Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Divergent

Divergent, Veronica Roth
Divergent series #1
Young Adult Fiction, Dystopian

Finally. FINALLY.

This was the "I don't want to put it down and you can't make me" kind of book I've been waiting for. I got the boxed set for Christmas and I'm glad the other two books are already waiting in the wings.

There has been a lot of hype over the Divergent series for the last couple of years but I fell down The Hunger Games rabbit hole instead. One of my book club friends actually described Divergent as "The Hunger Games with more rules." She wasn't too far off. There are a lot of similarities and Divergent is pretty formulaic. All the usual YA tropes are there: a teenager who has some special skills, doesn't fit in with her peers, gets separated from her family, and is the only one who can save them all. Unlike The Hunger Games, however, there is no annoying love triangle and Tris, the main character, is more relatable than Katniss. 

At first, I will admit that I was underwhelmed and thought the premise was kind of stupid. The series is set in a dystopian Chicago where everyone is separated into one of five factions according to their dominant personality trait. Tris has the dilemma of not fitting into just one faction, making her "divergent." The factions came about as a way to maintain peace but this seemed like an oversimplification of complex issues to me, and the idea that people can be classified according to just one trait seemed ridiculous. But as I kept reading, it all came together. We meet Tris just as she turns sixteen. She's had a very sheltered upbringing and her understanding of her world is pretty limited. Since the novel is told from her perspective, our understanding is limited too and it grows with her. I appreciated that.

I took a bit of a break to read Freakonomics but I'm already itching to get back to this series and find out what happens next. I love it when a book lives up to its hype and this one was a definite winner!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: What to Expect The Second Year

What to Expect The Second Year, Heidi Murkoff 

Non-fiction, reference, parenting

Sometimes it feels like my daughter went from a sweet, immobile little baby to a full blown toddler over night. Suddenly, she's throwing food on the floor, getting into every nook and cranny she can find, and mimicking us saying "nonono" as she does the exact thing we'd tell her not to do. At first, it was a little overwhelming; just when we thought we had the whole baby thing figured out, we were back in uncharted territory.

I picked up WTE The Second Year from the library looking for some comfort and guidance. It's always reassuring to know that my kid is perfectly normal and that it's all a phase. I already knew that, of course, but it always helps to see it in print! I was particularly interested in a few specific things:
  • Dental hygiene. We were already brushing before bed most nights but I wanted to get into a more consistent, twice a day routine with an upgrade from her baby brush.
  • Eating habits. Between the food throwing, the lack of interest in cow's milk, and the 20th percentile weight she's been maintaining for a looooooong time, I had some concerns.
  • Behaviour/discipline. I know how to deal with teenagers since that's my job, but I wanted some tips on setting a good foundation and managing behaviour at this age.
The book addressed all of those and much more. It was actually very reassuring to know that we are mostly doing the "right" things, we just need to keep going. As fas the behaviour aspect, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of what I already do in the classroom with teenagers applies to toddlers as well, just heavily simplified.

It was really helpful to learn how toddlers think at this age. For instance, they have a hard time sharing because they don't understand the concept of ownership yet. The book explains how their understanding of those concepts develop and gives some strategies for helping them learn. That stuff was very interesting to me and I feel that having a better idea of where A's frustrations come from can help me manage expectations and potential tantrums a little better. In that sense, I came away from this book feeling more confident and prepared.

The WTE books seem to get a bad rap, especially the pregnancy one, but I have to admit that I don't mind them. Their format can be obnoxious, sure, and they are written as if they are Cosmo articles in book form. But the information is good and thorough, which is the most important thing to me. That's why I keep coming back to them. WTE The Second Year is a good reference for this stage of development and worth checking out.

For more insight into toddler tantrums, I'd also recommend Dr. Harvey Karp's The Happiest Toddler On The Block. I'm not planning on a separate post for that because I didn't actually read the book. My library only had the dvd so I watched that instead. It was also very helpful. We don't really do the caveman thing with A, which is the main "gimmick" of this book/video, but there is a lot of useful information about the toddler mindset and managing tantrums. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Revisiting The Tried and True

Back in my student days, I had a bit of a summer reading ritual: as soon as school was done for the summer months, I was off to the library to pick up something by John Irving or Graham Greene, two of my favourite authors. My goal was to eventually work my way through all of their books. Since then, life has gotten in the way and I am behind with a lot of my favourites so I decided it was time to do something about it. It's been a pretty mediocre year so far and I'm hoping that revisiting some of my old favourites will help turn things around.

Here's who/what I'm planning to catch up on in the coming months:

  • John Irving, though I haven't decided which book yet. He may also be publishing a new one in the fall, which I'm very excited about.
  • Graham Greene, either The Third Man or Travels With My Aunt.
  • Alice Munro, Dear Life
  • Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed
  • Judy Blume, In The Unlikely Event. I'm so excited for this one! Here's a great interview with Blume about this novel/
  • Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point. Oddly enough, I have yet to read to his very first book.
  • Michael Ondaatje, not sure whether to go with something old or something new yet.
  • Something fun by Sophie Kinsella
  • Agatha Christie, the first book in the Miss Marple series.
That list may be a little too ambitious but we'll see how far I get. There's one favourite missing from the list because she's actually already been done this year (The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver). That's a good start, right? 

I've also been dipping into multiple series in the last little while so next time I feel like a good, long, meaty read, I might just tackle the next book in the Outlander or Song of Ice and Fire series. But first, something new: I'll be starting Divergent in the next few days. I've been looking forward to it so here's hoping it lives up to the hype!

Who are some of your favourites? What/who do you go for when you want to guarantee a good read?