Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: King of the Mild Frontier

When my young-at-heart book club offered up a memoir by YA novelist Chris Crutcher, I told them to brace themselves for foul language. Hmm. Where did that come from? I couldn't remember a single title I had read by him but seemed to remember reading him over a decade ago. I just had it in my mind that he used foul language in his books.

Imagine my surprise as I began reading King of the Mild Frontier only to realize that it was the very Crutcher book I had read (actually listened to, as I can remember the roads I was traversing while listening) all those years ago. It was delightfully funny and didn't contain near as much cursing as I had anticipated (although he does talk about his penchant for cursing and the essential battle over whether to include such language in his young adult novels). Plus, it had the added benefit of reflections on the act of writing. He talks about what led him to become a storyteller and gave several insights into incidents which made their way into his books.

Chris Crutcher grew up in Cascade, Idaho. His stories are certain to tickle your funny bone. I was so amused by his tale of attempting to eliminate a gigantic zit prior to a Christmas dance that I had to read it aloud to both my husband and my oldest son and his girlfriend. They chuckled along with me. He tells of growing up with a brother who could talk him into anything (like target practice with a BB gun and him as the moving target or peeing into the house's radiator). He draws the reader in with tales of unrequited love, school time pranks, and horrifying initiations. Laced among the stories are nuggets of wisdom.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this a second time around. I don't know if I'll ever seek out one of his young adult novels, but it was good to read about the process of writing them and attempting to ferret out truth to convey. If you're needing a good laugh, this is a great memoir to fit the bill. And if you're a writer needing a good laugh and some insights into the process of writing a good story, well it serves as an instruction manual, as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: My Emily

It was the cover of this e-book which drew me in. I loved the poignant photos of this little girl with Down's Syndrome. I don't think I realized it would be about a battle with leukemia (something which hits close to home because my own niece, Amelia, battled ALL - acute lymphoid leukemia - and is now a survivor for over 5 years). I don't think I realized it would be so sad.

Matt Patterson's beautiful first-born daughter was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome at birth. If that wasn't enough of an obstacle, she developed ALL around the age of two (same age Amelia was diagnosed). Although they were able to get Emily to remission, within a short amount of time the cancer returned. It is a quick read and a beautiful story of a father's love for his daughter and his journey through the dark days of a battle with cancer.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tiny World Photography

It has been a while since I've highlighted an admired photographer. But, when I saw a link for a Bored Panda article on this photographer named Samsofy, I wanted to share. He is an expert at creating microcosms and plays with scale to alter perceptions. Here are a few of my favorites of his humorous photos:

For more of his perspective shots, you can read the Bored Panda article here or visit his website here. Trevor would have loved hanging a few of these in his room back in his super heroes phase (like the one with Superman holding up a metal grate). Which ones are your favorites?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Best Laid Plans

Don't ya love it when a plan comes together? Don't ya hate it when a wrinkle in the plan sabotages everything? Yep. That's where we're at for now.

Way back on Valentine's Day, hubby took me furniture shopping. Our original plan was to find something to replace the ancient couch and chairs in our sun room (this is the place where we all gather when my large family descends upon us in December, so it is essential to have comfortable seating options). Thus, we started at the furniture resale stores, hoping to find something second hand which would do the job. We ended up finding a really lovely new reclining sofa/love seat set at a different store. Thinking the new set would be too nice to use for the sun room, we decided to put the new set in the living room and shift our tan sofa and chair set into the sun room. The perfect plan.

First, we waited and waited for the furniture to be delivered. Two separate delivery dates were set and scuttled, thanks to delays on the store end. When the set finally arrived on Tuesday, we discovered a giant glitch in the perfect plan. The tan set cannot be moved into the sun room because of the new sliding glass doors we had installed about a year ago. The couch is about an inch and a half too big. Goodwill picked up the old furniture on the porch/sun room on Wednesday. Now we are stuck with the couch and recliner in the dining room (awaiting a decision on where they will go).

We thought about moving the couch from our guest room into the sun room, but that one is patterned and not the best match for the other sun room furniture (two old orange - yes, you read that right, orange recliners). There's an old neutral couch in the basement (a room we hope to turn into a gaming room for the younger boys once they reach middle school), but it is almost too heavy to move (seriously, it is like the thing is made out of bricks). So, for now, we are inundated with furniture in our front rooms and don't know how long this situation will last before we resolve the furniture dilemma.

The shifting couch dilemma is compounded by the entertainment center dilemma. We had one of those old giant oak entertainment centers in the living room. It matched the oak desk nicely and fit with the rest of the furniture, but hubby hated the whole wall being crammed with furniture.

He also thought the entertainment center was out of style. Thus, he purchased a sleek glass t.v. stand and a newer flat-screen television to replace the old behemoth in the photo. We shifted the oak clunker to the dining room awaiting its sale on Craigslist. Alas, no one is buying the outdated entertainment centers, so as expected, it failed to sell. Thus, it is in the dining room as well (you might wonder how we can even eat with so much furniture crammed into this room, but it is spacious enough to still leave room for comfortable eating around the table).

I hate the new t.v. stand. It shows every drop of dust moments after dusting it. Moreover, with fewer shelves, it didn't allow enough room to leave our old turntable record player plugged in (yes, we still have one of those and records to go with it, not that we use it, as my husband is keen to point out). I'm not a fashion-conscious individual, so I'm trying to convince him to move the big, old oak piece back into the living room and shift the t.v. stand into the boy's room (currently crammed with a daybed with trundle, a captain's bed and a bunk bed set, which we are attempting to sell, as well). Alas, until the bunk bed goes, we cannot shift the t.v. stand or the oak entertainment center. So, we are stuck with furniture all over the place, basically.

We don't have a showcase home. Thankfully, we're not the type who entertain. Apart from school friends who come over, we never invite people over. Still, it's going to be a bit uncomfortable to have all this shifting furniture taking up space until we sort the whole thing out. It almost makes me laugh.

The plans certainly have "gone awry," but in light of recent days, we can thankfully look at the furniture issue as a mere wrinkle. My mother went into the emergency room this past weekend with chest pains radiating into her chin. They kept her over the weekend and finally, after performing a heart catheterization, discovered a blockage in an artery to the heart and were able to put in a stent. The doctor said that if they hadn't found this at this time, she would have certainly suffered a heart attack. We are so grateful for the doctor's intervention.

There was a brief period where she was very confused and I was concerned that she had suffered a stroke. The thought of not being able to communicate clearly with my mom was a significant blow and I was reeling. I was also thanking the Lord for our recent trip down to visit my parents in Florida over spring break. A reminder that you never know when life will take you down a different path and things will change forever. Thus, the furniture is an inconvenience that will eventually get sorted. Despite our plans going awry, we have much to be grateful for and I'm going to give my mother a gigantic hug the next time I see her (hopefully soon, as they often come in June). And, as an added bonus, she'll have lots of seating options when she comes - ha!
Wrote the above post on Thursday. Today, all is well again. We were able to move the tan furniture into the guest room (where it has produced a cozy little reading nook in one corner which I certainly expect to utilize fully). The older couch in the guest room easily fit through the sliding doors to go in the sun room and a couch cover makes it a decent match. Hubby still won't agree to give me back my huge entertainment center (is simply going to donate it to Goodwill), but it was a good thing we still had all those beds in the little boys' room for a sleepover Trevor hosted last night. Also, called my mother yesterday and she is doing really well. So the plans all went well after all, just not as anticipated. As ever, learning to go with the flow.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: Expectation Hangover

I've been dealing with some periods of extensive discouragement lately. Most of it centers on frustrations with my writing. Some of it comes from disappointment with how my life is going (especially as I approach a significant birthday). Thus, I leaped at the chance to secure this book, by Christine Hassler, from the library.  Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life is a book about just such periods of disillusionment.

We build up such expectations for what our lives will amount to and then when life hands us less than what we envisioned, we feel let down. For me, this was probably exacerbated by my near-death experience as a toddler. I was always assured that there was a reason God stepped in and miraculously brought me back from the brink. Surely, there was a greater purpose that He intended to accomplish in and through me. Was that purpose simply for me to bear the three gifts of my sons or is there something still in the works for me to pursue? I don't know.

Hassler does a great job of helping the reader to visualize the changes she suggests. She paints vivid word pictures and structures these pictures effectively. Basically, she encourages the reader to see themselves as relying on four internal mechanisms labelled the "surfer" (who assists in riding the waves of emotions), the "horseback rider" (who silences the inner critic - "whoa" - and redirects), the "scientist" (who analyzes the situation completely and sets in place actions to make changes), and the "seeker" (who nurtures your spiritual side as it relates to the tangible life experiences you are going through).

I, personally, felt the voice of the book to be a bit too new-age for my tastes. A "Higher Power" is invoked, with whatever name you wish to use. The meditative exercises often were prefaced with the encouragement to make statements like "May only that which is for my Higher Good come forward." But the value of the insights outweighed the jargon and style of suggested meditative exercises. I certainly needed the particular chapter which highlighted finding your inner superpowers (the things which give you the biggest charge and joy). I benefited from the encouragement to look beyond the discouragement for the lesson hidden in the trials. So, there is good to be gleaned, even if you don't particularly see eye-to-eye with the author's generalized presentation (basically saying "call it whatever you need to call it in order to get it done").

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: Countdown

After my extreme disappointment over the Newbery winner, Criss Cross, I am wondering why this book by Deborah Wiles didn't rack up any awards. While both Criss Cross and Countdown take place in the 1960's, this book offers a far more interesting, detailed, and engaging story than found in Criss Cross. It was extremely well done and I cannot praise it enough.

Wiles skillfully weaves a story of a conflict between Franny Chapman and her neighbor and long-time best friend, Margie, into the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I'm so glad I listened to this in audio form, because I think it thoroughly enhanced the scrapbook feel of the book. In between portions of narrative, you hear snippets of news bites, song lyrics, and advertisements of the time. With a prevailing theme of what to do in case of an atomic bomb detonation ("duck and cover"), the various soundbites enhance the suspense of the story and the emotional pull of both internal and external conflict. This was a tense moment in history, and the story of Frannie and Margie parallels the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. The takeaway was extremely valuable as the reader is reminded that our humanity unites us and it is imperative to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.

The Amazon link identifies Countdown as the first in the Sixties Trilogy. Therefore, I am assuming there will be two more similar books available. The second book, called Revolution, which came out last year, apparently highlights the "Freedom Summer." I was thrilled to discover that our library has that book in audio form as well (and that book also includes snippets of historic coverage).

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: The Bone Clocks

I love it when I find other bloggers who tend to like the same kinds of books that I like. I always look forward to their recommendations and plan much of my to-be-read list based on suggestions gleaned from other book review bloggers I trust. Therefore, I had high hopes for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. In her blog review of the book, Catherine, of A Spirited Mind blog, labelled it one of her favorite books from 2014. Alas, there are times when even kindred spirits have vastly different experiences with a book. Sadly, I find I am not a huge fan of this book.

It pulled me in right away with the story of fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes who is running away to join her boyfriend. Her plans are dashed when she finds him with her best friend. She takes off on her own, intending to make her way in the world rather than trudge home like a dog with its tail between its legs. However, soon after her departure, she is called home when her younger brother disappears. Okay, I am thoroughly hooked now. In the background we have the information that Holly hears voices and entertains spectral visitors from time to time and the compelling detail that Holly saw the image of her brother on the very night he supposedly disappeared. So far so good.

The novel is structured in six parts, with Holly's story framing the first and last perspective pieces and four other characters rounding out their perspectives in the middle. I found the shifts to another perspective to be difficult to follow at the outset of each section. Moreover, the section on the author Crispin Hershey felt entirely unnecessary to the development of the story and a bit too much like the author imposing himself into the story (since Crispin is an author who is having a hard time following up on a wildly successful novel and is embittered by the critical reviews his work receives). Even more perplexing, the point-of-view seemed to shift between third person and first person throughout that whole section. For example: "Two bikes are leaning against the lighthouse when Crispin Hershey finally arrives, which displeases him. I dismount, sticky with sweat ..." (the him and the I both refer to Crispin, yet why must his entire section confuse the reader by referring to himself in the third person and then switching back to first person?) Here it occurs within the space of one sentence: "Back in his hotel room on the twenty-ninth floor, Crispin Hershey showers away his sticky day and flumps back onto his snowy bed, clad in boxers and a T-shirt emblazoned with Beckett's 'fail better' quote I was given in Santa Fe." (Grrr!) The only thing I can think is that the author is trying to make a point of this character's inflated view of himself, which leads him to refer to himself frequently in the third person. Crispin's story was tiresome, whiny, and well ... unnecessary to the plot development.

I also failed to be sucked in for the section featuring Hugo Lamb, an unscrupulous Cambridge student who eventually joins the dark side in this tale of good vs. evil. His life intersects with Holly's and his character is indeed pertinent to the story line about the psychic activity going on in Holly's world, but it felt like a window on boys behaving badly (his drunken buddies bring home some women and are shocked to discover that they are prostitutes now expecting exorbitant payment).

To be frank, the further I got into the book, the less I liked it. It was hard to follow and had so much going on that it truly was a puzzle as the front flap of the book asserts: "Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together." For me, it felt like the novel was just all over the place. Yes, the characters were well-drawn and yes, the story had a beginning, middle, and end, but figuring everything out was more work than I wanted to put in.

I guess it also felt a bit like a gavel to me. The author spent so much time presenting opinions about the world and how it is going and where it is headed. Political perspectives were explored concerning numerous countries and policies. Mankind was portrayed as sucking all the resources dry without really putting anything of value back into the world. In the end, the world decays into a barren wasteland full of bandits. Even though the story returns to Holly Sykes, I didn't care for the resolution.

I'm sure we will have an interesting discussion on the book for our book club gathering. Perhaps the other women in the group feel more in line with Catherine's perspective and see great depths in the novel to plumb and dissect. For me, it was a bit of a let-down, since I had really anticipated enjoying this novel. So many others, like Catherine, gave it rave reviews. Again, the inside flap declares, "An eloquent conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist, David Mitchell has become one of the leading literary voices of his generation." The Washington Post calls him "the novelist who's been showing us the future of fiction." I guess, I just don't get it. I guess it was simply too deep for me to keep track of and glean anything of value from. Mea culpa.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

I don't always write up reviews for the books I read aloud to Sean and Trevor, but this was too good a book to ignore. We thoroughly enjoyed the read and have been thinking and talking about it ever since we finished it. Moreover, at the end of the book, in an author's note, Chris Grabenstein mentions that there was an additional puzzle in the book that wasn't in the story and he welcomes readers to write to him with the solution, when they find it. Oh, how I want to discover the puzzle and the solution (you can find an additional hint here). Oh, how I want to write to him triumphantly with the answer (even though the contest for figuring out the solution has come and gone). Alas, for now, we cannot ferret it out.

When Kyle Keeley fails to give his best to an essay contest, he is sure that he will not win a place at the opening night lock-in at Mr. Lemoncello's new library. Surprisingly, his weak effort is rewarded, but that is only the beginning of the story. Now that the grand and illustrious library has been unveiled, the group of twelve twelve-year-olds invited to the lock-in find they must play a game in order to escape from the library before time ticks out. Packed with clues and rebus puzzles, the story brings the reader along as the children attempt to figure out the only possible exit. Sean was thoroughly enthralled and eager to figure out the keys to the mystery. Plus, we loved hearing all the references to books we know of or have read. Sean marveled at how current the book was.

When we completed the story, Sean declared it to be one of his top five favorite books. Here are his favorites in order: 1) The Harry Potter series (which we are reading again for the umpteenth time), 2) The Just Grace series, 3) The Boys Against the Girls series, 4) The Ivy and Bean series, and 5) Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (the only stand-alone book). While I wouldn't put the book in my top five, it was still an outstanding read, full of intrigue and suspense. A great book for bibliophiles and a great book to keep the brain working over the summer break from school.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Review: Criss Cross

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins, was a 2005 Newbery Award winner. The Horn Book wrote of it: "Like a lazy summer day, the novel induces that exhilarating feeling that one has all the time in the world." I guess my perception of it was a bit different.  It did meander like a lazy summer day. It was an okay read, but merely okay. For the most part it felt like a stream-of-consciousness philosophizing about life. With no beginning, middle, or end, no plot to speak of, I longed for a destination and for more excitement than simple ruminations about lightning bugs, life, and love. There were moments of splendor, a few instances where the words felt beautiful, but it still didn't seem to be award worthy.

How to even summarize? Debbie is hoping something will happen to her soon. Set in the 1960s, the story is full of platform shoes and bell bottom jeans which graze the pavement. The various characters meander through life experiencing crushes on the opposite sex, contemplations of the meaning and purpose of life, and confusions over how to present the self to others. With no real action propelling it forward, it simply lallygagged through deep and shallow waters. I've read better Newbery winners than this.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: Dangerous Deception

It is highly unusual for me to read four children's books in a row. I suppose I am only snatching minimal moments to read lately, and together with several children's audio books to accompany my daily walk, these type of titles have just proliferated lately. Regardless of the reason, I always enjoy a Peg Kehret book. She gets her characters into scrapes both believable and entertaining. The last Kehret book Sean and I read together was Ghost Dog Secrets. This book, Dangerous Deception, was similar in that the main character sees a social ill and wants to address the need, but doing so places them in danger.

Emmy Rushford is a compassionate girl. When she learns of another girl's plight of hunger, she convinces her classmates to provide food anonymously as a public service project for a school assignment. The other students help a few times to bring bags of food to the starving girl's family, but it is Emmy who sticks around for the long haul, long after the starving family has disappeared, leaving behind their cat, Midnight. As Emmy attempts to locate the family and tell them she has Midnight, she is caught up in a dangerous situation, abducted by a bad man, and placed in a position of grave danger. Emmy means well, but her deception leads to trouble.

This tale will go far to emphasize to children the danger of keeping things secret from adults who could help them. Deceiving her mother has life-threatening consequences for Emmy. The book emphasizes the value of compassion, the importance of honesty, the dangers of riding with someone who texts while driving, and the folly of attempting to manage grown-up issues without some grown-up intervention (especially when those issues lead you to bad neighborhoods and criminal behavior). All of these are important lessons for tweens to absorb.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: Alien Encounter

I've been pleasantly surprised by my son's fondness for the Just Grace series written by Charise Mericle Harper. Despite the blatantly girly covers (think flowers, tutus, etc.), he continues to enjoy the writing style and the story line. He has even noticed the author's particular trademarks: an affinity for lists, superpowers, and faces with wide-set eyes. I was thrilled, then, when I discovered her book series with a more boyish appeal, called Sasquatch and Aliens. Alien Encounter is book one in the series and, although Sean didn't like it quite as well as the Just Grace books, he did say he wants to continue with the series whenever Harper gets around to writing further books for it (this one just came out a year ago and I believe the second book in the series came out in February of this year).

The characters and antics of two unlikely friends, Morgan and Lewis, are sure to appeal to young boys between the ages of 7 and 10. Their initial meeting, based around a humorous incident with a pair of underpants (what boy doesn't like something having to do with underpants?) sets the story rolling. When they return to the location of their meeting (a tree in the woods) to reenact the hilarious event and document it with a photo, they are both startled by an alien encounter.

The story is full of locations with boy appeal - a forest, a clubhouse where you have to jump through a window in order to enter, a shed outfitted with mattresses beneath for gigantic bounce sessions, and an underground secret workshop. Add into that details like wounds, injuries, costumes, and food, and you are sure to rope in a reluctant reader. With drawings to supplement the tale, the book has the feel of a younger Diary of a Wimpy Kid fare. We are quickly becoming devoted fans of Charise Mericle Harper's graphic novels for kids. Hopefully, this series will go as far as the Just Grace books (now at 12 titles).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: Lily's Crossing

Patricia Reilly Giff is an author my mother recommended to me and I'm pretty sure it was this children's book she encountered first to draw her in. Lily's Crossing is a tender tale of friendship during a time of war and uncertainty. For those who were young children (as my parents were) at the time of World War II, this will, no doubt, stir memories of that perilous time and the emotions which surged when brothers and fathers went to war, when specialty items were rationed, and when life felt like it would never be the same again.

From the back cover: "This year, as in other years, Lily has planned a spectacular summer in Rockaway, in her family's cozy house on stilts over the Atlantic Ocean. But by the summer of 1944, World War II has changed almost everyone's life. Lily's best friend, Margaret, and her family have moved to a wartime factory town, and worse, much worse, Lily's father is on his way overseas to the war.

"There's no one else Lily's age in Rockaway until Albert comes, a refugee from Hungary, a boy with a secret sewn into his coat. Albert has lost most of his family in the war: he's been through things Lily can't imagine. But when they join together to rescue and care for a kitten, they begin a special friendship. For Lily and Albert have their own secrets to share. They both have told lies, and Lily has told a lie that may cost Albert his life."

I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet tale. It certainly evoked emotion within me. I came to love Lily and her faults and foibles. I rooted for the budding friendship. I cried in the moments of peril and of triumph.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Book Review: Among the Hidden

I recognized Margaret Peterson Haddix's name, having read her book Double Identity almost six years ago. This book, Among the Hidden, jumped out at me in the tween audio section of our library (filed as a teen book in the other neighboring library I use) and turned out to be a riveting story to accompany my daily walk on the treadmill. It was frighteningly plausible and well-executed, providing plenty for tweens and teens to think about (although one Amazon reviewer did express concern that the subjects are too difficult for the target age group to handle - I think I disagree and would not dissuade my ten year old son from reading this book).

The government, in order to clamp down on the problem of starvation and over-population, has outlawed the birth of more than two children per family. When Luke's parents learn of his impending birth, they decide to ignore the law and keep him hidden in their home as a "third child." Hiding is all Luke has known, until his twelfth year when the woods on his farm property are chopped down to make way for a housing development. As he watches the new houses from the vents in his attic hideaway, Luke catches sight of something breathtaking and unimaginable. Risking the penalty of death, Luke sneaks over to the nearby house and discovers Jen, another third child. Jen doesn't tolerate being hidden quite so well as Luke. She is the daughter of a government official and is convinced that she can force change on society by planning a rally to embrace third children and set them free.

I did note, from the author's website, (where discussion questions and related activities can be found) that this is the first in a series of books. All of the books in the series sound equally riveting and action-packed. I will probably seek out a few more of these books to follow Luke's story and see where life takes him after the adventures of this book (thankfully, it looks like my library has the entire series available, though not in audio form).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review: Mind Change

One of the books selected for my evening book club is The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Although that book is not on the reading schedule until July, I jumped when I saw this alternative title available at our library. I wanted a second book to evaluate Carr's book against. Of course, I cannot make any comparisons until I read The Shallows, but for now I will offer up a brief description of this book by Susan Greenfield, entitled Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains.

Susan Greenfield is a neuroscientist and member of the House of Lords, where she has argued her premise that the digital age is altering the way we think and relate. Hers is a cautionary tale which argues, similarly to the perils of climate change, that we are on the brink of cultural mind change with just as possibly devastating consequences. She begins by introducing her term "mind change" and asserting that it is a highly controversial global phenomenon. She then breaks down technological advances into three separate categories of concern: "social networking and the implications for identity and relationships; gaming and the implications for attention, addiction, and aggression; and search engines and the implications for learning and memory."

As she dissected how social networking is changing the way we think and relate, I could easily see both positives and negatives in my own life. How often, indeed, do I log onto my computer in the morning hoping to see some sort of feedback from friends, be they virtual, close or distant, to something I have shared or simply hoping for news from someone else's existence in order to spice up the boring nature of my own existence? How often do I share something on-line that I may not have shared with more than a handful of people prior to the advent of Facebook? My life would be entirely isolated without social networking. It would be like living in a desert. But how often do I compare myself, unfairly, to others whose lives are presented in technicolor for the digital world to envy and admire? How does my own sense of identity profit from or bear harm from my involvement in a wider society of friends available through social networking? These are tricky questions.

The gaming section was perhaps the most sobering of all, because I fear the effects my own sons are reaping from their involvement with multi-player on-line role-playing games. On the one hand, it is cool to watch their ability to play a game and interact with their cousin while he is miles away in his own home. However, my sons play games their cousins would never be allowed to play and many of them are violent in nature. They have seen far more graphic episodes of violence than I ever experienced in my own childhood. Although this is most definitely a negative thing, the author doesn't paint the scenario as entirely bad. There are some positives to the use of video games for developing certain skills and reactions (indeed, video games like "Fruit Ninja" are actually used to help rehabilitate stroke sufferers). Still, her focus is primarily on the chemical responses of the brain to such gaming and how close those experiences are to the chemical responses occurring in the brains of those with severe addictions. Gaming addiction is a serious problem to consider and I fear my sons might be at risk for this, given the satisfaction they seem to receive (achievements, status, manliness, etc) from playing such games.

The final section focuses on the changes brought about by surfing the Web. We have become a culture with the knee-jerk reaction of "I'll just Google that and find out the information I need." The ability to find information so quickly and freely doesn't necessarily mean that we are becoming smarter. If anything, we are less inclined to retain information because we are under the impression that such information is always just a click away. Moreover, we do lose something in acquiring our information via a screen instead of through books. The immediacy of information and entertainment is shortening our attention span and drawing us away from traditional methods of learning. Students are interrupted far more frequently when trying to study because there is a constant stream of distractions from text messaging and multi-tasking. The pull of You Tube is quite fierce in my own household, with both of my younger boys watching videos others have recommended because they are funny or because they show information for tackling some aspect of a game they are wanting to play.

While I found the book fascinating and frightening, I also found it a bit difficult to digest fully and found myself skimming through bits because it just didn't hold my interest or I wanted to get to the next bit more quickly. Perhaps my own response is an example of the arguments the author frames. Perhaps I just wasn't entirely in the mood to focus in with more depth to the study at hand. For whatever reason, I don't think I absorbed as much from the book as I could have if I had been more careful in my reading and retention (say, if I had been given the assignment of reading this for a class). I will be anxious to see how Nicholas Carr's book measures up to this one. Hopefully, I will remember enough of what I read here to be able to form an opinion about which book was more effective in discussing this modern day problem of the alteration of the brain in response to our technological advances.