Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riodan

As usual, I enjoyed reading more about Percy, Annabeth and Grover's adventures, along with Tyson. In this book, Annabeth leads the quest into Daedelus's labyrinth. Daedelus has always been a hero of Annabeth's with all of her love of architecture.

One of my favorite parts of this book was when Riordan poked fun at the educational system and testing via the Sphinx that will not let people pass without solving the riddle. Originally, you had to answer one riddle. Now it's 20 "Oh, we've raised our standards! To pass, you must show proficiency in all twenty. Isn't that great?" And then the Sphinx proceeds to ask trivia questions....and Annabeth is required to enter her answers onto the bubble sheet with a #2 pencil with all the instructions we're familiar with so the machine can grade the answers. Annabeth protests after the first question "What about 'What walks on four legs in the morning?'....the riddle about man. He walks on four legs in the morning, like a baby, two legs in the afternoon, like an adult and three legs in the evening, as an old man with a cane. That's the riddle you used to ask." "Exactly why we changed the test!" the Sphinx exclaimed "You already knew the answer." After a couple more trivia questions Annabeth protests again "Hold up!...These aren't riddles."
"What do you mean?...Of course they are. This test material is specially designed-"
"It's just a bunch of dumb, random facts. Riddles are supposed to make you think."
"Think? How am I supposed to test whether you can think? That's ridiculous! Now How much force is required-"
"Stop! This is a stupid test."
"Why then, my dear....If you won't pass, you fail. And since we can't allow any children to be held back, you'll be EATEN!"

Now isn't that interchange great? Now I'd venture to say, as a former full time teacher myself, that at least 98% of teachers know that standardized testing is one of the worst and least informative ways to test students for a knowledge of their learning. It's so limited in scope and design. However, we also know that the best ways to assess knowledge acquisition take a lot of time and can't be graded quickly either with a scantron machine. And no one seems to want to take this time, or in a teacher's position, they are simply not allowed to take the time to do this when they are required to drill students to be able to fill in a bubble sheet. Oral examinations, practical examinations (for instance, successfully carrying out a scientific experiment to illustrate you understand the concept of titration instead of answering questions about the steps to completing a titration), and obviously, some will require resources. It's simply harder to test whether a person can think vs whether a person can remember facts. And that's one of the biggest problems today, it's an insult not just to the "child of Athena's" intelligence, it's an insult to our children's intelligence on a whole. My 3rd grader told me she is already getting nervous about taking the standardized tests in March. Nearly 6 months away and my EIGHT YEAR OLD is getting test anxiety? And she's a bright student. *sigh*.

Anyhow, another big lesson learned in this book is that sometimes we've built up our personal heroes so much in our minds that if and when we meet them, it's a let down. We realize they have their faults and that they've made mistakes just like anyone else. We realize that sometimes they aren't always brave and won't always save the day. And that's ok. They can still be a hero in other ways. In fact, I think it makes people MORE of a hero when they admit to mistakes or apologize and try to right the wrongs they've done. And that, I believe is one of the best lessons taught.

Another question that is brought up and not fully resolved is the choice between what is right and wrong and family. Calypso is eternally punished because of what her father did in the Titan war against the Gods and the fact that she supported her Father. And she asks Percy if he supports the Gods because they are good or because they are family. It's an interesting concept. How loyal do you run with your family? Would you do something out of loyalty that you normally wouldn't, simply because "it's family"? It's definitely a thought worth dwelling on because everyone has different moral lines governed by various ideals. It's like in Gilmore Girls when Lorelai breaks up with Jason because he is suing her family and she states that she loves him, but can't be with someone who is suing her family. And it also brings up how there isn't always a clear line between good or not. While Percy acknowledges that the Gods don't always do good things and that they don't always show that they really care for their half-blood children, supporting them does seem to be a MUCH better alternative to letting the Titan's rule with their evil agenda. And thus, many of our choices in who will be the best leadership in our lives sometimes isn't a choice between the good candidate and the not so good candidate, but the lesser of the two evils. Which is also a worthy lesson to take away.

We also seem more of Nico's struggle to find his place as a son of Hades. Not quite welcome at camp Half-Blood, but not really belonging anywhere else, this poor young boy has so many inner struggles, it's amazing what he has to deal with. I look forward to learning more about him. And cheering him on to hopefully make the right choices as he's faced with them.

A page turner again that leaves you wanting more and more!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lemon Tart, Josi Kilpack

Lemon Tart is a culinary murder mystery. This means that the main character is obsessed with baking and share's her recipes with you throughout the book. This is definitely a plus when she describes the carrot cookie with orange glaze so well you can almost taste them, and really WANT to taste them, and there you go, at the end of the chapter, the recipe! So I liked that.

Total, I'd probably give it 3.5/5 stars. Sadie, the main character and voice of narration is in her mid-fifties, a widow with 2 grown children-both adopted, although you only meet her daughter Breanna, you know that Shawn was a rather picky eater based on her recipe notes. Sadie's newer younger friend Anne Lemmon was found murdered outside her home and her toddler son missing. Sadie just can't seem to keep her nose out of things-if you've ever watched the show, Castle, she's 100 times more annoying that he is and doesn't have any connections to let her be in on this even though she DOES offer some helpful tips to the detectives working the case. She jumps to conclusions and in real life would definitely have been arrested only a few chapters in just for interfering with an investigation. I found myself annoyed with Sadie a LOT of the time. But I think that's because Josi Kilpack describes her so well, we all know someone in our life who cares very much about how they look, how they're perceived, what's going on, mother hen, can't pass up any gossip-especially if it's in the name of "good". While Sadie goes through many different assumptions of what is going on, there are some twists I wasn't really expecting, but I though they were a little wild and when things finally wound down to "who dunnit" I wasn't really at all surprised. Evidently this is a continuing series, which seems a little funny because really, how many random murders can show up in a "normal" person's life? Perhaps I'm just not as familiar with this genre and what's generally expected for an audience for the genre.

It was entertaining, even though some parts were fantastical (as well as the things that happen in the TV shows we love, like Castle), there was definitely a lot of humor. For instance, Sadie ends up sneaking around where she doesn't belong-twice in the same day at different locations-and both times ends up hiding under a bed in order to avoid being caught. Can you imagine a mid-fifties woman hiding under a bed? Yeah, that definitely made me laugh (and roll my eyes). But I think that's what makes it eye rolling funny-she's playing detective the way Nancy Drew did, but she's not young and glamorous.

And I did come away with a wonderful mantra. Sadie states that her metabolism isn't what it used to be and if she wanted to maintain any semblance of her figure, she had to be careful about things. But she didn't believe in depriving herself of anything either, so her personal rule was "Eat what you want, but not all of it." Which meant that if she was craving brownies, she'd make a pan of brownies, set some aside for herself and then take the rest to a friend or neighbor. Same with rich dinners, such as lasagna. I thought those were definitely good words to live by!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I never read this in high school, and with the new movie that came out last year, and has gotten rave reviews, I knew that if I were to see the movie I would first have to read the book.

It took awhile, as it was published in 1925 and the writing style was quite different. And it was told in the voice of Nick, distant cousin to Daisy Buchanan. And it's told in a reminiscent way as well, with some things chronologically out of order in order to place a backstory where it would most make sense. Lots and lots of descriptions of events, but not overdoing it on physical descriptions of characters, so I didn't have a very sharp imagination image of everyone; but I think that's because once the description was given, it was assumed you wouldn't really need it again.

This is a tragic love story....Daisy meets Jay, they fall in love. Jay goes off to war, and not to mention he is not of the same social standing as Daisy they really couldn't have realistically gotten married. Daisy marries Tom. Jay comes back-and into money-and becomes a very influential up and coming character whom no one really knows anything about but is always throwing lavish parties with no particular guest list.

It's the roaring 20's and everything is all about high society. Another problem is affairs. So many stories wouldn't be written at all if it weren't for the fact that married companions wander off to greener pastures. I don't know what it is with Tom, but I think he takes Daisy for granted, and doesn't think he'd ever really lose her so although not confirmed, I believe personally that he has "wandered" just about everywhere and that is my hunch about why they've moved so many times. Daisy, while always the "rich girl" has a deep desire to be loved. She had one such romance, and I think when Tom is distant, she goes back mentally to Jay and thinks that "this would never happen if I were with Jay." And then the opportunity presents itself. I think both Jay and Daisy have a tainted view of what things are supposed to be like. I think that in his time away from Daisy, Jay has built her up to an idolized Goddess that is so perfect, there's no way she was a real person anymore.

When many things are misconstrued, misunderstood and possibly misinformed on purpose and Jay dies, despite all the people who surrounded him in life, no one really is there in his death. It's really sad. That most of his life was superficial. And while he was optimistic, I can't help but feel that the way he came into money was by shady ways and that he never thought that it would catch up to him. And while that part didn't, he tragically got involved in something he had nothing to do with. I think Daisy gave him a sense of invincibility that destiny was him and Daisy together and as that was happening and as long as Daisy loved him, nothing could go wrong.

Nick learned a lot by observing these people, including a brief love tryst with professional golfer Jordan Baker (I had no idea that Jordan was being used as a female back then!) that falls apart for circumstances that are not favorable. Nick learns that everyone, EVERYONE needs friends. At least one genuine friend. And that doing what's right is not what everyone is interested in doing. I think he learns that obtaining false wealth in order to impress someone is not worth it. He probably learns that you should be extra cautious on who you marry if you truly want to be happy, you should really both be in love with each other on the same level. I think he also learns that the glamorized like of the "Hamptons" if you will, are also not quite all they're hyped up to be. That pastures can be just as green where ever you spring up as anywhere else.

I sometimes wonder about Tom and Daisy. I wonder if what they went through, both losing their lovers within days of each other and realizing how much they had lost each other, if perhaps maybe would bring a renewed commitment to each other. I wonder if Tom finally realized that he wasn't giving Daisy everything he could and if he DID maybe he'd get a WHOLE LOT in return from her.

Here is a link I came across with some interesting thoughts on things we could learn from Gatsby:

One that I particularly liked was the part about trying to fit in where you don't necessarily belong-or even need to fit in with. It reminds me of a statement made once that said "Be grateful that the choices you make will not allow you to fit in where you don't belong." It was a statement addressed in a religious service and it was directed at teenagers who had chosen particularly high moral standards. And were possibly feeling a little isolated by those choices because the weren't exactly "popular". But seriously, if you evaluate your goals in life, you really can't afford to waste time trying to fit in with a certain populace who won't help you achieve those goals. It's like trying to become a pro-football player while only taking ballet lessons. It just won't happen.

Anyhow, it was a good read, and I enjoyed it and the lessons learned. Now I have checked out the first movie of The Great Gatsby starring Mira Sorvino, Toby Stephens, and Paul Rudd in 2000 to watch while I wait for the Leonardo DiCaprio version to cycle my way and can compare the two :-)

Happy Reading!