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The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

Apparently my boyfriend has been recommending this series to me for a while. But in one ear and out the other, even though I had been searching in vain for a good Harry Potter replacement. When we went to see some movies recently, one of the preview trailers was for The Lightning Thief. I really liked the trailer, so all the signs pointed to finally reading this.

I was very intrigued by the idea of Greek mythology in modern times since I took four years of Latin in high school and learned just as much, if not more, mythology as I did Latin. The book is obviously written by someone who knows their stuff when it comes to the Gods, the Titans, the demigods, and all the myths between them. The premise of the entire series is so smart and brilliant. It’s so perfectly woven together, yet simple and entertaining that I was left with a jealous feeling of “why didn’t I think of writing this!” And I’m going to go ahead and proclaim that this series is better than the Harry Potter series. Sorry Harry. I’m Team Percy now.

The story begins with Percy Jackson, age 12, getting kicked out of another school. Trouble just can’t seem to stay away from him. While on a field trip, his math teacher turns into a Fury and tries to kill him. His Latin teacher gives him a pen that becomes a sword and Percy kills the math teacher. But once she’s dead, no one remembers her or believes Percy when he mentions her. This tips him off that things aren’t right, and he eventually finds out he’s the son of one of the big three Gods, making him a demigod in modern times.

The way things are explained to fit into present day time is flawless. Percy has ADHD and dyslexia because his brain is programmed to fight monsters and read ancient Greek.  Mount Olympus sits above the Empire State building because New York is the center of Western Civilization and the Gods follow the civilization. And humans can’t see any of it because “the mist” protects them.

Percy’s mother sends him to Camp Half-Blood where he trains to be a Hero like all of the other half bloods who find out one of their parents is immortal. He befriends Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, and he makes enemies of some of the other campers. At camp he learns his dad is Poseidon, and his dad has been accused of stealing Zeus’s thunder bolt. Percy goes on a quest to find the thunder bolt, try to return it to Zeus, and not get killed by all the mythological creatures who want him dead along the way.

Unlike Harry Potter, who’s all doom and gloom and boo-hoo Voldimort’s after me, Percy is an unlikely hero who really develops over the course of the book and maintains a witty, humorous stance the whole time. I had a crush on HP because, he could do magic! But my crush on Percy is more enjoyable since he makes HP seem one-dimensional. Percy has powers and personality.

Personality is something this book has in abundance. Each of the Gods and Godesses are so much more than their traditional archetype. Ares isn’t just a blood thirsty, war machine; he’s charismatic, likes cheeseburgers, rides a motorcycle, and falls victim to someone smarter than him. And the monsters are more than just cannon fodder. Medusa runs a statue store and is a beautiful blend of the witch from “Hansel and Gretel” and a scorned killing machine.

Some of the scenes aren’t really necessary other than the author got to throw in more mythological characters. The pace of the book zips along until those points, but I’m not complaining about them because most are very clever modern-day adaptations of old myths.

Since I live where I do, it did bug me that the author made Los Angeles the entrance to Hades. It works in the story, but really? It’s a cliche and all those other buzz words like stereotypical, biased, and ham fisted. It could have been somewhere else like Hell, Michigan or Texas.

The whole time I was reading this book I cringed when love interests were being established because all of the Gods and Goddesses are essentially one big incestuous family. The author skirts around this completely or simply explains it as “they don’t have DNA to pass on.” So Percy is a clone of his mother genetically? When it lends comedy to the story, the author will point out how the characters are related, but he never mentions that Percy has a crush on his cousin’s daughter, or that a lot of Percy’s relatives were results of rape.

The comparisons to the Harry Potter series are everywhere, but this was such a more entertaining series to read. It’s so refreshing and exciting. I read the first book in two days because the action and characters were so addicting. I forgot it’s a children’s book. And I started book 2 of the series right after I finished this one.

I’m really excited to see the movie, but looking back on the trailer after reading the book, I don’t know what I’ll think of the changes I noticed. I loved in the book how the daughter of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, had blonde hair. But in the movie, she’s a brunette. Percy and Annabeth are both 12 in the book, and there are four more books to be turned into cash cows, but the actors playing them are already 18 and 24. Uma Thurman as Medusa does frighten me, so maybe there’s hope. If the movie sucks, I’ll just read the book over and over to wash it from my mind.

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Twilight and Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

I didn’t bother with the middle two books of the series because I’m like that. Normally I go right to the end of a book, read the last few pages, and see if I still want to read the whole thing.  Twilight was surprisingly enjoyable.  Breaking Dawn not so much.

I never ever planned on reading any of Stephanie Meyer’s books, for the same reason I never plan on watching any Monty Python.  Self respect.  I liked the movie Twilight well enough, and the book was on the kindle, so I thought “what the heck.”  It was my inner team girl’s dream come true.  The bad boy liking the unique, special girl I identified with, even though their love is wrong.  Steamy kisses, a lot of staring into each others’ eyes, and the promises of love forever.

It had part mystery, part love story, part action.  I liked the back story explaining away most of the popular vampire myths.  It never made sense why vampires would need to sleep (or in coffins for that matter).  Sleeping is when the body heals, vampires are dead, so why sleep?  Why should they be harmed by crosses, holy water, or the sunlight?  Other than someone said they should in another book.  I did like the streamlined version of a vampire Stephanie Meyer offered.  More animal like, more instinct and hunter driven.  It made Edward and the gang more likable and the story more believable.

The only problem with Twilight, and this is a big problem, is that Stephanie Meyer can’t get beyond the use of simple adjectives like perfect, beautiful, and angelic, and she has an insane amount of adverbs in there.  “Edward was so inhumanly, unbelievably, undubitably, bippitly, boppitly perfect.”  Even my inner 14 year old rolled her eyes.  Stephanie Meyer was an English major too, so I can’t understand the repetition of lame descriptions that goes on.  This is the only book I’ve ever read where I groaned out loud from the ridiculousness.  My boyfriend who read the book as well said it felt like Stephanie Meyer herself has an unhealthy obsession with Edward.  Agreed.  It does get weird.

I didn’t bother with books two or three because, well, I don’t like to read.  My boyfriend told me nothing happens in book two, they get engaged in book three, so I skipped to book four thinking that was where all the good parts where.  Breaking Dawn may be one of the few books I wish I could somehow unread.  A few days after I saw Harry Potter 6, I had the urge to see it again.  Not because it was good, but because my mind refused to believe that was it.  My mind did the same thing with Breaking Dawn.  For several days after finishing the book, I kept thinking I had to read the rest of it, but that was it.

Stephanie Meyer was so descriptive with the touching and the kissing in the first book that I thought, yeah, finally gonna get some vampire lovin’.  Nope, I didn’t even get that.  Just lame “intertwining of limbs until we became one.”  The first section detailing the marriage and honeymoon was a quick read.  The pregnancy was slightly intriguing.  But when the book switched over to Jacob’s point of view, I could have cared less.  I thought he was supposed to be a great romantic rival to Edward, but it seems he became their house dog.  He literally because their pet.  I skimmed the pages and if it didn’t mentioned Edward, Bella, or the stupidly named Renessme, I just went to the next page.

It was interesting when Bella finally became a vampire, but where Stephanie Meyer could have let Bella really develop into an amazing powerful fighter, she holds back because Bella’s “power” is self restraint.  Ugh.  Those were really the only interesting chapters.

The final section of the “great” end battle was like watching curling or chess.  No matter how you tell it, they are not exciting sports.  They are thinking games.  Not how you end a book series.  I wanted epic, instead there was pink shields, shimmery mist, and a lot of hissing.  One forgettable character died.  There were no stakes, no tension.  Just mind reading, looking fearful without any real reason to be.  Total fizzle.  I am all about romance and happy endings.  I want all of my movies to end with the lovers together and the bad people punished, everyone living happily ever after.  But the syrupy sweet ending of Breaking Dawn felt like I got cheated which made me not care about Edward and Bella’s happy ending.

I’ll still go to watch all four movies because hopefully Hollywood won’t disappoint me and they’ll make Edward and Bella work for their happy ending.  Or at least kill off way more people on the way.

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The Art of Selfishness by David Seabury

I love me some self help books.  Anything to give me the tiniest hint of how to be a happier person, I will eat up.  My boyfriend thinks all self help books are a marketing ploy for lonely, low self-esteemed housewives.  That it’s just the same message over and over, and  when boiled down to its basic message, it’s just “Are you sad? Don’t Be!”

I try to explain to him that lumping all self help books into one generalized category is like saying, “I don’t like science” or “I don’t like colors.”  In science you have chemistry, physics, biology, zoology, anatomy, psychology, and most words that end in -ology; in self help, you have the categories of relationships, how to relate to your children, how to relax, how to meditate, how to fix your marriage, how to get married in the first place, how to go through a divorce, how to be happy in general, how to be more organized, and many more.  I don’t really care about the relationship section but mainly focus on the happy in general section.

I had heard about David Seabury’s book from several different sources before actually deciding to read it myself.  I went to the book store, but it’s not in print anymore.  I went to four libraries that didn’t have it either.  Eventually the interlibrary loan got me a copy.  A very old copy.  Most people think new agey, law of attraction, manifestering, and happiness books are all from 1980 forward, but apparently like Ronda Burns found out when writing the Secret, the secret is actually a really old concept.

David Seabury originally wrote the Art of Selfishness in 1933.  The copy I got was another edition his wife put out in the 1960’s, in which she attempted to update some of the concepts.  I was fascinated to no end at the differences in language and tried to figure out what this book was saying, but in the end I didn’t really get anything useful out of it except a few chuckles.

Seabury’s main concept is that most people in 1930’s society hide behind a mask of religious and social constructs that prevent them from being the best version of themselves.  An example is the wife who has to always have dinner ready when her husband gets home and make the kids behave instead of taking care of herself first.  (Authors have been booed on Oprah for saying the same thing today.)  Or the husband who goes to work all day and comes home to be nagged by his wife and relatives.  Or doing something you don’t feel right doing because “they’re family.”  Seabury’s advice focuses around trying to get the reader to see that being selfish at the right time, no matter how uncomfortable to those around you, benefits everyone.

He uses many anecdotes that demonstrate how being selfish helped people (he was a psychologist).  One such example was a husband who kept his family living in the stone ages.  He expected his wife to do everything while he went to work, he yelled and chased boys away from the house that his daughters would bring home, and he wouldn’t let his sons get driver’s licenses.  And when he got home, he yelled because the temperature of his food wasn’t right or someone left a light on in the other room.  The wife went to Seabury for advice and he told her to treat the husband like it was the stone ages, and everyone in the house had to play along, no exceptions.  While the husband was away at work, the wife and kids turned off the electricity, gas, and heat, threw away all the food,  and got dressed like peasants.  When the dad got home, they let him have it.  He was basically stunned into submission and gave the family no further problems.

Another story was of a husband who wanted to move to the west coast and follow his dreams.  But his wife was bedridden to the point his mother-in-law had to move in with them to take care of her.  There was nothing physically wrong with her; her sickness just started  when her father died.  Anytime the husband mentioned moving west, she would go into fits of hysteria and he would feel so guilty.  Seabury told the husband to take acting lessons, especially learning how to be hysterical, and then go see his doctor and come up with an incurable illness of his own.  The doctor was in on Seabury’s plan with the husband.  Slowly the husband started to act sicker and sicker, eventually going to the doctor and telling his wife it was quite serious.  She started in with the hysterics, but the husband matched her.  The husband then told his wife that the doctor said the only cure was a warmer, dryer climate out west.  What could the wife do but go along.  They moved out west, without the mother-in-law, and the wife became a whole new person, wanting to travel all over the world.

Most of Seabury’s anecdotes left me stunned at his advice and the lengths his patients went to attain what was “best” for everyone.  Most of the means seemed shady, sneaky, and underhanded.  But every case seemed to have justified ends.

There were many bullet point lists that sprung up on the pages and didn’t necessarily have headings as to what the lists’ topics were.  One of the funniest lists involved how to put others at ease, with one of the points being to not have impassive faces like Asians since their faces rarely show expressions.  When things weren’t borderline racist, they were classic passive aggressive.  Seabury lightly dances around such modern terms like alcoholism for example.  He doesn’t say “raging alcoholic” or “abusive relationship”, instead he says someone is weary from “the drink” or giving someone “what for”.  So many times I found myself laughing out loud from the terminology.

There are many more current self help books that cover the same topics and are more understandable.  Some of Seabury’s lists on the right kinds of being selfish and the wrong kinds were interesting, but for the effort needed to get a copy of this book, you can get the same info elsewhere.

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Bobbi Brown Living Beauty by Bobbi Brown

I’ve always been a big fan of makeup and trying to look your best. I’ve just had such a hard time putting forth the effort to care for my skin and to wear makeup everyday. This isn’t the first book by Bobbi Brown I’ve read. I picked up her book “Beauty Evolution” a couple years ago and liked its laid back style. Bobbi Brown is an excellent makeup artist and her books convey a genuine want Bobbi has for each woman to look and feel comfortable in their skin. Her earlier book had the theme of bare minimum makeup application to look your best at any age. I remember there was a picture of an absolutely stunning 60 year old woman who had amazing white/gray hair. She was the editor of some magazine (I think) and wore elegant clothes and red lipstick. She wore her confidence best, and that image has stayed with me as something I would like to achieve if I were to grow old. 

I turned 30 earlier this month and honestly have never paid the slightest attention to aging or skin care. I’ve always been told I look really young for my age. I still get carded occasionally. With a healthy does of arrogant youth, I assumed I would always stay that way with no effort. It wasn’t until I was in my sister’s wedding, where a makeup artist (I use the term loosely because I knew more than she did about makeup application just from selling Mary Kay casually for a couple years) applied the exact same makeup on the bridal party, and while the 20-somethings looked beautiful in spite of the non-complimentary shades, I felt every bit 30 next to them. The makeup used on me was the mineral type makeup, and it settled into every pour, washed me out, and emphasized flaws I didn’t even know I had. It was not a self esteem building exercise. 

I came back home with a new spark of interest in trying to preserve what I’ve got going for me. I picked up this book while just meandering through the library where it caught my eye. Who doesn’t want to be a “living beauty”? This book had a lot more of Bobbi’s personal life in it besides just tips on where to put your blush for that “pop” effect. It was written in 2007, but I’ve found Bobbi’s tips and techniques to be almost timeless. By now she’s even put out one or two more books that I will have to check out. Bobbi begins the book by mentioning she just turned 50, and she’s starting to really notice her body and skin changing. This book was aimed at the older women crowd, but I looked at it as a “if you follow these tips on how to take care of yourself when you’re 30, you won’t have to worry about fixing it when the damage has already been done” type manual. 

Really there is nothing new in the book that I didn’t know already. Wear sunscreen everyday, cleanse and moisturize everyday, everyone should wear lipstick and mascara…everyday. The difference is this time when I read them I was willing to listen and heed the advice. Women who look amazing in their 50’s and beyond didn’t start taking care of their skin in their 50’s. Hopefully they started when they were 30. The book has a chapter on some of the most beautiful well known 50+ women and what their beauty philosophies were. They included Susan Sarandon, Vera Wang, and Vanessa Williams. Most of the women attribute being happy with their bodies and loving themselves as their biggest beauty tip. That kind of wisdom is always up lifting but I prefer more practical advice like Bobbi gives later in the book like how eating mostly fruits, veggies, and exercising everyday will do more to keep you young than most cosmetics. But then again that isn’t anything new. 

There are plenty of tips about how to look your best if you have blue eyes, droopy eyes, brown hair, big hips, and the likes. I followed one of the tips that if you don’t wear any other makeup besides a good creamy blush, you can retain your youthful glow. I put on some creamy blush and a little pink lipstick to go pick up my boyfriend from work, and he complimented on how pretty I looked. What do you know? Most of the good makeup tips that applied to me involved how to give your face definition that it looses with age. I’m vampire pale, with light features, and eyeglasses so I never had definition for age to take away in the first place. If you’re like me, all you need is a nice pink blush, a natural shade of lipstick, and a couple coats of mascara. 

The book goes into much more detail about how to cover sunspots, baggy eyes, and under eye circles. There’s an extensive section on the different kinds of treatments a dermatologist can do when you get older like chemical peels and other treatments, but hopefully I can bypass all of that. When the book talked about menopause and hormone replacement therapy, I glazed over and skimmed. Hopefully I can bypass all that too. 

Most of the information in this book didn’t pertain to me yet. I read it almost like visiting a psychic. These thing could happen to you, if you don’t do little, simple things to help prevent them. I plan on aging gracefully and being that confident woman from the picture. It will be much easier to clean my face and wear sunscreen now, than order the ‘Burt’ or the ‘Loni’ look from a plastic surgeon years from now.

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Sara, Book 2 by Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks

As I mentioned in a review below for the first book, this series is fantastic, and I can’t wait to read them to children I might have in the future. Book 2 follows the adventures of Sara and Seth, who has just moved to town. Sara takes all of the principles she learned in the first book about how to shape your own reality and teaches them to Seth. Seth is a very willing learner. The two set out together and turn seemingly insurmountable events into wonderful, beneficial ones for everyone involved.

Seth builds a tree house near the river, with a rope swing as well. Sara and Seth have many wonderful days after school there learning, swinging over the river, and climbing the tree. One day the owner of the property finds out they have been swinging from the tree and forbids them from going there because he is worried they will fall and seriously hurt themselves. Sara and Seth use the Law of Attraction principles to control what they can and eventually the events turn in their favor. 

Reading about how Seth and Sara’s friendship develops is one of the highlights of the book. It’s exactly the kind of friend I want to have – one who only fosters the best from you. This book, and the first, are some of my favorites and I will be reading them over and over.

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Sit, Ubu, Sit by Gary David Goldberg

Sit, Ubu, Sit is the autobiography of Gary David Goldberg, the creator of Sin City, Family Ties, Brooklyn Bridge, and many other TV shows.  The book is a chronological look at his childhood, wandering 20’s, his rise in television writing, his abundant success, and eventually his retirement.  Anyone who watched television in the 80’s knows the line “Sit, Ubu sit. Good dog” from the end of his shows.  In one of the most touching parts of the book, Goldberg talks about his beloved black Lab, Ubu.  I don’t know why I was so surprised Ubu was a real dog, maybe because 99% of everything in Hollywood is fake.  I actually shed a tear to learn when Goldberg was at the height of his success, he just didn’t have the time to care for Ubu properly.  At eight years old, Goldberg sent Ubu to live with family friends in Missouri. Goldberg says giving Ubu away is the only regret he has in life.  As a dog owner, I would have to agree.  

This book is a very lighthearted, quick read with many great jokes just like his TV shows.  Throughout the book, Goldberg emphasizes that having a good time and loving the people around him was more important than the multi-million dollar syndication deals.  It really comes across well that Goldberg was in the business only because he loved to write.  This book is such a good example of doing what you love and the money will come to you. 

There are so many touching stories throughout Goldberg’s life.  He ran a day care with his wife when their first daughter was born, long before writing for TV.  How heartbreaking it was when they learned Michael J. Fox had Parkinson’s.  Fighting the city of Brentwood so he and his wife could start a school for girls.  Each story is told so well.  The only downside of the book is at the very end when Goldberg does a retrospective, but it is only bad because I wanted him to keep going.  He’s the kind of story teller that leaves you feeling so good after hearing the stories and yet a little depressed because the story ended.

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Sara, Book 1 by Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks

This is an amazing first book in a series of children’s books by the authors.  Sara is the main character, and in this book, she befriends a talking owl who teaches her how to change bad days into good ones. Sara learns how to handle an annoying little brother, bullies at school, nagging teachers, demanding parents, and the usual assortment of everyday people.  This book takes the happy, shiny, abstract concepts of the Law of Attraction and weaves them into a concrete, fictional story that illustrates how to use the concepts on an everyday level to improve one’s life.  

Most books that tackle this topic come across as overly simplistic with the message “you just need to be happy, ok, now be happy!” without ever mentioning how, or their message is wrapped up in repetitive cannon fodder for housewives to get through the afternoon.  Sara Book 1 is more of a guidebook using specific examples that can easily be translated onto one’s own life.  I don’t even have children yet, but when I do, I will be reading this and its two sequels over and over to them.

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