March 29, 2013

Love Sandwiches by Annie Zhu

They tasted like childhood, not that I remember my mother ever making them or my ever eating them. In any case, they tasted like somebody's childhood.
from "Love Sandwiches" by Annie Zhu

I was given a complimentary copy of this short story in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: A shopgirl volunteers to hand out sandwiches to the homeless, but helping others does not eradicate her self-hatred. After every act of charity, her long-distance boyfriend Paul suffocates her with his unconditional love

Between running into a childhood friend who has reinvented herself as a music video vixen, and confronting an unhinged homeless man, her evening snowballs into a night of self-destruction. 

Set in Toronto, Canada, this 6,300-word literary short story is about the nature of giving and receiving love . . . and sandwiches. 

Review: At first read, this was an interesting story about a girl volunteering to do good, but not necessarily living a lifestyle that reflects an interest in doing good per se. Intertwined into the story is the narrator's experience running into an old acquaintance who has reinvented herself into a glamorous, albeit shallow, music video dancer. I enjoyed the story but didn't get anything really powerful from it until I attempted to explicate it from a literary perspective, which I think is important for most short stories. When an author gives a small sampling of literature, they often pack a powerful punch in the symbolism since they don't have as much time to drive a story home with the plot. At first read you may miss some of the nuances, so I want to encourage readers to really dig into the short stories that you read. This review includes some of my explication of this short story, which may not be what the author intended, but it's what I got out of it. 

The story of the narrator volunteering to help the homeless (somewhat begrudgingly) and the story of Tranh, the narrator's high school acquaintance and her metamorphosis differ so much that my first question is why is it important that these two experiences are in the same story? The author never specifies why the narrator chooses to go feed the homeless, but based on her honest reaction of discomfort, I will assume she's motivated by a need to feel good about herself. This assumption is reinforced by other things that happen, but I don't want to spoil the story. Similarly, I feel that Tranh befriended the narrator in high school superficially for her own selfish reasons; she didn't want a friend (evident in the fact that she doesn't keep in touch with or recognize the narrator years later) but she does want to therapeutically unpack her past to the narrator. The narrator and Tranh both give away these "love sandwiches", which I think symbolically stand for self-serving donations (in their cases of time and energy) disguised as love; however, both women have encased themselves in a superficial shell that it's impossible to actually experience love until they've stepped outside of this shell. 

Now hopefully the Annie Zhu doesn't read my review and think I'm way off; or, if she does, she'll somehow identify with where I'm going here! And my examination of both main characters is just the tip of what's in this story. I think if you take the time to not only read it, but explicate it yourself, you might not only find a fascinating story of self absorption versus selfless love, but you might even find truth about yourself among the pages. I think if a reader can discover at least a shadow of self truth, it's a sure sign of a powerful short story. While I think this book falls a little short of 5 stars, I definitely recommend reading it so that you can discover your own truths in it. 

Bottom Line: The price on Amazon right now and the length give you absolutely no excuse to read this short story immediately! I definitely think this is a story anybody and everybody can read and enjoy! 4/5 stars.

About the Author: Annie Zhu was born in Nanjing, China, and moved to Canada at the age of seven. She has a BFA in Film Studies from Ryerson University and a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She lives in Paris. 

March 22, 2013

Wanderlust by Karen McQuestion

We weren't given any gadgets, not even binoculars. And none of our cell phones would work here. It didn't feel like a dangerous mission, not at all. Really, what could happen? 
-from Wanderlust by Karen McQuestion

 Caution: This review may contain spoilers for Edgewood, the first book in this series! {buy Edgewood here}

The second book in Karen McQuestion's Edgewood series, Wanderlust picks up right where its prequel left off. After being exposed to supernatural light particles, Russ Becker and three other teenagers from the city of Edgewood are left with respective super powers. Referred to as a "second gen", Russ learns in the first book that his abilities are coveted by a secret group called The Associates who want to use his power presumably for evil. However, another group claiming to be the good guys, The Praetorian Guard, wants Russ and his friends on their side. When The Praetorian Guard invite the four teens to Peru to search for an Edgewood man presumed dead, the kids see it as an adventure. They just may not have banked on how adventurous it turns out to be. 

I was so excited to see that this book was released for the Kindle earlier than anticipated. Similar to the first book, Wanderlust progressively gets more exciting the further you read. A big difference with this sequel, however, is that the story is not told exclusively from Russ Becker's point of view. Most of the first half of the book is told by Nadia, one of the other four teens affected by the supernatural light particles. At first I wasn't so interested in Nadia's perspective; she isn't a huge character in the first book and while I liked her, I thought I would have preferred Russ's side of the story. But as the story progressed, I appreciated Nadia more and more and gained a real love for her. Toward the end of the book, perspectives alternate between her and Russ which made the story feel like it was moving at a faster pace and allowed the reader both sides of their story. In a series where it's hard to trust anyone, I also liked that getting both Russ and Nadia's perspectives allowed me to trust them. 

Another almost-complaint {haha} is that the first half of the book was kind of slow; however, McQuestion more than redeems herself in the last half when I was unable to put the book down. If you put up with all of the dull details that get the kids to Peru, I assure you the story will pick up and become thrilling once their adventure truly begins. Similarly, I grew a little weary at how pedantic the writing felt because, after all, it is more of a teen series. Once the action started I was much more forgiving of this quality and reminded myself that I would have LOVED to have access to this book in junior high, so let's not deprive the current generation. 

I'm really excited for the next installment! While Wanderlust doesn't exactly leave you on a cliffhanger, I'm ready to keep reading and pick up right where Karen McQuestion left off.

Bottom Line: If you liked Edgewood, you have to read this! If you haven't started this series but you enjoy teen/young adult dystopian or sci-fi adventure novels, you should definitely give this series a read! 4/5 {I'd give it 5/5 at a 7th grade level}.

For Fun: If I were to cast this movie, I would cast Steven R. McQueen as Russ; Shay Mitchell as Mallory; Amandla Stenberg as Nadia; and Austin Butler as Jameson. Of course, I don't know that this would really work because Amandla is so much younger, but I imagine a Hunger Games' Rue-like character when I picture Nadia.
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March 15, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A nearby clown blew up a balloon animal, a man bought a rose, a child licked an ice cream cone, and a genuine tradition was born, one I'd never forget: Amy always going overboard, me never, ever worthy of the effort. Happy anniversary, asshole.
-from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is an expertly crafted novel that explores the intricacies of knowing one's partner and examines the lengths one will go to in order to love and also protect oneself from them. On the day of his 5th wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne comes home to find his house in disarray and his wife, Amy, missing. With all evidence pointing to Nick and information about their troubled marriage coming to light, what happened to Amy? Is Nick innocent like he claims or is he responsible for Amy's disappearance? With chapters alternating between Nick's account of present day and Amy's diary of the past few years, it's difficult to figure out what you think happened to Amy.

It's incredibly hard to write about this book and all that I love about it without giving you spoilers; in fact, I'm surprised I was able to avoid all of the spoilers myself prior to reading. Of course, there's no way I would ruin such a great book for you, therefore my review can't do this book justice.

Part love story, part mystery, part thriller, Gone Girl will surely keep you on your toes. I admit that I didn't really get into the story until about the third time I picked the book up to read. If the first quarter of the book doesn't grab you, have faith and keep reading. I assure you that you will come to the point where you will not be able to put the book down because of all the twists and turns. I often compare great books to tapestries where stories, emotions and characters are expertly woven together. I hate to repeat the comparison, but Gone Girl is the most tightly woven and expertly crafted story I've read in a very long time. Just when you think you have figured everything out, Flynn will weave the story in another direction. Not only is Flynn's storyline intriguing, but the language she uses is vivid, bold, and beautiful. Everything about this book is solid.

While I loved the book overall and really appreciated the story, I didn't feel completely satisfied by the ending which is why I'm knocking off half a star in my rating. I won't spoil it, but if you've read the book I'd love to hear what you thought! Please try not to put any spoilers in your comments though. ;) I don't necessarily think this book will change your life or inspire you to change, but it's a great piece of thrilling entertainment. 

Bottom Line: If you like thrilling reads, entertaining reads, or just plain great stories, I highly recommend this book! And if you're like me and need to read bestsellers before they hit the big screen, read it now! Reese Witherspoon has picked up the rights to produce this as a movie and it's bound to be great! 4.5/5 Stars.

March 14, 2013

RIP Google Reader

As many of you may know, Google Reader will no longer be available after July 1. In its absence, I highly recommend reading your favorite blogs (which hopefully includes The Book Barn!) with BlogLovin!

You can subscribe to The Book Barn on BlogLovin here.

You can also subscribe to my personal blog Daniellesque here.

Thank you so much for reading!!

March 8, 2013

6 Verses That Can Change Your Life by Joe Barnett

Meteorologists don't control the weather, only report it, and give precautionary recommendations when it turns nasty. Hearing the advice won't stop storms, but heeding it may save your life. 
Likewise, hearing God's advice won't stop life's storms, but heeding it will assure survival.
-from 6 Verses That Can Change Your Life by Joe Barnett

 I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Book Crash in exchange for an honest review.

I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction books, especially the "self-help" genre. While I wouldn't necessarily dub this book as "self-help" (more like "God-help"), I admit that 6 Verses That Can Change Your Life sat on my to-read shelf for awhile as I kept choosing to read exciting fiction novels. However, once I finally picked up this book I couldn't put it down. Between the content, writing style and accessible guidance, this book is a wealth of information and encouragement for any Christian. It's ability to connect the content directly to my life made it just as exciting as any fictional story I've read in the last year.

Joe Barnett's, 6 Verses That Can Change Your Life, is a well-organized Bible based book that examines 6 verses from the Bible (both Old and New Testament) and fleshes out their applications that will lead to a more fulfilling Christian life. Each verse centers on one of six "shelters from life's storms": Trust, Assurance, Courage, Patience, Peace and Joy, each of which is broken down into 5 chapters that examine the different angles we can relate to the verse. For example, the section on Patience gives the verse and an introduction to why patience is important. The following chapters look in depth at the currency of time and the inconvenience of waiting; God's answer being worth the wait; what we're supposed to do while we're waiting on God; and how to persevere patiently in the race of life. Each section ends with a Summary of Resolutions that the reader can promise after reading and understanding the content of the verse. Finally, there are almost 100 pages of Individual Action Steps and Group Discussion Guides to help the reader transition from reading to action. 

What I love most about this book is how accessible it is. Barnett's writing style feels like he's talking to you in a friendly conversation, not at all like you're reading a dull book chastising you for your lack of trust, assurance, courage, patience, peace and joy. On the contrary, Barnett extends so much grace and love to the reader and that excited me to keep reading. Furthermore, I loved his mixture of real life stories with Bible stories relative to the content. These stories kept me interested and grounded in faith. I was encouraged by the characters in the stories and with Barnett himself - heck, he made me laugh out loud a few times while reading! Finally, I really appreciated that the central verse of each section was found dispersed amongst and at the end of each chapter that explicated it. This not only helped keep the topic focused, but also aided in my memorization of the verses. 

I can't say that there was anything I didn't like about this book. I truly did not expect it to exceed my expectations so much. I think this book is a must-read for any Christian, no matter where they are in their walk with God. I also think that this is a great book to show any non-believers interested in Christianity. While there may be some Bible content that will go over their heads, this book is so non-threatening and Christ-like, I think it's a great start for dialogue. I think anyone can appreciate the principles examined in this book, and hopefully better understand the fundamentals of Christianity in a positive light. 

Bottom Line: A must-read for any Christian! This book will give you 6 verses that will arm you against the storms of life, along with practical guidance for how to apply the principles in your life. Accessible enough even for non-Christians who want to learn more. 5/5 stars!

By the way, right now the Kindle Edition for this book is only 99 cents on Amazon!! Go buy it!!

Disclosure of Material: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s CFR Title 16, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

March 1, 2013

Unglued Devotional by Lysa TerKeurst

The world will offer us comfort in the form of escapes. We escape to romance novels, movies, magazines, malls, chocolate, vacations, affirmations from friends. Not that any of these things are bad. They aren't. But they are very temporary. They make us feel good in the moment, but that good never stays. We need more and more. Trying to fill out aching hearts with these things is like trying to fill an ocean with a tablespoon. It's never enough. So we clench our fists and keep trying to find something to comfort us
-page 137, Unglued Devotional by Lysa TerKeurst
 I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by Book Sneeze in exchange for an honest review.
Lysa TerKeurst's Unglued Devotional is an empowering companion to her book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. I did not read the main book, but I find the devotional excellent as a stand alone, perhaps even more so as I hear it is repetitive when both are read together. 
Unglued Devotional is a compilation of 60 days worth of devotionals that are supposed to help the reader function alongside their emotions, even when those emotions have them coming, well, unglued. I found that TerKeurst successfully executed the 3 major components to a great devotional for busy women: 
  1. Devotional structure: start with a Bible verse, end with a prayer. As a Bible-based believer, I don't consider something a devotional if it's missing Scripture and I find closure when the author gives a great prayer to help me through the rest of my day. TerKeurst delivers both. While some of the Bible verses she uses are common, she almost always helped shed new light on them. 
  2. Quality over Quantity: Most of the devotionals in this book are succinct and won't take more than 5 minutes to read. Sometimes a reader wants a lengthy, in-depth devotional, but I think TerKeurst is appealing to an audience of busy women with short daily passages. I enjoyed that while each devotional was short, every one delivered a powerful message and caused me to think. 
  3. Honesty: TerKeurst is honest and open with her own struggles which make her extremely relatable and I made a stronger connection with her through her stories than I have in the past with devotionals. Through the course of reading this devotional I really got to know the author because the book is personal. Exploring TerKeurst's personal struggles really helped me shed light on my own. 
While her subject matter, warmth and honesty about emotions make it clear she is catering to women, the content of this devotional offers Biblical truths that can be appreciated by men as well. The only complaint I might have is that it might have been nice and interactive to have a writing prompt at the end of each day. Each devotional made me want to dialogue about my experiences and an opportunity to do so would have been great. I found that there is an Unglued Participant's Guide so maybe that is more of a workbook. This would make a great book for a small group!

I was drawn to Lysa TerKeurst's devotional because I have heard so many great things about her on Christian radio and was especially inspired by listening to her talk about her Made To Crave books. I never got around to reading Made to Crave, but I'm sure I'll make the time after reading Unglued Devotional.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend for all women, especially if you're as emotional as I am! If you don't think you have enough time for this then you need to find it because it will only take 5 minutes of your day! Great messages! 5/5 Stars