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Thursday, September 29, 2011

"I am ashamed" Jacques from Finding Nemo would say...

     I haven't posted in a month, and that is shameful and rude. I do have a couple good excuses; Holly and I were exiled from our apartment for three days due to a fire (not in or near our unit, thank god). Get this: someone shoved a screwdriver into the electrical panel and started two fires. No one was severely hurt, but the hydro was out for three days, so we had to stay elsewhere.

     Excuse number two; my job at Chapters took up so much of my time, since I was working full time hours in the summer, and then when school started, I was still working full time hours, and my days were spent waking up at dawn for class, and falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning after work. Also all the other little stressors of life, like shopping, finances, chores, relationships. Never mind any hobbies.

     I did get a chance to read when we were out of the apartment. Holly and I went to the library and picked up a few books, so I got about halfway through The Weird Sisters, and made more progress on One Day. No comments for now, you'll have to wait for my reviews. (And they're coming, I promise!)

     I am taking an english class this semester, partly because it seemed so interesting, partly because I needed another class to be a full time student. No way was I going to take another Crim class, and since I've maxed out my Psych class allowances, I figured I'd do this for me. The class is called Children's Literature. I assumed this meant Roald Dahl and Robert Munch, but actually we are reading older books. My reading list includes Little Women (which I have to have read for Friday evening, yet have not started), Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, The Silver Chair and a bunch more novels and short stories. I think I lucked out!

     Now all I need is to catch up on my IMM posts (I have about four in the works - yay for being a Chapters employee and having an income!) and a few reviews which I have started, but of course, not finished.

     Stay tuned! I'll be around.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Playing Hurt - Holly Schindler

March 8, 2011
   Star basketball player Chelsea Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college, and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.
   As a graduation present, Chelsea’s dad springs for a three-week summer "boot camp" program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain – or finally heal their heartbreak? (Chapters, CA)

     Playing Hurt is a book I received from a giveaway (as I’m sure you are all well aware of by now). I was excited to read it, mostly to see how the dynamic between Chelsea and Gabe vs. Clint would work out. I was thinking, how could you have the perfect boyfriend, and still be interested in someone else. I know it happens, but I was looking forward to reading about it, in such a specific example.

     I really liked how each chapter skipped back and forth between Chelsea and Clint. A few times I got frustrated; the chapters ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and it was not something easily resolved through the point of view of the other person. I really got into the book, though, I found it very cute and touching, and it pulled me easily the whole way along from beginning to end.

     I do recommend this book to other readers. It was cute and light, and I was able to relate to the characters, and found myself daydreaming about them often. It actually made me pick my next book along the same lines, because even when I was done the book, I really wanted more like it!

     Like I said, I was curious to see how the author would do with the torn-between-two-lovers scenario. Gabe, Chelsea’s boyfriend, was painted to be perfect. Beyond perfect, even. He was handsome and supportive and understanding and loving and all the things a perfect boyfriend should be. I definitely understand being in a good relationship and falling for someone else despite all your best efforts, but usually the former partner has at least a couple flaws. Gabe had zero. So I was intrigued at how Chelsea was going to fall for Clint. Turns out that it wasn’t about Gabe vs. Clint. I liked it.

     I really enjoyed the story, and hated having to put it down. It was cute and light, and their relationship gave me butterflies. I loved picturing myself in Chelsea’s position, falling for Clint. The cute flirting, and the fun times they had, hidden away in the middle of the woods. It was secret, and reminded me of Tuck Everlasting or something along those lines. I love romances like that.

     The one thing that annoyed me about the book was Chelsea’s brother Brandon. He’s supposed to be her younger brother, and having a brother who was once that age, I know how they generally act. Brandon seemed way too mature to be realistic to me. He was always on Chelsea’s case about Gabe at home, and how what she was doing with Clint was wrong. He never did anything immature like tattle on her, or spy, but he seemed to be her very mature conscience. He always seemed to know what she was thinking, or doing, and it was too omnipresent. This didn’t jive for me with the rest of his actions in the story. He spent all his time obsessing over his bass, and playing in the band with Clint’s friends. All he seemed to care about was music, and the band which he inspired, and usually younger brothers like that don’t also have a side devoted to the questionable morals of his sister. Especially since his band was made up of Clint’s friends, that would make me think he would lean towards being on Clint’s side, and it’s not like he and Gabe were friends at all at home. It was a little too off for me.

     I felt similar frustration as did Chelsea when Gabe kept wanting to talk to her while she was away on vacation. Even despite Clint, Chelsea was away for a reason. She was supposed to take so time to herself, do some physical rehab, enjoy the quiet and the wilderness. She’s out in the woods; it’s not time for an LAN gaming session or three way video chat, it’s just not the point of the retreat. Let her do her thing, you do yours, and you’ll see her when she gets home. She’s only gone for three weeks, not a year and half, you’ll live, buddy. It just really annoyed me.

     When Chelsea got back from Pike’s, and saw Gabe, I felt her uncomfortability in the pit of my own stomach. I wanted him to leave, and not take her out to the hotel. I wanted Chelsea’s Dad to finally do something decent and send Gabe away, at least so Chelsea could have a night to herself, to prepare for the inevitable breakup. I felt during their whole date-sex night, that it was all being rushed through, and she didn’t have a second to collect her thoughts to be able to talk to Gabe. Granted, Chelsea did have a thing with someone else while she was away, but I really felt that Gabe overreacted. If he really cared about Chelsea like he says he does, I don’t think he would have been so cruel, throwing in her face the fact that he’s held off sex for her and everything. That was terrible.

     The thing that really bothered me was that after everything, Chelsea and Clint went through during the summer, the healing and falling in love, they didn’t even stay in touch during the year. Chelsea won a free vacation for her family next year, and presumably she would go and they would see each other and be together then too, but from another angle, it almost seemed like she considered that invitation as a goodbye, and almost like a thank you from Clint, ‘for everything we shared this summer, and for helping me to get past it all and move on’. And then it was over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In My Mailbox (2)

     A year ago, I impulsively bought a Kobo. Somehow since then, the screen got cracked. I was so sad, assumed there was nothing I could do, and put it away indefinitely. Since I work at Chapters, I decided to ask if there was any solution. Apparently, they exchange Kobo's due to broken screens all the time, so as long as I purchased it within a year. So I went home and found the receipt, and it actually had been a year (well, a year and a week, but I figured that was okay).

     I brought it back, expecting to pay about $30 to cover the difference between the first generation which I had, and the new Touch. Turns out, that there was only a ten dollar difference between what I paid, and the new Touch, with the latter being cheaper! So I got the new Kobo Touch, screen intact, and $10. Amazing!

     Because I needed a book to read while out of the house, I purchased two e-books to read on my Kobo. I know it comes with tons of free ones, but after finishing Playing Hurt, I really wanted a modern chick-lit book, and none come free. So I purchased One Day by David Nicholls, and Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. I do intend to purchase them in physical form, but One Day was only a couple dollars, and Sisterhood Everlasting is a year away from coming out in trade paperback.

     I'll be starting with One Day, reading it on my Kobo when out of the house. This will be my first experience reading on a tablet, so I'll let you know how it was when I'm done! Can't wait.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In My Mailbox (1)

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

     So a few weeks ago a won a giveaway from Book ♥ Soulmates: a signed copy of Playing Hurt. I only recently received it in the mail, due to the unfortunate and annoying postal strike, but it's finally here! Like I previously mentioned, I am so excited to read this book ... except I almost don't want to touch it because it's so beautiful. Okay, whatever, I'm a freak, get over it.

     I also received a hand written note from Holly Schindler herself! On personal paper which was such a cute touch! Thank you thank you thank you! Expect a review soon!

Sleep for Success! - Dr. James B. Maas

August 26, 2010

   Given the present, stress-inducing state of the economy and the world, there has never been a better time to provide a wake-up call on how to relax, get centered, get eight hours of sleep, and be happier and more successful. Recent research has shown us that when we get enough sleep, we are able to accomplish more in less time and with less stress and greater health. What if you could take a few small steps every day that would enable you to eventually achieve all these things? You can. In fact, it''s easy. Sleep for Success!, a convincing, psychological approach to changing attitudes and behaviors, is written for anyone who wants to get a great night''s sleep, feel wide awake, and be a peak performer all day. If you''re human, chances are that you are at least somewhat sleep deprived. Sleep for Success! can change your life-literally overnight.(Chapters, CA)

     My dad works in a large prestigious company, and he once had a sleep doctor give a presentation in his office. He came home that night and told us all about what the guy had said, and started listing all the tips and suggestions he had given for better sleep, and how that relates to pretty much every other facet of life from athletic performance to longevity. This sleep doctor was Dr. James B. Maas, who also gives this presentation to Olympic athletes, important business executives, and even on reputable television shows. Sleep for Success! is his second book, and I read the entire thing in a day.

     I have had some sleep problems for the past few years. Usually I’m exhausted if I get less than 12-14 hours of sleep per night, yet I have trouble falling asleep before 2am. Lately I have also been waking up several times every night, and I always want to take naps. After reading this book and seeing the tips, I’m for sure going to work at it, and hopefully my grades will improve, I will lose weight, and eventually need less sleep (all of which is promised to those who follow the rules outlined in the book).

     Since this is the type of book in which you would want me to write spoilers, I’ll just warn you now: the whole post will be spoilers. I won’t go into too much detail, list all the tips, or even discuss all the chapters. I’m only going to be writing stuff that I found relevant and interesting; there’s still a lot in the book to make it worthwhile to pick up yourself.

     If you need an alarm to wake up, it takes you significantly less or more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, or if you are sleepy during the day, then you are sleep deprived. And these days, nearly everyone is.

     First I want to share some interesting facts and statistics mentioned in the book related to sleep deprivation.
          - The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 80 000 sleep-related accidents per day, resulting in 1500 fatalities and 71 000 injuries per year.
          - Your mattress doubles in weight every ten years due to dust mites (ew!)
          - Sleep beginning before midnight is no better than sleep beginning after midnight; it is instead the amount and quality of sleep which matters.
          - You cannot condition yourself to need less sleep.
          - The human body can never adjust to night-shift work.
          - University and high school students' level of alertness equals that of an untreated narcoleptic (someone who is chronically tired and feels the need to sleep all the time no matter how much actual rest they are getting)
          - Driving drowsy is the same as driving drunk; one drink on six hours of sleep is equal to six drinks on eight hours (the recommended average).
          - After 17-19 hours of wakefulness your brain has the same level of activity as someone with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.05. Twenty eight hours of wakefulness results in activity levels equal to a BAC of 0.1.

     Sleep is incredibly important for humans to function properly. More specifically, it is REM sleep that is critical. (I’m not going to explain all about the sleep cycles and brain waves, though it is explained well in the book, so go here to read up on it, probably before continuing to read the review). Briefly: REM sleep occurs every 90 minutes during your sleep cycle, doubling in length each time. This is why hours 6-8 are the most important of the night; they consist almost entirely of REM sleep. If you have to sleep for less than 6 hours, you won’t be getting anything out of the sleep, except I suppose less racking up of your sleep-debt.

     One of the most important aspects of sleep is the fact that your brain is super active. REM sleep is the only time when memory enhancement occurs, and also commits events to long term memory, such as muscle memory from a soccer practice, understanding an impossible physics problem, and even remembering conversations you had during the day with friends and family. Sleep is also known to affect the following things: cancer, heart disease, memory consolidation, concentration, motor skills and coordination, ability to communicate, mood and anxiety, skin, diabetes, weight gain, and illnesses.

     The book talks a lot about sleep time and quality for all the different age groups, but I’m not going to go into that. You’ll just have to read the book yourself. Maas also talks in depth about various sleep disorders, cures and treatments, as well as various helpful and not-so-helpful inventions related to sleep. Something described in his chapter on teens that I do want to mention is that the circadian rythym of teenagers usually allows for sleep during 3 and 11 am. Maas has influenced some schools to postpone the start of the school day, and even just an hour made a huge difference on attitude, grades, athletic performance and health.

     Some of the hints and tips given by Dr. Maas to help get better sleep are as follows.
          - No caffeine after 2pm
          - Cutting back on alcohol (which is not a ‘sleep aid’) and nicotine will help with quality of sleep.
          - You shoud be going to sleep and waking up at the same time everty day, regardless of workdays, weekends or holidays.
          - Determine your personal sleep quotient (explained very well in the book) and meet it every night
          - Get your required amount of sleep in one continuous block, rather than several chunks of sleep.
          - Make up for lost sleep as soon as possible (while still adhering to the guidelines)
          - Avoid boredom
          - As a rule, for every 2 hours of being awake, your body requires 1 hour of sleep. Ergo, every 24 hour period should be spent with 16 hours awake, and 8 hours asleep.
if you don’t get enough sleep, you begin to accumulate sleep-debt. This cannot be “paid off” by sleeping in on the weekends, or having naps all the time.
          - If you absolutely need a nap, it should be between 2:00pm and 4:00pm, and should last either 20 minutes or 90 minutes.
          - The best time to exercise is between 5:00pm and 7:00pm. The worst time is early in the morning. Also a bad time: within 3 hours of bedtime. Sex is the exception: it promotes good quality sleep.
          - Light has the most significant impact on our circadian rythyms by far, so try to avoid bright light – natural or artificial – in the few hours before you plan on going to sleep (especially the blue light of TV and computer screens).
          - One's bedroom environment is very important for quality of sleep. Light, noise and temperature drastically affect sleep. There should be dim lighting in your room, and no electronics. Noise should be kept to below 60dB (also, should be constant white noise, not the TV or radio, and should be turned off after the onset of sleep to avoid waking you up later in lighter stages of sleep). The temperature of your bedroom should be 65 degrees F (use blankets if you really need to, but don’t raise the temperature). Otherwise, your bedroom should not be used for anything other than sleeping (no eating or studying!) and should be relatively empty of decorations (no cluttered dresser or stacks of magazines). Having a bedtime ritual starting 1 hour before you wish to sleep consisting of warm bath/shower, reading for pleasure, mediatiation, no electronics (among other things) is very helpful.
          - Good nighttime snacks: crackers, vegetables, dried fruits and nuts, peanut butter, cereal, oatmeal.
          - Bad nighttime snacks: alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, spicy food, dairy (exception of warm milk), processed foods, garlic, meats.

     I really enjoyed the book; I felt as though it explained simply and interestingly many things which I had been wondering about. There are sleepiness quizzes, extended reading material suggestions, and many helpful tips and explanations geared toward helping you get a better night's sleep. I will definitely be testing this out, and I'll keep you posted on the results!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fireworks Over Toccoa - Jeffrey Stepakoff

March 30, 2010

   An unexpected discovery takes eighty-four-year-old Lily Davis Woodward to 1945, and the five days that forever changed her life. Married for only a week before her husband was sent to fight in WWII, Lily is anxious for his return, and the chance to begin their life together. In honor of the soldiers' homecoming, the small Georgia town of Toccoa plans a big celebration. And Jake Russo, a handsome Italian immigrant, also back from war, is responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned.
   But after a chance encounter in a star-lit field, he steals Lily's heart and soul--and fulfills her in ways her socially-minded, upper-class family cannot. Now, torn by duty to society and her husband--and the poor, passionate man who might be her only true love--Lily must choose between a commitment she's already made and a love she's never known before.(Chapters, CA)

     This book truly moved me, and I am still in complete awe. I almost cannot express how much I loved this book. I might even say it is one of my top five favourites … Not sure if that’s going too far, but I’m so entranced right now, I can’t help but believe so.

     I found the writing style really painted a vivid picture in my head, and I really appreciated having that canvas backing up the love story which was magically unfolding. The characters, Lily and Jake specifically, were so true and feasible/realistic, that I had no problem diving right into their story. I felt so strongly for Lily the whole time, as if I were experiencing the same happiness and struggles, and I really love it when a book can drag me in so profoundly. This is a tear-jerker for sure, and not a read to be passed up ever!

     Oddly, there were small aspects which reminded me of two movies; Titanic and The Notebook (though, they too are amazing stories). The beginning was set up similarly to Titanic, in which a woman and granddaughter stumble across something significant from the former’s past, who then goes on to tell the epic story. Later on, I found Lily’s struggle between two men - obligation versus love – as well as her father’s intervention similar to events in the Notebook. But truthfully, this similarity didn’t detract from the story at all.

     I felt bad for Lily before she met Jake. She just went about her life, dutifully going shopping or cleaning, but not really enjoying it. It was obvious to me that Lily cared for Paul out of duty, not love, and she was stuck in an inescapable rut. The first night they met, Lily had her reservations about Jake, but I was already gunning for them to be together. She kept worrying what would be thought of her; a married woman, having dinner in a secluded field with a sexy male stranger was not considered appropriate behavior. I wanted to reach in and let her know that times change, and in present day, she wouldn’t be made to feel guilty.

     Something I will address is the cheating factor. My personal views vary quite a bit from case to case, but in this particular situation, that aspect of Lily and Jake’s relationship never once entered my mind. Thinking about it now, I still feel the same; when Lily met Jake, she knew immediately there was something very powerful and special about him, which was missing in Paul, and the rest of her life. How could you try to let go of those feelings from that night in the field. It seemed to me almost that her body was reacting instinctively, and only her socially-closed mind was in objection, and love is more important than etiquette.

     I really didn’t agree with Lily’s decision in the end about Paul. I’m sure some of you are aghast at this statement, saying of course she did the right thing, in the end she upheld her commitment to her marriage and blah blah whatever. But I felt it was unfathomably necessary for Lily to end up with Jake. I don’t quite see how Paul’s death caused her to change her mind; she had ultimately decided to leave him, and I don’t see the ‘duty of being a widow’ as any greater than ‘the responsibility of being a wife’. I understand that she didn’t want to tarnish his memory, insult his service in the war, and everything else society would throw at her, but she had already taken that into consideration, and decided to be with Jake anyway. She ended up marrying another anyway, so why couldn’t it have been Jake? I just don’t like it. However, on that note, I loved how real the ending was. It wasn’t predictable, and it really got to me emotionally. (I was sobbing in the middle of the mall as I finished it).

     I was so engrossed in this book, I found it very hard to put down and sleep at night. I was so swept up right there with Lily, that I was just as excited as she to go back to Jake when she eventually had to leave. When she had butterflies, I had butterflies; when she was teary because he created a firework specially for her, so was I; and when they made love, I felt that passion (emotionally of course, I don’t think any book could be that good). And when they didn’t end up together, I was heartbroken, because I had fallen in love with him too.

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