A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Walk in the Woods

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Title: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

Premise:

This is a humorous memoir about Bill’s quest to hike the Appalachian Trail, a good portion of it with his friend Katz.  Additionally, Bill shares his observations and opinions on topics which are pertinent to the story, such as, the National Parks Service, invasive species, conservation, mining, etc.

My thoughts:

It would not be an understatement to say that I LOVED this book!  It wasn’t a page-turner that I just couldn’t put down, but more like an old friend that I would return to for shared jokes and just to appreciate being together.  I wanted to savor my time with this book.  Bill’s wry humor really suits me and I appreciate the way he uses it to draw attention to and poke at issues he cares about.  Sometimes it’s more effective to criticize something through sardonic humor than by railing against it in an angry tirade.

When I picked up the book, I didn’t really think it would be all that exciting.  How can you make an exceptionally long walk entertaining?  Well, Bill figured it out and delivered beautifully.  His comedic timing is like strawberries and whipped cream: perfect.  Let me state again that I am in love with his writing style and I look forward to reading more of his works.  How can I have gone so long without reading any of his books?

The last thing I wanted to comment on was how Bill brought little nuggets of history into his story.  I love history when it’s presented in an engaging manner, and Bill incorporated it seamlessly.  I was particularly intrigued by the opulent hotels which once existed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the sad history of the town of Centralia in Pennsylvania.  I had previously studied Centralia when I was on a kick about ghost towns, and it is a haunting setting to be sure.  If you’ve never heard of it, do a bit of research.  It’s fascinating.

I recommend A Walk in the Woods to adults and mature teenagers who enjoy a humorous adventure story.  If you like wry humor, you’ll especially appreciate Bryson’s writing.

A couple of favorite quotes:

“’Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.’  When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.”  (p. 63-64)

“The forest we walked through now was really just a strapping adolescent.  In 1890, a railroad man from Cincinnati named Henry C. Bagley came to this part of Georgia, saw the stately white pines and poplars, and was so moved by their towering majesty and abundance that he decided to chop them all down.  They were worth a lot of money.”  (p. 68)

Possible Objections:

  • a decent amount of swearing

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Ugly by Robert Hoge

Ugly

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Title: Ugly by Robert Hoge

Premise:

Robert was born with some major birth defects (a growth in the middle of his face and deformed legs) because of a medication his mother took while he was in utero.  His life is a tale of resilience and the quest to fit in in a world that too often judges people based on appearance.  Though the cards are stacked against him, Robert comes of age as a well-adjusted young adult, demonstrating to all that a person’s looks don’t define who they are as a person.

My thoughts:

Thank you to smile rac for recommending this book!

Wow–what a refreshing and well-timed book!  There is so much talk nowadays about acceptance and mainstreaming children with special needs, but that was not the case back when Robert was a child.  It was even a fight for him to be accepted into his own home!

Robert’s memoir is poignant and entertaining at the same time.  His wry humor helps take the edge off of some very painful experiences and helps the reader to identify with the human behind the hurt.  The narrative is detailed enough to keep the attention of older readers, but simple enough that it’s still accessible to a younger audience.  I appreciate that Robert left out offensive language, etc. which would have been questionable for the younger crowd.

The surgery which doctors performed on Robert’s face took place during the early days of craniofacial surgery.  Truly he underwent a groundbreaking surgery which helped pave the way for so many after him.  I thought that was pretty interesting, though I don’t know that he feels particularly heroic for doctors having experimented on his face when he really had no say in the matter.  I’m not sure how I would feel about that, if I were in his place.

For any child or parent who has a friend or family member with special needs, this is an especially important read.  When you feel different it can be very cathartic to hear from others who have gone through the same experiences.  It leaves you feeling a little less alone, a little more hopeful, and a whole lot more understood.  I highly recommend Ugly to all kids–elementary through teens.  For those with a personal tie to special needs or those who have experienced bullying, I recommend it doubly!

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Super Shark Encyclopedia and Other Creatures of the Deep by Derek Harvey

super-shark-1

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Super Shark Encyclopedia is another book that came from our out-of-town library trip.  My second son absolutely loves encyclopedia-type books, so I thought he might enjoy looking at this one.

Premise:

This is an encyclopedic book which teaches the reader about many different ocean creatures.  There is a short section at the beginning of the book which shows the different “layers” of the ocean and briefly explains them.  It has sections on Amazing Anatomy, Animal Athletes, Life Stories, Supernatural Senses, and Exploring the Deep.  Creatures are featured using full-color photography, basic statistics, and a short description.  A short glossary in the back helps out with more uncommon terms.

My thoughts:

We really like this book.  It has interesting tidbits of information about many different sea creatures, and that information is perfectly complimented by the wonderful visuals.  It’s short enough that I can look at it with my smaller kids, but contains enough information to keep my elementary-age kids reading it themselves, too.  Personally, I love any book about animals.  This one is quite engaging.

The photos in this book are amazing!  They are clear and colorful, close-up and just plain beautiful.  The pages are quite large so that means the photos are nice and large, too.

I would recommend this book for elementary through preteen children.  The entries are fairly concise and may not contain enough information to satisfy older readers.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by Jack Challoner

maker-lab-1

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I found Maker Lab when we went to the library in a nearby town.  I was hoping that we would be able to do a few of the projects in our homeschooling, but that will have to wait.  We’re packing up to move and most of our supplies are languishing in storage right now.

Premise:

This book is aimed at kids who want to do their own maker projects.  The 28 projects fall into four categories: Food For Thought, Around the Home, Water World, and The Great Outdoors.  Each project has a supply list, clear instructions, a sample, and a short explanation about how it works.  The pictures are colorful and engaging, and enhanced by whimsical doodles.  There is also a short glossary at the end of the book to explain some of the more scientific terms.

My thoughts:

If I were a child, I would want this book!  That’s because I’m a perpetual crafter/project-tackler.  Any child who enjoys doing those hands-on projects will get excited when they see the awesome projects they can complete themselves.

The illustrations and projects are great, but there are only 28 total projects.  So while this is a fun book, it will not keep the dedicated project-maker occupied for too long.  Once you’ve tackled all of the projects, it would be a nice gesture to pass it on to a friend.

I would recommend this book for children of all ages.  The younger ones will need help with the projects, and the older ones will gain satisfaction from completing the projects on their own.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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National Geographic Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places: More Than 250 Spine-Chilling Destinations Around the Globe by Sarah Bartlett

supernatural-places-1

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My son brought home Supernatural Places from the library.  I put it up on the shelf because I didn’t want my younger kids finding it; some of the illustrations are rather spooky.  It looked quite compelling, so I perused it one evening once the kids had gone to bed.

Premise:

This is a non-fiction reference book, which gives you a short blurb on many different supernatural locations around the world.  It covers everything from haunted houses to ancient ruins, people groups to natural spaces.  One page is devoted to each location, and includes a photo and basic information.  The sections include: Haunted Places, Vampire Haunts, Witchcraft and the Dark Arts, Sacred Places, UFO Hot Spots, and Myths & Legends.

My thoughts:

I found this book utterly fascinating, and definitely spooky!  I’m not into horror, so this is about as macabre as I like to go.  Some of the entries are icky–such as the cannibalistic clan in Scotland during the 17th century.  Most of the entries are not gory, but be warned that there are a few.  The photos are wonderful–I love reference books with good photography!

This book is a great teaser for many interesting places and events throughout history.  It’s good as a jumping off point, if you want to do more research and a fuller study of some of these fascinating places.  It would also make a great coffee table book.

I would recommend this book for older teens to adults because of the mature subject matter.

Possible objections:

  • occult themes
  • sexual themes
  • gory elements
  • general scariness

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

12 Years Slave - WM

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Twelve Years a Slave is the final book in my Rainbow Cover Reading Challenge!  I am so excited to give away the books from this challenge to one lucky winner–so stay tuned!

I was really looking forward to reading this book because I’ve been studying slavery and other social justice issues since I was a child.  For some reason, those difficult subjects have always fascinated me.  I had never heard of Solomon Northup, nor seen the recent movie that is based on this book.

First, you should know that this book uses old-fashioned language.  That’s just something that you’ll have to get used to.  The words may not flow off your tongue like melted butter, but you should really stick with it because of how truly fascinating the story is.

Second, you will notice that this story seems to be choked with minute details that wouldn’t really be necessary for simply telling the story.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, Solomon had to establish his right in representing the true state of slavery by proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that his story was undeniably true.  All of the small details in the book are facts that could be checked and corroborated.  Additionally, Solomon published this book a short time after he was rescued from captivity, hoping that by sharing his story he could educate people about the truth of slavery.  (Remember, at this time there were people who actually believed that the slave preferred his state of bondage to a life of freedom.)  As a free, educated colored man, he had a unique perspective to offer.  He had been accustomed to freedom, then that freedom was stripped from him and he was forced to endure slavery.  Twelve years later he was restored to freedom again.  Upon his return, he could give utterance to the true state of slavery in an observant, introspective, and educated manner.  He could speak to whites at the time on an equal footing (at least intellectually).  So, while the details may get tedious and seem irrelevant at times, they served a very specific purpose when the book was written.

I must say that I really enjoyed this book.  I didn’t enjoy reading about the hardships and injustices, but I appreciated learning about Solomon’s experiences.  Mainly he shares events and information about his daily life in a matter-of-fact tone.  He also shares the things he felt and what others said.  The reader is expected to arrive at their own conclusion as to whether or not slavery is a just institution.  I appreciate that Solomon appealed to the reader to take what they had read and consult their own conscience about what was fair or not.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“They left me in the cabin, that I might rest.  Blessed be sleep!  It visiteth all alike, descending as the dews of heaven on the bond and free.  Soon it nestled to my bosom, driving away the troubles that oppressed it, and bearing me to that shadowy region, where I saw again the faces, and listened to the voices of my children, who, alas, for aught I knew in my waking hours, had fallen into the arms of that other sleep, from which they never would arouse.” (p. 94)

“‘If I was in New-England,’ returned Bass, ‘I would be just what I am here.  I would say that Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished.  I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage.  It would be hard for you to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty.  You have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice, than Uncle Abram yonder.  Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us?  And what difference is there in the color of the soul?  Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel.'” (p. 179)

Because of the subject matter and language, I would suggest this book for teens and up.

Possible Objections:

  • A lot of violence
  • Racial epithets
  • Bad language — mostly the d-word
  • Some talk of sexual exploitation

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff - WM

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The book Stiff is a fascinating compilation of author Mary Roach’s research on the human cadaver.  This isn’t just your average list of facts and figures, but an in-depth exploration about the many different situations a cadaver can find itself in once its animating essence has flown away.  So, let’s talk about the second-to-last book in my Friends & Family Top Picks Reading Challenge.

We shall begin with the topics covered in this book.  They are extremely wide-ranging and I really had no idea that there were so many things that could happen to a person’s body after they died.  There are sections about plastic surgery, dissection, early anatomists and body snatching, the study of human decay, embalming, car impact studies, army research, the shroud of Turin, organ harvesting, the use of cadavers for medicinal purposes, cannibalism, composting cadavers, and plastinated cadavers.

Firstly, I am a bit squeamish about things like human cadavers.  Secondly, I’m even more squeamish when somebody starts talking about cutting them open, etc.  With that being said, I was able to make it through the entire book.  Mary Roach has a wonderful gift for making this subject matter palatable by injecting just the right amount of humor when things get too uncomfortable.

As for the information she shared about cadavers, it was absolutely fascinating.  Mary did a very thorough job of researching the subject and sharing it with readers in a cohesive, logical and entertaining manner.  I know much more about cadavers than I ever thought I would care to know, but I feel better for knowing it.  As strange as that may sound, this book made me realize how important it is to understand the end of our lives, just as we would seek to understand any stage between conception and death.

I’d also like to share a couple of my favorite quotes from the book which highlight Mary’s style of writing:

“And ever since, the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle, knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready.” (p. 134)

“He is telling me about the pine beetle epidemic in the area.  I point to a stand of dead conifers in the woods a quarter mile back behind the target.  ‘Like over there?’  Scottie says no.  He says they died of bullet wounds, something I never knew pine trees could do.” (p.140-141)

I highly recommend this book to adult readers who are not overly offended (or disgusted) by a frank discussion about the human body after death.  You will be utterly fascinated by this book.

If you’ve already read Stiff, please let me know what you thought of it!

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time,

Lori

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