Thursday, December 25, 2014

Title: Positive: Surviving My Bullies, Finding Hope and Living to Change the World
Author: Paige Rawl with Ali Benjamin
Genre: non-fiction, biography, memoir, inspirational

Paige Rawl, by all appearance was your typical, American middle school girl: she loved cheerleading, soccer, was a straight-A student and loved hanging out with her friends. Paige was also HIV-positive (from birth) and disclosed her secret to her best friend one night at a school lock-in. Before an hour had passed, all the kids at the lock-in knew Paige's secret and her relationship with her best friend was destroyed.
Bullying and teasing soon followed after this. When Paige went to the school counselor for help, she was told "to stop the drama." Because of this lack of understanding, Paige withdrew even more into herself and wouldn't tell her mother what was happening at school or about the nasty notes left anonymously at her locker. The stress eventually manifested itself through self harm and pseudo seizures, and out of desperation, Paige was homeschooled for a year. After a year had passed, Paige transferred to another high school that was more accepting and had a zero tolerance policy on bullying. Her middle school years still haunted her though and after another huge health scare, Paige used her anger, frustration and public speaking skills (from years of pageants) to bring awareness for HIV/AIDS.

A quick read (it took me two days); although this is catalogued in the adult biography section at my library, a middle schooler would be able to easily read this. There is no graphic content, although there a few swear words from when Paige recalls conversations with other kids. I look forward to watching Paige's successes in the future!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Title: Rain Reign
Author: Ann M. Martin
Genre: juvenile literature, special needs character, dogs

Since my last blog post (3 months ago!) I have been transferred to the Children's Department at the library where I work. A few weeks into my new position, this book by Ann M. Martin comes in. Yes, that Ann M. Martin of The Babysitters Club fame! I immediately snatched this book up because a) Ms. Martin was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid, b) the book cover is beautiful and c) this is considered research for work (reader's advisory).

The main character in this book is Rose who is high-functioning autistic and is obsesses with homonyms (hence the title) and prime numbers. Rose lives with her father, who is neither the best or the worst father in the world, but he does not act kindly towards Rose's disability. The book starts off with Rose's daily struggles in school to contain her outbursts and her awkwardness in social situations. Luckily, Rose has Rain, her dog, and her Uncle Weldon to help her through life and her father's moods. Unfortunately, Rain becomes lost during a hurricane and it's weeks before she is reunited with Rose. At the reunion, Rose learns that Rain had a family before her and Rose takes the hard, brave and unselfish journey to find Rain's original family...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Title: Sister Species: Women, Animals, and Social Justice
Author: Ed. by Lisa Kemmerer
Genre: non-fiction, ecofeminism, food issues, animals

I found out about this intriguing title through my Women's Studies class and college library. Years ago I had read an article about animal welfare that casually mentioned in a sentence that eating dairy products was harmful to animals, but the author of the article didn't elaborate as to WHY this was wrong. This book does that and explains how veganism, feminism and social justice are related.

Ecofeminism is a termed that was invented in 1972 by a French author (14) and "focuses on interconnections between the domination/oppression of women and domination/oppression of nature" (14). How exactly are women and animals connected in our society? "Nature and women have been devalued, objectified or exploited for the benefit of the dominant culture" (15). This view of women and nature has manifested itself through the centuries as "both women and animals have historically been considered less intelligent, less rational and ...more primitive and closer to nature than men" (16). This mindset has led to "objectification, ridicule, and control of reproduction" (16).

Feminist vegans have turned to animal activism because "the majority of factory-farmed animals, more than 20 billion individuals a year, are female" (67). " To produce milk, cows undergo a cyclical process of forced impregnation and repeated separation from their young. The male calves often are crated and killed for veal. The females, like their mothers, will be turned into dairy machines" (91). The various essays in this book also show us that pigs, chickens and turkeys are not safe either. Parts of this book are graphic as industrialized agricultural living conditions are explained in gruesome detail: pigs and hens living in cramped cages with no room to turn around, living in humongous warehouses with no exposure to fresh air or sunlight, forced separation from their eggs or piglets. Being a "farm" animal in the US is not the peaceful, pastoral scene we imagine it to be. Death at the slaughterhouse is not quick. Due to increase in animals being butchered some animals are not stunned/incapacitated as they should be before they are killed.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Title: Hair Story: Untaming the Roots of Black Hair in America
Authors: Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps
Genre: non-fiction, beauty, anthropology, African-American issues, American history

I picked up a copy of this book at my local library. Even though I'm a former hairdresser, I never learned how to work on "ethnic" or "black" hair because there were no African-American students in my cosmetology class. If there were no African-American students enrolled in the cosmetology course at the local vocational school, African-American customers would not come into the beauty school. Same thing happened to me in the real world once I was employed at salons- no African-American hairdressers in the salon, no African-American customers. Because of this, African-American hair has fascinated me yet been out of reach. I have had conversations at work with patrons and coworkers about the African-American community's perception of hair and the reactions women receive when they wear their hair super short and natural.
As the title suggests, the authors dig deep into the roots of African-American hair culture- all the way back to Africa. In Africa, hairstyles were used to advertise marital status (or lack thereof0, "age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth and rank within the community" (p. 2). Because of the high status of hair within many numerous African cultures, when the slave traders shaved slaves' heads this caused great cultural shame "and the highest indignity. Arriving without their signature hairstyles, slaves.... entered the New World, just as Europeans intended, like anonymous chattel" (p. 10).
The American slave system and work hierarchy environment helped "develop the social structure of the slave community- 'light-skinned' house slaves and 'dark-skinned' field slaves; 'good hair' vs. 'bad hair' (p.18). This system of skin color gradients and hair types are still used within the African-American community today which has psychologically harmed millions of African-Americans as they use various products and chemicals in an attempt to fit into a rigid standard of beauty.
The book covers historical moments in African-American hair history such as: Madame C.J. Walker, the pressing comb, the relaxer, the Afro, wigs, weaves and the natural hair movement. Contemporary hair controversies (Gabby Douglas, Don Imus, Blue Ivy) are also discussed. As the natural hair movement becomes a global phenomenon (and business opportunity) many hair care companies are realizing that "the future of hair care is going to be about texture, not race" (p.224)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Title: Deep Fried Trouble
Author: Tyora Moody
Genre: cozy mystery, Christian, Southern

Within one week of retirement, Eugeena Patterson receives a rude awakening when she finds her estranged neighbor dead of suspicious causes. The neighborhood crime, an unexpected visit from her daughter and two grand babies, and her daughter's disappearance cause Eugeena to enlist the help of her neighbors to solve two mysteries at once. These two traumatic events make Eugeena reflect on her past relationships with Mary (the neighbor) and Leesa (her daughter), and how things turned sour with both of them.

This is a cozy mystery, so it's not too graphic, grisly or preachy. If you're looking for a low-stress, quick mystery read with a hint of Southern, then I would recommend this book to you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Title: Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State
Author: T. D. Allman
Genre: non-fiction, Florida history, American history

As a Florida native, this book caught my eye while browsing the new books section of my local library. As the title suggests, Allman revisits Florida's origins and decimates the myths of Florida that the nation has been subject to for the past 100 years (it never freezes in Florida, Florida is a "paradise," etc.) While revisiting Florida's history Allman sprinkles fun (and not-so-fun) facts about Florida mixed in with some dry wit. The middle section that deals with the Seminole Wars drags a bit but that's because I really don't enjoy reading military history, but someone who loves military history might find this section of the book fascinating.

Florida facts:
* Florida is the only state with no metals (p. x)
* The lack of real soil in Florida limits crop production
* Florida was not named because of floweriness but because of Spain's religious calendar. Ponce de Leon reached Florida's shores a month after Palm Sunday and named the "new" land Pascua Florida.
* de Leon named the Florida Keys, "The Martyrs" because the chain of islands reminded him of decapitated heads. (Living during the Inquisition probably gave a lot of people a morbid outlook on life)
* de Leon was never looking for the Fountain of Youth- this story was spread hundreds of years after the fact by Washington Irving
* "Most of what seems typically Floridian originated someplace else (oranges, flamingos, palmettos)
* Jules Verne predicted space travel would be "in a projectile-vehicle launched from Florida."

Military campaigns in Florida during the 1800s would affect U.S. policy even into the 21st century. Strategy: claim an area/town/village is composed of outlaws and criminals who are a security threat. Ramrod your way into "enemy territory" on a secret mission sanctioned by the President that ignores the Constitution. When the military campaign doesn't go as planned, the press finds out and the President denies any complicity in the matter. (Chapters 8-10) Sound familiar? This happened at the Negro Fort and during the Seminole Wars and happens nowadays when the US becomes involved in modern political hotspots.

Allman also goes into detail about the murky origins of Disney World. The "happiest place on earth" has been allowed by the Florida legislature to permanently damage the environment of Central Florida, be exempted from paying taxes, and allowing loopholes that only gives voting power to stockholders- many of whom do not reside in Florida. After reading this section, I have very little desire to visit a Florida theme park again...

Allman also skewers NASA and their shoddy safety record- if safety protocols had been followed, the Challenger disaster might not have happened.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: dystopian, YA fiction, books to movies

I finally decided to jump on the Divergent bandwagon and see what all the fuss was about...

Divergent is set in dystopian Chicago- the city is divided into five factions based on personality types, in the belief that personality conflicts, not race, religion or politics, is the root of evil and corruption: Amity (friendliness), Erudite (intellectuals), Candor (always honest), Abegnation (selfless), and Dauntless (brave). But like all human labels and categories, there is friction and tension between the factions.

Beatrice Prior has lived in the Abegnation faction her whole life but has never felt like she belonged. Unfortunately, she has never been able to talk to anyone about her feelings since the Abegnation are so selfless, they never talk about themselves. Ever. When she turns 16, Beatrice undergoes an aptitude test that will determine in which faction she will spend the remainder of her life. Her aptitude test goes awry and Beatrice finds out that she is a Divergent. She is told this classification is dangerous but not why. At the Choosing ceremony, Beatrice must decide whether she will stay with what is familiar (and chance being unhappy) or if she will choose a new faction (and a new family). Beatrice's choices will uncover family secrets and she'll learn that selflessness and strength come in many forms.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Title: Out of the Easy
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: young adult fiction

Ruta Sepetys is becoming one of my favorite young adult authors; it's hard to believe she's only written two novels! Out of the Easy was just as gripping as her first novel, Between Shades of Grey. This was the July selection (picked by moi!) for the book club I'm a part of.

Josie Moraine has big dreams of getting out of The Big Easy. She lives above a bookshop in order to stay out of her abusive mother's reach and she cleans the brothel where her mother works (the madam is more protective of Josie than Josie's mother). Josie dreams of attending college up north where she can shed the "daughter of a whore" reputation that has clung to her for her entire life. She laboriously saves her money in a secret hiding spot. A chance encounter with a bookshop customer and her mother's possible role in a crime threatens her dreams... Add in a gangster and a tentative love triangle,and you have a smart yet fun read about the life in the underbelly of New Orleans in 1950.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Title: Vitro
Author: Jessica Khoury
Genre: young adult sci-fi

Vitro is a spinoff or companion novel to Jessica Khoury's first book Origin; each book can be read on its own or out of order without running the risk of spoilers.

Sophie Crue has idolized her research scientist mother ever since her parents divorced when she was a little girl. Sophie often lived her life trying to prove herself to her faraway mother. When Sophie receives an urgent email, supposedly from her mother, she jumps at the chance to rescue her while visiting the mysterious and taboo Skin Island...
After a crash landing, Sophie soon learns that all on Skin Island is not what it seems and that her family's past was a crucial part in Skin Island's secret research: the Vitros are test tube teenagers engineered to imprint on their master and blindly obey all commands; this blind obedience make Vitros valuable bodyguards, servants or worse. But not all Vitros were created equal... some Vitros have no free will and some have no conscience. When Sophie discovers her personal connection to the Vitro program, things go to hell in a hand basket pretty quickly.
Teens will like the action and developing romance between Sophie and Jim. The teens-at-heart will enjoy the philosophical and ethical questions this book brings up: What's better? Blind obedience or free will? How are psychopathy and lack of a free will interrelated, yet opposite from each other? Many of the teenage Vitros are like toddlers when they wake up. What does this tell us about human experience shaping our view of the world and our learning experiences?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Title: The Pioneer Woman Cooks A Year of Holidays
Author: Ree Drummond
Genre: cookbook, non-fiction

After a stressful semester I needed a relaxing and quick read. I always seem to read cookbooks when stressed and the Pioneer Woman's new cookbook called out to me from the library's New Books section. I have never seen the Pioneer Woman show on the Food Network since we don't have cable and I have only read one other cookbook by her, but I do occasionally read her food blog and follow her on Facebook.
This is one of the few cookbooks where I wanted to make 90% of the recipes (usually I'm limited by my own food quirks and strawberry allergies). The food photography is gorgeous and is accompanied by Ree's down-to-earth writing style. Each step in the recipe has a thumbnail picture- why don't all cookbooks have this feature? It's literally mouth-watering.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Title: What's Math Got to Do With It? Helping Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject
Author: Jo Boaler
Genre: non-fiction, education issues, mathematics

I am a math hater. I am 34 years old and I have yet to find a math teacher that makes math interesting and useful to me. I highly doubt that I will be using quadratic equations later in life. I am going back to school for my Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and even though I took and passed a math class at another college for my A.A. degree, I have to take College Algebra again! My teacher is not the greatest and I am really struggling with this course and all the homework is consuming my limited spare time.

When I read this book, I felt like Jo Boaler had been secretly following me my whole life. All the things I hate about math and math class, she brings up in this book:

1. Math classes foster passive learning (students sit quietly and copy formulas for an hour). Was your favorite class in high school or college a passive-learning class or was it an active-learning class full of ideas and opinions? "Another major problem with passive approaches to mathematics is that students work in silence. One problem is that students often need to talk through methods to know whether they really understand them." (46)
2. Formulas and methods that do not make sense, "The fact that students are drilled in methods and rules that do not make sense to them...leaves students frustrated because most of them want to understand what they are learning." (43)
3. The numerous math formulas students need to "learn/memorize" have never made sense to me: "The girls were able to accept the methods shown to them and practice them, but they wanted to know why they worked, where they came from, and how they connected with other methods." (125) Have you ever had a math teacher take the time to explain all this? Jo Boaler also explains that emerging brain research show that boys and girls use different parts of the brain to learn the same thing!

Jo Boaler also devotes a chapter or two to the dangers of standardized testing:
"American children are tested more than ever before, tested more than students in the rest of the world. The tests used in America are rejected by most other countries." (84) She also states that multiple choice tests do not truly show what students have learned or understand or prepare them for life: "Multiple choice does not tell you much about how well they will handle more advanced material or solve complex problems in the workplace." (87)

This books needs to be read every parent, teacher ,principal, Board of Education member, senator, etc., in this country!