Saturday, December 31, 2011

49. Read-off Competition

2012 "Read-Off" Competition

This year I am running a competition, a "read-off" that is measured by page count. Each week participants will message me or text me or email me their page count for the week of what they've read and I'll keep a running total on my other blog in a post each week. Pages from books (fiction, nonfiction and textbooks) and articles (magazines and scholarly) can be counted in the page count. If you use an Ereader you can look up page counts on Amazon or Goodreads. The reader who has read the most pages by the end of the year will win a prize (I haven't figured out what the prize is yet). Leave a comment if you want to join! I will also need some other contact info such as an email address, Twitter name or Facebook info so that I can get your page counts each week. Happy reading readers!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

48. "Narcissistic Lovers" by Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble

Zayn, Cynthia and Dibble, Kevin. Narcissistic Lovers: How to Cope, Recover and Move On. New Horizon Press, 2007. Ebook

224 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Narcissistic Lovers explains what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is and provides examples of narcissistic relationships. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is different from common uses of the term "narcissism." It is a pervasive, destructive disorder that is often at the root of abuse Each chapter of this book describes a different aspect of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and provides real-life examples.

One of this book’s strengths is its accessibility. Readers involved with a narcissistic relationship will easily be able to recognize the red flags in the scenarios provided in this book. Narcissistic Lovers is clear, and easy to understand which makes it very accessible. Sometimes books about personality disorders can become mired in psychology research and fail to explain things in a way that is easy for most people without psychology degrees to understand. This is not one of those books. The writers use solid psychological research but they explain the research in a way that is easy to comprehend.

Along with explaining what narcissism is and providing examples of narcissistic relationships, the book offers help to those who are stuck in one of these relationships. It is no replacement for psychotherapy or work with a mental health professional but it does offer a victim of narcissism some breathing room—a chance to step back and say “Ok, I get it now.”

5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf project status: KEEP

Saturday, November 5, 2011

47. "Chosen by a Horse" by Susan Richards

Richards, Susan. Chosen by a Horse. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2006.

Chosen by a Horse is a moving memoir about Susan, a heartbroken woman in her forties, and the bold move she makes to adopt a horse with a past full of despair, abuse and neglect. Susan is woken up late one night by a call from the local SPCA in need of individuals to adopt forty or more horses from a Standardbred farm. Susan takes in Lay Me Down, a famished broodmare and her young foal. The foal and her mother are separated leaving Susan to care for Lay Me Down who was lame, very sick, and malnourished.

Equally malnourished was Susan’s own emotional health and spirit. In nursing back this gentle and trusting horse, Susan learns to love and trust herself. This new love of self leads her to make more courageous choices ranging from buying new lingerie, to sticking with Lay Me Down through her illness.

This is one of those books that is difficult to put down once you start reading. It is a little disjointed in terms of the timeline which was confusing, but the richness of story made it easy to let this flaw slide. Richards does an excellent job of defining terms for people unfamiliar with the horse world. She is able to draw readers in and profoundly illustrates how her relationship with Lay Me Down mirrors her past allowing her to heal and move on. We can all learn something from her relationship with this magnificent horse.

This is a must read for any horse lover, though I have to warn you: buy a box of tissues before reading—you’ll need them.

4 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: N/A (borrowed book from a friend)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

46. "The Healer" by Sharon Sala

Sala, Sharon. The Healer. Ontario: Mira, 2008.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

I have to be honest. I didn't even finish this book. I read about half of it.

The plot was not terrible but not all that original either. Sala essentializes Native Americans as natural "healers" and switches between points of view rather confusingly. The narration is bland and unconvincing.

I just didn't feel it was worth finishing this drivel. I don't recommend it. I give it one star simply for its entertainment value. It was better than sitting in waiting rooms doing nothing.

1 dart out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: donated

Saturday, September 10, 2011

45. "Deep Storm" by Lincoln N Child

Child, Lincoln N. Deep Storm. New York: Anchor Books, 2007.

Deep Storm is about an underwater excavation team. The team works in a submersed facility near the earth’s core excavating what they claim to be the lost city of Atlantis. Dr. Peter Crane, a former naval officer in the U.S. military, is asked to come aboard the facility to treat an unexplainable and untreatable disease infecting the workers. What Crane learns is that the team has not been completely frank about their mission.

Deep Storm
would make an amazing action movie. It is suspenseful and fast-paced. The narrative style is simplistic and to-the-point and each chapter ends with that leave-you-hanging vibe that makes the book hard to put down. I read it everywhere: at home, at Midas getting my car’s oil changed, waiting for my chiropractic appointment, at restaurants before my food arrived—yeah, it’s that kind of book.

This was my first dabble into the realm of science fiction. I appreciated the complexity of the plot, but the techno-jargon was a little too much for me at times. In all, this novel is worth checking out if you dig technology, suspense, action, and a hint of science fiction.

3 darts out of 5.
Bookshelf Project Status: Donate

Saturday, July 30, 2011

44. "The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf" edited by Susan Dick

Dick, Susan, Ed. The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1989. Print.

The more I read work by Virginia Woolf, the more I recognize Buddhist themes. The following is from her short story “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn,”: “And my brain that was swift and merry at first and leapt like a child at play, settled down in time to sober work upon the highway, though it was glad withal. For I thought of the serious things of life—such as age, and poverty, sickness and death, and considered that it would certainly be my lot to meet them; and I considered also those joys and sorrows that were for ever chasing themselves across my life” (58).

Here one can connect to the story of the Siddhartha Guatma (the Buddha) when he begins his journey and sees a sick man, a poor man, and a dying man. One can also connect her “merry and swift” mind to the monkey mind that, upon meditation, is settled and able to focus.

What I loved about this collection of Woolf's short fiction is that it is organized in chronological order. While reading, you are able to see how her writing evolves and it is sooooo fascinating. She wrote several short stories about characters from one of her seminal texts, Mrs. Dalloway, including such stories as "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street," "The New Dress," and "The Man Who Loved his Kind."

Some of my favorite stories from the collection include "Phyllis and Rosamond," "The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn," "The Mark on the Wall, and" "The Widow and the Parrot: A True Story." If you are a fan of Virginia Woolf, I highly recommend this collection of short fiction.

4 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Saturday, April 30, 2011

43. "House of Sand and Fog" by Andre Dubus III

Dubus III, Andre. House of Sand and Fog. New York: Vintage Books, 1999. Print.

365 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

House of Sand and Fog is about an intense battle over ownership of a seaside California bungalow. Kathy Nicolo, the original owner, loses the home after a tax error by the county. Mr. Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian air force, buys the house at an auction for a third of its value.

The Behrani family is exiled in the U.S. after the fall of the Iranian government and they are in a dire financial situation. Unable to find a job and feeling pressure to keep up royal appearances, Mr. Behrani plans to sell the bungalow and start a business in real estate as a means of keeping his family off the street. The battle that ensues between the Behrani family and Kathy escalates to a chilling climax.

This novel is great study on how even the smallest of decisions (throwing away unopened mail in Kathy’s case) can cause a person’s entire life to unravel. It is that small tug on the loose thread and suddenly, it all comes undone.

Something I really appreciate about Dubus’ writing is his vivid description. It isn’t just vivid, but it is real. He describes things in a way that makes sense, and it really feels like you are right there in the story.

“I looked out the window to see where we were and my own candlelit reflection looked back. On the other side was night and all the lights of San Francisco spread out below. I drank the rest of the wine from my glass and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so free of all the shit that pulled at me like the gravity of two planets. I was feeling some of the wine, but not much. I’d eaten half of my baked potato and chicken. I looked back at Les and I could see he’d been staring at me” (Dubus, 116).

Another talent Dubus illustrates is the ability to shift voices. The narration moves between Kathy and Mr. Behrani and is told in first person point of view. There is a distinct difference between Kathy’s voice and Behrani’s voice and the difference in voice is intricately connected to differences in culture. This aspect of the novel is absolutely brilliant.

I am planning to read a lot more of this writer’s work and I highly recommend House of Sand and Fog.

4.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf project status: KEEP

Sunday, April 17, 2011

42. "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923. Print
96 pages
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

The Prophet
is a meditation on different parts of life. A small town is saying goodbye to their prophet and ask him a series of questions about love, marriage, freedom, friendship and more. In response to each question, the prophet has a philosophical and wise answer.

The answers the prophet provides are thought provoking and often surprising. It is understandable why Gibran is one of the best-selling poets of all time. (I think he only trails behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu). I plan on keeping this text and reading it over and over. It takes multiple readings (at least for me) to let the words and ideas really sink in.

If you are interested in reading it, there is an online version of the book here.

5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf project status: KEEP.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

41. "The Almost Moon" by Alice Sebold

Sebold, Alice. The Almost Moon. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2007.
291 pages
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Alice Sebold is the author of the bestselling novel The Lovely Bones. The Almost Moon is her most recent publication and was debuted in 2007. The Almost Moon is about Helen Knightly who murders her mentally ill mother by smothering her with a towel.

I have not read The Lovely Bones, but I was not impressed with Sebold's second novel (The Almost Moon). The book traces the twenty four hours after Knightly's murder and the flashbacks (tangents) she has about her relationship with her now-dead mother.

This book has plenty of shock and awe, but the writing is clumsy and messy. The characters are drab and the narrative's voice is unoriginal and flat. The constant transitions between past and present tense are amateur and unimaginative.

Bookshelf Project Status: DONATED (to my university's writing club)
1 darts out of 5

Saturday, March 19, 2011

40. "The Buddha and The Borderline" by Kiera Van Gelder

Van Gelder, Kiera. The Buddha and the Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder Through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism and Online Dating. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2010. Print.

236 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), according to the Buddha and the Borderline, is one of the most difficult personality disorders to treat. This is in part because of the nature of the disorder itself, but also because of stigmas and prejudice within the mental health system.

There is much debate about whether the disorder even exists and pat of what Kiera Van Gelder experiences, is the struggle to validate her disease in the medical community. Kiera tells her story in a very intimate and clear way. She describes her pain, her constant shifts in identity, and her unquenchable need for reassurance and validation with accurate attention to detail.

Van Gelder provides her readers with sources and references works throughout the text of her memoir. It truly gives her credibility as a writer and it also offers others reading the book—those who may struggle with BPD or know someone who does—other places to turn. This is one of the greatest aspects of this work. Van Gelder validates for herself and others, that BPD does exist, that is a painful and difficult mental illness, and that there are treatments available that can help.

The problem is that people might have to jump through hundreds of hoops, go through countless unhelpful and even damaging counselors, and group therapies, and psychiatrist, before finding the right kind of treatment, just as Van Gelder does. Because the disorder is so debated within the mental health field, it makes finding treatment and help that much more difficult for those who suffer from BPD.

I found this book to be a beautiful and enlightening portrait of one woman’s struggles and successes in living with Borderline Personality Disorder.

5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Sunday, March 6, 2011

39. "GirlSpoken from Pen, Brush, and Tongue" edited by Jessica Hein, Heather Holland, and Carol Kauppi

GirlSpoken from Pen Brush and Tongue. Eds. Jessica Hein, Heather Holland, and Carol Kauppi. Second Story Press, 2008. Print.
216 pages
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

This book is a collection of essays, poems, and artwork by young women. It captures the complexity of a young woman's life. The book is broken into different sections based on subject.

The writing and poetry is delightful and the artwork is impressive. Girlspoken gives young women and girls a voice and offers a sense of strength and connection to its targeted audience.

The editors are the founders of GirlSpoken which is an organization focused on offering creative workshops for young women and girls. The project lead to the book and it is a great success.

If I had an adolescent niece or other relation, I would absolutely buy her a copy of this book. Below is a poem that was published in GirlSpoken. It is one of the many that spoke to me and tugged on my heartstrings.

A Glimpse
“Despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, I have not yet been able to answer the great question that has never been answered: What does a woman want?” –Sigmund Freud

Let me tell you –

Tongues and crocuses,
books and cunts,
combat boots and tutus.

Climbing the ropes after learning them,
caffeine, someone to drink it with,a lock to keep them out, a key to let them in.

Extra-absorbant pads that don’t feel like pillows,
products for us, made by us,
that let us express ourselves

History told the way we saw it go by,
spaces in places that make the decisions,
and a home without beats, kicks, black eyes or incisions.

Experimenting in bed,
getting on top,
orgasms that lasts forever
(or at least a few minutes).
Occupations and payroll traditionally reserved for men,
the power to have organs,
that aren’t named after them.

Nipple rings and dildos
we wanna drive by our own light,
and do only what feels right.

We wanna be visible, accountable, respectable, and comfortable,
cause we’re handsome and wholesome and random and
and we’re much too complicated
to be summed up in a poem.

--Roshaya Rodness, Age 17

5 darts out of 5

Saturday, February 19, 2011

38. "Chinese Cinderella" by Adeline Yen Mah

Yen Mah, Adeline. Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter. New York: Dell Luarel - Leaf, 1999. Print.

205 Pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Adeline Yen Mah, author of the international bestseller Falling Leaves, elegantly captures her early childhood in pre-communist China. Abused and extremely neglected, Adeline spends most of her childhood moving from boarding school to boarding school. Though she was top of her class, she never received the love and approval from her family that she so desired.

This is a story about survival and the endurance of the human spirit. It is a story about believing in yourself and your potential when no one else does:

"The worst of it was that I could see no way out. That was why I found it hard to fall asleep and sometimes still wet my bed. But if I tried to be really good and studied very very hard, perhaps things would become different one day, I would think. Meanwhile, I must not tell anyone how bad it really was. I should just go to school everyday and carry inside me this dreadful loneliness, a secret I could never share. Otherwise it would be over, and Father and Niang would never come to love me" (Yen Mah 55).

I think that all children and young adults will find inspiration in this book. Adeline sets an example for how survivors of child abuse and neglect can escape. For Adeline, as is the case for so many, education was her means of escape and survival.

Although classified as "youth fiction," this is a memoir someone of any age can appreciate.

4.5 darts out of 5

Saturday, February 5, 2011

37. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is a classic and for good reason! Written in epistolary form, the book documents the life of Celie, a young black woman who experiences abuse, neglect, and a painful separation from her sister.

Blues music is an important theme throughout the novel as can be seen in characters like Shug, a blues singer that comes to live with Celie. The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote as an undergrad about the role of blues music in The Color Purple.

The Purpose of Blues Music in Alice Walker's The Color Purple
J. d'Artagnan Love
March 8, 2007
In Alice Walker's The Color Purple, women often found strength through their music. Finding strength and an outlet for expression is essential to the process of personal transformation. Through the novel one can trace a personal transformation in Celie, the protagonist. With the introduction of blues music into her life, Celie is able to become whole.

Before Celie is introduced to blues music, she does not have a voice of her own. She does not use her voice to defend herself or to speak out against the oppression she is faced with daily. Celie is raped by her step-father repeatedly. Instead of fighting back she remains silent and does not reveal to her mother the identity of her children’s father. Along with her silence, she asks her step-father to take her and not Nettie as his sexual partner and dresses in clothing she thinks he will find attractive. After Nettie leaves, Celie becomes even more lost. She has not developed any sense of identity or autonomy and has now lost her main source of social support. Thus, her inner voice is muffled almost entirely by the oppression she faces as a wife to Albert who, like her father, beats her and treats her as property. . . .

Celie is introduced to blues elements with Sofia’s character. Such blues elements include those of womanhood, overcoming obstacles and fighting oppression. With the presentation of these blues elements, Celie begins a slow process of learning self-awareness. . . . Being exposed to Sofia’s strength allows Celie to form a connection with Sofia.
Blues is gradually integrated into Celie’s life with the arrival of Shug Avery upon which, Celie’s process of self-discovery and transformation beings to gain ground. Evidence of this process is seen in small acts of defiance performed by Celie against the patriarchal structures in her social network. An example of this can be seen when Celie learns the first name of her husband. After learning that his name is Albert, she has the option of choosing to refer to him as Albert rather than Mr. __. Instead, Celie continues to refer to her husband as Mr. __, thus defying his identity and the power that his identity holds over her. . . . Celie finds her own voice and expresses her own thoughts and opposition towards domestic violence. Celie has begun to build a foundation of self-acceptance and love.
While Celie builds an emotional foundation for herself, Harpo begins to build a juke joint and the construction of the juke joint parallels Celie’s emotional progress as well as Shug’s physical healing. The construction of the juke joint symbolizes blues music as a form of healing and rebirth for a collective group of oppressed people. By the time the juke joint is finished Shug is ready and well enough to start performing again and Celie, with Shug’s support and guidance, is beginning to experiment with the power of her own voice.. . .

If you would like to read the entire paper email me at:
5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: Donated to a library

Saturday, January 15, 2011

36. "Written on the Body" by Jeanette Winterson

Winterson, Jeanette. Written on the Body. New York: Vintage International, 1992. Print

190 pages

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Written on the Body is an erotic tale of love, desire and loss. The protagonist moves from woman to woman, never really falling in love until she meets Louise. Louise has a secret that drives the protagonist to misery. Truthfully though, the protagonist causes her own misery. She is selfish to the end and by the time she learns her lesson, it is too late.

I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing style. It is fluid and abstract. The issue I had with this book, was I did not like the protagonist. This made it hard for me to like the book. I identified with Louise and ached for her. I related all too well with Jacqueline, one of the protagonist's many betrayed girlfriends, when she says to her, “You mean we’ll talk about it and you’ll do what you want anyway” (Winterson 58).

As hard as I tried, I could not sympathize with the main character and I could not, despite the beautiful, lyrical writing, enjoy the book very much.

2 darts out of 5

Bookshelf Project Status: Given as gift.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

35. "The Freedom Writers Diary" by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers

Gruwell, Erin. The Freedom Writers Diary. New York: Broadway Books, 2009.
316 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

The Freedom Writers Diary is one of the most inspirational books I’ve ever read. It chronicles the lives of 150 students at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. At that time, Long Beach was plagued by poverty, drug trafficking, intimate partner violence, homelessness and gang violence.

Erin Gruwell, a first-time English teacher at Wilson, uses writing as a tool to empower her students—students living in the trenches of Long Beach’s “undeclared war.” This undeclared war is that of the gang violence and poverty the students must face daily.

Erin Gruwell is able to help transform her students’ lives using unorthodox teaching methods. She is able to break through boundaries created by racial tension and segregation and inspire her students to make a positive difference in the world. Gruwell used two main texts—Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo—to teach her students about the effects that intolerance can have on the world.

Despite the school administration’s lack of support, she is able to take her students on trips to places such as Washington D.C., and the Museum of Tolerance. The class also works together to bring in famous speakers like Miep Gies, the woman who sheltered Anne Frank and her family, and Zlata Filipovic, the author of Zlata’s Diary.

As an educator, I’m so impressed with Erin and moved by her students’ stories. It reminded me why I decided to become a teacher, and why I chose to work at the institution I do. It added new depth to my work. Reading the diary entries also made me appreciate my own life more. Things as simple as a cup of coffee are a treasure to me because The Freedom Writers Diary reminds me to always be cognizant of those less fortunate. I am also aware of how life can change in an instant and how one can go from rags to riches (or vice versa) in the blink of an eye.

I think that of all the books I have read this year, this book has had the greatest impact on me.

5 darts out of 5.
Bookshelf project status: KEEP