Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #59: Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup

Twelve Years a SlaveEven after seeing the trailer for Twelve Years A Slave, the movie, I wasn’t really thinking about reading the book. Slavery is so dark and so brutal that I figured even watching the movie would be hard. I wasn’t sure I wanted to delve into a detailed account of what appeared to be a bitter story. But then I saw a positive Cannonball review and figured I’d have to read it. So I picked up a brand-spankin’ new copy of, Twelve Years A Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup from my library.

It took me a little while to get used to the formal writing style. The beginning of the story is chock full of new names, characters, and places that I had trouble keeping straight. It was also in the beginning that I most felt the need for a historical commenter to put some of the events and customs into perspective. Although I’ve read a small bit about slavery in the South, I’m not very knowledgeable about living conditions and restrictions for free blacks in the North. I wondered if it was unusual that Solomon would leave for D.C. without leaving his wife a note. I also wondered how prevalent kidnapping like Solomon’s was in that time period–especially after Britain declared the slave trade illegal. Solomon certainly ran into a number of other kidnapped free men on his journey south.

But then I got into the story, and I became so involved with Solomon’s life that I couldn’t put it down. Solomon has a pretty varied view of slavery and how it affected him. Having endured both a kind man and a heartless asshole as “masters,” as well as work with sugar plantations, cotton plantations, carpentry, and playing the violin, Northup had a broad view of different aspects of slavery.


Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #58: The Omni Diet by Tana Amen, B.S.N., R.N.

The Omni DietThe Omni Diet (2013) by Tana Amen is another one of those books I spotted on the “New Books” shelf at the library and picked up on a whim. I’m a sucker for nutrition books. I like to read and compare them, and the premise fit with what I’ve already decided is healthy eating.

Tana Amen is a nurse and was apparently plagued by health problems for years. She experimented with a number of diets and came across what she calls the “Omni Diet,” which involves eating 30% lean protein and 70% vegetables. Tana Amen is apparently the wife of a famous minister and also works with Dr. Oz. I’m not familiar with any of these people, so all of that name dropping didn’t do anything for me, but it’s likely that Amen already had a strong following before she wrote this book.

On the whole, I like what Amen recommends, and I like how she discusses the pretty dramatic effects that different foods can have on your body.


Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #57: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Calling Me HomeI found Calling Me Home (2013) by Julie Kibler from another Cannonball review. The review intrigued me, so when I saw the book just sitting there in the library, I had to grab it. I’ve often found that stories based on personal experiences and lives often feel more compelling and true than others. I think this is the case with Calling Me Home.

Author Julie Kibler heard a story about how her grandmother had fallen in love with a young black man when she was a teenager. I don’t know how closely Kibler followed her grandmother’s story in this book-or even how many details she learned about her grandmother’s old love, but she is the inspiration for this story.


Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #56: The Last Kiss Goodbye by Karen Robards

The Last Kiss GoodbyeI did not pick up The Last Kiss Goodbye (2013) by Karen Robards with the best attitude. First, I am not a fan of paranormal romance novels. I just don’t understand the appeal of falling in love with a ghost. Romance heroes are pretty unrealistic already. Is it really necessary to make them even more unobtainable? Second, the only reason I was reading The Last Kiss Goodbye was to get closure after reading The Last Victim, a book that I only read because Robards was one of my favorite romance authors, and she’d never written about ghosts before. And not only did The Last Victim have ghosts, but it didn’t even have an ending! What I know now is that it is the first book of the “Charlotte Stone” series. I have no idea when this series is going to end, but it appears it could go on forever. The Last Kiss Goodbye is the second book in the Charlotte Stone series. I picked it up because I like closure and I was curious how she was going to make everything work out (I was assuming that paranormal romances–like regular romances–requires a happy ending).

Unfortunately, reading The Last Kiss Goodbye didn’t get me any closure.


Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #55: World War Z by Max Brooks

World War ZI’m not usually the kind of girl that picks up a lot of books about zombies, yet I have been surprised and delighted by the choices lately. First I read, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and then I found World War Z (2007) by Max Brooks. Sure, these two weren’t too hard to miss–when a post a day was popping up on Cannonball and the Hollywood advertising machines were grinding away. But both were so unique and enjoyable in their own way, I almost feel like I’ve become a fan of the genre.

World War Z takes place directly after a 10-year war with zombies that began sometime in the near future. The world is recognizable and familiar as the one we live in now. The story is told through many short stories of the survivors. Their experiences are all harrowing but vary drastically. Because the zombie apocalypse is a world-wide problem, Brooks allows his book to have an international focus. The story starts in China, one of the solutions to the crisis has its origins in South Africa, and even though the United States plays an important role throughout the book, some countries that you wouldn’t expect are highlighted.


Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #54: How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

How To Be BlackI’m not sure when I first saw How To Be Black (2012) by Baratunde Thurston. I’m pretty sure this book must have popped up on Amazon at some point. I was drawn in by the simple, striking cover and intriguing blurb:

The Onion’s Baratunde Thurston shares his 30-plus years of being black, with helpful essays like “How To Be the Black Friend,” “How To Speak For All Black People,” “How To Celebrate Black History Month,” and more, in this satirical guide to race issues–written for black people and those who love them. Audacious, cunning, and razor-sharp…”

Thurston has an easy-to-read and thoughtful style of writing that I appreciated. He brings up some details of his life while he discusses what it’s like to be black in America. In order to get a wider perspective, he brings in his own panel of “experts”–mostly friends he’s met through his work, including the white Canadian and author of “Stuff White People Like.”

My favorite parts of this book were when Thurston simply discussed his own experiences. I wouldn’t mind reading an entire autobiography from him. Although I found the opinions of the panel interesting; they were too short and I didn’t know enough about the authors. I couldn’t keep them straight in my head, so I didn’t have a clear through-line of who thought what as I read.

Although this book was written tongue-in-cheek, I found it kind of depressing. Mixed in with some of the annoying, at-least-kind-of-racist people I’ve had to work with lately, I’ve never felt so hopeless about race relations in America. Thurston really got the idea across of how exhausting it is to be a minority, with so many expectations and stereotypes hemming him in from all sides,–especially when he was the extreme minority in the corporate world. Yet Thurston isn’t a negative writer at all, and he ends with a very hopeful and pragmatic chapter on his ideas for some real change.

I also found Thurston incredibly relatable. He’s only a couple years older than me. He attended Sidwell Friends School (Chelsea Clinton’s school) before getting an undergraduate degree from Harvard. He has the smart, thoughtful, the-world-can-change-just-let-me-explain-how attitude that I’ve decided those schools try to instill in all their students. And being an extreme minority in my current job, I could also relate to Thurston’s description of being the only black guy at work. Anyway, I had highlighted tons of text while I was reading, but the library stole my e-book back before I was able to write this review, so I guess I’ll just end it here.

The rest of my reviews are on my blog.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #53: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette (2013) by Maria Semple was a book I first heard of through the many Cannonball reviews posted this year. It didn’t strike my interest at first; it sounded too weird. But the reviews kept coming in, and I even saw a Facebook friend gushing about it. I don’t like to feel left out, so I got myself on the lengthy wait list at the library. And I was not disappointed. I couldn’t put it down, and instead of doing the many productive things that I had planned, I finished this one in one day.

This book is part mystery, part biting social satire, part comedy, and part family drama. Semple does a fantastic job of mixing everything together and telling a sweet, funny, and above all incredibly original story.

Click here to read further.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #52(!!!): The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the BoatI was immediately drawn in by the cover of The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (2013) by Daniel James Brown, on display at my local bookstore. I’ve never gone to a school that had a rowing team, known the experience of rowing on the water, or even seen a rowing race in person, but my ex-boyfriend was a very serious rower for quite some time. In fact, he taught me good rowing technique on the rowing machines at the gym. So, even though the sport of rowing is foreign to me, reading this story still felt very personal–like I was getting a better understanding of the life my ex had before I met him.

Although my ex may have been one reason why I picked up The Boys in the Boat, the reason I kept reading was because it was fascinating–exactly the kind of non-fiction book that I love to read. It was detailed, historical, and well-researched, but with a page-turning flow and focus on the real lives and struggles of regular people.


Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #51: Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson

Buddha's BrainMy initial interest in Buddhism was pretty recent, but my knowledge was non-existent. When I turned to Buddhism Plain & Simple to learn more, I was both intrigued and frustrated. On the one hand, the worldview that encourages compassion, understanding, letting go of the unimportant things, and finding your own way is very appealing. On the other hand, the teachings often felt counterintuitive and too vague to be useful. When another Cannonballer wrote a positive review of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom (2009) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D, with Richard Mendius, MD., I figured it would be the perfect follow-up book for my western sensibilities.

I had mixed reactions to this book. There was some helpful information, but also, at just over 200 pages, the book felt awfully long and sometimes repetitive.

Click here for the rest of my review.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #50: Beauty and the Spy by Julie Anne Long

Beauty and the SpyAnother day, another romance novel. I don’t recall how Beauty and the Spy (2006) by Julie Anne Long ended up on my wait list at the library. I think a Cannonballer must have recommended it at some point and then I forgot about it until it became available, but I enjoyed reading it.

It’s amazing how quickly these plots disappear from memory, but a quick trip to Amazon has refreshed my recollection. Susannah Makepiece is beautiful, rich, and about to marry the heir to a viscount. Until her father dies, she loses everything, and she is lucky to end up at her aunt’s cottage in Barnstable. Christopher (Kit) Whitelaw is a viscount and a top spy in London. At the beginning of the novel, he is immersed in little besides women and drinking. Kit’s father sends him off to the country to get his head about him. In addition to the inevitable love story between Susannah and Kit, there is some murder, intrigue, and adventure as Susannah and Kit try to figure out what happened to her father.

I like this book and I was impressed by the characterization. Instead of making Susannah an implausibly gutsy, feminist, caring and perfect young woman, she begins the book by being selfish, manipulative and rather shallow. But she is exactly a product of her upbringing and simply knows nothing else. As she is able to explore her talents and desires in the book, her character grows and she becomes a better, more interesting person. Kit grows as well, although not as dramatically. The book was also easy to read and the romance between the characters grows slowly as they get to know each other, which I appreciated. I also liked the fact that they were rarely opponents, but more often worked together to accomplish their goals.

The one complaint I have is that the extraordinary number of typos (at least in the Kindle version) was distracting and unprofessional. It felt like at least once per page (probably a slight exaggeration), there would be a major mistake such as: incorrect pronouns, doubled words, or incorrect words. Sometimes the paragraphs were out of line. These weren’t tricky or questionable grammar traps, these were basic failure to proofread gaffes that required me to re-read sentences in order to figure out what the author was trying to say.

Click here to see all the reviews on my blog.