Review: The Luckiest Girl Alive!

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Luckiest Girl Alive

By Jessica Knoll

Who needs a beach/porch read? You do. This fact-paced, snappy novel packs a really satisfying (though it will make you squirm) ending. For a long time, I had wondered, what in the world is an ‘unreliable narrator’ and who would use one? And what kind of an author would pen a novel with the lead actor cast as a nasty, jaded human. Author Jessica Knoll does both and boy is this a kicker.
Give this opening a read:
“I inspected the knife in my hand….my fiancé. That word didn’t bother me as much as the other one that came after it. Husband. That word laced the corset tighter, crushing organs, sending panic into my throat with the bright beat of a distress signal…Slip the forged nickel and stainless-steel blade soundlessly into his stomach.”
I know. And believe me, the tension level in the tale is tight as a drum. One thing that I will share with you is that at the very end of the book, Knoll reveals one really horrible part of her book is autobiographical and had I known that from the start, I would have given TifAni FaNelli a little wriggle room. She is the lead in this train-wreck and boy does she have an opinion. About everything.
Twenty-eight-year-old Ani (alias TifAni) is rocking what she desperately wants you to believe is the most incredible life EVER! Living in New York, working for a high-brow women’s magazine, wearing the best of the best designer this and that and her body, a size zero with dangerous curves. Ani is the epitome of young female perfection in accordance with the super-hyped world of high-fashion. In other words, this dynamite babe is one hot tamale. Only that way inside is a fourteen-year-old girl who never fit in. Never. But dang, she did her best to try. And they did their worst in the process.
Through flash-backs we are led down the rocky road of what created this desperate woman/girl to reach for something we are constantly and ferociously led to believe is the ultimate goal. Looks, body and the perfect man will make your life incredibly amazingly perfect. Right?
Except, it doesn’t.
There are not one, but two defining moments that spin TifAni’s life literally out of control. They are both shocking in their own right and together create an amazing backdrop to how someone can be motivated to do some pretty unbelievable things in order to create an illusion of not only fitting in, but making it.
The fascination of the structure as well as how in the world is this all going to end create a pulse that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. The snide and snarky internal dialog of Ani adds to this quirky character and ultimately her barely discernable tender insides allow you to nearly like her.
There are many life lessons Ani draws from and one that sticks with me is how, no matter the odds, the good guys just never completely win. But honestly, it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the journey and boy is this one a doo
• Great for book clubs

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You ThinkFactfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
By Hans Rosling

This book will give you something we as a nation, no, wait a second, make that the world really needs right now.
Things are not as bad as you may think they are especially when you have the facts. Want to test yourself about your basic knowledge of the world? Try these three questions, then check your answers at the bottom. No peeking.
1. In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
A: 20 percent
B: 40 percent
C: 60 percent
2. Where does the majority of the world population live?
A: Low-income countries
B: Middle-income countries
C: High-income countries
3. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has…
A: Almost doubled
B: Remained more or less the same
C: Almost halved
Author Hans Rosling, a renowned Swedish doctor, researcher and lecturer in global health, created this book for all of us who have been getting the present state of the world totally wrong. It’s not your fault, entirely, but it is up to you to get your facts straight and realize that overall, we’re on the right track. Why does your blood pressure surge every time you tap through the news or talk to your co-worker? Author Rosling calls it the overdramatic worldview which is usually stressful as well as misleading. Why? The main reason the media does this so well is very simple; it keeps you watching, clicking, tweeting and wanting more of the same. It’s time for something new. Why have we gotten stuck in this mind-numbing treadmill? Rosling has a simple theory.
He believes we are intrinsically interested in gossip and dramatic stories. Admit it, we are. Our quick-thinking brains crave human drama in all its myriad of foibles, which he refers to as our dramatic instinct. This is what causes misconceptions that directly influence an overdramatic worldview. He feels we need to control our appetite for the dramatic because it prevents us from seeing the world as it is and leads us terribly astray.
One of the biggest influences our media uses to keep us clicking back for more is—fear.
“When we are afraid, we do not see clearly. Critical thinking is always difficult, but it’s almost impossible when we are scared. There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.”
This simple fact is not only easy to discern by reading any news headline but is the single most powerful driving force constantly moving us further and further away from the facts. What other facts might you learn from Rosling that will alleviate your daily self-induced dose of unproductive chain-and-ball stress?
Consider these.
Facts (exact numbers see link) of bad things decreasing in the world: oil spills, children dying, deaths from disasters, hunger. Facts of good things increasing: women’s right to vote, science, girls in school, literacy, child cancer survival.
“…a fact-based worldview is more useful for navigating life…and probably more important: a fact-based worldview is more comfortable. It creates less stress and hopelessness than the dramatic worldview, simply because the dramatic one is so negative and terrifying. When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems—and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.”
Rosling is no Pollyanna, however. In a recent essay in the Guardian, he addresses the obvious challenge to his reasoning… “My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, and that feels ridiculous. I agree. Everything is not fine. We should still be very concerned. As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered species, climate change sceptics, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in prison, and girls not getting an education, we cannot relax. But it is just as ridiculous to look away from the progress that has been made. The consequent loss of hope can be devastating. When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may lose confidence in measures that actually work.”
The world is not as bad or lost or scary or messed up or un-fixable as we tend to believe. Know the facts and focus on what is important.

· Know the facts
· Want more? gapminder dot org
· Correct answers: 1: C, 2: B, 3 C

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Review: The Opposite of Hate

The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our HumanityThe Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity by Sally Kohn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Opposite of Hate
A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity
By Sally Kohn

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

We all hate. All of us. That means me, and unfortunately it also includes you. We are not born to do this; to judge and then hate others. We are taught to hate by the world around us. And by the way, hate is a four-letter word, worlds away from another four-letter word: love.
Author Kohn first came to my attention when her Ted Talk landed in my in-box. If you’re not familiar with Ted Talks, you should be. Hate has always been a fascination to me, how bullies can develop from even the nicest seeming individuals and what is the motivating factor that allows us to hate others? How this powerful emotion can blind us into choosing sides and spewing hate.
It has to stop.
“In different ways and to different degrees, consciously or unconsciously, all of us, in one way or another, sometimes treat other individuals and entire groups of human beings as though they are fundamentally less deserving than we are.”
Though I do feel Kohn went slightly off the rails sharing examples in the book and over-explained several scientific research projects on the subject, her message is none-the-less important and very timely. I should caution you, as in the following quote, Kohn can be very harsh in her observations of our country’s past, but don’t let that stop you from hearing her larger message.
“The United States was founded on hate—the hatred that justified colonial annihilation of American Indians and that perpetuated the enslavement of Africans. Hate divided the country during the Civil War and, a century later, spawned protest movements and backlash movements, with activists vying over issues of justice and human rights. And Americans are not alone in this legacy…”
To understand how society can justify hate is not that difficult. If you don’t have the capacity to imagine yourself as black, Muslim, gay or anything you are not, you can justify hate. Everyone has done this to some degree. We all think we have it worse, which gives us permission to marginalize others by bullying, disregarding completely or simply not seeing our similarities. You name it, we find a reason and then we slather on the hate. The solution to changing this behavior of us vs. them is pretty simple. It’s there in front of you and it’s up to each and every one of us.
“We need to meet the people we hate and learn their stories, which means supporting institutions and policies that foster connection-spaces, and also creating our own. Getting outside ourselves, breaking through the physical and mental walls of our own narratives and viewpoints.”
The bottom line; it’s nearly impossible to hate anyone up close, in person, face-to-face.
“What I’ve learned is that all hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases. This abets rationalization and looking the other way about widespread injustices, such as dismissing entire communities that don’t have access to health care, of entire nations locked in civil war because they fall outside the sphere of our moral concern.”
There is a crisis of hate surging through the US and the world and we need to see it. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Consider this. You don’t have to agree with everyone, or give up your particular beliefs or views, you don’t even have to like everyone. Actually, the opposite of hate is so much easier to do and be and teach and experience and share. We really only have to keep this one thing in mind; we are all basically connected and equal as human beings.
The opposite of hate is—connection.

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Review: Camino Island

Camino IslandCamino Island by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Camino Island
By John Grisham

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

A beach read novel of pure catnip for book lovers. Be warned, you may experience a sudden loss of time with this high-brow mystery set on an island off the coast of Florida. Ridiculously famous author Grisham waved a literary wand and combined Marco and Amelia Island into his clever Camino creation.
The premise of this twisty who stole it mystery is built on the fact that the Princeton Rare Books and Special Collections department has five original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts. Though heavily secured behind thick, bullet-proof vault doors, they are pinched by a gang of five buddies that honestly should have stuck to deer hunting. The heist becomes the catalyst that rolls out and rocks the boat down on Camino Island.
Cue the marimba!
Meet struggling professor and long ago published author, Mercer Mann, the adjunct professor of freshman literature at the University of North Carolina. Her position has recently been eliminated and her future employment opportunities are relatively non-existent. An intriguing email drops into Mercer’s lap from a mysterious woman offering her an interesting alternative. Elaine Shelby not only offers Mercer a cushy job, but the stakes are cranked ten-fold with an opportunity to once and for all finish an old manuscript. Naturally, the caveat for acceptance of Shelby’s proposal are complex, full of risk and loaded with wine.
“We’re under a lot of pressure, okay? I have no idea what you might learn, but at this point anything could be helpful. There’s a good chance Cable and his wife will reach out to you, perhaps even befriend you. You could slowly work your way into their inner circle. He also drinks a lot. Maybe he’ll let something slip; maybe one of his friends will mention the vault in the basement below the store.”
Shelby works for a security and investigations company that insured the Fitzgerald collection for Princeton, to the tune of 25 million, and absolutely can’t allow the public to know they were stolen. Enter Bruce Cable, owner of an incredibly successful bookstore on Camino Island. Our featured suspect and most likely new owner of the Fitzgerald Five. Of course, an attractive dude, and had I mentioned Mercer is single? Shelby wants her to get close to Cable and learn what he’s got in his vault. Boy does she!
“This came from Princeton.” He opened the box, and announced proudly, “The original manuscript of The Last Tycoon.” Mercer’s jaw dropped as she stared in disbelief and eased closer. She tried to speak but couldn’t find the words.”
The novel’s minor discussion about books and publishing may place a minuscule snag in your reading pleasure, but this small authorial indiscretion can be easily overlooked. I realize Grisham normally whips up a frenzy of courtroom dramas with lawyer layered lowdowns, but this sand-in-your toes tome will take you away.

In the end, you learn, life is not your vault.

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Review: Hemp Bound

Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural RevolutionHemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution by Doug Fine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hemp Bound
Dispatches From The Front Lines Of The Next Agricultural Revolution
By Doug Fine

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

At the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this book literally fell onto my foot! And oddly enough, I recently had started getting emails declaring that farmers in Wisconsin can now grow industrial hemp, after jumping through some minor procedural hoops, so finding this book seemed like the next logical step.
Author Fine incorporates many in-field interviews, as well as lots of facts and figures to support his eager desire to get the word out that the US should/could and is (in some states) once again growing hemp. He stresses that it will not only give farmers more choices of seed crops to incorporate into the mix, but also the opportunity to make some serious bushels of cash.
“The key to success, from humanity’s perspective and from an economic perspective, is multiple use of the plant…Basically, one hemp harvest can and should be used at once for food, energy, and industrial components (like car parts, building insulation, and clothing).”
We currently import over 600 million dollars of hemp ingredients and over 35 million lbs. of hemp seed products from several large Canadian companies alone. While this import data provides some insight into the amount of hemp entering the US, the possibilities for what is commonly referred to as ‘value added’ hemp products is pretty much unlimited for innovative US hemp farmers.
“A farmer who planted a thousand acres in 2012 netted $250,000. That’s profit. And most of the half billion dollars that Canadian hemp generates in the United States comes from value-added products like salad dressing and breakfast cereal. There’s already hemp cereal in the International Space Station.”
Since this particular book was printed in 2014, I dashed over to mister Google and learned that as of this year, anyone in Wisconsin can register and grow industrial hemp. Here is a copy of the basic guidelines:
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s industrial hemp research pilot program is now accepting applications. Both growers and processors must obtain one-time licenses, and must register each year that they intend to plant/process industrial hemp. Growers and processors must also pass background checks and pay fees to participate in the program. The emergency administrative rule, ATCP 22, is effective March 2, 2018.
Though author Fine does seem to be an overzealous fan, the writing is on the wall; hemp is back and in a big way.
“The fact is, venture capital is already flowing into cannabis [hemp] because corporate bean counters see a market. The “sums” add up. That’s what winning the drug war looks like, I’m afraid. Wall Street does what Wall Street does. But you’ll soon be able to support your local hemp farmer and buy her oil at the farmer’s market and food co-op, as well as at Walmart.”
After over 70 years of our government banning farmers from growing it (keep in mind, booze was illegal not too long ago) the tide is once again turning and the possibilities seem endless. Are you considering growing hemp this year?

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