Thursday, March 22, 2012

Posted by Carla B. at 9:45 AM
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BOOK REVIEW: The Song Remains the Same

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although it did stumble in a few places. I give the author credit for writing such a complicated situation, especially from the first person point-of-view.

This novel is primarily told from the view of Nell Slattery, a woman who awakes from a coma with no memory of any events or people from her life. She soon learns she survived a horrible plane crash, but the only details disclosed are those told to her by the one other survivor who credits her with saving his life (who just happens to be a B-list movie star).

As she awakens and moves through her recovery, her memory does not return and she is dependent on those around her to fill in the details of her life. These are primarily her mother, husband and sister. Gradually she learns the information is true in general terms but not so much specifically. For instance, while she was married at the time of the crash her marriage was in turmoil - a fact her husband keeps from her. Eventually other, greater, revelations occur prompting Nell to regain larger chunks of memory and force her to choose how she wants to live the rest of her life: complacency or active change.

The novel is advertised as asking: "Who are we without our memories? And how much of our current self is defined by our former self?" I believe this book made a strong effort to answer these questions, although it was awkward at times and relied too much on plot twists at other times. For example, Nell was recalling her husband's infidelity and her mother's lies, trying to determine how to deal with those in absence of full memory return.  This provided an excellent chance to thoroughly explore that through the character, forcing her and the audience to look deep inside for answers. However, before she could delve into this she took off to find a house from her memories (after she just happened to find the key) where she discovers a half-brother she never knew she had (although she had vague memories of him from childhood). This new plot twist took her character and the audience off into a new direction.

I see a novel like this as a wagon wheel. Nell and her memory loss are at the center, which the various spokes representing her primary memory centers (marriage, mother/sister, children, childhood, work, etc.). It would be tempting to follow each of these spokes, for they all depend on one another to make the wheel work as it should. However, there also has to be that outer circle that keeps these spokes reigned in and balanced. In this book, it appeared that outer circle was missing. Her career had a very short spoke compared to her childhood which has a very long, crooked spoke. It is easy to see how difficult it would be to control this type of book.

I would like to have seen the author concentrate on one area more specifically. It seems the emphasis was on her childhood experience with her father and how this shaped her entire life. If so, then all other aspects should have revolved around this issue asking the questions of why. Why did she pick a husband like Peter? Why did she pick her career? Why did she not stand up to her mother? Those questions were presented, but they were lost among sideline stories such as the actor, the paparazzi, the long lost brother, etc.

I can even understand the desire to make herself over. As a middle aged housewife and mother to five children, I can only imagine waking in a hospital with no memory and a picture of myself on the cover. I know that if I saw that picture, I would want to make myself over into Angelina Jolie - the cool, gorgeous, exciting mom. Without memories or any anchors, perhaps creating a new "you" would provide the security - something to anchor yourself with during a time of change.

Scotch knows how to keep up reader suspense which is not easy. I do wish she could find a way to put in the information presented in third person without using the third person italic chapters. For most of those, I didn't really need the information. In fact, I kind of regretted reading them thinking it added more to the suspense to always be in the same situation as Nell - not knowing what was going on in someone's head and dependent only on what we saw and heard.

All in all, I read this book very quickly. I was always anxious to find out what happened next, which is the mark of good writing. I give it four stars out of five: would recommend to a friend. 

 **I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Librarything.com as part of their Early Reviewers program. Please see my  disclosure policy for further information.**

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Posted by Carla B. at 10:10 PM
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I recently joined Team Beachbody. Here is my first blog post there, which I would like to share for all of you as well. It explains a bit about why I chose to do something like that and to let you join my journey to health. I will be posting more often now that I am getting past my mother's illness and subsequent death.

Wow - it's so late, and I really need to get to bed! But, I just had to jot in a quick blog entry to finish up my profile update.

Joining Beachbody is a bit of a new beginning for me. I think everything happens in the time it is meant and for specific reasons. In my own life, this is showing to be quite true yet again - this time where my health is concerned.

For many years, I have been overweight. I battled weight problems as a teenager and in college, thinking I was fat but actually a very average size. I had a skewed image of myself, combined with a childhood where physical activity was limited other than what I obtained through neighborhood games or summers at our lake house. There were no organized sports in my childhood - just dance and piano lessons (what all little Southern girls learn in preparation for future pageants).

After college, a series of bad relationships left me a dedicated emotional eater. That combined with all the Southern food available meant excess weight gain. I eventually ended up at 285 pounds on my 5'4" frame - huge. I divorced my husband and started walking with my dog. I also started watching my diet more carefully and gradually increasing the amount and distance of my walking. I managed to pull off about 50 pounds doing that. Then I ended up moving back home to SC from TN.

At this point, I was transitioning to a new place and looking for employment. Along the way, I met a wonderful man and a year later we were married. However, along with him came five children and two ex-wives. My mother swore I must have had a brain tumor. We ended up being custodial to the kids, and I ended up watching my weight yo-yo from 199 up to 250. Over ten years, the kids grew up and started graduating and leaving home but not without a lot of stress in between. And a surprise pregnancy to me - who had been told she couldn't have kids! Surprise!! At age 40!!

All that took me to late 2010 when my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I turned back to the food I loved, but which I now also saw as a poison - but one I was unable to stop. It was like watching an alcoholic die of liver cancer but turning to alcohol to help you cope your way through it. I hated myself and then tried to "love myself" with treats of chocolate. During that time, I also went through some turbulent times in my marriage while my husband dealt with job stress.

My mother managed to 'beat' the cancer, which ended up claiming her stomach (she had to have the entire thing removed). Without a stomach, she found it very hard to adjust to eating. This resulted in her developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as lowered immune response. After developing illness in September 2011, she finally passed away from a massive heart attack in November 2011.

The whole time I sat with her in intensive care and at hospice (she was alive for about two weeks as her systems slowly shut down), I kept praying and promising that I would no longer turn to food. That this was my new beginning. After a period of grief, some self-consoling, I started to get more serious. I started eating more healthy and getting physical exercise. I started doing our Wii Fit and anything else I could do. I even adopted the word "HEALTH" for 2012, getting a necklace made with it to remind me daily to make healthy choices. I decided to get my early screening colonoscopy (which I had done on 2/12/12) and the doctor removed two polyps, one of which was in my stomach.

Around the same time, my DH (dear hubby) saw the Insanity infomercial and wanted that T-Shirt! He insisted I order the program. So, off I go to the Internet. I read up on the program. Now, let me back up to say years ago I heard of Beachbody and even got a sample of the shake. I didn't really pay it attention, and I forgot to even make the shake. Two years later I found the sample and threw it out without trying it since it had been so long - by then that coach had quit the program and we had lost touch after that. Apparently, the universe didn't think I was ready. This time I was.

I signed up in my name (since DH is all about the activity and nothing more). I figured it was the same cost to order the program as it was to order it and sign up as a coach - and be able to get a future discount. So, that's what I did - for the sole reason of a discount.

Once the kit came in, I tried the Chocolate Shakeology. And I fell in love!! It was so awesome! Then I read up and started my Coach office and Beachbody profile. Well, then I heard about the Challenge. But I couldn't do Insanity - it was way too much for this starter. I decided I wanted to start with Hip Hop Abs (after doing the little best program for you wizard on the site). So, I recruited DH who is now a bit more excited and he ordered my program.

About this time, I saw Shaun T on Dr. Oz... and Shaun showed how you could modify Insanity to fit your fitness level. Once I saw how I could modify the moves, I was even MORE excited. I know how far I can go, so I feel comfortable doing the moves and quitting before I hurt myself.

All in all... all the signs are pointing to this being my new beginning. Each place I turn there is Beachbody. Tomorrow, I'll add a little post about my health history... you will be amazed at the transformation I am already seeing.

Have a great night y'all!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Posted by Carla B. at 10:04 PM
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Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, as well as the entire series. I thought it was a good, if somewhat predictable in some ways, ending to the series.  Please watch out below - SPOILERS APPEAR!! If you have not finished the series, then please proceed with caution.


Thank you.... remember, you have been warned....



Just one more SPOILER ALERT in case you have not finished the series and don't want it spoiled.....





Okay... keep scrolling, and it will be right here.....





I knew on some level that Katniss would see Coin for who she really was, as her character had already developed enough to catch onto that. I think she could have caught on more without so much input from Snow, but I give her character the benefit of the doubt in grieving her younger sister. That was an unexpected twist, although it made sense in the storyline. Since children had always been used as pawns by both sides, it should have been no surprise either one would have used the ultimate weapon - Prim.

The love triangle left me a bit conflicted. I personally love the fact that she ended up with Peeta. However, I am not as comfortable with his "rapid recovery" as it appeared in the book. It makes it sound like he was slowly recovering, then her kiss jump started the remainder which was then finalized by his fire experience. This left me with several questions. One, if Coin was using him to assassinate Katniss, then it would stand reason that she was not helping him recover but was instead reinforcing the idea Katniss was evil and needed to be destroyed. This would make it harder, and not easier, for Katniss to overcome the damage done. Unless we are to believe his love for her ran true and deep, to the point he was never thoroughly corrupted. Two, if Coin didn't feel she could actively do that (reinforce his attitudes towards Katniss), then I still find it difficult that he could overcome them that easily. The reader is led to believe the damage is deep and almost impossible to overcome. So how can they almost completely cure him in the short time span allowed in the book from when he joined the team? Three, what about her Commander? He left instructions for her to kill Peeta, abandon and not trust anyone on the team, and then kill Snow. So, what was that about? It appeared as they moved through the Capitol that she actually could trust the team. Again, I can understand if some of her actions led them to be more supportive of her role - it still isn't enough to completely turn them into an avid supporter and have them sacrifice their own lives for her agenda if they have been routinely trained for one mission and led to believe certain things about Katniss. Some of that just doesn't ring true.

I did find the development of Gale's character completely believable. Throughout the book he appeared to love Katniss more out of jealousy than an original love. It appears he was always spurred by some external event to realize his love. While that can happen to some people and be valid, many times it is not a true and lasting love. It is a reaction to an event, and once that event has passed they are left with at least some confusion. I do believe he loved her, but the romantic aspect was what was spurred by the external events. This is what made his character somewhat tragic, because it seemed he was not capable of fully giving himself to another person. You kind of realized he was not going to go on to another District and find love. It was Katniss or nothing, and quite honestly his love for her was not deep nor true enough (in my opinion) for her to settle just so he was not alone. He was a hunter, and hunters are often loners. While hunters can go together and certainly they can help one another as Katniss and Gale did, it is often much more lonely. Think of how silent you must be, or of the lone hunter sitting in a tree stand for hours on end. When they tracked, it was sometimes more like fellow soldiers than fellow hunters. I think this translated over time as they moved through missions, and it made perfect sense. Also, at crucial decision points in the story, Katniss chose Peeta even when she knew it would hurt Gale. While she obsessed over this like many teen girls do, and sometimes judged herself a bit too harshly, it was evident she was typically "picking" Peeta. It would have felt hollow and untrue had she chosen Gale as a life mate at the end of the series.

All in all, I liked the series and the book. I liked reading it from a literature standpoint, seeing the allegory and motifs. It was written far better than Twilight which was enjoyable as long as you channeled your inner 14-year-old. This book had more depth, which I enjoyed as a an adult reader. However, it was accessible when looked at through the eyes of my inner teenage girl.

I give this one four stars out of five, as I would have handled some of the last few chapters a bit differently. The entire series is a 4.5 out of 5, for keeping the tension, character development, and providing talking points with teenagers.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Shroud by Dallas Tanner

Posted by Carla B. at 7:29 PM
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It was okay. I liked the general concept and the story line, as well as the characters. I do believe the characters needed more depth and for as well as I could "know" them, I sometimes found them acting against how they were developed.

Overall, I think this book could be very good if it had a good editor. It proves how essential that is, especially for an author that is published independent or by a smaller house. In this case, there were several large chunks of "info dump" which slowed the pace of the book considerably. This information could have been provided as an addendum at the end of the book, as several larger chunks of information were not essential to the storyline. Where the information was essential or quite helpful, I believe it could have been written as dialogue between characters or woven into more action-oriented scenes.

I also found at least once where the main female character had an entirely different name. It was confusing enough to see the author randomly switch between using her last name, her first name and her nickname. However, at one point he used a totally different name which makes me think an earlier draft (or perhaps a middle draft) changed her name entirely from the one in the final publication - only this one time it did not get caught. Those things are confusing and again interfere with the pace of the story.

While the story did follow a systematic flow through approximately the first two thirds of the book, the last third seemed to jump around and was very awkward. A few scenes were entirely unnecessary, to the point one made me cringe a bit in embarrassment for the author. By the end of the book, I found myself skipping large segments and scanning the pages for essential information. I just wanted to get it finished. While I was sometimes bored through those first two thirds, I was interested enough in the storyline to see how the author was going to solve the problems and explain some of the situations. I did find it fairly predictable in some ways (such as the identity of Boangeres), which was slightly disappointing.

I think the author has promise, but I found myself wishing I could edit this book and perhaps other future books of his. I think with good editing his writing can be tightened, his characters made more consistent which would add depth, and basic errors (such as consistency in names, and double checking timelines, etc.) would be immensely helpful. With that, I think he could find a home at a larger publishing house and get recognition for his unique storylines and story concepts.

If you are interested in reading it for yourself, please click here:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 12: Breaking Free

Posted by Carla B. at 9:41 PM
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Part of my transformation is a 28-Day Breaking Free program, developed by Leanne Ely and JJ Virgin. You can read more about it at the website Saving Dinner.  So, I am now on Day Two (officially) of that program. It's been tough, and there was a point today when I wasn't sure if I would make it.

My oldest stepson turned 19 today, and he came by for some birthday cake. I knew I wasn't strong enough to cook and ice one at home so I just picked something up at the local bakery. It was chocolate decadence - a dark brown, moist chocolate cake topped with a cream cheese and chocolate fudge icing, and then a thin layer of chocolate ganache swirls to decorate. It was all I could do to resist, but I did it! I managed to get through serving and chit-chatting while everyone else indulged. When I did start to feel resistance crumble, I satisfied my need by crunching on about one ounce of almonds. They crunched and gave off a slightly sweet but almost salty flavor which completely took away the desire to devour chocolate cake.

Perhaps in some way I am breaking free from more than food. I feel like I am breaking free from the hold that food has held over me for so long. It wasn't so much denying myself tonight, which I have done through all too many other diets. Tonight it was more liberating, knowing I had a choice. I then made the choice that was best for my body and found something else that really did satisfy. I think in the past I obsessed over what I couldn't have and ended up cheating myself. I couldn't concentrate on anything else with the "can't have" crowding my brain. Tonight, that changed. Rather than a "diet", I am doing something for 28-Days. I realized in less than a month I can walk in there and order a whole cake all for myself if I want to do it. That realization gave me the freedom to walk away and the open space in my brain to think of alternatives. In that sense, it became easier.

I also think that it goes deeper. The main feeling or emotion was that of loss and fear of not having something. I realized I had looked at things from the perspective of "if I choose not to eat this, I won't ever be able to have it again." And somewhere along the way, I think I have made that same association about other things in my life. For the first time in this whole process, I think I am finally seeing signs of a real transformation.
 

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