07 March 2017

A review of Adam Weber's book, Talking With God

I decided to read Talking With God, by Adam Weber, because I felt like I needed to focus more on prayer, and I wanted to have a fresh perspective on it. The fact that it was written by someone not of my faith, but still a fellow Christian, made me hopeful that I could gain some new insights that would help me build my testimony of prayer.
Reading this book definitely made me remember the many blessings God has given me, and the solace I have found in prayer, and the times when my prayers have been answered more abundantly than I could have hoped. It also reminded me of how much being able to talk to my Heavenly Father has made it possible for me to trust God to see me through hard times and situations - even when they're caused by my own foolishness.
This book could be a little rambling at times, but the layout was simple and easy to follow. Much of the book was anecdotal, but there were a lot of scriptures to back up the author's points. The footnotes threw me off for a little bit, because they were really just side notes, and really not critical to the book (other than scripture references), like foot note 1 in Chapter 2. Easter Bunny: 1. Another year, I got a Salt-N-Pepa CD. Awesome. (p. 189). I do have to admit though, that is the first time I've read every foot note in a book. It can read a bit like a memoir at times, but the author has a light touch of humor, and his experiences he shares are always used to illustrate his point.
I was never bored while I was reading the book. It didn't drag. It was a well-paced sermon on prayer. The book challenged the reader to do a couple of different things, and while I usually skip over challenges, I did a few of these. At one point, Reverend Weber suggested praying for someone, then letting that person know that you were praying for them, and what you had prayed for them. It was a little out of my comfort zone - although I've definitely told people having a hard time that I would pray for them - but, I decided to go for it (I forget which page this challenge is on, by the way). I don't think I'm going to adopt this as a new practice, but I did have a good experience. I was able to communicate to a friend that I care, and that I have a testimony that God cares.
I felt like this book lacked a little bit of the reverence I have for my Heavenly Father. I understand, as Reverend Weber was demonstrating his point throughout that Jesus and Heavenly Father are our friends, but I would have loved to have seen a touch more deference.
Overall, I'm glad I read this book. Not only did it give me the opportunity to think over my relationship with Heavenly Father, but it reminded me that God answers the prayers of all of His children, and that He is happy anytime one of His children comes to Him in prayer.
I recommend this book to those who are looking for a beginning or review perspective on prayer.
Want to know more about Adam Weber?
Want more info about the book?
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. This is my honest opinion about the book. 

26 February 2017

To people who are feeling burned out.

Dear Fatigued Stranger,

I'm feeling it too. Like a wind-up toy losing power. Like a gerbil in a wheel. Like a playlist on repeat. You get the point. We're tired of the daily grind, and we feel like we can't keep going, but we have to: for work, for our kids, for our family, friends, spouses, random acquaintances or strangers asking us to support a cause. There are so many demands.

If you're feeling like a fire going out, it's time to bank the fire. Keep it low but alive. A man who has my deepest respect used an airplane analogy (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/of-things-that-matter-most?lang=eng): when we fly through turbulence, we sometimes think we should proceed full speed ahead and get it over with, but we really lessen the turbulence by slowing down. So just keep it simple. Don't do anything extra.

A friend needed my help last week. And I said no. This might have made me a terrible friend. Jesus gave us a phenomenal example of service and sacrifice. Shouldn't I have said yes to my friend? And I say "No." You cannot give what you do not have. If you ask me for a golden elephant the size of my head, I can wish and wish and wish I could give it to you, but I don't have one.

Say no to people. There may come a genuine emergency, and you cannot say no, but these are exceedingly rare. Say no to being busy and running around frantically. Realize that there are some essential things in life that cannot be ignored, but these also are not as numerous as we think.

So just wait. The time will come to say yes. The time will come to do more. I have lived long enough to know that somehow we'll get more firewood from somewhere - even if that takes awhile.

But for now, be still. Know that God is God.

01 February 2017

A review of John Donvan and Caren Zucker's book, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

When I decided to read In a Different Key, it was on a whim. I selected it sight unseen, and expected a quick, but thoroughly educational, read. In a Different Key is a tome. At 552 pages before the timeline, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and authors' note, it is a literally heavy read.

My first note is, that this is an obviously thoroughly researched book. The material comes from a wide range of sources, and covers a wide range of information.

Second, I learned a lot. In an age where a lot has been done to break down previous misconceptions and stigmas about disabilities, it can be easy to forget that truths we hold to be "self-evident" actually had to be fought for.

Third, it is repeatedly demonstrated that the passion and compassion of dedicated parents, and those who support them, have been the key motivating factors in improving the lives of those with disabilities - in this case, particularly those who have autism.

I didn't enjoy this book. It was a heavy read. Metaphorically as well. It's not pleasant reading about the conditions and experiences families and individuals were subjected to. I get that. But to me there was also a sense of scandal-mongering. Over and over again, I felt like it was "and here's our Hero...with one dirty little secret." With two outright, "Dun-duh-dun! He's really the Villain in Disguise!" moments thrown in there as well. A blurb by Washington Post on the cover touts the book as "chock full of suspense." I'm not so much looking for suspense from this book, as I'm looking for a clearer understanding of what autism is and more about the people who have the condition. Some of whom I know. Also, I did not enjoy the not infrequent use of offensive language - even in verbatim quotes I felt could have been paraphrased. This was ironic to me, as the authors were so conscientious and careful about trying not to offend others by their historic use of terms currently politically incorrect, such as "imbecile" and "moron." Another off-putting thing, for me, was the way the authors would start a topic, leave, and then come back a chapter later. One chapter talked about the vaccine-autism correlation study done by Andrew Wakefield, the next about a national organization of autism advocacy formed, followed by Villain Wakefield being exposed. It all ties in, in the end, but I found it wearisome.

And about learning a lot: I unquestionably did. But I feel like what I learned about, was more about the perceptions of autism than autism itself. Understandable, since a key point of the book was that autism has always been hard to define and diagnose, and that a lot of the time people are using the word to mean different things, while the masses assume they are talking about a unified whole.

I recommend this book to sociologists and historians. To the casual, even though interested, reader, I think it's a bit much.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. This is my honest opinion about the book.

09 January 2017

A Review of Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones First Ever MUSICAL Edition (audio book)

I remember seeing friends and classmates reading books in the Junie B. Jones series in elementary school, and I meant to read them, but for whatever reason, I never got around to it. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but my sister told me that it was a really good portrayal of life through the eyes of a little girl, and she was right. The Junie B. Jones First Ever MUSICAL Edition is a reading of Junie B. Jones First Grader (at Last) and a studio recording of the songs from the musical, and it proved to be a really good introduction into the world of Junie B. Jones.

We decided to listen to the audio book during a long car trip we took over the weekend and that turned out to be a really good idea, since we got stuck in traffic immediately after we left. The reader, Lana Quintal, was lively and engaging, and she got the voice dead on. I think these stories must be meant to be read aloud, because that was the perfect medium. This was a good fit for a younger audience, too. My six-year-old was disappointed that it wasn't a print book, because she had wanted to be able to look at the pictures (Do the books have pictures? That would be fun.), but she really enjoyed listening to it.

We joined Junie B. on her first day of first grade, and got to hear what she thought about best friends, school bus seatmates, and trying something new, and maybe a little bit scary. The story was fun and captured a child's viewpoint  admirably. My husband and I kept exchanging glances throughout the story, like we were sharing memories of life in grade school, and remembering "that girl" or "that guy" from our own classes. I don't see parents who are reading or listening to this book with their children being bored by it at all. It's easy to relate to, and I think a lot of us might still have a little bit of Junie B. still inside of us as we encounter the world. I half-wished the story were more grammatically correct, but it would have lost some of its voice and charm. The story was pretty short, but it was the perfect length for those just learning to listen to or read chapter books.

Over the summer our family went to see Pinkalicious the Musical, and we loved it, which is one reason I was interested in hearing the music from the Junie B. Jones musical. Overall, my reaction was favorable, but I think my enjoyment would have been far greater if I had any familiarity with other books in the Junie B. Jones series, as the musical was based on several of them. It also would have been nice to be able to see the musical before hearing it, because there were moments in some of the songs that clearly would have been more fun as a stage performance. If I have a criticism of the music, it is an occasional tendency on the part of the music to start sounding all the same.

This is a highly enjoyable book, and it made me interested in other books in the series. My kids, who slept through part of it as a result of moving 2 mph in a warm car, asked to listen to it again on the drive home, and laughed together later about parts the thought were funny. If you have young school-aged children, and are looking for a book or audio book to enjoy together, this is a great option.

Want to learn more about the late Barbara Park? http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/23194/barbara-park/

Want to learn more about the audio book? http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/532844/junie-b-jones-first-ever-musical-edition-by-barbara-park-with-songs-by-marcy-heisler-lyrics-and-zina-goldrich-music/

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. This is my honest opinion about the book.

20 December 2016

A Review of Lisa Yee's: Batgirl at Super Hero High (audiobook)

My now six-year-old has been asking for a Batgirl birthday party for the last six months, so we've definitely had Batgirl on the brain over here. Her sisters are likewise obsessed with superheroes (my two-year-old is currently walking around in a Wonder Woman dress she put on all by herself), so I knew they'd all be interested in an audio book about Batgirl. And as a mom of three daughters, I'm always on the lookout for suitable "girl power" books that teach good values, portray women and girls as strong and capable, and avoid male-bashing.

Lisa Yee's Batgirl at Super Hero High is about Barbara Gordon, a.k.a Batgirl, trying to fit in at her new school, Super Hero High, find a good balance in her relationship with her overprotective father, and figure out if someone who wasn't born super can truly become a superhero.

The audio book is read by Mae Whitman, and she does a good job. One could wish for a little bit more animation at some points, but on the whole she has a clear, strong voice that is easy to listen to - and believe me, as someone who has quit listening to an audio book because the reader gave characters really annoying voices, this is important.

The story made a good audio book. There are stories that you find yourself flipping back in the book with a "Say what!?!" as you look for that paragraph that contained some key plot point that the author tucked in surreptitiously, but Batgirl follows a direct narrative that is easy to follow.

The story itself: First of all, you need to be aware that Batgirl at Super Hero High is the third book in the Super Hero High series (a fact that I somehow missed). It is clear from the first chapter that previous events are being built on. Although the author didn't really revisit prior material much, I was still able to follow the story just fine. I enjoyed the positive messages conveyed by the book as it dealt with themes of friendship, parent-child relationships, accepting help, and standing alone. Specific messages I appreciated included:

Children can make their parents better people. Children need to understand that they are a positive and treasured part of their parents lives, and that their parents are trying to be their best selves for their children.

Being a hero is more about strong values than awesome powers. Even the villains have awesome powers, but they aren't using them to serve and protect. The supers embrace a strong moral code, and embody principles like courage, conviction, honor, perseverance, compassion, and loyalty.

Interdependence is not dependence. I love the strong message that teamwork is not a weakness on the journey to becoming strong and independent. It's okay to ask for help, and it's okay to offer help, and it's okay to ask for the opportunity to try on your own.

What did I not like? There was one moment in the book that jarred me strongly. Roughly paraphrased, the principal tells Batgirl that Super Hero High is different from regular high school because the supers are going to be leaders, saving lives, and changing the world. I think Susan B. Anthony, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, and Mother Theresa can all agree that you don't need some special super hero academy to change the world, and in ten years when I have girls in high school, I want them to know they can be strong leaders and change lives for the better in their sphere of influence.

Because I jumped into the series, my next criticism may be unfounded, but there was a lot of name dropping from the DC universe, which can be hard to follow if you're a super hero novice. I found myself thinking, "Yeah...I have no idea who that is," frequently. Also, the mixing of villains and heroes is a little odd - I'm getting a kind of Maleficent vibe from the whole thing, which honestly feels a little unoriginal.

I found the book a light, fun read, and I thought Lisa Yee's portrayal of the villain was really well done, and that the character had a lot of depth. I find myself mildly interested in reading the other stories in the series, especially after the obligatory cliff-hanger at the end of Batgirl.

This book is target to 3rd-7th graders, and I think that's an accurate assessment. My four-year-old didn't like the part "When the bad guy... *insert spoiler here*...which messed everything up for everybody." Which is probably the reaction Ms. Yee was going for, so that was on target, but the girls mostly popped in and out of the room, and didn't listen to a whole lot of the book when it was on. I anticipate they'll like it more when they get a little older, and I may play it again a chapter at a time as we play Legos or something, but for now it wasn't a huge hit with them.

So my recommendation is this: for sure read or listen to the first two books first, but this will be a fun story for any mid-late elementary girl (and maybe boy, although clearly targeting a female demographic) who is interested in super heroes, and it's a good "girl power" novel that won't be incredibly boring for any adult who is reading/listening along with their child.

I received this audiobook from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. This is my honest opinion about the book. 

06 December 2016

A Review Of Christopher Hart's Book, doodletopia Fairies

Christopher Hart’s book doodletopia Fairies is by far my favorite book in the doodletopia series. This may have much to do with the fact that I have always enjoyed fantasy and magical creatures, fairies in particular, so it already had brownie points just for subject matter. It’s been awhile since my last review, but I don’t think I’m imagining that Fairies is more instructional that its predecessors. While still definitely being a guided activity book, there seems to be more actual art education involved.

Hart promises that his book will teach you to “…draw fairy wings, design magical fashions, make flying poses, create charming fairy villages, produce magical effects in your artwork, and more.” p. 7 and jumps right in with his first tip. “Indicating size and scale is another important technique -” p.7 Like, I assume, many others, I often have the most difficulty - when drawing a character - with the side profile. This time, Hart addresses that: “…known as a side view - and “the angle that drives people crazy.” Let’s break down the steps to make it easy to draw.” p. 12. Which he does. Honestly, I think it will continue to be a problem for me, but I’m half a step closer.
In one regard particularly, Hart has held consistent appeal for me, and that is his wit. He is just a funny guy. He continues to joke about his magical ability to imbue his readers with super drawing powers, “Your pencil is your wand. And your eraser is …still just a rubbery thing. But your pencil is a wand.” P.13, and make funny remarks about his characters, “They’re the ones who steal your sunglasses when you’re not looking.” P.7, but I feel like he waxed even more eloquent on this go round. Again, maybe bias owing to my enjoyment of the genre, but Fairies has been funnier to me. My favorite quips?

“Fairies range in age from very young (about 633 years old) to mature (“It would be rude to tell.”)” p. 10
“I flipped through some popular fairy magazines, like Fairy Fitness & Fun, to find insights into what fairies wear. Man, is it tough to read that teensy print” p. 49
“You can create fairy hats from all sorts of things. One of the most popular materials is a flower. Lots of different flowers work. But not dandelions. One good breeze and the hat is gone.” P. 65
“All I’m saying is that the next time you see a tiara on a little kid’s head, be sure to tell them, “That was stolen from a fairy.”” P. 70
“(What time is “yore” anyway? And how does anyone know when it’s a quarter to yore?)” p.                140

One of Hart’s talents is highlighting how positions and shapes impact your impressions of the attitude of the character. In fact, his section headings for “More Fairy Faces” and point blank on the topic: “Oval-Faced Fairies are Fun” p. 18 “Angular-Faced Fairies Are Confident” p. 19 “Round-Faced Fairies are Perfect at Pouting” p. 20 “Young Faces Look Innocent” p. 21. He also has more subtle suggestions for how to convey the characters’ outlook:

“Draw eyes wide, giving her a bubbly appearance.”  p. 10
 “Draw the antennae leaning forward, for a positive look.” P. 35
“Press his arms and legs together for an insecure pose.” P. 43
“These wings may not seem unique at first, but their position is interesting. Both sets of wings are lifted up, which enhances the effect of her cheerful expression.” P. 87
“Notice how the wings are in the “down” position. This placement can be used to show a negative attitude.” P. 108

This book is not a technical drawing book. While there is some flat-out art speak, most of Hart’s advice comes in a far more conversational tone. Topics of art classes are slipped in as a casual aside. I have twenty specific examples of this, but will omit most of them for brevity’s sake. But I will add just a few as supporting evidence. For instance, Hart does not discuss background/foreground, but he does give advice about it: “First draw the ring of flowers, and then the hat. The flowers are the front layer.” p. 68 or “Overlap the mushrooms below her.” p. 97. He doesn’t talk about light sources, but he alludes to it: “Draw a shadow under the fairy to indicate that she’s hovering above the ground.” p. 98. Nor does he talk about diagonal lines being more visually interesting and stimulating than horizontals, but merely suggests, “The horn is such a linear instrument. You either have to position it horizontally or diagonally. I think you’ll find that diagonally is more engaging.” p. 143

He also gets into the physics that make art more convincing, such as being aware of gravity and other forces acting upon your character, such as momentum creating an updraft on a fairy’s wings.

After the promise of malevolent fairies, I was a little disappointed about their treatment in the book. After a promising start (“You may never have actually seen an evil fairy, but you have seen their effects. Why do you think a slice of bread always falls jelly-side down? Evil fairy. Why can you never find your glasses? Evil fairy.” p. 114), just one page of advice - maybe just hints (“Push those eyebrows down - way down!” p. 114), and one page of go to (“Wicked characters drip with evil. So by all means, overdo it!” p. 115)! Maybe there wasn’t a lot to say about it, but I’d have liked to have seen further exploration of the topic.

The girls and I really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone whose interests in art and fairies overlap.

I tried to scan my daughter’s adorable artwork, but it turns out she drew too lightly for my scanner, but here’s a page I did.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. This is my honest opinion about the book.

23 October 2016

A Review of Christopher Hart's Book, doodletopia Manga

Christopher Hart's manga book is humorous, the design is engaging, and it is replete with examples of different manga forms, from classic school girl, to chibis, to "super cute animals". There a lot of different drawing prompts and activities, from "make your own bookmark" to "finish this maze."

I see this book as an excellent option for long car/plane rides - assuming that you don't suffer from motion sickness. My children loved this book; the baby scribbled, and the others did a kind of fill in the blank version; eyes on faces, lines on the mazes, words on the stationary activity pages.
I still don't find there to be a lot of drawing instruction in this second book in the doodletopia series. In my view, this book is geared toward those who already have basic drawing skills down. However, I did have an art teacher whose primary piece of advice was "draw what you see," and there is plenty to see.

Do I recommend this book? Sure. It's good clean fun, and as I mentioned before, would be great for times where one is required to sit for an extended period of time. I am especially recommending this book for preteens and early teens, because I think they would derive the most enjoyment from it.

more info: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/238090/doodletopia-manga-by-christopher-hart/
author bio:

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. This is my honest opinion about the book.