Aug 26, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir (Unabridged Audio Version)

If you would've told me awhile back that I was going to read a sci-fi book about an astronaut on Mars  and that I would absolutely love that book, I would've told you you were crazy. But that's exactly what happened with Andy Weir's novel, THE MARTIAN.

About the Book: 
(From Amazon)

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


My Thoughts:

I've already indicated that I was completely surprised that I enjoyed this book so much.  But let me be clear, its simply because I don't typically read books about space, astronauts or anything science fiction related.  I was totally out of my comfort zone here and I couldn't be happier that I took that leap.  I did choose the audio version for those reasons and I'll get into that part of my review in a bit, but first, I need to talk about the story, writing and characters. 

The story, to my own surprise, was brilliant. The concept of an astronaut left for dead on Mars and how he fights to not only survive but to get back to Earth was so original and fascinating that I was hooked from the very beginning.  After reading some reviews, I was a little worried I would get tired of all the scientific jargon but that didn't happen with my experience. Maybe if I'd been reading the book version I might have skimmed over those parts but there were such great nuggets in those passages that I'm glad I didn't miss.  The technical research that must've went into the writing of this book was enormous and Andy Weir gets major kudos for that alone. 

I liked the way Weir presented this novel both as log entries and from a third party perspective for all of the other characters working to get Mark home. The story moved along so smoothly and without any lulls whatsoever for me. I was totally engaged from start to finish. 

The characters were so diverse and each of their personalities were easily identifiable as I listened on. Of course, my favorite character was Mark Watney. What a character! Weir gave him such an great sense of humor and never-give-up attitude. I especially loved his snarkiness and funny way of explaining things when he wrote in his log entries. What I loved most was that he was able to make fun of himself.  I laughed out loud many, many times while listening to this book and it was Mark's personality that made that happen. 

AUDIO REVIEW:

This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite audiobooks I've ever listened to. Ever. I totally enjoyed the story, the characters and the narration  was perfectly done by R.C. Bray. He brought this character to life in grand fashion and I loved his interpretation.  Let me be clear, there is a lot of scientific terms laced throughout the book and if you think you'd get bogged down by it then I highly recommend the audio version. You will have a wonderful listening experience and hopefully you'll love it as much as I did. 

THE BOTTOM LINE . . .

is that I was completely and totally entertained by this book. I'm also really looking forward to the film version due out next year. Ridley Scott is said to be directing and the word is that Matt Damon will be playing the role of Mark Watney. I think that's a great choice! 

THE MARTIAN (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher:  Podium Publishing
Published: March 23, 2014
Length: 10 hrs 53 mins
The Bottom Line: I LOVED IT!!!



Aug 14, 2014

That Night by Chevy Stevens

In her latest novel, THAT NIGHT, best-selling author Chevy Stevens tells the story of Toni Murphy, who at eighteen, along with her boyfriend Ryan, were convicted of murdering her sixteen year-old sister, Nicole. Now, after they both have served their sentences and have been released from prison, they try to adjust to life on the outside, separately. Toni is doing everything  by the book, making sure she doesn't get sent back by violating her strict probationary rules. Toni and Ryan have always claimed they were innocent but the eveidence against them was too convincing, leaving almost no one believing them. Toni's own mother doesn't believe her and even her father, whom she's always had a good relationship seems to doubt her innocence but tries not to show it.

While Toni works to get her life back and follow the rules, Ryan is angry and determined to prove who the real killers are.  He starts digging up the past and soon attracts the attention of the group of girls that used to make Toni's life miserable when they was all in high school. The terms of Toni's parole are clear: no contact with Ryan or any witnesses involved in her case. But when it becomes clear that following the rules isn't working, Toni feels she has no other choice than to turn the tables and show the world she did not murder her own sister.

My Thoughts:

This is my second Chevy Stevens novel, after reading STILL MISSING a few years ago. I have to say, I liked this book better. I am not one to shy away from dark storylines, however the content in STILL MISSING was so raw and disturbing and I was surprised by my own reaction. With THAT NIGHT, the story is also tragic but at least I wasn't thinking about it at night while I slept.  The beginning of the book was a bit slow but not slow enough that it kept me from wanting to read it. I knew it would pick up and it certainly did just that. I liked the characters of Toni and Ryan and felt bad for them that no one understood them or even wanted to believe them. The first part of the book is all about bullying and the consequences of those actions. There's also a fair amount of prison scenes in this book but I felt it wasn't too much so that it overshadowed the story. I've read that some reviewers felt it was too much 'Orange is the New Black' for them but I didn't feel that way at all. Toni spent over fifteen years in prison and that time shaped her personality and I felt Ms. Stevens did a great job of depicting that along with  the relationships she developed while in there, whether they were good relationships or bad.

Toni is the one telling the story and the book reads exactly like that. She's an ex-con who grew up behind bars and therefore, she's a bit rough around the edges and it certainly comes across in the way she tells her story. This is not a book written in perfect grammar, but its for a very good reason.  I've read a few reviews where this bothered some readers but I feel it gave the story an authenticity, especially because it was Toni herself who was telling the story..

The bottom line is that I did enjoy this book and though it didn't pack a lot of surprises for me, it did captivate my attention. It was a quick read and part of what kept me turning the pages so quickly was that I was anxious to see if Toni and Ryan would get their justice.

THAT NIGHT by Chevy Stevens (@ChevyStevens)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published:  June 2014
Length: 381 pp
Source: Galley copy sent by the publisher

Jul 25, 2014

The Results Are In! The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse by JJ Smith

I've already posted about this book a few weeks ago before I started my own cleanse and I am here now to give my complete review of the book and to share my results.  Previously, I mentioned how easy the cleanse was to understand and what a great job JJ Smith did of explaining the process and laying everything out. Now that I've made it through the 10 days I can also testify to how tasty the green smoothies are. I do have my favorites: Day 3, 6, 7 and 9. Since there is a different smoothie recipe for each day, there is no chance of getting bored with them.

As far as the cleanse itself, I was very surprised that I rarely suffered from a headache. I've done a detox before and had terrible headaches that lasted for days but that was not the case here. I am a die-hard coffee drinker and I was expecting the worst but thankfully the worst never happened. I did drink 1 - 2 cups of Chinese herbal detox tea each morning but it was decaf. I would have to say that not having a headache was the biggest surprise of all of this detox cleanse.

Because I snacked on raw veggies and small handfuls of unsalted nuts that provided me with protein, I never felt like I was starving myself and I never went to bed miserable like I had anticipated. Since I was eating every 3 to 4 hours, whether it be a smoothie or a healthy snack, my stomach was never totally empty. For me, the evening times were the hardest. So I would save my peanuts for that time or I would have an apple, which is great for increasing blood flow, so I never felt sluggish. And if you feel the full cleanse is too much for you, you can do the modified cleanse where you drink smoothies for 2 meals and them have a sensible dinner of chicken or fish with a salad or veggies. The modified cleanse is the best way to maintain your weight loss after you've finished the full cleanse. JJ Smith has done such extensive research for this cleanse that she thought of everything. Each smoothie serving is a complete meal source providing all of the nutrients your body needs to function properly.

Now, with all that being said, I'm not trying to say that I never missed eating or wanted real food during this 10 day period. Honestly, this was one of the hardest things I've ever done. My problem is I love food and I love eating! I know it was helpful that I did not participate in any social functions or gatherings while on the cleanse. I did spend the day with one of my friends once but I packed up my smoothie and my snacks and water and took them with me. And my friend was sweet enough to wait until I was not there before she started grilling the meat that she was making for her family later that night. I really appreciated that even though I told her it wasn't necessary.

One of the keys to a successful cleanse like this is to drink a lot of water. In this case, I drank 64 oz per day. It sounds like a lot but that is key if you are trying to remove toxins from your body, not to mention it helps in the weight loss aspect as well. I drank water constantly throughout the day and even kept a bottle on my nightstand during the night. I also drank an 8 oz glass of water before each smoothie and also first thing in the morning. As a result of all that water, I noticed a difference in my skin and my nails grew very fast as well.

Another thing I noticed is that I began sleeping better. I used to never sleep through the night and would often sleep with the TV on but I actually didn't need the constant drone of the TV to keep me asleep. Since I've completed the cleanse, I am still sleeping better than I have in a while. Probably because I am still being very picky as to what I put in my body, but more on that later.

As for my results, I am very pleased with the outcome. I lost a total of 11 pounds and 5 inches in my waist. The shorts that used to be uncomfortably tight and unwearable are now slipping on easily and are not uncomfortable at all. People have noticed that my waistline is smaller and even my neck is thinner. On top of all that, I feel great! I forgot to take my morning dose of blood pressure medicine the other day and normally I would have felt a shortness of breath or heavy beating of my heart, but I felt perfectly fine all day as long as I didn't over-exert myself. And yes, I did take my nightly dose of meds. I'm not crazy enough to think I can quit taking my BP meds but it was a relief to not feel bad when I'd forgotten them that morning and wasn't home to take my pill. I go to the doctor every 4 months for him to check my liver and kidneys and after this cleanse I am sure my lab report is going to be glowing. In fact, I go to the doctor on August 12 and I'm anxious to hear what my doctor has to say.

The bottom line is that I've learned so much from JJ Smith and her green smoothie cleanse and I plan to use that knowledge to continue living a healthier lifestyle. I'm still not eating red meat, sugar and pasta and I don't plan to for awhile. I really don't miss the sugar at all and I am not a soda drinker so that is an easy one for me. My downfall is coffee but I've cut myself back to one cup per day. I plan to still drink smoothies sometimes when I feel I've over-indulged and to get some good nutrients. They are so easy to make and the truth is they taste really good.  I plan to use them, along with daily exercise, to hopefully continue to lose at least 1 or 2 pounds a week.

The 10 Day Green Smoothie Cleanse was a positive experience for me and one that was definitely worth the hard work. And remember, I lost those 11 pounds without working out. I would never recommend a cleanse unless I had tried it myself and really believe in it. If you decide to do this cleanse/detox, I highly recommend reading this book ENTIRELY before you start. Its a quick read with tons of important information that is necessary for a healthy cleanse. Will I ever do it again? I'd have to say Yes, I would.

THE 10 DAY GREEN SMOOTHIE CLEANSE (Kindle Edition)
Author: JJ Smith (@jjsmithonline)
Publisher: Atria Books
Published: February 2014
Length: 192 pp
Source: Purchased

Jul 23, 2014

A Long Time Gone by Karen White (Unabridged Audio Version)

A LONG TIME GONE is the multi-generational story of the Walker women of Indian Mound, Mississippi. This sweeping and emotional story focuses on Vivien, Carol Lynne, and Adelaide Walker, who each grew up in a different time but faced many of the same obstacles in life. Their story is steeped in rich history that is plagued by deep family secrets and is told in the first person by each of these troubled women. Vivien in current day, and Carol Lynne and Adelaide from the past.

After being gone from home for several years, Vivien returns to her family home in Indian Mound to try to piece back together a life that has not worked out for her, no matter how far she tried to run. Coming off a painful divorce and having nothing to show for the years she's been gone, she is reluctant and nervous to face the people she hurt when she left without ever looking back. She's especially not looking forward to seeing her mother, Carol Lynne, who was rarely around while Vivien was growing up, causing deep hurt and resentment in Vivien's soul.   Carol Lynne's story is told through diary entries and follows her life as she drifted from place to place from the sixties until the early 2000's when she finally returned home for good. Her's is a sad and lonely story that desperately needs to be told before its too late. Adelaide's story is the most riveting and emotional story of all and begins in the 1920's.

Vivien arrives home to see the sheriff and a few other people gathered in the back yard where a downed cypress tree lies and crime scene tape has cordoned off the area.  As she approaches she sees a shallow grave containing skeletal remains. Suddenly her arrival home is not the only news of the day. The mystery of whose remains they are and who buried them there is what drives this intricately woven novel.

My Thoughts On the Story:

It didn't take me long to get caught up in the story since Vivien's return coincided with the discovery of the body buried in the yard.  The awkwardness of her return is present but takes a back seat to the mystery of the identity of the bones and how they ended up there.  Vivien and her family assure the Sheriff they will do all they can to help shed light on who it might be by revisiting family history.

My favorite character was Adelaide with her innocence and hope for a beautiful future in a troubling time, yet White doesn't actually reveal who Adelaide actually is until much later in the book. The Walker women all have one thing in common, or at least they think they do. Each of them believes their mothers abandoned them, either by choice or circumstance. In Vivien's case this fact has had a huge impact on her life and the choices she's made. Because of that, she comes across as a hard person to get to know but once she let her guard down, I really liked her. My least favorite character was Carol Lynne, though she is the most misunderstood out of all of the Walker women.

The story was very well-plotted, though at times I wished it would pick up a bit. But even with that said, I never got bored with it. There are many different stories being told from different times but each one is easy to follow and none of them get overshadowed. They are all very relevant and important to the main plot.  If you don't mind the time-jumping you will probably really like this book because the characters are so well connected to each other. Vivien is who keeps the connection strong and has the most to gain from digging into her family's history and that's why its such a well-rounded story, though its not my favorite Karen White novel.

My Thoughts On the Audio Performance:

There are three different narrators in this audio and they all did a fine job. At first I felt Vivien sounded a little flat but as I continued to listen, I gained an appreciation of the different people's voices she also interpreted while telling Vivien's story, both female and male, and I think she did an outstanding job. I believe hers was the most difficult of the three. The narrator of Adelaide also did several different characters and did them all very well. Carol Lynne's story, being told through diary entries was the most straight-forward and I felt her lazy and laid back way of talking slowed the story down a bit. The bottom line is that I'm glad I chose to listen to this book and I would recommend it highly as your next audio.

A LONG TIME GONE (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Karen White
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: June 2014
Length: 17 hrs 3 mins

 

Jul 14, 2014

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford

The summer he was thirty-one, Arlo Crawford returned home for the summer harvest at New Morning Farm—seventy-five acres tucked in a hollow in south-central Pennsylvania where his parents had been growing organic vegetables for almost forty years.
Like many summers before, Arlo returned to the family farm's familiar rhythms—rise, eat, bend, pick, sort, sweat, sleep. But this time he was also there to change his direction, like his father years ago. In the 1970s, well before the explosion of the farm-to-table and slow food movement, Arlo's father, Jim, left behind law school and Vietnam, and decided to give farming a try. Arlo's return also prompts a reexamination of a past tragedy: the murder of a neighboring farmer twenty years before. A chronicle of one full season on a farm, with all its small triumphs and inevitable setbacks, A Farm Dies Once a Year is a meditation on work—the true nature of it, and on taking pride in it—and a son's reckoning with a father's legacy. Above all, it is a striking portrait of how one man builds, sows, and harvests his way into a new understanding of the risks necessary to a life well-lived. (Synopsis provided by Amazon)

My Thoughts:

When I was contacted about receiving a review copy of this book I wasn't familiar with it but after reading the description, I was immediately interested. Being raised on our family's little farm with our large garden, chickens and various barnyard animals with corn and wheat fields all around us instilled in me deep appreciation for the life of a farmer.  So, its easy to understand why I would want to read Arlo Crawford's book. 

I found Arlo's story and his memories of growing up on New Morning Farm interesting and even though in the beginning I felt he didn't appreciate the hard work his parents and the hired workers did, I did change my mind about that. His parents were so dedicated to the work they did, especially his dad, Jim. Though believe  Arlo didn't reach his full appreciation and understanding until this trip back to the farm.

This is an uncomplicated book about a simple way of life though a very hard and rewarding way of life. Along with stories of farm life is a memory Arlo shares about his father's friend and fellow farmer, Bert, being murdered on his own farm by a man known around town as being a mean drunk. That story, being told throughout the book, brings it to a different level and sets an emotional tone.  

This book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes gardening, working with vegetables and fruits, and those who have a fondness for farmer's markets.  Summertime is the best time to read this book since we are in the height of the growing season.  A FARM DIES ONCE A YEAR reminds us how important our farmers, their land and the items they produce are so important to our economy and our culture. Its a book that will leave you smiling when you finish it. 

Author: Arlo Crawford
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Published: April 2014
Length:  272 pp

Jul 13, 2014

[TSS] Progress Report: The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse

Well, I've reached the halfway mark in my 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse and thought I'd share with you how it is going.  First I'll talk about the smoothies, since that is the basis for the whole cleanse. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty these smoothies are. There is a specific recipe for each of the 10 days and so far I haven't had one that I didn't like. I do have my favorites, like the Apple Berry from Day 3. So you know exactly what goes into a smoothie, I'm sharing the recipe with you below. And don't worry, you don't need any special or expensive blender. I'm using my regular-sized Hamilton Beach 400 watt blender that I've had for years and it is working great!


DAY 3: APPLE BERRY

1 handful spring mix greens
2 handfuls spinach
2 cups water
11/2 cups frozen blueberries
1 banana, peeled
1 apple, cored and quarterd
1 packet Stevia
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
(Optional) 1 scoop of plant-based protein powder

Blend greens and water first, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy

That's it! Its very simple to do. I peel my bananas, put them in a freezer bag and throw them in the freezer. That helps make the smoothie cold and that is the way I prefer mine. All of the frozen fruit helps with this as well. I even keep my seedless grapes in the freezer. The best part is that you only have to blend smoothies first thing in the morning because each batch makes your entire day's meals. They make 3 12oz. servings. I drink mine out of a frozen mug also. 

The flaxseeds are already ground so you don't even notice them. They are a great source of fiber and they are a 'good fat' source and very important to the detox process. The protein powder I use is 100 soy. It will help give you energy, keeps your metabolism going and makes you feel full. 

Along with drinking 64 oz. of water daily, you are encouraged to snack throughout the day so you don't go more than 2-3 hours without eating, because that's when your body starts storing fat. Some pproved snacks are: carrots, celery, apples, hard-boiled eggs, and unsalted nuts. I love raw green beans and cauliflower so I eat those as well. I can honestly say I have not gone to bed hungry one time. I am hungry in the morning, but once I've had my cup of herbal Detox tea, I prepare my smoothies for the day and after that first sip, my hunger pains diminish quickly. I drink water all day long and before you know it Its time for my next smoothie. I've done other detoxes and I've gotten pretty bad headaches but I have only had a slight headache a few times. All in all, this detox has been a positive experience. 

Along with detoxing your body of all the free radicals and toxins, you also get the benefit of weight-loss. This is the perfect detox to jump-start your diet. Once I have completed this cleanse, I am anxious to stick to healthy foods and stay away from the things that make my body sluggish. I will be eating high protein meals (chicken or fish) with veggies and salad instead of heavy starches and pastas. I'm working hard to get my body healthy and I plan to keep it up even after the cleanse. I have my check-up with my doctor next month and I can't wait to see what my numbers look like for my kidneys and liver as well as my weight loss. I'm sure he will be pleased with me.  

I'll be posting again once I've finished the last five days and I will then report my total weight loss. I weighed myself this morning and I'll just say that I am COMPLETELY satisfied with how its going! I'm losing weight, feeling good and even sleeping through the night, which is a problem for me. 

I hope this information is useful to some of you, especially if you're looking for a healthy cleanse to try. I'm only halfway through but I can tell you that this one delivers everything it promises! And I'm learning so much about my body and nutrition and I have JJ Smith to thank for that! 

Jul 8, 2014

The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse by JJ Smith

As a rule, I am not a fan of cleanses. There are so many versions out there and I've always been skeptical of them, mainly because I am of the belief that your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to function healthily and by removing certain types of foods all together you can actually do your body more harm than good. That's why I surprised myself when after seeing JJ Smith on The Steve Harvey Show and listening to her explain her Green Smoothie Cleanse, I immediately downloaded her book and began reading. Right away I was more than intrigued. As a nutritionist and professional weight loss coach, Smith is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about health and nutrition. JJ's theory behind this cleanse is that it is the perfect way to jump start a healthy diet and that most people lose 10 to 15 pounds during the 10 days of the cleanse.

Very soon after I began reading I had already made up my mind that I was going to try this cleanse. The first step I took was reading the book from cover to cover.   This is very important because in it she outlines how the cleanse works, what you can expect and how to maintain and incorporate this lifestyle change into your daily routine once you've completed the 10 day cleanse.  The information included is so easy to grasp and even has links to websites if you are looking for further research.

JJ Smith describes in detail the basis for this cleanse and how it works to eliminate toxins from your body so that when you do start eating healthy, you are starting with a clean slate. This cleanse will rid your body of all of the unhealthy things you've previously put into your body. She explains it in terms that are very easy to understand. She is also available on Facebook and Twitter to help with encouragement or any questions you may have. The fact that she is very approachable in that way only shows her commitment to this program and that she believes in it, as do her thousands of supporters.

Two other great things about The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse book is that Smith includes a shopping list of items you will need for the first 5 days and then another list for the remaining 5 days. Its important to have all of your ingredients ahead of time so you're not running out the store or running out of an item and skipping it. These recipes are strictly tailored for the maximum benefit of the cleanse and should not be changed. This brings me to the other great thing included in this book. Not only does she tell you exactly what smoothie to make for each day, there are over 100 other smoothie recipes for future use. Those are perfect for maintaining your health and allowing variety which is very important. If you give your body the same thing day after day, it gets smart to that and will start storing it as fat and the benefit of a healthy meal plan will be lost. Variety is very important in any meal plan when trying to lose weight.

I'll be starting my cleanse on Wednesday, july 9 and finishing on the 19th. I'll be posting daily blogs of my experiences while on the cleanse here at Southern Girl Reads. I hope you'll visit often during that time and check out my progress. At the end of the 10 days I'll give my personal assessment of the cleanse itself and post my results: weight lost, inches lost etc. Though I'm excited about this journey, I'm also a little nervous. I'm really going to miss my coffee every morning but I'm totally dedicated and ready to do this! Wish me luck!