Wicked Plants

by Amy Stewart | 223 pgs, published 2009

I don’t have much to say – this is a non-fiction book about poisonous, deadly, and otherwise harmful plants. Interesting, but forgettable; also, the Kindle edition was a problem, since I couldn’t ever tell what plant I was looking at an illustration of.

Read it or don’t.

Buy Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities on Amazon

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The Psychopath Test

by Jon Ronson | 288 pgs, published 2011

More non-fiction. Ronson learns how psychologists look for signs of psychopathy, and begins evaluating everyone he meets. He goes out of his way to interact with people he thinks might be psychopaths: a CEO who shut down factories, insane asylum patients, a death-squad leader.

I was too bored with the book to remember many more details.

It claims to be “A journey through the madness industry,” but it felt more like the author wanted to show how everyone is poorly adjusted and a little crazy. And maybe more people should be institutionalized instead of in positions of power.

The book has a 4-star rating on Amazon, and is one of the bestsellers for last year. I’m glad I just got the ebook from the library and didn’t contribute to that. If you want, read someone else’s review that nicely articulates how I felt about The Psychopath Test.

Skip it! Any recommendations for more interesting mental-health-industry-themed books?

Buy The Psychopath Test on Amazon


The Mistborn Trilogy

by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn | 544 pgs, published 2006
The Well of Ascension | 592 pgs, published 2007
The Hero of Ages | 576 pgs, published 2008

All sorts of exclamatory words!

Why didn’t I read this series earlier?!

So, I remember a friend telling me about it a few years ago, while I was pregnant with Evan. Maybe the description wasn’t quite right; it sounded vaguely interesting, but not enough that I went out to find the book. Or that I even wrote down the title.

When Jarom started his new job, he told me one of his coworkers likes reading. I immediately told Jarom to find out what the coworker’s favorite books were. (I assumed that someone who likes to read has good taste. That turned out ok this time, but I should probably not assume things like that.) He’s a big Brandon Sanderson fan, and mentioned Mistborn. School had just ended, so I needed something to keep myself busy. (As soon as I finished the series, we started buying a house. See how badly I need to be busy?)

I read Mistborn in about a day. I sat outside while the kids napped, and I got badly sunburned. I didn’t sleep. The book was that good. I would never stay up reading a mediocre book! (Maybe?)

And then I got the second and third books as soon as possible.

Ok, let me describe these in a way that is interesting, intriguing, and not boring. First, don’t look at the book covers. I got the books on the Kindle and I thankfully didn’t see the terrible cover art. It might have scared me off. But it does let you know that these are fantasy books. Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal. Think of Pathfinder plus a dash of Howl’s Moving Castle plus Sabriel plus your other favorite fantasy book. It reminds me of something else, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. So imagine that some people can ingest small flakes of metal (of varying types) and use that to enhance certain abilities.

Wow, see? Describing it is not easy. But imagine that, only it’s SO INTERESTING. Here’s how Amazon summarizes: “For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the ‘Sliver of Infinity,’ reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier ‘snapped’ and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.”

A little better?

So I quickly devoured the first book, like I said. The second and third books? Possibly more amazing, particularly the second (The Well of Ascension). Everything about this series is perfectly executed. The writing is so, so fantastic, the characters are wonderful, the story – overwhelmingly good.

If you like fantasy, or if you trust my opinion, READ THESE BOOKS. Biggest recommendation I have ever given! (Except maybe for Cutting for Stone, which you absolutely must read.)

Buy the trilogy on Amazon


Life As We Knew It

by Susan Beth Pfeffer | 360 pgs, published 2006

Alert: super enjoyable book!

This is written in journal format by a teenage girl. It’s predicted that a meteor will hit the moon one evening, leaving a visible crater; it turns out that the meteor is much bigger or denser than expected, so the moon is knocked out of its usual orbit. Imagine all the effects that will have.

The writing here is really great, but what I liked most was how well thought-out the plot was. 72-hour kits and emergency preparedness, anyone?

One note. I wanted to immediately go out and tell everyone to read this book. Then I thought, maybe it’s a little different because it has a teenage girl narrating. So, you know, it has teenage girl stuff. Then I questioned why it mattered; I probably wouldn’t have had an issue with recommending a similar book narrated by a teenage boy. It turned into a dilemma and would have prompted some self-examination except I was too lazy to bother.

Buy Life As We Knew It on Amazon


The Secret of Lost Things

by Sheridan Hay | 354 pgs, published 2007

A Tasmanian girl comes to New York and works in a huge, well-known used bookstore. Her boss is an albino with failing eyesight. There’s an under-the-table attempt to sell – maybe? – an unpublished (maybe) Herman Melville manuscript. The author spent a lot of time creating unique characters, but at some point, you need an average person in your book. Right?

The narration is fine, but then there’s this scene. It’s weird. Weird is too subtle a term for it. What’s beyond “bizarre”? The narrator is so passive, and it’s never more irritating (or bizarre) than in this one scene.

If you’re really intrigued by my vague description, I guess I could understand that. I finished the book feeling slightly creeped out, and just odd. And not really like I’d read something I enjoyed.

So…I wouldn’t recommend it, because it was “meh” at best, and why waste time on books like that?

Buy The Secret of Lost Things on Amazon


The Unwanteds

by Lisa McMann | 400 pgs, published 2011

I was so excited to read this book. As a general rule, I don’t care for twins as main characters, because it seems like such an easy plot device. But here it sounded fascinating: in a society where you are classified as Wanted or Unwanted at age 13, twin brothers are split up. Alex is Unwanted and he knows this means he will be sent to a death farm. And die.

I’m sorry for all the spoilers that are about to follow…

When Alex and the other Unwanted 13-year-olds get to the death farm, it turns out to be an illusion. It’s magically a place called [insert fantasy place name here], a school/haven for the creatively-minded Unwanteds. You see, what makes a person Unwanted is failure to follow the society’s rules, like no drawing, singing, dancing, acting, and so on. In the X-Men school of [fantasy place name], the kids learn how to let their creativity develop, and then how to use it as a weapon so they can defend themselves against the Wanteds if necessary. (Remember that the Wanteds think the Unwanteds have all been shipped off to die in a pit of boiling tar or something.)

Also, there was a weird romance in there. Awkward teenage crushes. Really awkward.

So the book ended up seeming like a PSA for creativity. Let your child be themselves! Don’t force them to think like everyone else!

I’m all for creativity, and I hope my kids can think in a variety of ways, including the ways that will be most useful to society. And hopefully earn money and stuff because let’s face it, unless you produce every item you need to consume, you’ll need money.

…Ahem. I got sidetracked there. Not a huge fan of this book, that’s what I was trying to get at.

Buy The Unwanteds on Amazon


Willpower

by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney | 304 pgs, published 2011

Non-fiction! Shocking!

Baumeister and Tierney are researchers, and they’ve done countless studies of their own; the book also draws on studies done by other researchers to give convincing evidence in favor of their conclusions. Of course, that could just mean the authors are skilled writers.

The point of the book is that it takes energy to exercise willpower; you need to eat the right kinds of foods to give your brain the necessary fuel; willpower can be strengthened by frequent use. Most importantly, developing small habits (like shaving every morning or having good posture) strengthens your willpower, and it will be easier to have self-control in other areas of your life.

Basically, think of willpower like a muscle. Be strong!

Buy Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength on Amazon