Friday, April 28, 2017

The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson, 2017

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Riya and Abby are:
Best friends.
Complete opposites.
Living on different continents.
Currently mad at each other.
About to travel around Europe.

Riya moved to Berlin, Germany, with her family for junior year, while Abby stayed behind in their small California town. They thought it would be easy to keep up their friendship-it's only a year and they've been best friends since preschool. But instead, they ended up fighting and not being there for the other. So Riya proposes an epic adventure to fix their friendship. Two weeks, six countries, unimaginable fun. But two small catches:

They haven't talked in weeks.
They've both been keeping secrets.

Can Riya and Abby find their way back to each other among lush countrysides and dazzling cities, or does growing up mean growing apart?

(336 pages)

Oh, gosh. This book is like heroin for travel addicts.

I mean it. I got such a high from reading the descriptions of all the different places Riya and Abby visited. I've actually been to three of the cities they visit (well, two if you only count ones I was old enough to remember), and the details were so perfect that they took me back to my own travels. It's clear that Culbertson is a fellow travel lover, and that she spent a good amount of time in the countries her characters visit. I love it. And also, now I want to visit all of the other countries she described.

The gorgeous town of
St. Andrews, Scotland
Because seriously, I am addicted to traveling. So much so that there's an 85% chance (barring a sudden onset of nerves) that I will be moving to Scotland next year to do my undergrad at the University of St. Andrews. It's 600 years old and stunningly gorgeous. Check out a picture of it on the left and wish me luck.

Anyway, moving on from the traveling, let's talk characters. Basically, I related to both of them. I can understand Abby's love for the comfortable and familiar of her hometown, and her obsession with history. I can also relate to Riya's travel bug and her itch for adventure. I understand the struggle to balance so many factors in deciding what to do after high school. That said, I do think Riya was kind of a jerk at times.

Sorry, can't elaborate on that for spoiler reasons. Suffice it to say that I don't really like how she did things. Anyway, I also adore Riya's cousin Neel. He seems like a straight-up trope at first, but over the course of the book he really develops into a believable character. I love his push-pull relationship with Riya, where they basically annoy each other constantly but love each other underneath it all. His burgeoning friendship with Abby is even cuter, though it becomes a bit heavy by the end–but again, I can't say much for fear of spoilers. He makes the perfect third party in their traveling trio, though, and I'm glad he was there.

Basically, I loved The Wonder of Us because it's a story about people just like me, facing problems like growing up and moving away and making big college decisions, who get to hash out their friendship problems while traveling around Europe. While I might not like every single choice they make on the way (they seem much more relaxed about kissing new acquaintances than I would be!), I heartily enjoyed reading it. I'll be keeping ahold of my copy for a while, because I know I'll want to revisit the characters as well as the stunning settings. If you like to travel and read about the struggles of growing up, then you might enjoy The Wonder of Us, too. If you do decide to read it, let us know what you think in the comments section down below!

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Head Strong by Dave Asprey, 2017

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From the creator of Bulletproof Coffee and author of the bestselling The Bulletproof Diet comes a revolutionary plan to upgrade your brainpower—in two weeks or less.

For the last decade, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Asprey has worked with world-renowned doctors and scientists to uncover the latest, most innovative methods for making humans perform better—a process known as "biohacking." In his first book, The Bulletproof Diet, he shared his biohacking tips for taking control of your own biology. Now, in Head Strong, Asprey shows readers how to biohack their way to a sharper, smarter, faster, more resilient brain.
(256 pages)

Oh, gosh.

I thought this was going to be a book with actual, science-proven methods for improving your brain function. There would be, like, brainteaser puzzles and healthy recipes and tips for staying focused and productive during the work-day.

As soon as I read a few pages in, though, I realized that this is pretty much the opposite of that. First, Asprey spends like half the book blathering on about how great this program is, how long it took him to put together and about how you, too, can soon be smart like me! I was annoyed, sure, but I flipped forward (it's definitely a flip-through sort of book) and read some of his actual advice. Basically, his entire strategy boils down to the mitochondria. Asprey argues that mitochondria control our brain function, and that we just have to boost our mitochondria to boost our brain function. His mitochondria-helping tips range from healthy food recipes to some sort of custom coffee (that his company sells, of course) to meditation.

Um, yeah. I smelled something stinky, so I set the book down and asked my father about it. He's a microbiologist, the kind of scientist it might have been helpful for Asprey to consult when he was coming up with his plan. Dad says that mitochondria are like the battery pack of life, that they power all parts of our body including our brain. But all of the stuff Asprey does literally has zero effect on the mitochondria. The only thing we can do to help our mitochondria out is to eat. And not just healthy food: mitochondria can use literally any food substance, except fiber, to make energy.

Suffice it to say that I will not be finishing Head Strong, nor will I recommend it to anyone. I suppose this is a good lesson to me in being careful, though: next time I agree to review a book that has to do with science, I'll be sure to look up its author first!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a TLC tour.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Cody and the Rules of Life by Tricia Springstubb, 2017

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Doing the right thing can be hard! When prized possessions start going missing, Cody gets a crash course in the most important rules of all — the rules of life.

In Cody’s life, many things are hard to predict. Like why her older brother, Wyatt, is obsessed with his new bicycle called the Cobra, or why her best friend Pearl suddenly wants to trade favorite toys. Pearl says she will trust Cody with Arctic Fox because Cody is a trusty person. But Cody doesn’t want to give up her beloved Gremlin, and she regrets it as soon as she hands him over. When the Cobra goes missing, Cody has to decide for herself who is trusty and who is not. If only she had Gremlin to talk to! Surely Pearl wouldn’t mind if she secretly traded back . . . it’s not stealing if it belonged to you in the first place, right?

(176 pages)

I don't usually review books this short, but I was offered a copy of Cody and the Rules of Life and it looked intriguing enough that I couldn't say no.

And really, it was a good book. It has much more depth to it than I went in expecting, and a variety of storylines that weave together to make the story. My favorite scenes were probably actually with Cody's teacher, Mr. Daniels. Cody writes in her class journal about the search for her brother's missing bike, which is a model Cobra, and Mr. Daniels thinks her brother lost an actual snake! It's funnier than you'd think watching him ask Cody concerned questions about her family's lifestyle, and her confusing him even more (while thinking they're on the same page!).

I didn't care much about the storyline with the swapped toys, largely because Cody should never have traded Gremlin away. I have a hard time relating with a girl who would do that–there's no way I would ever have given my treasured baby blanket away to anyone when I was her age, no matter how nice they were to me. In fact, now that I think about it, I still wouldn't give it away for anything.

But what really appealed to me about the book was the way Cody grapples with issues bigger than herself. She's grown up in a home with strict "rules of life," not just against hitting and saying mean things and stealing and all the other things that aren't nice but also against just generally being mean or unkind to anyone, and she largely views the world as black and white through the lenses of those rules. As the book goes by, she has to face that fact that someone did a very mean thing–and that her brother is terribly angry at whoever that person is. For her, this combines with other moral issues (some of them connected to the loss of Gremlin) to result in her learning several valuable lessons over the course of the book.

All in all, I enjoyed reading Cody and the Rules of Life. It was a pleasant read, far more complex and mature than I expected it to be, and just the sort of book I would be happy to hand over to elementary and middle schoolers looking for an interesting read.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War by Paul B. Janeczko, 2017

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How does deception factor into fighting wars, and is it effective? In an intriguing companion to The Dark Game, Paul B. Janeczko reveals the truth about the strategic lies of war. The biblical account of Gideon. The ancient story of the Trojan horse. Deceptive techniques have been used in war through the ages. But while the principles have changed very little, the technology behind fooling the enemy has evolved dramatically. Paul B. Janeczko s fascinating chronology focuses on the American Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf Wars to reveal evolving attitudes toward the use and effectiveness of deceptive operations. Find out the secret plan behind the invasion of Normandy and the details of General Schwarzkopf s "Hail Mary play" during the Gulf War, among many other strategies and maneuvers designed to pull the wool over enemies' eyes. Back matter includes source notes, a bibliography, and an index."
(256 pages)

It's funny how things work out sometimes. I agreed to review Double Cross months ago, but didn't get around to it until now–which just so happens to be the exact same time that we're covering WWII and the Cold War era in my APUSH class. Deception techniques from WWII, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war make up the bulk of the content, so it works out perfectly for me: I get to study and work on my blog at the same time!

Because Double Cross is definitely educational. It talks a lot about military maneuvers on the Allied side during WWII, and on the American/UN side in the more recent wars. It also touches on the Trojan Horse story, but I already knew about that. What I really enjoyed reading about was the new stuff. Did you know that Britain invented a whole new army that was going to invade Europe at Pas-de-Calais (rather than Normandy), and that they had a group of people driving around Scotland to send out telegraph messages simulating conversations between the different parts of the army? Not only that, but they also built props on the ground to look like trucks. And they put little articles in the newspaper about how, say, the presence of thousands of soldiers was demoralizing the young Scottish women. The attention to detail that went into the operation was incredible–and it worked beautifully. Hitler actually kept a large amount of his troops near Pas-de-Calais even after the invasion of Normandy because he thought a second attack would still be coming from there!

There are way more stories in here than just the one about Scotland's notional (fake) army, though. I don't want to go into all of them too much, because Janeczko does a better job explaining all of them than I ever could, but suffice it to say that there have been some very fascinating deception operations over the years. I don't love reading about war as a rule, just because it's too horrible to think of all that death, but I really enjoyed learning about all the stranger-than-fiction ideas people had that actually worked and fooled the enemy. It's also cool to see how, in some instances, these deception tactics saved many thousands of lives. I'm all for cutting down on the casualties!

Anyway, this is a very interesting book that I actually enjoyed more than I thought I would. If you're interested at all in trickery, or war-time strategy, or a combination of both, then I definitely recommend you give Double Cross a try. It's also a great bouncing-off book for a variety of other war-time topics, because it has inserts with information about cool spy stuff and technology scattered throughout its pages as well.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Epic Measures by Jeremy N. Smith, 2017

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Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our time—the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?—and the visionary mastermind behind it.

Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attempted—as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Project—the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the world’s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?

Murray argues that the ideal existence isn’t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemies—and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.

In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countries’ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.

(352 pages)

First, full disclaimer: as the daughter of a doctor and a physician-scientist, I came into this book probably with more inherent interest and familiarity with the world of research than the average reader will. I found the book very interesting (if slow and overly-detailed at times); you might just find it boring.

But honestly, I don't know how anyone could find it completely boring. It's a book about the development of a universal health measurement resource! Chris Murray's research has so much potential for helping us pack the greatest punches against illness with the most efficiency, and I think it's awesome. Is it the be all and end all of such rankings? No, as Murray himself points out, the study is too new to have all the bugs worked out. It needs competition to keep it as fresh and relevant as possible, and it needs critical eyes to find any flaws hidden in the data. But it's amazing nonetheless, leaps and bounds above any other measurements that have been attempted. Kudos to all the amazing researchers who pulled it off, and to Bill Gates for funding such crucial research.

Setting aside the amazing stuff that Murray and his peers accomplished, what of the book itself? It does struggle at times to stay interesting–especially when going through all the meetings Murray attended, all the jobs he had, all the research he did before he got funding for this main project, etc. I do think seeing the journey Murray took to publishing the Global Burden of Disease is important, though, because it gives us more insight into who he is as a person and as a researcher.

And Murray truly is a genius. He's extraordinarily passionate about his work, extremely gifted intellectually, and full of seemingly boundless energy. I think his dedication to his research is good, when it comes to the research itself and all the people it will help, but I do struggle a little bit to empathize with him much. As I said, I know lots of scientists. I've seen how wrapped up they can get in their work. Murray's wife divorced him and took custody of their three children, and they don't say why but I can only guess that a lot of that tension stemmed from him never being home. It's great that he could accomplish so much for all the sick people on the planet, and to the world he's a hero for his dedication to the cause, but I'd be willing to bet that his kids' opinions of him are far less glowing.

Ah, well, who wants to focus on the negatives? Epic Measures is an interesting, important, and well-researched book about an interesting, important, and well-researched project that has great potential to change the world. Definitely check this book out if you're interested in learning about the struggle to end human suffering around the globe.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a TLC book tour.

Monday, April 10, 2017

That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson, 2017

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It’s July 1940 on the south coast of England. A plane crash-lands in the marsh, and sixteen-year-old Peggy finds its broken pilot—a young Polish airman named Henryk. Afraid and unwilling to return to the fight, Henryk needs a place to hide, and Peggy helps him find his way to a remote, abandoned church.

Meanwhile, Peggy’s eleven-year-old brother Ernest is doing his best to try to understand the war happening around him. He’s reading all the pamphlets—he knows all the rules, he knows exactly what to do in every situation. He’s prepared, but not for Peggy’s hidden pilot.

Told in alternating points of view, this is a beautifully written story about growing up in wartime and finding the difference between following the rules and following your heart.

(298 pages)

I've read a huge amount of WWII books over the past few years, so I've gotten rather picky about them. No, not exactly picky–not bored, either–just really eager to read books that approach the war from unique angles. I don't grow sick of reading about, say, Jews in hiding, but I do like to learn something new from the books I read rather than always focusing on the same (albeit terrible) things.

All that to say . . . I thought That Burning Summer stands out, but isn't incredibly unique. I've never read a book about a Polish airman before, and the details about his past ordeal are absolutely fascinating and horrifying, but the whole idea of someone harboring a fallen pilot in rural England was already covered wonderfully in Dan Smith's My Friend the EnemyI've read a lot of books that included details about the paranoia the Brits felt about an imminent German invasion, so those details also weren't novel to me, but I did appreciate seeing them carried to the level of almost Cold War-era paranoia–I hadn't realized just how much "doom and gloom" many average Brits felt about the war.

Moving on to analyzing the book as a novel, though, I have to point out that everyone (hopefully!) knows going in that the British isles were never invaded during WWII. This takes a lot of tension out of the read for us, because we never seriously worry about this the way Ernest does. Watching him obsess over the impending invasion does give us an insight into his personality, though, so it does serve some purpose.

To be honest, I enjoyed reading That Burning Summer but I didn't absolutely fall in love with it. I liked the different components of the story–learning about Henryk's past, the paranoia in town, Ernest's feelings of inadequacy, the whole storyline about their father that leaks out as the story goes on (and that gave me more new historical perspective!), etc.–but I also felt like many of them could have been fleshed out more. And the ending is fairly abrupt, jumping forward several years and then ending rather suddenly. I would have liked more detail about what had gone on between everyone in the interim years.

Overall, though, this was a pretty good read. If you're interested in it, then by all means do check it out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and this post includes Amazon affiliate links.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Double or Nothing with the Two and Only Kelly Twins by Johanna Hurwitz, 2017

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What's the same about identical twins -- and what's different? Sleepovers, poetry projects, and new haircuts are in play as seven-year-old Arlene and Ilene start coming into their own. 

Arlene and Ilene love so many things about being identical twins. They like sharing a room, sharing friends, and wearing matching outfits. But they're in different classes at school, and one twin has a scar that the other one doesn't. One morning, their friends Monty and Joey point out a new difference that takes the sisters by surprise and gets them thinking: if they are identical twins, why are there differences between them at all?Their tongues must be the same, so why do they like different kinds of ice cream? Why does Arlene wear pink nail polish while Ilene thinks it's silly? Why is Ilene sleeping soundly when Arlene is awake, wondering how she can be sure that she is Arlene, not Ilene? Revisit the funny, lovable characters from The Two and Only Kelly Twins and take a peek at the wonders -- and puzzles -- of being an identical twin.

(80 pages)

Well, this is a very short book.

I don't usually review little-kid books, but I've always had a thing for identical twins. When Candlewick Press offered me a short book that was all about twin sisters wondering about what made each of them unique, I knew I had to say yes.

And I'm glad I did, because I got a short and sweet read out of the book. It took me about half an hour to read since it has only five chapters (80 pages) of really big text with lots of spaces for pictures. I have no idea what the illustrations look like since my ARC didn't include them, but there's an average of one picture every two or three pages.

The nit-picky part of me has to say that this isn't exactly a deep look into the issues of nature vs. nurture, that the girls seem unrealistically excited to constantly be lumped together, and that the odds of them having best friends who were also identical sisters (but who also had a fraternal male triplet) seem really, really low. Also, there's a scene early on describing how the sisters wanted to be in the same classroom in school, and how they were perfectly willing to wear nametags all year long so their teacher could tell them apart. I thought this was kind of funny, because I just watched a YouTube video the other day (here if you're interested, starting around 2:20) about the worst things about being identical twins, and the sisters in that video described feeling really singled out and embarrassed when their teacher did make them wear nametags all year long in fourth grade. I suppose every sibling pair is different, so it's certainly possible that some twins would actively seek out the nametags, but I just thought there was an interesting contrast there.

Anyway, this was a very quick and fairly shallow book that could be good for kids who are interested in identical twins. If you have one who reads it, please let us know in the comments section how they like it!

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 3, 2017

KJV Word Study Bible from Thomas Nelson, 2017

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Imitation Leather, Brown, Red Letter Edition: 1,700 Key Words that Unlock the Meaning of the Bible

The KJV Word Study Bible includes in-text subheadings and 1,700 easy-to-use word studies with select Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words explained in every chapter from Genesis to Revelation, helping you dig deeper into your Bible study. By looking into these ancient texts we are able to read scripture as it was originally written and passed on from generation to generation, bringing these words to life and allowing you to almost hear Jesus teaching on the hillside or crying out to God on the cross. As you study you will discover the richness and significance of the original languages of the Word of God and experience scripture in a whole new way.

(1664 pages)

Yeah, yeah, I know. This is the fifth Bible that I've gotten for review in the past year. What can I say? There's something really fun about cracking open a brand-new Bible and seeing what makes it different from all the other ones I have. Though I'm definitely going to work on finding a way to get rid of a few, because I think I have about eight Bibles now. Maybe I can donate them to a church or something.

Anyway, I do have an honest reason for getting this particular Bible: I've never had a King James Bible before, or even read more than a verse or two in one. From that fact you can probably deduce that I'm not one of those "Bible purists" who think the KJV is the One True Translation, but I have always been interested in having a King James translation just because I love history and languages and I adore the idea of reading a translation that was written almost five-hundred years ago. The English language was so pretty and poetic back then! I'd been hoping for a KJV Bible for a while for precisely that reason, so when this one came up I snatched it at once.

And honestly, the translation is just as gorgeous as I'd expected it to be. I just flipped the Bible open to a random page and found Mark 3:13,
And he [Jesus] goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.
I just think the whole translation is so gorgeous! It gives me a feeling of connectedness, too, because I know that Christians were reading these exact words in England literally before America was even a country. Very, very cool.

Anyway, on to discussing the Bible itself. I love the cover, it's a pretty shade of brown that's pretty dark but not quite as black-ish as the image up above makes it seem. There's a pretty light brown ribbon, which I love–it's always such a pain when there's no ribbon to keep track of my place. Instead of having clarifications for tricky words included at the bottom of each page, they're placed into the text in light blue boxes that the text just jumps around. In the back there are four different indexes and a concordance, for when you're looking for something in particular. The words of Jesus are printed in red, and every book of the Bible gets a little intro that takes up about half a page. The font is a good size, pretty big and very comfortable to read.

Honestly, I don't know what else to say about this Bible other than that I really like it and I know I'll be using it in the future. I might not make it my go-to, just because the language makes it a little harder to comprehend than my NIV and NKJV Bibles, but this Bible is so pretty (both in its binding and in its words) that I know I'll be drawn to it again and again.

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.