Posts Tagged ‘ Reviews ’

Review: “This Mobius Strip of Ifs”

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

This Mobius Strip of IfsThis Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How does one summarize an entire life of more than 60 years? When faced with this ominous task, too many self-published writers produce rambling, episodic narratives that fail to capture the true drama and beauty of their lives. Fortunately for author Mathias B. Freese, he is a gifted essayist who has been writing essays for decades. By collecting his favorite pieces, he gives readers insights into both his personal life (which is, sadly, full of tragedy) and his views on such topics as education, psychotherapy, blogging, and, of course, writing. The book, as a result, is one part personal memoir and one part intellectual analysis.

This combination elevates the book, but it also means it is a book best read slowly. Readers are likely to find themselves pausing to contemplate the message behind each essay. Freese is direct and opinionated, and he often takes an opinion counter to popular thinking. Take, for example, the essay “Teachers Have No Chance to Give Their Best,” where he begins by railing against students for their “puerile minds” and “vacuity.” But while these words are harsh, he lays the blame squarely on teachers. As a former teacher himself, he strongly suggests that schools need to do more to encourage creativity and self-reliance.

Just when it seems he has given up, labeling the educational system as “a great Arctic mammoth wandering aimlessly,” he offers up a glimmer of hope: “Take any five decent, well-intended, creative and committed teachers and administrators, people who care, people in passion, free men and women, and one could wreak a reformation in weeks.”

Such is the power of these essays: he sets up problems in stark language, but he also points to the possible positives that we, as a society, could reach for. Whether writing about the challenges of the current publishing scene or the historical record of the Holocaust, he shows readers both the ugliness and the beauty of each topic. He shares valuable insights from his time as a psychotherapist, and he waxes eloquent on some of his favorite movies and classic film actors.

The personal essays in the back of the book provide a look at his family’s trials and grief. From the tragic loss of both his first wife and his daughter, to coping with memories of a neglected childhood, he writes powerfully when he is at his most personal. In many ways, these essays might have been a better way to begin this collection, since it would have helped to provide a real sense of the writer, in a personal way, before the denser, academic pieces.

This is a book that will stay with the reader, that will occasionally pop up as an undercurrent to conversations. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his fiction masterpiece, The i Tetralogy, it is a thoughtful, compelling read.



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Review: “What to Expect: The Toddler Years”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

What to Expect the Toddler YearsWhat to Expect the Toddler Years by Heidi Murkoff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received the 1994 edition of this book second-hand, and I’m happy I didn’t pay for it. While “What to Expect While You’re Expecting” is recognized as a valuable book for expectant mothers, I find this sequel to be more alarmist than helpful for parents of toddlers.

While I expect to both agree and disagree with any parenting book, when I’m reading this one, I more often disagree. It’s possible that newer editions have changed the advice given, but in this edition, the authors recommend the Ferber method of teaching children to sleep by themselves. That method has also been called the “cry it out” method, because it depends on allowing the child to cry for longer and longer periods each night in order to teach them to go to sleep. For many reasons, this method has been highly criticized, and without getting into a lengthy discussion, it just feels wrong to me.

In the same way, the book makes assumptions about weaning babies at a year (which is fine when the baby is ready for it but unfair to babies who are slower adapting to solid food). Those who believe in baby-led weaning will find themselves feeling like outsiders while reading this book.

The book is divided by month (12th month, 13th month, et cetera), and each chapter includes FAQs related to concerns from that month. This ends up giving the book an advice column feel and tends to emphasize the negatives. Rather than including a couple paragraphs on “diapering difficulties,” for example, why not call the section “diapering” and deal with both issues related to diapering as well as positive advice for choices that parents might consider (such as cloth diapers versus disposables, for example)?

The result of this endless string of answers for “problems” not only feels haphazard but also conveys the opinion that parenting is troublesome and that this book is a first-aid kit or life raft. Rather than seeing this book as a lifesaver, I found myself frequently frustrated by the advice given, as if I’d been handed a child’s water-wing instead.



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Reviews: “The Baby Book”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age TwoThe Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m finding that my favorite baby books were ones recommended to me by family and friends, and “The Baby Book” by William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N., was recommended to me by one of my oldest friends. As with any parenting book, I would recommend taking from it the parts that you find most useful, acknowledging that there might be sections where you disagree.

Dr. Sears and his wife, Martha, are proponents of attachment parenting, a term which is often misunderstood. But even if you’re not the sort of person who walks around 24/7 with a baby carrier strapped to you, there is plenty of good, practical advice within these pages.

What I liked most about this book is the relaxed tone. As both a parent of multiple children and a practicing pediatrician, Dr. Sears knows that it’s easy to get worked up about possible problems or issues. The book’s reassuring tone presents the latest medical information, combined with practical advice, and I can’t count the number of times we raced to this book during a perceived emergency and received comfort from the information we learned.

Above all, the book is valuable because of its multiple charts and tables about such topics as sicknesses, immunizations, feeding solid foods, development, and more. The book is packed with useful information, as well as playful activities to encourage development and other useful tips.

I would highly recommend it to any first-time parent or guardian of a baby from birth to age 2.



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Review: “Living With Children”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Living with ChildrenLiving with Children by Gerald R. Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend gave me the 1974 edition of “Living with Children: New Methods of Parents and Teachers” by Gerald R. Patterson and M. Elizabeth Gullion. She told me that she found it useful while raising her own daughter.

The simple concept behind this book is to use operant conditioning to change troublesome behaviors. The book offers multiple examples of types of behaviors that can, the authors say, be altered by using rewards and punishments.

Some of the advice in this book is clearly outdated, but the basic tenets behind the book are sound. The book recommends finding a way to count or quantify the troublesome behavior and to use a systematic reward system to develop positive behaviors, instead. I’ve seen similar techniques used on the ever-popular “Super Nanny” shows, where parents are instructed to put up star charts and to give children stickers for positive behaviors such as putting toys away.

It’s certainly a technique that is worth considering, although operant conditioning may not always be the perfect solution for every problem.



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Review: “Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood”

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Love and Logic Magic for Early ChildhoodLove and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My sister recommended “Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood” to me after using it in family counseling situations, and I found the book had a lot of positive concrete suggestions for parenting young children. While I never agree 100 percent with any parenting book, I found myself agreeing with the basic concepts: effective parenting comes from empowering children to make positive choices, underscored by a relationship of trust and loving reinforcement.

While the tone of the authors is sometimes condescending, I appreciated the many examples. Not every example is something I would emulate: I don’t feel comfortable walking away from a child having a tantrum in a grocery store, even if they do emphasize that you should still watch them from “around the corner.” It takes only a moment for a predator to snatch a child!

However, I have put some of the techniques into practice and found them useful. For example, my husband and I give our son choices of what shirts to wear, what snacks to eat, et cetera. This helps him to feel like he has some control in his life. Surprisingly, I’ve also discovered that if he’s having a tantrum, it is far more effective to just calmly tell him, “Get it out of your system. Make it good” and stand quietly watching. Since he’s not getting the reaction that he’s seeking, he comes around much more quickly than when I used to raise my voice at him in response.

More importantly, the book has encouraged me to see every misbehavior as a learning opportunity. My husband and I have both sought to understand what underlies his behavior and to build a relationship of love and trust.

For giving us a way to deal with the frustrations of the “terrible twos,” I am extremely grateful for this book.



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Review: “Memoirs of a Geisha”

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had wanted to read Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” ever since seeing the movie several years ago. When I finally did, I discovered that the book is filled with just as many lush visual details but that the story is a little less romanticized than in the film. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Hollywood movies tend to heighten drama, but the most striking part of this book is how much of a geisha’s life is mundane.

Far from being a glamorous existence, Golden’s novel exposes this bygone profession as both painstaking and heartbreaking. The rewards were few for most of the women who spent their entire lives training to entertain; spending hours perfecting their appearances; and maintaining strict codes of behavior. For those who managed to make the right connections and climb the social ladder, they could hope to secure a wealthy benefactor. Others struggled, especially as they aged.

This book has been the subject of some controversy, since Golden based it on interviews with geishas, one of whom objected to the way he portrayed events in the book. Yet, fictionalizing the book allowed Golden to pick and choose details and to focus the story in a way that lent the most drama. These were wise choices, and the book, while it may not tell any one geisha’s story, nevertheless tells the story of many woman whose profession, like their stories, has slipped into the past.



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Review: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After receiving “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as a Christmas present, I let it sit on a shelf for a year before reading it. I must admit: the prospect of reading about a child who lost his father on 9/11 did not excite me. Perhaps it was best that I waited, because this lyrical, fearless book has inspired me at a time when I, a stay-at-home mom of a toddler, am feeling overworked and under-inspired.

I have not gotten so excited about an author’s creative use of voice since I read William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” in high school. Rather than concentrating on 9/11, author Jonathan Safran Foer tells a multitude of tales from a family, all dealing with separation, guilt, grief, and an inability to communicate with loved ones. These are, of course, universal concerns, and they elevate the book above the simplistic ways we often talk about tragedy.

The characters include a young boy mourning his father’s death on 9/11, as well as his grandmother and his estranged grandfather. Each tell their tales in distinct ways. The boy keeps a scrapbook of pictures that speak to him and seeks meaning by engaging in a city-wide scavenger hunt for the lock opened by a key his father left behind. The grandfather, who left while the boy’s father was young, has not spoken aloud since the Dresden bombing in World War II, where he saw unfathomable tragedy. He “speaks” through writing short sentences to people in blank books. The grandmother shares her deepest thoughts through letters which, apparently, she leaves unsent. At times, the different voices descend into nonsense or take an unusual approach to describing experience. This constant discovery and renewal is exhilarating and thought-provoking.

I highly recommend this book to any reader, but especially to writers seeking inspiration. Reading this book will make writers think about narrative and how to construct it differently, as well as how to use voice and character to tell a story and build dramatic tension. This poetic, insightful book speaks volumes about the human experience.




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Review: “Angels & Demons”

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Angels and Demons (Robert Langdon, #1)Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Where Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” feels revolutionary, in terms of its incorporation of real-life settings and historical documents into a thriller, “Angels & Demons” treads the same territory with less impressive results.

I read this book primarily because I’d seen the movie, and it was interesting to compare the differences between the book and the movie. There were a number of key changes to the way the action played out, and the book frequently made more sense (even if it was less dramatic and visual). But those changes aside, the book was a fairly traditional thriller. Yes, there is a religious conspiracy unveiled, but the “evidence” is less convincing and the end result far less plausible.



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Review: “Kare Kano, Vol. 8″

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 8Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 8 by Masami Tsuda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Picking up where the previous volume left off, author Masami Tsuda’s manga romance/comedy continues to follow the stories of a number of high-school students. The artwork in this installment is so strong that it actually changed my mind about the story involving Tonami, the transfer student introduced in the previous volume. I’m particularly fond of the flashback sections featuring Tonami as a chubby boy; they help to explain his low self-esteem. In this volume, Soichiro and Yukino, the main characters, come to the foreground again, with Soichiro trying to reconcile two different aspects of his personality: kind and giving, and angry and possessive.



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Review: “Kare Kano, Vol. 7″

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 7Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 7 by Masami Tsuda

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My love for the anime series “Kare Kano” brought me to the books, and the first several volumes offered the same mix of humor and poetic introspection that made me love the anime. In Volume 7, however, author Masami Tsuda seems to be running out of steam. She spends more of the book dealing with the side story of a transfer student and his love-hate relationship with secondary character Sakura (a girl who happens to look a lot like the male protagonist Soichiro). I realize I’m not the target audience for these manga (preteen girls), but if this volume had been the first one I’d read, I never would have read more.



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