New Fiction Friday: The Great Zoo of China

IMG_0523I am a huge fan of Michael Crichton’s books. I loved Jurassic Park, and Timeline.  I don’t read much in that genre, but just got done reading The Great Zoo of China. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was excited to read it, the back of the book compared it to Michael Crichton’s writing.

So if in Jurassic Park, scientists had been able to recreate dinosaurs, in the Great Zoo of China, scientists were able to recreate dragons. Sound crazy? It is. I had a hard time really getting into the book, scientists had been able to recreate dinosaurs in Chriton’s world, because they had actually once existed – and they had some type of DNA to build upon. Dinosaurs are mythical creatures, so this book takes a great leap of faith in the possibility of of dinosaurs once existing – but being recreated in the present day.

9781476749570_p0_v1_s260x420In the beginning of the book is a comparison of China to some of the great things about the U.S. The question is posed: Is there anything unique about China? The scientists behind the zoo believe that this zoo could be that great thing – to compete with something like Disneyworld. There wouldn’t be anything like it in the world.  This was probably the most interesting part of the book to me, and somewhat true too.

Their theory is that dragons had been able to stay alive since the Jurassic period (and also that dinosaurs and dragons are kind of cousins) because they had hibernated underground. Dragons were discovered in China, and some of the best scientists from around the world were brought in to design and build the zoo, and care for the animals. They had kept the zoo a secret for 40 years, and when they believed the zoo was ready for visitors, a group of scientists, dignitaries, and special guests were invited for the unveiling.

“What precisely is a dragon? The answer is actually quite simple. The animal we know as a dragon is a dinosaur, a most unique kind of dinosaur that survived the meteor impact that condemned the rest of its species to extinction.”

Believing in a zoo filled with dragons requires a leap, and when I began reading the book, I made that leap. I could kind of go along with the idea that there was a zoo filled with different types of dragons, but not what happened next.  It definitely wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. At the end I thought, it actually wasn’t that good at all.  I’m still looking for the next Crichton – I just haven’t found him yet!


Gardening with Kids

unnamed-1This year, for only the second time, I’m trying my hand at gardening.  I’ve always wanted a garden – to grow tomatoes, zucchini, squash, of my own, but have never had a back yard.  I still don’t, but I started with container gardening last year and ended up having so many tomatoes I didn’t know what to do with them all!  I’m trying it again this year, and now that my daughter is 4, she is more interested in helping.  I tried to get her interested last year but she definitely didn’t want to get her hands dirty!!  This year she helped to plant our seedlings, and loves helps watering everything.  No telling if she’ll actually eat what comes out of our garden though!!

Last year we discovered the Patio Picker, a container-type garden, that allows you to grow more than one veggie plant at a time.  If you’re interested, it’s super easy to use and actually does yield great veggies, and we bought it at Lowe’s for about $40.  We grew tomatoes, jalapeños, and cucumbers last year.  This year we’re getting more ambitious – growing tomatoes and jalapeños again, but trying squash, zucchini, and basil too.  I have dreams of making salsa, marinara, pesto, with ingredients from my unnamed-2garden.  We’ll see how that goes though!

Before starting our garden a couple weeks ago, we checked out a few books about gardening from the library.  These books helped to get her more excited about helping out in the garden – and helped her to understand how things grow.

Frog and Toad Together – Arnold Lobel

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt – Kate Messner

The Carrot Seed – Ruth Krauss

The Curious Garden – Peter Brown

Planting a Rainbow – Lois Ehlert

The Tiny Seed – Eric Carle

Jack’s Garden – Henry Cole

If you haven’t started your garden yet, there’s still time.  I already have my first tomato – it’s tiny and green, but I’m happy!  If you have a helper like mine, these books are perfect!

Brave Girl Eating

9780061725487_p0_v1_s260x420Brave Girl Eating, written by Harriet Brown, is an incredible book about one family’s struggle with an eating disorder.  This book was absolutely terrifying – which was probably not Brown’s attention. I know my daughter is only 4, but I fear the teenage years.  What Brown faced with her daughter is so scary – and the story she tells in the book is one the whole family experienced.  The title suggests that it was her daughter who was the brave one, but I believe it was really her (the mom’s) bravery and determination that got her family through this tough time. She followed a course that even her daughter’s doctors didn’t really support. But they did it, with the help of her husband they were able to help their daughter heal.

“I’ve never had anorexia, but I know it well. I see it on the street, in the gaunt and sunken face, the bony chest, the spindly arms of an emaciated woman. I’ve come to recognize the flat look of despair, the hopelessness that follows, inevitably, from years of starvation. I think: That could have been my daughter. It wasn’t. It’s not. If I have anything to say about it, it won’t be.”

Yet, somehow, her daughter did develop anorexia, and like most parents is completely baffled. How did this happen, and how were they going to get through it?? As their daughter developed an eating disorder, which didn’t exactly happen over night, there seemed to be a period of denial. As their 14 year old daughter diminished physically and emotionally, she and her husband weren’t sure what to do – and had a hard time accepting what was really happening.  After the realization that this was indeed a problem to be solved, and tackled together, they set out on a course of treatment.

The scary part of dealing with eating disorders is how dangerous they can be. Her 14 year old was hospitalized and placed in the ICU. Hers is not an extreme case of anorexia, this seems common among those who suffer from the disease. Brown mentions that it can be the most deadly psychiatric disease. Not only is the death rate among those suffering incredibly high (20%, she reports), but the rate of recovery is low, and those who do make a full recovery face a lifetime of struggle.

The disease itself, as are other eating disorders, is incredibly complex. Making diagnosis and treatment even more challenging. What doctors were recommending were for her daughter to be in a full-time inpatient facility. And she just couldn’t do it. She wanted to trust their advice, but as a mother she wanted to be with her daughter.  As a journalist, she had done the research – read just about everything there was out there on the disorder. She and her husband decided on a “refeeding” process, that was probably the most dififcult thing they will face as parents.

The refeeding process was arduous – feeding someone who doesn’t want to eat is not easy. Though she and her husband were responsible for making sure she was eating (and quite a bit, their goals was to make her regain the weight she had lost), it was closely monitored by their daughter’s doctors. There were weekly weigh-ins, causing anxiety about the progress they had possibly made.  I loved reading this story.  Although quite a different weight battle than what Andie Mitchell wrote about in It Was Me All Along, that we reviewed here not too long ago, it shows that body image is something that so many women struggle with.

The One and Only Ivan

9780061992278_p0_v1_s260x420I recently picked up The One and Only Ivan, written by Katherine Applegate.  She has written a variety of books for a variety of audiences – and I loved this one.  This is the story about Ivan, a silverback gorilla, living in a Washington state suburban mall.  I don’t know why I was so surprised in loving this book. Ivan was such a sad, lonely, gorilla – but was the bright spot in the lives of his friends. The other animals in the mall suffered the same fate he did. I think that the most shocking part of the book was that Ivan was a real gorilla, who lived in a cage inside a mall in Tacoma, Washington for 27 years. It’s incredibly sad, and when he came from African (born in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the 1960s, attitudes and beliefs about animals were quite different.

“I used to be a wild gorilla, and I still look the part. I have a gorilla’s shy gaze, a gorilla’s sly smile. I wear a snowy saddle of fur, the uniform of a silverback. When the sun warms my back, I cast a gorilla’s majestic shadow. In my size humans see a test of themselves. They hear fighting words on the wind, when all I’m thinking is how the late-day sun reminds me of a ripe nectarine.”

We know so much more about animals today, their behaviors, their habitats, their needs. People began to protest Ivan’s living conditions.  Eventually he made his way to Zoo Atlanta, and there he spent the rest of his life. For this book, Katherine Applegate created a life for Ivan, with two very special friends – Stella, an elephant, and Bob, a small stray dog. Although Ivan did live with other animals at that mall in Tacoma, these characters were fictional.

For Ivan, Applegate was awarded the Newbury Medal. There is another book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, that she wrote for younger readers. It was hard for my daughter to understand Ivan’s situation, and this book was equally sad. I think it’s an important story, but it’s hard for young readers to understand.  It’s actually hard for me to understand why someone kept poor Ivan in a cage for so long!  Both are great books though, and I enjoyed both of them.  Hopefully, even though these were written for young audiences, readers can learn from the important lesson of treating animals with respect. And readers of all ages can enjoy this story of Ivan’s imprisonment, and eventual freedom.  There are a few other books of hers that I’m now putting on my to be read list.


Shelter Bay

Shelter Bay is another series I happened upon while searching the paperbacks at the library.  This small town on the Oregon coast is populated by some interesting characters including several former military men, well sort of former.  If you’ve ever known a Marine you know there is no former about it, “Once a Marince, always a Marine” after all. 🙂  Now not all of the men in town are former military and those that are aren’t all “former” Marines, but it is a strong story.

9780451230676_p0_v1_s260x420The first book: The Homecoming is the story of exactly that Navy SEAL Sax Douchett is back in his hometown of Shelter Bay, Oregon.  He has brought along some friends with him, sort of.  Sax has come back to discover the girl he loved in high school who was spoken for by a friend of his is now a widow and the town’s police chief.  Together they solve a cold case all the while trying to decide if they can be more than just the friends they once were.

One Summer introduces Gabriel St. James, a friend of Sax’s older brother Cole.  This “former” Marine photojournalist has been traveling the country taking pictures for a new book.  He stops off in Shelter Bay to do a favor and take pictures at Cole’s wedding.  Before he can leave he comes across an abandoned dog and then meets veterinarian Charity Tiernan.  In a plot that appears in many books they agree to a no strings attached affair that as natural develops strings.  The standard plot however doesn’t take away from the story.  The introduction of Charity’s mom adds to the fun.

9780451234001_p0_v1_s260x420On Lavender Lane is the story of Lucas Chaffee, Charity’s former stepbrother, and his long lost love Madeline Durand.  Maddy and her husband are well known chefs, he for his restaurants and she for her cooking show.  Then famous becomes infamous when her husband is caught in a viral video en flagrante with another woman.  Maddy returns to Shelter Bay to lick her wounds and plan the rest of her life only to come face to face with the man who broke her heart Lucas.  This time Lucas is determined to win and keep Maddy, the question is can she ever forgive him?

Moonshell Beach brings home J.T. Douchett, the youngest brother.  A “former” Marine haunted by his last job in the service he has been asked to help guard movie star/screen writer Mary Joyce when she visits town for a film festival.  From what I understand Mary was a side/background character in JoAnn Ross’s Castlelough trilogy, which I can not unfortunately find in print or ebook through my local library.  I may have to break down and buy them.  No surprise Mary and JT are confronted with a strong attraction to each other from the start but fight it.  The story takes us from Shelter Bay to Castlelough in Ireland.

9780451235435_p0_v1_s260x420Sea Glass Winter, book number 5, has two newcomers to town finding their way in town and with a common challenge.  Claire Templeton has moved to Shelter Bay to get her fifteen year old son, Matt, away from the trouble he’s gotten into in LA.  New basketball coach and former EOD (Exoplosive Ordinance Disposal, in other words military) specialist Dillon Slater has signed on as basketball coach at Shelter Bay high school.  Matt, a basketball phenom, demonstrates an attitude and ego to match  that sends Dillon to Claire’s door.  Gun shy about relationships Claire is a bit overwhelmed by the attention she gets from Dillon.  He’s ready to play for keeps is she?

The last full novel in the Shelter Bay series is Castaway Cove.  This story brings together two people who have each been through their own painful divorce.  Mac Culhane has left behind the military in time to be left in charge of a daughter he barely knows as his wife takes off.  He brings his daughter and moves in with his father in Shelter Bay.  Mac takes on the job of night DJ on the local radio station.  While visiting his grandfather in the memory care wing of the local senior living center he runs into Annie Shephard owner of the new scrapbook store in town.  While taken with Annie, Mac is hesitant to get in too deep which works well for Annie because after her own divorce she’s not sure she wants to get involved at all.  Nothing deters Mac’s daughter however who has decided Annie should be her new mom.

9780451240002_p0_v1_s260x420There are two novellas in the SB series, news to me I thought there was only one, off to put the new one on hold.  The first is in a multi-author Christmas compilation: Christmas on Main Street.  I was excited to check it out and read the story of Cole Douchett and Kelly who is his fiancee then wife when we meet them in the series.  I also was excited to pick it up as there is a novella in the book by Alexis Morgan that takes place in her Snowberry Creek Series.  The new novella is you again, can’t tell you anything about it right now as I haven’t read it yet but I’m sure I’m going to love it. Shelter Bay is like so many other series based in small towns, you get to know more than the main characters.  There is always catching up to do with former MCs and new people to meet.  I’m really hoping JoAnn Ross writes another full novel set in this little town.


New Fiction Friday: Noggin

9781442458734_p0_v2_s260x420<a href=”″>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

While browsing through Barnes and Noble the cover of Noggin caught my eye. And by “browsing”, I mean I saw it on my way to the kids section, my daughter’s hand in one hand, and a caramel latte in the other.  On the cover is what appears to be a Ken doll – it’s something that caught my daughter’s eye too. She cracked up when I told her the name of the book was noggin!! I’m not sure what I expected after picking the book up, but I was pleasantly surprised. Travis Coates, aka “Noggin”, is a special kid. As a teenager, he developed Lukemia, and after rounds of treatment, it became untreatable. In a science fiction twist, doctors were able to save his head, and cryogenically froze it.

IMG_0523So, his head is frozen in the hopes that soon there will be a transplant – a full body transplant, possibly the first of its kind.  This is a leap of faith that he must make – with the permission and blessing of his parents. All of this has happened before the book begins, the book begins after his head has been successfully transplanted onto a donor body, and Travis is awake and alive again. What happens after that is the real challenge – embarking on a new adventure, a whole new life.

“Listen – I was alive once and then I wasn’t. Simple as that. Now I’m alive again. The in-between part is still a little fuzzy, but I can tell you that, at some point or another, my head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado.”

After being cryogenically frozen for 5 years, and a miraculous transplant, Travis is back. He had been 16 when the surgery first took place, now his best friends and classmates are 21, and he’s still 16. Being a teenager is hard, but being a teenager twice is even worse.  That’s one of the hardest parts for him. That, and the fact that his parents are not exactly the same either.

I really enjoyed this story – and Travis’s ability to adapt to his new world.  He’s incredibly resilient and brave, as he reclaims his life.  Part of the ending was somewhat predictable – though none of the rest of the story was.  The premise of the story is incredibly creative and inventive, and now I’ll be looking forward to reading John Corey Whaley’s other books.

The Tao of Martha

9781101897430_p0_v1_s260x420I am a huge fan of Jen Lancaster – huge!  I can’t wait for her latest project, I Regret Nothing, which is set for release this week!  Last year I read The Tao of Martha, and just re-read and found it equally hilarious the second time.  I needed something funny – and she never disappoints.

Who is not in awe of Martha Stewart?  Ok, so maybe not everyone, but I am, and so is Jen, and that’s how this book started out.  It started out kinda like a New Year’s resolution.  For an entire year, she would do as Martha would.  Fletch (her husband) thinks it’s like a craft project – but it became so much more than that.  Like her other books, this is written as a series of essays.  She tells stories of the various projects she took on during the year of Martha.

“I realize Martha Stewart isn’t everyone icon, but she is mine. I love her because instead of lording her superior skills over everyone and making them feel bad about themselves, she’s out there breaking it all down for even the least talented among us. Had I thought to consult her guides, the curtain project truly would have taken two hours and not two months” – page 25.

9780451417640_p0_v1_s260x420One of her first projects is an easy one, cleaning out some desk drawers.  Through multiple moves, somehow the same stuff ended up in her drawers – shameful, yet hilarious!  Just a few of the things she found – a slightly used flea collar, 14 dead batteries, three empty rolls of Scotch tape, 8 unmatched Barbie shoes and 2 Barbie hats (yet she has no children), a flip phone that hadn’t been used in almost 10 years, 15 used Kleenexes.

After buying their dream house, one of her goals was to start her own garden, which proved to be a lot harder than she thought.  A green thumb she was not – and the stories about her gardening attempts are hilarious.  And all she wanted was some damn zucchini!

One fave project – Crocktober.  First, to figure out how to use the crock pot  that sat for years in her kitchen without being used.  She searched and searched for the cord to plug it in with, and used that as the excuse for not having used it all that time.  It turns out, as Fletch cleverly points out, the crock pot had a handy feature that stored the cord coiled on the bottom.  This totally sounds like something I could do.

I love Jen, and I love Martha – one has the power to inspire (and humble) – the other the power of humor (and sarcasm).  I’ve been channeling my inner Martha lately (which has brought my inner Jen) with Spring cleaning and a few gardening projects.  I finally yesterday had my carpets cleaned, completing the Martha Stewart Spring cleaning checklist I used.  I’m done just in time for husband’s homecoming, and some summer visitors.  Now I’m ready for her new book – and more comic relief!