! North must decide whether to seek his fortune…or save the village.
When our rebellious hero gets sucked into the chaos (literally), the fight becomes very personal. The Nightmare King and his evil Fearlings are ruling the night, owning the shadows, and sending waves of fear through all of Santoff Clausen. For North, this is a battle worth fighting…and, he’s not alone. There are five other Guardians out there. He only has to find them in time.

This book was magic. It had that perfect tone of nostalgia, childhood, myth, and wonder. It was comforting and felt like I was being told a bedtime story by the author. It was soothing to read and full of hope as well as danger and adventure. North is a great character, someone who has spent his life as a warrior pirate, and finds that he is more than just a treasure-seeker once he discovers the amazing village of Santoff Clausen. He especially loves the children. Sound familiar? And so the story and legend begins in a small unique and magical town, threatened by a darkness and terrible evil. It’s got the classic hero’s journey and a wonderful tone full to the brim with good. I highly recommend this series. (It’s also where the Dreamworks movie “Rise of the Guardians” got it's inspiration. There is a clip of that amazing movie below!)

I give it a 4.5 out of 5

Puss in Boots

By K.M. Shea

Though she dreams of adventure, Gabrielle—a peasant girl—is given only a cat for her inheritance and is told she must marry, immediately. So when the cat, Puss, offers her a life of excitement in exchange for a pair of boots, Gabrielle jumps at the opportunity. Through Puss’s cunning and Gabrielle’s good deeds, they become celebrated heroes in small villages across the country.
Their adventurous life is complicated by Prince Steffen—a handsome prince who has a low opinion of love. He befriends Gabrielle and comes to grudgingly respect Puss as they work together to purge monsters and brigands from the countryside.
Disaster strikes when Steffen realizes his growing feelings for Gabrielle, and Puss and Gabrielle fight the evil ogre who rules the lands of Carabas. Can Gabrielle save Carabas? Will Steffen accept his feelings for her before it is too late?

K.M. Shea has quickly become my favorite writer of e-books and fairy tale retellings. I’ve never been a big fan of this fairy tale, so I think that is part of the reason why I ended up not liking this book as much as her others in this series. It’s also a story that happens before the second book in the series, even though this is the 6th book, which made for a tiny bit of confusion as I read and tried to put things in their chronological order. Gabrielle is an interesting heroine because she just wants to find some adventure, she never set out to be a hero or take silly risks. She genuinely cares about people, but tends to be standoffish. It made for an interesting plot. Steffen was my favorite character, though I did enjoy the friendship between Gabrielle and Puss quite a bit.

This gets a 3 out of 5- it was average.