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jennysbookbag

Jenny's Book Bag

I'm an avid reader, writer, and blogger. I have a diverse taste in books, everything from new releases to classics.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick 3.5 Stars

This was so sad. It could have been four-stars, but I don’t think Scott Brick has the right voice to narrate this book. His voice made it sound like he was reading a financial statement instead of a true story about a horrific event.

I broke my own rule by seeing the movie before reading the book, but in this case, it worked out well. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it. This book is very detailed and graphic, especially about the crew’s physical conditions as they were slowly dying from starvation and dehydration. You have to have a strong will to survive to endure what they experienced. They were stuck in these tiny boats for over 90 days and this was back in 1820.

Sometimes the writing was too matter-of-fact, but that may be because I read more fiction than nonfiction. Some of you who read mostly nonfiction may not have a problem with the writing style. There were moments that I thought should have been extremely emotional, but they didn’t sound like they were.

I don’t think I will ever use the expression, “I’m starving” ever again. Seriously. I’m not trying to make light of this because this event was devastating. We use that expression so loosely, but we really don’t know what it’s truly like to starve and I’m grateful for that. I don’t know if I could have survived this is if I was one of them because this is one of the worst ways to die — a slow, agonizing death. They survived off of mostly bread and water, but the rations were practically nothing. When someone died, they had to make a decision about whether they were going to partake in cannibalism.

I’ve never read Moby Dick. Since high school, people have been telling me that it’s boring. I’m glad I didn’t read it back then because I wouldn’t have appreciated it the way that I will now. Now that I’ve read the book and have seen the movie, Moby Dick will be on my short list this year.

History fans will enjoy this one and anyone who enjoyed the movie.

Wink Poppy Midnight

Wink Poppy Midnight - April Genevieve Tucholke I can see why people compare this novel to We Were Liars. It has a very similar style. That's not a bad thing because I liked We Were Liars.

Wink, Poppy, and Midnight alternate narrating this story and all three have an interesting back story. Wink has five or six siblings and she calls them The Orphans. She lives with her mother and siblings on a farm and it actually sounds like a place where I would want to live. Her mother reads tea leaves and tarot cards and all that kind of stuff. The entire family is very superstitious and eccentric — they think certain foods and lotions will keep spirits away, give you pleasant dreams or whatever.

Poppy is an only child and lives with both of her parents. At first, I hated Poppy. She’s one of those narcissists who thinks she’s beautiful and perfect and everyone should worship the ground she walks on.

Midnight lives with his father, but his mother and brother live in France. Midnight was so annoying, mainly because he’s nonassertive and gullible. A few times I wanted to yell at him to stop acting like a little girl.

Some of the characters just sounded like props, like Midnight’s parents and brother, Poppy’s parents, and sometimes The Yellows.

The cover of the copy I read says “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?” Throughout the novel, I tried to guess who was who. At one point, I was convinced that I knew. I wasn’t entirely right, but my intuition about one of the three was correct. The characters aren’t what they first seem. Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away. I hate spoilers.

This novel is written in a style that gives you the impression that the writer appreciates the art of writing. I have a strong appreciation for it too , but I preferred this kind of writing in adult literary fiction novels that have intricate plots and complex characters, not in a young adult novel with a simple storyline. The writing style seems a little out of place for this type of story.

Sometimes I'll notice a certain writing technique and if it’s used a lot, it jumps out at me. In this novel I notice that she uses triple rhythm a lot. I’m not exactly sure if that’s what you call, but that’s what I call it when I see it. For example, if she is describing three things in a sentence she will say, this and that and that — instead of just listing the three things with commas. It makes the sentences sound very rhythmic, almost like a beating drum. I like that, but in moderation. I noticed that she uses the word and a lot even if she’s mentioning four or five different things. It almost felt like the word and was a character. Sometimes it just felt like overkill. It was a little bit distracting at times and took away from the story.

When I read a book, I always notice what characters are eating or reading. I don't know why, but food always sounds delicious when it’s mentioned in a book even if it's a common food. For example, Midnight and his father were eating tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwiches. It sounds basic, but for some reason it just sounds more gourmet when you read about it than when it’s right in front of you. Wink was always mentioning what they ate and drank, some of which I’ve never heard of like pumpkin hot chocolate or yellow milk (warm milk with brown sugar, cardamom and turmeric.) In case you’re wondering, to make pumpkin hot chocolate, Midnight says his mom “put milk, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup and chocolate in a pan, and when it’s hot, she’d whisk in a can of pumpkin puree.”

I love it when a book mentions other books. April Genevieve Tucholke mentioned the Chronicles of Narnia, which I love, but she also mentions fairy tales that I think she made up. I tried to Google one or two and couldn’t find them, so I’m guessing they don’t actually exist. I could be wrong. If anyone knows for certain, please let me know.

This is a very quick, entertaining reads, but I just wanted more to happen in the story. I wanted a bigger story, more suspense and a bigger twist at the end. I still recommend it, especially if you like YA novels with a little twist and a unique voice. Give it a try.

The Invasion of Heaven: Part One of the Newirth Mythology

The Invasion of Heaven: Part One of the Newirth Mythology - Michael B. Koep DNF at 10%

I don’t like giving up on books so quickly, but The Invasion of Heaven just wasn’t for me. I was excited to receive this from NetGalley because the synopsis is intriguing. I thought I was going to love this and was hoping that I would. This had the potential of being a great story if it had been written differently.

I didn’t like the execution. Some novels take a few extra pages of reading before you understand what’s going on, but it still happens pretty quickly. The story structure and writing style made the story confusing. It didn’t help that the e-galley was poorly formatted — the eBook lacked spacing between paragraphs. I kept reading one more page thinking that everything would click and that would be when I started loving it. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen for me.

Some people may love this book and based on the early 5-star ratings on Goodreads, I have a feeling that my opinion is going to be in the minority group.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  - J.K. Rowling This is one of the greatest fantasy fiction series ever written. J. K. Rowling has set the standards high and other authors have yet to come close to her talents. Everything about this series is amazing — the world building, the characterization, the dialogue, the storytelling and the writing. She’s created a world that all of her fans would love to live in and characters that we would befriend if we had the chance. The intricate details of this story are amazing. I rarely reread books, but I will absolutely reread this series many, many times. I highly recommend this entire series to everyone.

Get Smart!: How to Think, Decide, Act, and Get Better Results in Everything You Do

Get Smart!: How to Think, Decide, Act, and Get Better Results in Everything You Do - Brian Tracy Don’t let the size of this book fool you. It may be short, but it’s packed full of helpful information. It’s short because there’s no fluff, at least, not in my opinion. I took many pages of notes from this book because there were things that I didn’t want to forget.

Some of the advice in this book I’ve heard hundreds of times or more, but it’s worth hearing again. Most of us are very familiar with goal-setting methods. Brian Tracy gives you step-by-step instructions — writing down goals, prioritizing and executing them. We may have heard this advice hundreds of times, but I don’t think many people actually follow it.

There’s a great section with a systematic problem solving method and one on the “Seven Rs of Superior Thinking” (rethinking, reevaluating, reorganizing, restructuring, reengineering, reinventing, regaining control).

Not all of the advice was standard. There are exercises in this book, many questions to ask yourself, steps to take, and gold nuggets that get you to think about things a little differently.

I loved the chapter on negative emotions: fear of all kinds, envy and resentment, jealousy, inferiority, hate, suspicion, hostility, and distrust. We’re so used to feeling these emotions that they become a part of everyday living and we think that it’s OK. We don’t have to feel this way.

"It’s impossible to experience a negative emotion without blaming others for something that they have done or not done of which you disapprove. The minute you stop blaming, your negative emotions cease completely.”

Taking personal responsibility is hard for most people. We blame others for a large majority of the things that happen in our lives and only occasionally blame ourselves. We’ve all been wrong in life in some way, but we haven’t truly learned to forgive and this includes forgiving ourselves. If we stop complaining, learn to forgive and let it go, we would feel so much happier and be in a healthier frame of mind, which would help us accomplish more of our goals.

"The key to self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-respect is for you to accept 100% responsibility for everything you are and all that you will become in life. The instant you accept complete responsibility, with no excuses, you become calm, clear, and positive.”

Rich people have different habits and a different way of thinking than poor people. I love the distinctions Brian Tracy makes in this book. Rich people make a commitment to continue learning and developing new skills. They set clear goals. They get out of their comfort zone. They eat healthy and exercise daily. They let go of their fears (especially a fear of failure). They don’t use learned helplessness (the “I can’t” attitude). They watch less than an hour of television a day! They use their time wisely and this includes not spending time with people whose lives are going nowhere.

This is what he says about how poor people think.

“They fail to understand the direct relationship between what you put in and what you get out. They are always seeking to get something for nothing or for as little as possible. They want success without achievement, riches without labor, money without effort, and fame without talent.”

He reminds us that poor people gamble and buy lottery tickets.

Get Smart! How to Think and Act Like the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field is a motivating book that reminds you that if you change your habits and your thinking, you can change your life in remarkable ways. Read it. I highly recommend it.

What She Knew: A Novel

What She Knew: A Novel - Gilly MacMillan This book reels you in right from the beginning. The story is every mother’s worse nightmare. A single mother takes her precious eight-year-old son to the park for a walk with the family dog. She gives him an ounce of independence and lets him walk ahead to get to a swing in the park. He’s only out of her sight for a minute or two, but that’s all it takes. When she gets to the swing, he’s not there. The mother looks around frantically, but she can’t find him. She asks friends and strangers who are at the park that day, but nobody saw him. The police are called, the missing child case becomes high profile, and people start pointing fingers.

The point of view alternates between Rachel (the mother) and Jim (one of the DI’s investigating the case). Some of Jim’s points of view are a therapy session that his department paid for hoping that it’ll help him keep his job. The alternating POV adds suspense to the story and sometimes I had this desire to skip ahead because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. What I loved most about the alternating POV was being able to see the story from a POV of a grieving mother and a frustrated DI. There are e-mail conversations and blog posts about the investigation, but I wasn’t too fond of those, although I did see their importance — these are the parts that I really wanted to skip.

There are many characters in this story other than the boy and his mother and every one of them is vivid — even the minor characters are well developed in the short time they’re in the story. There are plenty of screwed up characters in this book with traumatic pasts, so most of them look like a viable suspect. Some of the characters have long-held secrets that are revealed just when you think things can’t get any worse. I felt so sorry for the mother. Her only child is missing and she’s publicly falling apart at the seams. She appears unhinged, but who wouldn’t in that situation?

I loved the fact that the story took center stage instead of the writing. The writing wasn’t complicated, flashy, or distracting. The writing keeps the story going with plot and suspense and without drawing too much attention to itself.

I couldn’t stop reading this book. I didn’t know who was guilty, so I kept changing my mind. There were some nice misdirects, because several backstories intertwine with the missing child story. It was that wonderful rollercoaster ride of when I think a mystery is solved, but then I’m fooled and it’s back to square one. I went back to my list of suspects, cross somebody off and then looked at the next person on the list. I was actually shocked at who was guilty.

If you love mysteries and thrillers with suspense, you’ll love this one.

Cuckoo Song

Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge This is the first Frances Hardinge novel I've ever read and let me just say that I will absolutely read another one. Cuckoo Song was so refreshingly different and pleasantly weird. This is not your standard cookie cutter children's novel.

I'm not even sure how to summarize this without giving anything away. Basically, you have the mystery of why Triss isn't herself, her sister Pen hating her, and her parents keeping secrets. Plus, there are all sorts of weirdness going on that I can't even begin to describe. You also have quite a mix of characters such as Triss, her sister Pen, their parents, Violet and several strange characters — Mr. Grace, the Strike, the Architect and the Besiders. And, this story takes place in the early 1920s.

Frances Hardgine is both a great storyteller and a great writer. I love her use of language and her characterization. There were times when I read something and thought Wow, I wish I could write like that. She sounds like an experienced, polished writer.

Two of her characters, Triss and Pen, had wonderful character arcs. I wasn't expecting their relationship to change the way that it did. It was so easy to like Triss and to want her to succeed. At the beginning, I hated Pen, but my feelings towards her did a complete 180 by the time I got to the end. Their parents have some real issues. No wonder the kids are so screwed up! When Violet was introduced, I underestimated her importance. She’s actually very important to the plot.

If you love children’s fiction or you’re looking for something different, give this one a try.

City of Ashes

City of Ashes  - Natalie Moore, Cassandra Clare DNF at 40%

I'm sorry Ms. Clare, I just don't like your writing. I tried to like your books. I wanted to like your books. I was disappointed in City of Bones , but it was intriguing enough that I was willing to give City of Ashes a chance. I was hoping that this one would be better than the first one.

I don't like giving negative reviews, because as an aspiring writer, I know how difficult it is to write a novel. I haven't even gotten to the more difficult steps of finding an agent, a publisher and continued success like Cassandra Clare has. That's still an amazing achievement even if I personally don't like her novels. I just wanted to preface my review by stating that before I start complaining.

So, here are my issues with the writing.

One, I didn't think there was a real sense of setting. It sounds like a vague place where they live and work without much else going on. It's more of a placeholder than a well-developed world.

Two, the characters are two-dimensional at best. I didn't think their personalities had enough individuality or emotion. The dialogue makes them all sound the same and it didn't matter if I read the book or listened to the audiobook. All characters have a motive and that's partly what keeps the story going, but these characters didn't have enough motive to keep my interest. I didn't feel the emotions that the characters should have been feeling in different situations.

Three, I lost interest in the story. It felt like it wasn't going anywhere and since I didn't like the characters, I really didn't care what happened to them.

And four, I thought it had pacing issues. City of Ashes started slower than City of Bones. By the time I reached the 40% mark, it still felt like nothing was going on, so I gave up.

We all have unique preferences in novels and gravitate toward certain writing styles. Cassandra Clare novels just aren't for me.

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success - K. M. Weiland Review coming soon.

Hard Times

Hard Times - Charles Dickens, Frederick Busch 3.75 stars, maybe 3.5.

I love Charles Dickens, but I don't think this is his best work. So far, my favorites are Great Expectations and David Copperfield, but I still have several Dickens novels on my to-read list. Dickens is the total package - great writer and storyteller with excellent characterization and dialogue. I love how he excels at every aspect of writing. This is something I don't see often in modern writers. As an aspiring writer, there's so much I can learn from reading his novels. If you've never read Dickens before, I recommend that you start with one of the two I mentioned above.

Excuses Begone! How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits

Excuses Begone! How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits - Wayne W. Dyer Sometimes we read a book and something in it just clicks with us. This is that book for me. I've known about this book since it was first published, but I wasn't ready to read it until now. I wish I had been ready to read it back then. I could have shortened the lifespan of my mistakes. This is a wonderful book to open up your mind, change your old thinking habits and create a new way of thinking that will truly benefit your life in every way.

I love Dr. Wayne Dyer. He gets me to question my old thoughts and realize that they're wrong. He not only tells you what to change, but how to change. A lot of these self-help gurus skip the all-important how portion of their teaching and that's the most important step.

Everything he writes is so inspirational. If you need something uplifting that will put you on the right path to reach your personal goals, this is the book to read. I can't recommend it enough.

Your Erroneous Zones

Your Erroneous Zones - Wayne W. Dyer The audiobook is only an hour and a half, because it's abridged, but it's packed full of helpful information. Here are my favorite points:

We have control of our feelings. We have the choice of how we process other people's opinion. Esteem lies within you, not in other people. That's why it's called self-esteem.

"As you think, so shall you be."

"You are what you think about all day long."

If you put a label on yourself such as "I am..." and your label becomes your reality, then you're acting on that and processing that as who you are. It's a neurosis trap. It's self-defeating. These "I am" statements are a choice. You can choose the kind of personality you're going to have. It's not something you're stuck with. If you say "I'm disorganized," it's because you choose to be. You can be any way that you want to be.

You can do anything!

Don't let an old person move into your body.

Guilt is the immobilization of living in the past. It's very powerful and gets people to conform. Ask yourself, "Instead of feeling guilty now, what could I be doing? What am I avoiding?" Teach people that guilt no longer applies.

Worry immobilizes you in the present about the future. Again, what could you be doing now if you didn't worry?

Ask yourself, "Does it immobilize me in the present?" If so, then get rid of it.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. For example, you may have a book on your shelf at home for decades before you actually read it and realize how much valuable information it contained.

Security is an illusion.

You have to make the decision to change. It's a fear of moving into new territory that keeps you where you are and the fear is only in your mind. A new, healthy, fulfilling, exciting and exquisite life is only a thought away.

Don't keep looking for fairness, justice or for everything being exactly equal. Stop comparing yourself to others and keep your nose out of other people's garden.

If you want to get ahead in life and all that you know you can make of it, then you have to say to yourself, "Why am I choosing not to do that?"

What you think about expands. If you argue for limitations in your life, that's what you'll get. If you argue for happiness, that's what you'll get.

Anything you can visualize you can act upon.

You won't be punished for your anger, you'll be punished by your anger. When you're angry, you're carrying around the seeds of your destruction and the destruction of others. It's not the act that makes you angry. It's how you process the act that does.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to read something inspiring that helps you to change your mindset.

The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times

The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times - Jean Chatzky Nothing Earth-shattering, but I like the quizzes to see where I stand and the writing exercises to help change my mindset.

The Art of X-Ray Reading

The Art of X-Ray Reading - Roy Peter Clark I’m a voracious reader, but this book made me feel like I’ve never truly read a book. I mean that in the most complimentary way. I didn’t realize how much I was missing when I read, until I read this book. It’s a very eye-opening experience that lead to many aha moments and a ton of "OMG, I can't believe I missed that!" moments.

Each chapter focuses on a specific work and at the end of each chapter is a writing lesson. These lessons are the key elements that the reader should take away from that chapter. At the end of the book is a section called “Great Sentences From Famous Authors” and this is a chance to practice your new x-ray reading skills. Following this exercise are the “Twelve Steps to Get Started As An X-Ray Reader” which is a good reference to help new x-ray readers begin reading on a whole new level.

Out of the 25 works mentioned in this book, I’ve only read about half of them. Now that I have a new pair of x-ray reading glasses on, I want to reread these (as well as some of the others) with fresh eyes. I love The Great Gatsby, but wow, did I miss a lot! I missed the themes and symbolism, especially. I’m a Charles Dickens fan and I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, but somehow I missed her parallel to A Christmas Carol. How in the world did I miss that? (I knew the concept of intertextuality, but I didn’t know that’s what it was called.) I love it when I notice it in literature, but I’m sure there are many times when it slips by me unnoticed.

One of the most eye-opening experiences was the chapter about Hemingway. Although I never read A Farewell to Arms, I did read The Sun Also Rises. I was very disappointed in it, so I gave it a low two-star rating. I noticed it received a lot of high ratings and I couldn’t understand why. I wasn’t fond of his terse prose and Hemingway fans are always saying that if you don’t like Hemingway, then you don’t understand him. I thought they were just being pretentious snobs, but after reading The Art of X-Ray Reading, I realize that I truly didn’t understand Hemingway. I missed his rhythm and his intentional repetition and omission of words. I was too busy reading on the level of the story that I wasn’t reading it on the level of the text.

This is one of those books that you’ll not only want to add to your home library, especially aspiring writers, but also a book that you’ll want to read more than once. I checked this book out at my local library, but I already know that I’ll be buying it, rereading it and write in it. I want to absorb everything Roy Peter Clark teaches in this book (and his other books) and internalize it completely. I highly recommend this book to avid readers and aspiring writers.

The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp - John Irving I had just finished reading A Confederacy of Dunces and I was looking for another classic to read, but my to-read list is longer than my lifespan. I needed help narrowing down my options, so I asked a librarian friend for recommendations because I knew he had read a lot of classics. This was one of the books he recommended and it turned out to be a great read!

This book has everything — a great story, wonderful writing and storytelling, and characters that you care about. Sometimes John Irving had these beautiful, complex sentences with coordinating or subordinating clauses. I love it when an author focuses on the art of writing instead of focusing on the art of writing crappy bestsellers. The World According to Garp also has sexual content and violence (war injuries, rape, car accidents, etc.) if you like that sort of thing.

Garp is a writer (as well as his mother Jenny Fields), so John Irving included a lot of Garp's own writing. It's interesting to see how Irving develops Garp's distinct writing style, so it's a writing style within a writing style.

By the way, I think it's sick how Jenny Fields conceives Garp.

What I also loved about this book was all of the references to other classics such as books from Homer, Woolf, Conrad, Twain, Melville, Dickens, Hemingway and Dostoyevsky. I especially enjoyed Garp's discussion with Mrs. Ralph about Dostoyevsky's The Eternal Husband. I've never read it, but after reading their discussion about it, I'm intrigued. Garp described the book as "a wonderful story," "neatly complicated," with "complex characters." Mrs. Ralph described it as "a sick story" and "His women are less than objects. They don't even have a shape. They're just ideas that men talk about and play with." Now I want to find out who is correct.

I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great classic.

Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012

Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012 - Carol J. Loomis This is a compilation of Fortune magazine articles. It has some nice golden nuggets in some of the articles, but you won't feel the need to read it cover to cover. It's an interesting read, although I'm not sure that it's the best place to start if you're looking to learn about Warren Buffett. After reading this, I will be reading Security Analysis and anything else written by Benjamin Graham.